Design by K Aage Nielsen Commentary by Joel White

Many years ago, I bought a boat. While I had owned boats since childhood, this was my first large boat, a 35-foot cruising cutter named Northern Crown.

The story of this purchase actually goes further back. In 1957,1 saw the plans for Northern Crown in Yachting magazine. She had just been built in Denmark by A. Walsted's yard and shipped to this country for delivery to her American owner. In addition to the cutter's plans, the Yachting article contained a couple of pictures of her under sail. Because there was such immediate attraction on my part, I saved the copy of the magazine for future reference.

In 1972, while thumbing through the National Fisherman, I found Northern Crown listed for sale, and located in nearby Camden, Maine. While I had no plans at the time to buy a boat, I could not resist going to see her. After a trial sail, a condition survey, and a trip to the local bank, she was mine.

It is not often that a design reviewer gets a chance to write about a boat that he knows so intimately. I am not at all sure that such familiarity will make the task any easier or more reliable. Boat ownership is such a subjective thing — a love affair, in effect — that I may find it more difficult to be objective.

Northern Crown was designed by K. Aage Nielsen, a distinguished Danish-born American designer. Everything about her appearance speaks of Scandinavian ancestry. I believe she would be called a spidsgatter. The beautifully sculptured round stern comes to us directly from Danish fishing craft and has been heavily imitated in recent years by designers of modern fiberglass cruising boats, but not one copy has come even close to the grace and power of Northern Crown's stern.

Let's consider her lines first: Northern Crown is a very large boat for being only 35 feet overall; her waterline length of 30 feet 9 inches is a much better indicator of her size. With her long waterline and beam of 11 feet 5 inches, I would estimate that she has half again more interior volume than a Concordia yawl, whose dimensions are about 40 feet overall and 28 feet 6 inches on the waterline. She has full sections and a relatively shallow draft of 5 feet. Her underwater profile shows a forefoot sloping downward to a long keel with little drag, and a nearly upright rudderpost. This profile makes her steady at sea, with little tendency to yaw. The waterline forward has a nice bit of hollow, while aft it is relatively full because of the broadness of her stern sections. The buttock lines are fair and easy, and she is a notably good sailer for so husky a boat.

But feast your eyes on that stern! It is such a logical, yet graceful ending for a sailing yacht hull. While the hull aft is very full on deck, there is a lot of dead-rise in the after section, with a rather hard turn to the bilge — a shape that echoes the hull sections farther forward. Another reason the stern looks so handsome is the large amount of exterior sternpost showing beyond the rabbet line, a detail that the fiberglass builders simply do not undertake. This form of stern is not easy to plank in wood, as the curves are quite severe, but when properly designed and built, the result is glorious. (Those last few sentences are perfectly unbiased and objective, right?)

This hull form has proved to be eminently seaworthy, well tested on offshore trips to Cape Breton and Bermuda. We have only once filled her cockpit with water, while running before a gale across the Strait of Canso. But, because her cockpit holds about as much water as a wheelbarrow, it was merely a short-lived inconvenience.

Northern Crown is cutter rigged. In boats of this size, single sticks make the most sense, as the sails are still small enough to be easy to manage; there is not the clutter of a mizzenmast in or abaft the cockpit, and the number of sheets and halyards to be handled is reduced. The mainsail is only 350 square feet, well within the capabilities of a small crew. The divided foretriangle, with self-tending boomed forestaysail and larger overlapping yankee jib, makes for light work on the foredeck. There is only the yankee sheet to trim when tacking. When the wind pipes up, lowering the yankee (in combination with one or more reefs in the main) makes a significant reduction in sail area. I keep the yankee bent on all the time and stopped down to the bowsprit with permanent rope ties, so the manhandling of heavy jibs forward is pretty much eliminated. In practice, the small jib, while a nice alternative sail in a blow, is not often used.

When I first purchased Northern Crown, one of the changes I made was to lengthen the bowsprit about a foot and a half. This was done to make it possible to hang a 50-pound kedge anchor on the roller chock at the end of the sprit with the fluke end housed in a bronze hook back near the stem. But an unforeseen advantage to the longer sprit was the increased space between the jibstay and forestay, which makes tacking the yankee much easier. A genoa is never used because of the difficulty in tacking such a big, low-cut sail between the stays, and because it would reduce visibility forward.

