Hallberg-Rassy’s reputation for building quality bluewater cruisers evolved from its early 31-38ft models. Peter Poland reports...
Hallberg-Rassy has been in the same family ownership since Christoph Rassy bought Harry Hallberg’s boatbuilding business in 1972 and formed Hallberg-Rassy. And 49 years later it’s still going strong and still owned by the Rassy family.
This success story can be attributed to the Rassy insistence on top quality products combined with an uncanny ability to evolve and develop the Hallberg-Rassy range in line with some (but by no means all) modern trends.
While performance has been improved with the latest Frers-designed models, at all times quality build, comfort, easy handling and seaworthiness hold sway.
To assess the Hallberg-Rassy design evolution it’s interesting to compare Hallberg-Rassy models of around 34-38ft from the 1970s to today.
Early success: Hallberg P28
Harry Hallberg opened his first yard at Kungsviken on the Swedish island of Orust in 1943 where he built wooden boats before leading the field with his first GRP yachts in 1963.
Having designed and built the elegant P28 in wood, he made a GRP hull mould and went into high volume production, retaining the boat’s classic looks by making the deck and cabin roof in wood.
Well over 500 P28s were built, requiring Hallberg to move his business to a new boatyard, and although many of the first 100 were exported to the USA, few if any made it to the UK – more’s the pity.
Bavaria-born Christoph Rassy served his boatbuilding apprenticeship in a German yard then moved to Sweden in the early 1960s, where he ended up in competition with Hallberg after buying Hallberg’s old yard. Initially Rassy concentrated on one-off yachts.
Then in 1967 he commissioned a revolutionary design from Olle Enderlein and named it the Rasmus 35. With its elegant sheer, graceful long keel, centre cockpit, separate aft cabin, spacious sea-going accommodation and fixed windscreen, the Rasmus 35 established many successful new trends.
Having built the first two boats in gleaming mahogany, Rassy then made hull and deck moulds and the Rasmus 35 took off with a vengeance. Its revolutionary features combined with robust and high quality GRP mouldings and interior finish meant the boat sold in large numbers.
In 1972 Hallberg retired just as Rassy was outgrowing his Kungsviken yard. Rassy jumped at the chance to buy Hallberg’s business in Ellös and thus the Hallberg-Rassy brand was born.
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Rassy’s Rasmus 35 was rebranded as the Hallberg-Rassy 35 and a staggering 760 of this classic centre cockpit Enderlein design were sold between 1967 and 1978. This was a lot for any GRP production boat at that time, let alone a 35-footer which was thought to be a large GRP production yacht in the late 1960s.
At the same time, it established Rassy’s reputation for providing solid, well-finished cruisers with moderate sail area/displacement ratios (Hallberg-Rassy 35: 13.7), generous displacement/LWL ratios (244.7) and high Comfort Ratios (28.5).
Some Hallberg-Rassy 35s were also finished in the UK by Freeman Yachts from Rassy’s mouldings and sold as Nab 35s. These had a more solid wheelhouse in place of the fixed windscreen.
In 1974, two years after the launch of Hallberg-Rassy, Enderlein again struck gold. The Hallberg-Rassy Monsun 31 began its eight-year production run, selling a total of 904 boats by 1982. This is the all-time top-selling Hallberg-Rassy model – but again, few made it to the UK.
In addition to the trademark fixed windscreen, the aft-cockpit Monsun 31 had a long keel, conventional sea-going layout, amidships heads and a fixed chart table. There are five berths and plenty of space thanks to a beam of 2.87m.
According to the Hallberg-Rassy website: ‘She is a no-nonsense sturdy long-distance cruiser that has never been modern and will never go out of fashion.’
Proving this point, Kurt Björklund completed three circumnavigations in his Monsun 31 Golden Lady after retiring in 1982. Since then, many a Hallberg-Rassy owner has taken his pride and joy on an extended post-retirement cruise.
The three eras of Hallberg-Rassy
After the conventional-looking, successful and attractive Enderlein-designed Hallberg-Rassy 41ft ketch (105 built between 1975-81), subsequent models can be divided into three eras.
First came the nine Enderlein models – often designed in collaboration with Chrstoph Rassy – starting with the Hallberg-Rassy 38 in 1977 and carried on until the Hallberg-Rassy 382 in 1984.
All featured long keels with encapsulated ballast and skeg-hung rudders (with the exception of the canoe sterned and Fisheresque 94 Kutter). A Hallberg-Rassy 49 was also the first yacht to include saloon armchairs!
These Enderlein-designed models with their trademark raised topsides incorporating hull portlights mounted in a wide blue sheer strake, still appeal to owners looking for robust long distance cruisers.
