Aerodyne 38

by Dryw Lloyd

Blue Water Sailing
April 2001


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The Aerodyne 38 blasts the standards of cruiser/racers into the present

Hurtling along at nine knots, Loonatic carved a swath through the Delaware Bay, turning the heads of fishermen who bobbed increduously alongside stationary lighthouses. The four of us grinned at each other – “So this is what she can do!” Just hours before, we had left the Atlantic Ocean behind and slipped between the sentinel Capes May and Henlopen, entering the funnel-shaped bay and the last day of our trip aboard the black-hulled Aerodyne 38.

We had embarked from Newport, R.I. on a calm day featuring winds of the frustrating nil-to-five category. Excited to unleash the power obviously lurking within her, we deployed the retractable sprit and hoisted a spinnaker off Brenton Reef, hoping that the gods of the gust were as curious as we were and might offer a substantial puff or two. Alas, they weren’t feeling up to it and the kite fizzled. Reining in the asymmetrical, we set a course south into what we hoped would be more wind. We left Block Island and Montauk Point to starboard and headed southwest through a stretch of open water off the New Jersey coast sure to provide us with the chop that so often kicks up these shallows. A sea breeze graced this segment of the trip as well, and Loonatic divulged her underlying power. The exhilarating run through Delaware Bay brought us to the C&D canal, where we joined a flotilla of vessels heading for the 2000 Annapolis Boat Show.

The Rodger Martin-designed Aerodyne 38 is a real rocketship. Its light displacement, big rig and slippery hull add up to incredible performance on the water. It has been shredding up the race course in weekday club tilts, the Nantucket 160, and the Hyannis, Mass. to Nantucket Island Fagawi in which a crew of seven, including Martin, took second place last May, vanquishing a couple of Farr 40s! However, the 38 is no bare-bones racer. She is built for those who thrive on sailing fast, but want to do so on a platform that is easy to control and offers a level of comfort below. The 38 fits this description to a T, living up to the notion of a “cruiser/racer” as few boats have since the term started being used – some would say abused – in the 1970s.

The 38’s non-dimensional numbers reveal her to be a step forward in the evolution of this genre of boats. Sail Area / Displacement (SA/D) is a whopping 25.4 – a significant jump in sail power from earlier standards of performance cruising embodied in boats like the J/40, boasting a not-too-shabby SA/D of 20.2. Furthermore, innovative hull and foil design along with lighter, space-age materials has led to a steady decrease in Displacement/Length (D/L) ratios. The A38 is an extreme expression of this trend as well, leaving her predecessors, all radical in their day, far behind with a super-light D/L of 125. Boiling down these numbers, the 38 comes across as a light boat with a big rig, meaning of course that she responds favorably to light winds. Equally important, she can be reefed easily from the cockpit in heavier conditions.

A look at the polars suggests the 38’s predicted performance. Sailing 36 degrees off a 12-knot breeze, she’ll make seven knots, while 135 degrees off the same wind she’ll eke out more than eight. The figures show that the 38 makes good time in light winds; a quick calculation sees her chalking up 170-180 mile days in moderate conditions. Boost the wind to 20 knots and things really heat up. She’ll hit 11 knots on a broad reach, close to ten on the beam and eight at 44 degrees off the wind, putting 200 to 250-mile days under these conditions well within her grasp.

The boat is easy to handle, because rig and sailplan claim their roots in Around Alone (BOC) singlehanded designs. All lines run aft to the cockpit. The mast and boom, upgradeable from aluminum to carbon fiber, support a high-roach, full-batten, 540-square-foot 3DL mainsail. Because this big main, readily shortened through a one-line reefing system, provides so much power, an easily-tacked fractional 100% non-overlapping jib is adequate to balance the sailplan and works well in a wide wind range. A removable inner stay allows you to set a staysail; it is simply disconnected to make room for a dinghy. The downwind arsenal flies from a retractable carbon fiber sprit that emerges from the bow.

The 11’6” cockpit affords ample space for racing maneuvers, eating, sleeping, and socializing. A 60” wheel allows fingertip control from either side, and foot cleats at the helm and centerline between the benches aid in positive bracing while heeled. Any water coming aboard is kept from below by a washboard, and quickly ushered back to the sea via the open transom. A molded toe rail runs the length of the 38’s wide, low-profile Awl-Gripped non-skid deck, and two sets of swept-back spreaders lead the discontinuous rod rigging outboard to the rails – this opens up a secure, clear path forward.

Conspicuously, however, little consideration has been giving to anchoring. The bow locker is small and shares space with the recessed jib-furling drum, leaving minimal room for ground tackle. Rollers and chocks are notably absent, and a windlass seems out of the question – although the 38 is so light you’ll be able to haul the anchor by hand in all but heavy conditions. While this simple bow layout bodes well for racing – by reducing weight forward of the mast and providing a clear foredeck – if you are planning on cruising you’ll need to install anchoring hardware and allocate space below for supplemental ground tackle.

