Fixed or variable draft Discovery or Southerly

Like other models in the range, the 480 is available as a Discovery 48 fixed keel or with Southerly’s well established variable draft swing keel. At the time of ordering both versions feature a raised saloon, but in the future a conventional lower saloon for fixed keel boats may well be drawn up to give even more choice.

We have owned a Southerly with swing keel for 5 years and here was an opportunity to return to a conventional fixed keel by ordering a Discovery 48. So why stick with the swing keel Southerly?

At the time of writing it has not been possible, with any Discovery/Southerly model, to do a side by side sailing comparison of a fixed and swing keeled version so there is no measured data to say which might be faster or close winded or stiffer etc (The first Discovery 54 with shoal draft fixed keel is just entering commissioning). What I believe is true is that the keel options of 1.8 and 2.2m and 3.1m are designed to provide the same righting moment so as to maintain the same rig loads, GZ, AVS etc, and will therefore in theory exhibit only the differences associated with the keels different aspect ratios noticeable in a lightweight racer I’m sure, but in this heavy cruiser? I suspect that the occupants of the three different keeled boats out on the water would be hard pressed to tell which they were on, perhaps the ability to raise the keel downwind and remove its drag, and the 3.1m draft upwind might give that boat an edge. Our (one sided) experience would lead me to bet on it.

Then the water gets thin.

Paul and Sheryl Shard with Distant Shores III spending a day on the beach

Shallow anchorages, remote spots, grounding intentional and otherwise, marinas with locks and sills tip the scales, its not the theory of the boats numbers and metrics, for us its the practical versatility that dominates the decision.

Is there a downside? Well we do occasionally check the hydraulic fluid level and carry some in case we need it, and we have changed the keel lifting pennant at the 5 year recommended interval even though I couldn’t detect any signs of wear, there is a possibility of the hydraulics failing which would be inconvenient but I have never heard of it happening. The keels I have seen being refurbished are on boats built 25-30 years ago, so these issues exist, but are insignificant compared to the plus points.

Here’s the practical stuff we value for de-stressing our life afloat….

  • Locked marina – we avoid the queues getting in and out before the rush
  • Crowded anchorages – we can often anchor closer in to shore and have more room on a shorter scope
  • Tidal anchorages – Like above we can often keep out of the worst of the tidal stream by being close in to shore
  • Beaching – We once left a marina and quickly found our feathering prop was fouled. our max speed was 4 knots with plenty of black smoke. We were able to beach nearby and clean the prop when the tide went out, a couple of hours later we were on our way.
  • Shallow berths – we have been allocated berths which we have come to a halt when entering until the keel was lifted
  • Keeping station – Digging the keel into the mud and waiting for a lock to cycle is very handy, like a handbrake
  • Cramped Marina – Having been allocated a tiny space in one marina, we needed a bit of thinking time to get in safely, the handbrake was applied.
  • Depth insurance when exploring shallows because the boat will just slow down as the keel touches and lifts up, then it’s time to decide how much further to go.
  • Another owner told me of the time he hit a rock at speed, this broke a pulley/block that serves the lifting pennant, after a lift to check below, and a replacement pulley was fitted they were on their way. I wonder how a fixed keel boat would have faired.
  • Downwind in light seas on the quarter we may have the keel mainly up to reduce drag and help speed, but in bigger seas we may choose to leave the keel fully down, it seems to dampen the boats rolling.
480’s are briliant in a seaway, as here: Kered with Sue and Rob Heath Antigua bound

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