Peter Poland shortlists the best boats under £50,000 in a growing stock of pre-loved sailing yachts, featuring varied design trends…
Choosing the right second-hand yacht to suit your needs as the years fly by can become ever more challenging. Unlike cars that fail MOTs and finally cease to be worth repairing, well-maintained GRP yachts seem to go on forever.
There’s an ever-growing stock of elderly but basically sound yachts. However, the changes in each generation’s new designs can make the selection of a good used yacht more difficult.
Do you prefer the handling and motion of a moderate beam yacht with a long keel? Or do the later, wider beam designs with flatter hull lines appeal, thanks to their greatly increased space below… even though their handling and motion can become more demanding as the wind and seas get up?
The yacht’s engine will eventually become clapped out and need replacing. So it makes sense to look out for a boat that has been re-engined.
But if you can’t find one, it’s relatively simple to get a new engine fitted. And much the same applies to the mast and standing rigging and the sails if they are in poor condition.
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Sailors who look around 21st century boat shows won’t come across a single big volume British yacht builder. The occasional…
Cruising boats of around 30ft can often become a ‘boat for life’. Having graduated from dinghies to small cruisers, many…
Osmosis can also rear its ugly head, but this can be rectified. It’s just a matter of consulting your surveyor, doing the sums and negotiating a price that takes account of necessary replacements and work.
Second-hand yachts available in the £40,000 to £50,000 price bracket cover a wide variety of ages and therefore design trends. Up to the early years of the 21st century, a succession of yacht racing handicap rules also had a major influence.
The old RORC rule, late ‘70s International Offshore Rule (IOR), Channel Handicap System (CHS) and now the International Rating Certificate rule (IRC) all had major influences on yacht design.
Harking back to the late 1970s, the She 36 is worth considering. This Sparkman & Stephens design started life on the drawing board in 1974/5 in the US as the Three Quarter Ton cruiser-racer Northstar 1500 and was subsequently renamed the Northstar 50 then the Hughes 35.
In the UK, British builder South Hants Engineering introduced another take on this design, calling it the She 36.
The She 36’s dimensions are LOA 35ft 6in, LWL 29ft 6in, beam 10ft 6in, draught 6ft 4in and displacement 14,500lb. Her fin and skeg underwater lines are as sweet as they come and her profile is enhanced by a sleek, low coachroof, balanced fore and aft overhangs and typical S&S tumblehome on the topsides. From any angle, she’s a beautiful yacht.
What’s more her lead keel (so much better in so many ways than cast iron) gives a 37% ballast ratio, a DLR of 253 and a high comfort ratio of 31.41.
The owner of a She 36 that I test-sailed told me: “Back in 1987 I was looking for a Contessa 32 until a yacht broker told me that these attracted a big premium and – for not much more – I could get a She 36, which wasn’t as well known then as it is now.
“My teenage son voted we spend Dad’s dosh on a better boat rather than a bigger house, saying: ‘You don’t only get a good racing boat; you get a lifeboat!’”
He was referring to the infamous 1979 Fastnet Race when Alain Catherineau rescued Griffin’s seven crew members from a liferaft in his She 36 Lorelei. Catherineau said you could ask the impossible of the boat and he won the RCC Seamanship Medal that year.
The test She 36 owner added; “I also remember the Sadler advert with the headline ‘beat them racing during the day, and then entertain the other crew in the evening’. The She 36 met this requirement well. Even if by modern standards the accommodation is a bit cramped, it is comfortable.”
However it’s as a weatherly cruising yacht that the She 36 has really excelled. Her owner, Richard Burnett, told me: “Over the years we have cruised to Ireland, Brittany, the Channel Islands, the South Coast, the Scillies and recently northern Spain. One overnight passage from Santander to La Rochelle was memorable. It was clear with the moon racing the clouds in a Force 4-5 just forward of the beam.
“With one reef in the main and a few rolls in the genoa, she was very comfortable and noticeably quicker than with full sail, cracking on at a steady 7+ knots, steered by the Vicar the whole way”.
