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Boat of the Month

February 2024   Sabra

By Jonny Kaplan

I live in The U.S., but work in Europe a lot, and decided I’d like to start splitting my time living between California and Spain.

So, about 6 years ago, I started searching in earnest for a junk rigged boat in Europe, to live aboard and start cruising the Med when time permitted. 

Finding a suitable boat was definitely not an easy task. Many folks in Junk Rig Association were extremely helpful in my search. Annie Hill sent many prospects my way and was always quick to respond with a very helpful answer whenever I would send, “what about this one??”

Brian Kerslake (R.I.P.) and I communicated frequently, and he really wanted me to “rescue” his old boat Matane, a Sunbird 32 ,  that was baking in the sun in Portugal. After a lot of emails and phone calls, I made the trek to Faro. I wanted badly to rescue her, and even though she needed an extraordinary amount of work. We were not able to reach an agreement and I went back to square one.

Sitting at home and looking at the cover of Michael Frankel’s book, “The Voyage of Sabra”, I thought, “Where IS Sabra?” Where is Michael? Is he still alive? A little internet search showed him writing sailing articles and living aboard in Saint Petersburg, Florida! I wrote, we started communicating, but it was another year before I got the email. “We are selling Sabra to you”. It’s not Europe … but it’s a Sunbird 32!!! Right here in The U.S.!  We met a few times and made arrangements. This was just a few months before The Pandemic began.

Sabra is a Sunbird 32, junk schooner. She is Hull #008, built in England in 1979, and designed by Robin Blaine and Alan Boswell.  She has a much fancier teak interior than the other Sunbirds I’ve seen.  I believe she was made to be shown at boat shows. Michael and his wife Krystal did extensive cruising on her, and crossed the Atlantic (I believe) 3 times. You can read about her being dismasted in The Atlantic in one of the old JRA newsletters. When I bought her, she had essentially been a snowbird apartment in sunny Florida for about 10 years. That being said, Michael was a fantastic skipper and steward and always maintained the boat very well.

I spent much of the Pandemic hiding out on Sabra, upgrading, simplifying, and improving things, and getting her ready for sea again.   The plan was to sail her over to Europe, and finally start my adventure. After the initial haul, bottom paint and a few maintenance jobs, the first few sails on Sabra were absolutely thrilling.

I’ve sailed on a few junk-rigged boats, but Sabra out-sails them all. I believe it’s the schooner rig. She is so easily balanced, zero weather helm, and she really sails herself.  She is on her 2nd or possibly 3rd suit of tanbark sails made by Chris Scanes in England. They are flat cut Sunbird style, and in very good condition. She sails to windward very well. I personally would see no reason to add camber.  This may also be because of Sabra’s hull design. Her “long keel” is very similar to a Cal 36 type hull: long enough for great tracking but also very maneuverable.  The majority of my sailboats have been heavy, full keeled designs so to me, sailing Sabra is like sailing a race boat!

She is also an extremely comfortable live aboard.

Her midships double berth was and is a huge selling point for me.  I’m 6’2 btw.  Although you probably wouldn’t want to, Sabra can sleep 6.

She has an extraordinary amount of room for a 32 ft. boat. She’s a fantastic boat that is a proven ocean voyager.

I've recently become partners on a beautiful junk schooner that is already in Europe.

C'est la vie!

[Sabra is currently for sale, details on the Forum are here and here Ed.]

Our "Boat of the Month" Archive is here, and the forum discussion for comments and candidate suggestions is here

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