Buying Your First Albacore

What is you objective? What is your budget? How much are you willing to work on a boat? The Albacore can cover a wide range of needs and the particular boat you buy should match your skills and objectives.

Albacore can be rigged to be as simply as any two sail cruising sloop, or as complicated as any hot performance dinghy. This is one of the beauties of the class. The rules establish the basic parameters of the boats ensuring similar platforms for fun and fair racing, but allow owners to customize their rigs and cockpit layout to suit their skill and personal style of sailing. The class rules do not regulate the type or position of cleats, or the purchase of sail controls as many of the "mass produced" classes do.

Some people prefer simple layouts with few strings and distractions, especially when beginning to learn. Cruisers have fit their boats out with floorboards and storage compartments for distance sailing. Hot racers like to have lots of things to fiddle with to coax another ounce or two of speed from their boats when trying to win the world championship. All of this is possible with the Albacore. You can buy a basic boat and go sailing right out of the box, or you can build on the basic boat and turn it into something that fits the way you sail. All are Albacores, and all are fun.

Racing an Albacore is more about the sailor than the equipment. Great sailors can consistently sail mediocre boats at the front of the fleet in National competition. Old hulls that are well equipped with new sails can be competitive with brand new boats in all but the most challenging conditions. Beginners and poor sailors can be borrow the best boat in the fleet and find they don't increase their position more than a place or two. For the vast majority of Albacore sailors, any hull with decent spars and new sails will allow you to compete in the middle third of the fleet depending on your skills. There are some older boats, mostly those with very overweight hulls or non-tapered masts that will challenge even the best sailors to rise above the bottom third of the fleet. While these boats are limited as racing boats, they are low cost and make great day sailors or offer an affordable way to learn to sail and begin to race.

While there are plenty of exceptions, the following descriptions can be used to guide for those buying their first Albacore to find a boat that is well suited to your needs. This article focuses on boats commonly available in the North American market (there are many more types of wood boats and fewer fiberglass boats available in UK). All prices are estimated ranges based on market values in 2004. Prices are shown for boats complete with sails. New boats are priced with new sails. Used boats assume used sails with at least several seasons of use. The value of trailers, covers and other extra equipment is discussed in separate section.

Beginner or Cruiser

Most Albacores will be fine. Even boats 30 years old are usually sound and can get you started in the class. Boats built by Grampion, Whitby, McGruer & Clark, Skene and others from 1960's and 1970's (sail numbers from 700-6300) are examples of boats that are well suited to getting you started at low cost. You can even begin racing these older boats with low level rigging, and should be able to compete in bottom third of National competition once you develop your boat handling and racing skills. New boats with simple rigging are also available. Depending on level of rigging and cosmetic condition of boat, prices for these boats (in 2004) should be in the US$400-1200 range for used boats and US$7,200 for a new boat. Of course, beginners or cruisers could also use all of the boats that follow in this list, but they will cost more and may have more sophisticated rigging that can be a distraction for those just learning the sport. See the classified section of the USAA site for a current list of boats for sale.

Things to look for in used beginner/cruising boats:

  • Does it have all basic equipment- see checklist
  • Air tanks sound
  • Bailers leak?
  • Condition of standing rigging and halyards
  • Condition of wood reinforcement used in construction of hull: wet or rotten?
  • Structural condition of rudder and centerboard (no cracks or failure points)
  • Top cover? (link to top covers section below)

For those who are considering some racing, the following items will limit your performance:

  • Non-tapered masts
  • Metal centerboards
  • Grossly overweight hull < 275 lb

While any boat can be raced, if you think this will be a major part of your use of the boat, look at the criteria below for a beginning racer and get as many of these features as possible.

Beginning Racer

(up to middle third of fleet)
Objective at this level is learning to race sailboats. The beginning racer plans to go in local races and eventually work up to regional and national competition. They have an expectation of reaching consistent performance in middle third of the fleet, with occasional higher finishes as their skills improve.

Skene or Ontario Yachts hulls with numbers > 6800 (built from 1980's to present). Tapered mast, aerofoil shaped centerboard and rudder (not metal), sails with < 3 seasons use. Powerful (> 8:1) adjustable vang and adjustable jib halyard (> 6:1). The vang should be located for easy adjustment by the skipper while racing. The jib halyard needs to be adjustable during the race, but it need not be lead all the way to the skipper or crew position. Other equipment described for the accomplished racer is a benefit as long as it is not a distraction as you learn to race. Used boats for US$1,500-3000; new boats for about $7,500.