One disadvantage of the cutter rig, at least on Northern Crown, is the relatively poor performance of the boat under mainsail alone. While she will sail slowly this way, I have never felt that I had full control in a tight maneuvering situation — there simply is not enough sail area, and it is placed too far aft. My little sloop-rigged daysailer, on the other hand, is completely reliable and as handy as a cow pony under just her mainsail.

Northern Crown came to me with roller reefing on the mainsail. The system proved to be so slow and unhandy that I soon fitted her with jiffy reefing with permanently rove lines for both reefs. With the second reef down, the area of the main is reduced by one-half. This has turned out to be very satisfactory, and with the help of the bottom-action winch on the boom just abaft the gooseneck, one person can reef her in a minute or two. And reefing is something we do often. Northern

Crown has a large sail plan for her size, 708 square feet, and because she was built with a relatively small iron ballast keel and quite a lot of inside ballast, she needs to be reefed earlier than many boats.

One thing I always planned to do — but never got around to — was to remove both the inside ballast and the iron keel, and cast a new ballast keel of lead. This would significantly lower her center of gravity and make her considerably stiffer. The large sail area is great in light conditions, and I am a believer in designs that have high sail area/displacement ratios, and easy reefing systems. It makes sailing much more fun and satisfies my competitive instincts.

Northern Crown's accommodations are grand. The layout is basically traditional, but there are a number of unusual features that make the cabin special and functional. The galley is aft and entirely on the starboard side. It includes a large wood- and coal-burning range (for use in warm weather, we carry a two-burner pressure kerosene stove that sits atop the wood range), a sink near the centerline, a good-sized icebox, and much stowage space tucked under the large bridge deck. Opposite the galley is a wide quarter berth. This is the captain's bunk. It has two large shelves outboard on which all one's gear for a two-week cruise can be stowed. A shelf built over the foot of the bunk stows the sextant box and other navigational gear in complete safety. Under this large bunk, there is room for two big, shallow chart drawers, each about 3 feet by 2 feet and 3 inches deep. While I have never counted them, there must be close to 100 charts stowed here, with the ones currently used on top.

Nielsen, with great ingenuity, conceived the idea of a chart table that stows above the top chart drawer. When needed, this is withdrawn and placed over the forward end of the quarter berth, providing a large, flat work area for the navigator. The recording fathometer is at hand on its mount, which allows it to be swung out into the companionway for viewing from the cockpit, or in the stowed position is available to the navigator at the chart table. The recently installed Loran is directly below the fathometer, so that the navigator is surrounded with all his tools, yet no space has to be dedicated to a navigation area. The only disadvantage is that the navigator must stand — which at least keeps him on his toes!

The forward cabin is unusual in having only one berth, not the usual V-berths. This allows the toilet room on the port side to be large, while the space forward of the toilet room and opposite this berth is used for stowage. The main cabin has a high pilot berth to port, with an extension berth below it that makes a narrow seat, or, when extended, a reasonably comfortable bunk. A previous owner modified the pilot berth so that it converts to a double. Northern Crown


Northern Crown LOA 3 5'5" LWL 30'9" Beam 11'5" Draft 5'0" Sail area 708sqft

Peabody-Essex Muscum/K. Aage Nielsen Collection

Aage Nielsen masterfully blended the diverse shapes of traditional Danish ivorkboats with then-modern American racer/cruisers when he drew the lines of Northern Crown in 1955. Her carefully modeled bow and stern show the hollow ivaterlines that almost always enhance a boat's appearance. The sheerline kicks up at the ends so that, in combination with the full deckline, the completed boat will still have a perky sheer from any vantage point. Aft, the hull lines fair to the rabbet, leaving a large amount of sternpost showing. Sculpted near its top, that sternpost accents the already handsome stern.

Walsted-built boats are known for their simple but elegant interior joinery, somewhat Danish modern in style, but with delicately contoured moldings and detailing that one can admire for hours on end. This arrangement, which sleeps five people, is a bit unusual in that there's only one berth forward and a single quarter berth aft (which doubles as a chart table when at sea). The engine, though completely hidden, is easily accessed through a hatch in the bridge deck, and there's plenty of space around it

for maintenance.

Peabody-Essex Muscum/K. Aage Nielsen Collection can sleep five, no matter which configuration is used. Some cruising couples seem to like the double, others do not. I like the versatility of the arrangement.

