The Ultimate Sailing Cruiser

“The new Dashew passagemaker draws much of its heritage from the high-performance sailboats for which the Dashews are well known. The last of that evolution of sailing yachts was Beowulf, a 78-foot ketch in which Linda achieved the family speed record: surfing at 32.7 knots down waves far offshore.”
–Bill Parlatore, Passagemaker Magazine

Of all the sailboats we’ve done over the years, Beowulf is our favorite.

The feeling she gave us at sea in not easily put into words. It was one of awesome, yet easily controlled power. In just moderate winds, with the ocean barely white-capping, she’d do close to 300 miles a day. Bring the breeze up to moderate trade wind strength – 16 to 22 knots – and Beowulf would reward us with consistent 300- to 315-mile days. And this with the autopilot driving her. In fact, in the 40,000 miles in which we sailed her as a couple, the WH autopilot steered 100% of the time – offshore and in port. At 78 feet in length you would think she’d be a handful for the two of us. But of all the boats on which we’ve voyaged, Beowulf was the most easily managed (and comfortable) at sea and well-behaved in port.

The photo above shows Beowulf lit up, reaching towards the Virgin Islands from Norfolk, Virginia. This was at the start of one of the two Caribbean 1500 races the two of us did with her, sailing as a couple (setting elapsed time records and winning on handicap both times).

Check out this close-up of the bow wave. Beowulf is averaging 14 to 16 knots in this sequence of photos with the twin reachers. There is almost no bow wave at this speed. That’s a sign of efficiency. The more efficient the hull, rig, and fins, the less work required by the crew to keep the boat moving. The combination of this efficiency, together with the flexibility of her ketch rig, allowed the two of us to comfortably maintain race boat-level speeds, without a huge amount of effort or stress.

Here’s another view taken the same day. Both of the code zero reaching jibs are rolled up on removable stays. These sails are easy to handle and provide enormous amounts of power. Note the canting bowsprit. Beowulf is such an apparent wind machine that she does not require spinnaker poles – even when jibing downwind. The canting bowsprit offset is just enough to keep the rig super-efficient at deep wind angles.

Beowulf in the Virgin Islands: she’s reaching at 10 knots, in about 8 knots of true wind (notice the white caps are just beginning to form).

Twice the fun with our two “cruising” chutes! This photo was taken off Auckland, New Zealand on a fresh fall day. We’re close-reaching, cruising along at 16 knots in about 19 knots of true wind speed. We would not normally sail this tight with the spinnakers offshore (we’re showing off for the helicopter photographer here).

Later on and we’ve eased the sheets a hair. True wind angle is about 135 degrees. Apparent wind is forward of the beam, at about 75 degrees, and we’re still doing a steady 16 knots. Check out the wake and bow wave. Beowulf would sail for days on end set up like this (in the trades).

This photo was take during a lull in the wind. The breeze is down to about 10 knots, and Beowulf is sailing at about 11.

Of course not all cruising is downwind. Sailing to windward Beowulf tacked through 95 degrees in smooth water (including leeway) and would average about 9 knots of boat speed in 12 to 14 knots of breeze while hard on the wind. In the open ocean, where we could crack off a few degrees, she’d sit on 10 to 10 1/2 knots through 16 to 18 knots of breeze, after which we’d start to slow her down as the seas began to build (for comfort).

Notice the shape of the main and mizzen in these two photos? Those beautiful elliptically tipped sails are made possible by the lack of backstays. Both main and mizzen masts were supported by 25-degree swept spreaders. This configuration allowed us to set these powerful and efficient sails on a very short rig.

If you saw Beowulf on the hook, you’d think someone forgot the upper third of the masts. Yet that short rig powered her along at a very nice clip. And, these sails are easy to trim, raise, lower, and cover.

The sailing capabilities of Beowulf have been amply demonstrated by the passages she’s given us. But at the end of the day, at anchor, what kind of an ambiance does she provide during the 90% of the time she’s at rest?