The Vicar being a moniker for the self-steering system, the owner added, “because it never drinks, smokes, swears, sleeps or eats while guiding us down the True Way”.
She might be all GRP on the outside, but this She 36’s interior has all the hallmarks and charm of a classic timber yacht. Come fair weather or foul, this makes a welcoming and cosy environment. The galley and chart table areas are extensive and designed to be used at sea.
Ample stowage and secure working space for both chef and navigator are typical of this generation of yacht, designed for serious offshore work.
And the same goes for the saloon. A snug pilot berth to starboard and the owner’s successful modification of the port side of the saloon to a dinette with U-shaped settees and lowerable dining table make this a spacious yet snug living area.
The forecabin V-berths also work well, while the amidships heads compartment (offset to port) is surprisingly voluminous for a yacht of this era. All in all, the accommodation is excellent for a 36-footer, even if it doesn’t have a fat transom, aft stern cabin and aft heads compartment.
Under power, the new Beta engine gave plenty of push via a folding prop. And of course the reduction in drag that this affords adds appreciably to speed under sail.
I’m at a loss to understand why owners of sailboats (modern or classic) don’t consider one of the new generation folding or feathering props. They’re worth every penny.
If you have a yen for a good looking and well-built GRP ‘classic’, you could consider a She 36. I have little doubt that a trial sail will win you over.
Albatross’ owner summed her up perfectly, saying; “I’m still in love with the Fibreglass Wife. I can sail single-handed, short-handed or with three or four friends; which is all very comfortable.
“But above all, she gives you that go-anywhere confidence.” Current brokerage prices are around £40,000, depending on condition.
Sun Fizz 40
Jumping ahead a few years to the early 1980s, a past Editor of Yachting Monthly drew my attention to a splendid 40-footer rejoicing in the name of the Sun Fizz 40.
James Jermain posted on the YBW forum: ‘Jeanneau and Beneteau generally produce boats to a good average standard but among the general uniformity both companies have produced the odd absolute gem, and in my opinion, the Sun Fizz 40 is one of them.
‘It’s very solidly built and, based on an offshore racing design by Briand, fast and beautifully mannered. She has a huge, flexible interior.’
Praise indeed from a prominent yachting journalist who has seen it all. His post prompted other glowing reactions such as: ‘I sailed one back to Poole from Mallorca for a friend. Lovely sailing boat.
‘We got clobbered in winds of 55-65 knots and large seas for 48 hours and the boat was brilliant’, followed by ‘Recently buddied up with a Sun Fizz round Almerimar, Menorca and Mallorca. Only ever saw the stern as he disappeared over the horizon, leaving us in his wake!’
James Jermain concluded: ‘On the downside the spacious interior is a little dark and she was designed at a time when it was usual to fit in as many bunks as possible – up to 11.
‘But there are versions with fewer (eight is the least) and even then, the extras can be useful for stowage. There are no serious problems with the construction other than those normal for boats of this age and type.’
This elegant 1980 Briand design has a V-berth in the forepeak, an amidships heads compartment, a wide saloon with settee berths, two pilot berths outboard, a spacious galley and chart table, an aft heads compartment and two aft sleeping areas.
Its vital statistics are LOA 40ft 4in, LWL 33ft 6in, beam 12ft 8in, draught (deep fin version) 6ft 5in, displacement 16,100lbs, ballast ratio 41%, DLR 191 and comfort ratio 23.89. Prices vary between £38,000 and £43,000.
Gin Fizz 37
The smaller (so usually much cheaper) Gin Fizz 37 was another success story and over 350 were built between 1974-1980.
Designed by Michel Joubert, its unusual interior offered a forecabin and forward heads compartment, saloon with settees and pilot berths, aft chart table and galley, a quarter berth and a separate two-berth stern cabin accessible from the cockpit. And it all works a treat.
