David Harding tests the GT35 and finds a yacht that offers "a blend of performance, power, stiffness, comfort, security, ease of handling, innovative thinking, clever detailing and structural integrity that few can match."

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GT35 boat test: ‘outstanding, production cruiser’
This product is featured in: Dufour 37: ‘a fast, comfortable cruiser’.

How many truly outstanding production cruising yachts have been launched in the past 40 years?

Depending on how we set our criteria, most of us would come up with a pretty short list.

Mine, for example, would include the Mystery 35, the Starlight range (35, 39 and 46) and the Sadler 290 – a boat whose potential, sadly, was never fully realised. The Finngulf 46 is right up there, too.

Given this country’s pool of talent in yacht design and our history of boatbuilding, it’s no surprise that the Mystery, Sadler and Starlights were designed and built in Britain.

Two men sitting in a cockpit of a boat while sailing at sea

The side decks on the GT35 boat run all the way aft, so there’s no need to step into the cockpit to reach the stern. A second benefit is that the cockpit is a sensible width. Credit: David Harding

While we no longer have the number of yacht builders we once had and appear unable to compete in terms of volume and economy, our remaining yards have established themselves in particular areas by offering types of boat that the purveyors of identikit plastic blobs simply can’t – albeit often at a price.

At the luxury end we have Oyster. Rustler has an enviable reputation for quality, semi-bespoke seagoing yachts. Multimarine’s Dazcats set the standard in fast offshore cruising catamarans. Everyone knows that Southerly stands for quick and stylish swing-keelers.

Want a modern gaffer? That’s what Cornish Crabbers do. Sporty meets trad in a trailer-sailer? Beat a path to Wales and see Swallow Boats.

There are others, of course, including builders of one-off or limited-production yachts, dinghies and dayboats.

Quality and innovation is present in abundance. What we’ve been missing, however, is someone building mid-size, all-round performance cruisers.

GT35 boat: great expectations

Conrad Cockburn founded GT Yachts in 2011 with a clear objective: to build a range of yachts offering performance, comfort, stiffness, predictable and responsive handling, true offshore ability, sound engineering and built-in longevity in both construction and styling.

You might imagine that many builders of cruising yachts would share these worthy ideals, but commercial reality tends to get in the way.

Big builders have to build in big numbers. That means appealing to the widest possible range of buyers and, as often as not, to the charter market as well.

Two men sitting in the cockpit of a GT35 sailing yacht out at sea

This shot clearly shows the height of the cockpit coamings. Credit: David Harding

Crucial factors in this context include maximising interior volume while minimising costs.

In today’s market, where performance – or at least a perception of sporty potential – plays more of a part than was once the case, it also means minimising performance compromises in the sort of conditions in which most people will choose to sail.

Fortunately for such builders, it’s relatively easy to create a boat that performs in this middle range of between about 9 and 17 knots of wind.

The challenges lie above and below. In light airs you need more sail and less wetted area in relation to the boat’s weight.

In stronger winds the rig mustn’t overpower the boat, so you need more ballast.

Rigging on a sail boat

The rigging is taken right outboard, with covering mouldings in the topsides. Credit: David Harding

Less wetted area tends to mean a narrower waterline and less form stability (along with greater comfort in a seaway) so ballast plays a more important role.

Adding ballast and sail increases the structural demands, leading to more complex engineering and greater cost.

If you use iron keels, more ballast means increasing the keel’s bulk or chord (more drag and less lift) for any given draught.

So the answer is to use lead, which is more expensive, and to concentrate its weight at the bottom of a moulded stub or a lighter keel shaft, which again involves more complex structures.

So it’s easy to see that making a boat with a fat waterline, a modest rig and an iron keel suits high- volume builders: loads of room inside, good initial stability, minimal cost and performance that’s still acceptable to most on a nice summer’s day.

A view of the stern of a GT35 boat with two men sitting in the cockpit

The GT35 boat shows off her well- balanced lines as she powers upwind at 7 knots. Credit: David Harding

High-volume production was never Conrad’s objective. Neither was competing on price with budget boats.

He reckoned there was a gap in the market for a wholesome and handsome performance yacht that steered clear not only of the traits described above but also of many others he considers undesirable in a proper cruiser, such as a plumb stem (compromises in terms of pitching and of buoyancy in the bow sections), T-bulb keels (arguably not practical for a cruising yacht) and overly full sterns to accommodate enormous aft cabins (all sorts of performance and handling implications in both light and heavy airs).

