Duncan Kent looks at sail and power boats under 40ft in length that are easily managed by the single-handed sailor
There’s nothing quite like the thrill of solo yachting, providing your boat is easy to handle and well prepared.
The perception that small is better for sailing solo isn’t always correct.
What’s more important is the way the boat is set up, how she performs and how sea-kindly she can be in heavy weather.
It’s easy to assume that solo yachting is a choice but there are many occasions when the situation forces it on you, such as injury or illness inflicting your only other crewmember.
It’s also common to assume a lone sailor is a hardy character who sets off to circumnavigate the world, whereas many just happen to be on their own through unplanned circumstances.
Either way, if you intentionally plan to go solo yachting, then it makes sense to consider what might make a suitable boat for this purpose before you buy.
Reefing when the weather takes a turn for the worse is one of the most testing moments for the solo sailor, so a well-balanced boat that can be left to helm herself for several minutes while you get up on deck to sort the sails out is important.
Better still, choose a sail boat that has all the important sail control lines led back to the cockpit, preferably within easy reach of the helm.
20-25ft LOA Sailing yachts
Hot on the heels of the successful Leisure 17, the hugely popular Leisure 23 first appeared in 1970.
She was solidly built with bonded bulkheads and furniture for extra strength.
They were made with cast-iron fin or bilge keels and power options were a 10hp inboard or the standard 8-10hp outboard.
One of the main reasons for her enduring popularity is the accommodation space below.
With a healthy 1.72m/5ft 8in of headroom, the dinette saloon made the most of the available area while providing a good size double berth to boot.
She also featured a separate heads option with a proper sea toilet, although that reduced the size of the forecabin noticeably.
She also has a reasonable galley, making her suitable for cruising with a small family or sailing single-handed.
In common with many small bilge-keelers, her sailing performance isn’t the swiftest and she tends to get blown off to leeward in a blow, but for simple enjoyment and safe coastal pottering, she’s hard to beat for her size.
The later Leisure 23SL model had a higher freeboard and a different deck, which added a further 50mm/2in of headroom below.
The British-built Hunter Medina was first launched in 1979 and, being a small boat that is easy to sail single-handed, immediately scored highly as both club racer and pocket solo cruiser.
Okay, you’re not going to shoehorn a crew of four below for the night, but there’s enough space below for one (smallish) person to live quite comfortably, two at a push.
Based on David Thomas’ popular Hunter Sonata, this perky little trailer-sailer is relatively light (860kg) and sports a lifting keel that gives her just 250mm/10in draught with the keel up, so she’s easily launched and recovered.
Surprisingly, her sporty rig, flattish after sections and 140% genoa give her a performance to rival many a larger yacht.
An elderly gent I once knew entered his in the 2004 Round the Island Race and scored an impressive 97th overall.
Although the interior lacks refinement, many have been turned into quite cosy little cruisers.
Yes, she has a rather intrusive keel box and gantry in the saloon, but with a little ingenuity and camouflage it’s possible to create a feasible living space with at least two good berths.
Fully raised, the centreplate almost reaches the deckhead, however, so anything concealing the box needs to be removable.
Stowage is reasonable, especially the space beneath the berths and seating.
Sails, dinghies, jerry cans etc. can be slid under the cockpit sole and there are deep shelves above the settees.
Like most 20-footers, headroom is a paltry 1.30m/4ft 3in, but you soon get used to remaining seated when below decks.
Fractionally rigged with a bendy mast and plenty of backstay adjustment, the Medina is a sprightly little mover and, easily capable of 6-knots upwind, is sure to satisfy the urge to compete against another yacht going your way.
20-25ft LOA Motorboats
There aren’t many 24ft motorboats around that have reliable inboard engines, stable deep-vee hulls, and a reputation for handling rough seas with ease.
The traditional-looking and solidly built Orkney Pilothouse 24, however, is not one to miss off your list if looking for a rugged, sub-25ft all-rounder.
Not only does she feature a huge cockpit for entertaining, fishing, sunbathing, and spending time with the grandkids, but also has a well-protected wheelhouse that keeps the spray and weather at bay.
Furthermore, she also offers better than half-decent accommodation for up to two people for the odd night or two away.
A well-padded, hinged passenger seat opposite the comfy helm station allows a mate to take in the view or keep watch, while also housing a small hob underneath for brewing up. There’s a sink just behind too.
Stepping below, the comfortable seating in the forepeak quickly converts into a roomy double vee-berth if required by dropping the table into the gap, and there’s a reasonably sized heads ensuite.
Many were supplied with Volvo Penta diesels and sterndrives, which gave her speeds of 20-25-knots in calm waters. A few had petrol engines.