US sailor and writer, John Kretschmer wrote: ‘Next to the Contessa 32, the Gin Fizz was the boat that most influenced my development as a sailor.
‘It was in this boat, a beamy sloop called Epoch, that I made my first offshore passage. Epoch led me to my first tropical island landfall. I’ll never forget a storm-tossed ride to Bermuda and a magical passage south to Marigot.
‘When I moved on to other boats, my mother and her partner sailed Epoch around the world. Amazingly, two young brothers who later bought the boat sailed it around the world again.
‘The fin-keel, partial spade rudder hull shape and the 15,600lb displacement seemed radical back when we bought the boat in 1981, especially for an offshore boat. Times change. Gin Fizz’s shapes and numbers run right down the middle of the road compared to today’s boats.
‘The draught is 6ft 2in – a stumbling block, literally, for selling the boat on the shallow side of the pond. Early boats were almost all ketches, and later models were sloops.’
Kretschmer went on: ‘Jeanneau has always employed a curious mix of modern design thinking blended with traditional construction techniques.
‘This was especially true of the older models. The Gin Fizz hull is solid fibreglass laminate. I remember drilling a plug for a new transducer and being impressed with the thickness of the hull. The deck is balsa cored, a potential problem on all old boats.
‘Jeanneau did a good job of using end-grain balsa and isolating potential delamination with resin edges. The hull and deck are joined on a flange, and in addition to the normal bolts and chemical bonding agents, Jeanneau fibreglassed the joint. After 50,000 bluewater miles, Epoch showed no evidence of hull-and-deck joint leaks or wear.
‘There is no doubt that the Jeanneau Gin Fizz has been rediscovered, and this renaissance makes perfect sense. The boat is a capable cruiser with ideal accommodations for a couple or small family. It is well built, looks nice when you row out to her on the mooring and is extremely affordable.
‘If you have been searching for a modestly priced cruiser, and can live with 6ft draught and 6ft headroom, check out the Jeanneau Gin Fizz [also built by Gib’Sea].’
And if you need further proof of this Jeanneau‘s seaworthiness, Laura Dekker completed a solo circumnavigation in her extended Gin Fizz Guppy at the tender age of 16.
Sun Legende 41
Moving on to 1984, the Doug Peterson-designed Sun Legende 41 is an elegant performance yacht with more beam (12ft 11in) than the earlier Sun Fizz 40 and an updated interior layout featuring a larger heads compartment and aft double cabin.
By the time production ceased in 1994, 580 had been built. Current prices vary from around £40,000 to £54,000.
One happy owner wrote in an American thread: ‘I bought a used Sun Legende 41 six years ago. I have sailed it from Washington State to Mexico and back through Alaska.
‘I have put more than 15,000 miles on mine and over 1,000 hours on the engine. I couldn’t be happier with this boat. It tracks well going down wind, points to 35° consistently and is good on all points of sail.
‘If money is no object, buy a Swan. But for an affordable boat that sails well, is comfortable to be on for months at a time and is safe, you won’t be disappointed.
‘The rig is very simple. I have roller furling and lazy jacks and can single-hand it easily even with the chute out. She cruises comfortably at 7 knots and stands up straight in a following sea with 25 knots of wind on her tail.
‘I’ve been in full gales a few times with 15ft seas with a short fetch and have always felt safe. This boat balances easily and tracks well. She sails easily in light winds too!
‘Sure, I wish it held 200 gallons of diesel and 500 gallons of fresh water, but I have never run out of either. I use an autopilot and run Garmin equipment. If I had to do it all over again, I would buy this boat again… and again!’
To get an assessment of more recent Jeanneau models that can sell for between £40,000 and £50,000, I contacted Jeanneau distributor Nigel Colley of Sea Ventures who said: “There are two stand out models with which we were hugely successful in terms of units sold… the Sun Odyssey 34.2 and Sun Odyssey 37.
“Both would fall within your budget criteria and they both sail nicely, and are proven to do what it says on the tin!