Things to look for in used Beginning Racer boats:

  • Does it have all basic equipment- see checklist
  • Tapered mast?
  • Air tanks sound
  • Bailers leak?
  • Condition of standing rigging and halyards
  • Condition of sails
  • Condition of centerboard and rudder
  • Adequate vang and jib halyard controls
  • Weight < 260 lb.
  • Top Cover (link to top covers section below)

While boats missing some of these items can be refurbished or upgraded, the sale price should reflect the need for additional work to bring the boat to a competitive level.

For those who aspire to be accomplished racers, you should look for a boat that can be upgraded to reach the level described below, or assume that you will sell the beginning boat and trade up to a better platform when your skills have reached the level that the boat is the thing holding back your performance.

Accomplished Racer

(consistently in to top third of fleet)
This level assumes that the owner knows how to race and has an objective to enjoy competitive sailing and place consistently in the top third the fleet. The most important thing is to have a sound boat with relatively new sails (< 2-3 seasons of light use), good foils and equipment that allows the full range of adjustments to be made while underway.

Suitable hulls will generally be Ontario Yachts (with numbers > 7300). In many cases these will be hulls constructed with foam cores (most, but not all above #7352). Foam core hulls will retain stiffness longer under heavy use and tend to show a small performance edge in conditions over 18 knots or substantial chop. A few lightly used or well maintained Skene boats (6800 to 7300) can perform at this level with a skilled team and excellent tuning. Most wood boats (including those from Young, Woof, Knight and Pink, and modernized Fairey Marine) are suitable for this level.

To be competitive at the top end of the range, boats should have at least two suits of sails with the better suit having no more than two seasons of light use. Foils should be in top conditions showing minimal nicks, scratches or dings. Boats should be equipped with wide range adjustable jib halyard (˜ 12:1 with 14-18 inch travel) and powerful vang (˜ 16:1 vang that covers full range). Other sail controls (cunningham, outhaul, jib tracks, mast pre-bend, mast ram) should be sufficiently powerful and positioned so that they can be adjusted while racing. Boats should be equipped with jib stick/whisker pole. Mast and boom should be straight and free of dimples or repairs. They should also not have excessive holes from relocating fittings. Standing rigging should be in sound condition and sufficient (at least 1/8" 1 x 19 flexible wire or 3/32, 1 x 7 dyform stainless steel wire for side stays) to hold up in all racing conditions.

Used boats that meet these criteria are generally priced US$3,000 to $6,000. New boats for about $9,000.

Things to look for in used Accomplished Racer boats:

Other equipment that can be beneficial:

  • Launching dolly
  • Top and bottom cover

Top National/International Competitor

Objective is to be in top 10% of National or International competition. At this level you are aiming to win the event or at least place in the top five. Under the right conditions with a very skilled crew, almost any Albacore could in theory win at the National level. In practice, however, you will find most competitors will have the following equipment.

Start with a stiff and well faired hull. This usually means an Ontario Yachts foam core hull (> #7700) or a modernized wood boat (Woof, Young, Knight and Pink, Kingsfield, etc.). New or lightly used sails are essential. Spars should be in top condition. Mast should be snuggly chalked to restrict side-to-side motion, but should able to traverse the full range of fore and aft motion allowed by the rules. A system for controlling mast bend at deck (mast ram or puller/pusher) is important (and it is critical for some brands of sails). While all forms of sail adjustment are not required, most top boats will have all of these rigged and available for use as needed. Most of these controls will be lead to skipper or crew positions for easy access in all conditions, including while fully hiked out.

Boats should have excellent foils. They should be stiff, have precision aerofoil shape and mirror like finish free of all nicks and dings.

Used boats that meet these criteria are generally priced US$5,000 to $10,000. New boats for about $9,500.

