The Swing Keel
Bill Lapworth made a point of design boats that in
his mind were well mannered for the comfort of the people sailing
them as well as decent performers when it came to sailing. He
believed that some compromises were necessary to achieve both
goals. In the Cal 21 his aim was to create a boat that both performed
well and was inexpensive to own. What can be cheaper than keeping
your boat in your own drive way. This of coarse meant the boat
also had to be easily trailered by the average family car of the
late 60's early 70's. The result, a swing keel (for trailering
) with ballast (for sailing ability/stability).
The 21 has a rather large sail plan for it's size and
weight. Ballast at the end of the keel was needed to keep the
boat on it's feet. The keel hole and slot were needed to get the
keel to disappear for easy trailering and keeping the boat low
on the trailer and making it easier to launch in shallow water.
It was felt that shallow launch draft made it possible to launch
from just about any ramp or even some beaches. When the keel was
down and locked into position the 21 had the feeling of a fixed
Now all that was needed was a way to fill the hole
and slot to keep the cockpit dry and the bottom of the hull fair.
So the cockpit sole cover and keel plug designed to complete the
transformation. This is were the biggest compromise comes to bear.
The keel is heavy so a winch system was but into use. Simple design,
merely a boat trailer winch with a brace across the cockpit seats
and a cable to hook onto the keel. A wood cover for the cockpit
sole held down by shock cords to the keel plug. The keel plug
was designed to wedge into the trailing edge of the locked keel,
with the stern end bolted to the cockpit hole with a hinged board
and a wing nut.
Over the years many Cal 21 owners tired of the plug
and seemed to have stopped using them.or simply lost them. Most
of the 21's found today are without there original keel plugs.
Most have also lost there forked poles for attaching the winch
cable, and many owners permanently attached the cable to the keel.
and only use the sole cover.
The worst aspect of the ballasted swing keel is it
ability to fall out of control and severely damage the keel slot,
pivot and locking pin hole.
The core of the keel is steel and is prone to rusting.
With the age of all Cal 21's now, all owners should check this
at least once to determine it's condition. Unfortunately this
involves dropping the keel from it's slot. Not too difficult if
planned out and care is taken to handle it's weight.
To truly experience the full ability's of the Cal 21
the plug, locking pin and removing the cable when sailing is a
The Keel Plug
Here are pictures of Rod and Gordon's original Cal
21 keel plug, with a modification of their own.
Now the original keel plug only works if you can still
remove the keel cable after lowering the keel.
If you have permanently attached the cable, you are
really slowing the boat down by the drag of the cable.
Not to mention how much more weed you will snag if
you sail in weedy waters as we did with Ruta Bagas.
Gordon and Rod replaced the forward shock cord with
a threaded rod that goes through the sole plate and secures with
a wing nut.
Here is the drawing Gordon did of the dimensions of
An Alternative Plug
Here is a drawing of Eric Jon's own version of a keel
plug. It's designed to be easier to install especially for those
who trailer there boat and launch every time they go sailing.
in Eric's words;
"After building the original plug I was disappointed
to find two things, that the KP did not go all the way to the
keel and it
didn't extend all the way up into the well.
The shorter plug with a longer leading edge extending
all the way up into the well seemed like a better idea to me.
Anatomy of the Keel Pivot
Here are a couple of pictures of Clay Runshe's repair
of the keel pivot bushing on "Tropical"
In the first picture we see the replacement pivot fitting
and the old rusted one. (Good reason to check the bushing when
buying any used Cal 21)
Below: Clay has cut away some of the keel to weld the
new pivot to the steel strut that runs the length of the keel.
Thanks for the pics Clay!
The Inside Story
Here is a drawing the the construction
of the keel.
Thanks to Eric for the drawing.