Boat Review: WindRider 17
By Thom Burns
Every now and then I get to review a boat in which I’ve had very close involvement. The development of the WindRider 17 has really been fun to watch. The dealers around the country basically demanded the boat based on their feedback from customers who owned the original WindRider 16 and would be buyers of the WindRider 16 who declined to buy either because they wanted a little more carrying capacity, a second cockpit or both.
Jim Brown who designed the WindRider 16 and the 31’ and 37’ Searunner Trimarans designed this one with the WindRider factory team. He took copious notes and accepted a massive amount of input. I was wondering just what he would come up with initially. Then I saw the first prototype. I was impressed.
I’ve been sailing the prototypes now for two years every chance I get. Last summer Mike McGarry, the product manager, and I toured the final prototype through the Midwest. It was enthusiastically received everywhere.
Design and Construction
The WindRider 17 is rotomolded polyethelene which keeps the price down. All structural reinforcements are anodized aircraft aluminum. This allows the boat to be light and reasonably stiff. The amas telescope in and out with no disassembly. The nets are large, bolt roped to the hull and support optional stiff-backed seats. The center hull has an aft cockpit, the primary driving position, and a larger forward cockpit. The forward cockpit seats two and the hard seat reverses itself to face the driver.
The mast is light weight and rotates which dramatically improves the performance of the full-battened mainsail. The main jiffy reefs on the boom with one line. The optional jib is on a Harken roller furler. The sheets lead to two Harken cam cleats.
Part of the innovation is how this boat is trailered. It slides on rails on and off the trailer. This perfectly centers the boat and all 320 lbs. is supported by four aluminum pads. The shrouds and nets stay permanently connected. This keeps the launch and retrieval time to a very manageable ten minutes for a solo sailor, less for a couple. This approaches runabout launch and retrieval times.
WindRider has strived to make their boats totally easy to sail. In order to do this, WindRider has eliminated the tiller unless you want one. You sit in a comfortable seat and steer intuitively by pushing your left foot to turn left and your right to turn right. Your facing forward without twisting around. There’s a single mainsheet or a mainsheet and jib both of which are running through cam cleats for ease of handling. All controls are within two feet of the driver.
The wide beam of the WindRider 17 gives it great stability. It is not impossible to tip this boat over under main and jib, but it’s close. You will not capsize this boat unless you work hard at it and refuse to release the main and/or jib sheet.
The carrying capacity on this boat is so great for a 17 footer that it will easily carry four adults and a couple of kids. The optional net seats are ergonomically well designed and comfortable. They feel like soft seats, not benchs.
Wow does this boat tack. It doesn’t get much easier than pushing your foot and stopping when the main fills on the opposite tack. For even faster tacks, back the jib for a moment as the boat sails through the wind. Jibes are a cinch compared to most small boats because the boom is way high over everyone’s head. Even if it’s not real smoothe, there are no headaches and no swim. The boat is quick, on the edge of fast. In ten knots we were going upwind at 7 to 8 knots. On a beam reach the speed picked up to 9 to 10 according to my GPS. In gusts to about 12 we were hitting 10.5 no problem. Later in about 15 knots of wind we were cruising at 12.5 in 2 plus foot chop and the boat was dry. No water in the boat, an occasional drop or two in the face, but no heavy duty spray.
|Alexis Olson carrying on an animated conversation from the front cockpit on a chilly day in October.
This is an exhilarating boat which is even more than what the builder and designer wanted. It is quick, it is fun to sail, it is easy to launch and retrieve. It will make a great day sailor. It will be a good camper sailor for the adventurous. It will be an excellent one design racer/cruiser for those who want to go quickly with ease. Where strength and agility will not determine the outcome of a little friendly race.
The thing that turns me on the most is how it empowers the young and the non-sailors who seem to intuitively pick up the nack of sailing. Try this boat, you won’t believe you’re only sailing a seventeen foot boat.
Thom Burns publishes Northern Breezes and Sailing Breezes Internet Magazines.
Northern Breezes: 763-542-9707