Duncan Kent chooses a selection of the best sail and motor boats under 40ft most suitable for adventurous cruising along the coast
One of the delights of coastal cruising is discovering and exploring new anchorages, harbours, beaches, towns and villages.
A long passage at sea is fine if you’re voyaging from country to country, but you can’t beat sailing within eyeball distance of the coast, where the gulls and cormorants swoop and dive while seals lollop about on headland rocks or hidden beaches.
Coastal cruising under sail can be exhilarating, demanding, and even a tad frightening occasionally, but ultimately it’s thoroughly fulfilling.
While it sounds easy to the uninitiated, sailing along coastal waters is often more challenging than a simple A-to-B offshore passage where your main concern is wind and tide, not scary-looking rocks, sand bars, daunting harbour entrances and rocky anchorages.
However, with careful planning and a sound boat, the fun factor will undoubtedly overcome the fear factor and make the whole coastal cruising experience thoroughly worthwhile.
Coastal cruising: fun close to shore
Day coastal cruising in a small boat can be fantastic fun provided you have a good plan and fallback for the nights.
Some anchorages can be idyllic in the daytime but distinctly uncomfortable at 0400 when the wind turns about and your insubstantial ground tackle starts to drag.
Hobby horsing at anchor in a 20ft boat in the pitch dark is not quite as enticing as gently rocking in a 40-footer either, but that doesn’t mean you have to own a big boat to feel secure.
I firmly believe as much, if not more, fun can be had sailing close inshore and finding a safe spot for the night in the smallest of boats, provided they’re seaworthy and adequately equipped.
Of course, if you have a family on board you’ll want a few more berths, a private cabin or two and enough luxuries to keep everyone happy, so a bigger boat is most likely the answer.
But don’t be tempted to go larger than you feel safe handling, both in a strong breeze and choppy sea or entering a busy marina with little room to enter a berth.
Another piece of advice I’d like to proffer is, regardless of boat size, don’t overdo the tech at the expense of simple sailing.
Chartplotters, MFDs, AIS, radar, wifi, night-vision cameras and so on might be great fun in harbour, and very handy when needed at sea, but it’s good to learn the basics of navigation, VHF radio use and safety prep, and just use the kit that genuinely helps you have a safe, satisfying sail, as opposed to spending your whole time staring at a screen rather than enjoying the stunning scenery!
20-25ft LOA: Sailing yachts
Over 200 Macwester Rowans were built to Lloyd’s specification with encapsulated wooden hull stringers for maximum strength.
Her cockpit seats four and is well protected by high coamings, while the seats are close enough together to brace against.
Displacement of 2¼ tons plus ample beam means she’s stiff under sail.
Everything is within reach of the helm, the tiller being long enough to hold while adjusting the bridge deck mainsheet, and two large scuppers ensure any spray quickly drains.
Below, she had either a traditional layout or a dinette.
The latter also offers a view outside while seated and also forms a double berth by lowering the table between the seats.
There’s a cruise-friendly galley with a two-ring cooker, a basin with hand-pumped fresh water and a top-loading cool box.
Most were originally powered by 5hp Stuart Turner 2-stroke petrol inboards, which hopefully will have been replaced with a modern diesel by now.
Under sail, her steering is light, with just a touch of weather helm in strong gusts.
Her long, cast-iron keel is quite shallow, making her a little tender initially, but her ample beam soon stiffens her up once heeled.
Launched in 1972, Ian Anderson’s Hurley 24/70 had all the seakeeping abilities of the renowned Hurley 22, but with a better level of interior comfort.
With higher topsides, deeper bilge and wider beam, she offers 1.8m/5ft 11in headroom, plus a more practical family-friendly layout, including four berths, enclosed heads and a decent galley.
Unlike the 22’s long keel, the 24/70 has an encapsulated, bulbed fin and skeg, which considerably improves close-quarter handling and tacking agility.
She is also reasonably stiff under full sail, due mainly to the near 50% ballast ratio.
Even the bilge keel version had lead ballast and the same draught as the fin.
Her long cockpit and high coamings are a great improvement over the smaller models, keeping her crew safe and dry at sea.
A conservative, high-aspect mainsail leaves the bulk of the sail power to the big genoa.
The engine was originally a 5hp Petter, but most will have been changed by now.
After the demise of Hurley in 1974, the moulds were acquired by Atlanta Marine, which continued to produce this model as the Atlanta 25 for another few years.
20-25ft LOA: Motorboats
Few 25ft motor cruisers provide decent enough facilities for long periods on board.
The Bayliner 245 Cruiser has this and more. It even has sufficient space for two more couples to join you for the day.
High topsides create a spacious interior with good headroom, making her feel like a much larger boat inside, although at the expense of slightly chunky exterior styling.
Long hull portlights provide good views outside and a large forehatch provides fresh air.
