Cabo Rico 45

by Dryw Lloyd

Blue Water Sailing
September 2001


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The Cabo Rico 45 is an elegant, capable cruiser built by veteran craftsmen

In the generation since cruising really caught on in North America we have seen dozens of boatbuilders come and go, so it is a pleasure to see a company like Cabo Rico celebrate its 35th year of continuous production. Over the years Cabo Rico has built more than 250 offshore cruising boats from 34 to 45 feet, and those boats have amassed an amazing record of passagemaking and safe cruising worldwide. No one has tallied the total miles they’ve sailed, but you’d have to guess that the sum is in the millions because the sailors who own Cabo Ricos are dedicated, dyed-in-the-wool cruisers who venture far and wide. Certainly, no matter where you cruise on this planet, you can expect to be anchored in the company of at least one of these distinctive, clipper-bowed cutters.

Last June, BWS visited with the folks at Cabo Rico to catch up on the state of play with the company and to test sail the latest Cabo Rico 45, which had just arrived from the factory in Costa Rica. Fraser Smith, who has owned Cabo Rico since 1987, gave us a tour of the new boat and of an older 45 also at the docks. A genial Canadian who liked his own Cabo Rico 38 so much he bought the company, Smith is one of those dedicated cruising sailors who is passionate about getting his boats “just right.”

Since the company was founded, Cabo Rico has built four basic models. The 34, 36 and 45 were designed by Bill Crealock, while the new 40/42 was designed by Chuck Paine. The original 36 was reconfigured almost 20 years ago into the 38 and between the two more than 190 have been built. (In today’s used-boat market, Cabo Rico 38s rank among the best values in a pure offshore cruising boat, although owners seldom part with them.) Two years ago, the 40 was stretched to 42 feet by giving it a slightly longer transom; the additional length adds storage space aft and gives the boat a slightly longer dynamic waterline. Last year, the 34, of which almost three dozen have been built, was given a similar alteration and transformed into the new 36. The redesign turned a capable passagemaker that was, perhaps, a bit small by today’s standards into a perfect couple’s boat that is easy to handle and capable of cruising anywhere in the world. (It is easy to forget that 20 years ago, 36 feet was considered by many veteran cruising couples to be the ideal length for voyaging!) This year, plans are in the works to lengthen the transom of the 45, again adding storage and waterline, to make it 47 feet.

Since the mid-1960s, Cabo Rico has been building the boats in their own factory in San José, Costa Rica, 3,000 feet above sea level. The Costa Rican operation is run by a master boatbuilder who has been with Cabo Rico for 25 years; the work force has an average tenure with the company of over 15 years. These employees have been brought up in the Cabo Rico way of doing things, which enables Smith to deliver boats that are of consistently high quality and often customized to an owner’s needs.

The boats have always had a very “woody” look and feel to them, a product of copious teak topside, plus bulkheads and panels below built with tongue-in-groove styling and doors constructed of louvered sections and solid wood frames. The handwork involved and the high level of finish tell the tale of many man-hours by skilled cabinetmakers.

The two 45s we inspected showed how owners’ tastes can vary and how the builder succeeds in accommodating them. The older 45 had a teak interior, giving it the warmth and coziness of a traditional cruising boat with a typically darkish aura. The new boat, by contrast, was built for an owner who eschewed traditional interior design for white laminate bulkheads and panels that are trimmed with varnished teak. The effect is startlingly modern and makes the saloon very bright and welcoming. While the hulls and decks of the boats remain standard, each boat is built as a custom project for each individual owner.

The 45 was designed by Bill Crealock to be a world-voyaging boat stable enough, sturdy enough and comfortable enough to carry a couple safely through anything the sea might throw at them. A design evolution of the 34/36 and the 36/38, the 45 is a liveaboard home that allows its owners to be self-sufficient for long periods of cruising off the beaten track.

In a market that has adopted, for the most part, configurations based on fin keels and spade rudders, the 45 (like her little sisters) bucks the trend by sporting a full keel with a cutaway forefoot and a large keel-hung rudder. The propeller spins inside an aperture in the keel’s deadwood. While a conventional full keel does affect somewhat a boat’s windward ability in the modern vernacular, the choice of this traditional hull shape for a pure cruising boat makes a lot of sense in terms of hull integrity, motion at sea, directional stability and storage volume.

