Duncan Kent highlights some of the most suitable sail and power boats under 35ft for exploring shallow coastal regions
Best second-hand river yachts: sail and power
One of the delights of coastal cruising is exploring river estuaries and meandering upriver to experience more tranquil waters and secluded anchorages.
River sailing can be exciting, albeit often quite challenging too. Shallow sandbars, channels that end suddenly leaving you trapped, uneven river beds that can cause havoc when taking the ground and more.
If you get it right, though, the rewards are wonderful, especially when you discover areas of outstanding natural beauty only accessible by the water.
A problem with sailing in rivers and estuaries is they usually have very strong tidal currents and eddies. Battling into these requires a decent keel to reduce leeway, but once you reach shallower waters it quickly becomes a liability!
One useful item for tacking up narrow channels is a self-tacking jib, especially if you’re single-handed.
Not having to get the headsail round every two minutes not only takes the strain off weary arms, but it also gives more time for enjoying the surroundings.
Essential for safe sailing in tidal estuaries is a dependable engine, powerful enough to get you out of trouble if needed.
Reliability is the key and, having sailed with an outboard for many years, I’ve learnt to always keep my fuel in tip-top condition and to run my carburettor dry at the end of every trip.
A great majority of engine failures are caused by contaminated or stale fuel, even more so since the ethanol content of petrol increased to 10%. The same care is required for diesel fuel.
Second only to a reliable engine is a variety of anchors and plenty of rode. In addition to my main anchor, I keep a couple of kedges handy with 10m of chain and a good length of multiplait ready to deploy in an emergency.
An aspect worth considering when buying a boat for estuary sailing is visibility. Can you see all around from the helm or does the coachroof limit your view ahead?
Good visibility is essential when winding your way up a tight channel with myriad boats moored in the middle.
River Yachts: 15-20ft LOA
The Leisure 17 is still a sought-after pocket cruiser ideal for estuary and inshore waters sailing.
Her hull is thick, solid GRP although the balsa sandwich deck reduces the overall weight. In another sign of her rugged integrity, her hull/deck joint is overlapped, through-bolted, bonded and capped with teak.
Back in the 1960s, the Leisure 17 was considered a tough ‘little ship’ that you could spend a week or two on board without complaint. One owner even completed a single-handed Atlantic crossing.
Below, an interior moulding not only forms the furniture but is also bonded to the hull, strengthening her yet further.
Headroom is 1.4m/4ft 6in (1.5m on the SL version) and she has four long, straight seats for sitting/sleeping on.
Galley facilities were limited to a two-ring cooker and a table hinged off the king post, around which four could sit comfortably.
Her self-draining cockpit is surprisingly spacious, and everything is within easy reach. At anchor, with the tiller hinged up, there’s seating for six.
At sea, tall coamings and a bridge deck prevent seawater from entering the cockpit or venturing below.
Fin or bilge keels were available, the former making her quite stiff for her size and impressively seaworthy.
Her skeg-mounted rudder is well protected and enables the bilge keel version to take the ground.
She sails somewhat like a large dinghy, only considerably less ‘tippy’ in the gusts.
Fin keelers are stiffer and exhibit less leeway, but both are good for 5 knots upwind in a stiffish breeze.
She takes a transom-mounted outboard which, as the rudder is beneath the hull, can be centrally mounted, preventing it from lifting out of the water when heeled.
Later it became the Leisure 17SL, incorporating a more streamlined, wedge-shaped coachroof and a better interior, although the hull and rig remained the same.
A hugely popular traditional pocket cruiser from Cornish Crabbers, the Cornish Shrimper 19 has a lapstrake planking style GRP hull which, together with her gaff rig, wooden spars, low-profile coachroof, gentle sheer and raked transom, make her a very pretty little boat.
Beneath the waterline is a long, shallow keel, just deep enough to keep her on the straight and narrow.
Encapsulated internal iron ballast beneath the sole plus a heavy galvanised steel centreplate keep her powering to windward with the minimum of heel and leeway.
She is easy to handle under sail, thanks to her simple high-peaked, gaff sloop rig, and all sail controls lead aft via clutches and/or jammers.
Both mainsheet and jib sheets have tracks and travellers. As standard, she has an offset well for a 5-6hp outboard motor, although a shaft-driven 9hp Yanmar inboard diesel was an option in the newer model.
If you plan to tow one, bear in mind an inboard will increase the weight, whereas an outboard can be detached and put in the car boot.
Below, two layouts were offered. One with two quarter berths and a large galley in the forepeak; another with a much smaller galley and an additional vee-berth which has the space for a portable toilet underneath if required.
