“Steer towards the wind and keep an eye on the tell tales.” I instructed as we sailed upwind on a breezy Lake Union. “When they both start to fly straight back, straighten your course and you’re sailing close hauled.”
It had been a while since I’d taught any sort of sailing class, and even though this wasn’t one, but rather a day out on the water, it felt good to help newer sailors understand the how’s and why’s of steering a boat and trimming sails.
The boat, a Caliber 40LRC (Long Range Cruiser), responded well to every touch on the helm and adjustment of the sheets. With brand spanking new sails, I was like a kid in a candy store as we zigged and zagged up and down the lake. The couple out with us were experienced boaters but relatively inexperienced sailors. They’re in the market for a solid couples cruising boat to hone their skills on before taking it far and wide, and from all appearances, Bel Vento ticked many of the boxes on their list.
When it was my turn to take a trick at the helm, I found a comfortable seat to leeward and enjoyed the look of the nicely cut and trimmed jib. Bel Vento was easy to tack with our crew of four, and in the bigger gusts, which reached 15 knots, she simply dug her shoulder in and turned the power into speed.
Of course, the Caliber 40 isn’t necessarily known as a speed demon, but we were consistently hitting 6.5 knots upwind in those conditions and reached 7 off the wind. What the boat is well regarded for, though, is her sea kindliness. As many Caliber owners will attest, the boats are exceptionally well suited for what they were conceived for — long range cruising.
When Calibers first started appearing out of Clearwater, Florida in the 80s, the Michael McCreary designs were highly regarded for their construction, sea worthy design and relatively affordable price tag. The boats are still all three, and this one — like many LRCs — has clearly been maintained and upgraded to hold its value for the next owner. But what Caliber was really doing with this design was creating a boat for an incredible niche market emerging at the time: cruising couples who wanted to sail long distances in comfort and safety.
The original buyers of the Caliber line weren’t just those dreaming about sailing off into the distance, many of them were knowledgeable and experienced sailors looking for a different boat than what was on the market. What they found in the LRC was the “complete package, ready to sail away into the sunset,” as one sailing journalist wrote at the time.
At home offshore
What makes these boats so coveted by offshore cruisers starts with the keel and hull construction. With a modified fin keel that is integral to the hull, not bolted on, and a full, integral skeg-hung rudder, they track easily and have a comfortable motion at sea. The hull is solid fiberglass and has extra layers of fiberglass built up in possible impact areas. Caliber also employed a watertight bulkhead forward and an “Integral Strength-Grid System” that ensures stringers, keel, tank lids, baffles and sub-soles are heavily glassed together, giving it an incredibly strong grid structure.
Apart from her beefy construction, the Caliber 40LRC also earns its “Long Range Cruiser” moniker with storage space and fuel and water capacity. With 190 gallons of water and 210 gallons of diesel (yes, on a 40-foot boat!), your cruising range goes from days to weeks, which can have you in Hawaii or up the Inside Passage without much need to stop.
While sailing Bel Vento, though, what I appreciated most about the boat’s design as a blue water cruiser is her modest rig. The slab reefed main is small enough to handle in heavy air yet large enough to keep the boat moving in lighter air. And with the Tides Marine mainsail track, the sail is easy to raise and lower, or reef in a blow. Also, the versatility of the removable inner forestay with staysail is an added bonus when switching between heavier and lighter winds.
When talking liveaboard comfort, you really have to start in the cockpit and work below on this boat. A new full enclosure is a Pacific Northwest boaters dream, as it provides an extra living room, and the cockpit seats are long enough to stretch out on. When summertime comes, off goes the enclosure and the swim platform on the stern becomes the perfect place to shower, board the dinghy or take a quick dip.
Down below I found the Caliber 40 to be a great mix of features for a couple or small crew. The Pullman berth in the forward master cabin is a great use of space, as it affords storage underneath. There is a hanging locker adjacent to it and a small vanity/desk with more storage is a nice touch.
Just forward of the cabin is an en suite head with separate shower stall. There aren’t many boats in this size range with a separate shower and I, for one, am slightly envious.
The main salon is open and unencumbered in large part due to the table that folds up against the bulkhead. Folded down, you could fit a dinner party around it or stretch out large charts for planning or routing. The settees are long enough to sleep on and storage is found behind and above the seat backs.
For a full 3D tour of Bel Vento, click on the image below:
Aft of the salon is an L-shaped galley to port with the nav station just aft. This is a unique setup that seems to work for the overall layout of the boat. The top loading Isotherm refrigeration/freeze compartments are quite deep, as is the double sink.
To starboard of the galley is the aft head, which, given it’s position, would be the one used at sea and could double as a hanging locker for wet foulies. Farther aft and to port is a relatively large quarter berth. Perfect as a pilot berth or for guests, there is storage in a hanging locker and underneath the bunk.
Overall, the interior of the Caliber 40 seems to be a no frills design that has been honed for a cruising couple or small family. With ample tankage and storage, plus good access to engine and mechanical systems, it seems that many modern boat builders could benefit from taking a look at the past.
From sailing the Caliber 40LRC with a couple who are in the beginning stages of the boat buying process, and from researching what makes this boat so unique, it’s easy to see why it has become such a venerable and sought after cruising boat. From the stout bowsprit and quality construction, to the efficient sail plan and sea-going cockpit, McCreary and company seemed to be ahead of their time when they built these boats.
And seeing that when they hit the used market these days, many of of them are affordable, turn-key world cruisers, Caliber obviously did many things right. In my experience, Bel Vento is no exception.
To find out more about the Caliber 40LRC Bel Vento, visit swiftsureyachts.com.