Moreover, the moderately heavy displacement of the hull combined with the full keel allows a couple or shorthanded crew to drive the boat very near hull speed for long periods without undue physical exertion. The ability to sleep well while on passage can make the difference between a safe journey and an exhausting, dangerous one. And, given the boat’s easy motion in a seaway, crew are less likely to be tossed about and injured while working on deck in heavy weather.

The 45’s hull form shows the signature clipper bow of the earlier boats with ample flare in the forward stations which combine to keep the decks dry in bouncy conditions. Low bulwarks all the way around the decks improve footing for the crew and keep wayward tools from slipping overboard. Aft, the 45 maintains ample beam right to the transom, adding power to the hull in reaching conditions, buoyancy in rough going, and interior volume for lockers and swinging room in the after cabin.

A traditional cutter rig has long been considered the most versatile if not the easiest configuration for a shorthanded crew to manage, particularly in rising weather. With roller furling on the foresail – either a genoa or a high-cut yankee, depending on the prevailing breeze – and a staysail at the ready, reducing headsail area while maintaining an efficient, balanced sailplan entails nothing more than rolling up the big sail and deploying the little one.

On boats of this size, with over 1,300 square feet of working sail area, the mainsail needs special attention. The design calls for standard slab reefing but the builder offers both in-mast and in-boom reefing systems. We sailed the new 45 with the in-boom system. With furlers on both headsails as well as the main, all sail handling can be accomplished from the safety of the cockpit.

The hull and deck of the 45, like the smaller boats, have laminate schedules more robust than you’ll find in just about any cruising boat built today. The 45 we sailed had a Corecell cored hull, but Cabo Rico also uses balsa. The layup in the hull calls for three layers of chopped strand mat (CSM) and then alternating layers of mat and roving. Vinylester resin in the outer layers reduces the risk of blistering, while polyester resin on the inner layers gives the panels immense strength.

The layup at this point is stronger than in many production boats. Still to come, however, are a half inch of core and an inner layup of mat and roving in polyester resin. The hull is coated with ISO NPG gelcoat both inside and out. Smith reports that his boats have been involved in several serious groundings without a trace of hull panel failure.

The ballast is encapsulated inside the full keel, where the layup is more than an inch thick. The lead is lowered into the keel cavity and then sealed with polyester filler and layers of mat and roving over the top, functionally creating a second bottom. Given the possibility of collision with a whale or container at sea, or with reefs and rocks closer to shore, the keel design and construction provide a reassuring level of strength and protection.

Often considered the weakest link in any composite boat, the hull-deck joint on the 45 and other Cabo Ricos has been designed to make use of the natural rigidity of the box section formed by the raised bulwarks, administered through the best technical systems available to bond the hull to the deck flange. The parts are joined with 3M 5200 and then thru-bolted. The formed section then develops the strength of a box girder, which eliminates any threat of twisting under load. Suffice it to say, this method of joining the hull and deck creates a union as strong as any in the sailing market.

Given 35 years of building and perfecting their boats, the team in Costa Rica – with, most recently, Smith at the helm – have come up with several innovations that bear noting.

In the design and construction of the rudder, attention has been paid to the occasional need to pull the prop shaft for repairs. Normally in designs with an enclosed propeller fitted to an aperture, the rudder has to be removed to pull the shaft. On the 45, the rudder has been notched on the leading edge, which provides a channel through which the shaft can be removed.

In the construction of solid cruising boats, interior bulkheads and furniture tend to be tabbed with fiberglass to the hull and deck and to sit either on a fiberglass interior pan liner or on wood floors glassed to the hull. Smith objects to wood in the bilge and to any flex in a bulkhead joint where this element meets the floor, so he and his team have designed U-shaped fiberglass floors, glassed to the hull. On top of these beams a hefty fiberglass subfloor serves to join beams, hull and bulkheads together, and provides a platform for the teak-and-holly-finished cabin sole. This flooring system will never rot and gives the internal structure of the boat immense strength.

Fuel and water tanks, whether made of stainless steel, black iron, or aluminum, are always a source of regular, often nagging maintenance. To find a better way, Cabo Rico constructs its tanks of a vinylester laminate coated inside and out with thick layers of ISO NPG gelcoat. The tanks are fully engineered outside the boat, then installed with both mechanical and composite fastenings. The benefits of this method include knowing that the tanks are inert and will never corrode, and the ability to render these tanks in a shape that conforms to the hull.

