Sydney 39 Cruiser Racer CR Yacht review

Sydney 39CR Yacht review 

 Issue: March 2005

Manufacturer: Sydney Yachts 

The history of yacht racing is littered with the unlamented corpses of handicap systems. Some of them worked for a time; most of them ultimately produced funny boats. If a rating rule decreed that to win a race a boat needed to sail backwards while performing figure-of eights, someone would design it. A century ago the Poms designed and built plank-on-edge boats, skinny things with immense draft, which sailed on their sides and ploughed through waves because they were too heavy to go over the top. 

When sailing you could not go below to make a cup of tea, because when it was heeled there was about 2ft of headroom. The IOR rule of the 70s and 80s has been almost forgotten, and rightly so. The IMS rule the system by which the Sydney-Hobart winners were decided recently has gone the same way because designers produced boats which sailed slowly and because they dated quickly they had the resale value of a used condom. The 2004 Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race winner will be decided by the IRC, a system devised in Britain and France, which is apparently a well-guarded secret. 

You measure your boat, send off the numbers and the controllers send you your handicap figure. It is a sort of benevolent dictatorship. People who know about these things reckon that whatever the IRC’s faults it encourages healthy boats. Which brings us to the Sydney 39CR. But first it brings us to the Sydney 38. Designers Murray, Burns & Dovell drew the 38 for Sydney Yachts as a fast one-design racer, but with a sensible rig ( two-spreader aluminium mast, encouraged by the IRC) and non-overlapping headsails. It was an immediate success because it is fast, it operates somewhere near the cutting edge (good for bragging in the bar) yet avoids complications like carbon fibre rigs and elaborate sail wardrobes. 

When a potential customer commented that he liked the 38, but would like it even more with cockpit seas and a cruiser/racer fit-out downstairs, Sydney Yachts did the sensible thing and built it. What you see here is the result. The hull, keel and rudder are pure Sydney 38. The rig is also the same, but for the cruiser racer (that’s what the CR stands for) they decided sensibly that the 38’s masthead spinnaker should be swapped for a smaller one. The fit-out below decks has everything you need, finished in a modern, minimal style which is easy on the eye, but adds as little as possible to the weight. 

As a result, the 39CR’s performance parameters displacement/ length and sail area/displacement ratios are almost those of a grand prix racer. This is a light boat with a big engine (sail area), but because the weight is low that big engine is not big in actual area. Ballast ratio is around 45 per cent, high when compared to others in the market and this is one statistic for which more is certainly merrier. This fast boat is easy to sail because of its moderate, small-headsail rig. The hull should also be stiff, good for safety offshore. For those behind the IRC, thank you. Whoever you are. Sydney Yachts Martin Thompson was surprised at the level of interest shown in the boat’s cruising potential by would be buyers.

The boat we sailed was fitted with an autopilot, a barbecue and plotter readout mounted in the cockpit where the helmsman can see it when cruising. The layout below decks features two double cabins – one in the bow, one to starboard aft. Both are big with reasonable storage. To portside aft you can have a single berth cabin, or it can be a huge wet locker, as on this boat. It is big enough to hold all the sails, and even the inflatable dinghy and outboard when cruising. This boat had already sailed to the Whitsundays for the late-winter northern race circuit more of that later. The head is forward of the main bulkhead, fitted with Jabsco manual dunny and retractable shower head. 

The dinette is on the portside, and on the starboard side are two single seats either side of a small table. The coffee nook. A lot of owners like to do a bit of business while they’re on board, says Martin Thompson. The furniture on this boat tables, nav station is in teak, which contrasts with a lightcoloured myrtle on the hull sides. The rest of the internal trim is moulded. I like the interior because it modern. Perhaps it is post-modern, but I don’t know what that is. There is a nice mix of finishes and textures timber, stainless, fabrics, and the moulded surfaces which is attractive and should be easy to maintain. Part of the attractiveness is the amount of light; as well as windows in the coachroof there are tempered-glass windows in the hull sides. 

The interior looks easy to maintain. These days people want to go racing or day-sailing, give the boat a wipe-down and go home, says Martin. He emphasises that all the furniture and bulkheads are structural, bonded to the hull moulding, as is the moulded grid system, which picks up loads from the mast step, engine beds and backstay. The shrouds attach to carbon fibre chainplates, which are moulded into the hull, a Sydney Yachts trademark. This provides a number of benefits the wide shroud base supports the mast better, it is easy to work forward when you’re not dodging the shrouds, and because the chainplates don’t penetrate the deck leaks are eliminated. The first two Sydney 39CRs are sailing with basic sail wardrobes, including only two headsails. 

This boat had a suit of low-tech North sails though the owners are planning to add a Norths 3DL set for racing. The Sydney Yachts guys deliver the boat with all the cutting-edge race work done keel and rudder are faired to raceboat standards, the sheets and halyards are Vectra, the spinnaker halyards are stripped of their sheath for easy handling. This boat is so easy to sail. I can’t help thinking the owners have got it right, because as well as the extras we mentioned earlier they fitted an electric winch. Run the main halyard around the electric winch and press the button. The main slides up easily because the luff is fitted with batten cars and because the boat has a boom bag and lazy jacks (all removable for racing). When the main is up the halyard is cammed off and the mainsheet led to the powered winch so the dominant sail the main is easy to control. 

The small headsail can be tacked easily by one person, so this boat fulfils another of the criteria of the modern cruiser/racer; social sailing is easy because by using the autopilot the skipper can tack the boat himself. The headsail is so small it sheets home quickly; no flailing elbows, which can decapitate the unwary social sailor, as the sheet is hauled in. No terrible grunting as the sheet is wound home on the winch. And the boat’s a witch to steer. The big composite wheel (another Sydney Yachts trademark) is connected to a system which is beautifully precise and tells the helmsman exactly what the big rudder is doing at all times. Small, stable headsails are also easy to read so for the less-experienced there is no mystery to what is happening. 

The small headsail hides very little of the horizon, an increasingly important factor as the waterways become more congested. The helmsman’s foot supports are big and perfectly placed so there is no straining to see the headsail tufts no matter how short you are. All this is the result of adapting a racer to cruise. All boats should be this easy to sail and, therefore, safe. Congested waterways also mean visibility and easy handling will become paramount considerations. Martin reckons the 39CR will do 7.2-7.3 knots upwind in about 15 knots of breeze. 

That’s what the polar diagrams, the designer’s performance figures show. He also says that as the wind builds above that figure you just flatten the main, sheet tighter and point higher. The owner reports averaging nearly 10 knots on the way home from the Whitsundays, running in 25-40 knots of breeze but with the autopilot doing most of the work. That’s where that deep rudder earns its keep. There is nothing else on the market remotely like the Sydney 39CR. It is relatively expensive but that is because it is intended to sail, without after-sales modification, at the sharp end of the IRC fleet, yet it can be social-sailed or cruised. 

You would have to reckon that the 39CR shown here will be the only boat racing on Australia’s East coast whose inventory includes a set of 3DL moulded sails and a barbie on the pushpit. I guess they take off the barbie at regatta time, as they do the boom bag and lazyjacks, but you get my point. 

Words and Photos by Barry Tranter