FINDING A FIGURE 8 VOYAGE BOAT: A Sparkman and Stephens 48

Lola under sail

The holidays. Five airports, four families, three American states, two babies but oodles of kiddos, dogs and cats and hikes and boomerang lessons and Shrek reruns and bike rides and obligatory feasting, and one all-out good time.

A nice break from planning an expedition.

But am now back at my desk. The rain that pummeled the bay area most of December has moved on. The sky is blue and the today is such an imitation of summer that I’ve opened the doors and windows while I write. Varied thrushes are passing through the neighborhood. In the garden, a misguided rosebush attempts a bloom.

During our holiday tour, I made but one water-directed sidetrip. Specifically, I spent an afternoon in Marina Del Rey, California, aboard Lola, a renovated Sparkman and Stephens ketch in steel being offered for sale.

What a classic yacht is Lola! Her lines, lithe and understated, her overhangs, long, her sheer, graceful, and all evocative of the wooden yacht whose age was fast closing when she was welded-up in 1972. Though she has become an “antique” (if you believe the classification on, she presents beautifully as a serious cruiser.

Actually, I call her Sparkman and Stephens out of convenience, as her lineage is complicated. It goes something like this: her original owner, during a business trip to New York, requested that Messrs. Sparkman and Stephens design for him a sturdy cruising yacht, but as they were too busy, he took plans for one of their racers back with him to his Holland home. There he had yacht architect D. Koopmans rework her lines, adding a deeper keel, skeg hung rudder, etc., after which Maasdam-Deckker welded the hull and the builders at the Royal Huisman yard did the rest.

And it could be that she has already been to the Antarctic. In her records is retained a 1985 project plan titled “The Voyage of Hero, II,” which was to be a recreation of Captain Nathaniel Palmer’s southern ocean sealing expedition of 1820. Hero, Palmer’s 40 ton sloop, was pushing toward unexplored seal rookeries south of Cape Horn that summer when the skipper picked out ahead the faint loom of coastline and thus became the first American ever to sight Antarctica.

Quoting from the project plan:

The entries from Captain Palmer’s log of this voyage, which are on file in the United States Library of Congress, provide the basis for the United States’ claim to have discovered Antarctica. While this claim has been contested by Russia and England, it certainly serves to preserve the international status of this global frontier.

In addition to retracing Hero’s track, the crew of Ariane (Lola’s name then) wished to plot their course according to the daily dead-reckoning records left by the Palmer. No log of Ariane’s southern voyage has been found.

Lola’s current owner has been busy nonetheless, and in recent years has had the boat entirely rebuilt–masts, rigging, sails, deck hardware, interior configuration, galley, tankage, electronics, wiring, battery pack and gallons of sparkling paint have been added to Lola such that the only original items remaining are her hull and beefy Perkins, and even that has been overhauled.

Basic Stats

Launched 1972.

Steel, center cockpit ketch, round bilged, extended fin keel with skeg-hung rudder.

LOA: 48; LWL 34.4 (due to overhangs); Beam: 13; Draft: 7.2.

Displacement: 34,400 lbs; Ballast: 12,000 lbs; Sail Area: 1,350 sq. ft. (racing configuration = 1,717 sq. ft.).

Displacement to Length Ratio: 377 (overstated due to overhangs). Ballast to Displacement Ratio (after personal increment): 30%. Sail Area to Displacement Ratio: 20.5. Capsize Ratio: 1.6.

Sails: foresail furling; staysail hank on; main and mizzen fully battened with nice roach, cruising spinnaker.

Plating: keel, 8 mm (5/16th”) and 6 mm (1/4″); hull under water, 5 mm (3/16″); hull above water and deck 4 mm (5/32″).

Tankage: 100 gallons fuel in two stainless steel tanks in the bilge; 100 gallons black water (?) in two stainless steel tanks in the bilge; 50 gallons water in plastic tanks.

Insulation: 40 mm (1.5″) glass wool mat, laid against hull from deck to waterline.

Engine: 85 hp (ratio to displacement in tons: 4.94). Other stats show engine at 72 hp.

Steering: wheel to quadrant.

Power: eight 6 volt, wet cell batteries for 800 amps in the house bank.

