Sail Far, Live Free!

It's been a while since I've posted here at Great Lakes Sailing. The truth is, I've been spending my time, effort, and posting my best material on If you've enjoyed my material here on Great Lakes Sailing, I encourage you to check out is my website devoted to inspired writing about sailing. The site features personal ponderings, boat reviews, gear reviews, techniques, cruising guides, and logs that have all grown from my Great Lakes sailing roots. I'm hoping visitors will be inspired to Sail Far, Live Free!

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Irwin 28 Sailboat Review

It’s been a while since I’ve done a boat review. What follows may quite possibly be more than you ever wanted to know about an Irwin 28 sailboat. Disclaimer: My own personal boat is an Irwin 28, so the review is admittedly biased by my firm belief that my favorite boat will always be the one that I own at the time. However, my biased perspective also assures that I know intricacies about the I28 that may not be apparent to those who haven’t spent significant time aboard this model.

Irwin 28 Review

Ted Irwin began building boats in his backyard at a very young age. He started professionally as a draftsman and part-time boat builder with well known racer and founder of Morgan Yachts, Charley Morgan. After learning on the job from Morgan and successfully racing some of his own designs, Ted started Irwin Yacht and Marine Corporation in 1966. He used his racing success and passion to inspire his early cruising designs. Though Irwin Yachts closed its’ doors in 1991 due partly to the luxury tax, Irwin sailboats are best known today for their large center cockpit cruising yachts. In fact, Irwin has built more cruising sailboats over 50’ than any other boat builder in the world. Over 6,000 yachts have been built and there are currently over 300 Irwin 52, 54, 65 and 68’s cruising the globe today.

While the focus of Irwin Yachts seemed to be on larger cruisers, they did dabble with smaller boats, including a 23, 24, 25, 27 and the subject of this review, the Irwin 28. I contacted Gene Gammons, long-time friend of Ted Irwin and Irwin Yachts project manager, who estimated that the Irwin 28 was probably first produced sometime in 1970, while the last hull was probably commissioned sometime in the late 1970’s or early 1980’s. There were several variations, including mkI through mkIV. Early boats were mostly shallow draft full keelers with centerboards while most later boats seem to be fixed fin keel variants. The Irwin 28 has always been sloop rigged. As far as I can tell, there were only subtle changes (aside from the keel) between the versions and years.

Construction was typical for the production coastal cruiser in the 1970’s. The hull is a one piece molded fiberglass unit using alternate layers of hand-laid mat and 24 oz. woven roving. Although built to a price point, chopper guns and blown glass were not used in the hulls. Additional laminate was used in high stress areas. Floor timbers were hand glassed into all keel models. The deck is a one piece molded fiberglass unit with a plywood core for stiffening and insulation. The ballast of the fin keel version is pre-cast lead through-bolted with stainless steel bolts torqued to a reinforced keel boss. The rudder is supported on a partial skeg. Though not fully protected by the skeg, I prefer a skeg rudder over a spade rudder because it can add extra strength if constructed properly.

The mast and boom are anodized aluminum. Standard standing rigging is 1x19 stainless steel wire with single upper and lower shrouds. The single lower shroud arrangement is less then common than double lowers, but is no less sturdy. The shroud chainplates are mounted midway between the coachhouse wall and the toerail. These chainplates are one of the strong points of the Irwin 28, as they are heavy-duty steel strips extending through the deck and are bolted solidly to the hull grid down low. This setup, while prone to deck leaks, is more substantial than the common method of attaching chain plates to a knee brace or interior bulkhead as seen on many small coastal cruisers.

Deck hardware on the Irwin 28 is generally of good quality. Much of the hardware is sourced from larger boats in the Irwin line. The bow and stern cleats are nicely oversized for a 28-footer. Unfortunately, there is no midships cleat. However, one of the biggest drawbacks for the I28 as a cruiser is the lack of an anchoring platform or even an anchor roller. Oddly, there’s a rope/chain locker in the bow, but the only access is through the v-berth, not the deck. I added a chain pipe on the deck of my boat, but I still haven’t come up with a good option for an anchoring platform or roller given the obstructions that the toerail and custom stemhead fitting present.

