You don't need a big boat to cross the English Channel, just the right boat. Duncan Kent recommends some suitable 20-to-40 footers, both sail and power

English Channel boats: the best power and sail vessels under 40ft

The English Channel, as with all relatively narrow channels, can be challenging, especially when the predominant sou’westerlies are blowing hard.

And even if the weather and sea conditions happen to be favourable, there’s always the constant commercial shipping to worry about.

Of course, weather can be forecast relatively accurately ahead of your intended passage, but the movements of the prolific marine traffic can’t be calculated until you’re out there among it.

A yacht crossing the English Channel

With careful planning, a seaworthy vessel can cross the English Channel. Credit: John Barratt/Alamy Stock Photo

That said, hundreds of small boats cross the Channel safely every day, winter and summer.

All it takes is a sound vessel, careful planning, a good VHF radio, a radar reflector, and a decent pair of binoculars.

Nowadays, most will back up this basic inventory with a chartplotter, AIS and radar to be sure of seeing and being seen by the many large ships that steam up and down, day and night.

By sound vessel, I mean one capable of handling short, choppy seas if necessary, without making life unbearable or unsafe for its crew.

Sea sickness can be dangerous when making such a crossing as the watchkeeper needs to stay fully alert at all times, particularly when crossing the main traffic lanes.

English Channel boats: 20-25ft LOA

Sailing yachts

The original ‘Nordic’ Folkboat was the result of a Swedish design competition with the brief to create a competitive racing yacht that was also roomy enough below for a small family to go cruising.

Often described as ‘one for the purists’, it had a clinker-planked wooden hull with a full-length keel, raked transom and a simple Bermudan sloop rig.

A substantial 54% ballast ratio resulted in her being very stiff under sail and well able to stand up to her canvas in strong winds.

Affectionately known as ‘Folkies’, the Folkboat soon began to attract the attention of long-distance racers and adventurers for its seaworthiness.

Probably the most famous Folkie was Blondie Hasler’s junk-rigged Jester, which came second in the 1960 OSTAR, and went on to cross the Atlantic a further 14 times.

The timeless Folkboat became a very popular cruiser/racer worldwide and was produced in numerous UK boatyards.

The British version was mostly carvel-planked, giving her a smoother and more watertight hull, and featured a longer coachroof that was raised at the aft end for better headroom.

A later fibreglass Folkboat that remains true to the original concept

In 1967 a GRP version, the International Folkboat, was introduced.

Almost identical to the original, it boasted a self-draining cockpit with an outboard well, a 7/8ths fractional rig and more in the way of home comforts below.

The design spawned a variety of lookalikes, including the Folksong, Contessa 26, Invicta 26, Marieholm 26 and the Varne 27.

Below, she is pretty basic, with long, narrow settees and a galley that just about heats a one-pot stew or a brew.

Of course, many have been upgraded to a more modern standard, but simplicity is hard to beat sometimes.

All Folkboat rigs were identical, however, which enabled them to compete equally against each other in international races.

Under sail, Folkboats are well balanced, light on the helm, easy to sail and surprisingly fast.

A smaller sister to the already established Centaur, the Westerly Pageant was launched in 1970.

Though only 23ft long, she was considered then to have all the qualities of an offshore cruising yacht.

While her decks are a balsa sandwich construction, her hull is solid GRP laminate, increasing in thickness towards the keel roots.

Like all early GRP boats, they can be prone to osmosis due to the type of resins (orthophthalic) used, although most will now have been treated.

Sporting twin keels (the rare fin keel version is called the Kendal), a spade rudder, and an impressive 49% ballast ratio, she soon earned the reputation of being sound and safe in most offshore conditions.

By 1979, some 530 had been built, with the last boats featuring higher quality, solid wood interiors.

A westerly pageant yacht sailing - an ideal English Channel boats

English Channel boats: The Westerly Pageant is well-balanced under sail and solidly built making her ideal for crossing the English Channel. Credit: David Harding

The high coachroof provides 1.75m/5ft 9in headroom, which is uncommon for a boat of this size and gives the accommodation a similar feel to the larger Centaur.

Furthermore, the large windows give a bright and spacious feel below.

The Pageant can sleep up to five with the dinette table converted and is one of only a few 23-footers with a separate forecabin and heads.