Positives from the Figure 8 Perspective

  • If I’m reading the stats correctly, Lola is both a heavy boat and quite a goer. At a displacement to length ratio of 377, she’s heavy indeed, but that number is exaggerated by her long overhangs, especially aft. If, for example, we assume an underway waterline of 39 feet, the ratio drops to a respectable 258, making her a moderate displacement boat at anything like speed. When you factor in her sail area to displacement ratio of 20.5 (and this is her smaller “cruising rig”) and a slippery bum, Lola begins to look both tough and fast. What’s exciting is that with a ballast to displacement ratio of 30% (and this after adding in my personal increment of some 6,000 pounds) she could also be quite stiff. The only other boat with similar numbers has been the recently inspected Brewer, also a ketch, with a D/L ratio of 235, SA/D ratio of 20, and B/D ratio after PI of 26%. One key difference is that the Brewer, though only two feet longer, feels positively massive. She carries an inordinate amount of her sail area in a very large main, a sail I can’t even reach over, and too little in a tiny mizzen. Compared to her Lola has a sensible distribution of sail area between main and mizzen and feels much more manageable.
  • Lola has a large, comfortable cockpit easily accessed from either cabin. Because she is missing a pilot house, she would need to have some portion of this cockpit covered with a hard dodger, but the cockpit size suggests such a dodger would also be roomy.
  • Lola’s engine room, amidships and entered via a watertight door, is reminiscent of a ship. Not only can one give the Big Bertha Perkins a bear hug, but access to the two inch (!) diameter shaft and packing gland is … well, right there. Other systems and hoses in the engine room are logically laid-out, easily cared for and mostly new.
  • Though her engine is now quite old, the Perkins horsepower to displacement ratio of 4.94 indicates she’d have good push for the Arctic bash-and-dash.
  • Her current fuel capacity of 100 gallons is too small for the Northwest Passage, but the black water tanks could be converted to fuel and black water moved elsewhere.
  • The aft cabin could function ideally as a shop.
  • Her aft locker could easily be retrofitted to hold the required four 20# propane tanks.
Ariane hull

The hull in 1972, prior to first paint.

Ariane hull3

Topsides primed.

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Profile and interior drawing. Note very long overhangs, rod connecting keel and skeg (no longer present), smallish rudder, watertight bulkheads fore and aft.

Ariane sail plan

Sail plan shows racing rig of 1717 square feet.

Lola (600x477)

Lola sailing and as she looks today.

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In her slip in Marina Del Rey, California.

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Lola’s large, comfortable cockpit. Ample room for hard dodger retrofit. Companionway hatches would need to be rethought.

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Entranceway to aft cabin, which is not accessible from the main salon.

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Windlass and anchor chain locker positioned to keep weight off the bow.


Watertight, capacious aft locker could easily hold the required four 20lb propane tanks.


Cleanly laid out foredeck.

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Unique design: lifeline stanchion fits tightly down over a like-sized 3″ nipple welded into the deck. No leaky fasteners required.

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A quick look under the cap rail, a typical place to find rust. Pretty clean here.


Lola undewrbody (810x1080)

Lola in cradle and showing her current underbody.

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Her main salon.

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Small but nicely positioned navigation table.

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To port, an efficient galley, large sink, new countertops with generous fiddle.


Quick look into the aft cabin.

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Anchor chain locker is lined with its own steel bin, but is small.

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New bow thruster installed.

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Engine room with Big Bertha Perkins. The importance of good hygiene is clearly understood on this yacht.

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Fuel tank switches and single Racor. Nice example of thought given to systems layout.

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One of the new stainless fuel tanks. Note massive access hatch and electronic gauges.

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Extra credit for those in the know. Two slips down from Lola was this famous sailing yacht. Can you guess? She’s Beowulf!


Concerns from the Figure 8 Perspective

  • Lola’s hull is over 40 years old. Though it appears to have been very well constructed and has received extraordinary care, one should expect surprises.
  • Her insulation is minimal and of an unusual material.
  • Though the current rebuild has been done to a high degree of quality, the aim has been to return Lola to her yachting form, along the lines of those imagined by her original owner, rather than that of an expedition boat.
  • And too, I worry about the wisdom of her stern configuration in extreme seas. Does she present to a breaking wave far too much reserve buoyancy in her long aft overhangs? Or is her rather narrow entry (compare the blunt buoyancy of most sterns nowadays) fine enough to allow the wave to pass over?

That said, Lola is an extraordinarily beautiful piece of work.

10 Comments on “FINDING A FIGURE 8 VOYAGE BOAT: A Sparkman and Stephens 48

  1. Not only thought to systems layout (agreed) – but also rare to have such access to the M/Engine?!
    That is a real luxury – and in an emergency (with cold fingers) all the more pertinent!

    Agree too concerning the foredeck, and there are obvious benefits with having the windlass (and chain) so much further aft. Assuming intent to have a dinghy – in which case one will need to ensure the windlass is not obstructed?

    If you do buy her, it will be fun to adapt the lyrics of Jimmy Buffett’s song to “Frank>”Randall & Lola” for those long passages 🙂

    • Ok, you are hereby appointed official writer of the Figure 8 anthem.

      Hadn’t thought of the dinghy issue. Another is that with the mizzen, any kind of comms/solar rack is out.


  2. What a nice find… everything considered I’d continue looking for more horsepower and more fuel tankage… but once again I’m bias as a motor yacht enthusiast in my retirement years… we looked for three years to find M/V GREY GOOSE… suggest you keep looking…

    • Agreed. I am biased toward this type. She would be a perfect yacht if I already owned her, but am continuing to look.

