History and Build of Southerly 115 Variable Draft Sailboat
It could be argued that the English have been building sailing yachts basically since the word “yacht” was introduced (quick Wiki search says the term “yacht” is actually of Dutch origin”). The UK marine marketplace seems to be its own ecosystem with many of their domestic models and builders seldom getting mention in the North American market.
Southerly is a quality English builder with a unique swing keel design. Given the quality construction, sailing performance, and unique shallow water capability, it is a little surprising that the Southerly concept has not established itself in the North American market more than it has.
Southerly, a brief history
Southerly’s first production vessel was the Southerly 33 introduced in 1978. Since then, more than 1100 Southerly yachts have reportedly been built. Recent years have proven to be a little unsettled for the builder with back-to-back bankruptcies in 2013 and 2014. Southerly was finally acquired by Discovery Shipyard in 2017 with production continuing on the Southerly 33, 38, and 42 models. Despite past financial troubles, Southerly has been able to constantly maintain a reputation for building quality sailing vessels. Southerly exclusively builds “variable draft” vessels allowing access to shallow waters that traditional displacement boats cannot access.
The “variable draft” capability on all Southerly models is accomplished with its trademark swing keel design. The swing keel system (overly simplified) is a cast iron fin keel mounted with a pivot attached to an integral cast iron receiver/grounding plate; the keel is raised and lowered with a pennant connected to a hydraulic piston that can be electrically or manually powered. The lowering and raising symmetry is similar to a traditional centerboard. The difference is that the swing keel being raised and lowered accounts for almost all of the vessel’s ballast, as opposed to virtually no ballast being incorporated into a traditional centerboard. Southerlys are designed and built with twin rudders that are capable of supporting the boat on an even keel when the boat is beached and/or the tide recedes. The variable draft is ideal for cruising in areas with shallow water such as the English coast, the East and Gulf Coasts of the United States, the Bahamas, and Florida Keys.
The Southerly model 115 was built by Northshore Shipyard which built all Southerlys between 1978 and 2014. Production of the 115 began in 1983 with Series I, II and III versions introduced over the years. Early models were designed by Dick Carter; later versions were a collaboration between Dick Carter, Rob Humphries, and the Northshore design team. The vessel can reportedly be safely sailed with the keel in the up or down position.
As with all the Southerly models, the overall fit and finish of the cabinetry is above average as are the mechanical and electrical installations. The head room in the 115 is limited, in part I am told to accommodate the swing keel mechanism.
As far as hydraulic systems go, the mechanism for raising and lowering the swing keel is quite simple. The rest of the vessel’s auxiliary systems are essentially the same as many other production boat systems. The Lewmar Torque Tube steering, which is considered almost bulletproof and overkill for a moderate displacement vessel, is just one indicator of the quality mindset of the builder. The 115s that I have surveyed were powered by the ever-trusty Yanmar diesel engine. Electrical and LPG systems favor European installation guidelines.
When in the water, the conservative but modern profile tends to blend in with other marina occupants. When the vessel is hauled for storage or service, the swing keel, propeller skeg, and twin rudder design easily set the Southerly apart. The Gelcoat on the deck and topsides appears to weather well. The light blue gelcoat options appear to fade and craze quicker than the traditional white. The cockpit and deck layout are designed with cruising the North Sea and English Channel in mind and not dock lounging.
Findings and observations
Cockpit exit and entry, especially with the Bimini or dodger installed, was somewhat awkward, partially due to North Sea-inspired cockpit design and likely a trade-off for gaining needed interior volume.
The bow thruster is almost mandatory; with the keel in the up position, docking dynamics change drastically, especially in a cross wind.
The cast iron swing keel and plate need to be periodically refinished, as rust will eventually start to work its way through the primer and barrier coats.
GFCI interior electrical outlets were not installed as original equipment.
The conventional shaft seal installed at the factory used a light gauge Bronze/brass hose barb that becomes fragile over time. I have had two break with minimal effort applied.
As of January 2021, there were currently five Southerly 115s available worldwide on Yachtworld with a wide range of asking prices. Prices range from $48,000 to $140,000.00 with only one available in North America.
~By Captain Tarn Kelsey of Annapolis Marine Survey