David Harding admires the sleek, uncompromising weekender from UK boatbuilder Rustler

I read a fascinating article recently about relationships. It was a distillation of the guidance offered by over a thousand people who had been with their spouses or partners for more than 10 years, and one point in particular recurred time and time again: be together for the right reasons.

A partnership formed for the wrong reasons (and there are a lot of very common wrong reasons) is almost certainly destined to fail – or, at the very least, not to thrive as it might.

And it’s the same with the relationship between an owner and his or her boat. You need to buy a boat for the right reasons; for the sort of sailing you’re going to be doing. That means actually doing.

There’s nothing wrong with a little future-proofing or with having dreams, but you need to be realistic. A 50-footer with 10 berths is being wasted if used by a couple for overnighting or coastal pottering.

Perhaps more importantly, it’s unlikely to be the best boat for the job.

Buying such a boat for that sort of sailing would be like buying a camper van for going to the shops – or, heaven forbid, buying a big black 4×4 to take the kids to school around the corner (not that anyone would do such a thing, of course).

As Adrian Jones of Rustler Yachts puts it, “Why have accommodation if you don’t use it? Why not have a boat that’s nicer to sail and easier to look after? So many cruisers just go day-sailing and weekending, and buy the wrong boat because there’s nothing else.”

About 10 years ago, thoughts like this prompted Rustler to develop ‘the right boat’ for people who wanted a stylish weekender but couldn’t find anything.

Some years earlier the Falmouth-based company had taken on the moulds of the Piper – a sweet-lined daysailer in the style of a miniature 12 Metre – and renamed it the Rustler 24.

Both the builder and a good many customers rather fell for it.

Weekending in style

Almost inevitably, the market for open daysailers over 6m (20ft) or so is limited – especially in the UK.

To broaden their appeal, keelboats of this nature need some accommodation to turn them into weekenders, and that’s exactly what Rustler had in mind when creating the 33 back in 2011.

Adrian came up with a one-page list of essential features.

“It had to be fast and pretty and big enough to house a loo,” he said. “And it had to look absolutely gorgeous. We didn’t want the boat to be designed around the accommodation.”

Stephen Jones was commissioned to draw the lines. Jones has a long-standing relationship with Rustler and a knack for designing good-looking boats, especially when unconstrained by rating rules or accommodation requirements.

As well as a loo, a boat of this length would nonetheless provide space for a basic galley, four decent berths and somewhere to hang waterproofs, so life on board would be perfectly civilised for a few nights at least.

This page of ‘must haves’ led to the birth of a real stunner: 10.36m (34ft) of elegance with low freeboard, a graceful spoon bow, a hint of sheer and a well drawn-out counter stern, topped with a short, well-proportioned coachroof.

Below the waterline we find a smooth rocker and, principally for downwind performance, subtly fuller stern sections than on similarly slim and shapely boats of yesteryear. They’re so well hidden by the long counter as to be almost undetectable – but, together with other aspects of the Rustler’s design including the modest weight and bulbed fin keel, they mean that sailing a modern boat with classically beautiful lines reminiscent of a bygone era no longer means being limited to the performance of a bygone era.

The view below the waterline

Classic lines are often associated with narrow beam by modern standards, and this is an essential element in the Rustler’s looks and performance: it’s just 8ft (2.44m) overall and appreciably less at the waterline.

Given that many 22-footers are beamier than this, and that a typical modern 34ft cruiser will measure nigh on 3.65m (12ft) between the gunwales, it places her in the distinctly-slender category.

Given her lack of beam and her narrow waterline, the Rustler has little in the way of form stability. She has no need for it, because 35% of her weight is slung low down in the keel. Wide beam and a hard turn to the bilge in high-volume cruising boats often lead to very distorted waterplanes when they heel, resulting in a heavy helm through lack of balance and, ultimately, to loss of control. At the opposite end of the spectrum, a hull that’s semi-circular in section presents the same shape when heeled as when upright, and the narrower the hull the less the asymmetry whatever its shape.

There’s more to balanced hull design than this, but it follows that a narrow boat with rounded sections like the Rustler will be more inclined to go in a straight line than will a typical fat-bodied, load-lugging cruiser.