With any light boat, stability is an issue. Martin has designed the hull and foils to maximize this component. A high-volume, beamy hull with reasonable flare provides plenty of reserve buoyancy and keeps wetted surface to a minimum below the waterline. The hull’s soft, almost semi-circular sections make for a balanced waterplane that holds it shape when heeled, contributing to superior tracking and control at the helm. A fine, plum bow and relatively shallow forefoot allow the boat to cleave the water. Her beam is carried in a straight run aft to a rounded stern, minimizing strain on helmsman or autopilot and lending power and finesse to the back end – the 38 likes to surf downwind, and will surpass her theoretical hull speed of 7.25 knots with ease.

Thin, high-aspect composite foils aboard the 38 further enhance stability, tracking and control. A 4,500 lb. lead bulb attached to the 7’9” fin keel provides positive stability by distributing ballast as low as possible. Hanging all the way aft, where it works best, is a deep, semi-elliptical balanced spade rudder. For those seeking access to shallower locations, a 6’0” shoal-draft version of this boat is available.

The 38 is a versatile boat. Whether manned by a full racing crew or singlehanded, in a race or on an island-hopping cruise, she is easy to control and responsive in a wide range of conditions.

The high-volume, beamy hull shape so integral to the 38’s performance lends itself to a spacious interior. Intelligent distribution of this space, coupled with an attention to creature comforts usually not found on boats that routinely make 12-14 knots, results in what we would term sufficient cruising accommodations.

The V-berth is comfortable but diminutive – it is best used for storage or children’s quarters. Two longitudinal settees stretch along either side of a collapsing centerline table in the saloon, and these make good seaberths with lee cloths. Just inside the aft cabin is space to stand up and change clothes. The cockpit intrudes on the rest of this cabin, but ducking farther aft reveals a prairie-size berth. Ports lead from here into the cockpit, affording good ventilation and communication with the helm. A panel in the aft bulkhead provides access to the steering compartment.

Happily, and surprisingly, there is plenty of storage aboard, found in the usual places – lockers in the head and cabins, behind the settees, and under the V-berth and after-berth cushions. Handholds run the length of the saloon under the ports, and during our offshore testing they proved well-placed and sturdy. However, it is worth mentioning that we found them lacking between the saloon and the companionway ladder.

The nav station, on the port side, is within easy communication range of the cockpit. It faces forward and has ample shelves, drawers and under-table space for navigational materials. The electrical panel is situated just above the nav station seat, an accessible spot but one that could have been used for instrumentation – some creativity in the allocation of space is called for if you’re looking to install a full range of electronics.

Athwartship is a C-shaped seagoing galley with acres of fiddled counterspace, a two-burner stove, and a double stainless steel centerline sink that drains on both tacks. A good size 12-volt Isotherm refrigerator completes Loonatic’s food station. At the bottom of the ladder to port lies a smallish head with shower which doubles as a wet locker.

Auxiliary power is supplied by a 27-hp Yanmar, located amidships at her center of gravity, which throws a folding two-blade propeller through a Saildrive transmission. Removing two large panels on the galley sink compartment exposes all engine parts to inspection and maintenance.

The boat’s two 12-V batteries, 25-gallon fuel tank, and both freshwater tanks (totaling 70 gallons) reside under the settees. These capacities are minimal. For extended voyaging it would be best to expand the fuel and water capacities and to add at least one more battery – dedicated to the starter – or more, depending on your electrical needs.

The underlying principle governing the 38’s interior and systems is functionality. She includes adequate arrangements for living aboard, while shunning the bells, whistles and trimmings that increase a boat’s price, weight and maintenance level.

Aerodyne Technology, based outside Cape Town, South Africa, has been at the forefront of aerospace, industrial and leisure technology for the past 15 years, producing such items as the world record-breaking Lotus bicycle and seats for the Concorde jet. This experience, complemented by the expertise of production engineer John Fox – known in part for his work at C&C and for developing the mini Transat design as a class unto itself – results in an extremely light, ultra-strong boat.

The hull is comprised of epoxy and layers of biaxial and unidirectional fiber glass fixed to balsa core in a one-shot vacuum-bag process. Once the composite internal frame and bulkheads are glassed and epoxied in, the entire unit is cured under a tent overnight.

The deck is formed in the same way, but with a PVC core. The hull and deck are then joined so thoroughly that the fiberglass will split before the union is compromised. They are tabbed together on the inside, then further joined by spreading a layer of rubber-modified epoxy and Plexus – the glue used to hold car windshields in place – between a four-inch rollback on the hull and the four-inch deck flange.