Access to the engine for servicing is dead easy from the cockpit by simply lifting the lid off the engine box, onto which removable bench seats can be fitted.
26-30ft LOA Sailing yachts
Superseding the ever-popular Centaur, the Westerly Griffon was designed by Ed Dubois to provide a better sailing experience and more organised accommodation.
Some 450 were launched between 1979-89, mostly bilge-keelers, but a few had a fin keel. Initially, weaknesses were reported around her keel stubs, but these were quickly sorted and the area was heavily reinforced in future boats.
Although the fit-out on the MkI models was somewhat rudimentary, the MkII version, introduced three years later, was upgraded and featured quality teak joinery.
Sadly, this was reversed later with the ‘budget’ Club model, after just 90 of the MkIIs had been launched.
Her layout below is practical, with wide, straight settees making good sea berths. The port settee also opens out to make a double berth if required.
The vee berth forward and nearby heads make it a reasonable ‘owners’ cabin for a 26ft boat and the narrow quarter berth works well underway unless the engine is on.
On deck, her deep cockpit’s high coamings provide a safe working area and it’s easy to brace your feet against the opposite bench.
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A deep cockpit locker takes any cumbersome cruising gear despite housing water and fuel tanks.
Her rig is a simple, sturdy, masthead sloop and her mainsheet is within reach of the helm, which is ideal when sailing alone.
Originally, the engine was a fairly pokey Bukh 20 diesel driving through a shaft and two-bladed prop, offering a 5-knot cruising speed and a range of some 150 miles.
Under sail, she is quite quick, well-balanced and light on the helm.
The deep fin keel offers better pointing and tracking compared to the bilge keel boats, although the shallow draught of the latter opens up the backwaters and enables her to be beached safely.
In all, the Griffon is solidly built, sea-kindly and safe with plenty of living, sleeping and stowage space, either for solo sailing or for family cruising.
The US-built Hunter range of yachts became hugely popular with European sailors in the 1980s/90s, mainly due to the remarkable accommodation they offered.
Marketed as the Legend range in Europe/UK, the Legend 29.5 was a typical example of the yard’s innate ability to squeeze a quart into a pint pot.
Unlike many UK boats at that time, this boat’s myriad windows and hatches kept the big open-plan saloon bright and airy.
Being one of the smaller boats in the range, the open forepeak, though intended for youngsters to sleep in, inevitably became a dumping ground for inflatables, cockpit cushions, cockpit tents etc, leaving the saloon berths free as shortish sea berths.
The 29.5’s piece de resistance, however, was its massive, athwartships aft berth under the cockpit sole.
Though great for sleeping when anchored or berthed, at 2.6m/8ft 6in long it could also be seen as a bit of a waste of useful space where a deep cockpit locker would have been more useful.
The galley is compact but still manages to contain a full-size cooker, a deep cool box and a sink with pressurised hot water. Worktop space is sadly lacking, though.
Another feature more typical of a 35-footer is her spacious heads. With the same headroom as the saloon (1.83m/6ft), it’s a fully moulded compartment with a shower seat over the toilet and plenty of dry stowage.
On deck, the most notable feature of the Legends is their Bergstrom & Ridder (B&R) backstay-less rig, which enables the use of a large, roachy mainsail.
The bad news is it can’t be flattened like the main on a tweakable fractional rig as there’s no backstay or traveller to flatten the mainsail in a blow.
The spreaders are swept well aft to support the mast, but this makes it tricky to sail dead downwind as the stays limit how far the boom can go out.
Don’t be tempted by an in-mast furling main as you’ll lose all the benefits of the B&R rig.
Anyway, she’s a comfortable coastal cruiser that’s easily handled by one person in reasonable conditions, particularly as the sail controls are all within reach of the wheel.
26-30ft LOA Motorboats
The Four Winns 248 Vista is a solidly built boat with attractive lines and a businesslike stance, although her high topsides can attract a bit of windage.
Despite this, her reputation for good handling and comfortable motion in a choppy sea belies her 26ft/7.9m length.
Engine choices were either the 220hp/5lt or 270hp/5.7lt Volvo Penta petrol engine, driving through a sterndrive with Duoprop.
Both are capable of getting her on the plane swiftly and topping out between 35-40-knots in flat waters.
Yes, petrol engines are a bit thirstier than their diesel counterparts, but with a slippery hull such as this and the price of diesel going up again, soon there won’t be much difference.
On deck, she is split into two distinct sections, with a natural passage down the port side. The helm station has a wide bench running across two-thirds of the width of the cockpit.
