Boat ownership is changing and designs are taking a radical new direction. Is now the golden age of yachting? asks Rupert Holmes
A common complaint about the latest generation of new yachts is that they just represent ‘more big, white plastic.’ While it’s true some simply continue existing design trends without offering new ideas, there are also a number of genuinely innovative small and medium sized boats that are moving the game forward.
There are many interesting boats below 36ft, which recognise that buyers want smaller, simpler boats to maximise the enjoyment of being afloat and minimise the hassles of manoeuvring and maintenance.
For much of the early part of this decade most mainstream new yachts continued to become larger and more complex, despite the economic woes that followed the 2008 financial crisis. Arguably, the culmination of this trend was at Boot Düsseldorf 2017 – the world’s largest boat show – which saw the launch of a legion of new 58-60ft designs, causing some observers to note that ‘60 had become the new 40’.
However, since then the trend appears to have reversed and this year’s show revealed many more new, smaller designs. These included the first model of less than 30ft in Beneteau’s Oceanis range for more than two decades (see below).
There are other changes afoot within the industry and boatbuilders are having to rethink the future.
There’s a growing angst among those who’ve historically sold larger models to a shrinking pool of wealthy, but aging repeat customers. While this is a strategy that has worked well for the past 60 years, it’s clear that younger clients will eventually be needed.
Yet younger generations are increasingly less likely to own property, cars or any other type of physical item, preferring to spend money on experiences instead.
It’s no longer enough for a boatbuilder to produce a great vessel – it has to be clear why buying that model will enhance the owner’s life experiences.
Production trends: Propulsion
The past couple of years have seen a switch in propulsion systems for new designs of daysailers and tenders. At this year’s Düsseldorf boat show, for instance, every newly launched daysailer or weekender I saw was configured primarily for electric power, with only a few also offering an internal combustion engine as an alternative.
Christophe Ballin, CEO of marine electric propulsion manufacturer Torqeedo, told journalists that uptake for day sailing and tenders is already past the early adopter stage and into early majority. A big factor behind this is improvements in battery technology, thanks to massive investment by the automotive industries. Every year around 15% more power is packed into batteries of the same physical size, weight and cost, representing an increase of capacity of 50% every three years.
While it’s clearly still a few years before smaller offshore yachts will be ready for electric propulsion, the potential is already there for larger yachts. These can primarily be powered through a combination of solar power – panels can be zipped onto sails, or even laminated into the cloth – along with regeneration when under sail using the propeller and electric motor as a generator.
Torqeedo recognise this won’t be enough to motor long distances. Working with WhisperPower, they’ve developed a 20kW (27hp) diesel generator optimised to charge the 48V systems typically used by electric propulsion, as efficiently and as quietly as possible. This eliminates the ‘range anxiety’ associated with all types of electric transport.
Seascape 27 (Beneteau First 27) – 2011
In 2008 Slovenian company Seascape introduced a whole new way of thinking with the Seascape 18, introducing a whole host of racing events and rallies across Europe associated with the class. It was a hugely successful concept and there are now more than 400 Seascape 18s afloat.
Now a member of the Beneteau family, the boatbuilder also launched the Seascape 27, which was renamed the Beneteau First 27 in 2018. A much more grown-up boat, it still retains the ethos of the original model, but has a better fitted interior with four berths, galley and separate heads.
I test-sailed the prototype in Slovenia on a winter’s day with 12-22 knots of breeze. It proved efficient and well mannered upwind, but downwind it’s an easily controlled rocket. Broad reaching with the big 80m2 spinnaker in 18 knots of wind, the boat speed hovered around 13-15 knots, accelerating to 17.5 in the biggest gusts, feeling as though it was on rails.
Given more time it would have been enormous fun to spend a few days cruising downwind through the islands of Croatia. And then get a friend to drive down to Dubrovnik with the trailer, before doing the 280-mile upwind leg the easy way – by road.
LOA 7.99m 26ft 2in
Beam 2.54m 8ft 4in
(keel up) 0.95m 3ft 1in
(keel down) 2.00m 6ft 6in
Displacement 1,400kg 3,087kg
Ballast 610kg 1,350lb
Sail area 49m2 527ft2
Gennaker 80m2 860ft2
Price inc VAT (new) from £77,000
JPK 10.10 – 2011
This 33ft French design has its roots in the growing world of short-handed long-distance racing. It has been extremely successful it that context, including becoming the first two-handed boat to win the Rolex Fastnet Race overall in the event’s 94-year history.