A rig without a backstay is another no-no for Conrad and, it must be said, he’s by no means alone.

Continues below…

None of the ‘proper yacht’ qualities built into the GT35 will do it any harm on nice summer’s days, because boats like this should still be better behaved and more fun to sail than the compromised alternatives.

They won’t be as quick as lighter or more extreme designs – moderate displacement comes from moderately high volume and plenty of ballast – but should give a pretty good account of themselves all round.

Importantly, they should also be comfortable and easy to sail at close to their potential rather than demanding a high degree of concentration from an experienced crew.

Rewarding concentration and good sailing is not the same as demanding it.

GT35 boat: Design from the start

Much can be gleaned from the approach of the builder and by looking at the lines and statistics of a yacht you might be considering.

It can also help to know who was responsible for drawing the lines: in this case, Stephen Jones.

Time was when Stephen’s name would have needed introducing to buyers of production yachts other than those familiar with his various Hustlers and Oysters from the 1970s and ’80s.

Then came the Starlights, Seaquest’s SJ 320 and Prima 38, the Sadler 290 and designs for Rustler and Southerly including the Rustler 37 and Southerly 36.

For Conrad, there was one designer he knew he could work with to create the sort of boat he wanted.

A drawing showing the Sail plan of the GT35 boat

Sail plan of the GT35 boat

Conrad himself is a naval architect and chartered engineer with a background in commercial shipping and experience of managing design projects with superyachts, so he had a better idea than many who go into boatbuilding of just what’s involved.

Making the project viable meant using his own expertise and that of others in what he describes as ‘an outsourcing model’.

The biggest part of the ‘outsourcing’ was engaging the services of Windboats in Norfolk as builders.

Windboats, together with Landamores, was contracted to build Oyster yachts until Oyster recently decided to bring its building in-house.

Stephen designed his first model for Oyster back in the early 1970s and now his latest design is being built at one of the yards that helped to make Oyster what it is today.

A drawing showing the Accommodation layout on the GT35 boat

Accommodation layout on the GT35 boat

The design of the GT35 boat is an evolution of the Starlight hull form, which in turn was developed from earlier SJ designs conceived as safe, fast and comfortable cruisers.

Comparisons with the Starlight 39 are inevitable – the 39 rather than the 35 because the GT35 has the same waterline length as the Starlight 39.

This highlights one of the major changes in hull shape over the past few decades, bow overhangs having been substantially reduced but, in this case, not forsaken in favour of a plumb stem.

It’s from the bow that the GT35 is particularly striking.

There’s no point here; instead, a gentle radius that, explains Stephen, serves a number of purposes.

Most significantly in hydrodynamic terms it pushes the bow wave further forward, as full bow-sections do, increasing the distance between the bow wave and quarter wave.

This increases the effective length of the hull and, therefore, the maximum hull-speed.

Those interested in prismatic coefficients and Froude numbers can bring out their calculators, but we won’t go into the number-crunching here.

Although bluff bows might not look fast – and they do increase viscous resistance – they permit straighter runs along the rest of the hull sections to minimise pressure build-ups, especially when combined with the placement of maximum beam further aft. In simple terms they can make a boat go faster.

Unrealised potential

Wider sterns are another notable trend over the past 20 years or so. The GT35’s is nowhere near as broad as some, while still being wide and flat enough to contribute to the boat’s stability, internal volume and downwind performance.

Because cruising yachts typically have a lot of weight in the stern – engine, heads, fuel tank, fully-furnished aft quarters and plenty of kit in the lockers – they need a substantial volume in the hull back here.

That volume can play havoc with wetted area and the buttock runs, resulting in boats that stick to the water in light airs and won’t get up and go downwind in a breeze.

Stephen’s solution is his nacelle, or displacement skeg, which has been a feature of his cruising designs for many generations.

It works in many ways, encouraging a surprising level of downwind performance in his relatively heavy, full-bodied cruising yachts.

two men in the cockpit of a sailing yacht

Laid-back sailing: Conrad Cockburn shows off the comfortable seats in the stern rail, while designer Stephen Jones takes the helm. Credit: David Harding

I was on a demonstration sail with a Starlight 39 many years ago when we hit 18 knots surfing down a wave under plain sail.

That same boat also left the rest of our class for dead in the Round the Island Race until we were rammed by an out-of-control port-tack competitor from another class. If ever there was a case of unfinished business…

These Starlight-GT-series hulls are conceived not for ultimate performance, given the weight, comfort and conservative nature of the boats they’re created for, but they are remarkably slippery.

