Island Packet 485 • The new 51-footer from Island Packet is a comfortable cruiser, capable of making faster passages than you might expect
The folks at Island Packet in Largo, Fla., have been making sailboats that are immediately recognizable as IPs since 1979, when they started things off with the Island Packet 26. Their real name, by the way, is Traditional Watercraft, Inc. The second boat was going to be the Andros Packet, but it became the 26 Mk II, and Traditional Watercraft became known as Island Packet. Bob Johnson, the company’s president and founder, has drawn every boat they’ve made except for an early boat called the Bombay Express. The boats have a familial similarity. It follows, then, that any discussion of their latest boat, this one 51 feet long overall, hardly needs to begin by stating its deck color or design ethos.
We sailed the Island Packet 485 on what amounted to a sea trial. The epoxy had hardly set when Dancing in the Dark set off from Hampton Roads, Va., to participate in the West Marine Caribbean 1500 (a full report on this event begins on page 42).
The boat had been launched just in time for the Annapolis Sailboat Show, early in October. Prior to our cruise it had been sailed across Chesapeake Bay from the Gratitude Yachting Center in Rock Hall, Md., to the show at Annapolis. After the show, two magazines that write about sailboats had the boat for two hours each to do their boat tests and then it was delivered to Hampton Roads, the departure port of the Caribbean 1500 and the start of BWS’s test.
BENEFITS OF SIZE
In calm seas at the start, Dancing in the Dark sets off for Tortola. Much of the space below the dinghy is a lazarette, nearly large enough to be a cabin and accessed by a deck hatch and a door in the aft cabin
Although I first saw the boat in Annapolis, it wasn’t until I had spent some time aboard that I fully appreciated the benefits of size, which does indeed matter. It’s big enough for the center cockpit to work, both aesthetically and functionally, and aft of the cockpit is a deck large enough to fit (in this case) a Bauer 10 with a sailing rig stowed in the dinghy’s hull. A clever arrangement using a telescoping section of the boom allows the dinghy to be launched and retrieved, and even with the reasonably entertaining weather we were to experience on our passage to the British Virgin Islands the dinghy remained securely stowed and never required tightening the lines.
The 485 is literally a step up—from the deck to the coaming of the center cockpit is at least two steps—and by the time you are in the cockpit, the water is a good distance away, in the manner of most center-cockpit boats. The IP’s freeboard and the height of the cockpit promise a dry ride in most conditions.
To go forward you simply step out and down to the deck, a wide, uncluttered passage with only the headsail track to watch out for. The sidedecks are wide enough to creep forward on your hands and knees during those occasions so rarely discussed by salespeople at boat shows. The teak caprail, running the length of the gunwale, provides a reassuring (and attractive) footrest when you’re working topside, and is big enough to provide a secure feeling when the boat is heeled.
Island Packet doesn’t scrimp on the fittings for ground tackle, and after making cruising boats for 24 years they have learned some good lessons. One of these is that cruisers make serious demands on their anchoring systems, so the anchor fitments are built to deal with those times when there is more wind than you would like and you really should have chosen a harbor without such a big swell. The bowsprit/anchor platform keeps the chain clear of the hull and, built to withstand the loads from anchoring, can put up with any loads the headsail might impose.
The chain is deposited via the efforts of a Lighthouse electric windlass into a well-proportioned chain locker, separated from the fo’c’sle by a watertight bulkhead and accessed by a hatch. The chain locker is better than many we have seen on contemporary boats, and includes a valved drain to the bilge.
Johnson can discern preferences years before they become trends, and in the case of the 485 he actively sought input from the company’s network of dealers and both prospective and present Island Packet owners. Island Packet’s new boat, like most of its predecessors, is a cutter, with a Garry Hoyt Jib Boom flying 176 square feet of sail. Like the 580-square-foot headsail, it has a roller furler as standard. The roller-furling gear is by Harken, as is all the deck hardware.
JUST THE RIGHT RIG
The staysail was just the right rig for much of the first part of our voy-age to Tortola. While the boat was big enough and, with a 40-percent ballast ratio, heavy enough to keep the head-sail flying at least 10 knots longer than really proper, the increase in weather helm and leeway told the tale. The ease of taking in the 110-percent headsail and rolling out the staysail made decisions to change sails easy, and after we became accustomed to the boat’s rig, the staysail was used with increasing frequency.
A Charleston Spars in-mast furling setup for the main is also standard, and once you master the balancing act between the outhaul and the furling line, all done from the cockpit, you can fine-tune the rig nearly as quickly as the wind can change.
All lines are led aft, entering the cockpit on either side of the hatchway and led to a bank of rope clutches. To port of the companionway is a Harken 48.2 CST winch, and to starboard the same winch with an electric motor tucked underneath. Laziness being a trait that seems to rise to the top of any gene pool, we found ourselves using the powered winch even when doing so necessitated using the manual winch as a turning block and leading the line above the companionway.
The primary winches, mounted on the cockpit coaming, are Harken 64.2 CEST winches, with the “E” telling you that a powerful electric motor has just replaced your muscles. Harken 32.2 CSTs are mounted as the secondaries.
