ORCA is a new Nordic Folkboat, launched February 2018. She was built by the Northwest School of Wooden Boat Building to an exceptionally high standard and won first place in the Port Townsend Annual Shipwrights Regatta. Last year ORCA was shipped across the country to Maine, where at Artisan Boatworks in Rockport she was outfitted with a new custom Triad Trailer 10 hp Honda outboard, and a whole compliment of Wilmex self-tailing bronze winches.
The Folkboat has been described as the most popular, successful and influential sailing yacht of all time. Designed by Tord Sunden as a clinker-built fractional sloop with a simple rig (two shrouds each side, jibstay and backstay) and a small, low-profile cabin, on a lively sheer with a raked transom stern.
The Folkboat was the first choice of Classic Boat Magazine for their series of articles on yacht design where the described the design as “approaching perfection:” “The sections show a flare to the topsides for their whole length; a difficult trick to marry to a nice sheer, but achieved here. The freeboard looks perilously low but the boat is remarkably dry even when pushed hard. The flare in the sections means the waterline beam when upright is modest enough for decent light-airs speed, but as the hull heels it rapidly gains stability; aided by a very healthy ballast ratio, her stiffness is perfectly judged. She is also tolerant of added weight; a good attribute in a pocket cruiser, especially one capable of crossing the Atlantic or even more, so even quite reasonably equipped boats look and sail perfectly well.
“The firm tuck of the bilges leading into nice, slim keel sections help generate good lift (in relative terms) from the long keel, which is a key to good sailing performance. The shape owes precious little to rating rules, only hydrodynamics; you pay for that bold forward overhang in accommodation or waterline length, maybe, but driving into any sort of sea you’ll be glad of that bargain. The slope of the transom stern tucks the rudder deep under the hull and the angle of the stern post, while typically Scandinavian, looks old-fashioned, even exaggerated; but time at the helm tells you exactly why they stuck with it. The fractional sail plan is equally well judged; with her relatively modest displacement and wetted surface area (for the type), she can slip along just fine, but will carry her canvas well as the wind comes up. She has seakindly manners that punch far above her modest weight, and her deep cockpit and nicely balanced feel on the helm all add up to a simple but satisfying boat to really sail.
“Anyone brought up on modern, beamy boats who can overcome their probable prejudice against a long keel and lack of double berths (and, to be fair, standing headroom in most versions), is in for a revelation. The design of the Folkboat is an object lesson.”
The main appeal to those lacking Classic Boat’s analytical skills is the boat’s suitability to almost any role. It offers one of the best one-design racing classes, with active fleets everywhere from San Francisco’s blustery bay to mainland Europe and the Solent, where Folkboats have won the Gold Roman Bowl in the Round the Island Race more than any other type of boat – 11 wins spread over nearly every decade since the 1940s.
But they are equally suited to the ascetic who wants to sail to far-flung places with the minimum boat, as Ann Gash did when she took hers around the world solo from 1975-77. The two-berth interior, with its low headroom, is akin to camping, and most examples are equipped with an outboard motor rather than a diesel.
When Colonel Blondie Hasler initiated the first singlehanded ocean race – the 1960 OSTAR – he chose a Folkboat (albeit junk-rig modified) and so did fellow competitor Val Howells. Others have found them to be ideal for coastal cruising or as family dayboats. Anyone can sail a Folkboat, but they are tunable enough to keep the most ardent racer satisfied.
Variants followed thick and fast. British Folkboats, IF or ‘Marieholm’ Folkboats and, in the 1970s, mock-clinker GRP Folkboats all appeared on the scene, all aiming to preserve that wonderful hull but add more accommodation. Near variants include the Stella and Contessa 26. Today, there are an estimated 4,000+ Nordic Folkboats in the world.