Bolt 37 tested in Istanbul

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I always wanted to visit Istanbul, the mythic city between Europe and Asia, but never had the chance. So when I got the opportunity to sail the first two Jason Ker designed Bolt 37s, I naturally took it.

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Bolt 37 is in many ways the little sister of the successful Ker 40, but at a 40% lower price. The smaller size makes a big difference, and the builder have worked hard to achieve the right price point. So it looked like a promising package – and a fun comparison with my own J/111.

LOA: 11.00 m
LWP: 10.13 m
BEAM: 3.48 m
DRAFT: 2.6 m
DISP: 3975 kg
KEEL: 2330 kg (2060 kg in bulb)
Base price €169000
Full spec.

More detail photos on flickr.

Hull, deck, bulkheads and stiffeners made from multi and unidirectional glass, vinylester, Gurit M foam and infusion in a female mould. All the smaller pieces are also build in moulds from the start. Naturally at a higher initial cost, but build quality is consistent and finish better than I expected.

P: 15.30 m
I: 14.85 m
J: 4.32 m
E: 4.76 m
SPL: 5.81 m
SPA: 145 m2

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Saturday morning we arrived at the owners waterfront villa, in the middle of Istanbul and just meters from Bosporus. Boat #1, Due, was parked like a sports car just in front of the house. The plan was to do some boat-to-boat testing vs boat #2, Gin, that was launched just the other day. And then I wanted to change boats since #2 have twin wheels instead of a tiller. Also boat #1 had Doule Stratis while #2 was Quantum M. And it’s always fun to compare sail designs on similar boats.

The crew have sailed the boat for a few weeks, and still needs time to get the most out of it. The first real test was a race in fluky conditions (results), where they managed to beat all the Farr 40s on the water and came second on handicap despite a pretty steep IRC TCC of 1.168.

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The shape is distinctive, and very similar to the Ker 40. Narrow waterline, huge flair and a wide beam in a effort to combine light wind speed with stability downwind in a blow. So far the concept seems to be working.

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Deck layout is well thought out for racing with equipment Harken and Spinlock. Mast is HallSpars high modulus carbon with double swept spreaders, internal mast jack, rod rig, tuffluff and double aramid backstays. The only issue I had was the pushpits that should be angled outwards to allow hiking and look better. I guess the model that’s on the J/111 would fit nicely (angle + placement).

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Upwind the boat is pretty easy to get up to target, but as with any modern racer you need to work hard to stay there. I figured our target was about 7.2 knots in 10 knots of wind (to be verified by the designer). It will also be challenging to find a pointing mode that works out, since you really need the flow over keel and rudder. But as always, time in the boat will be key to get the most out of the package.

With 58% of the weight in the keel, and the bulb 2.6 meters down it’s stiff and settles down at a nice heeling angle. On that matter, there’s an excellent interview with Kevin Sproul on Ker 40 Keronimo – much of it can be applied to the Bolt as well.

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Sheeting position for the jib is easy to adjust and typically you end up with a tight angle – and the need for a focused helmsman. There was a little more rudder pressure than expected, helping with the pointing ability, but ideally I would lite the base trim to result in a more neutral feel.

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The general feel was very similar to the Corby designs I’ve sailed, and I have no doubt that the boat can perform well throughout the wind range – even if it will struggle with the rating against bigger boat in more breeze.

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With the tiller, both helmsman and main trimmer are seated well forward in the cockpit. Great visibility and huge footrests, where the traveller comes up in a cam cleat. Ergonomics have been a priority and everything is in the right place.

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With twin wheels, here on boat #2, the helmsman end up in the same spot. The wheels and steering systems are from Jefa, and there are some initial problems with the system. It worked great all day with a light nice feel, but going into the harbor after sailing something happened and we had to resort to the emergency tiller (update – it was a temporary stopper line that broke and when the helmsman kept turning the chain came off – easily fixed).

2nd boat rudder problem was the beakage of the stoper line on the quadrant, when its broken helmsman turned more than enough and our system is chain to vectran, so when its turned more than enough chain is finished and the gear came to vectran and chain jumped out from the gear.

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Communication between helm and main trimmer is easy, and positions are good both sitting and standing behind the wheel. The only thing would be some footrests for the helmsman (and crew aft) as well.

I really like the layout of both boats. Helmsman, main and jib trim end up in a tight group with the tactician behind. The only issue would be backstay trim that ends up in the back if the boat, out of the communication loop.

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How about downwind? With a 145 m2 gennaker on a fixed sprit and a narrow waterline it powers up quickly, accelerates easily and is a blast even in the 8-12 knots we had. At TWA 130 in 8 knots we easily achieved windspeed and in 12 knots we nearly reached double digits.

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This is a seriously fast boat that could be pressed pretty hard on a tight reach or in a serious blow. It’s stiff, easy to position exactly and would be a blast to sail in waves. The only issue there is the low freeboard and the tendency to sail on the nose when heeling. We’ve seen some wet rides with the Ker 40 (video). But a lot of people back in the bus will help.

On boat #1 I had an issue with the rudder pressure. To much even at TWA 150 and loading up enormously at TWA 130 (without loosing grip). Boat #2 was much better, despite identical configurations, so I don’t know what might have caused it.

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Let’s be clear. This is a racer, and the only reason you go below is to get your gear or a powerbar. There’s not much room and it get wet pretty quickly if you race actively. One or two people can work below, but don’t send the crew down to change. This, together with the deep 2.60 keel will make it hard to cruise with the boat. An evening sail could be fun, but get back before it gets dark.

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When the sun set over the Sea of Marmara and Kinaliada island, we tried to summarize…

Bolt 37 is a sweet boat that’s both fast and fun. In the right hands it would feel right at home in most races around the world, especially those with a downwind bias. Competition from bigger boats with longer waterline could be an issue depending on regatta format and handicap rule. But just as the Ker 40 proved that a smaller all out racer can compete with bigger but better rating racer/cruisers, Bolt 37 could as well.

There’s interest from UK, France, Hong-Kong and a number of other places. Hopefully we get to see some ambitious teams getting into the boat.

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