Peter Poland looks at ‘fantastisch’ 30ft German boats that have proved how a hobby can become a multi-million euro business…
Having left university with a degree in modern languages, I followed the example of many of my contemporaries. I went to work in the City. Those who stuck to the financial sector for the rest of their careers – whether in the UK or abroad – are now wealthy enough to pour large sums into our old college’s coffers.
But not me. After about 18 months, a university chum and I pooled our savings, left our jobs and bought a wooden 25ft yacht. Then we set sail for the West Indies.
But after a memorable month in Barbados, I had to hitch a lift home on a steamer because of family problems back in the UK. End of adventure and back to a Lloyds broker: where I ended up as manager of the overseas department.
The lure of yachts was still strong, however. So despite City guru Jim Slater’s alleged opinion that ‘the thing makers are the fools’, I walked out of the city and became… a maker of things. Boat things.
Still, my modern languages were useful at the European boat shows I attended as an exhibitor, or visited to research new ideas and see what innovations were worth ‘borrowing’.
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It was on one such expedition that I came across a then little known German firm that built solid, hand-crafted yachts; very much in the Scandinavian idiom. These elegant yachts came from the pen of German designer Axel Mohnhaupt between 1981 and 1993. The yachts were called Bavarias.
Bavaria Yachts: A potted history
Founder Winfried Herrmann started work as a vacuum cleaner salesman. Then in the late 1960s he set up Fensterfabrik Heha-Plast, manufacturing windows and doors on an industrial scale.
As a hobby he also sailed; then started a separate division in his window empire to build boats. Thus, in 1978, Bavaria Yachtbau was born. ‘Never make your hobby your business,’ I was once advised; ‘the only way to make a small fortune out of boat building is to start with a big one.’ But Herrmann eventually proved this wrong.
In the early 1980s the window business went under – dragging Bavaria down with it – but yacht dealer Josef Meltl came to the rescue by taking a 50% shareholding. So, after weathering the financial storms in the early 1990s, Herrmann took boatbuilding to a new level with new and efficient production methods.
Marketing and PR specialist Marcus Schlichtling told me: “Bavaria was founded in 1978 and Hermann’s target was to build sailing boats for a fair price, so that a lot of people were able to buy them.
“The progress of Bavaria was huge and fast. Hermann was a Henry Ford in the yacht industry. He increased production to four product lines. Hull and deck were built with the help of the industry’s first CNC milling machine. In carpentry, he optimised production with robots and varnishing machines.”
In 2007 Herrmann and his business partner Meltl pulled off a major coup, selling Bavaria for a reputed 1.3 billion euros to Bain Capital.
‘Taking boatbuilding to a new level with efficient production’
It’s a world record for a firm of leisure boat builders. German sailing magazine Yacht wrote of Herrmann ‘the sale would have been satisfying – the ultimate crowning of the career of a self-made man who went from vacuum cleaner salesman to a multi-millionaire.’
Herrmann’s timing was perfect. Shortly after the sale to Bain, the 2008/9 financial crisis hit the world and annual production fell from 3,500 boats to less than 1,000.
Like other builders, Bavaria took a heavy hit. Then Bain sold control of the company to US private equity investors in 2009. In just two years, they probably lost close to €1billion.
Since then, Bavaria has resumed its upward path, most recently being bought by a private equity fund in 2018.
Bavaria’s early history and success splits into four periods. On the sailboat side these coincide with the company’s involvement with four different designers: in the early days Axel Mohnhaupt; in the glory days J&J; and later Farr Yacht Design in 2010; then Cossutti Yacht Design from 2017.
Mohnhaupt was little known outside Germany. The Bavarias he drew during the 1980s are his major claim to fame; although he was also involved in successful America’s Cup campaigns, including the 1974 winner Intrepid.
His Bavarias were akin to the sportier Scandinavian yachts built at that time: sleek lines, an abundance of woodwork down below, an excellent finish and reasonably priced. Bavaria’s aim in the 1980s was to produce a quality yacht with a spacious interior.
