Thunderbird250Nov22

Myth: Thunderbirds are wood. 

Reality: Thunderbirds are built in both wood and fibreglass. 

Myth: Plywood is a pain. 

Reality: Yes it is, but if you've got the time it's a great way to save money. 

More second hand Thunderbirds would probably be purchased if there were more used fibreglass Thunderbirds on the market. While the used plywood Thunderbirds out there represent incredible value in terms of boat-for-the-buck, dealing with the joys of wood are not for everyone. So we will take a three-step approach to analyzing the definitive affordable boat; we'll look at design considerations, wood boats and fibreglass boats. 

A design sponsored by the forestry industry.

The Thunderbird embodies family sailing. Its origins are in a competition sponsored by the Douglas Fir Plywood Manufacturer's Association in the late fifties, to design a quick, stable boat that could be built in plywood and would accommodate four. West coast marine architect Ben Seaborn came up with a design that met all the criteria. It sleeps four, especially if two are kids and all have modest expectations, can be built easily in plywood and delivers superb performance. In addition to all it's other attributes, the boat has a huge cockpit and when you come right down to it, that's where the majority of owners spend the majority of their time. The cockpit is significantly bigger than a CS 27's and somewhat bigger than a C&C 27, two benchmark vessels in this country. 

Let's talk about performance because it is here that the Thunderbird delivers the goods. My first exposure to the T-Bird was cruising - - I had a CS 22 at the time and saw that the Thunderbird, which was only a bit bigger at (25 ft) had "big boat" performance. My CS 22 was plenty seaworthy, but in waves it bobbed like a cork while T-Birds seemed to cut through the water. A T-Bird and a C&C 27 are similar in speed although as soon as there's any wave action the hard chine and large keel seem to give the "Bird" the ammunition to go quickly. Downwind, especially in real light stuff, it's spinnaker, hoisted from a point only 3/4 of the way up the spar, is no match for the competitors big masthead chutes. However, it's upwind performance in light air is quite respectable thanks to the height of the spar (P=31.0'). The tribute to the ingenuity of the now 30 year-old design comes on the race course where Thunderbirds regularly vanquish bigger and more modern designs. 

The design of the boat is unique -- that's a generous world for downright odd. The plywood build-ability necessitated hard chines. But the resultant flat bottom makes it scream on reaches and the chine itself seems to give it stability upwind. In winds up to 16 knots the heal angle tops out at 15 degrees. The fractional rig fell out of favour in the sixties and seventies but for sail handling convenience the T-Bird's 3/4 rig can't be beat. The genny is just a handkerchief of a sail, so all the adjustments for a heavy breeze can be made by playing with the main from the luxury of the cockpit. The spar is super-bendy (way ahead of its time for a 1958 design) so the huge mainsail can be de-powered easily. Originally the plans didn't include a traveller, but adding one allows you to keep the boat comfortably on its feet with full main and number one genoa in up to 18 knots of wind. 

Very few boats on the Great Lakes even have reef points on the main! Other great design features: the auxiliary power for the boat is an outboard carried in a tilt-up motor well. No ghastly appendage hanging off the back as is common on smaller sailing vessels. A high aspect balanced rudder, which was approved by the class to replace the original, provides effortless manoeuvring and makes the boat virtually un-broachable. 

The keelson-stepped spar weighs only 90 pounds and is easy to step. So let's talk used boats starting with the simpler alternative. Fibreglass versions of the original plywood design were approved by the class association around 1970 when Victoria builder John Booth started production in his garage. You can find Booth's boats, characterized by high fibreglass coamings, in the classified columns all across Canada. There have been other semi-professionals too: a builder named Lane in Seattle designed a boat with graceful wooden coamings which became the model of the eastern version of the boat. There are several Ontario builders including Rick Bott, a second generation T-Bird fanatic who started R. D. industries in Richmond Hill. Also available is Booth's"cruising deck" Thunderbird which adds a surprising amount of room down below by reducing the side decks and cockpit and lengthening the cabin. I haven't discussed the belowdecks layout because there is no real consistency. The class rules allow any interior configuration, and there are many variations from spartan to cut and cosy. To make this long story short, a sound fibreglass T-Bird is a major bargoon! If you can locate one, you can get a good fibreglass boat for well under $20,000 depending on age and condition. 

