Commodore’s Opinion Page


This page is for the Commodore to share his opinion on why the Hughes 38 is such a great yacht.  The Commodore is not expected to be impartial towards this great yacht, but rather the contrary is expected.

The Hughes 38 Upwind.

The book “Desirable and Undesirable Characteristics of Offshore Yachts” was written by twelve of the most experienced and renown naval architects and marine engineers of the modern era.  In that book,  the editor John Rousmaniere states ” …decent speed is an essential component of good seamanship.  Certainly, a boat should be a comfortable home when at anchor.  But she should also have legs long enough to allow her to reach a distant harbor before the arrival of a gale and – should the gale catch her – enough close-winded speed so she can beat off a threatening lee shore to the safety of deep water.”  (emphasis mine)

The Hughes 38 fulfills this in spades!  By all accounts she can go to weather, pulling hard to 30 degrees off the wind, and cuts thru chop like few others can due to her fine ends and narrow beam.  This allows her to claw off a lee shore – a key component of safety at sea.  In addition to being unsafe, a boat that cannot go quickly to weather is not a fun boat to sail.  Since man first jumped on a log and the wind pushed him across the pond, the challenge has been to make our boats go some other way than blown about by the wind, with the ultimate challenge being to sail into the wind.  

Hughes 38 Directional Stability

In the same book “Desirable and Undesirable Characteristics of Offshore Yachts”,  these eminent authorities select 5 examples of good designs for offshore yachts.  Of those five – two have the engine directly over the keel, and one doesn’t show the placement of the engine.  This means that at least 40% of these ideal yachts are designed so that the weight of the engine is concentrated amidships – and below the water line.  Although dead weight anywhere on a yacht is not desirable, weight in the ends of a yacht is especially harmful – especially when trapped in a gale or when going to weather.

Consider the effects of the weight placement on balance.  An arrow has its tail feathers at the back of the arrow, as the arrow is deflected from a true course, the tail feathers drag as it moves thru the air and this pushed the tail of the arrow back on course.  If the feathers were in the front of the arrow, the arrow would be unstable, and would easily flip around.  The same is true for a boat.  Long keel boats exhibit good directional stability due to more “feathers” being aft than forward, and thus they maintain their direction.  The “feathers” position on a fin keel boat is even more important.  If the keel (the feather) is too far forward, directional stability is compromised.

Now consider the effects of the placement of 300 to 400 lbs of engine weight being moved from under the companionway to above the fin keel.  To keep the fore and aft balance, the ballast must be shifted aft while the engine is shifted forward.  This means that the ballast must either be higher in the fin keel on average, OR the fin keel must be shifted forward.  You can’t have the ballast as low as possible, the fin keel as far aft as possible, AND the engine under the companionway.   This means that either the directional stability of the yacht is compromised OR the righting moment of the yacht is compromised when the engine is placed under the companionway.  You either design for good balance and good righting moment OR for other considerations.   You can’t have it both ways.

(Note here:  We are NOT talking about the relationship of center of effort (CE) to center of lateral plane (CLP).  That is another subject entirely; the relationship of the boat in the air to the boat in the water.  That is NOT what we are talking about.  We are discussing the relationship of the “feathers” (keel, rudder and skeg) to the movement of the water past the hull, the “arrow shaft”.)

A full keel boat is directionally stable for two reasons.  One, the long keel resists turning due to the effect of the long lever arm in the water, and two, the center of the “feathers” is well aft on the hull.  A fin keel boat does not have the advantage of the long lever arm, because its keel is by definition short!  However, a well designed fin keel, placed appropriately on the hull will be stable due to the tail feathers effect.  This gives the sailor the best of both worlds, the directional stability of the long keel when sailing and the quick turning ability of the fin keel, when maneuverability is needed for docking.

Hughes 38 and Prop Walk

Consider in addition the advantages of the bilge placed engine:  the propeller is well forward, which means that there is less prop walk than a conventional design in which the prop is located well aft.  Prop walk is the undesirable turning of the boat under power, usually in reverse and usually in docking.  Turning about a pivot point is the result  of a torque, which is force times arm.  Since the Hughes 38 has the prop close to the pivot point, the arm is short, resulting in less prop walk for any given side force from the prop.  This is not just theoretical, numerous owners of H38s have reported that the design has little prop walk.