The aforementioned perforated aluminum toerail runs the length of the deck and can be used to provide almost limitless jib sheet angles with snatch blocks and provides attachment points for fenders and spring lines. Several I28 owners (including myself) have noted leaks in the deck-to-hull joint. While this is mostly only a concern for rainwater, the proper remedy would be removing and resealing the toerail along its’ entire length. The mainsheet traveler is mounted on the companionway threshold. This arrangement has pluses and negatives. First, having the mainsheet traveler in the cockpit can be a bit awkward and get in the way in of entering the cabin in certain positions. However, control of the sheet and traveler is easy and always close at hand.

The Irwin 28 was offered with both tiller and pedestal wheel steering. My personal boat has the tiller, so my review is based only on that perspective. I personally love the direct feel and sensitivity of a tiller. The simplicity of the setup is also reassuring. The Irwin 28 tracks well enough, but needs precise sail trim to balance the tiller. You can’t take your hand off the tiller and not expect the boat to wander a bit. However, weather helm is easily controllable and a tiller pilot (autopilot) doesn’t need to work overly hard to keep the boat on course in mild to moderate conditions. Backing up with the Irwin 28 is something the boat does not do well. When in reverse, she prop walks badly to starboard and renders steering almost totally ineffective. The boat handles moderate seas and wind quite nicely. She’s controlled and manageable in winds up to about 25 knots and Lake Michigan seas to 5 or 6 feet, as long as you reef and keep the waves off the beam. However, you’ll find yourself motoring a fair amount in light air, unless you’ve got spinnaker gear. My boat came fitted with the factory spinnaker package and is complete with secondary cockpit winches, downhaul block and track on the deck, spinnaker pole, pole topping lift and off-set masthead spinnaker halyard. The Irwin 28’s favorite point of sail is close hauled. She’ll also reach and run nicely, but feels in the groove when close hauled. She doesn’t point any better than most other similar sailboats, but really bites in just off the wind. Her 41% ballast ratio (see below) makes her relatively stiff and inspires confidence.

Down below, the Irwin 28 presents a common layout for sailboats of this size. Starting at the bow and moving back, the layout consists of: roomy v-berth, hanging wet locker to starboard, enclosed head with sink/vanity to port, adult-length settees to port and starboard in the salon, bulkhead hinged table, L-shaped galley to starboard, quarter-berth to port. Storage is plentiful, but not necessarily convenient with most recessed away below the berths and settees. The galley features a roomy ice box (converted with NorCold refrigeration on my boat), alcohol stove and flip-up countertop extension. Some I28’s feature a slide out nav table above the quarter berth. The best feature of the cabin is the large bulkhead table that stores neatly tucked against the bulkhead when not in use.

Auxiliary power from the factory in the Irwin 28 came from one of two sources: Volvo or Universal. Both engines are gasoline powered. Much has been written and is known about the Universal Atomic 4, so I’ll focus on the engine I have in my boat, the Volvo MB10A. Many people shy away from the old Volvo engines, particularly the gas variants, because parts can be hard to find. However, the MB10A is still in production today by Marna Marine in Norway and parts are readily (though not cheaply) available. I believe the MB10A block started life as a tractor engine and was adapted for marine application by Marna and marketed by Volvo. The little 2 cylinder engine chugs out 15 peak horsepower, which is just about right for the Irwin 28. She’ll motor along at just over 6 knots when pushed, but I like to keep the rpm’s down and chug at around 5.5 knots [Note: I have a Martec low-drag fixed two blade prop]. The exhaust is routed through a waterlift muffler and provides a good putt-putt tractor soundtrack. I have had no major issue with my little two cylinder Volvo and trust it to get me home when the wind won’t blow (or at least won’t blow from the right direction!). Engine access isn’t the best, though oil and plug changes can be accomplished from the front of the engine by removing the companionway steps. There’s also a small port access panel in the quarterberth and starboard access through the cockpit lazerette.

Warning: The following paragraphs are not for those who don’t like numbers and math! It’s time to look at specifications and ratings.