The broad stern and deep low centre-of-gravity keel allow plenty of stability for sail carrying, while the big coachroof helps give a relatively high angle of vanishing stability of more than 130°.
While the interior is naturally smaller than a cruising design of a similar length, it still provides berths for up to six in an open plan saloon/forepeak, plus large aft double cabin. There’s also a reasonable galley, proper chart table and a useful storage/technical area aft of the heads compartment.
Much has been made of the benefits of traditional cruising yachts for long-distance sailing. However, having sailed many thousands of miles on a JPK 10.10, including in wind speeds of more than 40 knots and a two-handed Atlantic crossing, I certainly prefer this style of boat over narrow designs that roll incessantly on downwind passages.
Designs that benefit from similar thinking, but are more oriented to the needs of those who want to cruise fast, include the French RM and Pogo ranges. It’s no accident, for example, that Martin Wadhams, co-founder of RS Sailing (see the RS21 below), has a Pogo 12.50 as his cruising boat.
LOA 10.00m 32ft 9in
LWL 8.76m 28ft 9in
Beam 3.39m 11ft 11in
Displacement 3,700kg 8,160kg
Ballast 1,500kg 3,310kg
Draught 1.98m 6ft 5in
Sail area 58m2 624ft2
Spinnaker 85-95m2 915-1,022ft2
Price (used) from £110,000
Rustler 33 – 2012
Don’t be fooled by the gorgeous classic style, long overhangs and low freeboard of the Rustler 33. This Stephen Jones design has a bang up-to-date underwater shape and rig, while the deck layout benefits from contemporary thinking and recent advances in hardware.
The boat reflects a growing popularity for modern designs with classic style. These boats make no attempt to maximise the accommodation on offer, but their owners seem happy with the compromises inherent in creating this type of vessel.
The Rustler’s narrow hull has a relatively short static waterline, making it super slippery in light airs, while a long flat, planing surface aft comes into its own once the wind exceeds 15-20 knots. The hull shape is such that the effective waterline length is significantly increased with the boat heeled when close-hauled. I sailed one of the early boats in Falmouth, which regularly clocked upwind speeds over 7 knots.
The fine lines reduce interior volume and headroom, but the simple layout is ample for weekending or the occasional longer trip. For the past couple of years the boat has been offered with a Torqeedo electric drive system, instead of a diesel inboard engine, as a zero cost option.
LOA 10.36m 34ft 0in
Beam 2.44m 8ft 0in
Draught 1.67m 5ft 6in
Displacement 2,850kg 6,280lb
Ballast 1,000kg 2,205lb
Sail area 45.1m2 485ft2
Price (new) £154,800
Jeanneau Sun Fast 3600 – 2014
This model incorporates many of the insights gained since the launch of the earlier Sun Fast 3200, including a twin rudder hull and a sharp chine at the transom that runs well forward. The larger boat also has proportionately less wetted surface area than the 3200, thanks to a more curved profile to the lower part of the transom and a little more rocker (fore and aft curvature in the bottom of the hull), which improves speeds in light airs.
While the broad transom and wide beam provide lots of form stability, the boat also benefits from a 45% ballast ratio – a large figure for a deep draught design with a big bulb on the bottom of the keel. For short-handed sailing this translates into easy handling – an increase of wind that would have the rest of us scrabbling around to reef instead just needs the mainsail to be slightly depowered.
Like the JPK10.10, this shape of boat is not a traditional choice for the toughest of offshore passages. However, two of the five finishers in the most gruelling edition of the OSTAR race across the North Atlantic for a generation were Sun Fast 3600s. The 2017 event saw winds gusting to 70 knots in an unseasonable deep depression of 963mb and, along with the TWOSTAR competitors, four yachts were abandoned mid-Atlantic – the two Sun Fasts weathered the storm unscathed.
Hull length 10.80m 35ft 5in
LWL 9.50m 31ft 2in
Beam 3.55m 11ft 8in
Displacement 4,700kg 10,360kg
Draught 2.13m 7ft 1in
Sail area 69.8m2 741ft2
Spinnaker 100-121m2 1,080-1,300ft2
Price (used): from £140,000
Corsair Pulse 600 – 2015
This 20ft lightweight folding trimaran offers a different take on simple boating. In gentle daysailing mode it offers enough deck space to take several people sailing, and there’s a small cuddy if shelter is needed. On the other hand, in performance mode a couple of people can enjoy a fast-paced day on the water, before sleeping on deck under a tent.
An all-up towing weight of around 750kg means the boat can be towed by a modest car, opening up the possibility of taking it on longer distance family holidays as far afield as the Baltic and the South of France.