A large V-berth/dinette will seat four to six around the oval table and opposite is a compact, but well-appointed galley.
Under the cockpit is a roomy but slightly claustrophobic quarter berth and there’s an enclosed heads with a shower off the saloon.
On deck is a roomy aft cockpit relaxing area with a hinged bench seat, a reversible navigation bench and a removable table.
Access to the large bathing platform is through a stern gate.
Towable with a big SUV and four-wheel braked trailer, its obvious drawback is the hefty 260hp, 5.0lt V8 Mercruiser petrol engine that many came with.
Though powerful enough to cruise at 25 knots, it’s thirsty.
The rarer 200hp, 2.8-litre diesel was a more frugal option.
26-30ft LOA: Sailing yachts
With a pedigree dating back to the legendary Folkboat, the ‘unsinkable’ Sadler 26 is a popular pocket cruiser with well-proven offshore credentials.
Her hull features a polyurethane foam sandwich between double skins, adding both rigidity and buoyancy.
It also makes her unsinkable and provides excellent insulation.
Although most had bilge keels, some shoal and deep fin versions were also built. All had transom-hung rudders and a full skeg.
Accommodation space is limited but the berths are usable at sea and the convertible saloon dinette is useful.
An inner GRP moulding provides rounded- edged furniture and there are no head linings to droop.
Headroom is limited to 1.78m/5ft 9in max but her galley boasts a full-size cooker, deep sink, cool box and reasonable stowage.
Her cockpit is reassuringly deep with high coamings, while wide side decks, high toe rails and long handrails make going forward secure.
With her tall, masthead rig and 42% ballast ratio, the Sadler 26 is well-balanced, sea-kindly, forgiving and relatively quick.
The first of many Dixon-designed Moodys, the Moody 27 launched in 1981 and was an instant hit with young families wanting a stable, comfortable and relatively inexpensive cruising yacht.
Hand-built under Lloyd’s certification, she was fitted out to a high specification, which is why many remain in good condition.
High topsides offered ample interior volume and 1.75m/5ft 9in headroom, while adding buoyancy when heeled.
She came with either a fin keel or deep bilge keels, and a high-aspect, unbalanced transom-hung rudder that can make her a tad heavy on the helm if over-canvassed.
Her accommodation is practical and spacious for a 27ft boat, with a double V-berth, narrow quarter berth and two long, straight saloon settees.
The heads is aft and has a wet locker and optional shower, while the compact, L-shaped galley is well-equipped with reasonable stowage.
She was considered quite sprightly and agile at the time and a healthy 44% ballast ratio keeps her stiff while countering her 38m²/412ft² of sail.
The cockpit takes four sailing (six relaxing), with the proximity of the seats allowing easy bracing when heeled.
High coamings, bridge deck and large drains make it secure in a seaway.
Her side decks are wide and coachroof handrails are long.
Masthead-rigged with a smallish mainsail and big (140%) furling genoa, she is well-balanced and easy to sail single-handed, although tacking the big genoa can be a handful.
Launched in 1984, the Westerly Merlin was a comfortable, easy-to-handle, reasonably quick small cruiser.
Available with fin or bilge keels and originally 27ft, she was extended in 1990 to incorporate a sugar scoop and spade rudder.
Their solid GRP hulls were stiffened with foam stringers, but the decks were balsa- cored.
Bulkheads and furniture were bonded to an interior floor moulding.
Interior volume was maximised by setting the bulkhead well forward.
Headroom is 1.78m/5ft 10in and the saloon is comfortable, though lacking ventilation.
The L-shaped galley has a cooker/oven, cool box and a sink with cold water, while the aft-facing chart table utilises the settee end for a seat.
Both saloon settees make good sea berths, the port side converting into a narrow double if required.
The quarter cabin is what made the Merlin popular, with its large double berth, seat, hanging space and deep shelf.
The forecabin is a little more cramped, however.
The deep, spacious cockpit has tall coamings and a high bridge deck, while the mainsheet runs along the transom top.
Her side decks are reasonably wide, and the foredeck uncluttered.
She sports an easy-to-handle 7/8ths fractional rig, with cockpit-led reefing lines for the leach only.
At sea, she stands up to her sail well, is responsive when tacking and is nicely balanced, albeit with a little weather helm, when pushed hard.
26-30ft LOA: Motorboats
First launched in 1974 and now considered a ‘classic’, Fairline’s Mirage 29 was available in two versions, with aft or centre cockpits.
There’s a separate cabin forward with a sizable V-berth, plus a large dinette in the saloon from which a further two berths can be formed.
The galley and heads are in the aft corners of the saloon and are also a good size, while large windows all around keep her bright and airy below.
Most were made with an open wheelhouse sheltering the helm and navigator’s seats, although some just had the windscreen and spray canopy.
