Launched in 1978, following in the footsteps her larger Atkins-inspired sibling, the Alajuela 38, the diminutive 33 is just as capable but conceived to be more affordable during the hard economic times of the oil-shocked late-1970s. Designer Ray Richards married traditional looks with a modern underbody to produce a nice performing cruiser suited for both coastal work and true offshore passage-making.
Alajuela Yachts was founded in 1974 by Rod Jermain and Mike Riding solely to produce the Alajuela 38, a beautifully constructed yacht based on the time tested designs of William Atkin. Though initially the duo intended only to build the boat for themselves, they ended up taking orders from others and a production run followed.
Despite a cruising sailboat boom that defined the early 1970s, sailboat builders fell upon increasingly harder economic times during the tail end of the decade. Prices for raw materials such as lead, plywood, teak, aluminium, but in particular resin and fibreglass increased substantially as the OPEC oil embargo of 1973 took effect and the inflationary impact of the Vietnam War helped push the price of oil from $3.50 in 1973 to $38 a barrel by 1980.
As rising prices pushed the Alajuela 38 beyond the reach of many (the hull needing some 10 barrels of resin to construct), Jermain and his team at Alajuela started a project to produce a smaller more affordable sailboat. Preliminary research was made around a 28 foot design, but the minimum requirements for a comfortable cruising boat interior made this hull quite tubby with an underwater profile that was akin to an avocado. The project evolved into a 33 footer in order to give the boat enough length and inertia to push herself through offshore conditions.
After doing the initial scoping, the project took some time before Ray Richards was commissioned to complete the design. Richards, a naval architect and veteran of the industry including designs for car ferries and jet catamarans was also well known for sailboat designs that were both fast and practical.
Richards innovated with an underwater profile was quite a radical departure from designs of the time. Rather than a conventional full keel known for excellent and safe tracking abilities, Richards relied solely on the aft shape of the hull and the shape of the skeg and rudder to maintain directional stability. The keel forefoot was substantially cut away to reduce wetted area and aid manoeuvrability and its profile was wide with a flat bottom to allow the hull to be well supported on the hard. The wide profile had multiple benefits. Practically, it allowed tankage, both water and fuel, to be placed inside the keel cavity which lowered the centre of gravity and freed up interior space. Additionally the profile was better suited to the lower speeds of sailboats – most designers were using thinner high speed NACA profiles at the time.
The canoe stern, though mainly an aesthetic choice is helpful in large following seas. The skeg-mounted rudder was designed to have wheel steering with a backup tiller, with the idea that an autopilot setup would be simpler with wheel steering. Such were the economics of the day that most were shipped with the cheaper tiller-only option, with owners knowing wheel steering could be retrofitted aftermarket.
Construction was identical to the much praised Alajuela 38 – a one-piece hand-laid fiberglass hull and a plywood cored deck with one of the best hull to deck joints in the industry. The hull and deck join was designed to lock together with a double bonded fiberglass seam that ran the entire length of the hull producing a very reliable watertight result that was far more costly than the industry norm.
Chainplates were brought inboard to allow for a tighter sheeting angle to assist windward performance. And the choice was made for a cutter rig for its better balanced reefing, especially handy during offshore work. This required a small bowsprit, which was made of aluminium for extra strength.
Internally the 33 has a total of six berths, including the magical addition of twin seagoing quarter berths, that’s quite a lot for a 33 footer and in order to achieve this feat not only was the aforementioned keel cavity utilised for tankage, but some amount of stowage was sacrificed. Jermaine comments, “Storage rather than sleeping was the reason for the double quarter berths. They can take bicycles, boxes of canned food, sails bags, Avons, etc, plus they do make great sea berths.” The feel of the cabin is roomy and the quality of the joinery is impressive.
Under sail the Alajuela 33 is easy to single-hand, fast for her size, and her modern underbelly makes her predictably nimble in tight spaces. When Sea Magazine took the 33 for a test sail in light winds upon its debut, they described a sailboat with reasonable performance, one having a good feeling – steady and responsive with some of the driving feeling you get from a much larger boat. Owners have reported some amount of weather helm.
Priced at the top end of the market upon its launch, the Alajuela 33 is a high quality sailboat from a boatbuilder that has garnered an excellent reputation.
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