The relatively narrow waterline (around 75% of overall beam) is one contributory factor, and it’s one that also works with the full bow, ample buoyancy in the topsides forward and unextreme stern to maintain balance when the boat is hard pressed, especially with the help of a good lump of lead on the bottom of the keel.

A galley on a boat

A secure galley with plenty to hold on to and wedge against. Credit: David Harding

‘Lump’ is perhaps not the best way to describe it, since the shape of the keel, like the hull, stems from continual refinement of one that has been shown to work.

In this case it’s similar to that on the Rustler 33, with a flared base and the lead bolted to the bottom of a moulded stub to keep the centre of gravity as low as possible.

With the GT35, fins can be deep (1.95m/6ft 5in) or shallow (1.60m/5ft 3in). Twin keels (1.50m/4ft 11in) are offered too.

Our test boat had the deep fin, together with a folding three-bladed Brunton propeller. It also had a clean bottom and sails that had only been hoisted a couple of times.

The bad news in performance terms is that it was fitted with a bow thruster, and not of the type that retracts into the hull: this one was in a tunnel, the drag from which would do the boat no favours.

Testing on passage

I joined Stephen on board in Fox’s Marina in Ipswich. Together with Conrad and the owner, Trevor James, we were about to sail to Trevor’s mooring in West Mersea – a trip of about 30 miles.

It was a good opportunity to spend a few hours on board with the designer, builder and owner.

At this point I should mention that Trevor doesn’t just own the first GT35 – he also owns Windboats and Hardy.

On almost any other day of the year this passage would have been predominantly upwind.

On this particular day we had a brisk north-easterly, meaning the wind would be on or abaft the beam practically the whole way.

We would need to create an opportunity for windward work at some stage.

A yacht with white sails sailing out to sea

The tall, 15⁄16ths, double-spreader Seldén rig powers the GT35 boat, and has long spreaders and short-footed headsail sheeted to tracks on the coachroof. Credit: David Harding

We started by reaching down the Orwell at 7 knots or so – pursued, closely at first, by a Scanyacht 390 that dropped progressively further astern as the wind freed us – and I took advantage of the flat water to look around the deck.

The GT35 boat feels like a mighty big 35-footer. In fact she feels more like a 40-footer, yet still manages to look good because of carefully chosen proportions and a myriad of subtle styling features built into the topsides, deck, coachroof and coamings.

Bold strips and loud graphics are not needed.

Starting at the stern, the first point of note is the depth of the cockpit.

A good leg-bracing width, and with the coamings set far enough inboard for the side decks to run all the way to the transom, it has high, angled backrests and provides any number of comfortable places for the crew to sit. Unusually, the sole abaft the wheel is at a lower level.

A forecabin on the GT35 boat

Making the most of the GT35’s full bow sections, the forecabin features a large, offset double berth that retains a good width right to its forward end. Credit: David Harding

With split-level soles it’s more common for the helm to have an elevated perch, but lowering the sole back here was a deliberate ploy to create greater security.

If you want to gain a couple of inches when standing behind the wheel – to see more clearly over the sprayhood, for example – you can balance on the ridge running aft from the emergency tiller’s socket. That’s quite narrow, however

Among many modern trends the GT35 avoids is the open stern. This one is fully enclosed and, should the helm wish to sit behind the wheel he or she can even lean back against a thoroughly supportive coaming.

Enclosed though the cockpit is in sailing mode, the centre section of the stern seat can be lifted out and reconfigured to form a step on to the boarding platform once the transom is hinged down.

What you don’t get, of course, is the grand entrance-from-the-quayside found on boats with super-broad sterns, twin wheels and vast expanses of open cockpit.

Stowage is in a full-depth locker beneath the starboard seat. There’s more each side in the stern and – almost uniquely for a boat of this size – a large locker in the bow, between the forecabin and anchor locker.

This is a great space for storing fenders and warps, saving the crew having to open lockers in the cockpit and obstruct the helm’s view.

The only significant omission in the cockpit is any coaming lockers.

GT35 boat: Made for sailing

Elements of tradition are found throughout the GT35, from the appealing sheerline and protected cockpit to the raised bulwarks that become higher towards the bow.

At the stem, flanges on the twin stainless steel anchor rollers bolt through the wide flat top of the bulwarks for extra rigidity.

The decks themselves are wide and the rigging is right outboard, so moving forward presents no challenges other than ducking inside the lowers.

