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The Irish yard has developed several designs in the 35 to 55 foot range that are designed primarily as pilot boats, and they offer a variety of leisure designs based on these tried and tested hulls.  Pilot boats have a tough life; they have to cope with putting pilots on board and taking them off in bad conditions, not only having to cope with rough seas in harbour entrances but having to bang alongside ships in rough conditions.  It takes a special kind of boat to cope with this rough treatment and Safehaven pilot boats are in demand from harbours around Europe.


Imagine a serious leisure boat that is based on one of these tough pilot boat designs.  That is what Safehaven Marine offer and each boat is individually built to the special requirements of the owner.  They are based on the refined hull designs that can cope with the worse conditions to these leisure boats are meant for the dedicated and experienced yachtsman who takes his cruising seriously and who is not afraid of being caught out in rough conditions. 


The Safehaven hulls come in two types, catamarans and monohulls.  The monohulls have a unique design that has been developed from long experience with rough seas.  It is unlikely that any boat anywhere in the world has undergone such serious testing and the result is a finely tuned hull design that can cope with the worse that the sea can offer.  The hull is basically a deep vee with a deadrise of 18o at the transom.  A unique feature of the design is the double chine arrangement, with a secondary chine in the topsides above the main chine that helps to keep down the spray and which generates additional lift in rough conditions.  The hull has a find entry to cope with head sea conditions and there is a single spray rail on the lower hull that extends well aft.


The bow is steeply raked to help soften the entry into waves and the chine has a distinct curve, falling away from the bow and then levelling off for the run aft.  Unusually for a vee hull there is a skeg keel that extends well aft and this is deep enough to offer protection for the propellers that operate in shallow semi-tunnels let into the hull at the stern.






Force 9 winds and waves reaching a height of 25 to 30 feet are not a normal part of the leisure boating scene.  You try to plan your trips to avoid these conditions and good weather forecasting should allow you to find calm seas and good conditions.  However, there’s a boat building in Ireland who believes that his boats should be tested in these conditions even though they may never experience them in actuality.  Safehaven Marine seek to test their boats in the worse conditions possible – then they know that they will not fail in everyday use.


Apart from the double chine and the skeg, this hull description does not differ a lot from the specification found on many leisure craft, but the key to this design is the way the hull shape has been carefully balanced so that it will perform equally well in all sea conditions.


Safehaven Marine does not aim for high performance with their designs and the 55 foot pilot boat that was tested was powered by a pair of 650hp Scania diesels coupled to a conventional shaft and propeller system.  This gave a speed of 25 knots but the engines were operating at their commercial rating and for leisure use these engines could find another 200hp.  However speed is not the main criteria in these designs where the focus is on seaworthiness.


Frank Kowalski, the owner of Safehaven Marine, moved into building boats to his own designs after time spent fitting out standard hulls for commercial and serious leisure use.  He admits to no formal boat design training; instead he designs from experience and must be one of the very few designers who not only goes to sea to test his designs but actively seeks out the worst conditions to see how they perform.  My sea trial was on a new 55-footer that has been built as a pilot boat for Sines in Portugal, and we only had a force 5 wind with moderate seas.

Kowalski waits until the wind is a force 9 from the south or the southwest and when the ebb tide is running out of Cork Harbour – then he heads out to sea.  Not only is there the wind against tide conditions to cope with, but the shallow water in the centre of the main entrance knocks up a particularly ferocious breaking sea, waves towering to 30 feet with heavy breaking crests.  These are the sorts of conditions that you might look for to test new lifeboat designs – Kowalski feels that his creations have to be built to the same standards.


The videos taking during these extreme sea trials show the boats coping well with the extreme conditions.  Even when they penetrate a heavy breaking wave and ship solid water on deck, the boat comes out smiling.  This is performance that is rarely seen – or experienced, for that matter – and it makes you feel that here is a boat that will cope with everything the sea can throw at it.


The balance that Kowalski seeks to building into his designs is readily apparent from the videos and from the sea trials.  Trying to achieve a good ratio between the conflicting requirements of head sea and following sea performance can be a challenge for any designed, but in the Safehaven hulls Kowalski has hit the spot.  The videos show the boat powering through head seas that tower above the boat in a breaking crest and coming out the other side with the water draining away from the deck, the boat still powering forward.


Following seas can the Achilles heel of fast boats but here the Safehaven 55 runs straight and true as it comes down off a breaking crest.  It can require good throttle control to drive the boat in breaking seas that are half the length of the boat high.  Part of the balance of these boats is the way in which the boat responds to the helm and throttle commands.


Out on our sea trial we only had a force 5 wind combining with a swell rolling in from the west.  Out clear of Kinsale Head the sea conditions were lively but we did not ship a drop of water and there was very little pitching despite the fact that we were travelling at over 25 knots.  This lack of pitching is probably a compliment to the setting of the interceptors fitted at the transom.  These are made to Kowalski’s own design and they work extremely efficiently.  The directional stability was also excellent and yet, when you needed to turn the wheel, the response was quick and eager – just what you need to position yourself in rough seas.


I don’t think that I have every driven a boat that felt quite to reassuring, a boat that you felt would get you out of trouble when you relaxed your concentration on the helm.  Visibility from the helm was excellent and you felt intimately in contact with the outside conditions.  You revel in the responsive handling and driving in a rough becomes a pleasure, an emotional experience that makes you realise the inadequate handling reported of many modern leisure boats.

The catamaran designs developed by Safehaven are mainly aimed at the sea angling market where large cockpit space is beneficial.  These catamarans go through the same tough testing regime to ensure that they will stand up to hard use in real life.  On all of the leisure designs the interiors can be fitted out to individual requirements with standards ranging up to those found on luxury yachts.


Safehaven Marine has supplied pilot boats based on their 42 and 55 foot hulls to several European ports and in Ireland they are used at Cork and Dublin.  Now they have cracked the tough British market with two of the 55 footers being built as patrol boats for Associated British Ports in Southampton.  One 42 pilot boat has been supplied for use at Portland harbour and a second one is under construction.  The proven rough sea capabilities of these hulls could even make them the basis for a very viable all-weather lifeboat concept.  To handle the increased production Safehaven is currently building a new construction hall at Youghal along the coat from Cork, and I think we will be hearing a lot more about these exceptional boats.


Down below, this pilot boat version was fitted out with two cabins plus a bathroom and a galley, but there is space here for comfortable cruising accommodation.  A leisure boat build on one of these remarkable hulls would have the capability to make long distance cruises without the fear that the weather might turn against you.  Here is the perfect cruising boat for the serious RIB owner who undertakes cruising but now wants a but more comfort and weather protection.

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