Peter Poland weighs up the pride and joy of owning one of these steady and substantial Great British motor-sailers
Over a career spent as a boatbuilder and latterly as a freelance journalist, I have noticed that some owners of sportier yachts tend to trade up to bigger or more modern models on a fairly regular basis. And this was great for business, of course, when I was building and selling sportier yachts. However, owners of heavier and older models – many termed as motor-sailers – tend to stick with what they’ve got for a long time. Indeed, often for ever.
Each year volume-production performance cruisers get wider, sprout chines and skegless twin rudders, pack in more accommodation, have shorter chord keels and move towards flatter underwater shapes.
Meanwhile heavier yachts with longer keels, protected helm positions, moderate beam and sea-kindly hull shapes tend to stay the way they always were. What’s more, very few are now built. So there’s scant chance of trading up to a new boat of this type even if you want to.
Why no new heavier, steadier models? Much of this is down to price. Such yachts are not suited to speedy series production. They take longer to build so cost more. And of course weight comes into the equation.
My Dutch distributor once stuck a poster on one of his heavier cruisers (not our Hunter) at the HISWA boat show. Dutch visitors studied this… then burst out laughing. So I asked him to explain what his poster said. He replied “It says ‘yachts are like potatoes. The more they weigh, the more they cost’. It helps clients understand the facts of life.”
And he’s right.
Weight matters, so when selecting a cruiser or motor sailer to give you a comfortable sea-kindly motion, pay close attention to certain ratios.
- Displacement to waterline length ratio (DLR) indicates performance (eg 125 is sporty; around 425 becomes sedate);
- Sail area to displacement (SA/Disp) ratio does the same (eg 20 is a flyer; 10 is not);
- Ted Brewer’s eclectic but useful Comfort Ratio relates to motion (eg 20 is a race boat; 40 a moderate blue water cruiser).
Brewer wrote that his ratio is based on the fact that the faster the motion the more upsetting it is to the average person: ‘The speed of the upward motion depends on the displacement of the yacht and the amount of waterline area that is acted upon. Greater displacement, or lesser WL area, gives a slower motion and more comfort for any given sea state.’
Put simply, the lower the comfort ratio figure, the friskier the boat.
Many websites will help you calculate these ratios: a good start is on the website of marine author Charles Doane.
The boats below are, in my opinion, three of the best British motor-sailers money can buy.
The seaworthy Seadog motor-sailers
The Seadog 30 (seadog.org.uk) is a popular early example of the heavier production cruiser.
Designed by Reg Freeman in the 1960s, it weighs 5,842kg (12,880lb), has a DLR of 415, a SA/Disp ratio of 14.9 and a comfort ratio of 38.
It’s a popular and very pretty centre cockpit ketch with either triple keels (enabling it to dry out) or a traditional long keel.
Either way, the Seadog offers an unusual mix of qualities: It’s tough and seaworthy enough to cross oceans yet, thanks to its tabernacle-mounted masts that can be lowered without needing a crane, it can make leisurely trips down the French canals to the Med.
In short, it’s a real ‘go-anywhere’ boat. Its solid windscreen plus a canopy fixed on top offers excellent protection against the elements with the wheel located at the forward end of the centre cockpit.
Regular PBO contributor and editor of The Marine Quarterly, Sam Llewellyn, has owned both a triple keel Seadog and long keel Deep Seadog. So he’s well qualified to comment. He told me: “I have always fancied a Deep Seadog, which has a deeper keel and a taller rig than the usual model. I had an ordinary Seadog, which was good for family cruising in the Frisian Islands, where we spent some months in the 1980s. But I fancied something that sailed a bit better, ie the Deep Seadog, in which to do some research up and down the western seaboard of Britain.”
He found one sitting in a yard that was “going down the green slime route”. So he made a cheeky offer that was – to his surprised delight – accepted. A restoration project commenced, the most expensive bit being “throwing away the old engine, which had started life in a forklift truck, and substituting a red Beta 35”.
Sam has been delighted, saying the yacht is an excellent seaboat.
“She weighs in at about seven tons, stores and all. She reefs late, balances beautifully, and flies an astonishing selection of sails, including the hugely effective mizzen staysail aka the cruising chute off my Tall Rig Corribee.
“The accommodation, aft cabin and all, is comfortable and the galley works extremely well. The separate head in the forepeak is much better than the usual walk-through-to-coffin-like V-berth, and provides plenty of stowage. Build quality is excellent, and the designer thought the boat out down to the last teaspoon, which incidentally I have lost… She’s also a very good boat for small children, as you can stow them in the aft cabin where they will inhabit a spacious republic.”