The Irwin 28 measures 28.5’ LOA with a waterline length of 23’ and 9’ beam. Dry weight displacement is 7,800 lbs with 3,200 lbs of ballast. Her sail area to displacement ratio (SA/D) is 15.36. The fin keel version draws 4’6” of water. The length to displacement ratio for the Irwin 28 is 286.2, putting it squarely in the “average cruising” category, as shown below.
Light racing multihull 40-5
Ultra light ocean racer 60-100
Very light ocean racer 100-150
Light cruiser/racer 150-200
Light cruising auxiliary 200-250
Average cruising auxiliary 250-300
Heavy cruising auxiliary 300-350
Very heavy cruising auxiliary 350-400

The Irwin 28 has a motion comfort rating of 26. The motion comfort rating estimates the overall comfort of a boat when it is underway.  The formula predicts the speed of the upward and downward motion of the boat as it encounters waves and swells.  The faster the motion, the more uncomfortable the passengers will be.  The higher the number, the more resistant a boat is to movement, which typically means a more comfortable ride.  This rating was created by famed boat designer, Ted Brewer.  Comfort ratings will vary from 5.0 for a light daysailer to the high 60s for a super heavy vessel, such as a Colin Archer ketch. Moderate and successful ocean cruisers, such as the Valiant 40 and Whitby 42, will fall into the low-middle 30s range.

The Irwin 28 has a capsize ratio of 1.82. According to Ted Brewer, a boat is acceptable if the capsize ratio is 2.0 or less but, of course, the lower the better. For example, a 12 meter yacht of 60,000 lbs displacement and 12 foot beam will have a capsize ratio of 1.23, and so would be considered very safe from capsize. A contemporary light displacement yacht, such as a Beneteau 311 (7716 lbs, 10'7" beam) has a capsize ratio of 2.14. Based on the formula, while a fine coastal cruiser, such a yacht may not be the best choice for ocean passages. The Irwin 28 sneaks below the 2.0 mark and represents a design that is relatively safe from capsizing in coastal conditions.

So what’s the take home message with all of these ratings, ratios and numbers? The Irwin 28 isn’t going to be the fastest sled for Wednesday night races (PHRF handicap rating of 213), but she’s likely a bit more comfortable and stable than other popular high volume production models from the same era. For example, the very popular Catalina 27 (std. rig) has a motion comfort rating of about 23.5 and a capsize ratio of 1.87. The O’day 28 has a motion comfort rating of 20.57 and a capsize ratio of 2.11. None of these boats are suitable as bluewater passagemakers, but they all make good coastal cruiser. Of the three, the Irwin may well be the most stable and comfortable while the O’day (PHRF handicap rating 204) would be a better choice if speed is a priority for your coastal cruise. The Catalina splits the difference (PHRF handicap rating 210).

In summary, the Irwin 28 is a fine coastal cruiser for those on a modest budget. She’s the perfect balance between the cramped accommodations of the 25-26 footers and the higher expenses of the ~30 footers of similar vintage. The slight spring in her sheerline coupled with a bit of teak on deck (handrails, forward hatch) and the modest stern overhang provide noticeable character. If you’re looking for an alternative to the similarly priced but more common 27-29 foot boats (Catalina 27, Hunter 27, O’day 28) of this age and price, check out an Irwin 28. She’s not a racer but she does offer good performance and accommodations for a small family looking for a friendly cruiser.

The Best Sailing and Boating Apps

I've often said that one of my favorite aspects of sailing is the ease at which you can unplug yourself from the complexities and over abundance of technologies. However, I'm also a bit of a gadget junkie and have become very fond of my iPad, even while on the boat. What follows is a list of my favorite apps for sailing. All are available in Apple's app store (and likely in the Android market too) and work on both an iPad and iPhone.

1) Navionics HD: While expensive compared to most apps, Navionics HD is an outright bargain when compared to tradition chartplotters. The bathymetric charts are beautifully detailed and include the option of overlaying Google Earth, Bing aerial photos or topographic terrain maps for land. Functions include tracks, route planning and guidance, speed data and many other goodies you would expect from a gps plotter.

