1720 - a madforsailing test

Peter Bentley tests the current flavour of the month in sportsboats

Sunday May 27th 2001, Author: Peter Bentley, Location: None
1720The 1720 Sportsboat Class got started when a small group of Irish yachtsmen, led by Clayton Love and Stephen Hyde, felt there was a need for a new boat that would be cheap, up-to-date and suitable for club racing in Cork Harbour. Tony Castro designed what was then called the Cork 1720, but their popularity has subsequently spread beyond Southern Ireland, with fleets thriving in the Solent and elsewhere.

Peter Bentley was once again doing the honours as the madforsailing reviewer, shortly after the boat was brought onto the market and this time in a ten to 12 knot breeze. The 1720 is characterised by the short deck-level guard rails that prevent hiking. Crew sit inboard and there is room for four or five people in the open cockpit of what is virtually a day boat. There is some cramped storage space below decks, but I don’t think even an estate agent would describe it as accommodation.

The safe feeling and durable build both contributed to madforsailing high scores. The boat felt secure enough to deal with extreme conditions and the deck layout is arranged in such a way that it’s virtually impossible to work the boat with the hatch open - which avoids any risk of J24-style swamping.

The windward performance felt crisp and even in the lulls (down to six knots on our test day), the boat never felt sluggish. But downwind, despite the immense power of a 68 sqm asymmetric spinnaker, she was relatively slow to accelerate and in moderate conditions, reluctant to plane. We also discovered that she doesn't behave so well if heeled. Constant easing on the sheets is required to prevent a broach - but recovery is fast.

There were more details we weren’t too sure about - the foot braces aren't quite enough to keep the crew secure at large heeling angles. But it was the haphazard positioning of the deck fittings that proved a major obstacle to our enjoyment of the boat.

As a day racer, the 1720 is something of a compromise between outright performance and ease of handling. But with around a hundred now on the water, it’s just as clear that there is a substantial market for exactly this kind of boat. The class is very fleet orientated and owners and their boats travel well. The race circuit gets a good score, and it would get an excellent score if you lived in Cork or sailed on the Solent - how could it not be, after there were 70 boats on the Cork Week 2000 start line!

The 1720 is no ultra-high performance screamer but she will get round the track plenty fast enough, and better than many in a breeze. Her real strength lies in the ability to sail with a crew of four or five ordinary sailors without either scaring them to death or boring them silly.

Rant - A sheep in wolf’s clothing, not a real sportsboat by our standards
Rave - Has reached critical mass for great racing

The Nitty Gritty

Ease of Sailing

The 1720 sailed upwind happily enough, and with her substantial mainsail there was plenty of power even in light air. As soon as we allowed her to heel she let us know that all was not well, eventually making it clear that the mainsheet or traveller would have to be eased if steering was to be maintained. If you don’t do what you’re told, it’ll end in a broach, though of a very mild and easily recovered variety; simply easing the sheet quickly has the boat back on her feet again. But with the big sail area and the need to sail the boat flat, a fit mainsheet trimmer will be among the first things on your shopping list after the boat.

Very much in line with the spirit of the class, short guard rails keep the crew from sitting facing outwards, and indeed limit the possibilities for any kind of hiking. A choice of two jibs and a couple of deep reefs allows regulation of the power upwind, though it’s hard to see when the second reef would be needed, given the boat’s considerable stability - the sail area is matched by a 630 kg lead keel.

Downwind, the 1720 was a little more unruly. Provided the boat was kept flat, the helm remained balanced, if a touch on the heavy side. But again care is needed, along with some quick work on the spinnaker sheet, to keep the boat tracking in a straight line.

Functionality of Systems and Layout

It’s unfortunate, but it has to be said that the deck fittings in general, and more particularly their haphazard positioning, proved a major obstacle to our enjoyment of the test boat. Both the mainsheet and backstay cleats proved particularly difficult to operate from the rail and were almost impossible to use without a firm shove from your foot. While the mainsheet cleat could undoubtedly be improved by simple adjustment of its angle, the backstay seems to need a fundamental rethink to make it effective.