The era that followed began in 1987 – the year Hallberg-Rassy bought its first CNC milling machine – which was closely followed by the appearance of the first Hallberg-Rassy designs by the Argentinian, German Frers. Since 1988 Frers has designed 25 Hallberg-Rassys.
The result was a succession of sleeker designs with lower freeboard, sweeping sheers, conventional coachroofs, lead fin keels and skeg-hung then spade rudders. Starting with the Hallberg-Rassy 45, these models still retained the trademark blue sheerline and windscreen built around a centre cockpit on larger models and an aft cockpit on smaller ones.
Earlier examples were still masthead rigged while later ones moved to fractional rigs. Performance stepped up a gear, largely thanks to the hull lines, low-centre-of-gravity bulbed lead fin keels and increased sail area/displacement ratios.
And in the last five years or so, as overall beam grew, so did the beam aft. In 2016 Frers designed the latest generation of Hallberg-Rassys with twin rudders, near-vertical stems, long waterlines and short integral bowsprits to cater for the growing trend towards asymmetric spinnakers and large code headsails.
1977-1984: The Olle Enderlein Hallberg-Rassys
So, going back to Enderlein’s post 1977 designs, the Hallberg-Rassy 38 (202 built) set the tone. She was the first production yacht to incorporate a walk-through passage from the saloon to the stern cabin.
Otherwise the layout is conventional with a forecabin, generous sized heads and stowage areas, and a spacious saloon with an L-shaped galley and chart table aft.
However the elegant blue upholstery, impeccable mahogany joinerwork, tasteful headlining, abundant lockers and grab handles were far from conventional and well above the norm for GRP production yachts. And the wide and easily accessible sidedecks and low coachroof top came teak-decked as standard.
On the ratios front, the Hallberg-Rassy 38 has a SA/disp ratio of 14.82 (compared to a 1983 First 38’s 15.48); a ballast ratio of 45.5% (First 38: 42.25%); a DLR of 276 (First 38: 180); and a Brewer Comfort ratio of 34 (First 38: 23). These figures tell a story.
Moving down a size, the 1978 Enderlein/Rassy designed Hallberg-Rassy 352 (802 built) was an even bigger success. Still with a centre cockpit, its hull design, long keel, skeg-hung rudder, accommodation layout and quality finish are similar to its 38 sister.
But four times as many were sold, showing how much this 35-footer appealed to cruising markets. Its slightly increased SA/disp ratio of 16.01 suggests improved light airs performance while its other ratios are very similar; promising stability and comfort in strong winds.
Peter Dubock owns a 352 and told me: “I am keen on centre-cockpit boats because of the internal layout with a generous aft cabin. Older Hallberg-Rassy’s seem to me to be very good value for money; they age well. If you find one with a replaced engine and replaced teak deck, which I did, there should not be too many major surprises.”
Peter added that she’s “very comfortable and cosy down below. Plenty of stowage; good privacy (for a 35-footer) in the aft cabin; plenty of fuel and water tankage; good size head/bathroom compartment – with a ceramic(!) handbasin and shower.”
On the cruising front, Peter’s 352 is based in the Solent. “We have been up to Mallaig in Scotland via the east coast of Ireland, down the west coast of France as far as Pornic, backwards and forwards across the North Sea to the Netherlands and of course the Channel Islands and Brittany.
“With my kind of cruising I try to avoid heavy weather. The few times I have been caught out she is very steady and instils enormous confidence, although when it gets really nasty, I tend to motor.”
And would he buy another Hallberg Rassy? “I’m almost 75, so this is probably my last sail boat. If I had enough money and another 30 years of sailing ahead, I would definitely buy another newer, and slightly bigger Hallberg-Rassy.” Peter replied.
If a smaller aft-cockpit variation on the same Enderlein theme appeals, the 1979 Hallberg-Rassy 312 has much to offer, as witnessed by almost 700 sales. It has an aft cockpit but the same high quality finish as on her bigger sister, plus similarly reassuring ratios to appeal to owners who want a serious cruiser.
1989-2015: German Frers-designed Hallberg Rassys
In 1989 Hallberg-Rassy changed tack. The new Frers-designed centre cockpit Hallberg-Rassy 36 (606 sold) and 1990 aft cockpit Hallberg-Rassy 34 (484 sold) set the tone for the next generation of Hallberg-Rassys. The Hallberg-Rassy Frers era had begun, and continues to this day.
The very helpful Hallberg-Rassy Owners Association passed on a few members’ comments and the owner of Hallberg-Rassy 34 Kudu said “We had a Hallberg-Rassy 29 which became too small for a growing family, so we upgraded to a Hallberg-Rassy 34. She was perfect for a family and [is] even better for the two of us now.