  3. Wow, love the access to the ship’s vitals. This one appeals to the mechanic in me. Hey, would love a primer on “buoyancy” and “reserve buoyancy” in some future post, for us lubbers. I don’t grok how buoyancy can apply to discrete portions of the ship, rather than be an overall measure. And what are the dangers of too little and too much, etc. Yes yes I’m sure I can look all this up, so maybe just post a link.

    • Thank you sir. Yes, I look at this S&S engine room and think I’d like to *become* a mechanic. A whole room for nothing but that. Admirable.

      As to buoyancy and the like, I am certain you do not wish for me to pontificate upon the abstractions of naval architecture; as far as I can tell from my position outside, the field is mostly math, highly complex, and only tentatively understood by professionals, of which I am not one.

      In this specific case, all I was attempting to relay was that the overhangs (the part of the bow and stern of the boat that extend outward but above the water) create unusual possibilities in big seas. The ship is buoyant, we know, because she floats on her lines in flat water much like in the article’s drawings. And loosely speaking, reserve buoyancy simply refers to all the air in that part of the hull that’s above the water line. It’s a way of describing how a boat remains afloat when the water isn’t flat or when she’s loaded beyond normal weight. For example, imagine a small wave rolling at the bow of this drawn boat, say 4 feet high. As it impacts the bow, the boat rises. Why? Maybe it’s partly due to the bow’s v-shape or wedge; mostly it’s due to the air in the bow that’s above the water line exerting its lighter-than-water pressure, and that the bow extends out over the water gives the water some leverage.

      Now the problem.

      Going back to the drawing of Lola, imagine a large breaking wave approaching the boat from *astern*. Imagine the wave is in height half the distance from the imaginary water in the drawing to the top of the shortest mast. That’s probably about 20 feet–a pretty big wave. As the wave begins to impact the stern overhang, the stern lifts (the air in it is lighter than the water and thus wishes to stay above it). At this point leverage comes into play. Note that the weight of the keel (whose force is downward) is far forward and presumably there’s not much real weight stored in the stern overhang, which means that the leverage the wave has on the hull is magnified above what it would be if the stern was shorter or did not overhang the water. Essentially the stern becomes a lever or handle, which in this case is quite long.

      Now run this visual experiment again, but remove from your mind the overhang area marked as box 16 in the drawing of Lola. How does removing that reserve buoyancy (that air) change how the yacht reacts to the wave?

      The question I was asking in the article was this. Is the implied leverage in a well overhung stern such that it could increase the likelihood of the yacht being flipped end-over-end (pitchpoling) in big seas? OR, in this case, is Lola’s stern fine (small, narrow–holds less air) enough that the speed and mass of the wave simply overtakes the yacht and breaks over her.

      I don’t know. I don’t even know if I have the question right.

      But it’s important because Lola’s hull form (as opposed to, say, the hull form of a Bristol Channel Cutter) was not designed with all-weather seaworthiness as the prime directive. The overhang in this yacht’s stern is intended to allow her hull to conform to race rules of design. Now, to be fair, the overhang is not super-excessive. And S&S were renowned designers of very seaworthy yachts.

      That said, when one contemplates taking himself into harms way, he wants solid armour without useless frills.

      • A limpid explanation if ever there was. Thank you. The idea of giving a wave leverage is chilling. Makes me think I’d only want to sail in a sphere.

  4. On-board video from Australia’s recent Rolex Sydney Hobart Race shows a firsthand account of a crew getting dunked but righting their boat and heading on to victory in their class.

    Wild Rose, a Farr 43 owned by veteran Roger Hickman, suffered what’s known as a “death roll,” in which the boat actually broaches to windward.

    Take a look at the chaos and recovery.

    The skipper’s sister, Lisa, captured the action. Luckily, there was no damage to the boat. The crew were safe, and Wild Rose went on to take class honors and be declared Overall Winner in another wild edition of Australia’s biggest offshore race, held annually on the day after Christmas, from Sydney Harbor to Hobart on the island of Tasmania.

    “When we had our whoopsy — when we laid the boat over — we put pressure on the helm to get back on our feet. … It was the first time we’ve ever seen the keel,” said skipper Hickman. He noted that it was one of several mishaps the crew endured on their way to victory.


    You are planning to do a Figure-8 voyage solo in a sailboat? OMG!

    • Yes, Doug, in a sailboat, but not THAT kind of sailboat. 🙂

      Fascinating video. I can’t quite tell what happened. Filling the headsail tows the bow underwater? Man, that happens fast!

      Thanks for sharing!


  5. Beautiful boat, my wife and I own an S&S Sunward 48. Astonishing sea kindliness and performance from there hull designs thoroughly recommend this boat for long distance cruising. We are 9000nm into circumnavigation and can’t think of a safer boat

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