Donovan 26 Cool New One Design

Donovan 26: Cool New One Design! Annapolis’s Stagg Yachts rang in the New Year by announcing one of the first new boats of 2018: the Donovan 26 One Design (OD) race boat.

Though, it should probably be noted right away that the Donovan 26 OD isn’t really a new boat. It’s actually a substantial update to the design of the GP 26, a racer that has been around for a few years now. Think of it like the sport version of a car—it has basically the same body, but there’s a bigger engine, bigger wheels, dual exhausts, and all sorts of little tweaks and details that suggest that the performance has been turned up a bit.

Photo by Dan Phelps

Going one design
Before they even set to work with the rulers and the fiberglass, the Donovan 26 OD got an important update—unlike its predecessor, the Donovan will be a true one-design. This is good, because the GP 26 was suffering from “an identity crisis” according to designer Jim Donovan. The boat could be customized within the confines of the class’s box rule, so owners would configure their boats to best suit the conditions where they lived. That might sound good in theory, but it meant that all of the boats were a little different and had to be rated separately when they came together for regattas. That kind of spoiled the experience; even when they had a one-design start, the calculator and stopwatch still had to come out to see who won.

Good bones
The Donovan 26 OD starts out in life with a successful pedigree. The GP 26 was no slouch when it lined up against other designs. Annapolis owner Mike Beasley recently cleaned up at Sperry Charleston Race Week 2017, winning the ORC C class along with the Palmetto Trophy, which is given to the winner of the most competitive group at the event.

With that in mind the Donovan retains the same hull, mast, rudder, and keel as the GP 26, but sports a suite of improvements:

  • Thirty-one inches were added to the bowsprit.
  • The asymmetrical spinnaker is 65 square feet bigger.
  • The boom is nearly a foot longer.
  • The mainsail is 60 square feet bigger with a more powerful square-top design.
  • An inhauler system has been added for improved upwind performance.\
  • There’s now a spinnaker takedown system to make it easier to wrangle the larger kite.
  • A winch in the pit will make life easier for the folks in the middle of the boat.
  • The layout of deck gear and control systems was tweaked to be more ergonomic.

All of these updates should have a profound effect on the boat’s performance since the Donovan tips the scales at just 2300 pounds. That’s 600 pounds less than the 26-foot J/80 but with nearly 45 percent more sail area overall.

The good news for current GP 26 owners is that if their boats weren’t too heavily customized (some had lifting keels and one actually had an inboard engine), they will be able to meet the Donovan one-design spec with a few changes. If modifications can be made without replacing the mast, which could run $11,500 just by itself, current owners should be able to make the upgrades without setting their wallets on fire.

But will all of the changes actually work?
Well, some of the improvements have already been successful on the GP 26, and many of the remaining updates were driven by real-world input from owners like Beasley. We won’t know for sure until this spring when the first Donovan 26 OD is scheduled to be available, but there’s certainly reason to be optimistic.

As for the cost, the Donovan will need to make good on that optimism. Stagg Yachts says a new Donovan 26 can be had for $77,474, but a look at the options list shows that a race-ready boat could end up in the neighborhood of $110,000 after adding lines, sails, an engine, instruments, a trailer, and more. There’s no denying that’s real money for a 26-footer.

Luckily, there is a gap in the under-30-foot racer market for a properly sporty boat, and the Donovan makes a compelling case as an entry that does not sacrifice performance in the name of economy. Even though a good used J/70 can easily be had at half the cost, both up front and annually, the Donovan will run rings around it in every condition. Admittedly that’s a sticky comparison given the many differences between the two boats, but the popularity and class size of the J/70 do make it the elephant in the room that everyone needs to reconcile with if your design is within a few feet of it.

So, as is always the case with the launch of a new racing boat, finding the right potential owners will be the key. Someone willing to put a premium on thrills while also stepping out onto the occasionally shaky branch of a new class could get quite the reward; because if they’ve gotten it right and the potential of the Donovan 26 One Design becomes reality, this could be a very, very good boat. 

To learn more about the Donovan 26 click here and stay tuned for more in SpinSheet.

~Chris Teixeira