She has a long, deep, self-draining cockpit with tall seat backs and all the sheets and centreplate tackle are within easy reach of the helm.
It has no side decks but the low coachroof is easy to clamber over to reach the foredeck.
She was available as the traditional Shrimper, with a high-peaked gaff mainsail and spruce mast and spars or, since 2008, the Adventure 19 model had alloy spars and a modern Bermudan sloop rig. The hulls are identical.
First launched in 2015, Jeanneau’s Merry Fisher 605 is the baby of the range but is still surprisingly seaworthy and comfortable to boot.
Powered by a 115hp Yamaha outboard, she gets onto the plane quickly and is stable in a seaway.
She can reach speeds of up to 30 knots in flat waters, although economical cruising speed is more like 16-18 knots at around 4,000rpm.
Fuel capacity is 100lt, which is enough for five hours or so at cruising speed.
The cockpit seats 4-5 people around an optional table, with the rearmost bench seat able to slide forward to enable the engine to fully tilt up.
The interior is surprisingly spacious, with a generous vee-berth forward and a settee berth in the saloon that converts to a narrow double by dropping the table.
Visibility is excellent from the helm seat, which also tilts forward when stopped to reveal a small galley with a fridge under.
In 2020 the Merry Fisher 605 was upgraded. The new model has the same hull but with extended platforms on each side of the outboard to facilitate boarding.
It also has a new, more streamlined cabin top with revised sliding windows.
River Yachts: 20-25ft LOA
The Anderson 22 was the Anderson boatyard’s first venture into GRP yachts after decades of building wooden craft.
Heavily built, they have lasted well with few reported problems other than jammed-up, corroded centreplates.
Supplied complete or in kit form, a total of 182 were built. The accommodation is limited, with sitting headroom only in the saloon.
There’s a child-sized vee-berth forward and long saloon berths, but at least the heads is separated by a bulkhead and curtain.
Early boats had a centreplate box reaching right up to the deckhead. Later this was redesigned so the new, lower box also formed a table support.
The centreplate is raised/lowered via a ratchet winch on the side. Raising it fully allows you to sail in just 2ft of water and, despite the protruding ballast bulb, allows you to take the ground quite happily.
She has a spacious, self-draining cockpit with slatted seats. The sail controls are all to hand, with the mainsail sheet traveller between the seats and the headsail sheets leading to coaming winches.
Models with outboards have an offset well. For sailing, the motor can be lifted and stowed under the seat, inserting a blanking plug in its place. A few were built with small inboard petrol engines.
Access forward is over the coachroof, which could be tedious if you have the original hanked-on headsails.
A large anchor locker takes the anchor and considerable chain.
Her 7/8ths fractional rig offers control over the mainsail shape via the adjustable backstay, while the boom is high enough not to be hazardous when tacking.
Her performance under sail is surprisingly good, even in gusty conditions.
The deep centreplate allows her to track well while the 44% ballast ratio keeps her stiff and stable. She tacks swiftly and quickly accelerates, losing little momentum.
For those looking for a little more space below, the Laurent Giles-designed Seamaster Sailer 23 is surprisingly roomy.
Similar to Westerly’s Pageant, her tall coachroof provides generous headroom below.
In addition to the popular bilge keels, Giles gave the Sailer a centreboard option with a ballast keel. Though this allowed her to venture into shallower waters than a bilge keeler might, she can’t take the ground without legs.
The offset companionway enabled a comfortable, four-person dinette to be installed, which converts easily to a double berth, and the heads compartment has its own door.
At 1.70m/5ft 6in, headroom in the main cabin is good and the linear galley works well in a boat this size.
Large saloon windows make her less gloomy than many of her counterparts but, typical of boats this age, she lacks ventilation other than a few small mushroom vents.
Her forecabin is, as you’d expect, compact, although the two single berths are a reasonable 1.88m/6ft 2in long.
The Sailer has bags of usable stowage under the settees, forecabin bunks and quarter berth, plus open lockers above the saloon seating.
The cockpit is surprisingly roomy, and all the sail controls are to hand. She has a transom-mounted rudder and sweeping tiller with a mainsheet horse above, although owners often moved this onto a track across the cockpit to improve the sheeting angle.
All were masthead rigged with a high aspect mainsail and hanked-on genoa. Her deck-stepped mast is mounted on a hinged tabernacle.
The Sailer 23 is a soundly built, sea-kindly vessel with a reasonable turn of speed and good accommodation for her size. Her ballasted centreplate keeps her stiff on a beat, making her a well-behaved boat for typical UK coastal conditions.
