Albin Vega 27: she's modest, but plenty tough
A Review by John Vigor
This review is taken from a series of reviews of small seaworthy sailboats from John Vigor's book, Twenty Small Sailboats to Take You Anywhere.
- Safety-at-sea factor: 6 (Rated against the 19 other boats in the book, with 1 being the safest.)
- Speed rating: Fast off the wind. Once holder of the record for the fastest Atlantic crossing.
- Ocean comfort level: One or two adults in relative comfort; two adults and two kids in less comfort.
You'd hardly guess by looking at one that the Albin Vega has earned herself a reputation for being an outstanding offshore cruiser. She's a modest-looking little fiberglass sloop, totally lacking the massive fittings, bowsprits, and laid teak decks that most people associate with real deep-sea boats. In fact, if you didn't know how tough she is, you might judge her to be rather frail. The slight reverse sheer gives her a humpbacked appearance from some angles (though not an unsightly one) but otherwise her general appearance is quite unremarkable.
- Designer: Per Brohäll (1964)
- LOA: 27 feet 1 inch
- LWL: 23 feet 0 inches
- Beam: 8 feet 0 inches
- Draft: 3 feet 10 inches
- Displacement: 5,070 pounds
- Sail area: 341 square feet
- Ballast: 2,017 pounds
- Spars: Aluminum
- Auxiliary: Conventional gasoline or diesel with variable-pitch propeller.
- Designed as: Fast, light, ocean cruiser with berths for four adults.
Like so many of the world's seaworthy boats, the Albin Vega has Scandinavian origins. She was designed in Sweden in 1964 - the early days of fiberglass construction - by Per Brohäll, who obviously admired the long keel and skinny beam of the Folkboat. The Vega was given a short counter stern with an inboard rudder, however, instead of a transom and an outboard rudder, and her cabintop, raised in two sections, gave her more room below. Well over 3,000 Vegas were built in a production run that extended more than a decade, and thousands of them are now sailing all over the world.
Brohäll set out to design a boat that was light, fast, roomy, seaworthy, and relatively cheap. This was a seemingly impossible task because sailboat performance is the distilled essence of a series of compromises. What is seaworthy, for example, is not usually fast. What is roomy is not necessarily cheap. But Brohäll succeeded in producing one of those rare designs that exceeds most people's expectations in most areas. The one obvious thing the Vega lacks, in comparison with more modern designs, is space down below. But perhaps the comparison is unfortunate because modern designs deliberately sacrifice ultimate seaworthiness for interior space. The understanding is that today's roomy coastal cruisers will never need to fall back on the resources of seaworthiness an ocean voyager requires. Per Brohäll never had to make that compromise. From the outset, he aimed for seaworthiness.
It's the Vega's comparatively narrow beam of exactly 8 feet 0 inches that makes for snugness down below, of course. Nevertheless, the accommodations are comfortable for two adults on a long trip, and perhaps even for two adults and two children on a shorter vacation trip.
Basic DesignThe Vega has a shallow hull with narrow beam and fairly hard bilges. Her keel is long, but not full-length, running for only about half the waterline length, from about the mast to the after end of the cockpit well. While there is more than sufficient length for good tracking, especially downwind in the trades, this keel reduces the surface area (and therefore friction) of the "traditional" deep-sea keel and helps the Vega perform better in light airs.
The rudder is attached to the aft end of the keel, but while this is a very strong way to support it, the rudder itself has revealed some weaknesses. There is no cutout in the rudder for the propeller, which, unusually, emerges from the deadwood under the counter but above the rudder.
The hull is solid fiberglass, said by the builder to be 3/8-inch thick at the sheerline and 1-inch thick at the base of the keel, but the deck and cabintop are cored fiberglass for lightness. It has been reported that you can press in the cabin sides with your bare hands. Of course because a panel flexes, it doesn't necessarily mean that it is too weak, but continual flexing will eventually cause fatigue and cracks, so in a boat intended for long passages at sea, you'd need to stiffen it with internal stringers or bolt on a large plywood or acrylic storm cover outside.
The caulked, internal flanges of the hull and deck are bolted together with 5/16-inch stainless steel bolts every 5 inches, which makes for a reassuringly strong joint and few leaks. The sheerline, as mentioned above, is reversed slightly to improve headroom below. It is actually almost a straight line from stern to bow, but the eye increases the humpback effect because it is trained to see a concave sheer in that spot. The bows, therefore, look lower than usual for the size of the boat and appear to lack buoyancy, but there is no evidence that such is the case.
