The Duchy 27 started life as a Aquila 27 before being tweaked by Cockwells Modern and Classic Boatbuilding. David Harding puts the motor launch through its paces

Product Overview

Duchy 27


Duchy 27: the motor launch fit for a duke

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Let’s imagine you’re a typical Duchy 27 buyer. Or perhaps you’re reading this because you don’t need to imagine.

Chances are that you will have owned a sizeable yacht at some stage.

Now the time has come for something smaller.

You don’t throw money around and you certainly want to receive value for what you spend, but you’re not interested in budget offerings.

You want a motorboat, whether or not you have sailed all your life. You want to be able to step aboard, turn the key and go.

It can’t be just any motorboat, however. It needs to be built and finished to a high standard, to look the business and to be capable of handling wind and waves.

A engine on a boat

Power comes from a 200hp Nanni diesel, based on a Toyota block. It’s a straightforward shaft-driving installation inside a well-insulated box. Credit: David Harding

Especially if switching from sail to power, you’re not prepared to be confined to port just because 20 knots of wind happens to be blowing from the direction you want to go.

Your new boat needs to be a proper, seagoing gentleman’s motor cruiser; the sort that a proper seagoing gentleman – or lady – would be proud to own, whether punching across Lyme Bay or pottering up the Carrick Roads.

If this sounds like you, it’s likely that the Duchy 27, built in Cornwall by Cockwells, will be at – or, at least, near – the top of a very short list.

As Dave Cockwell puts it, ‘We’re not trying to compete with anyone. All we’re doing is building a really nice boat that we hope people will like. If they do and can afford it, they buy one. If they do and they can’t, they tend to come and see us at the boat show every year and have a chat about what they’ll do when they can.’

Cockwells Modern and Classic Boatbuilding is a boatyard with a difference.

A Duchy 27 motor launch

Tumblehome aft in the topsides, in the style of a traditional launch. Credit: David Harding

Dave and his team build, sell and restore yachts of classic heritage, both sail and power.

The yard is perhaps best known among sailing folk for building pilot cutters, several of which have been launched in recent years.

If you prefer, you can have a Morecambe Bay Prawner in cedar strip.

Should you happen to own a classic America’s Cup yacht in need of a rebuild, that’s no problem either.

This is a yard where traditional boatbuilding skills are married with aramids and composites.

While a Bristol Channel pilot cutter might be in larch over oak frames, the Cockwells custom motor-launches and super-yacht tenders (the latter as supplied for ferrying VIPs around the yacht show in Monaco, for example) are just as likely to use epoxy-infused e-glass foam sandwich for the hull and hand- laid teak on the cockpit sole.

A man driving a Duchy 27 motor boat at night

Driving after dark: the console accommodates a plotter and all the engine instruments. Credit: David Harding

Amid this synthesis of old- school craftsmanship and hi-tech composites applied to custom projects, it might seem surprising to find a production boat with a hull in conventional solid GRP – not that the Duchy 27 is a production boat in the normal sense, because no two are quite the same.

And, of course, she’s built in the style of a Cockwell’s launch, employing the same shipwrights’ skills and attention to detail.

Nonetheless, the Duchy 27 is as close to production as you will find in this particular corner of Cornwall.

The red-hulled example featured here is No8, and two more are in build. By all accounts there are people out there who tick both boxes: the ‘do’ and the ‘can.’

Duchy 27: Realising potential

Although she’s the perfect complement to the company’s bespoke wooden launches, tenders and motor yachts, the Duchy didn’t start life in Mylor.

Designed by Andrew Wolstenholme, she entered the world as the Aquila 27: built in Norfolk, marketed from Hampshire and sold by a network of dealers.

Since most of the Cockwells launches are also designed by Andrew, it made perfect sense for the Aquila to make the move to the West Country when the opportunity arose.

Here was a semi- displacement 27-footer with an efficient, seakindly and attractive hull and long keel, able to exceed 20 knots with the help of a couple of hundred diesel-fired horsepower and to cruise comfortably in the high ‘teens in almost any weather.

She had a large cockpit, an open-backed wheelhouse to shelter the helm and co-pilot and a two-berth interior with a galley and separate heads.

Seating on a motor launch

Space to spread out in the stern. Up to eight people can sit around the solid teak table. Credit: David Harding

She would make a great weekender for a couple (or four, if two of them sleep in the cockpit under the full-length tent) and could accommodate a good-size party by day.

What she needed, reckoned Dave, was some tweaking. He knew exactly what he wanted to do and started in the cockpit.

Initially there was a vestigial aft deck, over which one had to clamber to reach the bathing platform.

