The designer’s declared intention was to provide a boat that was roomy, stable and easy to sail, suitable for family cruising yet with a performance to put it on close terms with all but the out and out racing craft. Since it was first exhibited in 1956 the Kestrel has consistently shown that it more successfully combines these apparently conflicting requirements of a stable roomy cruising boat and a fast high performance racing dinghy than any other recognised class design. Its well mannered sailing characteristics and roomy cockpit with a large stowage area under the foredeck make it an excellent cruising day sailer which is well suited for family outings. At the same time it is one of the fastest non trapeze racing dinghies capable of tremendous performance off the wind and an almost uncanny ability to climb to indward of other classes particularly in light winds. The Kestrel seems to go best in open water with winds between force 2 and 3 both to windward and on the run. However, the combination of a stable yet easily driven hull form, moderate to large sail area and lack of any vice in handling, make it possible to achieve good results in almost any wind condition on all points of sailing. At first sight the Kestrel does not look built for speed with its high freeboard and well rounded stem. A more discerning examination will reveal some other secrets as:
The sloping profile of the stem which, while it may sacrifice some waterline length, gains greatly in improving the steering qualities particularly downwind in rough conditions.
The depth of the hull below the mast and firm bilges which contribute to the windward ability. This is a careful compromise between the very simple semicircular shape which is the optimum for speed (but which lacks stability) and a square or hard chine which has good initial stability (but large wetted area and therefore increased drag).
The combination of a strongly built bow section, the high freeboard, the moderately fine entry and the well rounded bilges together with the long run aft, produce a hull shape capable of coping with rough sea conditions quite manageably.
The moderately sized rig with its 100 sq ft mainsail, the choice of a very powerful overlapping 52 sq ft genoa, or a smaller inboard sheeted sail, need care in setting up to gain the best performance. Although at different times there have been suggestions for allowing a trapeze this is really quite unnecessary, even for the lighter crew, if proper allowances are made and the boat sailed accordingly (although there is a thriving fleet of trapeze equipped Kestrels in Bahrain!). There are many light crews to be found at the front of most Kestrel fleets. Positioning of helm and crew, and the speed of reaction to change position, or the making of adjustments are all the more important than sheer weight. It is true that the lighter manned boats may not be fastest to the windward mark in the stronger winds but, once round the mark, the potential speed of the lighter boat is greater than that of its heavier competitors – though it may require hard work to achieve this potential.