“She is fast, comfortable and very sea-kindly… [we’ve] cruised between Holland and the Isles of Scilly, and both sides of the English Channel… She has never given any cause for concern in windy or rough weather… If we were to change boats, we’d certainly go for another Hallberg-Rassy.”
The Hallberg-Rassy 34 was built for 15 years before the Hallberg-Rassy 342 took over in 2005 and 329 were sold – including 10 to the MOD’s Kiel Sail Training Centre in 2014. This closed in 2016 and the boats were transferred to the JSASTC in Gosport.
The interesting changes include more upright stem and stern (producing 40cm more LWL), a bit more freeboard, a wider transom, longer and wider saloon and forward berths, increased headroom and larger tanks. Tiller steering was standard; wheel steering becoming ‘extra’.
Experienced sailor Jo Wesbter-Jones and her husband occasionally charter the 342 Bombardier from the Royal Artillery YC when it’s not doing Adventurous Sail Training Courses. She told me “While she’s well looked after by the Bosun, it’s remarkable what good nick she’s in. I think that speaks volumes about the quality of build, given she has been in almost constant charter for six years.”
Jo also enthuses about the accommodation saying “down below, it’s all very generous and well thought out. [It’s] difficult to believe she’s only 34ft.”
Past-commodore of the Hallberg-Rassy Owners Association, Nigel Kingsley, told me he ordered a new Hallberg-Rassy 342 in late 2007 as an upgrade to his Westerly, having first looked for an Hallberg-Rassy 34.
He added that the Hallberg-Rassy 342 has a bit more space than the 34 thanks largely to increased freeboard and longer LWL.
With four on board he sailed from Ellos (Sweden) to Southsea and now cruises to Holland, the French Coast from Dunkirk to South Brittany and UK South Coast, adding: “We’ve not experienced genuine heavy weather, but I am confident that she would be up to it. At least one 342 has crossed the Atlantic.”
The aft-cockpit Hallberg-Rassy 372 is another successful Frers design, winning the 2010 European Yacht of the Year luxury cruiser award. It’s still in production. Leading French magazine Voile concluded that: ‘It sails better than the previous generation.
The look is rather classic; so will still be in the future. And most of all, the build quality is very good. This might well be the best boat you can get in this size, and one that will last for a long time.’
A recent Hallberg-Rassy 372 buyer said that having owned a Najad 332 for 15 years, he wanted a larger yacht of Scandinavian quality that is easily handled by a couple, has a single wheel and rudder – and a chart table. The 372 fitted the bill in all respects.
He added that the purchase process was easy, despite Brexit and Covid, and that UK agents Transworld Yachts were excellent to deal with and very helpful.
2016-current: More Frers designs
The current Hallberg-Rassy range (aft cockpit 310, 340, 372, 400 and centre cockpit 40C, 44, 50, 57, 64) includes the newest models with twin rudders, modern plumb stem, longer LWL and a short, fixed bowsprit.
The owner of a new twin rudder Hallberg-Rassy 340 said “We were looking for a smaller yacht around 34ft which would allow an easy set up for get up and go day sailing, single-handed sailing on occasion, coastal cruising and longer distance trips in due course.
“We were of the view the current iterations of the Hallberg-Rassy line have retained the essence of the marque established and revered over the years.
“But now, with the 340 and other recent models, the yard has created a more contemporary feel while retaining the superb build and material qualities of Hallberg-Rassy.
“So far the twin rudder configuration has not posed us difficulties. She is easy to manoeuvre, light enough on the helm and responsive.”
Another new 340 owner said: “She handles well under sail and we particularly enjoy the Code 0 [flown from the short fixed bowsprit] which has taken us from Lymington to Falmouth in an easterly and back home in a south-westerley.
“We love the in-mast furling which we did not have on previous yachts. The layout below is well thought out and we have adapted to the missing chart table.”
These latest models bring Hallberg-Rassys bang up to date and the future looks rosy. The Hallberg-Rassy group of companies is still 100% owned by the Rassy family and has been led since 2003 by the second generation; Magnus Rassy.
Hallberg-Rassy’s website says the company has never had financial troubles, every buyer can get a low cost bank guarantee and every Hallberg-Rassy yacht is delivered on time. Very few yachtbuilders can say the same.
About the author
Peter K Poland crossed the Atlantic in a 7.6m (25ft) Wind Elf in 1968 and later spent 30 years as co-owner of Hunter Boats. He is now a freelance journalist and PR consultant.
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