“The 34.2 was produced from 1997 to 2000 and the 37 in the early 2000s. My personal choice would be the 37, as it has a higher hull volume with a really nice three-cabin or two-cabin layout with traditional L-shaped galley. The 34.2 had a linear galley.”
Designer Bill Dixon came up with several successful Moody designs that now sell in the £40,000 to £50,000 price bracket.
Between 1983 and 1991 he designed a series of spacious and attractive centre cockpit cruisers with stern cabins ranging from the Moody 34 and Moody 346 up to the Moody 37 and Moody 376.
From the outset, the young Dixon established his own, distinctive Moody ‘look’ and the Moody 34 has a crisper and more contemporary profile than the equivalent centre cockpit Westerlys of the same era.
The bow overhang is elegant and nicely balanced by a relatively short (but broad) stern overhang. And the superstructure, especially the roof over the stern cabin, succeeds in looking sleek rather than bulky. Which is no mean feat for a centre cockpit boat of this size with generous freeboard.
The accommodation is very spacious. The Moody builder, Marine Projects, was by then producing an attractive internal finish with plenty of teak on view.
The 34’s layout incorporates a twin berth forecabin. The saloon is excellent and there are decent sized galley and navigation areas at its aft end.
The heads compartment (with shower) is amidships, just aft of the navigation area. The long galley extends into a passageway, which also includes plenty of stowage areas, that leads to the stern cabin with a double berth, settee and wardrobe.
For a 34-footer of its era, this Moody offers a lot. And it sails well. By now Moody was wisely offering a choice of fin and twin keels.
With a displacement of 11,200lb and a ballast ratio of around 40%, the fin keeler (drawing 5ft) in particular is capable of giving a good showing in club races. In just three years, 165 Moody 34s were produced.
Hot on its heels came the upgraded and even more successful Moody 346. The one significant change is the extended stern that incorporates a vestigial bathing platform and boarding ladder.
But by now Marine Projects’ production methods had become more modern and elements of internal trim and finish had changed and improved.
In most respects, the 346 is an evolution of the 34. But it sold even better than its forebear, with an impressive 254 examples built between 1986 and 1990.
So these two Dixon-designed 34-footers achieved over 400 sales between them and it’s not surprising that they remain much sought after to this day.
A 34-footer is a great size for a couple to handle easily and cruise in comfort; yet it still has plenty of space to accommodate family and friends when they decide to join in the fun.
The Moody 34/346 models are among the best of the breed and I found 346s on offer for between £45,000 and £48,500.
If the Moody 34 and 346 ‘family’ was a success, the considerably bigger Moody 37 and its Moody 376 development did even better. Built between 1985 and 1991, 313 of these two models were built, which is a serious number of boats of this size and price at that time.
It seems that in its market sector, the Moody 37/376 was more than a match for the equivalent sized Westerly Corsair and Sealord when it came to numbers sold.
Much of this success could be attributable to the fact that Moody’s 37 footers had a twin keel option (whereas some bigger Westerlys often did not).
The combination of Dixon’s sharp and contemporary styling with the design’s capacious interior and perhaps an extra edge in the performance stakes also helped boost the 37’s appeal. I found examples priced from £49,500 to £50,300.
Westerly Corsair 36
The Westerly Corsair 36 and Corsair 36 Mk2 designs by Ed Dubois were replacements for the ageing Conway and produced between 1983 and 1989.
Most had a fin keel but bilge keels were offered with the Mk2 versions, as was an alternative ketch rig. The heads compartment (with shower) is amidships and the stern cabin has an athwartships double berth. Later versions also have an en suite heads for the aft cabin.
Depending on age and condition, I found asking prices varying between £38,000 and £54,950. Just make sure that the Westerly weakness of dangling or un-glued vinyl inside older hulls and on headlining panels is not in evidence!
With a weight of 15,500lb, ballast ratio of 42.6%, DLR of 245.8 and comfort ratio of 25.9 the Corsair 36 makes an excellent and seaworthy family cruiser as well as a reliable long distance passage maker.