2) Sail Master: This is a simple app, but it looks and works great. Think of Sail Master as your digital instrument panel. The app shows boat speed, boat position (lat & long), and heading. As a bonus, there's also an inclinometer to see your angle of heel. Each instrument can be shown onscreen individually or in a nice combo screen showing all data. The teak and brass look of the instruments really makes the aesthetics pop.

3) Ship Finder HD: If you don't have AIS on your boat, Ship Finder brings the data to a screen near you...sort of. You can't transmit your position with the app, but any commercial or recreational vessel that's transmitting can be displayed on your screen. You'll get the usual AIS data such as vessel destination, course, speed, length, etc. This probably shouldn't be relied upon for navigation and traffic avoidance, but it's a fun tool.

4) Wind Meter: Here's your anemometer for the iPhone. This isn't quite as accurate as a handheld Windmate or your masthead anemometer, but it's a cheap, simple app that gives wind data good enough to be useful. I love the ingenuity of using the wind noise coming through the iPhone microphone combined with algorithms to spit out an approximate wind speed.

5) Compass HD: This is as simple as it sounds - just a nautical-looking and functional compass for your idevice.

6) MyRadar: There are many good weather apps available and most include weather radar. However, not many are as simple, reliable and quick as MyRadar if all you're concerned with is seeing what storms are headed your way.

7) Cruising World: iPads are excellent for viewing magazine a content and Cruising World magazine is the first (far as I can tell) sailing mag to publish issues digitally for IOS devices.

-Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Book Review: The Modern Cruising Sailboat by Charles Doane

Book Review
The Modern Cruising Sailboat: A Complete Guide to its Design, Construction, and Outfitting

Winter is the time for Great Lakes sailors who haven’t pointed the bow south towards little latitudes to plan next season’s cruises, prepare the spring maintenance list, shop for boat upgrades, learn more about sailing and dream about their “next boat”. Books provide a great means for beginning all of these processes.

The Modern Cruising Sailboat (International Marine 2009) by Charles Doane offers a wealth of information useful as a guide for beginning cruising sailors and as an authoritative and nearly comprehensive review for cruising veterans. While mostly directed at the cruising sailor, racers and day sailors will also likely find the book interesting.

The book is well written with great illustrations and pictures. The first half of the book covers design and construction and is the most comprehensive at doing so that I’ve read in a book aimed at a cruising audience. There’s also a fair bit of historical information that some readers will enjoy. While readers likely won’t find all of the information and ideas for fitting out a cruising boat new, I’m certain they will pick up several ideas that will be helpful.

There's also a section at the end where Doane reviews 40 cruising boats ranging from 27' to ~60' feet. He chooses boats that he recommends for cruising based on his personal experience and gives a wide-array of different styles. This is the section of the book that many readers will gravitate towards for practical perspective on which boats to consider for purchase and which boats to keep locked in their minds as dream boats. I personally appreciated the size range, price range and collections of older boats included in the this section. Doane certainly could have included many new boats with his experience as editor-at-large for Sail magazine, but instead I believe he appeals to a wider audience by including several vintage, “affordable” cruising sailboats. While I would have liked to see a review of at least one pilothouse or motor-sailer, Doane candidly told me in an email correspondence that he’d like to add these if a second edition of the book is published.

While I’ve read just about all the sailing books and magazines I can get my hands on, The Modern Cruising Sailboat is the type of book I’ll keep close at hand for reference, alongside a select few other titles such as Beth Leonard’s The Voyager’s Handbook and Don Casey’s This Old Boat. Unfortunately I enjoyed Doane’s book so much that I read through it in about a week’s time so now I’ve got to find more reading to take me through the rest of the long Great Lakes winter.

