What are the best Scandinavian boats on the market? Here’s our pick of the best Swedes to include on any shortlist for solid, seaworthy 28-30ft cruisers…
Any sailor looking for a solid and seaworthy boat around the 30ft size is likely to put some of the best Scandinavian boats on their shortlist.
Leading manufacturers such as Maxi, Hallberg-Rassy and Albin built a fascinating selection of models that fitted into the 28 to 31ft range and, in their differing ways, all make popular second-hand buys.
But only one – the latest Frers-designed Hallberg-Rassy 310 first introduced in 2010 – can still be ordered from new.
Which sadly seems to prove the point that the bigger factories are no longer interested in building smaller boats. So anyone now looking for a brand new 30-footer has their work cut out.
The first Rassy in the 30ft bracket was introduced in 1974 and remained in production until 1982. Called the Monsun 31, it became the most numerous of all Hallberg-Rassys and by the time the production run finished, 904 had been built.
It was the top selling Hallberg-Rassy of all time; but very few have made it to the UK which is a great shame because the Monsun 31 has many attractions.
Designed by Olle Enderlein – who had a hand in all Hallberg-Rassy models until the German Frers designs took over in 1988 – the Monsun 31 has a long keel with a cut-away forefoot and keel-hung rudder, a beautiful sheer line, an elegant coachroof and the first of the trademark Rassy windscreens.
A moderate beam of 9ft 3in provides spacious accommodation for a cruising yacht of her era, while a displacement of 9250lb and ballast ratio of 45%, combined with moderate V-sections forward, provide a comfortable motion in a seaway.
Not surprisingly, the Monsun 31 proved her seagoing ability with many long voyages. As the crowning example, the HR team proudly point out that: ‘the Swedish sailor Kurt Björklund’s Hallberg-Rassy Monsun 31 Golden Lady has become an important attraction at a museum in Råå in southern Sweden.
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Hallberg-Rassy has been in the same family ownership since Christoph Rassy bought Harry Hallberg’s boatbuilding business in 1972 and formed…
Cruising boats of around 30ft can often become a ‘boat for life’. Having graduated from dinghies to small cruisers, many…
‘We at Hallberg-Rassy are of course very proud of this. Kurt Björklund is the first owner and took delivery of his boat in 1974. Kurt knew that he wanted to do some serious sailing, but could never have imagined how far he would travel.
‘In 1983 Kurt retired from work and went on his first solo circumnavigation. The second one included the rounding of Cape Horn.’
After completing a third circumnavigation, Kurt decided to step ashore for good… and let his trusty yacht Golden Lady do likewise.
In 1979 Olle Enderlein and Christoph Rassy came up with the next HR winner. Almost 700 Hallberg-Rassy 312s were built before production ceased in 1993.
The hulls are moderately heavy displacement, built to Lloyds specifications with solid GRP hull mouldings, and foam-cored and teak-covered decks. Like all Hallberg-Rassys, the 312s are regarded as excellent seaboats with good sailing performance.
The Mkl versions had the saloon windows set into the trademark blue sheer strake and the buyer had the choice of a quarter berth or an extra large cockpit locker in its place.
The later Mkll versions – introduced in 1986 – had the quarterberth layout and an enlarged saloon with slightly more headroom. The saloon widows disappeared from the sheer strake and were set into the redesigned coachroof sides.
The 312’s vital statistics and V-sectioned forefoot point to a solid cruising yacht with a comfortable and stable motion. This applies especially in a head sea, where the motion will be more comfortable than on a modern flatter bottomed yacht.
A displacement of 10,803lbs gives a DLR (displacement/LWL ratio) of 299 and the ballast ratio is a beefy 45%. Its Ted Brewer Comfort Ratio comes out at a healthy 28.46.
As a comparison, a Jeanneau Rush 31 half-ton cruiser-racer has a lower DLR of 179.9 and comfort ratio of 17.4. Anyone interested in checking out these interesting ratios and what they say about a yacht’s ‘character’ can find out more on the Ted Brewer Yacht Design website.