Lines from the mast are led aft under removable panels on the coachroof, with those starting from further forward – such as the furling line for the headsail’s under-deck drum – running through recesses in the moulding.

Moving up from the deck, we turn our attention to the powerhouse: the tall, 15⁄16ths, double-spreader Seldén rig with its long spreaders and short-footed headsail sheeted to tracks on the coachroof.

Dolphin had made a nice set of sails in Dacron, though there was scope to squeeze a substantial amount of extra area in the form of mainsail roach and headsail overlap.

The aft cabin on the GT35 boat

The aft cabin on the GT35 boat is not as roomy as some, because of the moderate stern sections and the space given to the systems and the cockpit locker, but it’s far from cramped. Credit: David Harding

That brings us conveniently back to the sailing. As soon as we got some fresher breeze in more open water, combined with the smallest of waves, the log climbed to over 8 knots.

From then on, with the waves increasing it was a matter of seeing what we could make the boat do in the true wind of around 25 knots.

The answer was frequently over 10 knots with a maximum, as we goose-winged down one wave, of 11. Oh for a spinnaker – and no drag-inducing bow-thruster…

All this was achieved with just two fingers on the wheel. Steering downwind in brisk conditions can become tiring after a few hours, but so light is the GT35’s helm that you can hold the spokes a few inches from the centre and save yourself a vast amount of effort.

Given this balance, I would choose to reduce the number of turns from lock to lock – currently 1.8 – by moving the link arm inboard a hole or two.

A toilet on a boat

The GT35 boat has a roomy heads compartment, with plenty to brace against and hanging space for several sets of waterproofs. Credit: David Harding

Before we reached the Blackwater, and while we were still in a respectable chop, I insisted on spoiling the downwind party and turning upwind for a spell.

Having been standing behind the wheel I needed to see what the coamings were like to sit on at various angles of heel.

They were extremely comfortable and the perch would be even more relaxing if the diameter of the wheel (currently 48in) were pushed to the maximum.

Seeing how the boat went upwind was also part of the plan. Beating into 25 to 27 knots of wind–we had 32-33 knots across the deck – in open water under full sail is a reasonably stiff test of any boat.

The GT35 didn’t bat an eyelid, powering along at a consistent 6.7-6.8 knots, rarely landing with anything that could be described as a thud, let alone a bang, and keeping us remarkably dry.

By flattening the rig as far as possible we kept the heel to a comfortable angle.

The boat was nowhere near being overpowered and remained finger-light on the helm. For those who think in Beaufort, this was the top end of a Force 6.

There was more. Not trusting the true wind-angle reading of 30°, I noted our compass heading and tacked. It showed 30° again and, what’s more, the compass heading confirmed that we had indeed tacked through 60°.

A couple more tacks gave the same story. Stephen reminded me of when the late Geoff Pack had tested the Starlight 39 (I was with him at the time) and struggled to believe it when he consistently recorded a tacking angle of 60°.

Given her narrower sheeting angle, the GT35 should be closer-winded than the Starlight and we would probably have done better still in flatter water.

Although this is very much a cruising boat, I hope some owners will do a spot of racing. To say that the GT35 should have potential, particularly when it blows, would be an understatement.

Returning briefly to the important issue of stability, it’s worth mentioning that the maximum righting arm (over 0.9m) is at the unusually high angle of 70°.

A peak at between 50° and 60° is more common. The AVS (angle of vanishing stability) is a similarly impressive 144°, matched by the lowest inverted stability you will find on almost anything other than a lifeboat. For those interested in such things, the STIX number is 54.

Accommodation and structure

For a fast 35-footer, this boat is nothing short of vast down below.

Combine the space with the sort of finish you would expect from a yard that used to build Oysters, then add lashings of seagoing practicality, and you get the picture.

The joinery, in solid oak and oak-faced gaboon ply, is neat, unfussy and well matched.

Interior mouldings are kept to a minimum: just the heads, and a few supports beneath the coachroof for the vinyl-covered plywood headlining panels.

The saloon and galley on the GT35 boat

The substantial volume of the GT35 boat is put to efficient use. Joinery, in oak, is less ornate than some but very well finished. Credit: David Harding

Joinery is bonded to the hull, including watertight bulkheads forward and aft. Avoiding inner mouldings maximises stowage space and access to the hull and skin fittings as well as reducing dead weight.

You won’t see the inside of the hull when you lift the settee berths each side in the saloon, however, because the glassfibre fuel and water tanks are built in, Oyster-style, with inspection hatches and, for the water tank, special resins that make sure there’s no plasticky taste.

