Sabre Yachts & Jim Taylor Yacht Designs

A 20 year collaboration

We  worked with Sabre Yachts on six new models, starting with the Sabre 362 in 1992 and ending when they switched to building all powerboats two decades later. We share great pride in that together these designs  earned six ‘Boat of the Year Awards’ from Cruising World and Sailing World magazines, and one Ten Best Boats’ listing form Sail Magazine. Our collaboration with Sabre has been an overwhelming and well recognized success, but we are often asked how it began and how it has evolved.

Roger Hewson founded Sabre Yachts in 1971. He has always been a racer at heart, so it is no accident that our association with Sabre had its roots on the race course. In the early 80’s, Roger noticed Peter Rosenberg’s Taylor 34 Sabra in several Maine races, and Roger was impressed enough to seek out the young designer, who was a member of her crew. A few years later, Roger’s turbocharged Sabre 36 was beaten handily by Lou Pocharksi’s T-37 SPIRIT at Block Island Race Week. One thing led to another, and soon Jim was contributing to the Roger’s design efforts, first on keel and rudder details for existing models. This association switched into a higher gear in 1992 when Sabre Corp entered a new era, and Roger stepped back from his day-to-day design responsibilities. This stage actually began in 1992 in San Diego, where Jim was working as a member of the winning America^3 America’s Cup design team. Roger sought out Jim in the crowd at the America’s Cup Ball and asked if he was interested in designing a 36-footer for the new look company. Given Jim’s high regard for Roger and Sabre, he thought about the proposition for about a nanosecond, and, as they say, the rest is history.

Sabre 362

The Sabre 362 was the first of what turned out to be a long and very successful Taylor/Sabre series, but we had no such grandiose expectations back then, and were taking things very much one step at a time. Jim was tasked with setting the overall performance parameters, designing the hull shape, (based loosely on the T-37 SPIRIT), roughing out the intended interior inside that hull, defining the rig geometry, and designing the appendages. Sabre’s own design engineer was responsible for the final interior, for much of the deck detailing, and for all of the structure. The boat was named the ‘Mid-Size Cruiser’ Boat of the Year in 1994, and proved to be so popular that she remained in production for almost 10 years.

Sabre 402

The resounding success of the Sabre 362 led directly to the development of the Sabre 402, which began later in 1994. At this point in the evolution of Sabre Corp, their in-house engineering staff was busy with their new trawler yacht. As a result, while most of the detail work for the 362 was done in house by Sabre, for the 402 much more of it was done in Marblehead, with Jim doing most of the interior and deck design in addition to the hull shape, rig geometry, and appendage details. Once again the Sabre engineers took responsibility for the laminates and overall structure, as well as the interior woodworking details.

The Sabre 402 shares design DNA with the Taylor 42’s Drumbeat and Numbers, custom race boats (launched in 1991 and 1992) that are still winning races today (see Design #71). The weight of cruising amenities in the 402 replaced that of the inside ballast of the stripped out T-42, and the 402’s stern overhang is a bit shorter, but overall the designs are quite similar. Like her T-42 cousin, the 402 has had a long string of impressive race results, both around the buoys (e.g. Ron Noonan’s perennial winner Wildflower) and offshore (such as Bill Smith’s Chicago/Mackinac wins in Wooten 2, and Jeffrey Urbina’s class win in the Newport/Bermuda offshore classic with his Il Bodacious. Launched in 1996, the Sabre 402 has also been a big winner in the marketplace, winning Cruising World’s ‘Mid-Sized Cruiser’ and Overall ‘Boat of the Year’ awards in 1997. Sabre went on to build 112 S-402’s over an especially successful 8 year production run.

Sabre 452

The first sketches for the Sabre 452 were drawn while stopped in traffic on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, en route to the Annapolis Boat show. The new boat was targeted as a natural progression up the size range from the Sabre 402, and our approach to the hull, rig, and appendages of the new boat was similar to that taken in the S-362 and S-402. As with the S-402, nearly all the detailing of the S-452 deck was done in Marblehead, but Sabre had done some re-staffing of their engineering personnel and they took over more of the interior detailing than they had done on the S-402. Their more stolidly orthogonal layout may have taken some of the ‘buzz’ out of our original interior design, but it likely did make the boat more economical to build than the sexier layout would have. This was an example of the inevitable, but usually positive, tension built into this sort of collaborative design process. The S-452 was marketed as a ‘blue water’ cruiser, and ample storage capacity and cruising amenities were a high priority. The performance of the S-452 has been demonstrated more often on cruising point-to-points than on the race course, but her potential is on a par with that of the S-362 and S-402, as evidenced by Cary Thomson’s S-452 Freedom, which finished an impressive 2nd in class (and 7th in Division) in the 2008 Bermuda Race. The S-452 earned yet another Cruising World ‘Boat of the Year’ award, this time as the Best Full Size Cruiser of 1999.

