In Search of a New Boat.

After many years fun sailing Daisy from North Wales and the Clyde, some charters in the more remote parts of Scotland and the warmer climes of the Med. I was diverted for 3 years as roadie, logistics manger and financial manager for my daughter’s Topper campaigns growing through club, regional and national racing circuits to 2 UK championships and a world championship in China. Now outgrowing the most competitive size for a Topper we were looking for the next adventure. Also thinking ahead, in a couple of years Jan and I would hopefully have some more time to sail together again without the competing demands of the children at home.    

Since my teens I have wanted to sail some distance, say around Britain and beyond to the coast of Europe. Whilst Daisy is ideal for day sailing up to long weekends, and good weather weeks in relatively sheltered coastal waters, off shore sailing for weeks at a time demands something a little larger. Three basic requirements needed to gain management approval were: –

  1. a “proper” cooker (including an oven),
  2. standing headroom below decks and
  3. a proper heads.

For some reason Jan is not a fan of crouching to cook or the bucket. In addition, my requirement was a navigations space big enough to lay out a (folded) chart and hold some instruments out of the weather.   Whilst these requirements can just about be crammed into some 26’ boats the compromises are rarely elegant. So, we targeted the 28-32’ LOA range.   

Charter holidays in Mediterranean marina boats with fin keels and flat sections were lovely on Mediterranean summer days. But off the West coast of Scotland running reefed before a force 6 from St Kilda to Barra with the charter yacht slamming badly and pulling its rudders out of the water on a broad reach, I was not endeared to this hull form.  The sea kindliness of a deep vee bow with ballast moulded deep in the long fin keel or fin and skeg brought more confidence. Evenings trawling the yachting press, Apollo Duck and eBay yachts drew me towards the designs of Kim Holman, Chuck Paine and David Saddler.

The Twister

The elegance of the Kim Holman Twister had long appealed. Faultless and elegant above decks and below the water line. Available in timber, GRP hull timber deck composite and all GRP. The later all GRP models made the long list. Below decks “compact and bijou” springs to mind. Early models had a two burner hob, sometimes with grill opposite a chart table. Moving forward the saloon would just about sit 4 people, with the table usually folding up against the bulkhead. Sleeping headroom in the saloon provided by trotter boxes fore and aft.  The sink in the heads usually a fold up model. The forward cabin with vee berth largely given over to stowage often with an anchor chain hanging down the middle. Prices were generally sub £20k with some remarkably decent examples going for less that £10k and some mouldy examples sitting on the market for much more.  One late example with a rear facing chart table full galley including oven grill and hob, also a fitted sink in the heads caught my eye but unfortunately, I was not ready to take the plunge before it sold for a song. “If only” the saddest word combination in the English Language. 

Frances / Victoria

Chuck Paine’s Frances 26 had impressed me when I crewed on one in the 1990s. The flush deck version would not pass management scrutiny, the short cabin version or the decadent full cabin Victoria 26 or 31 might just gain approval, but they are rare and sought after. By the time I found one worth considering other factors had come into the equation.

Old friend Ian was about to retire, and his recently married son Jonathan was about to relocate back to North Wales. They were interested in joining us in a small syndicate to share the fun and expense of a cruising yacht.  This moved the requirements slightly to a yacht suitable for two couples to cruise in reasonable comfort. Jonathan’s desire for a classic boat with lots of wood work was modified by a two to one majority in favour of a sailing project rather than a wood working project. GRP hull & deck, minimal external woodwork, so a plastic classic.  Sailing two up for any length of time effectively means each person needs to be able to sail the boat single handed.

In reality two adult couples cruising in relative comfort means a 6 berth yacht. Quarter berths may be the berth of choice for the hard racing skipper / navigator in foul weather. In a cruising boat less that 35’they are either the home of the still supple, the masochistic contortionist or stowage (aka a dumping ground) for everything large and loose that people want out of the way, close to the companion way but not on deck (cushions, deflated dinghies, oars, spare boat hook, sweaters, dog bed etc etc). The conversion of the saloon table into a “double berth” creates either a very cosy double, in which both occupants can enjoy enforced body contact but neither will get much sleep, or a spacious single. The opposite berth makes another adequate single, lee cloths can turn both into quite good sea berths.   The Vee berth in the bows, either with or without the infill, creates a reasonably sizable double / twin berth at the head, and footsy playing at the toe. For more racing inclined owners Jeremy Rogers offers pipe cots for the forward cabins of Contessa 32s.