By eliminating the deck, Dave extended the inside of the cockpit aft by 18in (46cm).

Then he fitted a fold-down door in the transom, with a child-proof auto-locking mechanism, for step-through boarding.

Continues below…

Whether you’re berthed stern-to, hoicking something out of the water, going for a dip or simply dangling your legs in the water while sipping a cocktail of an evening, easy access to the bathing platform makes sense.

‘I’ve learned that lesson’, says Dave, referring to boats with fully boxed-in cockpits, ’because I’ve built them like that’.

Back inside the cockpit, he added seating each side which, together with the existing seat across the stern, created space for at least half-a-dozen people to sit around the table. It increased the stowage, too.

Further forward, the engine casing was made smaller and given a central backrest for use as a facing-each-way seat.

Two seats in a cockpit on a Duchy 27 boat

Helm and co-pilot’s seat in the open-backed wheelhouse with its overhead hatches and opening side windows. Credit: David Harding

On the mechanical side, the two fuel tanks – each side aft – were replaced by a single tank forward of the engine so the boat’s fore-and-
aft trim remains unaffected by the fuel level.

Dave maintains that, when you have a single engine, it makes more sense to have a single tank.

The filtration system was refined, batteries moved from under the cockpit sole so water couldn’t seep through into their boxes, insulation was increased to reduce noise levels and the air-intake system redesigned its baffles and external intakes.

Other aspects of the engine, drive and systems were modified, principally for simplicity, reliability and ease of access. Nothing was left unquestioned.

Duty calls

Judging by the reaction of the owners, Dave’s confidence that he could make a good boat better appears to be well placed.

As for how the Duchy 27 feels when you’re in the helm’s seat, wheel in one hand, throttle in the other – well, that was among the things I wanted to find out.

The engine is rather important in a motorboat. Dave chose carefully, looking at the power needed to move the hull at various speeds and finding that the power curve of the 200hp Nanni was a good match.

Some of the alternative engines produce most of their power towards the top of the rev range, so would be working a lot harder to get the boat up to cruising speed.

Confirming the success of the match, the conversion of revs into knots is indeed progressive and proportional.

At 1,500rpm the Nanni pushed us along at an effortless 8.5 knots, the boat exhibiting none of the tendency to yaw constantly that often affects planing hulls at displacement speeds.

Tools in a drawer on a boat

A kit of high-grade tools is on the options list, housed in a drawer beneath the helm’s seat. Credit: David Harding

An extra 300rpm produced 10 knots and the turbulence was on the verge of breaking away from the transom.

Opening the throttle to 2,200rpm saw the bow begin to rise slightly and clean water leaving the stern at 14 knots.

Next stop was 2,600rpm, taking us to 18 knots This is the boat’s favourite cruising speed, at which the engine drinks about a litre per mile and the tank will give a range of over 200 miles.

That’s handy when you want to go non-stop from Falmouth to Southampton in around 12 hours for a boat show.

For those coming from sailing yachts, being able to cover the ground at that sort of rate opens up new possibilities.

A toilet on a boat

An electric-flush loo in the separate heads compartment. Hot running water and a shower are chosen by most owners. Credit: David Harding

Many motorboats will go faster than the Duchy 27 in flat water, only to start banging and crashing alarmingly the moment they encounter the slightest sea.

To be fair, anyone interested in gentlemanly motorboating is unlikely even to glance at beamy, flat-hulled, millpond-skimming spine-breakers, but the difference in comfort and handling is dramatic.

Of course there are planing hulls and planing hulls. Some give a far softer ride than others.

Nonetheless, on a size-for-size basis few can match the relatively narrow-beamed, deep-V, semi-displacement form of boats like the Duchy when it comes to punching into a head sea.

Southampton back to Falmouth in a westerly 5-6? Dave has done that at an average of 15 knots.

Day-trip from Falmouth to the Scillies? That’s typically around three hours each way.

Economy settings

One factor that sometimes worries sailors switching to power is running costs: buying the boat can be just the beginning.

Not so with the Duchy 27 – or, at least, not to the same extent.

Shafts are the simplest form of drive and, with the Nanni being both easy to reach and based on a Toyota block, one would hope that. servicing and maintenance costs won’t mean having to sell off land or raise the tenants’ rent.

Neither will motoring around in a Duchy cause an uprising among those who sail, because her wash is less than you might expect for a boat that displaces over three tons.

It takes energy to create waves, so the less energy a boat needs to push her along, the smaller the wash she leaves behind.

Less wash, less diesel, fewer raised fists among the sailing fraternity. It all makes sense.