Sabre 426

We are often asked, “which is your favorite Sabre design?” which is a lot like asking a parent which is his favorite child. The Sabre’s are all great all-around boats, and owner, builder, and designer can all take justifiable pride in every one of them. We have a soft spot for the S-362 because she got Sabre rolling again. We like the S-402 for her wide open, innovative interior and her well-recognized performance. The S-452 is notable for her extensive cruising amenities and offshore capability. The Sabre 426 builds on all the positives of her older siblings, and tops it off with an extra dash of styling sophistication and elegance, both inside and out. Proportionately she is a little longer and leaner, and sports a slightly lower and sexier profile. All of Jim’s design work since the S-362 has been in CAD, but the S-426 deck is the first that he computer modeled for Sabre in 3-d. The ability to render the hull and deck as ‘solid’ surfaces on screen and then view them in perspective from any angle allows the designer to fine-tune all the complex surfaces, intersections and angles that make up a Sabre deck and cockpit until everything looks just right. The Sabre engineering staff did their usual expert ‘tweaking’ and detailing of Jim’s interior layout, and raised its ‘functional elegance’ to an even higher level. In a similar way, Jim refined both his standard and his shoal ‘bulb/wing’ keel shapes still further in the S-426. With all her design, specification and construction details evolved so carefully and completely, it is no wonder that the Sabre 426 is such a uniquely elegant and sophisticated yacht. Launched in late 2002, she was recognized as such by Sail Magazine as one of the Ten Best Boats of 2003, and remained in production for about 8 years..

Sabre 386

The Sabre 386 came about in part because the tooling for the S-362 was simply spent after producing over 150 boats in a nine year run. It did not make sense to build new tooling for an old boat, but it also did not make sense to stray far from the S-362’s original concept, since she was still selling well after all those years. So in many ways the new S-386 design is an updated, somewhat larger, more sophisticated, and contemporary version of the still popular 362. Sabre’s engineers worked their usual magic in massaging Jim’s original layout, including adding interest via an athwartships double berth aft. Again the deck detailing was developed in Marblehead via a quite comprehensive 3-d computer model, along with the underwater appendages, including both a deep and a bulb/wing shoal keel. As always, Jim precisely tuned the sail area, stability, displacement and wetted area so that the new boat would perform to the high standards set by all her Sabre siblings. The Sabre 386 was launched in early 2005, and earned the overall Domestic Boat of the Year award from Cruising World magazine that year.

Sabre Spirit

The Sabre Spirit is every inch a Sabre, but she is very deliberately distinct from her siblings in many ways, and the differences started right from her conception. In all of the previous Taylor/Sabre projects, it was Sabre who first approached Jim with the general outline (LOA, target layout, etc) of the new project. For the Spirit, it was Jim who approached Sabre, with the observation that a sizeable percentage of boats in many harbors, including the one outside his office window, were leaving their mooring in the morning returned to the same mooring that same afternoon. The ‘cruisers’ were typically not cruising, they were daysailing, which suggested an alternative boat that was more focused on cockpit space and less on interior volume, and more on ease of handling and getting off the mooring quickly and less on offshore capability. The development ‘fermentation period’ was a long one for the Spirit, and the concept definitely improved with age. Sabre hit on the ‘weekender’ moniker as one that better described a broader appeal than the much narrower ‘daysailer’ niche, and their dealers insisted that six foot headroom was a critical target. Jim worked away on a comprehensive 3-d computer model for hull, deck and cockpit, so that the tooling could be ‘carved’ by machine rather than built by hand, and on refining details such as the standard self-tacking jib. The launch of the Spirit was delayed until the spring of 2007, but it was well worth the wait. The Spirit earned an extraordinary ‘double’ later that same year by winning Boat of the Year awards from both Sailing World and Cruising World.

Sailing World selected her as Best Daysailer, winning out over the Alerion 33, CrossCurrent 33, and J-122. Judge Alan Andrews, a very accomplished designer in his own right, wrote that “Sabre has put together a polished product that sails well and is easy to handle, both shorthanded and fully crewed…a sharp-looking, well-performing daysailer that not only works as a weekender, but a racer as well.”

Cruising World did not have a Daysailer category, but saw such merit in the Spirit that they gave it a special ‘Judges Choice Award.’ Judge Steve Callahan said that “I saw no other boat in the show that was as consistent in quality from the concept of the design to the execution of that design, the construction, the detailing, and the fun of sailing.”

Sabre 456

The Sabre 456 is a very deliberate ‘refresh’ of the S-452. The 452 had a quite successful initial model run of 25 boats, and there were orders for more. However, she was built on Sabre’s ‘big boat’ production line, and they needed all that capacity for their growing production of big power yachts. After an extended hiatus, and the recognition that building bigger boats suits them best, Sabre re-introduced the boat as the Sabre 456 in the fall of 2011. The refreshed version sports a newly detailed interior, done in house by Sabre, and new state-of-the-art keels, (both deep and shoal) and an optional carbon rig, all designed in Marblehead.