When I bought Northern Crown I discovered that she had no fixed cabin table, but instead relied on a folding one similar to a card table that stowed on the after bulkhead in the toilet room. My first thought was to add a dropleaf table, but after the first summer of cruising, I realized that the uncluttered space in the main cabin was far more valuable and useful than a fixed table. We use the folding table for sit-down meals, and relish the open space the rest of the time.

The 50-gallon water tank is located under the cabin sole. This is a marvelous arrangement because it keeps the weight of the water as low as possible, and it frees up the space under main cabin berths for food stowage. The floor timbers in way of the water tank are wrought iron rather than wood. We pulled these out a couple of years ago, and found them in surprisingly good shape after 30-plus years of being hidden under the stainless-steel tank. The floors were sandblasted, epoxy coated, painted, and reinstalled; we also renewed the keelbolts in this area.

Walsted's yard did a beautiful job of cabinetwork below, with the overhead and bulkheads painted white, furniture and trim of varnished walnut, and galley counters and cabin sole of bare teak. The feeling is of beauty, comfort, and fine craftsmanship without being fussy or ornate.

On deck, Northern Crown feels as well as looks like a much larger boat. The wide side decks and narrow cabinhouse, and the tiny cockpit aft all combine to give great expanses of flat deck surface. Sail handling, sunbathing, napping, and even an occasional deck dance are possible and easy. The high bulwarks, 8 inches or more, supported by heavy oak top timbers and topped with a nice oval railcap, give a wonderful feeling of security.

The engine has a room of its own, accessed through the large raised hatch just aft of the companionway. The whole after part of the boat is taken up with the diesel engine, its 35-gallon fuel tank under the cockpit, battery bank, stowage space for life jackets, fuel for the galley stove, spare parts, bilge pumps, and fenders. Being able to work on the engine in relative comfort and with full access to all sides of the machinery is a tremendous luxury in such a small boat. Under these circumstances engines receive much better care and maintenance, and are consequently more reliable. The original 35-horsepower Mercedes diesel gave good service for 30 years, after which time it was replaced by a Westerbeke 58, which to date has been equally reliable. At cruising speed of 6 knots, each engine used less than half a gallon per hour. This works out to roughly 15 miles per gallon, numbers quite similar to larger automobiles! I seldom fill the fuel tank more often than every other summer, and once went two years without a refill.

Northern Crown's construction is heavy, with VA-inch African mahogany planking on laminated oak frames, fastened with large copper rivets. It is fortunate that the rivets were used, as the glue in the frame laminations has given up. The rivets, spaced every 3 inches or so, hold the frames tightly together, and I have never worried about them, glue or no glue. Forward of the mast, the frame spacing was cut in half, and looking at her from inside it would appear that she could break ice! When slamming into heavy head seas, I have always appreciated the tightly spaced frames. The deck framing is heavy, and so is the mahogany plywood deck, originally covered with canvas and painted. When I bought the boat, the canvas was bad, and one of the first tasks was to rip it off and cover the deck with two layers of Dynel and epoxy. The cabintop recently received the same treatment.

What of the intangibles that one learns about a boat from sailing her for 20 years? This is more difficult ground. First, let me say that most boats have a character, or ambiance, that is felt by their crews. Northern Crown's always comes through as one of competence, sturdiness, and unquestioned ability. I've never felt nervous aboard her, except perhaps one wild night in the Gulf Stream when I had doubts about my own stamina, not hers. Her seaworthiness is supreme. I find her beautiful, in a rugged sort of way — not delicate or dainty, but beautiful nonetheless. She provides great comfort below, and I love cruising on her. She sails very well — about equal to a Concordia yawl, I would estimate. In light airs, she has enough sail area to keep moving, and in heavy going and reefed down, she is superb.

Northern Crown is no longer mine, and I miss her. I sold her because more of my sailing was done in a 24-foot daysailer, and I was feeling guilty about Northern Crown's lack of use. And I was beginning not to enjoy the inevitable work that goes with owning a larger boat. Even with one's own boatyard to care for her, there is a heavy load of chores that go with keeping such a vessel. Now she is in the best of hands, and her new owners are aware of what a gem she is and will keep her looking trim.

I couldn't ask for more. But after 20 years, it is a strange feeling to look out the window and find her mooring empty.

This review was first published in 1992. —Ed.

The plans of Northern Crown are in the K. Aage Nielsen Collection at the Peabody-Essex Museum, East India Square, Salem, MA 01970.

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