Here’s an email exchange between Jim – the owner of Houdini – and myself.
Enjoy – Greg S.
I stumbled on this page today, can’t believe I never saw it before as I spent a lot of time researching Express 34’s before we bought Houdini (ex. Element, ex Gulp, ex On the Reach (?) and I still look now and then to see what the market is doing.
Three years ago my wife and I decided it was time to buy a cruising boat and I did a lot of digging to find a boat that was firstly in our budget but also offered decent performance, good looks and a cruiseable interior and it basically came down to the Olson 34, j/33, j/35, and the Express 34. Both my wife and I are long time avid racers at a fairly high level (We met when I was her watch captain during the ’02 Bermuda race) so we wanted something that would sail well. After looking at the J’s we decided the interiors was a bit lacking. I then stumbles on Sabrina which was in my old stomping grounds. We took a look at her and liked what we saw and negotiated with the insurance company after she was damaged during Sandy. After a lot of number crunching and talking about the project we decided Sabrina was not for us for a number of reasons. I then found Element for sale and the next day my Wife and young son hopped in the car and drove the 10 hours out to Ohio to have a look. She was in decent shape but needed some love but was fairly sound. On the way home we discussed the boat and decided we would make an offer based on a survey. We got a survey done and she was OK but had a couple small issues, well 99% of the were small but more on that in a bit. We made an offer and it was accepted and had the boat shipped back east to Long Island Sound where she had spent most of her life.
The first year I did not do much to her other than adding a fine tune to the main sheet, new stereo, chart plotter, and doing a VC Offshore bottom…..I know she is a cruising boat but I have spent so much time working with Baltoplate/VC Offshore that I just stuck with what I know. We did our clubs Friday night none spin series, gunkholed around western LIS almost every weekend and did a week long cruise out East.
The second year we had her I started making some improvements which include new Andersen 46 Self Tailing winches, all Dyneema running gear (including replacing all mast head sheaves) drip-less stuffing box, a new Isotherm hot water heater, and just general tiding up. With that said the survey had shown some moister in the starboard side of the cabin top and it quickly became pretty soft. Again we raced Friday nights and gunkholed her a lot, slept on her 36 nights during the ’14 season.
This past spring I decided to repair the cabin top myself. What I thought would be a 30-40 hour job ended up taking right about 100 hours. I cut the out skin off and dug out all of the moist wood…..I never thought it would ever find dry wood but I eventually did. Long story short we finally launched her in early July with a redone cabin top and a modern pit complete with Constrictor Rope Clutches and Andersen 28ST winches….awesome upgrade.
All in all we could not be happier with Houdini with the exception of her speed under power (5.5kts at 3K RPM), she offers fine living space for the three of us on weekends, is fun to sail and is now a solid boat….we are now saving our pennies for a paint job.
Good to hear from you! Houdini sounds like a great boat. Your journey to the E34 sounds very similar to ours – we looked at the exact same types of boats and came to similar conclusions! We checked out another E34, ‘Two Scoops’ in the San Francisco bay area and while it was a nice boat, the overall amount of deferred maintenance was just too big a hill for us to climb.
When we had Wailana surveyed, we found the previous owners had the anchor well glassed over and that part of the deck re-worked due to moisture issues. They also installed these weird ‘inspection ports’ (really just plastic vents) on the underside of the deck in the cabin area. This was so they could monitor the deck moisture they said. We are going be repainting with VC17M here this fall. I tried Eel Snot which was supposed to be a go fast coating last time we hauled out. What a mistake that was! We put the boat back in the water April 22 in time for the Swiftsure race and by the end of July we had 6” ferns growing on the bottom. So it looks like we’re going to be hauling out twice in one year which is a budget buster.
We are still trying to figure the racing thing. Most of our racing is done in under 10 knots of wind and we found the E34 doesn’t like to be pinched. Part of it is sail selection. Really like our old carbon #2 but its almost done for. I keep waiting for it to blow up at any moment. You can see light coming through the cracks in the fibers! Holy cow new one are expensive!
