It is like a natural cycle by now. Every few years Mick Cookson decides that it's time he built himself a new boat, and after much doodling and invention, out pops something that is fast, fun to sail, and hopefully, commercially attractive.


His two most recent High Five yachts were the Cookson 39, which proved very competitive during the heyday of the IMS rule, and the Cookson 47, a development of Big Apple, which, with its sister ship Seahawk, won the 2000 Kenwood Cup in Hawaii. Both were from the drawing boards of Farr Yacht Design in Annapolis, MD


Now his sights are set on a 50-footer with a canting keel and trim tab arrangement. As with all his own projects, he has once again chosen Farr Yacht Design to develop the concept, which is aimed at plugging a hole in the market for an affordable, seriously quick, high-performance production  50-footer with a canting keel. "This all started out as a fixed keel yacht with a trim tab," says Mick, "We basically took the Transpac 52 concept of a lighting fast 52 foot racer, shrunk it to 50ft, and increased the freeboard so it had some internal volume and felt like a 50-footer rather than a One-Tonner. We wanted something that would be reasonable to live aboard offshore and that you could also use to entertain your friends at the dock."


Having recently completed the Farr Open 60, Virbac, winner of it's first regatta, the double handed Transat Jacque Vabres, which was technically very complex and therefore expensive to build, much of his thinking has gone into getting the benefits of a canting keel, but containing the cost.


Having started with the fixed keel, trim tab idea, Cookson's thoughts ranged across to the radical end of the spectrum to an all-out machine with canting keel, free-standing rotating wing mast and so on. Then, the pendulum swung back towards the middle and Cookson settled on a more conservative go-fast boat, built in carbon and foam core, with a swept-spreader rig - a "nice yacht".


One of Cookson's major goals with the project is to provide a yacht that can be raced or cruised fast and safely by small crews, double-handed or even single-handed when the desire arises. With the rise in popularity of this kind of racing the fixed keel option looked less attractive. Crew costs are one of the major limiting factors according to many owners today. This boat will have the ability to sail with significantly less crew than other boats its size.


For these reasons, the idea of a canting keel kept tempting his imagination and he decided to have another  look at it. The factors against it were largely expense - mainly because of the requirement for a low-drag high-tensile machined steel fin, plus some form of forward foil or foils to provide lateral resistance. "Even using less than optimum steel for the fin, you would be adding something like $NZ150, 000 to the price over a fixed keel version," says Cookson.


But, the search for alternatives continued - including much discussion inside and outside the yard. The outcome of all this ferment is a package of truly beautiful hull form with a displacement of 7-tonnes and a keel and trim tab that swings 35° both sides and no forward foils. Cookson stated that, "In over 30 years of boat building this is the fastest looking boat we've ever set frames up for" and Farr Yacht Design states that, "This will be, by far, the fastest reaching and running 50 footer we've ever designed." "The canting keel allows us to design a boat that is similar in weight for it's waterline to the TP52, yet maintain more stability due to the effects of canting ballast, giving us a highly stable yacht that will be lightning quick, sea kindly, and require fewer people to bring her to top performance."


Cost reduction is achieved through the lack of a third foil and limiting the swing to 35°, which reduces the ram travel. Eliminating forward foils reduces drag, which, in turn, allows for a larger-chord medium-tech fabricated steel fin arrangement, which would be much more affordable. The keel will cant via a hydraulic ram, while the trim tab will be highly geared and controlled with a small electric motor via a switch and angle indicator at the twin helm stations.


"When you really want to increase the righting moment of the boat is blast reaching. In those conditions, you are going so fast, you need very little lateral resistance and you can have the keel fully canted," says Cookson.


The logic seems compelling and the combination of Cookson Boat builders' extensive experience and Farr Yacht Design's expertise makes for a powerful supporting argument.


Cookson intends offering the boat in two incarnations, a race version and a racer cruiser version. The race version would have a bigger cockpit, smaller cabin arrangement, with an optional coffee grinder, and virtually nothing forward of the mast below, while the racer cruiser would have an owner's double cabin forward of the mast, bigger aft cabins and a correspondingly smaller cockpit.


The idea is that the racer versions would be held to a one-design format, a la the Farr 40 class. But, with a sensible handicap system, the racers and racer-cruisers could compete fairly against each other as well.


The target is to offer both versions in a basic sail-away configuration for $NZ1 million and Cookson says he already has strong interest from owners eager to move up to a yacht of this size with decent amenities, a sweet hull shape and the added technical interest of a canting keel and trim tab for sizzling performance.

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Cookson 50 Review


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