Behind this is a spacious U-shaped lounging area with a table, which is perfect for entertaining and easily capable of seating six comfortably.
Access to the upper deck is via moulded steps in the helm console, while at the end of the passageway aft is a gate through to a substantial swimming/boarding platform.
The cabin is cosy, warm and practical, with plenty of wood veneer finish.
The twisting companionway steps enabled a good size galley to be installed and there’s a fully moulded heads compartment with a shower opposite.
The large double berth beneath the cockpit is comfortable if a tad claustrophobic, but the seating also creates a roomy vee berth forward.
31-35ft LOA Sailing yachts
Launched in 2008, Beneteau’s Oceanis 31 had a sleeker profile than her predecessor and featured numerous innovative characteristics.
Below she is bright and comfortable with 1.83m/6ft headroom although the layout is fairly standard.
There’s room for six at the table, though she lacks accessible stowage other than settee bins and small cave lockers.
The tapered settees are straight, albeit one is longer than the other, and the nav station faces aft, using the end as a seat.
The aft cabin has a large, transverse double berth, while a step down into the forecabin boosts the headroom and a slide-out extension creates a generous vee berth.
The moulded heads has 1.83m/6ft headroom and boasts a shower and holding tank. Stowage is good, as is ventilation.
The galley, though compact, is well-equipped for a 31ft boat.
On deck, the cockpit is spacious and well-planned. The wheel allows all-round access and the large console can house a decent display.
At anchor, the helm seat lifts for access to a wide transom step, boarding ladder and deck shower.
Neatly, the port quarter seat conceals the liferaft and a two-bottle gas compartment, and there’s a deep locker for cruising gear.
The genoa tracks are inboard, while the shrouds are on the toe rail, leaving a clear walkway forward.
Her foredeck has a single, offset bow roller and a deep chain locker with a windlass plinth. Her fractional rig and moderate sail plan make for easy handling.
Only the kicker and topping lift are at the mast, while all other lines lead to the cockpit.
The genoa winches are within reach of the helm, but the mainsheet, annoyingly, is on the coachroof as standard.
The Oceanis 31 is a light boat with shallow underbody and full waterline, so she’s no slouch and can be sailed single-handed with ease.
She points high and, despite her relatively low ballast ratio, easily handles full sail in moderate winds.
The concept of the Freedom 35’s freestanding rig was developed in 1976 by American Garry Hoyt, in a mission to create a fast, but easy-to-handle cruiser/racer.
Hoyt was determined to take a fresh look at the sailing rig to simplify its build and operation. Incorporating modern materials and techniques enabled him to create a ketch rig using twin, keel-stepped, unstayed masts from carbon-fibre or aluminium.
The flexible masts bend at the top when a strong gust hits the sail, effectively spilling the excess wind.
These unusual masts, along with self-tacking, wrap-around sails and aluminium wishbone booms, attracted considerable attention.
The Freedom 35 performed so well it became a regular frontrunner at many of the world’s most prestigious yacht races.
Keeping the centre of effort low, the booms allow the curve of the sail to continue all the way down to the foot, allowing the sail’s entire surface to be used for maximum efficiency.
Its masts enable the rig to withstand winds up to Force 6 before reefing, a process that takes little time and effort as the sails simply drop down into the wishbones.
A stay-less rig removes the stress on the hull and deck created by normal standing rigging. It also enables the sails to be wrapped around the masts, creating a clean leading edge and a more efficient ‘aerofoil’ shape.
Off the wind there are no shrouds or spreaders to interfere with the sail, so on a dead run they can be set wing-on-wing for optimum balance and speed.
Available with a shoal, centreplate or deep keel, the popular shoal keel is full length and quite shallow (1.06m/3ft 6in with the plate up).
The deep, contoured centreplate offers plenty of lift upwind and, weighing half a tonne, adds considerably to the ballast. S
he has a narrow beam for increased performance and sea kindliness, although this does adversely affect the accommodation.
The saloon tends to be dominated by the centreplate box, although what space there is has been utilised to maximum effect.
31-35ft LOA Motorboats
Produced from 2003 to 2007, the Bavaria 32 Sport is a popular and economically priced sports cruiser that is stable and easy to control, even in choppy waters.
Initially, engine options were twin 170hp or 260hp Volvo KADs, though from 2004 these changed to the more modern and efficient 210hp and 260hp Volvo D4s.
Twin V6/230hp and V8/320hp Volvo petrol engines were also available, which command a lower price today, but if you’re into outright performance, the big V8 offers an exciting 40-knot-plus ride!
She has a reasonably practical layout on deck, although the curved navigator’s seat opposite the standard single helm seat is not ideal.