Hughes 38 and Anchor Placement Offshore

It is a known fact that weight in the ends of a yacht is detrimental to the handling abilities, especially in heavy weather.   Consider what Fatty Goodlander (who undoubtedly has more miles under his keel in a Hughes 38 than anyone else) says about the performance of the Hughes 38 with weight in the ends:

“On my… Hughes 38 Wild Card, I carried my 45-pound anchor and 180 feet of 5/16” High Test chain forward in my anchor locker while coastal cruising.  But I laboriously shifted both inside my vessel to the base of my mainmast in the head, while offshore.  Wild Card was, in my humble opinion, a dangerous vessel in a blow with that much weight forward, and a safe one when that same weight was amidships and lower.  Weight placement is everything on a sailing vessel. (emphasis mine)

Hughes 38 Singlehandling

Although almost 40 feet long, the Hughes 38 has an easily driven hull, and therefore preforms well with less than 600 square feet of sail.  Many singlehandlers report that for most people, 600 square feet of sail is the maximum that one person can handle alone.  In addition, because of the large foretriangle and small mainsail, the Hughes 38 is a design exceptionally suited to singlehandling.  Many owners install roller furling jibs, making the foretriangle easily manageable for one person.  Numerous people report that with roller furling they are easily able to sail the Hughes 38 alone.  Ability to singlehand is an important element of safety at sea.  Because of the large foretriangle, the main is relatively small and easy to hoist with one person.  The large foretriangle is also suited to conversion to a cutter, as the mast is relatively far aft for a sloop rig.  Several owners (SV Wildcard, SV Verdia) have installed a staysail stay allowing use of a genoa staysail and a flying jib.  SV Wildcard has roller furling on both the jibstay and the staysail stay.  Separating the roller furling jib from the roller furling staysail makes both better setting when partially furled than one large jib.  The Hughes 38’s rig is therefore very flexible.

Hughes 38 Build Quality

However, great design is only the start.  If there is not great construction to follow then great design is wasted.  We know that the Hughes brothers supplied S&S design #1903 hulls to Hinckley Yachts, who finished them and sold them as Hinckley 38s.  Is Hinckley not one of the premiere makers of yachts of all time?  Do they not have one of the best reputations for their build quality?  If Howard and Peter Hughes built these hulls good enough for Hinckley, would you not expect them to last many year into the future?  Hughes 38s do not have a reputation for blistering, pox, smiles on the keel, or oil canning.  There is no core on the hull to become waterlogged.  The skegs do now fall off, the rudders are not known to delaminate, and the keel bolts are not known to corrode.  These are tough hulls, built with the best materials and practices known at the time.

Hughes 38 Value

Several people have compared the Hughes 38 to several different yachts, all of which cost much more than a Hughes 38.   An obvious one is the Hinckley 38, as discussed above.  Another common comparison is to the Yankee 38, which also has a great reputation, and was also designed by S&S.  Only 30 Yankee 38s were built and they sell for considerably more than the Hughes 38.  Catalina Yachts purchased the molds from Yankee when they went bankrupt and they produced the Catalina 38.  Frank Butler installed a “balanced” spade rudder, and eliminated the skeg.  The Catalina 38 design never was approved by S&S, for whatever reason, however different stories are told.  What has been shown over time is that in the opinion of some, this spade rudder has caused control problems, especially downwind, and several owners have made modifications to correct this.

One internet poster said about his time on a Yankee 38   “I recall that as the wind built on the spinnaker run, she became very unstable, and started a rolling action. Jim at the helm, was spinning the wheel back and forth trying to stay under the spinnaker. The Cal 40 was completely solid under this condition and began to surf. The Yankee just dug in deeper and deeper.”  

It always depends on what YOU want in a yacht.  There are better party barges than an H38.  There are far better floating condominiums than an H 38.  There are faster yachts upwind than the H38.  There are faster yachts downwind than an H38.  There are more comfortable yachts in a seaway than an H38.  There are roomier yachts than an H38.  There are safer yachts than an H38.  There are cheaper yachts than an H38, but you will have a hard time finding a better value in a great sailing yacht than a well maintained Hughes 38.