Around the 30ft size, Mohnhaupt’s 1981 Bavaria 890 (29ft 4in) is an elegant and desirable yacht. Its layout is conventional for its time; featuring an amidships heads, forepeak berths, a spacious saloon, aft galley and chart table and a quarter berth. Thanks to a beam of 9ft 9in, there’s plenty of space below.
A fractional rig gives a sail area/displacement ratio of 15.2 while a ballast ratio of 43.7% and displacement/length ratio of 229 indicate stability under sail.
The 1985 Bavaria 960 (31ft 6in; beam 9ft 10in; weight 7,937lb) and 1989 Bavaria 300 (31ft 4in; beam 9ft 10in; weight 7,496lb) are two of the earliest Mohnhaupt designs to have an aft heads compartment and stern double cabin.
Both are fractional rigged with sleeker looks than later Bavarias, a fin keel (with a bulb on the 300), a spade rudder and a ballast ratio of around 40%. But sadly not many made it to the UK. These Mohnhaupt Bavarias were produced in smaller numbers in the 1980s, aiming at the mid to high quality end of the market.
Dramatic changes appeared when Bavaria moved to J&J (Jernej and Japec Jakopin) for its new designs. J&J worked in Slovenia with specialist boat development company Seaway.
This unique set up made J&J and Seaway leading providers of yacht design, engineering and tooling. They started with Elan in 1983, later including Jeanneau, Dufour, and Grand Soleil among their clients. Bavaria beat a path to their door in 1994 with a commission for their new Bavaria 39 followed a year later by a new 41.
Japec told me “Up to 2008 we designed, engineered and tooled 89 Bavaria models, sail and power. Sales went from r11 million (DM22m) in 1992 to r279 million in 2006/2007.”
The 1999 Bavaria 31 was the first J&J model around the 30ft size. With graceful overhangs, an elegantly shaped coachroof and a bulbed fin keel the 31 has a DLR of 180 and ballast ratio of 30.5%.
Thanks to a beam of 9ft 9in the modern layout below features an aft heads and double cabin. The similar but later 2007 Bavaria Cruiser 31, however, has a wider beam of 11ft 1in and shorter overhangs.
So it has even more space below, a bigger chart table and increased stowage space throughout. Its bulbed fin keel gives a ballast ratio of 23.4% and DLR of 226. Weighing 10,340lb it’s heavier than the earlier Bavaria 31 that weighs 7,937lb.
Bavaria Cruiser 30
The 2005 Bavaria Cruiser 30 is a good example of the new ‘cruiser series’ that included 26 yachts between 30ft and 51ft. An interior difference between these and earlier production Bavarias was a switch to lighter toned mahogany veneers in the joinery.
The Cruiser 30 comes with three keel options: deep or shoal draught bulbed fin keels and a less common ‘tandem’ keel.
Its generous beam of 10ft 9in, wider stern and short overhangs give a spacious interior.
The Bavaria Owners Association put me in contact with Guy Martin who bought his Bavaria 30 Cruiser several years ago.
He told me: “We liked the interior woodwork; it’s solid and not too dark… she has a solid feel about her.
“Performance is good enough for a cruiser. We have in-mast furling, which I wouldn’t recommend from a performance standpoint.
Unfurl the headsail and she sails at a respectable 5-6 knots. Her sweet spot is 8-16 knots of wind; she’s not much good in anything below 5 knots.
“All in all, a very well balanced boat. We have a shallow draught tandem keel so she doesn’t point so well. I sail single- or short-handed all the time and she’s perfect for this. For one or two people the yacht is very comfortable for cruising. Two adults and two children are fine. Any more adults and it gets a little tight.
“I’d like to change up to a larger yacht but have spent so much money upgrading, I’m loath to do so. I bumped into the previous owner who did just that, and regretted selling her. So maybe I’ll stick with her!”
I also contacted recent buyers Alex and Marian Agnew who told me: “Our boat is Amy, a 1993 Bavaria 30, bought in December 2020 during lockdown.
“She’s our first boat and appealed to us firstly because of the size and also the amount of extras which had been fitted in order for her to be sailed short-handed such as in-boom reefing, electric winch, Raymarine autohelm etc.