It’s an appealing concept for family sailing, with plenty of opportunity for fun.
LOA 6.00m 19ft 8in
Beam 4.50m 14ft 9in
Beam (folded) 2.45m 8ft 0in
Draught (hull only) 0.22m 0ft 9in
Displacement 450kg 992lb
Price (new ex VAT) US$33,500, ex works
Bente 24 – 2016
This distinctive design is the brainchild of Alexander Vrolijk and Christian Daum. Vrolijk is from one of yacht design’s most influential families. His father Rolf is a founder of the Judel/Vrolijk office, which since the late 1970s has been responsible for dozens of successful yachts, including America’s Cup winners, high-volume family cruisers and charter yachts from boatbuilders such as Dehler and Hanse.
However, the Bente 24 was borne out of concern that the established business model – which had served Alexander’s father so well – would eventually run out of steam. Instead the younger Vrolijk sought to develop a completely fresh line of boats that would appeal to a younger audience with different priorities.
The Bente 24 introduced a totally new way of looking at cruising yacht design and immediately attracted attention. The mostly glazed solid sprayhood over the forward end of the cockpit and aft end of the coachroof is distinctive, practical and cleverly styled. The boat was offered in a range of fit-out levels, including an almost bare shell furnished only with beanbags. It was an effective solution that made great use of the volume, at a fraction of the price of a fully fitted traditional interior.
At the end of 2018, the Bente 24 was followed by a 39-footer designed with ocean crossing capabilities in mind, however sales were slower than expected and the company was forced to declare bankruptcy earlier this month.
LOA 7.55m 24ft 9in
Beam 2.75m 9ft 0in
Displacement 1,400kg 3,087lb
1.45 or 1.80m 4ft 9in or 5ft 11in
Price (new inc VAT) from r34,000
Liteboat XP – 2018
It’s no accident that this beautifully simple design has already featured in the pages of PBO. The result of masses of combined knowledge, it’s the ultimate boat with overnight accommodation that can be rowed or sailed. The less energetic could doubtless find a way to put an electric outboard on the back as well.
Clearly the price of around €25,000 will limit demand, but that’s an unavoidable cost of the carbon fibre construction that produces a boat around 25% lighter than the 16ft Wayfarer. Yet this boat is 4ft longer, has a cuddy that’s (just) large enough for two people to sleep, plus a 20kg lead bulb on the bottom of the centreplate for stability that’s more akin to that of a keelboat than a dinghy.
The boat is the brainchild of Mathieu Bonnier, one of only a handful of people to have rowed across the Atlantic single-handed. He developed the idea of an optimised sailing/rowing boat for the inaugural Race to Alaska – a 750-mile marathon using solely sail or human power.
He realised that a trimaran was the wrong format of boat, so turned to renowned French Mini Transat designer, Sam Manuard for a monohull. The result is brilliant for anyone seeking a no-hassle, back-to-basics style of boating, while still benefiting from today’s technology.
LOA 5.99m 19ft 8in
Beam 1.78m 5ft 10in
0.14 to 1.07m 0ft 5in to 3ft 6in
Displacement 145kg 320lb
Mainsail 10m2 107ft2
Gennaker 11m2 118ft2
Price (new) from r25,000
Hallberg-Rassy 340 – 2018
This Swedish firm has a reputation for producing top quality yachts and refusing to yield to the whims of fashion. At the same time, its new designs from German Frers reflect contemporary knowledge of hull shapes and rig configurations.
Despite Hallberg-Rassy’s relatively conservative ethos, the 340 has a near vertical bow, helping create an extra metre of waterline length compared to the company’s previous 34-footer. Equally, maximum beam is carried well aft, while the twin rudders promise good control even in boisterous conditions.
With the recent announcement of the 40C the company now has four twin-rudder designs: the Hallberg-Rassy 340, 40C, 44 and 57. The 340’s non-overlapping headsail is easier to handle and more efficient than a sail plan with a large genoa and there’s provision to tack a code zero or asymmetric spinnaker onto a short bowsprit.
Below decks there’s noticeably more internal volume than in earlier Hallberg-Rassy models of this length, as well as much more natural light and ventilation. Yet this boat is also up to half a knot faster on passage, has a righting moment almost 25% higher than its predecessor and an angle of vanishing stability 10° greater. Even better, it’s offered at the same base price as the model it replaces.