The Sealine S23 is an ideal entry-level cruiser and, though not exactly sporty, its performance is impressive and handling straightforward.
Choose one with trim tabs, though, to keep her level on the plane. All round visibility from the helm is very good.
Her cockpit, while not huge, is big enough for four adults to relax in the sun. There’s also a hinge-down transom platform, often used to stow an inflatable under way.
Below, she’s a spacious day boat or a slightly cramped weekender, depending on your needs.
The double helm seat is comfortable and has a flip-up bolster to allow you to stand at the wheel when required, while the instrument console offers enough space for several navigation displays.
Going below, there’s a large U-shaped dinette in the forepeak capable of seating six adults for dining. It also has a neat ‘trotter box’ extension for when it’s made up as a double berth. There’s another good-sized double beneath the cockpit with a large inboard hatch for additional light and ventilation.
The heads is an easy-to-clean moulded compartment with a shower but, as you would expect for 23ft, is not huge.
Neither is the galley opposite, but it still has enough equipment to knock out a decent meal. The Sealine 23 was remodelled and renamed the Sealine 25 in 2020.
River Yachts: 26-30ft LOA
For shallow water cruising a multihull will sail in a shallow puddle and take the ground safely when needed.
Introduced in 1975, the Catalac 8m was the most popular model in this range of robust cruising cats, with some 600 boats built over 10 years.
With their deepish vee hulls, heavy displacement and conservative sail area they don’t win races, but they might just give a 30ft monohull a run for its money downwind if not too loaded down.
As coastal cruisers with the ability to creek crawl, they make great family boats for discovering the upper reaches of rivers.
In addition to providing a stable platform through choppy estuaries, they also have generous accommodation for long periods on board.
I had friends who took theirs through the French canals to the Med and were more than happy with her, especially when moored along the banks of the Seine, sipping a glass of wine and watching Paris life go by.
And when the weather’s not so good you have a comfortable raised saloon that provides an equally panoramic view, only in the warm.
Originally powered by a single, centrally mounted, 15-25hp outboard, they later changed to twins, making her much easier to steer at close quarters.
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In 1980 a MkII version was introduced that had larger, skeg-hung rudders instead of the earlier lifting blades, giving her a better windward performance and directional stability downwind.
The Polish-built Delphia 29 appeared in the UK in 2004 and quickly caught the eye of first-time buyers.
Unusually, a swing keel was standard, although a deep fin model with performance rig was an alternative. She also sported an integral, single-handed mast-lowering system, making mast maintenance and winter storage much easier.
Pale woodwork and large portlights keep her bright and airy below while the well organised layout makes her feel larger.
Seating for six is afforded around a saloon table that’s cleverly adapted to fit around the keel box. Joinery quality is good and there are plenty of useful lockers.
The galley is impressive, with workspace and stowage galore, plus Corian-style worktops. The navigation area is small, though, with little room for displays.
The head is a GRP compartment with a shower and wet locker, but with limited headroom. The aft cabin berth is spacious, but also short on above berth height, whereas the forecabin vee-berth is roomier and offers a dressing area with the infill removed.
Her cockpit makes the most of the available space. The mainsheet attaches to the cockpit sole, within easy reach of the helm, but the jib sheets and reefing lines all run to a single pair of coachroof winches, which is awkward when reefing.
Under sail, she’s quick to accelerate and very responsive. Some lifting keel yachts can be tender but the Delphia 29’s considerable stub keel ballast makes her feel little different from a fixed keel boat.
The Bayliner 288 Discovery flybridge cruiser is sleek and sporty looking, and yet it still manages to pack a huge amount into just 28ft.
Below, the open plan saloon is bright and airy, and the lower helm has a single, fully adjustable seat with excellent all-round visibility.
In addition to a roomy vee berth forward is a small quarter berth aft. The comfy dinette, raised to enable panoramic views outside, also converts into a double berth if needed.
The heads compartment is near the door, leaving the rest of one side entirely to the superb galley.
The cockpit is limited in size due to the space dedicated to the large cabin. That said there is easily room for a couple of deck chairs if it doesn’t have the fold-down seat option.
The swimming platform, which is easily accessed through a transom gate, features a shower and deck wash.
Hatches in the cockpit provide access to the engine, pumps and batteries and there are steps to access the side decks and a ladder up to the flybridge.
The upper helm station provides a full set of steering, trim tab and thruster controls, plus duplicate navigation instruments.
The helm seat swivels through 360° and there’s room for a few passengers to relax on the L-shaped settee, protected by a canvas bimini.
As standard, she is powered by a single 250hp MerCruiser 4.2lt D-Tronic diesel engine, although some owners opted for the larger 320hp Horizon V8 petrol engine.