The two jibs both sheet to the single track via a two-to-one sheet and ratchet turning block. The centrally-mounted winch can be brought into play, though with the small jib at least there didn’t seem to be any need to actually wind the jib in. But the bigger sail might need a couple of turns of the handle especially when getting towards the top of its wind range. This single winch proved effective for halyard hoisting, but with the loads on both jib and spinnaker sheets sufficiently low to allow mostly manual trimming, the additional effort of turning the sheet around the winch during each tack and gybe led us to conclude that ratchet blocks might be a more appropriate solution.

As with all boats rigged for asymmetric kites, there was a knack to getting the spinnaker up and down. Once mastered it proved simple enough to get the spinnaker from the vast stowage either side of the winch pod. Gybing proved similarly simple, but getting the sail down was a little tricky as the vast bin that makes launching the kite so simple is devoid of any top, and keeping the spinnaker from cascading over the side can be a problem. Canvas flaps and a little elastic would soon see this one solved. Around the base of the mast all the control lines and halyards seemed to lead to almost exactly the same place and with little logic to their layout the area got very crowded at hoist and drop time.

For those not too short in the leg, the foot braces kept our crew secure, at least when the boat was upright. At extreme angles of heel (when broaching for example) it can be hard to keep your footing and a stout grip on the rail could be required from time to time.

But safety has generally been a paramount consideration in the design for the 1720. For example, the deck layout is arranged in such a way that it’s virtually impossible to work the boat with the hatch open - a great incentive to keep it shut and avoid the risk of any J/24 style swampings. And anyway, down below the 1720 is essentially empty and although it is possible to climb down inside, it’s not something one would want to do too often. There’s space to stow the spinnakers and warps but getting the mainsail in and out - especially if it were rolled up - would be harder.


With a 1,200 kg displacement the 1720 is no lightweight, and with 630 kg of it in a lead keel there’s plenty of righting moment. Nevertheless, the 42sqm of upwind sail area makes the rig big for the size of boat, and it generates plenty of power to shift all that weight around.

It was upwind that this combination of sail area and righting moment proved most effective in our test. Although our test boat had no log for speed measurement, the windward performance always felt crisp and even in the lulls (down to six knots of wind speed), the boat never felt sluggish.

Downwind, more than simple brute power is required if seriously high performance is sought. And the key is weight - or rather the lack of it - and here the 1720 did not score so well. Despite the immense power of a 68sqm asymmetric spinnaker, in my opinion she was relatively slow to accelerate and in the moderate conditions we experienced during the test, reluctant to plane. The big spinnaker provides so much power that one is forced to sail quite deep, effectively preventing the boat from entering the high performance envelope enjoyed by lighter boats.

In many respects, the smaller short-hoist spinnaker proved a better bet even in medium conditions, generating nearly as much drive for much less heeling moment, and there was no doubt that our best speed was accomplished with the smaller sail. In more breeze, the boat has the hull form to get up and plane, and subsequent reports indicate she is capable of quite rapid pace downwind in a blow.

But the 1720 is no ultra-high performance screamer. She will go as well as most and better than many in a breeze. With a crew of four or possibly five, the 1720 should appeal to those who want high performance without the need for unduly athletic ability.

Build Quality

The hull lay-up is relatively simple, with various stitched and woven glass reinforcements laminated in Vinylester resin, while the deck benefits from the addition of a balsa core. Although it does not produce an especially light structure, fundamentally it’s a very sound way to build a boat.

Anticipated Durability

The solid laminate should prove tough and durable, and all the more so on account of the use of Vinylester resin.

Quality of Race Circuit

Another good score, there have been plenty of boats launched in this category of monohull day racing keelboat, and with over a hundred around now - most in the Solent or Cork - the 1720 has done better than most. There were 70 on the line in Cork Week 2000, and boats tend to race at their own club and travel to one or two principal regattas each season. They are an Irish icon and will probably go on for years.

Value for Money

The price is good for the size of the boat, and with excellent racing to be had in the right areas - or if you are prepared to travel to the major events - there is every reason to hope for solid resale values in the years to come.The boat is designed to cost in the region of Stg £15,000 ($24,000 approx) as a basic package.

South of England dealer is Key Yachting 02380 455 669 - www.keyyachting.com or the official 1720 web-site www.1720sportsboat.com

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