The low topsides cut down on wind resistance, which means the coachroof must protrude more to provide adequate headroom below. Brohäll resisted the temptation to create a high, unsightly superstructure that would accommodate a standing 6-footer anywhere below. Instead, he placed a low cabin trunk over the head and the aft end of the V-berth, and then stepped it up another story to give 5 feet 10 inches of headroom in the main saloon and galley. The result is a fairly large superstructure, but one that blends pleasantly with the hull and avoids boxiness. The cockpit is self-bailing and small enough not to cause concern about pooping, but big enough for two people not to get in each other's way on long trips.
Early Vegas were powered by gasoline engines, the 13-horsepower Albin or the 15-horsepower Volvo. Later models carried Volvo diesel engines, including the 10-horsepower MD6A (which was generally thought not to have sufficient power) and the 13-horsepower MD7A.
But the really interesting thing about the Vega's power train was the Combi variable-pitch propeller, which was used without a transmission on the early boats. Even when transmissions were added at a later stage, the variable-pitch prop was retained. It was controlled by a single lever that changed the propeller pitch, from full astern to full ahead, without the need for a clutch. When the boat was under sail, the prop could be feathered for least resistance. It was reportedly a very efficient piece of machinery, but complicated and expensive to repair.
AccommodationsThe Vega has comfortable bunks for four, two 6-footers and two of 6 feet 6 inches, but it would be a mistake to plan on long ocean crossings with four adults. Two would be plenty.
The accommodation layout is logical for a boat with a 23-foot waterline, starting with a chain locker up forward, followed by a V-berth and a toilet just forward of the main bulkhead. The head faces a hanging locker on the other side of the gangway and can be closed off from the main cabin, but remains open to the V-berth.
Aft of the main bulkhead are transom berths to port and starboard, the starboard one being 6 inches longer than the port one. The table between the berths fits into sockets in the cabin sole, so it can be yanked out and stowed - or dropped into similar sockets in the cockpit for sunset drinks and snacks.
At the after end of the cabin, under the sliding hatch, the galley divides itself into two portions, one each side of the companionway steps/engine cover. The cooker lives on the port side, and a sink and icebox on the starboard side.
Cubbyholes and lockers in the galley and the main cabin provide ample stowage space for gear and provisions for two people on an extended voyage.
As usual in a boat of this size, there is no dedicated chart table, and the cabin table supplied with the boat is unlikely to be steady enough for serious navigation business in a seaway. But a removable or fold-down plywood table could be made easily enough to fit over one end of a berth or over the icebox/sink area.
All the deadlights are fixed in place with rubber gaskets, which means you can't open them, so it wouldn't be a bad idea to add a couple of Dorade ventilators, although the existing ventilation system works better than most. If you're heading for the tropics, you'll need all the ventilation you can get.
The RigThe Vega's rig is entirely conventional and easily handled. This masthead sloop has single spreaders and two lower shrouds on each side.
The mast and boom are aluminum, and neither is of excessive proportions, but the mast is stepped on deck, which brings problems in time because few designers or builders ever manage to compensate adequately for the enormous downward thrust a mast produces. The best way to transfer that thrust is to carry the mast down to the keel, but on narrow-gutted boats like this one it gets in the way so much down below that most buyers won't tolerate it. When it comes time to make repairs, however, they may live to regret it. We'll go into this a little deeper in a bit.
The main boom is quite short, yet the mainsheet traveler can still be placed aft of the rudder head, so the sheet is at the helmsman's fingertips. Single winches on the cockpit coamings can handle everything from the spitfire jib to a 150 percent genoa.
PerformanceInitially tender, the Vega stiffens up at moderate angles of heel, and despite her shallow draft she works reasonably well to windward.
She is very handy indeed off the wind. A Vega called Little My III crossed the Atlantic from the Cape Verde Islands to Barbados in 14 days, 16 hours. Richard Henderson, commenting on the trip in his book Singlehanded Sailing (International Marine), says: "She reportedly surfed in the trade winds at speeds up to 13 knots, yet was dry, comfortable, and easily managed. Her excellent downwind behavior might be attributed to her well-balanced hull with flattish run, modest displacement, and moderately long full keel."
Her working sail area, while correctly proportioned for an ocean cruiser, is too modest to give her scintillating performance in light air, so it would be wise to carry a large nylon drifter and/or an asymmetrical cruising spinnaker if you're not planning to motor through the doldrums.
In general she has a reputation for being extremely well behaved, being easy to steer and staying under control even when hard pressed.