The pilot house on Beowulf was our nerve center. We spent many pleasant hours on watch in this cozy environment.

All our electronics were close at hand,

and we could keep an eye on the radar,

engine instruments, sailing instruments and charting computer from anywhere in the pilot house.

Immediately adjacent to the pilot house entrance are the main and mizzen sheet winches (which control 75% of the working sail area). These could be eased or trimmed while standing inside the pilot house.

The galley/saloon area is designed as a single “great room” with lots of visual space.

The long hull windows give you a view of what’s going on outside, make the space feel even larger, and provide a lovely ambient level of lighting. There are a pair of 3-foot-square (0.9m) deck hatches to provide light and ventilation.

From the forward end of the saloon, looking aft (above).

The galley (only partially shown above) provides a huge amount of work surface along with lots of easy-to-use storage.

Hull windows keep the galley crew in tune with what’s going on outside, at anchor and at sea.

The area opposite the galley, on center, is a large fridge/freezer

and pantry storage area.

Opposite the galley is a large office area. You have the option of spreading things out while standing up, or working while seated from the aft end. Note the bin lockers on top of the counters (same as the galley) as well as the storage below counter level. The guest staterooms are aft. The companionway to the right of the photo leads to the pilot house. The top of the fridge/freezer provides the pilot house sole.

As with all of our designs, the owner’s suite is forward on Beowulf, where ventilation is best and we can hear the anchor if it is dragging. This view is looking aft, from the foot of the bunk. When the door to the saloon is open (which was most of the time for us) the stateroom and saloon spaces are joined visually, making for a very pleasant visual experience.

On those rare occasions when we had guests aboard, we could close the bi-fold door to secure our privacy. Note the gaps above and below the door. These allowed air flow between the saloon and the forward cabin.

On the starboard side of the hull there is a full-length settee, with a locker at the end. The head, with tub/shower, is just forward of the bulkhead with the artwork. This cabin is really hard to photograph, and these images do not do it justice, but they will give you some feel for the spaces.

Forward of the sleeping area is what we call the “dressing room”. This is a large space with vanities, lots of storage on open shelving, and our hanging locker.

The open shelving worked well for storage, kept everything in the open where it could breath (no problems with mildew), and looked good (as long as everyone put their things away neatly!).

A combination washer/dryer is at the forward end of the dressing room.

Here’s a slightly different angle. The vanity counter on the center was joined at the aft end by a tub/shower area (not shown).

Each stateroom had its own toilet compartment aft, with additional storage.

The starboard cabin had one double bunk.

Beowulf’s awning system, like that of the rest of our designs, was part of the original design criteria.

The cockpit, pilot house window, and forward deck awnings are usable at sea as well as in port.

The cockpit awning was always set, even in temperate climates (to keep off rain). The only time this was not in place was on passages in the higher latitudes, when we expected gales or storms.

The two awnings in the foreground cover the owner’s suite hatch and the saloon hatches. These work at anchor to force-feed even the lightest breezes below, keeping a good air flow going in the hottest climates. At sea, the saloon awning (shown raised at anchor while it acts as a wind catcher) was dropped down so as not to block our view from inside the pilot house. This awning system worked to keep the rain off the deck hatches, so that in most squalls, the hatches could be left open.

The cockpit area, immediately adjacent to the pilot house, allowed us to work the sails without having to go more than a few feet. All sailing controls were within 9 feet (2.7m) of the entrance to the pilot house.

The cockpit table, with its fold-up wings, provided a comfortable and convenient brace against which we could lean, or hang onto the rails mounted on top. We enjoyed many a pleasant meal at sea and at anchor in this area.

The mainsheet winch (powered) is to the right of the pilot house door. Both mainsail and traveler were controlled here. The primary winch is outboard (also powered). These were sized for kedging rather than sailing loads.

A variety of traveler positions, roller furling, and bowsprit angle controls are led through this bank of jammers. The same thing occurs on the port side. It looks complicated, but in reality is very simple to use.