The Modern Cruising Sailboat is readily available on  You can read more about the author on his personal blog at

All, fingers on deck! Vibram Five Fingers Review

Gear Review: Vibram FiveFingers for Sailing/Deck Shoes

Deck shoes seem to be a very personal matter to most sailors. Some swear by Sperry’s TopSiders or Sebago’s Docksider line. Racing sailors often seem to prefer a more snugly fitting athletic shoe with a sole specialized for the deck, such as those offered by Harken. I’ve always been much more casual with my choice of footwear for the boat. Typically you can find me in flip-flops, Crocs or often barefoot while sailing. Crocs provide a bit of protection from stubbing a toe on deck hardware and have a decent amount of grip in wet conditions when they are new. However, the sole loses its’ grip rather quickly, particularly if they are worn on hard surfaces such as asphalt and concrete. Admittedly, flip-flops usually don’t offer much grip, stability or protection from stubbed toes so they aren’t ideal for deck work in anything but the calmest of conditions. Even if it is calm and I’m wearing flip-flops, I’ll typically go barefoot if I have to leave the cockpit to go on deck. I prefer the natural grip my foot and toes provide.

This past spring I purchased a pair of Vibram FiveFingers Classics hoping they would be good deck “shoes”. Vibram has long had a reputation as a high quality manufacturer of durable soles for shoes and hiking boots. Aesthetically, FiveFingers are funky with their bright colors and toe pockets, making them look like gloves for your feet. The tread on the sole is non-marking and sipped (see picture) for great wet traction. Additionally, you’d be surprised how much more grip you have when you get your toes involved in the process. Without a doubt, my FiveFingers are the best deck shoes I’ve ever worn. The grip is tremendous, dexterity is remarkable and the construction is proving to be highly durable. FiveFingers also offer good ventilation for your feet when compared to more traditional deck shoes. Additionally, Vibram claims that FiveFingers stimulate muscles in your feet and lower legs to make you stronger as well as improving your balance and agility.

FiveFingers are also great for going ashore on slippery rocks, swimming, wading and scambling over rocks and boulders like those found in the North Channel. If you haven't looked, there are many different styles of FiveFingers available, including ones with straps for an extra snug fit (Sprint, KSO, Flow), neoprene for water performance and warmth (Flow), open top designs for warm weather (Classic), and rugged soles for off-trail hiking (KSO Trek, TrekSport).

FiveFingers do take a bit more effort to put on than a more conventional shoe and also take some getting use to, but the grip, comfort and benefits to your feet make FiveFingers a great deck shoe for my sailing needs.

Navigation & Charting Tools for the Great Lakes

There are several navigation and charting sources available online that are potentially very useful for the Great Lakes sailor.  The following is listing of some that we have found the most useful for planning a cruise in the Great Lakes.

1) OpenCPN - Awesome free software to convert your laptop into a GPS chartplotter.

2) Printable NOAA Charts - Great for desktop cruising, planning and some printing.

3) NOAA BookletCharts - Excellent for printing your own charts in 8.5" x 11" booklet format.

4) Lake Michigan Waypoints - Perfect for updating your GPS with common waypoints while at home.

5) - Nice, simple website with Lake Michigan specific information

6) Great Lakes Information Network - Tons of information, maps and tools specific to the Great Lakes.

There are of course many, many more sites that are also useful. For instance, Google Earth is an amazing tool for getting a bird's eye view of your sailing area.  If you know of other sites that our readers may find useful, please contact us!

Weather for Great Lakes Sailing

Having access to good, reliable weather reports is critical for any serious Great Lakes sailing.  If you're planning a cruise or preparing for a race, you'll need to track the wind, temperatures, precipitation, waves and any number of other variables.  We've compiled the list of website links below as a tool for Great Lakes sailors to use.  You will also notice that we've added a sidebar with the same Great Lakes weather links so that you'll also have access from the Great Lakes Sailing homepage.

Here are the Great Lakes weather links:

NOAA's Great Lakes Weather Map: A great tool for visually viewing current and forecasted data on wave height, wave period, wind speed, wind gusts, weather and temperature.

Wunderground Marine Forecast: A textual summary of current and forecasted marine weather for the Great Lakes.

National Weather Service Marine Forecasts: Great tool for quickly locating your local NWS marine forecast, regardless of where you are on the Great Lakes.

National Buoy Data Center: Easy access to all the data from Great Lakes buoys including wave height, wind speed and water temperature.

SailFlow: Very powerful tool that integrates wind data with marine forecasts for specific areas within the Great Lakes.

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