Nigel Kingsley, webmaster of the ever-helpful UK Hallberg-Rassy Owners Association put me in touch with the owners of Indigo, a 312 Mkll. The boat appealed to them because it “met our criteria for a solid, good looking seaworthy boat that could easily be handled by two not-so-young people!
It’s ideal for a small family, [with] a deep cockpit that is protected from the weather by the glass windscreen. It isn’t a handful to sail and is comfortable down below.
It also comes with a cockpit tent, which is cosy when the weather is foul (as happens quite often in the west of Scotland!)… We have sailed to France and the Channel Islands, the Outer Hebrides and Northern Isles. The previous owner, based in Ipswich, sailed her to the Baltic.”
When I asked how she handled heavy weather, the owner replied “Very solidly. The semi long keel and skeg-hung rudder mean that she tracks well downwind.
“In steep seas her deep forefoot means that she never slams off the top of a wave. She is a dry boat dry to sail. We have been out in winds up to Force 8.”
Modifications to simplify short-handed sailing included a command mic in the cockpit, single line reefing, electric windlass, lazyjacks and a snuffer for the cruising chute. In common with many, the owner also said the teak decks can be ‘high maintenance’.
The slightly smaller Hallberg-Rassy 29 offers similar qualities to the 312. Built from 1982 to 1994 this Olle Enderlein/Christoph Rassy collaboration was a great success and 571 were produced.
Like other Enderlein/Rassy designs, the 29 had an encapsulated long keel and skeg-hung rudder; but its rig is fractional rather then masthead. Weighing 8,380lb it has a 46% ballast ratio, a DLR of 277 and a comfort ratio of 26.32.
The merits of this model were amply proved by the British Kiel Yacht Club that ordered a 12-boat fleet of HR29s to charter out for adventurous sail training to British service personnel or civilians connected to the UK Military.
The yachts typically sailed about 7,000 miles a year and were replaced every five years or so. Over the years (until the BKYC closed down in 2016) 54 Hallberg-Rassys (including 31s, 342s) were purchased.
A recent HR29 buyer told the HROA: “We had a Varne Folkboat which we had home completed from a bare shell and were looking for a slightly bigger boat.
“This needed to be a good sea boat, well built, with a safe cockpit, wheel steering, standing headroom, a toilet beside the companionway, a step up from a pontoon of no more than 14 inches and be less than 30ft long.
“The 29 didn’t have the wheel steering or a toilet beside the companionway; but had the rest and was in excellent condition. So far maximum wind speed we have been out in was Force 7 gusting 8 with wind against tide in the Solent…
“Like the Folkboat before her she coped well. Compared to other boats of this age and newer that I have looked at, the 29s are in a class of their own.”
Proving the 29’s ability to cover great distances, I came upon an inspirational thread posted on the hr29-forum.com in which ‘Elad’, in his early 30s, reported:
“I left Israel on October 2015 sailing to Cyprus, Greece (and many islands both in the Aegean and Ionian), passing through the Corinth Canal, later to Italy (Puglia, Reggio Calabria, Sicily), on to Sardinia, Corsica, Monaco, the French Riviera [and] all along the Spanish coast down to Gibraltar.
“I contemplated a bit then decided to continue the adventure and sailed down to the Canary Islands, spending a few weeks there. With the food comes the appetite – and I decided to further my adventure sailing to Cape Verde and across the Atlantic to Barbados and St Lucia.
“After arriving in Florida I sailed up the East Coast of the USA, stopping in many places on the way and arrived in Boston. Grand Illusion took me on the adventure of my lifetime, she did it gallantly and with much grace.” Beat that!
The Hallberg-Rassy 31 (of which 356 were built between 1992 and 2009) is the first Scandinavian boat of this size designed for Hallberg-Rassy by German Frers. It’s a slightly lighter but considerably beamier replacement for the long-running Enderlein/Rassy designed 312.
The HR31 introduced a new and modern ‘house style’ with its slightly bulbed lead fin keel, spade rudder, saildrive engine, elegant retroussé stern, sweet sheer and contemporary layout with an aft heads and stern cabin.