The hull of the 485 is finished with a proprietary gelcoat that IP calls Polyclad, made using isophthalic resin. The company is sufficiently confident of the material that it comes with a 10-year warranty. Inside the gelcoat is a vinylester skin coat, and the hull itself is made of triaxial fiberglass. Triaxial glass has three layers of fabric, each offset 120 degrees from the other, and it has roughly twice the strength of conventional woven roving and five times the impact resistance.
Unlike many fiberglass boats, the Island Packet hull is made in one piece, including the keel. Cast lead sections are lowered into the matching cavities and laminated over using more triaxial fabric. The hull is roughly an inch and a half thick at the turn of the bilge, tapering to half an inch at the hull flange.
With the hull sitting outside the mold, a grid is dropped into place, serving the purpose of a hull liner and doubling in brass as floors. This liner/grid is a structural element, and is cored with what IP calls Polycore. If you think of it as microballoons contained within a polyester foam you won’t be too far off. It has the quality of being resistant to water intrusion and is blessed with a very high strength-to-weight ratio.
The floors are an engineered structural grid, referred to as an Internal Glass Unit. This IGU, part of the liner, contributes to the hull’s strength.
The deck is also made of triaxial fiberglass, changing to biaxial in places where a pronounced curvature would make the triaxial unsuitable. The flat parts, in addition to being made of triaxial, are also cored, with the same material as used in the hull liner.
The important thing is that the core is structurally identical to the fiberglass, so the fiberglass and the core stretch and contract due to stress at the same rate, minimizing delamination. Island Packet has been using this method of lamination since 1984, and in 1992 they began to provide a 10-year warranty against deck delamination. It seems to have been a safe bet: so far, there hasn’t been a single claim.
The keel is unashamedly full. In a world of bulb-fin keels, canting torpedoes of lead and keels with trim tabs, the IP full keel has the simplicity of a hockey puck. It’s there, it’s the full length of the boat, and it even has the rudder fastened to it. Island Packet’s explanation is that this is a FullFoil keel, i.e., its shape develops lift to windward, and that the advantages of a full keel, especially when shaped as a “full foil,” more than offset the drag caused by the wetted area.
We clocked a time in the Caribbean 1500 that turned more than one head, but I think there is another factor that deserves mention. The IP 485 is a comfortable boat. The 485 comes down the steep side of a wave and opens the water rather than smacking it. The roll period of a heavy boat is longer, and the full keel adds to directional stability in a seaway, easing the task of the helmsman. This all combines to make their new boat, in a word, comfortable.
The companionway steps open onto a large saloon with the nav station to port and the galley to starboard. Next to the steps is a wet locker that is recessed to below sole level and drains to the bilge. It’s big enough for seaboots and several sets of foul weather gear. Below the stairs is the engine room, large enough to sit in, well lit and with access hatches on all sides. The best seat in the house is the chair at the nav station, a swiveling armchair that provided good support and always felt comfortable, regardless of the seas. On the bulkhead behind the nav chair is a hinged chart stowage locker that cleverly uses the space between the seat and the bulkhead. There was a problem with the size, though. We tried to fit a chartbook into it and found it to be about 3/4 of an inch too small to fit lengthwise. We contacted Bill Bolin, IP’s director of marketing, and told him about the problem. He said they had measured chartbooks and I must have an odd one, but he would check. A day later he called back. There had been a mistake, the locker was too small, and they were making it bigger beginning with the boat they were currently building. “We’re still trying to figure out how to fix the ones that are out there,” said Bolin.
On either side of the saloon is a settee, curved enough to cause me initially to worry as to their suitability as sea berths. After more than a week of testing, sleeping underway on both tacks and in port, they pass. They more than pass, they are possibly the most comfortable settee berths I have slept on. In order to have enough room to sleep well, the back cushions need to be removed, and this could do with some improvement, mostly because there is no handy place to stow them and they have to be replaced exactly as removed. Each one is different, and while they are labeled, one suggestion might be to make them all identical. This would lower the cost of production and simplify turning in after a watch.
The table hinges down from the forward bulkhead, a setup so proper that I can only wonder why it is ever done any other way. When not in use, it only sticks out a few inches on the bulkhead, leaving the saloon clear for sorting sails at sea or square dancing in port. It’s that big.
The settees roll out to allow comfortable seating at the table, and once out they are held in place with a stainless steel pin inserted into the teak-and-holly sole. The starboard settee also makes into a double bed when rolled out.
Beneath the sole of the entire boat is stowage, everywhere. The lift-out soleboards lack a secure fastener and could come adrift in a rollover, but fasteners can be easily installed by an IP dealer for any owner who thinks a rollover to be a genuine possibility.
Forward of the engine room, and visible from the engine, is the generator stowage, big enough for the 8-kW Fischer Panda that worked away silently under our feet. On either side of the AC genset are the tanks for water, fuel and black water from the heads. One design advantage of the raised-saloon style so popular of late is the large amount of room for tankage low in the bilge. When boats began to lose bilge space as the deadrise was reduced in the interests of speed and interior volume, there was a time when water and fuel tanks were tucked in some very improbable places. Under the cabin sole seems a good solution to the problem of carrying 2,400 pounds of drinking water and 1,800 pounds of diesel. That works out, just to save you the bother, to 300 gallons of each. There is also fresh water (40 gallons) for the two Vacuflush heads and a 60-gallon holding tank.