Either way, a full cockpit tent made it much cosier when anchored or moored and meant the large cockpit could be put to full use regardless of the weather.
Single or twin petrol or diesel engines were offered, although twin 130hp Volvo diesels were the most popular for coastal cruising.
The CC version also featured sterndrives.
Flattish hull sections allow her to plane easily at low speeds, which is handy given that her engines are fairly small.
She does slam in choppy waters, though.
31-35ft LOA: Sailing yachts
The Colvic Countess 33 was an Ian Anderson (of Hurley fame) design.
A full-bodied, heavy displacement, centre-cockpit sailing cruiser, she was available with long fin or twin keels, both with encapsulated lead ballast.
A half-skeg supports her large rudder and allows some counterbalance to lighten the helm.
She could be sloop or ketch rigged and some were built with a deck saloon featuring inside steering and seating.
High freeboard gives her 6ft/1.83m of headroom below but is cleverly disguised by a small ‘step’ in the hull, just beneath the toe rail.
The deck sweeps up nicely towards her traditional, overhanging bow, making her surprisingly attractive.
The Colvic Countess 33 is a slightly staid performer under sail, but the generous 40% ballast ratio keeps her stiff in a blow.
Well renowned for their seaworthiness and comfortable motion in adverse sea conditions, many have crossed oceans safely.
Production ceased in the early 1990s, after around 180 had been built, although many home-finished boats were launched much later.
The ‘Sun’ prefix was introduced by Jeanneau in the 1980s but was used arbitrarily before the launch of its Sun Odyssey (cruiser) and Sun Fast (performance) ranges a decade later.
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The Jacques Fauroux-designed Sunrise 34 was built between 1984-88 and sports a relatively fine entry but with broad shoulders.
She also holds maximum beam aft to her wide transom, thereby improving her form stability and downwind performance.
Built using polyester and reinforced with Kevlar in the bow and keel areas, the Sunrise was tough and experienced no adverse structural problems despite many being raced hard.
Her hull is stiff, thanks to the numerous foam stringers and frames, and all high-load areas on deck were ply-backed for extra reinforcement.
Her twin spreader masthead rig carries a generous sail plan and an adjustable backstay for tweaking the mast.
Although the standard keel was a cast iron deep fin, some were made with a lifting keel, which reduced the draught to under 4ft.
Her rudder is semi-balanced and half-skeg hung, making her light but positive on the helm and she quickly gained a reputation for speed and agility under sail.
Two layouts were available with two or three cabins, the former loosely labelled as the owner’s version.
In the three-cabin model, the heads impinged upon the saloon, which in turn was moved further forward, reducing the size of the forecabin.
Launched in 2005, the Beneteau Oceanis Clipper 343’s fine bow tails back to sleek, shallow underwater sections and she retains maximum beam almost to her transom.
Keel choices were between shoal, deep (standard), or lifting.
The solid hull incorporates a bonded structural inner moulding for increased strength, while the deck and superstructure are a balsa sandwich.
Her fractional rig incorporates a tapered aluminium mast with the potential for limited tweaking, while swept spreaders allow a tighter headsail sheeting angle, for better pointing.
Ease of handling was part of the design brief, so the single-line reefing, lazy jacks, zip-up sail bag and high boom are aimed squarely at the family cruising market.
Clipper yachts all featured relatively high freeboard, which provided generous headroom below, but blending the superstructure into a rising sheer does dissipate any top heaviness.
Accommodation options were between a two- or three-cabin model, the former providing a large double cabin and deep cockpit locker, the latter two smaller double cabins.
Thanks to light woods, a white deckhead and numerous portlights, the interior is extremely bright and airy and the 1.98m/6ft 6in headroom is generous.
She came with a 9/10ths twin spreader rig and Elvstrøm polyester sails as standard, including a semi-battened main and 130% crosscut furling genoa.
Her slippery underwater lines give her good speed and she accelerates quickly after tacking, but she prefers to be sailed as upright as possible.
31-35ft LOA: Motorboats
The Sealine F33 flybridge cruiser quickly became hugely popular among families looking for space, comfort and value for money.
It offered two good-sized double berths, a very bright, airy and sumptuous saloon with lots of woody trim and well-padded upholstery, and a practical and well-equipped galley.
Outside is a roomy cockpit which, when covered with a full canvas enclosure, increases the available sheltered living area considerably.
Then above is the large flybridge, which not only has full helm controls and a double seat, but also sports sun pads for relaxing at anchor.
Most were supplied with twin 170hp Volvo KAD32 diesel engines, although a few had the bigger 200hp AQAD 41s and some the cheaper Mercruisers.
Personally, I’d look to stick with the KAD32s for fuel economy, and a bow thruster is a bonus too when manoeuvring in marinas with sterndrives.