While there are dozens of smaller innovations that combine to make the 45 such a well-thought-out boat, one small detail we particularly like is a cabinet located in the companionway just large enough to hold tubes of sunscreen, dark glasses, a handbearing compass, binoculars and other sundries that usually litter the cockpit while under way. This simple solution to a common problem speaks volumes about the depth of sailing experience embodied in the boat.

We spent only two hours sailing the 45 in Florida Straits in conditions that could not have been more pleasant. We had 10 to 12 knots from the east, flat seas and a clear sky – alas, hardly conditions in which to measure the boat’s deep range of capabilities. In these conditions, the 45 sailed easily at 45 degrees true to the wind and was able to make roughly half the wind speed. Once we eased sheets, the boat gathered steam and showed seven and a half knots. On a reach, the boat’s surefootedness will make it a pleasure to sail in athletic trade-wind conditions – and will enable the autopilot or wind vane to steer without undue strain.

We made several tacks and found that the 45 carried her way through these maneuvers easily and with assurance. We snapped her through the first time, but found that a slower, more conservative turn made the sheet trimmer’s job less hectic and kept way on – and speed up – more effectively.

We have sailed several Cabo Ricos over the years and always come away pleased with the way the boats handle and with their ability to sail quickly in moderate breezes. Where the 45 really will shine, however, is in conditions that many other boats – especially ultra-sensitive lightweight craft with flatter sections – are apt to find rocky. In breezes over 30 knots, when things begin to get hairy and the crew is feeling on edge, the 45 handles easily and comfortably and gives everyone aboard the confidence that she can take whatever comes.

We did not fly downwind sails on our outing, but to prepare this boat for cruising certainly we would add an asymmetrical spinnaker and a free-flying reacher or Code One to the sail inventory. One final note – the 45 we sailed was fitted with Leisurefurl in-boom mainsail furling. We tested the boom’s ability to roll and unroll the mainsail while sailing upwind, while reaching and then while heading dead downwind. Because the breeze was light, we couldn’t evaluate fairly how the boom system would behave in a gale, but in 12 knots it worked just fine. An in-boom mainsail system would be a valuable addition to the 45.

The Crealock-designed Cabo Rico 45 is an eminently sensible boat for long-distance cruising. The hull has the volume to carry ample fuel, water and stores, and the sailing ability to knock off generally 170- to 200-mile days. The 45 is a dry boat able to keep her crew comfortable and safe in bad weather. The deck layout makes working at the mast or on the foredeck safe and secure. The rig is robust and suited to shorthanded crews managing sails in all types and extent of weather.

A boat to be taken voyaging should inspire confidence in all who sail aboard her. That confidence comes from the assurance that the vessel has been designed and built with the real rigors of the sea in mind. As noted above, the 45 is as strongly built as any boat we have sailed in recent years. Should you sail in harm’s way, this blue-water voyager will see you through.

Down below, the 45 offers accommodations that make her a comfortable, refined and pleasant floating home. Because Cabo Rico will customize the interior to meet an owner’s needs, experienced sailors and boat owners will be able to apply all they have learned from previous boats to the finished product. The 45 is not a cookie-cutter boat stamped out of an indifferent production line, rather a collaboration of the best that designer, builder and owner can bring to the building process. As a finishing touch, each boat is delivered with its own unique set of detailed plans covering all of the systems aboard, including a full systems manual.

A great voyaging boat and an elegant and comfortable floating home, the Cabo Rico 45 – like her smaller sisters – enables her owners to fulfill the cruising dream with real confidence and in real style.

LOA 49’0” (14.9 m.)
LOD 45’5” (13.8 m.)
LWL 35’0” (10.7 m.)
Beam 13’2” (4.0 m.)
Draft 6’6” (1.98 m.)
Draft (shoal) 5’6” (1.68 m.)
Displ. 35,600 (16,148 kgs.)
Ballast 13,500 (6,124 kgs.)
SA 1,334 sq.ft. (124.0 sq.m.)
D/L 370
SA/D 19.7 (all working sail)
B/D .38
Water 250 gals. (946 ltr.)
Fuel 150 gals. (568 ltr.)
Auxiliary 75-h.p. Yanmar diesel
Designer William I.B. Crealock

Cabo Rico Custom Yachts
2258 SE 17th St.
Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33316
Ph: 954-462-6699

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