For some years now Dave Selby has been keeping us entertained in PBO with antics in his Sailfish 18. He is obviously very fond of his little boat and the Sailfish is one of the better boats I have owned too.


Like most cruising sailors I claim that I do not race. Well this is only true to an extent for when another yacht starts to overhaul me I instinctively pay more attention to my sheets and trim to get every extra fraction of speed that I can.

It was on one such occasion when sailing my Robert Tucker Silhouette (a boat that always got me there eventually) that my sailing mate Maurice sped past me in his new Sailfish 18.

So, being the sort of sailor who changes boats as often as he changes his cars I started to look for a Sailfish and it wasn’t long before I found one about 80 miles away.

She was owned jointly by a woman and her seafaring husband and had spent most of her time on their front lawn while the husband was away at sea.

The woman told me that she wanted to get the boat off the lawn and that her husband had asked her to sell it. I wondered… but who was I to question?

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Certainly my wife gets a bit iffy if I leave a boat on the lawn for too long. Husband was a chief engineer, so as I expected, on inspection everything mechanical in the boat and on the trailer was first class. And, like all Sailfishes she was a very fair price so I towed her back to Rye.

Reluctant modifications

Maurice told me that the first thing to do was to modify the keel lifting arrangement. This was to avoid winding the keel down so far that it dropped out of the bottom of the boat.

At first I was reluctant to do this because everything on this ex-chief engineer’s boat worked so well, and as any engineer will tell me ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’.

The modification required some surgery like cutting off the top of the keel case and this seemed a bit drastic. But with Maurice’s help and guidance the job was done and a chain added to prevent losing the keel when winding it down. Many Sailfish 18 owners have done this, but not all.

The next useful improvement was a cover for the cockpit. The cockpit was not self draining from the sole. It did drain from the benches so I made a folding ply cover for the cockpit to prevent rainwater entering the cockpit when the boat was left on her mooring but instead drained directly on to the side benches and away.

This meant I could leave her for long periods on her mooring and not come back to a ‘bath’.


Clive’s mate Maurice’s Sailfish 18 Tansy on her chain mooring at Rye

There is also a cockpit locker where some owners might like to store their outboard motors. They are vulnerable hanging over the transom. The rudder is transom hung and easy to remove and maintain.

With her large roller jib and modest mainsail the Sailfish 18 was easy to sail single-handed from the cockpit. An outboard bracket was easily accessible and I found a 4hp motor adequate for most situations.

The cockpit is a good size. Visibility looking ahead is for some a bit restricted but I liked the shelter provided by the bulkhead (you can always sit on a cushion to improve vision). Going forward she has a good sized foredeck which makes anchoring and catching a mooring easier than on some boats.

Design features

Down below the cabin is light and spacious for an 18ft boat with the case for the vertically lifting keel in the middle of the cabin, a useful base for the table top. The large windows give an all round good view and we had curtains to keep the sun out when required.

The lifting keel is a lead casting inside a GRP shell weighing 250lb (113.4kg). This is lowered by winding a handle many times as soon as the boat is in deep enough water.

Since I always got off my mud berth as soon as the boat was afloat I had to wind down the keel when underway. If single-handed this required a certain amount of agility and sense of timing – it’s much easier with a crew. When underway in shallow water it pays to have a little of the keel down.


Photo: Mervyn Maggs

What surprised me was this little boat’s performance. I sailed her downriver and into Rye Bay and there were few boats sailing faster. She also handled the chop very well and was a reassuring and comfortable boat to sail.

Maurice’s boat was very fast when using her cruising chute. My boat had a certain amount of built in foam buoyancy but I have never calculated or tested to see if it is adequate.

There is an excellent Sailfish owners’ association and this is the sort of subject that owners can discuss.

I’m very conscious of the need for good buoyancy when offshore and if I still owned the boat this is something I’d want to investigate and make improvements if required.


The Sailfish 18 is a trailer sailboat but I only trailed her 80 miles and then used the trailer as a yard trolley. Most of the time I kept her afloat or lying in her mud berth with just an annual haul out for maintenance.

The saltwater tidal flood would often be followed by rain water joining the ebb. This and the fact that for two thirds of the time she was in the mud meant that I rarely needed to renew her antifouling paint – just one of the many benefits of a mud berth and a mix of salt and fresh water to confuse the cling-ons.

If you want to regularly trail the boat you will need a decent trailer and this can cost more than the boat. Some information is given on the association’s website.

I’d be inclined to take the boat to a reputable trailer manufacturer and ask them to supply a suitable easy launch trailer. I always prefer the sort of boat trailer bearings that I can inspect myself.


The 2006 meeting of the Sailfish Association at the Cam Sailing club. PBO’s Dave Selby is crew in the blue boat. Photo: Judy Stratford

At any one time you can usually find half a dozen Sailfish 18s up for sale, priced from around £800 to £1,999. So if you want to get afloat in a great little cruiser without spending a fortune the Sailfish 18 is worth considering.

The Sailfish Association is very active in arranging sailing activities and events. It’ll be their 50th anniversary soon and there’ll be many events worth attending. The cost of membership is just £2 per annum. For more details, email:

Sailfish 18 specifications

Length overall: 5.64m (18ft 6in)
Beam: 2.18m (7ft 2in)
Draught (keel up): 0.30m (1ft)
Draught (keel down): 0.91m (3ft)
Sail area, main and genoa: 16.16m2 (174ft2)
Weight (min): 454kg (1,000lb)*
Ballast: 113.4kg (250lb)
Designer: Leo da Costa/Maxim Marine
Builder: Maxim Marine/Skellon Yachts/Victoria Rampart

*Yacht weights vary according to age, equipment and many factors. You should take it to a weigh bridge if you need an accurate measurement of weight for trailing.

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This feature appeared in the January 2023 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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