We carried two dinghies on the aft deck. These were launched with the mizzen headsail halyards, led to one of the electric winches in the cockpit.

One of us could launch or retrieve a dinghy in less than two minutes. The halyard is led to the main sheet winch in the photo above. As a result, we almost always hauled the dinghies aboard at night, and rarely towed them when we were underway.

Here’s what this is all about. Hanavave Bay, on the island of Fatu Hiva, in the Marquesas. This is the most beautiful anchorage in the world.

Additional Resources

  • You can sail aboard Beowulf, get a good feel for how easy she is to handle offshore, and take a tour of the engine room and interior with the one-hour DVD “Beowulf: the Legend Continues”. This DVD is a part of the 5-hour-long “Offshore Voyaging Series
  • Beowulf (and many of our other designs) are covered in detail in Offshore Cruising Encyclopedia. Additional information on her passages and handling will be found in Mariner’s Weather Handbook and Surviving the Storm.
  • For more information contact Steve Dashew (

Still with us? If so, you are hard core – but then, we are too. Following are some additional photos of the joinery work details, hull shape, and engine room. The joinery work photos which follow were all shot just before Beowulf went to her new owners. This is the original finish, 40,000 miles later.

We’re not big fans of teak unless it is “honey” teak. This material comes only from a few logs, typically out of Burma. In order to find material with this color and grain one needs to look through a huge quantity of raw material. And then you need to have the ability to spot it in the rough.

We mentioned earlier about the fridge/freezer box which divides the galley and office, and provides the sole for the pilot house. Note the walnut shell nonskid on the treads and cabin sole.

We’ve been using this nonskid system on our yachts for 25 years. It is very good when wet, and looks nice as well. Details on how to execute this will be found in our Offshore Cruising Encyclopedia.

This is the one of the corners of the forward bunk. Corners like this have to be carved, by hand, out of solid teak. The difficult part is knowing where to start the cut, to that the grain looks right – and matches the rest of the boat.

Here is another corner, this time of the aft starboard bunk intersection to the hanging locker.

Finally, a detail of the vanity counter in the forward dressing room. Notice how the fiddle rail is trimmed down in the way of the sink.

The headliner and hatch coaming system on Beowulf was a new approach for us. You probably noticed the architectural reveals between the panels. These look very nice, and promote the flow of air between the headliner panels and the deck. The hatch coamings are from solid timber. These are not easy to execute, but they look wonderful.

This is a detail of the carved notch where the Bomar cast hatch handles need to run when the hatches are dogged down.

This is a good shot of the headliner panels, their reveals, and how they intersect with the hatch coamings.

Handrails are laid out throughout the interior. There supports are bolted to hard spots which are integrated with the headliner supporting structure.

You are looking straight up here at one of the many Dorade vent “eyeballs”. These are large versions of the little air vents you are used to seeing on airliners. They allow us to aim and throttle the air flow.

We’ll end with a couple of photos of Beowulf out of the water. The hull shape has a minimum wetted surface configuration, commensurate with good initial stability. With full water ballast tanks, righting moments were on the order of 10,000 foot pounds, roughly comparable to a late IOR maxi yacht drawing 12 feet (3.7m).

It is hard to grasp how fine Beowulf’s forward sections are. Conventional cruising boats have half entry angles on the order of 22 to 24 degrees. Most IOR maxi racers are down around 17 to 18 degrees. Beowulf’s half entry angle is 11 degrees! This is one of the reasons she is so comfortable upwind under sail and power.

OK – we’ve run out of photos. If you’d like to learn more, there’s lots of information in our books and DVDs about Beowulf and the other boats we’ve built.

For more information on the FPB Series, e-mail Sue Grant: Sue.Grant@Berthon.Co.UK.

Posted by Steve Dashew  (October 20, 2011)

2 Responses to “The Ultimate Sailing Cruiser”

  1. Wayne Hodgins Says:

    Do you list any Beowulf series boats for sale or just leave that to individual brokers?

  2. Steve Dashew Says:

    Nothing available that we know of, Wayne.