“She had been well cared for… we received a glowing survey report. We feel she stands out due to the condition for her age.”
Amy has already taken the Agnews on enjoyable cruises around the Solent and down to Poole and is proving to be a good ‘lockdown purchase’.
American magazine Sail summed up the 2005 Bavaria Cruiser 30 well, saying: ‘The Bavaria 30 is an entry-level cruiser with all the features that any sailor would look for in a coastal cruiser.
‘With each of its two cabins equipped with a double bunk, hanging locker, and small open area, the interior is large enough to accommodate two couples or a small family on a weekend (or even longer) cruise.
“The straight settees in the saloon are over six feet long, and its inlaid dining table can drop down to create a double bunk. The space has just over six feet of headroom.
“The J&J hull should offer a responsive and forgiving ride. The fin keel carries over 2,200 pounds of ballast in the bulb for stability, and the deep spade rudder should provide plenty of bite.”
The smallest Bavaria cruiser now available as a new boat is the Cruiser 34. Like most production boatyards, Bavaria is building ever-bigger yachts but says “We believe that even smaller yachts can be great fun.
“With the Bavaria Cruiser 34 we have succeeded in bringing together the most important aspects of sailing – sailing pleasure and spaciousness – in one boat.” But if you want a 30ft Bavaria, second-hand is the only way!
Dehler Yachts: A potted history
If you’re in the market for a sportier cruiser, a Dehler could be the answer. Like many boatbuilders, Willi Dehler started off doing something entirely different. His son Karl (who still works for Dehler, now owned by Hanse) told me: “In 1958 my parents had their own shop selling TVs, radios and all electric parts.
“Then they started sailing as a hobby in a van de Stadt-designed Stern dingy. From that time on, my father had contact with Mr van de Stadt and a lifetime friendship began.”
Cees van Tongeren (of van de Stadt Designs) told me: “Dehler wanted to build a GRP caravan and went to Ricus van de Stadt for advice… but Ricus persuaded him to build boats instead. So in the early 60s Dehler asked van de Stadt to design a stub keel centreboarder in two variants; with a cabin top as cabin cruiser and without as daysailer.”
The resulting yacht – the Varianta (21ft 4in) – became the most successful Dehler ever and one of the all time top-selling European classes. In the mid-1960s the market wasn’t awash with small GRP family cruisers; so there was plenty of pent up demand.
Dehler hit the jackpot with his first throw of the dice and went on to sell around 4,400 Variantas between 1966 and 1982. This success gave Dehler the foundation on which to set up a state-of-the-art manufacturing process; a process that was to stand the company in good stead for many decades.
Dehler Optima 92
The 1974 Optima 92 (30ft 2in) was the first Dehler to exceed 30ft and appeal to offshore cruising sailors. And it was extremely innovative in many respects, being one of the first cruisers to offer a heads relocated from amidships to a compartment aft, near the companionway.
Its airy and comfortable saloon was one of the first to benefit from hull ports set into the topsides. Its large L-shaped galley (to starboard) and navigator’s chart table and quarter berth area (to port) were well suited to offshore cruising; as were its wheel steering, 48% ballast ratio and 273.8 DLR.
Dehler Optima 98
If that didn’t appeal, there was a later ‘stretched’ aft cabin centre cockpit version – the Optima 98 (32ft 1in). These Optimas had fractional rigs (as opposed to the then almost universal masthead rig) and offered wheel steering.
Such features were unusual on 1970s cruisers around 30ft; and more so on top quality yachts sold at competitive prices. No wonder Dehler was on the crest of a wave. It’s worth remembering that Bénéteau did not build its first fast cruiser, the First 30, until 1976.
At the same time Dehler was stretching its lead on its competitors by fine-tuning its production methods with a unique ‘in house’ supply system.
It bought aluminium extrusions to manufacture its own masts and booms and employed riggers to make standing and running rigging. Its steel fabrication division made pulpits, pushpits, shroud plates and custom steelwork items that go into or onto a production yacht.