Inside of a Duchy 27 motor boat

Light and bright is the theme in the cabin, with beautifully finished English oak for the joinery and two opening ports each side. Credit: David Harding

Now that we have addressed (or at least touched upon) the economics, let’s open the throttle all the way and see what happens.

There’s no hump of the type that characterises most full planing hulls: the Duchy’s bow rises only marginally as speed increases until the GPS reads – as it did on our test – 25 knots at 3,200rpm.

That’s some going for a boat like this which should, perhaps, be described as slightly-more- than-semi-planing rather than semi displacement.

This was with six people aboard.

With only the lightest of evening breezes to ruffle the surface of Southampton Water, our ‘heavy weather’ testing was limited to crossing the wakes of passing shipping.

Part of a cabin on a boat

Forward part of the cabin is devoted to seating that converts to a double berth. Credit: David Harding

It was less rigorous than negotiating 25 knots of wind-over- tide off St Catherine’s, for example, but enough to let the boat demonstrate her ability to slice through watery lumps and bumps.

Like any relatively narrow motorboat of this general type, she will roll a little – or maybe one should say lurch gently – when the waves come on the beam or the quarter.

A boat that’s inclined one way wants to steer the other and, with a long keel adding to her determination to keep going the way she’s pointing, she needs to be coaxed back on to her original heading.

In a seaway you wouldn’t want to over-steer because the boat will often correct herself on the next wave.

It’s a different feel from a flatter-sectioned hull with no keel, which you can often feel side-slipping down the front of the waves when they start getting steep.

Cornering is different, too. Although the Duchy will turn pretty quickly when asked, she won’t bank into the turn.

Galley on a Duchy 27 motor boat

A single-burner gas cooker hinges up out of the sink. Stowage is generous. Credit: David Harding

With that keel gripping the water she stays level or heels slightly outwards.

Stopping is extremely rapid if you need it to be and, with a hydraulic gearbox, you theoretically don’t need to pause between forward and reverse (even if most of us do, out of habit).

She drops off the plane the instant you throttle right back; then a nudge of reverse and she’s dead in the water.

Left to drift, she will lie with the wind just abaft the beam. Given that the windage is forward and the deepest point of the keel aft (providing full protection to the prop) I would have expected her to adopt more of a quartering attitude.

Life would probably get a bit rolly like this in a seaway.

Control at low speeds is good, thanks to a rudder that’s big by motorboat standards.

Plan of a Duchy 27

Plan of the Duchy 27

Just don’t ask her to pull the bow through the wind in astern.

Tick the box marked ‘bow thruster’, pay an extra £3,000 and be done with it. In a marina you wouldn’t want to be without one.

On passage in most conditions you should have a relaxing time.

The Duchy 27 has the solid feel of a larger boat and makes life easy for the helm, tending to run straight – in flat water at least, and probably in a head sea too – and needing little attention to the wheel.

In case you’re tempted to think about different engine sizes, Dave’s advice is not to think about it too long.

More power would make no meaningful difference to the speed.

Smaller engines tend not to drink much less because they have to work harder to push the hull along, unless you settle for displacement speed, and fitting something different would take longer and herefore not work out any cheaper.

That said, this is a semi-custom boat so most things are possible.

Accommodation on the Duchy 27

Beautifully finished in English oak – among the few pale-coloured hardwoods – the cabin provides a galley to port, separate heads to starboard (complete with electric- flush loo), two settee berths that convert to a double, and a surprising amount of stowage including a hanging locker by the companionway.

A longer hatch is a Cockwells modification from the original, meaning that head-banging on entering the cabin is now highly unlikely and you can stand up at the galley, where a single-burner cooker (‘we’re not trying to make a cruising boat’) hinges up out of the sink.

Forward of the heads and galley, the berths are formed by a moulding that extends up the hullsides to meet the headlining.

The cabin of the Duchy 27 is simply a nice place to be. It’s hard to imagine many protests from anyone spending a weekend aboard.

PBO’s verdict on the Duchy 27

If you want to do 35 knots or sleep a dozen people, the Duchy is not for you.

It’s possible to go faster or buy bigger for less money, but that’s not the point.

You buy a Duchy 27 for her style, her all-weather capability, her big-boat feel and her exquisite finish.

Her ruggedness and economical running also make her a thoroughly practical little boat and not just an indulgence.

So if you’re among those who tick both the ‘do’ and ‘can’ boxes, you might be running out of reasons not to buy one.

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LOA:8.23m/27ft 0in
LWL:7.80m/25ft 7in
Beam:2.80m/9ft 2in
Draught:2ft 9in/0.84m
Engine:200hp Nanni diesel
Fuel:263l/58 gal
Tel:+44 (0)1326 377 366