But its vital statistics are not extreme, with a weight of 9,921lb, ballast ratio of 44%, DLR of 222.5 and comfort ratio of 22.6. Its forwards sections have a soft U-shape to cut down slamming and its maximum beam of 10ft 10in does not extend back to the stern, ensuring good control even if heavily heeled.
The Mkll version has small differences below plus a twin-spreader rig with a lighter section than the Mkl’s single-spreader rig.
The finish below is to HR’s customary high quality with beautifully crafted mahogany woodwork. As one owner succinctly put it on a thread comparing different boat brands “we had a dilemma – ultimately choosing between a Westerly Ocean 33 and an HR 31.
“Both were good boats, both had pretty much what we wanted. But the Rassy won; Hallberg-Rassys have that indefinable ‘something’ that just feels right. The other big plus is that HR in Sweden offers a great advice/parts service.”
The HROA put me in touch with Diana and Jonathan Gibbs who chose an HR31 by the name of Widgeon because “it is the length/size we wanted for cruising as a couple; and the quality and comfort of the workmanship – especially the woodwork in the cabin – gave us a lot of confidence.”
They have found their HR31 to be “very reliable and seaworthy in bad weather; yet lively enough to reach good speeds, covering the sea miles quickly and making her a joy to sail in the process.”
The owners said Widgeon was one of a fleet of 13 HR31s “bought in 1995 by the Army Cruising Association who over-engineered the safety provisions to allow for maximum crew and ‘hard sailing’.
“As a consequence Widgeon has a built-in secondary bilge pump, two additional sheet winches in the cockpit and other minor alterations.
“We still keep coming across examples of just how well she’s designed – things like grab rails in just the right place, lighting, the famous proper china sink. All the surprises are pleasant.”
The Hallberg-Rassy 310 – introduced in 2010 – is the latest model in the 29-31ft size bracket and is still available as a new order. At 9,590lb it is a little lighter than the 31 it replaces and has a longer LWL (thanks to a more upright stem), a lower DLR of 178, lower ballast ratio of 38.6% and similar comfort ratio of 22.13.
Interestingly, Frers reverted to a spacious amidships heads compartment, retained the stern cabin, rearranged the galley layout and reduced the size of the chart table.
After testing her in winds up to 40knots, Yachting Monthly summed up the 310 with the words: “This is a hugely entertaining yacht – fast and fun, spirited but secure, comfortable and capacious, impeccably built and, because of the name, sure to hold her value.”
By way of contrast, the most prolific Swedish builder and designer of cruising yachts followed a slightly different path.
The first world-beating design drawn by Pelle Petterson didn’t even float. Having studied design at the Pratt Institute in New York and while a student at Pietro Frua, he drew the most successful sports car ever built by Volvo. Called the P1800, it starred in the 1960s TV series The Saint.
Competitive sailing was Petterson’s real passion and he represented Sweden in the Olympics in the Star class twice, winning silver and bronze medals.
He also won World Championship medals in the Soling class, skippered Swedish America’s Cup challengers twice and won the 6 Metre World Championships in 6s of his own design.
He later received the King’s Medal for his outstanding contributions as a sailor and yacht designer. And most of these designs are called Maxis.
As one would expect from an award-winning designer who wins yacht races galore, the Petterson-designed Maxis don’t resemble the heavier and more traditional HRs, Najads and Malös. They combined Swedish flair with superior performance and volume production methods.
In 1972 the Maxi 77 (25ft 6in LOA) set the ball rolling. Its transom-hung rudder, bulbed fin keel and full-width coachroof were unusual for its era.
A conventional saloon, aft galley and separate forecabin (with WC located under the berth) gave plenty of space. An astonishing 3,900 were sold. Petterson had hit the bullseye with his first Maxi.
When asked 30 years later how he viewed the Maxi 77, Petterson modestly replied: “With certain satisfaction I see that many boats seem to be well-cared for and that the owners enjoy their sailing in it. That it still seems to fill its need is clear when owners tell of how happy they are with their boats.”
Larger (the 28ft 6in Maxi 87) and smaller (the 22ft 4in Maxi 68) models followed in 1975. Both shared the 77’s distinctive blue flash on the coachroof and coaming sides and good performance.