The layout is based on the tried-and-tested modern norm with a few twists.

While the heads is aft, the master cabin is in the bow, moved aft by the deck locker so its offset bunk retains a good width all the way to the forward end.

Hand holds on a yacht

An effective yet unobtrusive overhead handhold runs the length of the saloon each side. A similar handhold will be fitted below the windows. Credit: David Harding

You could sleep head-to-the-bow if you like. All you can’t do on this boat is open the door all the way, because the berth was built fractionally over-length. That was rectified in future production.

In the saloon the settee berths are parallel, near the centreline and, therefore, as comfortable as can be for use at sea.

A bonus is plenty of stowage outboard – or the port berth can be moved in a little further to create space for a pilot berth.

Options include an L-shaped dinette to port and a couple of individual seats to starboard.

As in the cockpit, it’s not about open space. If you want to play cricket in the cockpit and hold a barn dance in the saloon, look elsewhere.

Wedging and holding

Sturdy grab rails flank the companionway and, at the forward end of the fore-and-aft companionway bulkhead to port, is a stainless steel pillar.

Additional pillars can be fitted at the galley and/or chart table.

With a return creating a partial U-shape, and the stainless pillar close at hand, the galley is a secure working area. So too is the chart table, an angle on the heads bulkhead making a good shoulder/ back brace on starboard tack. A foot brace makes doubly sure you won’t fall out.

A chart table on a yacht

In the modern style, the chart table on the GT35 boat has no forward bulkhead – but there’s reasonable provision for instrumentation. Credit: David Harding

On the other side of the bulkhead is the heads, incorporating space for hanging waterproofs. Opposite, to port, the double aft cabin has plenty of light and stowage.

So much down here is very good indeed.

Are there any shortcomings? I wouldn’t mind seeing more in the way of ventilation to ensure a through-flow of air.

Instrument panal on a boat

The GT35 boat has a switch panel that hinges down to reveal a neat electrical installation. Credit: David Harding

That apart – and given that you need to spend time on a boat to pick up everything, both good and bad – there appears to be very little that’s not already in hand.

Poking around under and behind anything that could be moved provided reassurance in terms of structure.

Divinycell-cored topsides are ramped down to a single skin in way of the seacocks.

Bulkheads appear securely bonded to the hull laminate, working with the frames and stringers to lend rigidity to the whole boat.

Unidirectional carbon fibre is used in the topsides in way of the chainplates, tying in with carbon in the beams across the deck that form part of the central load-bearing structure.

Conrad maintains that the boat has been engineered to last. Questions about structure, systems, access and maintenance were answered in a way that left little to doubt.


I have written a few boat tests that cynics might paraphrase as ‘it’s white, it’s plastic, it sails after a fashion, it might hang together for a year or two and I wouldn’t buy one, but good luck if you do.’ The GT35 is at the opposite end of the spectrum. True, she won’t suit everyone. Don’t expect her to disappear over the horizon in under 10 knots of wind. She won’t offer the sort of sailing experience that only a slim-hulled boat can. If you believe that offshore cruisers should have masthead, four-square rigs and long keels, you might find that this one challenges some of your ideals. And yes, there are details I would change. But – and this is an enormous but – she’s a remarkable boat, offering a blend of performance, power, stiffness, comfort, security, ease of handling, innovative thinking, clever detailing and structural integrity that few can match. She was conceived to be equally suited to coastal cruising and offshore passage-making and it’s easy to see her in both roles. This is a 35 that dwarfs other 35s in almost every way. She exists because Conrad couldn’t find anything he wanted for himself and his family when he started looking a few years ago. He saw a gap in the market for all-round performance cruisers between 30 and 50ft (9.1 and 15.2m) and set about filling it.


LOA:10.70m (35ft 0in)
LWL:10.00m (32ft 10in)
Beam:3.60m (11ft 10in)
Draught (Deep Fin):1.95m (6ft 5in)
Draught (Shallow Fin):1.60m (5ft 3in)
Draught (Twin Keels):1.50m (4ft 11in)
Displacement:7,800kg (17,196lb)
Ballast:2,810kg (6,195lb)
Sail Area (Main and Foretriangle):67sq m (721sq ft)
Displacement/Length Ratio:217
Sail Area/Displacement Ratio:17.27
RCD Catergory:A
Engine:Beta 20hp diesel saildrive
Headroom:1.87m (6ft 2in)
Designer:Stephen Jones
Builder:GT Yachts, www.gtyachts.com
Price (when first launched):£289,500