Hull length 10.36m 34ft 0in
LWL 10.10m 33ft 2in
Beam 3.47m 11ft 5in
Sail area 64.2m² 691ft2
Draught (standard keel)
1.90m 6ft 2in
Displacement 5,980kg 13,145lb
Ballast 2,300kg 5,070lb
Base price (new inc VAT) £207,279
RS21 – 2018
RS Sailing helped change the face of dinghy sailing in the 1990s. The company’s founders understood the market and the level of demand for high-performance boats that were easy to sail, while benefiting from excellent design, attention to detail, and the then-new asymmetric spinnakers.
More recently the firm has changed the focus of its latest models to suit the needs of organisations that run its fleets. RS Sailing believes much of the market is changing and that younger people are more likely to rent a boat for specific days, or racing events, than to take on the cost and responsibility of owning one.
“We’ve always had participation at our heart,” says RS co-founder Martin Wadhams. “If you can give people a better experience the first time they’re on the water, then they’ll come back for more.” Simplicity was a key requirement for the RS21. The goal was to minimise gear failure through misuse, while maximising durability and provide forgiving, yet exciting, sailing for everyone.
“It had to appeal to a broad spectrum of people, from those with little existing sailing experience to experienced match racers,” says lead designer Guy Whitehouse. “From a design perspective it didn’t want to be an out-and-out speed machine, but couldn’t be staid either.”
The hull’s high form stability translates to power and speed in strong winds, but it also makes it a reassuring, steady and stable boat for newcomers. Auxiliary power is from a retractable electric motor that gives a four to five mile range with the standard battery, and double that with an optional second battery.
Length 6.34m 20ft 11in
Beam 2.20m 7ft 3in
Draught (max) 1.38m 4ft 6in
Displacement 590kg 1,300lb
Mainsail 16.2m2 175ft2
Jib 7.7m2 83ft2
Beneteau Oceanis 30.1 – 2019
This boat is a great example of design innovation that’s been tested and refined in the field of long-distance racing before being incorporated into mainstream cruising. The full bow sections are inspired by those first seen on David Raison’s winning 21ft Mini Transat design of 2011 and developed into a shape that’s more suited to an all-round cruising yacht.
While there’s less flare above the waterline in the forward sections than larger Oceanis models, this shape still adds form stability and gives a tangible boost to interior volume at the front. The downside is a small reduction in speed to windward, although a combination of the Oceanis 30.1’s deep and efficient keel with a big bulb, high form stability and long waterline length still give potential for better abilities to windward than earlier generation designs, even in strong winds.
Below decks you’ll find all the features of much larger modern yachts, including hull windows, generous headroom, big overhead hatches and a layout that belies the boat’s modest overall dimensions.
Hull length 8.99m 29ft 6in
Beam 2.99m 9ft 10in
1.3m or 1.88m 4ft 3in or 6ft 2in
Displacement 3,995kg 8,809lb
Price (new inc VAT) from r84,000
When was the golden age of boat ownership?
It’s tempting to hark back to the idea of a golden age of sailing and yacht design. But in doing so it’s easy to lose sight of the many improvements that have taken place over the decades. The fibreglass mass-produced boats of the 1970s, from the Westerly Pageant to the Contessa 32, would have been almost unrecognisable to the visionary enthusiasts in the early 1950s who built their own plywood pocket cruisers.
Those 1950s boats had cotton sails that had to be stored dry to avoid rot, and ultra-stretchy running rigging that for many boat owners made an efficient sail shape an impossible dream.
Equally, 1990s designs were far more spacious for a given length, and faster than those of the 1970s, yet invariably they were also easier to handle. At the same time systems had become significantly more robust, with the incidence of gear failure greatly reducing, while reliable diesel inboard engines made the planning of a summer cruise less of a hit-and-miss affair.
Twenty years on we now have boats with levels of stability that would have been near impossible to achieve in earlier generations.
And sailcloth has moved on in leaps and bounds, so you no longer have to use sails that stretch in every gust. That translates into less heel and less weather helm – meaning easier handling and a more comfortable ride at sea. For many cruisers the associated increase in speed is simply a nice bonus.
Structural engineering has also leapt ahead thanks to advances in computing power and materials technology. The old adage that a heavier boat automatically means a more seaworthy one no longer holds true. If I was to return to the Southern Ocean, for instance, I’d much rather do so in a Class 40 design that weighs just 3.5 tonnes, but has the speed to navigate around weather systems, than in one of the heavy, slow long-keel designs used for the Golden Globe Race.
Today’s yachts – whether new or very second-hand – are cheaper than they have ever been in real terms. So when was the golden age of boating? I reckon it’s happening right now. Make the most of it!