The owner of Corsair 36 Equinox sailed far and wide and wrote: “On the way from the Azores to Ireland in 2011 we experienced a period of gales that lasted for five days. We were sailing anywhere from a close reach to almost a beam reach.
“It was uncomfortable but not as wet. On the last day we came onto the continental shelf off Ireland and the waves increased in size from 15ft to 30ft with winds in the 35-40 knot range.
“It was uncomfortable and tiring. The boat rolled to the point that the spreaders went in the water three times on the last day. Once in the lee of Ireland the seas and the wind diminished and the sailing became great. The boat did fine and nothing broke.”
He added: “The Corsair sails well. We were called the rocket ship by a fellow on a 38ft Freedom in the Eastern Caribbean.
“That is a bit of an exaggeration but for an overloaded cruising boat we have no complaints. We stay with and pass many other cruising boats; both our size and larger.
“Our best sail for speed was the passage from Belize to the Dry Tortugas. We had about 18 knots of wind on a close reach and had four days in a row covering 168 miles. We have never sailed so fast for so long. There was no current to speak of. This was just boat speed.”
Moody Eclipse 33
A cruiser with a deck saloon can extend your sailing season as well as transform a wet and windy summer passage from an ordeal into a pleasure.
The Moody Eclipse 33 is probably the most numerous of this type in the UK. The concept of inside and outside steering and a snug raised saloon with panoramic views on the outside world was a hit.
What’s more Bill Dixon created a clever new style that succeeded in making a deck saloon yacht look sleek. The Mk1 Eclipse 33 had inside and outside steering; but this was changed on the Mk2 version to an optional remote control autopilot replacing the inside steering wheel.
Which was a shame – although the removal of the inside helm did free up extra space in the saloon, especially at the navigation station. But the similar sized Hunter Horizon 32 wheelhouse cruiser that competed with the Eclipse always retained its inside wheel steering and outside tiller steering.
And many a happy hour was spent sailing, motoring or racing (with surprising success) the boat from the snug warmth of a dry inside steering position while rain or spray flew outside.
The Eclipse 33 offers two twin berth cabins, fore and aft. The capacious heads compartment (with shower cubicle) is just aft of the forecabin. The exceptionally light and airy main saloon has a table with wraparound settees to port and the galley situated to starboard. It all works very well.
From a performance point of view, the Eclipse 33 is no slouch. She’s certainly not a ‘50/50’. She sails well (with fin or twin keels). Eclipse 33s command high second-hand prices to this day.
This is because the deck saloon formula has great appeal (especially in our climate) and few similar boats are now built. Why? The simple reason is because they cost a lot more to build than conventional cruisers.
I found Eclipse 33s ranging in price between £39,000 and £57,000 depending on age and condition. Similar deck saloon yachts such as the Westerly Riviera 35 and Westerly Duo tend to cost less and are also worth looking at.
Hunter Channel 31
Last but not least, I should mention the David Thomas-designed twin keel Hunter Channel 31. Michael Schmidt & Partner brokerage said: ‘Which leads me on to what should be at or near the top of anyone’s list: the Hunter Channel 31 (if you can find one!).
‘It’s the perfect modern cruising yacht with an ergonomic, modern and attractive interior. It’s beautiful to look at and offers easy handling coupled with great all round performance.
‘It’s THE benchmark… we recently sold a late build model for north of £50k in immaculate condition.’
Michael Schmidt and Partner suggested the more recent Beneteau First 31.7 (around £49,000), Oceanis Clipper 311 (around £42,000), Elan 333 (around £43,000), Bavaria 32 (£46,000 to £52,000) and Maxi 1000 (around £40,000).
These are more modern designs with space and performance to match. If you are in the market for slightly larger models from the same brands but within a similar budget, you may need to look at earlier build dates.
When looking at elderly yachts it’s important to employ the services of a surveyor when you’ve made your final selection. It can also help if you study the relevant owners’ association website.
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