Summing her up in three words, Sam says his Deep Seadog is “cheap, effective, attractive.”
I also contacted a retired Royal Navy officer friend who upgraded from a 24ft Gypsy II to a Seadog 30 triple keeler in 1983. Barry Mattey told me that his Seadog was the epitome of the saying ‘if it looks right it is right’. And he went on to say that the boat “has the business-like air of a seaworthy yacht that can go anywhere.”
He also praised the deep cockpit that crew could “sit or stand in (not on) and is sheltered in a blow by the screen and hood. The cockpit is in the centre of the yacht, which helps against sea-sickness and gives a great feeling of protection.”
Barry praised the “sea-kindly heavy displacement hull, reducing motion in a seaway and giving comfort on a mooring or at anchor.”
The triple keel format also opens up creek crawling and canal cruising.
“The ketch-rig is great for children and novices,” Barry added. “A furling genoa or big cruising chute can be handled from the cockpit if sailing under mizzen with the main stowed. This affords plenty of forward visibility with no beastly mainsheet blocks to ruin someone’s afternoon. The mizzen is also a good ‘flopper stopper’ when at anchor, moored or when motor-sailing.
“My wife, Anna, took the helm for berthing and manoeuvring under power while I handled sails, warps and general deck work. Most of the time we sailed alone… but the boat could happily accommodate four adults.
“Our voyaging over 14 years of ownership encompassed the Orwell to Falmouth on the English coast and the Ile de Batz to Antwerp when foreign; taking in the Channel Islands. For seven years of the 1980s we largely lived aboard, embarking in the early spring and staying until the weather broke or fading daylight and evening classes drew us back ashore in the autumn. A cabin heater, wraparound cockpit cover, garden sprayer for cockpit showers and an Avon inflatable completed our home from home,” said Barry.
“We loved the comfort of the after cabin. It was our private bedroom with a double bed made up all the time, allowing the saloon to be a day cabin for cooking, navigating and day to day living, without being cluttered up with bedding.
“We’d both recommend the Seadog unreservedly to any potential owners. She’s a great little ship.”
Comfortable Coaster 33 motor-sailer
The Coaster 33 is another excellent and often overlooked British-built long keel heavy displacement cruiser.
Designed by Alan Hill, moulded by Robert Ives, finished by Priors and launched in 1972, it weighs 8,135kg (17,934lb), has a DLR of 345, SA/Disp ratio of 8.44 and comfort ratio of 42. Its efficient owners’ association (coaster33.co.uk) proved very helpful.
The Coaster has lovely lines and offers 6-berth accommodation. A forecabin and stern cabin (both with two berths, hanging lockers and vanity unit) provide separate sleeping areas while the saloon has two settee berths (with outboard stowage), a folding table, a U-shaped galley and an enclosed heads compartment.
Owners I contacted were consistent in their praise for the boat.
Bob Whitney, previously a Contessa 32 owner, sails in Scotland and summarised his Coaster as “comfortable, warm, dry, roomy and much better looking than some motor sailers… a safe and solid boat that draws many admiring comments, and is more confident and capable in heavy weather than I am! She sails surprisingly well for a motor sailer, but has interesting handling in marinas.”
Perhaps code for ‘a bow thruster would be helpful’?
Iain Clement also sails extensively on the West Coast of Scotland where “the wheelhouse is essential… the overall package is hard to beat and the hulls are well built.”
He also likes the lines of the boat and the “combination of traditional and new. Compared with many of her contemporaries, the Coaster has the most sensible layout for six, plus plenty of hanging lockers. The basic layout cannot be beaten.”
On the sailing front, he says the boat is ideal for a couple to sail and is good for punching into heavy weather. But she tends to roll while at anchor and – like most long keelers – has prop-walk (which can be useful) and a mind of her own going astern. He did warn that the original gas locker is about the only issue, with various solutions developed by owners.
Richard Burnard moved from a Fisher 25 to a Coaster, saying: “What I like most is the comfort [and] the sheltered cockpit. She also sails well for a motor sailer; solid and safe and easy for me to single-hand as she is predictable, stable and forgiving.”
Paul Hart said much the same: “We wanted a boat that made us feel secure. It not only has the wheelhouse but also a large frame surrounding the main mast that helps when on deck.
“Mainly it’s just the two of us sailing, but we’ve had family trips and the six berths are useful with a full contingent.”
He recalled a passage around Land’s End in winds gusting Force 9, saying: “Although beyond anything we had experienced, we never felt Sunset to be anything less than capable of dealing with those seas.”