These two models had sailing qualities that owners of similarly sized family cruisers like Westerlys and Snapdragons could only dream of. What’s more, 1,295 Maxi 68s were sold while the larger Maxi 87 made it to 449.
The Maxi 95 (31ft 2in) was another huge success and 1,600 were built between 1974 and 1983. It introduced another ‘first’ for Petterson; a separate twin berth stern cabin and a centre cockpit.
But these new features are not allied to a heavy long-keeler. The 95 has a sleek coachroof, skeg-hung rudder and sharply raked fin keel.
The engine lives under the saloon table, placing its weight low in the centre of the yacht to maximise stability and minimise pitching.
The comfortable and practical saloon has an enclosed heads compartment and aft galley on either side of the companionway steps.
By this time, Maxis were also gaining popularity as charter boats in the Med. Those were the days when boats around 30ft were the norm in flotilla fleets.
Charter company Sailing Holidays Ltd now buys new and bigger yachts for its flotilla clients. But it still uses its older Maxis as ‘lead boats’ lived on and crewed by its employees.
Amy Neilson, daughter of founder and MD Barrie, told me: “All our lead boats are still Maxis – a mixture of 95s and 100s. They have been our lead boats since 1990 and are still going strong. We have bought a number since then and each crew has added its own modifications over the years.
“They offer unrivalled solidity, and excellent on board storage room that is essential for carrying spare parts to keep our flotillas running smoothly. These models have a fantastic layout for three crewmembers to live on board.
“The centre cockpit splits the living area; and the aft cabin offers more space and privacy than found on other boats of a similar size.”
MD Barrie Nielsen agrees, telling me: “The Maxi 95s and 100s work well simply because they were built strongly in the first place. They are like an old broom, in that we renew the handle and the brush when required; but it is the same broom!
“They are mostly now epoxy painted and have new windows, engines, drive trains, rigging, purpose-built shelving for stores, rebuilt galleys and many other upgrades… and they are still going strong.”
The 1977 Maxi 84 (LOA 28ft, LWL 23ft 7in) was another success story and around 1,350 were built before the run ended in 1983. The well-proven Pelle Petterson Maxi recipe evolved so the 84 had a slightly wider beam (9ft 8in), sensible ballast ratio (45%) and higher DLR (224).
The layout remains practical and traditional with amidships heads and L-shaped galley aft. A Volvo saildrive provides power and it remains an excellent cruiser to this day.
PBO Project Boat
Regular PBO readers will be familiar with a Maxi 84 called Maximus. Editor Ali Wood is supervising a comprehensive renovation job on the boat and the articles describing each process are invaluable for any sailor planning a similar project.
Previous owner Daniel Kirtley told PBO: “I bought Maximus in 2009 after a year spent researching the used cruiser market… Decent headroom was important to me, as well as good accommodation and manoeuvrability for marina berthing.
“Maximus seemed the best fit with her c. 3m beam, clever use of space and fin keel/large transom-hung rudder just aft of the saildrive. In addition, all the main lines came back to the cockpit and she proved eminently manageable for a solo sailor on my first voyage from Ipswich, where I bought her, to Southampton.
“The boat did everything I asked of her and was such a forgiving design: almost like a large dinghy to sail but with a really sturdy build that gave a sense of safety in poor conditions.
“I am a fair weather sailor and Maximus was well balanced and a joy in 10-20 knot winds: really light on the tiller. By the same token, on the odd occasion of 35 knots+ winds she felt in control with a decent reef.
“She was the ideal ‘first cruiser’. I used to get out on her around 15 weekends a year and took dozens of friends and family away for the weekend. I never raced her or sailed further than the West Country but she could have handled that and more.”
Charles Iliff – who contributed much to Richard Roberts’ excellent book Beyond The Bar – spent many enjoyable seasons sailing his and other Maxi 84s.
He told me: “The Maxi 84 first came to my attention when I was storm-bound in Ijmuiden. A Maxi arrived in the outer harbour, crewed by an elderly couple that had sailed her in a north-westerly gale the 300 miles from Sunderland, round the Dogger Bank. They were full of confidence in her and I made a mental note.”