Once the composite fin keel is fitted into a slot in the bottom of the hull, bolted onto the frame with two 45mm bolts, glassed and epoxied, the lead ballast bulb is attached with two 25mm bolts and the entire vessel is baked one final time.

Details on the order of using mesh covers across lockers and marine ply for all non-structural bulkheads keep the boat light, while intelligent positioning of bulkheads accomplishes two jobs – dividing the cabin and bolstering overall monocoque strength. The forward cabin bulkhead is angled aft at the same angle as the inner stay, and those located just forward and aft of the keel provide major framing to diffuse impact should the keel strike something.

In general, of course, the lighter a boat is, the quicker and more responsive it will tend to be. These are attractive qualities in a blue-water boat, but no more so than is durability. By virtue of space-age technology and an attention to detail usually reserved for custom one-offs and pure racing boats, the 38 fills both bills.

Our 400-mile sea trial saw us in a variety of conditions. During the thrilling ride through Delaware Bay, Loonatic displayed responsive behavior. Making seven knots close-reaching across ten knots of wind, she immediately accelerated to eight and higher in gusts. When the breeze steadied at about 15 knots, we fell to 120 degrees off the wind and she didn’t miss a beat, nailing nine knots on her rails.

She also exhibited good manners. She tracked well, showing only the slightest tendency to round up when the mainsail was sheeted too tightly. Releasing the main or dropping the traveler a bit allowed us to recapture the fingertip control that her wide wheel and gripping foils allow. We tacked through 90° with ease under sail alone, and 75° when motorsailing – in a racing scenario an inhaul combined with fine-tuned sheeting should facilitate a tack-through of about 80°. As is to be expected of a light boat, she pounded somewhat in a seaway, but her slicing bow and soft sections dampened this motion. The conditions we encountered were anything but fierce, but in them Loonatic expressed seakindly traits that will see a fit and energetic crew through worse.

For most of our trip, we lacked any heavy air. As noted above, the 38’s big rig and light displacement mean that she doesn’t need much wind to make forward progress – had we not been on a delivery, we would have been content to let the breeze carry us along at a happy five knots. As it was, we motorsailed for a good portion of the trip. The engine proved silent and plenty powerful. However, we almost ran out fuel before reaching the C&D canal, confirming our belief that additional tankage is required on an extended voyage aboard the 38. In tight spots, the engine, aided by efficient propeller placement just aft of the keel and a deep rudder, allowed us to execute pinpoint maneuvers.

Taking advantage of the latest in rig and underbody design combined with space-age building techniques and materials, the Aerodyne 38 is a light, fast and durable blue-water bullet. She’s easy to control and provides relatively comfortable accommodations as well. However, she is not your father’s Oyster or a boat to sail the Labrador Sea. The 38 fills a narrow niche in the blue-water arena. She is ideal for a skilled, athletic and adventurous crew who are up to challenging sailing and willing to put up with a bit of pounding in exchange for a fast ride.

To put it in perspective, a friend of ours, a veteran racer, sailed a 38 from Newport, R.I. to the end of the Grenadines and back with his wife and two kids last year. They report both the advantages of the sporty 38 – regular speeds of 12 to 14 knots and several over 200-mile days – as well as the drawbacks – in heavy seas in the Gulf Stream and between the islands they got banged around a bit. Essential is that they knew what they were getting into, were up to the rigors, and had a thrilling and enjoyable cruise. Far from lavish or exhaustive, the accommodations and systems nonetheless granted the four of them a livable environment for the extent of the trip – nine months.

There are a few things we’d like to see the boat incorporate – like additional tankage, more handholds, a more serious anchoring setup, to invoke just three – but these shortcomings actually derive from the 38’s versatility. As is, she’ll do her crew proud in day races and more extensive events such as the Marion-Bermuda, TransPac or Halifax races, while a few alterations – and a bit of the frontier spirit – make her ready to take you, a partner, and even a couple of kids on fast, moderately comfortable passages to a wealth of temperate cruising destinations.

LOA 37’8” (11.5 m.)
LWL 34’3” (10.4 m.)
Beam 13’0” (4.0 m.)
Draft 7’9” (2.4 m.)
(std bulb)
Draft 6’0” (1.8 m.)
(opt shoal bulb)
Ballast 4,150 lbs. (1882 kg)
Disp 11,250 lbs. (5102 kg)
SA (100%) 907 sq. ft.
Mast above water 61’3”
Ballast/Disp 0.37
Disp/Length 125
SA/Disp 25.4
Fuel 25 gal. (95 liters)
Water 70 gal. (266 liters)
Auxiliary 27 hp Yanmar
Designer Rodger Martin/
Steve Koopman
Base Price $199,990

Aerodyne Marine Technology
PO Box 897• Strand 7139
South Africa •

Rodger Martin/Steve Koopman Yacht Designs
BOX 242, Newport RI 02842
Ph: 401-849-9850
Fax: 401-848-0119

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