Another owner, Peter Jackson, said that after selling his Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 35, he wanted a motor sailer with six berths. Having looked at several options, he said: “As soon as I saw the Coaster 33 I knew it was the boat I was looking for with a good wheelhouse, substantially built hull and deck, all round side deck and ketch rig. We’ve not been disappointed.”
Fun with the Fisher
The Fisher range was the brainchild of David Skellon and his company Fairways Marine sold prodigious numbers.
Naval architects Wyatt and Freeman had already designed the Freeward 25 and 30 when Skellon persuaded them that a more traditional forward-raked wheelhouse and ketch rig would add to their appeal and that he should market them as Fishers.
Still working as a long-haul British Airways pilot at the time, Skellon set up 28 dealers in 23 countries.
After the business took off, he ran Fairways Marine full time using various contract builders before Northshore took over in 1981. To this day, an active owners’ association (fisherowners.org) runs events, rallies and publishes regular magazines. Sadly COVID-19 has caused the postponement of its 50th anniversary rally.
The Fisher 30 led the charge. This handsome ketch oozes character, weighs 6,604kg (14,559lb), has a DLR of 415, SA/Disp ratio of 8.89 and comfort ratio of 43.
Jens and Jeannette Havskov’s Norway-based Maja is living proof of the F30’s seagoing versatility.
Having read a motor-sailer feature in PBO in the mid-1980s, they fell for the Fishers and bought a 1977 F30 in 1987. They still own her and Jens told me: “We have sailed 36,000 miles since we got the boat.
“The Fisher has been wonderful for the wet west coast, [being] very cosy, safe for offshore passages and stable in a rough sea. We have roller reefing for the main and the genoa so sailing single-handed is no problem. Even before fitting the roller reefing, it was easy.
“We use the boat all year [and] for holidays. With three small children it was very safe with the high gunwales. After retirement we’ve been taking longer trips to Scotland, France, Finland and the Faroe Islands. The trip of our lifetime was from Norway to Turkey and back in 2014-17.”
Jeannette wrote in her fascinating blog (Havskov.net) that this return trip to Turkey took in 242 harbours and anchorages, covering 10,663 miles. Maja clearly proves the durability and versatility of a Fisher.
The smaller Fisher 25 (weight 4,572kg/10,079lb, DLR 485, SA/Disp ratio 9.50, comfort ratio 35) also has many fans.
Bryan Sautelle-Smith, who has owned Emma II since 2010, summarises the F25’s appeal saying: “She is a ‘big little ship’, easy to manage single-handed, not too big for creek creeping and with a spacious cockpit for those sunny days and a cosy wheelhouse for when the heavens open. The deep side decks and cockpit make moving about on deck safe. It’s a dry boat with excellent ventilation below decks.
“The motor sailing option is attractive: with sails up and engine turning you can make 5-6 knots. But it’s equally easy to handle under sail or engine alone.
Chris Morris (FOA commodore) has owned his F25 Blue Dolphin since 2006, saying she’s “different, traditional, has fishing boat heritage, does sail (!), is a proficient motor sailer, looks after you when it gets unpleasant, gives year-round sailing, and doesn’t get wet…”
The FOA’s Summer 2013 magazine featured Blue Dolphin’s 1,155-mile return trip (mostly single-handed) from Plymouth to Oban, including many stop-offs.
FOA vice-commodore Geoff Brown’s F25 Island Lady has also given excellent service for 16 years, covering around 12,000 miles cruising in French, UK and Dutch waters. In 2013 Geoff covered 1,600 miles sailing around Britain (mostly single-handed).
When I asked David Skellon which was his favourite Fisher he replied: “The Fisher 34.
“Having had my own F30 and F37, I could see the need for a sleeker hull, better-designed accommodation and a slightly larger rig [SA/Disp ratio 11.62] to boost sailing performance… so, helped by one of my employees and a naval architect, I designed and built the first boat at Langstone.”
Steve Wright – who had been in the Royal Navy for 36 years, skippering Joint Services yachts for 23 of these – said that in his teens he told his father he wanted a Fisher. And in 2002 he duly bought his Fisher 34, telling me “Wight Mistress is our first and only yacht.”
Since then he and his wife, Barbara, have cruised extensively.
After one lively passage in 50-55 knot winds, he told me: “The lovely thing about this trip – and every other trip – was that our foulies stayed in the locker with our seaboots. An upholstered wheelhouse with all the instrumentation to hand simply makes heavy weather sailing acceptable.”
It’s easy to see why these boats command so much brand loyalty and why owners hold on to them for so long.
First published in PBO Summer 2020