Dehler also built an ABS forming machine; so under deck locker units, small hatches and other non-structural parts were made in house from panels of ABS. Put simply, Dehler majored on saving costs and gaining efficiency. Yet it did not cut corners. Its boats were well made and competitively priced.
Dehler Duetta 86
The Duetta 86 (28ft 3in), introduced in 1979, was ideal for Dehler Varianta or Delanta owners wanting bigger boats. Cees van Tongeren drew this fast cruiser to be cut above the norm. With its sleek coachroof, well-defined overhangs and moderate freeboard, the Duetta was a class act.
What’s more its 2.95m beam, 43% ballast ratio, 19.88 SA/Disp ratio and 160 DLR add up to an appealing mix of performance and stability. Like some other Dehler cruisers at that time, it came with either an aft or centre cockpit; the latter in conjunction with a separate stern cabin.
And all in just 28ft 3in. Headroom, space and standard of finish in all versions were excellent.
In 1980 Dehler underwent a revolution. Cees van Tongeren designed the world-beating DB1 production ¾ tonner; followed a year later by the even more successful DB2.
This was later modified and de-tuned to become the hugely popular Dehler 34 (LOA 33ft 2in) which in turn spawned the 1984 Dehler 31 – one of my all-time favourite fast cruisers.
When Hunter Boats was a UK Dehler agent, we couldn’t get enough of them. The 30ft 10in Dehler 31 (also known as the Duetta 94) has a beam of 10ft 2in, ballast ratio of 40.6% and weighs 7,055lb. A DLR of 220 and SA/Disp ratio of 19.33 denote well above average sailing performance.
Available with a tiller or wheel – each with a mainsheet track in the cockpit – the helmsman has excellent control. Down below there’s a twin berth forepeak, straight sided saloon settees/berths, a fixed chart table and heads compartment aft to starboard, a good sized galley and an aft double cabin.
It all works well, although the Dehler 31 isn’t as voluminous as some modern cruisers. The finish is well executed and the interior décor came in two versions: a standard mahogany finish or a white finish with wooden cappings and trim around locker openings etc (known as the Nova version).
After testing a well-used Dehler 31 in 2014, PBO’s sister title Yachting Monthly said: “Given that she is a family cruising boat, she is fast for her size. She’s forgiving enough for relaxed cruising, but offers plenty of oomph for racer-types to play with.
“Most Dehler 31s will be at least 20 years old by now, but the quality of construction means they will hide their age well. For sailors from a dinghy background, or for cruisers who like getting stuck into the sailing, this boat has a lot to offer.”
The 1998 Judel/Vrolijk-designed Dehler 29 (28ft 9in) has a different style and look to earlier van de Stadt Dehlers, but ample performance and space below. Well worth a look. As is the J/V Dehler 30 OD racer.
Hanse Yachts: A potted history
Hanse Yachts (now owner of Dehler) was the brainchild of Michael Schmidt; one of the most remarkable yacht builders in recent times.
When I asked Schmidt how he kicked off, he replied: “I started boatbuilding with C&C yachts in the mid-70s, when we began production for Europe.
“In the early 80s I bought my own boatyard and started to build the first prepreg carbon-fibre Admiral Cuppers. Our race boats like Düsselboot, Rubin, Pinta, Outsider and Tina-I-Punkt were successful offshore racers, winning the Admiral’s Cup and Sardinia Cup. I sailed several times for Germany in the Admiral’s Cup.”
When the Berlin Wall crumbled in 1990 Schmidt was quick off the mark and looked for a boatbuilding property on the former East Germany’s coastline. He correctly anticipated bargain prices for those who got in early.
Schmidt’s search was successful. He told me: “The factory was a shed where they built and repaired wooden fishing boats. They had good woodworkers, and we trained people in all aspects of boatbuilding. East Germany was a good place because the people were very motivated to build something up.”
Low overhead costs and labour rates also helped to produce boats at competitive prices, Schmidt explained. “We received some grants which made it easier to invest.
“But there were difficulties getting established in the East because in those days the infrastructure was more limited. However, with a good, motivated team and a clear mission Hanse Yachts became successful.” To put it mildly!