On deck the long cockpit has high, flat-topped coamings and a narrow well, making it secure and comfortable at sea.

The tiller hinges up and, as well as having the mainsheet on the afterdeck, keeps the area clear for entertaining.

Her masthead rig is straightforward and the sail area conservative with much of the power coming from the 120% genoa.

Most owners have changed the roller boom for slab reefing by now and some have even led the reefing lines into the cockpit.

She’s not especially quick off the mark, due to her high displacement and conservative sail area, and neither is she particularly close-winded.

Furthermore, the high coachroof makes it almost mandatory to sit on the coamings under way.

Despite this, the Pageant is a safe and competent offshore cruiser that is well-balanced under sail and sturdily built.


Mention the name Hardy and you instinctively think of traditional trawler-style motorboats.

These were indeed its bread and butter until the early 1990s, when it opted to produce the Seawings range of planing sports cruisers to compete with Fairline, Princess and various imports.

The Wolstenholme-designed Hardy Seawings 254 was the second smallest in this range, which included the 234, 277, 305 and 355.

The 254’s open-plan layout offers two berths in the cabin on the U-shaped seating area, where dropping the table down forms a double berth.

There are two more possible berths in the cockpit with a full canopy.

A motor boat in a marina

The Seawings 254 has a draught of 3ft/0.92m with the drive down

Being just 25ft there is sitting headroom only at the dinette, which also converts into a double berth.

The well-equipped galley, however, is positioned under the main hatch allowing the cook to stand with the hatch slid open.

There’s also a private, fully moulded heads compartment with a shower and pressurised hot water.

The cockpit layout is straightforward. A U-shaped settee provides seating for dining al fresco, while the double helm seat is reversible to create an aft-facing bench too.

A removable section of the seating gives access to a bathing platform with shower and boarding ladder.

The 254 was first launched with a 130hp Volvo Penta AQAD31, which gave her a 20-knot cruising speed.

A faster, but thirstier 4.3lt petrol engine soon followed that could push her to 30 knots flat out.

English Channel boats: 26-30ft LOA

Sailing yachts

Developed from the Ranger 265, the Hunter Channel 27 has a taller coachroof, roomier accommodation and a bigger rig.

Ease of handling was the design theme, so all the sail control lines are led aft to a couple of winches on the coachroof, within reach of the helmsman.

The standard 4/5ths fractional rig came with a semi-battened mainsail, lazyjacks and a high aspect, self-tacking jib.

The cockpit is comfortable for three and the tiller lifts when not in use.

One deep locker swallows all the cruising gear, and the gas locker is sealed and drained overboard.

A rail gate leads to a boarding ladder, but there’s no bathing platform due to her transom-hung rudder.

A boat being sailed close to shore

The Hunter Channel 27 came with a choice of fin or twin keels. Credit: David Harding

Below is a light and airy open-plan saloon with full standing headroom.

There are six berths comprising two long saloon settees, a vee berth separated by a curtain, and a spacious aft double cabin.

The galley boasts a full-size cooker, fridge and deep sink, while the nav station opposite has a large chart table with ample stowage for charts/books.

A moulded GRP heads provides a good shower plus a handy wet locker.

Her cleverly designed twin aerofoil keels mean she sails upwind more like a fin keeler, and her high-aspect, self-tacking jib makes her a doddle to tack.

She’s so well balanced you can tie off the helm and let her steer herself on a close reach, but she’s fastest on a beam reach, logging 6.8-knots odd in 15-knots of true wind.

In all, she is a well-built, dogged little cruiser with strong heavy weather capabilities, making her a reliable and safe family cruiser over long passages.

After the demise of Sadler and Bowman in the late 1990s, the name was acquired by Rampart Yachts, who employed renowned yacht designer, Stephen Jones, to create the Sadler 290.

Far removed from the older Sadler 29, the 290 is a very roomy performance cruiser sporting a more modern layout and rig.

She also features a plumb stem and a wide, near vertical stern.

The hull and deck were laminated by hand, reinforced by foam stringers, floor beams, and bonded bulkheads.

Decks and topsides are foam sandwich, and all had twin lead ballasted keels, bolted onto substantial GRP stubs.

Although only 29ft LOA, the 290 has the accommodation of a 32-footer, but without the extra berthing cost.