Things to look for in used Top National/International Racer boats:

  • Does it have all basic equipment- see checklist
  • Tapered mast?
  • Air tanks sound
  • Bailers leak?
  • Condition of standing rigging and halyards
  • Condition of sails
  • Excellent condition of centerboard and rudder
  • Hull stiffness?
  • Weight < 240 lb. With correctors to bring up to 240 lb. class minimum.
  • Launching dolly
  • Top and bottom cover
  • Practice sails for use in 2nd tier events

Trailers, Covers and Other Equipment

Trailers

Most Albacores spend their shore time living on road trailers. These are used for storing boats at marinas and clubs or keeping them at home for easy transport to regattas and sailing venues. Used trailers are often very good deals and available at about half the price of a new trailer. When you can find them, you can get used trailers for about US$ 200-400. New trailers start at about US$675.

When buying a used trailer be sure to get motor vehicle information necessary to title and register the trailer. Bearings should be checked and usually replaced so you know that they have not been immersed in water (keeping wheel hubs out of water will greatly extend the life of your bearings). Electrical systems for lights on used trailers commonly need to be replaced. This is a $30-100 investment depending on whether you need lights and what type of lights you get. It can be done yourself and takes less than an hour.

Top Cover

Top covers keep the sun and weather off a boat. Without a top cover the gelcoat will fade in a season (or less) and the lines will become brittle and hard. Allowing water to pool in the bottom of a boat is asking for trouble. Given time water will find its way into the hull (even fibreglass hulls) and add weight to the boat and deteriorate the hull material. This is especially true if water enters and then freezes. It is critical for long boat life to keep all Albacores covered with bows tipped up at extreme angle so that all water drains out the transom without pooling. Buy a good sawhorse that will lift the tongue of the trailer 40 inches off the ground and keep boat covered to keep the inside of the boat dry.

Used top covers range from zero value to about $150 if in very good condition with < 2-3 years of outdoor use. New top covers are about US$350-400.

Bottom Cover

Bottom covers protect the boat from road grim and rocks when being transported on trailers. While not essential, they will save you hours of work scrubbing nasty stuff off the bottom of your boat before you sail. They will also protect coloured hulls from fading in the sunlight. Used bottom covers range from zero value to about $150 if in very good condition with < 2-3 years outdoors. A new bottom cover costs about US$300.

Sails

Used sails US$100-400 depending on age and use.
New sails US$750-1000 depending on which brand you get.

Check List of Basic Equipment

  • hull
  • mast
  • boom
  • sails (main and jib)
  • rudder
  • tiller with hiking extension
  • centerboard
  • jib sheets
  • main sheet
  • standing rigging (forestay and two side stays attached to mast)
  • whisker pole (optional for cruisers and beginning racers)
  • top cover (optional- but extends the life of fibreglass and rigging)

Check List of Advanced Equipment

This list is in addition to basic equipment (above). It is recommended for those sailing at "Accomplished Racer" level and virtually essential for sailing at "National Champion Level"

  • full range powerful sail controls
  • mast pre-bender
  • mast bend restraint capability (mast ram or blocks)
  • adjustable jib stick
  • top and bottom covers
  • launching dolly

Buoyancy apparatus and safety

All hulls have positive buoyancy and won't sink. Class rules require builders to build in sufficient foam to keep a fibreglass boat afloat even if all tanks rupture. Wood boats are inherently buoyant and do not require foam.

When inspecting a fibreglass boat, be sure that the required foam is still intact. Some owners unknowingly remove this foam, especially if it gets wet or damaged and fail to replace it. Many builders sealed foam "peanuts" inside seat tanks, so it may not be obvious unless you look inside the tank.

In order for boat to be safe and pass measurement, this foam must be in place. If you find an Albacore does not have required foam, replace it with a closed cell foam that will not absorb water.

In addition to the requirement for positive foam buoyancy, the class also has a rigorous requirement for integrity of the air chambers (seats, tanks and airbags) to assure that the boats can be self-rescued in the event of a capsize. Details can be found in the class rules (link to class rules). Annual tests are required with annotation on measurement certificate to qualify a boat for racing. When purchasing a used boat, it is reasonable to review this measurement card to ascertain if the boat has recently passed the annual buoyancy requirement (measurement card should transfer to new owner with purchase of boat). If this card is not available or not current, it is reasonable to perform a buoyancy test to assure the boat does not have leaky tanks. Leaky tanks can be repaired (link to tank repair article), and details can be found elsewhere on this web site.