A year later Charles found himself part of the team in a firm of solicitors that specialised in tour operators, helping to get the law in Yugoslavia changed to permit flotilla sailing, and negotiating a contract with Pelle Petersen for the purchase of a first batch of 25 Maxi 84s. Seven Seas started operating in the Split area in 1982.
Charles said: “The Maxi 84 was found to be an excellent choice for inexperienced flotilla skippers. Her high quality and the standard and simplicity of the equipment inspired confidence, as did the all-round rubber bumper! So did the 17hp engine which made a motorboat of her under power.
“She responded confidently under power in reverse, with no tendency to weathercock; helpful for a novice in a crowded Mediterranean harbour.”
After five years of flotilla work the Maxi 84 fleet began to disperse and many boats made their way back to the UK. Charles sailed his Maxi 84 Premuda from Split in Croatia to Orford in Suffolk via the south of France and Menorca, then up the Canal du Midi, where her 1.5m draught was just shallow enough.
He recalled that “another memorable cruise was taking the Maxi 84 of a friend from near Split to near Venice in October 1989 on the week the Berlin Wall came down, along the faultline of the Cold War and at the moment the faultline was dissolving – and in fog the whole way!”
Five Maxi 84s (like Premuda, all named after Dalmatian islands) eventually made it back to his homeport of Orford in Suffolk.
The 1986-91 Maxi 909 (29ft 6in) is a more modern Petterson design and 210 were built. A straight sheer and conventional coachroof give the 909 a contemporary look, as do a beam of 10ft 1in, bulbed fin keel drawing 5ft 5in and modern layout with aft heads and stern cabin.
Thanks to an elegant, tall fractional rig giving a SA/Disp ratio of 17.63 and a ballast ratio of 42%, the 909 should give excellent all-round performance.
Albin Marine was another Swedish company that flourished as a builder of GRP cruisers from the late 1960s.
From the launch of its first top selling cruiser – the Vega 27 – up to its eventual demise in the 1980s, Albin was very much a ‘volume producer’ so not really comparable to the more traditional Swedish yards. For example, 3,450 of the successful Per Brohal-designed Vega 27s were built.
Many Vegas have voyaged around the world. Provided the structure is surveyed and the engine is preferably not the original, Vegas make excellent budget cruisers to this day.
Perhaps the most famous Albin model is the Rolf Magnusson-designed Ballad 30. This started life as a successful Half Tonner called Joker then took off when Albin launched it as the Ballad in 1971. Around 1,500 were built over the next 11 years, making it one of the most successful 30ft cruiser-racers.
With its elegant overhangs, sweet sheer and graceful coachroof it’s a handsome yacht. And a beam of 2.95m gives it plenty of room down below. A ballast ratio of around 47%, DLR of 282 and SA/Displacement ratio of 16.07 ensure it has a sharp performance.
The interior is practical and offers a twin berth forepeak, amidships heads and good sized settee berths. The galley and fixed chart table live aft, either side of the companionway. The deckhead is fully lined with a GRP inner moulding, so ages well.
As well as excelling at regattas, Ballads have also completed many successful blue water voyages.
For example, back in the mid 1970s Swedish sailor Herbert Jivegård decided to take a break after 47 years at work, bought Ballad No.1047 and set sail on a circumnavigation.
Nicknamed Papa Blondie in the Caribbean (because of his fair hair), he pushed on and completed his 44,000 mile voyage five years later.
For research into this great yacht, it’s worth visiting the UK Ballad Association website. There’s a wealth of background information as well as details of the 50th Anniversary Ballad Nationals being held from 9-14 June 2022 when the Royal Fowey YC and Fowey Gallants SC will be hosting racing, cruising and social events.
Should you decide that an elderly Swede suits your sailing requirements, it is still wise to invest in a survey. Swedish build quality may be excellent, but items such as original engines and teak decks (on older Hallberg-Rassys) need checking if you haven’t found an example that has been re-engined or re-decked.
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This feature appeared in the June 2022 edition of Practical Boat Owner. For more articles like this, including DIY, money-saving advice, great boat projects, expert tips and ways to improve your boat’s performance, take out a magazine subscription to Britain’s best-selling boating magazine.
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