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!

Lifestyle

  • Prev
This line-up of Beneteaus can to us from our friends at RCR Yachts in NY State where they are ...
As another harsh Victoria winter came to a close, the deck repair and refinishing continued with ...
The Peterborough Canoe Company was formed in 1892 and began production the following year after ...
On one of the sunny days we had recently, Kyle MacTaggart in Honey Harbour ON fired up the Merc to ...
For all those OnBoard subscribers who have followed along with the maintenance, repairs and ...
We hardly need tell you about the pandemic but it’s worth noting that the marine industry is acting ...
If you’ve been to CORK, you’ve probably seen Tim Irwin. Whether he was organizing volunteers, ...
This brilliant shot comes to us from professional shooter Elle Bruce.  These four sailors are ...
In 2008, Pat and Lynn Lortie said goodbye to their everyday life to pursue their dream; making ...
With old boats every repair seems to uncover something else needing attention.  Removing the ...

DIY & How to

  • Prev
Building on our last two editions (Sealants, and Fibreglass, respectively), Gelcoat is the next ...
After a successful R2Ak and regatta season in 2019, I felt that Pitoraq was due for a major ...
Pause for a moment and ponder this question. How much is your life and your safety at sea worth? ...
Last edition we talked about sealants to perform tasks like bedding and sealing. Other tasks like ...
Over the winter, a many-thousand pound fiberglass, wood or metal shell is held in position by only ...
Since the late 19th century, a debate has raged on the relative merits of diesel fuel over ...
This bag does more than hold your anchor and rode in one tidy little pile. After you’ve anchored ...
Purchase your copy of the BRAND NEW Ports Georgian Bay 2020 Edition at the Toronto International ...
The boat was put on the hard for this winter and were going to follow along with Graham as he ...
In this part, we’ll delve deeper into the other parts of the boat found below the water line: the ...

Shrink Wrap2020 is a year of change – self-isolation, social distancing, quarantine, and working remotely have become the norm. For many, this has been a bitter pill to swallow. Another bitter pill for boaters is the delay of the season. Provincial laws differ – so terms like ‘essential’ aren’t translating widely across the marine world.

In BC, marinas remain open and fuel is available, sometimes with conditions. In Ontario, marinas, boat launches, yacht clubs and the professionals that service the marine industry aren’t considered essential, unless the service and location allows a person to access their permanent residence only accessible by boat.

Read more about Boating in 2020........................

 

  

CY Virtual Video Boat Tours

Virtual Boat ToursWe all love boats and nothing can break us up! So, what better way to spend our time than looking at interesting boats and going aboard in a virtual ride or tour. We have asked our friends at various dealers and manufacturers to help us assemble a one-stop online resource to experience some of the most interesting boats on the market today. Where the CY Team has done a review, we connect you to that expert viewpoint. Our Virtual Show will continue to grow so visit frequently and check it out. If you can’t go boating, you can almost experience the thrill via your screen. Not quite the same, but we hope you enjoy our fine tour collection.

 

Read more about the CY Virtual Boat Tours....................

Destinations

  • Prev
If you have four hours to enjoy a fine tour of one of Canada’s most interesting waterways (let’s ...
Boom & Batten Restaurant is suspended over the water adjacent to the Songhees Walkway and ...
Provincial Boat Havens are those special places to drop anchor in British Columbia’s West Coast and ...
NW Explorations, a Bellingham, Washington-based yacht charter, brokerage, and marine services ...

KingstonBy Amy Hogue

Cruise into the city of Kingston, Ontario, and it will quickly become clear that this city and surrounding waterways have something special. Built around the northern shore of Lake Ontario, Kingston is the place to go if you love to explore new waterways, fantastic views, and exceptional boating opportunities.

Sitting at the intersection of three world-class Canadian bodies of water, Lake Ontario, the St. Lawrence River, and the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Rideau Canal (Cataraqui River from Kingston to Newboro), the water’s influence is deeply woven into Kingston’s culture and history. 

Read more about Kingston...........

 

Marine Products

  • Prev
Since its introduction last year, the JBL by Harman Marine BassPro 10" Powered Subwoofer (JBLMBP10) ...
After decades of perusing charts and guidebooks as part of planning a cruise, it was a totally ...
Ever since I was a youngster Jeeps of all kinds have fascinated me. It wasn’t until the mid 70s ...
New from Plastimo, this bi-colour backpack in Tarpaulin 500D will keep contents dry from ship to ...
Being a boater can come with certain space restraints for additional items that may make your ...
Whether you are interested in monitoring your vessel’s systems while underway or remotely from your ...
No wires to install down your mast. Transmit to smartphone/tablet. Works with lots of great ...
Vesper Cortex, the advanced multi-station VHF, AIS, monitor with intuitive touchscreen operation is ...
The Handy One Combo is an all-powerful, hands-free lighting solution. It's tough, reliable, ...
The Nebo FIXR features an easy, portable solution for all your everyday tools.