On to plywood - caveat carpenter. That said, this is the deal of the century. There are variations in quality of construction. Most were homebuilt although my first "bird" was the product of Richardson Boatworks in Meaford who built quite a few. I have even heard of boats which were professionally built in Japan. But there is no guarantee of anything; some boats are fibreglass covered over ply, some have more epoxy and filler in them than wood. 

Get advice before you part with a dime. Perhaps the biggest asset you get in a Thunderbird is the International Class Association. There are fleets on both sides of Canada and the U. S. and several fleets in Australia. The highest concentration by far is where the boat was first launched on the Victoria-Seattle corridor. There are perhaps 50 on Lake Ontario and a mushrooming fleet in Shediac that gets more television coverage than the America's Cup. 

Unlike other class boats, the fleet owns the design so the boat can never become obsolete because the builder disappears. Every year a few home builders register new ones and John Booth in Victoria and Rick Bott in Richmond Hill seem to launch one periodically. The ITCA has some unique rules that are designed to keep costs down for owners. 

Sails may be approved only every second year and grandfathering clauses are incorporated with any rule changes so that older boats stay competitive. The 1989 world champion was Neji, #271, built almost 30 years ago. The Northeast District champion, Looney Tunes #374 was built in '63. The boat I sail now is a 1987 Booth fibreglass. My previous Thunderbird was a Booth glass version and my first was a Dynel-covered marine ply dream. I wouldn't go away for the rest of my life on any one of the three, but for racing, day sailing, socializing or the occasional week of cruising there isn't a boat that comes close. 

Specifications

LOA           25 ft. 11 in. 

LWL             20 ft. 3 in. 

Beam             7 ft. 6 in. 

Displacement      4,000 lbs. 

Draft            4 ft. 9 in. 

Sail Area: Main   201 sq. ft.

Sail Area: Genoa 163 sq. ft. 

To see if this boat is available, go to http://www.boatcan.com for listings!

Destinations

  • Prev
At the 2019 Vancouver International Boat Show I had the pleasure of meeting up with Allyson and ...
Following the harsh impact of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, The British Virgin Islands is making an ...
For the adventurous boater Bunsby Marine Provincial Park is a special place, situated due south of ...
There is good anchoring in Cowichan Bay and nearby, and salt water enough to make any boater happy. ...
We’re gliding through green-blue waters, colours so vivid and bright they hurt your eyes. We’re set ...
The Halifax waterfront has been attracting more and more large yachts in recent years. However, a ...
Ah Canadian simplicity at its finest; small town, big marina. Little Hilton Beach (population ...
Vancouver-based Big Blue Yacht Charters Worldwide owner Emma Murdoch explains that luxury crewed ...
In the 1920s, a small cove in Canoe Bay was used as a shipping point and safe-haven for rum runners ...
Here’s an update from Caroline Swann with some news for the adventurous types who may be heading to ...


The Marina at Blind ChannelOne of my favourite places

By Marianne Scott

Sailing north of Desolation Sound, the Discovery Islands and the Broughton Archipelago offer cruisers a bevy islands with ample anchorages. Tides cause swift currents to run through the islands’ waterways. Few marinas are found in this large, sparsely populated region but one that provides all the services boaters need and especially enjoy is Blind Channel, a marina and resort operated by the Richter family located on Mayne Passage on the east side of West Thurlow Island (50 24. 82N, 125 30. 00).

Read more about the Blind Channel Resort...