Hanse’s first GRP production yacht hit the water in 1993; which shows how meteoric Schmidt’s rise has been. Compared to the start-up dates of GRP construction by other production boatbuilders – Beneteau in 1963, Jeanneau in 1964, Westerly in 1963 and Nicholson is 1962 – Hanse was late on the scene.
But having given major European competitors 30 years head start, Hanse is now a market leader, while some have faltered or fallen by the wayside.
Instead of getting an all-new model designed and going through the costly, lengthy process of producing moulds, Schmidt bought the mould tools of an attractive Scandinavian cruiser-racer called the Aphrodite 29.
Being a racing man at heart, he went for this pretty, sporty yacht rather than a ‘floating caravan.’
Thanks to the renamed Hanse 291’s performance, looks and extremely competitive price, it sold fast.
When Schmidt first exhibited it at the Hamburg boat show, he hung a banner on the guard-rail saying 44,444 Deutschmarks (around r23,000) – which worried competitors and delighted customers.
Designed by Carl Beyer, the attractive Hanse 291 (29ft 3in; weight 5,732lb) has a moderate beam of 8ft 10in, a ballast ratio of 40.4%, a DLR of 152, a SA/Disp ratio of 18.34 and its fin keel draws 5ft 4in.
All of which gives a sparkling performance. Down below the Hanse 291 has a conventional layout with amidships heads, twin berth forepeak, saloon, galley and spacious quarter berth.
Andy Hind, Westerly sales manager at the time, told me: “At the Hamburg boat show I stumbled across the embryonic Hanse stand. On it was a pretty 29-footer, the first Hanse 291.
“With a lovely easily-driven underwater shape, tall fractional rig, narrowish beam and perfect proportions, she looked quick. Inside she has five beds, a proper heads, a kitchen with cooker and fridge and a dining table that seats six! I became a victim of ‘boat show euphoria’.”
When the first Hanse 291 arrived at Hamble Point, Andy snapped it up. He told me: “I entered the Round the Island Race that year. The wind was 12-15 knots and she flew. Spinnaker up at the Needles and we were reeling in the Sigma 33s. The result? 6th overall on her maiden race.
“This boat has got something… I’ve vowed to win the Round the Island Race one day. In the 2014 RTI we were pipped by under two minutes; so second and the Silver Roman Bowl. The most frustrating result possible!”
While the revamped and slightly enlarged Hanse 292 (now with an aft heads compartment and athwartships aft double berth), 1997 Hanse 300 and Hanse 301 derivations continued to sell, Schmidt was considering another set of second-hand moulds.
The Finngulf 33 was a sleek Scandinavian and the rebranded Hanse 331 was a logical follow on to the top-selling 291/292.
The 2006 Hanse 315 (30ft 9in and not to be confused with the later 2016 Hanse 315 model) was one of the early Judel/Vrolijk Hanse designs. Weighing 9,480lb, it had a beam of 10ft 6in, a heavily-bulbed fin keel (ballast ratio 30.5%), a DLR of 209 and a SA/Disp ratio of 23.49.
It also offered a wheel steering option and a self-tacking jib. Down below, it has a spacious layout with an aft heads compartment and aft double berth cabin. The 2016 Hanse 315 (31ft 6in) is a very different yacht. Also designed by Judel/Vrolijk, it has a beam of 11ft, a wide transom and near vertical stem and stern.
Its deep, heavily-bulbed fin keel gives a DLR of 199 and ballast ratio of 32% while a SA/Disp ratio of 17.06 ensures good performance. Other notable features are a fractional rig, a self-tacking jib and wheel steering (twin wheels are an option).
Proving its prowess, the new Hanse 315 won the 2015/16 European Yacht of the Year Award in the family cruiser category. Yachting World’s tester Toby Hodges wrote “In my opinion, the Hanse 315 is the best recent example of a compact big yacht… she is simply a delight to sail, aided by steering that is superlight and responsive.”
Fulsome praise indeed – and proof that modern Hanses are now the dominant German range.
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