Saint Barbara

Saint Barbara2017-01-02T12:38:35+00:00


LOA 37’-6”, LWL 34’-6”, B 10-0”, D 10’-0”, DISPL 11,056 Lbs., SA 720 Ft2.

Sam Kovalak of Rockford, MI, is the owner of Saint Barbara, a 37.5’ wingmast sloop which was built in wood-epoxy and carbon fiber by Van Dam Custom Boats in Boyne City, MI. This design had a long, long gestation period—11 years. That was the time between Sam’s first phone call to me inquiring about a new boat, and signing the design contract. This was a record for me. In the interim, Sam did a lot of reading on boat design. He even bought a few boats simply to research boat performance and to figure out precisely what he wanted. The concepts of wingmast rig, lifting keel, and a lifting rudder had particular appeal, and actually, these were constants throughout a long process of introspection. The one other constant from the very beginning was that Steve Van Dam would build the boat.

Sam’s initial phone call to me focused on a 32’ trimaran. Three years later it was a 32’ cruising monohull. Then two years after that he bought a Dragonfly 1000, a 33’ trimaran which had nice performance, but its construction was too light for his tastes. The following year we were talking about a 38’ yawl, which two months later was simplified to a 33’ sloop. By the end of the next year, we were back up to a 39’ sloop. About 18 months after that, Sam bought an Alerion 28 sloop to putz around Mackinac Island in Lake Huron. The next year, contemplation was onto a 35’ glorified daysailer, very lightweight and very fast, which a month later grew to 38’ again. We were still two years away from a design contract. In January 2002, we started settling into a design that was looking a lot like what actually transpired–LOA at 38’ 4” and a weight of 10,500 lbs. Six months later with contract time T-14 months and counting, the boat grew to 41’ LOA and 10,800 lbs. displacement. But that held until the following autumn when the contract was signed for a 41’ sloop.

I have never experienced so much design whiplash in my life.

But not all was settled. During the development of the 3-D hull shape, the first stage of the design process, the boat grew to 44’. After 7 different renditions of the hull shape, and with a little dose of reality about construction cost (which varies according to the cube of length overall), the boat finally settled in at 37’ 6” LOA and about 11,000 lbs. displacement. At that length, the cost of the boat met a budget close to $250,000, but at 44’, the cost would have been over $400,000. In the end, construction of Saint Barbara exceeded this amount.


saint-barbara-04Sam is an engineer himself, from my alma mater, the University of Michigan. He owned a very large sign company with facilities big enough to do some of the inventing, milling, and manufacturing for various parts of the boat. Above all else, Sam wanted to participate hands-on in its construction. This meant that my design work was greatly abbreviated, focusing on the geometries of the hull, keel, bulb, rudder, and wingmast.  Sam, literally working over Steve Van Dam’s shoulder, figured out the hull and deck construction, thickness and lay-up (3/4” thick western red cedar strip planking with carbon fiber unidirectional fabric at 90° and ±45° inside and out), and where all the internal structure and gear would go. So structures-wise, I had little to do after the geometry was complete. I was consulted on various naval architectural aspects (hydrodynamics, aerodynamics, structures, etc.) as the need arose. This consultation was paid for in installments, and was, in fact, an unusual arrangement because it is very rare that the client is an accomplished engineer the way Sam is. But he enjoyed himself immensely.

The notable features of this design were the lifting keel and rudder with shapes similar to those of Bagatelle. Both keel and rudder employ the LS-(1) aerofoil section which is one of my favorites because it has a maximum thickness position at 40% of the chord instead of the more common 30% of chord. This makes the section a bit stronger and stiffer, structurally. This section also has a hollow at the trailing edge which leads to parallel flow and less wake drag coming off the sections. Finally, this aerofoil section is scalable to different thicknesses from a master pattern. It’s a very versatile section.


The wingmast was special. About two years prior, I had designed the wingmasts for the Freedom 38 Woebegone Daze which employed my concept of a rotating wingmast mounted over a fixed stub mast. The advantages of this rig are that the bearings are mounted on the stub mast above deck, and that the joint of the stub mast to the deck is watertight. I worked out the wingmast and stub mast geometry for Sam, and he worked out the carbon fiber engineering and laminate with the mast builder, and he designed and built the mast bearings.


During his first race with Saint Barbara, the Around Mackinac Island Race, Sam walked away from the fleet. With his family on board who were not in the least experienced racing, let alone even knowing how to handle a sailboat, they finished a full 8 minutes ahead of the next boat, taking first overall. Sam reported that Saint Barbara is “silky smooth through the water, the smoothest sailboat I have ever sailed.” Sam’s boat prior to Saint Barbara was a J/105. “Saint Barbara is way faster than the J/105,” says Sam, “and it points about 20° higher that the J/105, easy.”

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The name Saint Barbara comes from Sam’s wife, Barbara, whom he adores, as well as the real Saint Barbara who offers protection against lightning and storms.