36-40ft LOA: Sailing yachts
One of America’s most prolific boatbuilders, Catalina’s yachts are popular the world over for their solid construction, generous interior volume, safe handling and quality fittings.
The Catalina 36 was first launched in 1982 and then updated slightly with the addition of a sugar-scoop and walk-through transom in 1990.
In 1995, the Mark II model was launched and although her hull remained the same she was given a different deck moulding.
The cockpit was also widened, and the aft cabin improved with greater headroom and volume, allowing a large athwartships berth to be installed.
The Catalina 36 is a traditional cruising yacht design with a predictable, sea-kindly performance.
She’s easily handled with a small crew or single-handed and light steering means less work for the autopilot.
Offered with either a deep fin or shoal-draught wing keel, her substantial displacement, overhanging bows and full hull sections result in an easy motion at sea, while her deep, long keel imparts good directional stability and enables her to heave to easily if required.
She isn’t a light boat and has a modest sail area on a masthead sloop rig.
This, together with nearly three tonnes of lead ballast, keeps her stiff and upright in strong winds.
Some models with the optional taller mast had another 46ft² of sail area, which undoubtedly improved her speed in lighter airs, but her deep-bellied hull means she’s no racing machine.
All models have a bright and spacious saloon ideal for large families to live aboard and cruise in comfort.
The forecabin makes a good master suite and the saloon offers three more berths if needed.
The aft cabin of the MkI is somewhat lacking, but the MkII is much improved.
The galley is excellent, enabling properly cooked meals to be produced both at sea and at anchor, and the heads is bigger than many 50-footers.
The cockpit, too, is a good size and the walk-through transom makes her feel quite modern.
The last 36 was launched in 2006 after nearly 2,300 had been built.
Superseding the 375, the Hanse 385 differs in featuring twin helms and a drop-down transom platform.
Sailing performance was also improved and her sleek, clutter-free deck had flush hatches and hidden sheets.
Hanses were offered at a basic build level, with much of what might be considered necessary for cruising sold in comprehensive ‘Option Packs’ at additional cost.
For this reason, though, they usually come onto the market well-equipped.
As with all Hanses, her hull is heavily reinforced with a bonded-in composite subframe.
Weight was minimised by using a balsa-core sandwich above the waterline and epoxy-based vinylester resins ensured they remained watertight.
Her broad stern carries maximum beam from amidships aft, resulting in a wide, spacious cockpit.
The simple, drop-down platform opens to assist boarding from the sea and reveals the liferaft locker.
Below, white headlining and bulkheads make her bright and airy, while the ample beam provides generous stowage and living space.
The standard layout has two cabins, though options include a second aft cabin at the expense of galley space.
The forecabin and heads remained the same. Double hatches improve air circulation, while full-length, LED-lit grab rails run each side of the saloon.
Seating for six is comfortable but the navigation area is ‘tokenistic’. A small chart table faces aft and uses the settee end as a seat.
The L-shaped galley is a good size and well-equipped, though, especially in the two-cabin model.
The heads has 1.88m/6ft 2in headroom, a holding tank and an opening portlight, but the sink is too shallow to use at sea.
The aft cabins have good headroom, sufficient floor area and roomy berths, although the forecabin is more spacious with two wardrobes and deep bins under the berth.
Due to the self-tacking jib, her fractionally-rigged sail plan is primarily mainsail-driven, but she’s well-balanced under sail all the same.
All sail controls lead aft to a single winch and rope bin beside each helm.
While tidy, having halyards, sheets, reefing lines and kicker all leading to just two winches can be problematic, particularly when reefing.
Her mast is tall, so you need to reef reasonably early, but she handles beautifully and her steering gives good feedback while remaining light.
36-40ft LOA: Motorboats
Despite its age now (first launched in 1985) the timeless, stylish-looking Princess 35 flybridge cruiser is excellent value for money if you can find a well-maintained example.
At 36ft LOD (length on deck) they pack in bags of accommodation, including berths for 6/7 in a double forecabin, convertible dinette and saloon settees.
Steps lead down to the large galley, second seating area or crew cabin (depending on layout), heads/shower and the master cabin in the forepeak with its large offset double berth.
The saloon is spacious and woody, with large windows to keep her bright and airy.
The raised double helm seat is comfortable and secure while offering good access to all the necessary controls.
Engine access is achieved by lifting a panel in the saloon sole and removing the floor bearers but there’s not a lot of room between them to work.
Some had twin 165hp or 200hp Volvo diesel inboards, others 212hp Ford Mermaids.
Either way, they give the medium V-chined hull a solid, stable performance at sea, even in choppy conditions.
She has a deep cockpit with easy access to the side decks and a full-width bathing platform.
The steps up to the flybridge are worryingly vertical but once there you can choose between two long benches, which enable four people, in addition to the helmsman, to sit and take in the view.
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