English Channel boats: a Sadler 290 yacht sailing to France

The Sadler 290 is stiff and quick, thanks to her 46% ballast ratio. Credit: Colin Work

There are some compromises such as narrow cabin doors and a lack of saloon lockers, but headroom is 1.88m/6ft 2in throughout.

The saloon is set well aft, leaving space for the heads forward without compromising the forecabin which has a short but wide vee berth, plus plenty of stowage and a large hatch for light and ventilation.

The aft cabin has a slightly larger berth and good head clearance.

The small seat contains the batteries but there’s a sizeable clothes locker. Two opening portlights provide light and airflow.

The galley puts the space aft to good use and the saloon seating uses the full width of the hull, enabling four adults to dine in comfort.

Although the cockpit is big enough for three, she is easy to sail single-handed thanks to her long tiller allowing the helm to reach the coachroof winches.

An impressive 46% ballast ratio keeps her stiff in a blow and allows her powerful rig to shine.

This, together with her fine entry and low-drag underwater lines, results in a fast, delightfully agile, yet seaworthy cruising yacht.


The single-engine, shaft-driven Norwegian-built Marex 280 Holiday was popular in the UK in the noughties for both sea and river cruising.

It offers a surprising amount of interior space and headroom for a 28ft boat, and features a large forecabin and concealed, twin berth aft cabin.

The forecabin has comfortable seating around a central table that drops down to form a double berth. Ample stowage is provided in lockers and bins under the seating.

The spacious single heads compartment with shower is just off the forecabin.

The aft cabin has one double and one single berth opposite each other, with your feet tucked under the wheelhouse.

There’s a good dressing area between the two berths and plenty of clothes stowage all around.

Continues below…

It’s a long way to the heads in the middle of the night though!

The semi-enclosed saloon cockpit has a reversible double helm seat that can also create an aft-facing seating area in addition to the dinette settee.

The linear galley runs the length of one side of the main cabin and is fully equipped for cruising.

At the rear of the cockpit is a large sun pad, which could be used as an extra double berth if pushed.

The 280 could be ordered with the smaller and more economical 57hp Volvo diesel purely for inland and coastal water cruising, or with a bigger 150hp engine for Channel crossing and open sea passages, giving a top speed of around 20-knots plus.

The 280 is solidly built and well up to a Channel crossing, even in moderate seas.

Cruising speed in calm waters is around the 16-knot mark, where she levels out and settles into a comfortable, mile-eating pace.

English Channel boats: 31-35ft LOA

Sailing yachts

Designed by Holman & Pye in 1965 as a development of the Twister, the Rustler 31 has a long keel with encapsulated lead ballast and a transom-hung rudder.

Her beam is moderate, while the attractive sheer line rising to her prominently overhung bow, gives her ocean-going looks.

The Rustler 31’s hulls were laminated to a generous thickness, while the ½in balsa sandwich decks and bulkheads were bonded in for maximum strength.

As with most boats of that era, the interior is somewhat cramped, but it has all you need plus 6ft/1.83m headroom in the saloon.

Most had high-quality custom-built interiors in which great care was taken over the smallest details.

Others were fitted out solely by their owners.

A boat with white sails sailing at sea

The Rustler 31 has a high boom, so the sprayhood can be raised to provide more shelter and better access to the companionway. Credit: Bob Aylott

Either way, she commonly had 5/6 berths, including a forecabin double, a saloon pilot bunk and sometimes a quarter berth.

The saloon is roomy enough for two couples around the table, which is either fixed or folds up conveniently against the bulkhead when not in use.

The settees make good sea berths with lee cloths and the seat backs lifted.

The Rustler’s self-draining cockpit is typically narrow, but this makes it safe and secure in a seaway.

The bridge deck and teak capped coamings are also high enough to keep out any water or spray.

As standard, reefing was carried out at the mast, where there were two winches for halyards and lines.

Their masthead rigs were heavily built and spec’d for ocean cruising. Some were cutter rigged while others simply had a removable inner forestay for a working jib or storm sail.

An enthusiastic Rustler 31 owner once said to me, after we’d finished beating down the Medway in a gusty Force 5 easterly wind, ‘I have every confidence in her. She’s a solidly built, trustworthy thoroughbred that just gets on with the job. Once she’s reefed and balanced she’ll take a Force 8 in her stride, even with the tiller tied off’.

