Shipwrights in Cowes have built a true go-anywhere cruiser, the Wylo 35, to a 35-year-old design originally built in a backyard

This article was first published in Practical Boat Owner in 2012


Today, most new boats make a feature of their number of berths, their speed or their low price: but a boatyard in Cowes is pinning its hopes on a very different kind of craft – the Wylo 35.

Steve Sleight, the man behind the business, was looking for a low-cost design suitable for serious voyaging and kept coming back to the Wylo, a rugged 10.7m (35ft) steel gaff-cutter-rigged cruiser.

Nick Skeates developed his Wylo II design on a farm in New Zealand, and has since completed two-and-a-half circumnavigations in her.

He designed two lengths – 32ft and 35ft – and has sold around 140 sets of plans.

The design has built up a cult following, and whether you’re sailing into Cowes or Columbia chances are you’ll be able to find a Wylo. Tough and dependable, most are built on a shoestring as low-cost craft suitable for voyaging up rivers and for trade wind sailing, polar voyaging and everything in between. Famous examples include Iron Bark, sailed by author Annie Hill and Trevor Robertson of Voyaging on a Small Income fame.

A part built hull of a Wylo yacht in a boat shed

The hull takes shape

The boat’s concept is as simple as it is clever: an easily-driven hull drawing 4ft 3in (1.3m) and designed to dry out upright with the aid of beaching legs, be a steady performer on passage and be simple to construct from 1⁄8in mild steel sheet. Her gaff rig makes her simple to handle and her steel hull means she will stand up to the worst you can throw at her.

PBO visited Voyaging Yachts in West Cowes ( as the final welding on their first boat was being completed. The build quality is
outstanding: the panels, laser-cut in Holland, have been welded together so accurately that there’s no need for filler – even on the prototype boat, which you would expect to throw up some teething problems. The three-man welding team, Geordies to a man, had just cut holes for the boat’s portholes and were busy spot-welding the inside of the deck beams.

A boat builder checks the plans of a boat

Steve Sleight checks the plans

The team have changed very little of Nick’s original design, only lengthening the sliding hatch to provide more light and better access to the interior. As the boat is designed not to need any internal bulkheads, you can do pretty much anything down below. As standard, the boat has a galley to port and chart table to starboard, and the hull insulated with foam.

Continues below…

Just forward is the saloon, with storage under the bunks and a clever table. With the leaves folded down, their inside edges pivot up to become grab-rails and fiddles. Further forward, there’s a pilot berth to starboard and a heads and shower compartment to port, while in the forepeak there is space for a proper workshop or sail storage and pilot berths. Underneath the cockpit there is a double berth, alongside a compartment for machinery and electronics.

the interior of a hull of a Wylo yacht

Internal view of frames spot-welded to the hull chines

Up on deck, she’s a real sailor’s boat: that much is clear when you look at the details. The mast pivots on a meaty tabernacle, with the pulpit acting as an A-frame for ease of lowering. The boom’s gooseneck is attached to the tabernacle, which means it doesn’t need to be removed when the mast is lowered. The scuppers on each side of the coachroof will channel rainwater into the fresh water tanks when you remove a bung and the filler cap.

There is no recessed cockpit. Instead, a simple aft deck has wooden deck boxes as seating, and the aft end of the coachroof is shaped to act as a secure backrest when sitting on passage. The area feels safe, fenced in by the solid boom gallows and stainless steel safety rails. The boat’s solid iroko washboards hinge down to form a comfortable companionway seat.

The superstructure of a yacht under construction

Works begins on the superstructure

At the stern is Nick’s clever horizontal drive windvane which drives a trim tab on the rudder’s trailing edge. There’s a set of davits in which to hang a dinghy. Offered as an option is a beautiful Nestaway nesting lug-rigged tender. On the transom is a step, with the top of the rudder acting as a lower foothold.

Flat-bottomed keel

The boat’s long keel has a flat bottom, to allow the Wylo to dry out upright. There are reinforced sockets for beaching legs ready-welded into the boat’s sides, and the rudder and propeller are protected by a skeg. Inside the keel, on top of the ballast, sit the fuel and water tanks and the batteries.

Hybrid drive engine

The boat will come as standard with a 25hp Beta with hybrid drive from Hybrid
Marine. This has the ability to recharge the batteries when the boat is sailing, and also means you can use electric drive to creep along at low speed in silence, and get immediate torque when manoeuvring.
The electric motor will be powered by four high-quality Odyssey batteries in a 48V system – but a standard engine can also be fitted if you don’t want a hybrid drive.

Quality fittings

The list of fittings shows the high quality of the boat’s fit-out. The solid bronze portlights are from Davey & Company, with Forespar Marelon composite seacocks and Odyssey batteries. Her hollow spruce masts are made by famous spar makers Collars, with sails by Jeckells. A Davey Hot Pot stove sits in the saloon. Steve said that they have been pleasantly surprised by the enthusiasm shown by sailors and suppliers for the project since they took the idea to the London Boat show in 2012 with a scale model of the design.

Voyaging Yachts are building the first boat as a demonstrator: they already have a buyer for their second boat, which can now be set up on the jig used for this boat.

A man holding a silver anode

For a steel boat, big anodes are necessary

This is a serious boat for serious cruising. The first boat’s owner is planning an initial trip around Britain, and then who knows? Wylos would be as much at home rolling down the trades or cruising up far-flung rivers. The boat’s fit-out is to a beautifully high standard, and her systems should be simple enough that you can maximise the time spent cruising, rather than waiting for spare parts.

In addition to the fully kitted-out boat which would cost around £210,000 plus VAT, you can buy a ‘sailaway’ boat with the basics fitted for £120,000, or a primed steel hull and deck for £60,000, with holes cut and frames pre-drilled to accept a wooden interior.
A kit of parts is available, and Steve reckons it would take some 1,300 hours to complete.

In concept and in execution, the boat looks like a voyaging sailor’s dream – PBO can’t wait to sail the first boat when it hits the water later this year.



Sadly, Steve Sleight’s vision to build the Wylo 35 was cut short after he was diagnosed with cancer.

He  passed away in January 2017.