It’s nice to have a big boat. The liquid stores weigh 4,520 pounds, but such is the carrying capacity of the IP 485 that that weight translates into just under two inches of draft.
The starboard galley is down a step aft of the saloon. The sinks are on the center island, above the engine room, with the oven and the various refrigeration units along the hull. Dancing in the Dark, our test vessel, had three cold boxes, a refrigerator, a freezer and a drinks cooler that resembled an especially large drawer more than a refrigerator. Island Packet has developed and deserved a reputation for delivering boats that, in their standard configuration, are fairly complete. Perched above the sinks is the standard microwave oven, for example. The galley is well ventilated, with ports on both the hull side and the footwell of the cockpit.
Beyond the galley is the aft cabin, where there is a double bed placed at a diagonal angle that you don’t often see. I’m sure it provides comfortable sleeping in port and, with three sides of the bed open, making the bed is easier than with the more usual sea berth. From the adjacent, large and comfortable head and shower there is another access panel to the engine. When all the panels are opened and removed, you can see from one end to the other and across both sides.
Forward of the saloon is a small cabin to port, with two Pullman berths and a swivel chair for use with the desk/stowage cabinet. Across the passageway from the cabin is the forward head. Two doors provide access to the head from either the V-berth or the passageway.
The V-berth isn’t. The fo’c’sle is large enough that it is a proper berth, nearly rectangular in shape, with room to stand on either side and big enough for two people on good terms with each other. The berth, like every berth on every Island Packet, is six feet six inches long. Under the bed, just as in the aft cabin, is a large stowage area. Lifting the bed is aided by the use of a compressed gas strut. More stowage is under the sole and in the many drawers, lockers, closets and shelves that seem to be everywhere.
Ventilation at anchor is provided for with 15 opening portlights and five hatches. There are also four Dorades, surrounded by a “cage” of stainless tubing to prevent tangles with sheets and sails.
Sailing the IP 485 offers few surprises, which isn’t at all a bad thing. The boat steers easily, with the Whitlock Mamba rack-and-pinion steering seemingly always on its best behavior. There was just enough feedback to aid in sail trim and virtually no slack. The big IP rudder, hinged at the shoe of the keel and the hull, has no balancing planar area, but the steering never felt overloaded. Run the wheel full over while going ahead or make a moderate turn in reverse and the wheel never tries to run away from you.
The boat sails easily and comfortably; those two words encapsulate the boat’s greatest virtue. It is forgiving, and will sail within a wide range of trim. This is not a finely tuned racing machine that requires a change of trim to make a five-degree change of direction. It will, of course, benefit from such careful attention, but you can sail this boat in and out of its “groove” with nearly equal ease. A shorthanded crew, such as the cruising couple that represent the typical IP customer, will achieve high average speeds without too much effort.
Offshore, we sailed Dancing in the Dark hard, trimmed as needed, and while we relied on the autopilot for much of the steering, by paying attention to how many spokes of weather helm the boat was carrying and keeping a careful eye on sail trim, we crossed the line at the end of our 1,500-mile boat test ahead of a lot of boats that were supposedly faster. Should this be your next boat? Do you want a big, comfortable passagemaker that will put up with anything the sea is likely to come up with? Are you content to have a boat much faster than its reputation—if you sail it well? And then there’s the IP owners’ collective consciousness. When you buy an IP, you join the club of like-minded cruisers. The loyalty of IP owners is legendary, and their annual regatta is an amazing event. The folks at Largo will never forget you just because your boat was made 10 or 15 years ago. They know where nearly every boat they ever made is located. They keep track of what has gone wrong so they can fix it in the next design. Their “make it right” attitude, shown so well with the chart locker incident, is a good example.
The 485 is their most ambitious boat to date, and it would not be overstating things to call it their flagship. It is certainly meeting with acceptance. As of press time there were five 485s in the water, with another 15 on order. Island Packet has, for the time being, ceased production of their smaller boats to concentrate on filling orders for the 485, which should be rolling out the doors at the rate of one every two weeks. Bob Johnson and his crew in Largo seem to have done everything right with this boat and the growing numbers of owners obviously think so as well.
LOA 51’ 7”
LWL 43’ 2”
Beam 15’ 4”
Draft 5’ 3”
Ballast 16,000 lbs.
Displ. 40,000 lbs.
Sail Area (100 %) 1,060 sq. ft.
Air draft 63’ 6”
SA/Displ. (100 %) 14.5
Ballast/Displ. 40 %
STIX/CE Stability index 63
Pounds per inch immersion: 2,357
Auxiliary 100-hp Yanmar FWC
Water 300 gals.
Fuel 300 gals.
Heads flush water 40 gals.
Holding tank 60 gals.
Designer Bob Johnson
Base price $498,950
1979 Wild Acres Rd.
Largo, Fla. 33771