It’s her ballast, not the hull shape, that provides the righting moment.

Lightly-ballasted boats that rely to a large extent on form stability will reach an angle of heel at which the form stability suddenly reduces. Then, if there’s not enough weight in the keel to take over, you find yourself rapidly running out of power (and potentially running into other things).

That’s why boats like the Rustler are such a pleasure to sail. They heel gently and progressively as the wind picks up.

The helm remains light, and the harder it blows the faster they go.

Adrian sums up the 33 succinctly: “Because it’s long and thin, with low ballast and a big rig, it’s going to be fast, tolerant and easy to sail. And if you want to race, you can sail with a small crew because you don’t need weight on the rail.”

Keep it slim

Fully powered up on a fetch is when many boats carry a lot of weather helm, but the angle of the tiller here shows the exceptional balance

The rig on the 33 can be generous because it’s countered by all that ballast (in lead, because iron would be far too much of a compromise).

At the same time the sail area doesn’t need to be enormous, because the boat’s modest weight (under 2,700kg/6,000lb) and low wetted area mean she’s easily driven.

She needs only a modest foretriangle, with no need for the forestay to be taken to the stemhead to maximise the J measurement: it’s set inboard (a la Folkboat).

This is a more elegant arrangement, commonly seen on classically-styled boats with long bow overhangs.

On the subject of overhangs, you might think that the short waterline would be a limiting factor, but don’t forget that the long counter draws it out by several feet when she starts to move.

Besides, it’s not all about sheer speed with a boat like this. Wide, flat, light boats with short ends will be faster in some conditions, especially when they start to plane downwind. Typically they will also be more demanding and less comfortable to sail, particularly upwind in a seaway when the Rustler’s slim hull will slice through waves that cause uncomfortable slamming and banging in many boats.

By all accounts she’s not even particularly wet: the fine bow splits the waves and most of the water (green and white) disappears to leeward before it reaches the cockpit.

Boats like this don’t wear you out with a violent motion. You’re low down and can never be far from the centreline, so you don’t get bounced around so much and there’s less distance to fall if you are thrown off balance. If you’re helming from the high side of a cockpit that’s 12ft wide, you find yourself a long way from the leeward gunwale when the boat heels.

Quite apart from practical considerations, it comes down to what sort of boat you feel comfortable in and what you like the look of.

“Some people like the squared-off mini-Volvo 70 look and others prefer a 12 Metre”, says Adrian. “We’re nearer the Metre look.”

As well as the hull lines, the clutter and the detail on a boat has a major bearing on its appearance.

For example, as is common practice on classic weekenders and race boats, the Rustler has no stanchions or guardwires (a ‘fence’, in the parlance of people who own such boats). You can have one if you insist, if you want to go offshore or if you have to in order to compete in certain events.

A stainless plate on the stem incorporates fairleads, a pop-up nav light and provision for an easily-removable anchor roller

Keeping visual distractions to a minimum extends far beyond obvious things like this. A furling drum at the tack of the jib does little for any boat’s appearance, so Rustler set it below decks (another reason to have the forestay abaft the stem). It’s made by Bartels in Germany, because that’s the only slim, single-groove, under-deck system on offer. A twin-groove foil would simply be too fat for the boat.

Further reducing clutter, the furling line runs below decks all the way to the cockpit locker.

It almost goes without saying that the mast is keel-stepped because it can be a slimmer section.

Even the backstay arrangement has been thought about carefully. Instead of a cascade, which would be a visual distraction and make it difficult to keep the water out where it passed through the deck, the Rustler has a 2:1 system led down the mast and aft to the coachroof where it can be winched. Winching the backstay feels odd, but it’s done this way for good reason.

A result of this attention to detail is a clean and beautifully uncluttered appearance.

Cleats are of the pop-up type and so is the nav light on the bow.

Teak decks are fitted to most boats and an increasing number of owners are now choosing carbon rigs to enhance further the boat’s comfort and performance.

One practical if inelegant feature not seen in the photos is a bow roller. It’s removable, so owners usually just bolt it on when they need it.