Any hints, tips or wisdom in regards to racing you have would be appreciated. We’re still fairly new to this. Some days we crush it and other days we seem to be a step slow.
Thanks for the note back and sorry for the delay. Just back from a week long cruise on Houdini out to Eastern Long Island Sound with stops in Noank, Montauk, Three Mile Harbor, Mystic, Watch Hill and then back home to American Yacht Club in Rye NY. There was very little breeze for the entire week and I am sad to say that we motored close to 40 hours during the week, with that said she did not miss a beat.
On the racing front I am sorry that I do not have much input since we have never seriously raced the boat but I will give my two cents. I think the E34 is a hard boat to sail to its rating at least on Long Island Sound. We started at 105 and between the furler credit, reduced crew weight credit, and going to a 144% Genoa we are at 114 and even at that we are not terribly competitive on a Friday night no spinnaker, but we are the only boat with a full Dacron inventory. We have pulled off a couple bullets over the last three seasons but mostly we are mid fleet. I have played around with rig tension a bit but we do not have a gauge to tell you where I am at but the rig sets up well so it may come down to rig tension, I also have not played with mast rake at all and wonder if some gains are to be had there. I have also found the boat to be quite tender so I wonder how she would go if we raced with a “full” crew hiking, I kind of think that might help a lot. You are also very correct in saying that she does not like to be pinched in light air, though not many boats do…keep her powered up and let the blades do the work. As I mentioned we have a all dacron inventory with the exception of a Melges 32 heavy air jib that we use for a #3 (I am a frugal Yankee). The Doyle main came with the boat and is in pretty decent shape but I personally have never been a fan of Doyle’s, though their newer stuff looks a lot better, The #1 is a furling North Radian which was new last season, I like the over all shape but compared to the sails I am use to on the race boats I race on it “moves” a lot and you have to be very attentive to trim with a Dacron Genoa. While I would love a high modules Genoa it was not in the budget, I am in the sailboat industry and even with my contacts a Carbon/Technora “Cruising” Genoa was close to $6K…..that is why my wife and I have a K6 sport boat to race and we race other peoples big boats. The only other thing I have found is that you have to play the traveler A LOT…..Because the boat is so tender she can easily end up on her ear if you do not have a good person on the traveler, On Houdini the driver usually trims the main (Too many years racing Dinghys ?) and then we have someone on the traveler at all times and if they are good it really makes a difference.
Feel Free to use any of my e-mails on the site, no worries there at all. It would be great if we could get some of the more active racers to get some rig measurements for both tensions and rake, at least we could get a better base lie to fine tune off of.
Question for you on Wailana? What type of speed do you get out of her under power. The other morning leaving Watch Hill it was blowing zero, slack tide, and billiard table smooth water and at 3K RPM we were seeing 5.5kts. We get no smoking at all at 3K RPM so I am wondering if we are under propped? I have not checked to see what size prop we have or the gearbox ratio but I can’t imagine 5.5kts is normal. Next summer we are thinking about taking her out to Block Island, The Vineyard and Nantucket but the though of having to power in any sort of seaway at 5kts makes that a VERY long trip if there is no breeze, even if we could get .5-.75kts more out of her would it make a difference.
Believe it or not I really do not have much in the way of Pictures of Houdini that show any details, I will have to work on that.
And lastly some information on Houdini
Hull # 28
Home Port-Rye NY
Sail # 41788
Thanks for putting the page together.
Your boat is under proped. I don’t know what hull number but Alsberg put random props on the first 5-6 boats according to Martec back then. We have hull number 4 and it was under proped. I don’t remember the right numbers but we motor at 6.4 kts with a clean bottom at 3000 rpm confirmed by gps for many many miles. I also found a old IMS data from a sister ship that has target boat speeds (polar Plots) if any one is interested and you can tell me how to post them.