On with the search. Enter the Rustler 31s, Contessa 32s, Sadler 32s and 34s.

Rustler 31

Big sister of the Twister occasionally Rustler 31s come on the market. Solid conservative yachts often overshadowed by their larger incarnation the renown Rustler 36, the yacht of choice for the leading skippers in the Golden Globe Race. The 31s we looked at had a reasonably conventional layout, bespoke to the original owner. Many adopting the rear facing chart table and additional cockpit stowage, rather than the quarter berth.   The two that we looked at were both project yachts. Immaculate examples were well above our budget. The projects would have required considerably more overall investment than buying an immaculate example.

Contessa 32

David Saddler designed the Contessa 32 in the late 1960s as a step up from the popular Contessa 26. The design did not push the limits of IOR but did popularise the fin and skeg arrangement. Already popular as a round the cans racer and training boat the Contessa 32 became renown when Willy Kerr’s Assent, skippered by his son Alan, became the only boat in Class D to complete the infamous 1979 Fastnet Race. Willy went on to sail Assent to the Arctic, Antarctic, Pacific coat of Canada and Alaska.


David Sadler went on to modify the design of the Contessa 32 to the Sadler 32 a slightly beamier boat and more commodious below, then elongate the design to the Sadler 34. The collected opinions favoured the Contessa 32. The Sadler 32s we saw were in poor condition and would require a lot of work and money to bring them back to reasonable condition. The 34s were either major projects or out of budget. 

Back to Contessa 32s

A good range of Contessa 32s were on the market. Some from the photographs were obviously in poor, neglected condition, mould visible, green stuff growing over all the decks and running rigging. Other’s appeared reasonable. Some had been done up to a high cosmetic standard and were asking silly money. A short list was drawn together, ranking was primarily based on overall condition, inventory and big cost items needed in years 1 and 2. Fringe benefits came further down the list. Visiting a few gave a better feel for what to look for, also asking price vs value. 

With a short list of two and a reserve in North Wales we headed to Scotland on a lad’s weekend with Martin. First night in New Lanark youth hostel amid the model mill town that is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. An early start to get ahead of the Glasgow traffic, then up past Loch Lomond to one of our favourite hostelries The Drovers Inn for breakfast.

Our first viewing of the day was just north of Oban. From the ground the boat looked in good condition, on deck similarly, well though out layout, well maintained and even a wind vane steering to play with. Descending the hatch was a different story, well used and the quick tart up coat of varnish was still sticky and entrapping mould.  A new engine only heightened the worn out look. We had no doubts that the soft furnishings would not pass the scrutiny of the three sets of senior management at home.  £10-15k off the asking price may have made a reasonable refurbishment project, but we were in search of a “sailing now” project. The search went on.

Heading south to Croabh our next appointment was with Jeff, owner of CO32 White Knight of Purbeck since 2001. The heavens opened as we made our way to the end of the pontoon. Jeff greeted us with a pot of tea and Tunnocks wafers to sit around the immaculate saloon and listen to Jeff talking in his soft Lancashire burr for an hour as the rain beat on the deck above. White Knight had originally been built for the Army in 1979 then sold in the early 1990s, The owner prior to Jeff had undertaken a major refurbishment relining the main cabin with teak veneer, refitting the galley, installing a refrigerator and calorifier (pressurised hot water throughout), and fitted new bunk cushions, all carried out and maintained to a very high standard. The overwhelming smell entering the cabin was of bee’s wax furniture polish rather than mouldy bilge and diesel.    One of the many tales Jeff told was of having the hull stiffened after White Knight had fallen off a wave in the Sound of Jura flexing the hull and delaminating a stringer.

With the rain having passed we undertook the detailed inspection, hoisting the sails in a flat calm then a sort trip up towards Loch Melfort to try out the engine and manoeuvring. A deal was agreed including a berth at Croabh Marina until the end of the season, a spare engine and a van load of other spares.

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