Theory and practice

Clean lines: the Rustler 33 on test in her home waters off St Mawes

It would be inconceivable for a boat with the pedigree of the Rustler 33 not to sail like a witch.

I sailed the prototype twice in 2012, first from Lymington and then on Rustler’s home waters of Falmouth, and have since seen production 33s at other points around the coast.

It’s no surprise that they have been sought out by owners far and wide, being shipped to countries as far afield as New Zealand and, increasingly, the USA.

They have found homes with people moving up from smaller classics like the Folkboat and others on the way down from larger cruisers who have done their ocean sailing but still want a ‘proper’ boat.

As for the sailing – well, the 33 behaves and performs exactly as you would wish. Upwind on flat water with 12-15 knots of breeze we clocked speeds in the high 5s and tacked through around 75°.

On our second outing we completely destroyed a 32ft cruiser from a yard not known for building slow boats.

Starting from its leeward bow on an upwind leg, we out-paced and out-pointed it, ending up 50 yards to windward after 10 minutes.

Downwind with the asymmetric spinnaker we hit nigh on 9 knots and I suspect the Rustler would need little excuse to start surfing in any waves.

The cockpit, though smaller than on some weekenders, is particularly well designed.

For example, the tiller is connected to the rudder stock via a drag link. This places it on the aft deck, allowing the helmsman to sit at the cockpit’s aft end, whereas mounting the tiller directly on the stock would place the helmsman a long way forward.

Sitting forward works on some boats. On the Rustler, aft is probably best.

And for those who like boats like this, it can only be a tiller.

Sit in or sit out? The cockpit makes it comfortable to do either. A mainsheet traveller can be fitted

At the helm you have a choice of sitting inboard, removing the aft sections of the seats and standing up or, as favoured by those of us with a dinghy-sailing background, sitting on the coaming and using the tiller extension.

Below decks

Space to sit, lie down, go to the loo, brew a cuppa (or heat a meal) and hang your waterproofs is what you need on a weekender. You have all this on the Rustler, and the enclosed heads is pretty generous for a boat of this nature. This is where you find the amply proportioned wet-locker too, right aft so as to keep the rest of the boat dry. You can’t stand up (unless you’re under 1.45m/4ft 9in tall), but sitting headroom over the settee berths is a comfortable 1.1m (3ft 7in).

Behind the companionway steps is the engine – a 14hp Nanni diesel on most boats or, increasingly now, a Torqeedo saildrive.

Despite the simplicity of the accommodation, this is still a Rustler and the finish on recent boats has been upgraded from the first few. There are no interior mouldings (except in the heads) so you have access to the outer hull, all the joinery is bonded to the hull, and the structure, with its substantial frames, looks reassuring.

PBO’s verdict

The Rustler 33 is sheer indulgence: a pleasure to look at and a pleasure to sail.

Treat her as a daysailer or weekender if you wish. Or go for a sail and keep on going, because she’s vastly more capable and seakindly than many larger boats that purport to be offshore cruisers.

She’s in Category C under the RCD because of factors such as the absence of guardwires. Fitting them puts her straight into Category B.

Or, instead of sailing to new cruising grounds, you can take her on a trailer if you have a big enough car (she weighs less than 3 tonnes) and launch at a yard that has a crane or a travel lift.

Here’s a boat you can enjoy sailing for sailing’s sake and be proud to own: the Morgan of the seas if ever there was one. And there aren’t many boats of this size you can say that about.

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What else might you buy?

In the UK, equivalents to the Rustler are thin on the ground. The Mystery 35 is conceptually not dissimilar in some respects but a bigger, heavier boat designed for cruising longer distances.

Moving down a size, the Mystery 30 (designed by David Thomas and initially known as the Link) was inspired by the IOD (International One Design).

We find more weekenders of this size overseas. Starting in Europe, Saffier’s Sc 10 is an obvious competitor, while the Tofinou 9.5 and Luca Brenta’s B30 are lighter, sportier, more open designs.

Brenta B30

Saffier SC10

The American alternatives are in more traditional vein, such as Morris Yachts’ M29 and the substantially heavier Alerion 33.

It’s no coincidence that, except for the Saffier, all these boats have tillers.

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This feature appeared in the March 2021 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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