Introduced in 1988, the Moody 336 is a Dixon-designed boat, but unusual in having an aft cockpit.

Although the hull has a lot in common with the centre cockpit 346, it has a longer waterline, a semi-balanced rudder, and a sleeker superstructure.

The hull, deck and superstructure were laid up using solid GRP under Lloyds’ certification, and incorporated waterproof (isophthalic) polyester resins.

Despite her aft cockpit the 336 has an impressive aft cabin with a generous double berth plus dressing area, which also brings the saloon further aft to make space for a decent size galley and forecabin.

The high bridge deck and steep companionway ladder require careful descent, but it also provides more floor space around the galley and navigation areas.

The head, at the bottom of the steps, is roomy with a separate shower stall.

Opposite the galley is a small, aft-facing chart table with a teak instrument console and fiddled bookshelves.

The saloon is spacious and seats six comfortably. All available stowage space has been utilised with deep shelves and lockers.

A yacht sailing

Roller furling was an option with a larger sail on the Moody 336. Credit: Marco McGinty/Alamy

Natural light is plentiful through large portlights, and ventilation is from a hatch and two vents.

The 336’s decks are well organised and easy to negotiate.

The mainsheet is forward of the main hatch, making it tricky to dump the traveller quickly in a gust, but the small wheel and seat cut-outs facilitate access forward and to the primary winches.

The coamings are wide and slightly raked, so you need to tread carefully leaving the cockpit. Her masthead rig sports a twin spreader mast, semi-battened, slab-reef mainsail and a 130% furling genoa.

Though not the quickest 34-footer, she points well and is easily capable of 6 knots in a Force 4-5, or 7 knots on a beam reach.

Her helm is nicely balanced, with enough feedback to ‘feel’ when she’s in the groove.

Weighing nearly six tons with a 31% ballast ratio, she remains stiff in a blow, while her weighty hull carries her through the waves with ease, leading to good passage times and decent crew comfort.


The British-built Corvette 32 is a timeless trawler-style motoryacht launched in 1972 and built, albeit in different guises (32/320/340), for nearly another 40 years.

Production changed hands numerous times, with each yard adding slight modifications to the original Terry Compton design, although the hull shape and overall layout were retained throughout.

Almost everyone who has been on board the Corvette 32 comments on how big she is, both on deck and below.

This is mainly due to her wide beam and clever use of different levels that provide two large cabins, a spacious saloon, raised aft cockpit and secure flybridge.

She has a fantastic aft cabin for her size, complete with walk-in wardrobe and ensuite toilet/shower.

There’s even a second heads in the forecabin, where you’ll also find two more wide berths.

Her side decks are wide and the guardrail high, making it very safe to walk around the decks under way.

Then there’s a step up to the aft cockpit, from which there’s a great view over the stern and enough room for freestanding or built-in seating for 4-6 people.

Further steps up take you to the flybridge where its triple helm seat allows a full 360° view around the boat.

It’s also reversible to face the two corner seats, making it a great spot for a sundowner.

Though a semi-displacement motoryacht, she is capable of an impressive 28-knots with the right engines, of which there was a wide choice over the years from 65hp to 315hp diesels.

She started with vee drives or sterndrives, but the hull was soon modified to accept shaft drives, enabling the engines to be mounted beneath the saloon and the aft cabin floor to be lowered. It also improved her handling.

She performs extremely well under way, holding a steady, stable course even in big oncoming seas.

Her flared bows part the waves to ensure no spray comes aboard.

English Channel boats: 36-40ft LOA

Sailing yachts

A 1970s Sparkman & Stephens classic, the She 36 gained an enviable reputation as a powerful and seaworthy yacht, and as both a slick racer and a comfortable cruiser.

The boats were built to a high standard with a long fin keel, a skeg-hung rudder, and considerable overhangs.

Originally 3/4 Ton Cup rated under the International Offshore Rule (IOR), she had none of the extreme hull distortions such ratings often encouraged.

Because of her pinched ends and low coachroof, her accommodation is limited and nothing like that commonly found on a modern cruising yacht.

However, she still has seven comfortable berths and a reasonably spacious saloon.

English Channel boats: The She 36 under sail

The She 36’s rig is ideal for tradewind sailing, using two big headsails. Credit: David Harding

The compact U-shape galley has everything you need, while being secure to use under way. Opposite is a snug 1.0m/3ft 3in-wide quarter berth, which also provides a seat for the chart table.