Economic cruising speed with the former is between 18-22 knots, consuming 50lt/h; top speed is around 30 knots.
River Yachts: 31-35ft LOA
Beneteau’s Oceanis 311 Clipper is ostensibly a cruising yacht, though she has the same slippery hull as the First 31.7.
Options included a lifting centreplate and stub keel version for those wanting to venture up shallow creeks.
Her hull is solid GRP with an inner liner bonded in, whereas the decks are balsa sandwich to reduce weight.
The 311’s interior is bright and spacious with good headroom. A drop-leaf table seats six and the straight settees make useful berths.
Stowage comprises just two shallow overhead lockers and a shelf, but there is space under the seats for larger items.
The galley has a fiddled worktop, deep sink, hot water, two-ring cooker and ample stowage for crockery, pans and food.
The chart table and instrument console are at the end of the starboard settee, and the heads are conveniently at the foot of the companionway.
The aft cabin has a large double berth but just a small hatch, making it hot and somewhat claustrophobic.
The forepeak, though, has a comfy vee-berth and a spacious dressing area.
The cockpit is roomy, even with the optional wheel steering, and all the primary controls are within reach of the helm.
Teak-slatted seats smarten it up and a walk-through transom offers access to the swimming platform.
Thanks to inboard genoa tracks and toe rail mounted shrouds the side decks are clear, but the headsail furling line runs across the foredeck ready to trip unwary deck crew.
Her rig is 9/10ths fractional, and she has a continuous mainsheet led via coachroof-mounted blocks. Though this is not ideal for sail control, most problems are overcome by judicial use of the powerful kicker.
Under sail, she is well balanced and quick thanks to her easily driven hull.
The lift keel makes her a bit more tender than the fixed keeler, but it’s fine provided you reef in good time.
The Judel/Vrolijk-designed, twin helm Hanse 345 is a performance-orientated cruising yacht designed for easy handling.
The interior is a pleasant compromise between the stylish and the pragmatic.
A practical layout and numerous hatches and portlights make it bright and airy, the straight settees make useful sea berths, and the table area converts into a double berth.
In the three-cabin model, the heads is less roomy but still adequate with good headroom, ample ventilation, and useful stowage. In the two-cabin model, however, it’s a much larger affair with a separate shower.
The galley is excellent and has all the equipment you would expect for long-term cruising.
She boasts a slippery hull with clean lines, narrow forefoot, and generous beam from amidships aft.
Her deep, bulbed T-keel easily counters her generous sail plan, minimising any heeling. Pretty much all sail controls are led through deck tunnels and along the coaming tops, via banks of rope clutches, to the two primary winches.
While this simplifies it for single-handing, you can’t safely step on the coamings.
One of the cockpit’s main cruising features is a large, drop-down swimming platform.
The fractional rig features a tapered, twin-spreader mast with an adjustable backstay. Single-line slab reefing is standard, as is a self-tacking jib, making her ideal for tacking up busy, narrow channels.
A double-ended mainsheet provides trim control from both helms, but at the resultant expense of considerable friction.
Instead of a traveller, it relies on a block on each side and a rod kicker to pull the boom down. The 345 is primarily mainsail driven, although her self-tacking jib helps her point.
The Jeffa steering is light and responsive, so she tacks in an instant, quickly accelerating away on the new course. Anywhere beyond a broad reach, though, the small jib flaps about in the shadow of the large mainsail so a downwind sail is essential.
Intended for inland waterways or coastal cruising, the Broom 35 CL is ideal for pottering along the coast and creek crawling upriver.
It was available with either single or twin diesel engines between 100-300hp, depending on its intended use.
While not ostensibly a flybridge cruiser, the helm station is raised above the saloon while remaining open to the aft cockpit.
Visibility is as good as from a flybridge but a large windscreen plus canvas bimini keep the whole area, including the cockpit, well protected from spray, wind and rain.
A double-width helm seat also enables someone to accompany the helm under way.
Raising the helm station means the saloon is free from wheel, seat and engine instrumentation, leaving a huge comfy saloon just for relaxing.
The large windows also keep it bright below, while allowing the occupants a panoramic view at anchor and under way from the raised seating.
The U-shaped galley is well appointed and safe to use whilst travelling.
She also has two separate toilet compartments, one ensuite to the aft cabin and a second opposite the galley.
On top of that the boat also features a luxurious full-width aft cabin and a spacious guest cabin forward.
A semi-displacement cruiser, the 35CL cruises at between 6-8 knots and has a 16-knot top speed, depending on which engine it has fitted.
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