 

Lifestyle

  • Prev
At the end of last month, Canadian sailors gathered on the Palma Beach in Palma de Mallorca, Spain ...
In 2019, C-TOW celebrates its 35th anniversary of providing 24/7 “Peace of Mind Boating” for ...
West Vancouver Yacht Club reports that following an independent certification process the Georgia ...
It has been hot in the Abacos this winter. Whoever said this area was cool this time of year must ...
Unfortunately this is not a picture from a boat but was taken on the evening of February 27, 2019 ...
On March 1, Tom Ramshaw of Stoney Lake Yacht Club was honoured with the most prestigious National ...
Vero Beach, aka Velcro Beach, lived up to its reputation again. Our original plan was to be there ...
My husband and I were visiting the Bra d'Or Lake from Newfoundland in our 39 foot Sea Ray ...
After an autumn in Canada, we arrived back in northern Florida at Adamant 1 on January 3rd and with ...
This issue, to kick off 2019, we have an unofficial Photo of the week and this, the unofficial ...

Swift Trawler 47By Andy Adams

You might look at the pictures of the new Beneteau Swift Trawler 47 and think that this is not a “performance boat”, but I think it certainly is, and here is why; it can top out at 30 mph to get you from A to B quickly or to beat the weather in, so it’s pretty fast, but it can also loaf along doing 1,250 rpm making 9.3 mph and at that pace, it travels 2.4 miles on a gallon of fuel. That’s great performance in my books!

With a light displacement of almost 28,000 lbs, this is a big boat. In fact, it looks and feels more like a small ship than a big boat.

Read more about the Swift Trawler 47......

 

Beneteau Oceanis 46.1By Andy Adams and John Armstrong

Beneteau Oceanis 46.1When Beneteau introduced their new Oceanis 46.1, they were inspired by the fact that their previous Oceanis 45 was one of Beneteau’s best sellers and the new 46.1 had to be a clearly superior boat. The Oceanis range is about space and comfort for cruising while still delivering strong performance.

The yachting world has now recognized the Oceanis 46.1 as being just such a worthy successor. On January 19th, 2019, the Oceanis 46.1 won the highly regarded title of European Yacht of the Year in the “Family Cruiser” category.

Read More about the Oceanis 46.1......

DIY & How to

  • Prev
I’ve had two emails over the past few weeks with a count-down to launch (47 days per the last ...
Electrical ground is a term used to describe the reference point in an electrical circuit from ...
Last time we looked at making proper electrical connections – the tools, supplies and methods ...
Winter is a great time to look at some of the hidden spaces on your boat – to take stock of what is ...
When a boat is in the water, the bilge will often collect water that enters the boat from weather, ...
Recently I suggested doing an off-season (winter) project with a potential client, and my ...
A recent conversation with a fellow contractor got me thinking: With all of the information out ...
As the cold approaches, shrink-wrapping is a hot topic, and I’ve heard more than a few debates at ...
Nothing stops a vacation faster than a problem with the fresh water system – be it leaks, smells, ...
Pyrotechnic distress flares have been around for decades, while electronic strobe distress flares ...

Sea to Sky SailingSea to Sky Sailing has just been approved as the only Royal Yachting Association (RYA) recognized training centre on the west coast of North America just in time to deliver an epic 2019 season!

“This transition from our previous International Yacht Training (IYT) certification to RYA is a huge benefit to our students as it provides them certification that is known globally as the gold standard for yacht training.  The RYA requires training centres to undergo annual inspections of their vessels, business practices and training delivery in order to maintain a strong standard and guarantee a high quality experience for students. 

Read More about Sea to Sky Sailing......

 

  

Marine Products

  • Prev
The Walker Bay Venture 14 claims to be the world’s first luxury Explorer Sport Tender. It is ...
Mercury Marine is pleased to announce the launch of the new MerCruiser V8 6.2L 370hp Jet Ready ...
My history with the Cayenne goes back many years, as I was at the launch of the original vehicle ...
Last month, Mercury Marine has announced the launch of the 400hp Verado outboard engine, the ...
Featuring advanced, intuitive 3D controls, Zipwake Dynamic Trim Control Systems deliver a more ...
Gina de Vere approached me at the Canadian Yachting booth at this year’s Vancouver International ...
A revolutionary “assisted docking” system that provides a glimpse into the future of boating ...
After developing the Figaro Beneteau 3, the first production foiling sailing yacht, Groupe Beneteau ...
You most likely operate your vessel with batteries that are rechargeable. Rechargeable batteries ...
This past decade has been a real up-and-down ride for the companies who make boating equipment. ...