The heads are effectively ensuite to the forecabin, which is surprisingly spacious considering the yacht’s narrow shoulders.

On deck, her deep, narrow cockpit is sensibly proportioned to create a safe working environment for the crew, while being spacious enough to entertain guests.

Although her side decks are wide, the genoa tracks are mounted centrally on them, creating a bit of an obstruction when going forward.

Her low, streamlined coachroof melds into the foredeck without a step, creating a safe working platform in a seaway but putting the handholds low down.

Her powerful masthead rig and high ballast ratio mean she takes the seas in her stride while giving her crew a comfortable and safe ride.

An indication of her superb stability and seaworthiness can be taken from the story of the fateful 1979 Fastnet Race in which the She 36, Lorelei, was involved in a successful rescue mission to help others less fortunate.

From the board of Marc Lombard, the Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 39i performance cruiser is as easy to sail as a 30-footer while providing the accommodation of a typical 45ft yacht.

The ‘i’ stands for injection, a relatively new GRP moulding technique at the time, a process that was heavily promoted for its low emissions.

The resulting layup virtually eliminates any risk of cavities or air bubbles as well, and produces lighter, stronger decks and a smooth interior surface.

A man at the wheel of a yacht with white sails

Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 39i’s bow has a slight rake, giving the yacht a long waterline. Graham Snook/YM

The accommodation is roomy and the galley has everything to hand, although the sliding chart table over the port-side settee tends to get left in one position.

She could be ordered with single or twin aft cabins, the former having a much larger heads, with a separate shower stall and over 1.83m/6ft of headroom.

The 39i came with a 7/8ths fractional rig, swept spreaders and twin backstays.

Her mainsheet traveller is forward of the main hatch, with the sheet leading to a coachroof-mounted winch.

Being so far forward allows the boom to rise when sailing downwind, so plenty of kicker is needed to flatten the mainsail.

Two self-tailing primary winches are beside the twin helms, making single-handed headsail trimming easy, while a wide gap between the twin wheels makes going forward simple and swift.

Carrying maximum beam from amidships aft results in wide side decks which, thanks to long handrails and inboard genoa tracks, are kept clutter-free.

The beamy stern also makes the cockpit huge.

Twin wheels allow a good view ahead on either tack or when manoeuvring under power at close quarters.

Under sail her deep, balanced rudder keeps her tracking well, so she never feels heavy or unbalanced.

I’ve personally sailed a 39i on a long, non-stop passage to Falmouth from Brighton, with a solid Force 7 and a big seaway running.

She performed faultlessly, with little drama and no uncomfortable slamming despite the conditions.


The Fairline Targa 37 began life as a 36 in 1994 but was shortly renamed after the bathing platform was extended.

She was one of the yard’s most popular boats before being superseded by the Targa 40 in 2001.

A similar layout to the Fairline Targa 34, the raised helm station and lower aft cockpit layout works well.

The former allows the helm an excellent all-round view from the double seat, while raising it provides additional headroom for the aft cabin.

Featuring a wet bar and sink, the latter makes a spacious yet cosy lounging area for entertaining.

A motor boat moored

The Fairline Targa 37 has a large cockpit on two levels, providing plenty of space for relaxing at anchor

Below is a comfortable saloon with warm, high-gloss cherry wood joinery.

The L-shaped galley is well equipped, and the single heads has double doors, sharing use with the forecabin.

Accommodation includes berths for six in the forecabin, saloon (optional) and aft cabin.

The ‘owner’s cabin’ forward has a large island berth with plenty of useful stowage and access to an ensuite heads with a shower cubicle.

The aft cabin is half under the helm station and contains two large single berths, a seat, clothes locker and an optional handbasin.

For outright performance the engine option was undoubtedly the twin V8 petrols, however, most were supplied with twin Volvo diesels (230hp KAD 42 or 260hp KAD 44) and outdrives.

With the 42s she is good for 30-knots, or 25-knots cruising economically.

The 44s were only a tad faster and, by now, there’s a good chance either will have been upgraded to the newer D4s.

Her reasonably deep vee hull and widish beam keep her steady on course and she handles with precision in open sea conditions.

Enjoy reading English Channel boats: the best power and sail vessels under 40ft?

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