There was an option for a twin helm seat with a single navigator’s seat, which I think works better, especially as it offers a chart table as well.
Although you do lose the neat dinette arrangement with this layout.
Everything important is within easy reach of the helm and the seat base flips up to facilitate standing when necessary.
A hardtop version was introduced in 2006; these are rarer and a little more expensive to buy.
The 32 Sport offers spacious accommodation with over 6ft of headroom and seating for four in the open-plan saloon.
The large vee berth in the forepeak has no floor space or door, but a midships cabin has twin straight berths.
The galley is adequate, while the heads compartment, though compact, has a shower.
For a budget production boat, the 32 Sport is well made, but a bit short on luxuries. In the smiles-for-miles stakes, though, she’s a winner.
36-40ft LOA Sailing yachts
One of the popular Grand Large range of Dufour cruising yachts, the Dufour 365GL is an impressive all-round cruising yacht that is tame enough for solo yachting while proving to be a competent offshore family cruiser when required.
The hulls are hand laid up using the latest techniques, materials and waterproof resins resulting in a very strong structure throughout.
Twaron-reinforced stringers criss-crossed by robust grid frames spread the rig loads right down to the keel.
Her PVC sandwich decks are injection moulded for maximum rigidity and lightness, which in turn creates extra headroom and provides a smart and smooth deckhead finish.
Her long waterline, plumb stem and short transom platform give her a racy look on the water.
Add a sporty 9/10ths fractional rig, deep rudder and keel ballast bulb and she becomes a swift, yet sea-kindly boat in almost all conditions.
She sails upwind effortlessly and efficiently, pointing extremely well and leaving bigger boats in her wake.
Much thought has been put into the deck layout and sail controls to make her an ideal boat to sail single-handed, or as a couple.
The single line reefing option makes shortening sail from the safety of the cockpit easy and her headsail can be trimmed from the helm if no other crew are available.
Below, the internal volume is maximised by providing a generous beam that broadens early and extends a long way aft, allowing for a roomy forecabin and either single or twin aft cabins.
Both models have a linear galley with a large dinette, which is ideal for use in port or at anchor, but not necessarily the best arrangement for cooking and eating on passage.
The British-built Southerly 110 was introduced in 1999 and was the first of the marque to sport canted twin rudders and a modern, near-plumb bow.
Renowned for their swing keels which, when fully retracted, reduce her draught to a mere couple of feet, the 110 proved popular among those with a desire to go creek-crawling or anchor where only catamarans dare venture.
Going below, the tall bridge deck and steep companionway make access a little awkward, but her low cabin sole and high coachroof offer loads of headroom.
The galley and navigation areas are raised to give the chef and navigator excellent all-round views, almost equal to those of a deck saloon.
Two steps down lead into the saloon, with its large, U-shaped seating to port and long, curved settee opposite.
Although there is plenty of seating space for dining, the keel plate box limits access around the table to one-way.
The forecabin is small for a 36-footer and features twin crossover bunks rather than a vee-berth.
The aft cabin, however, is a completely different kettle of fish and boasts a large offset double berth, abundant stowage, and a wide desk/dresser.
The headroom is somewhat limited (1.5m/5ft), but the well-appointed ensuite heads has 2m headroom and ample elbow room for showering.
With her keel plate fully extended the 2.18m/7ft 2in draught gives her excellent pointing ability when sailing upwind.
Despite her relatively small self-tacking jib, the 110’s large mainsail is powerful enough to drive her on with alacrity.
Maxing out at around 7.5-8.0 knots and averaging 6.5-knots on a long passage puts her well into the performance cruiser bracket for a 36ft yacht.
In light airs, she’s easy on the helm, directionally stable and swift to accelerate in the puffs.
Although the self-tacker makes her a little sluggish through a tack in these conditions, the advantages of such an easy set-up in busy waters like the Solent are manifold.
This, combined with her ability to sail in 2ft of water, makes her perfect for confined spaces and shallow water sailing.
Furthermore, when you want a break you can simply park her on the beach and light the barbecue!
36-40ft LOA Motorboats
Motor yachts above 36ft LOA tend to be quite large and more awkward to control at close quarters, especially those with high topsides due to the increased windage.
For this reason, we haven’t recommended any larger motorboats here.
That’s not to say there aren’t people cruising solo in bigger motorboats, it’s just that almost all owners of larger motorboats tend to have crew on board to help them.
If you do own a 36ft+ motorboat and sail it entirely on your own then please do email us and let us know as we’d be very interested to hear how you go about handling it at close quarters such as into a typically tight marina berth.
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