Why has the Maxi 84 proved so popular since her launch 45 years ago? David Harding sailed Maximus, the ‘work in progress’ refurbished PBO Project Boat, to find out
Maxi 84: roomy, capable & rewarding to sail
Even when you test boats for a living, some makes manage to pass you by for decades.
For example, I had known Contests – seen them, photographed them and known people who owned them – for ever, but it wasn’t until 2019 that I tested my first one.
Similarly, I only sailed my first Maxi a couple of years ago, and that was a relatively recent model, so it was with interest that I approached the PBO Project Boat, Maximus to see what this design from 1977 had to offer.
I knew a little of the history and that the boat was afloat and sailing but very much still ‘work in progress’. Other than that, it was all new territory.
You don’t have to be a serious boat nerd to know that Maxis have always had a reputation for being sportier and more geared towards production building than boats from the west coast of Sweden, such as the Malos and Najads, that are widely seen as setting the quality standards by which cruising yachts are judged.
Given that the designer of the Maxis, Pelle Petterson, has a couple of Olympic medals to his name and has skippered two Swedish challenges for the America’s Cup, it’s no surprise that his Maxis have a performance tilt.
The Maxi 84 was one of his earlier designs and was an instant hit, combining good performance with easy handling, roomy accommodation and robust construction.
By modern standards she’s a fairly heavy boat, displacing 3,000kg (over 6,500lb) on a waterline length of just 7.2m (23ft 7in).
She’s also fairly modestly canvassed, so everything points to a boat that’s going to be at her best when the breeze picks up, especially given her 45% ballast ratio.
Beneath the waterline we see a fin keel bolted to a stepped, moulded stub, which helps both to lower the centre of gravity and to make the boat better able to cope with hitting the odd rock – always a consideration in Scandinavian waters.
Having the rudder on the transom and a relatively broad stern by the standards of the day leads to a good amount of useable cockpit space.
There’s a lot more you can tell by looking at the Maxi’s drawings and statistics, much of it reflected in the way she performs.
On paper and in practice
So how does she perform? Pretty well, is the short answer.
It’s easy to see why owners of Maxi 84s generally seem to speak of them with enthusiasm.
In our case we had brand new sails, about which Ali has written in the last couple of issues, and they undoubtedly helped enormously.
So many boats of this sort of age and price are handicapped by sails that should long since have been turned into something else.
Thankfully we had a reasonable breeze on the evening we chose for our spin around Poole harbour; a good 14-18 knots much of the time, dropping to 10-12 knots in the lulls.
In the style of the day, the Maxi 84 has a relatively small mainsail and large foretriangle, so having a good genoa and enough rig tension to avoid excessive forestay sag is essential.
We had both of those, together with a reasonable backstay tensioner, and Maximus showed no signs of flinching in the gusts.
Her willingness to carry full canvas upwind with over 20 knots of apparent did, however, make me wonder if she might be under-powered when the breeze dropped into single figures.
She was notably well balanced, carrying only modest weather helm even in the fresher patches and, occasionally, a touch of lee helm when she came upright.
Our speed was good, helped by the flat water. We mostly saw more than 5 knots upwind and tacked through little over 80° – a highly respectable angle for a boat of this nature.
The genoa tracks are roughly in the middle of the wide side decks and could be no further inboard to make the sheeting angle any narrower because of the length of the spreaders.
As well as being inclined to sail in a pretty straight line most of the time, the Maxi 84 has an agreeably light helm because of the balance on the rudder blade: a good slice of it is forward of the transom.
A full-length skeg – as on the Sadler 29, for example – offers better protection to the rudder at the expense of some balance. You can’t have it both ways.
In terms of speed, pointing ability and the pleasure of sailing, it was all pretty good.
The Maxi 84 is a reassuring, responsive and respectably quick boat to sail.
With boats of this generation, however, you typically find a number of age-related issues that you either have to live with or do something about.
Signs of the times
First is the rig: the size of the foretriangle/genoa and the presence of a babystay.
Those two elements combine to make tacking slower and harder work than on a newer boat with (typically) a fractional rig and smaller headsail.
A babystay is always an irritation during tacks and means that you end up having to do a lot more winching than you would otherwise, especially with a genoa that has a lot of overlap. It keeps you fit.
The old ‘four square’ rigs like this (masthead with in-line cap shrouds) usually need forward lowers or a babystay to guard against the risk of inversion, and in this case the babystay is countered by lowers taken to chainplates a foot or so abaft the caps.
It’s a Seldén rig, so at least the extrusions and fittings are neatly finished.
A further compromise with small mainsails and big foretriangles is that, at deep downwind angles when the headsail begins to lose drive, you’re left with very little sail doing any work.
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Thankfully, Tim Scarisbrick from T Sails had made a cruising chute for Maximus that kept us moving nicely on most points.
Cruising chutes have their own limitations compared with conventional spinnakers, but that’s a separate issue.
One more caveat with older boats is easier (though potentially quite expensive) to do something about: the condition of the hardware.
Old hardware means hard work. When sheaves, blocks, pulleys, tracks, cars and purchases no longer move easily, you have to use a lot more grunt.
Similarly, old sheets and halyards go hard.
The trouble is that replacing hardware and running rigging can be an expensive job.
You could easily spend a high proportion of the boat’s purchase price and never see it back in resale value, so you have to take a view on how far it’s worth going.
In the case of Maximus, some of the hardware was perfectly serviceable but replacing some of it would make life much easier and sailing more efficient.
As if to make the point, one of the genoa cars disintegrated while we were sailing.
Remarkably for a 27-footer (which is roughly what she is if you don’t count the rudder), there’s enough space for four people in the cockpit.
That includes actually working in the cockpit; not just sitting. It’s on the tight side, but possible.
The mainsheet is taken to a short track at the aft end of the bridgedeck. It only had plungers, rather than a car with a purchase, making adjustment rather laborious.
Genoa winches – not self-tailers – were by Barlow, which you won’t see on boats built for a few decades now.
They’re among features of the Maxi 84 that take you back.
Perhaps the most important piece of equipment missing on Maximus was a tiller extension, so I couldn’t see what it was like helming from the coaming other than by sitting to leeward and using an extended foot.
As the coamings are quite close to the guardwires at the aft end of the cockpit, you’d want to sit as far forward as the tiller extension would allow in order to find a comfortable perch.
Otherwise you would sit inboard, as is the wont of cruising sailors anyway.
The coamings provide comfortably high backrests and the cockpit is a good leg-bracing width.
One particularly welcome feature in the cockpit, rarely seen on boats built since the 1980s, is a coaming locker.
There’s only one, on the port side, but it’s a decent size and just what you need for keeping binoculars, a hand-bearing compass, drinks, sunglasses, sail ties and so on readily to hand.
The engine pull-stop is in here – helpfully marked ‘Stopp’, which even non-Swedish speakers might be able to understand.
Full-depth lockers are to port and right aft, so cockpit stowage is pretty good all round.
At the other end of the boat, we find an anchor locker just abaft the stemhead. Anchoring, of course, isn’t such common practice in Scandinavian waters, so on Swedish boats of this era, when their home market was relatively more important, it’s by no means uncommon to find no anchor roller.
Rollers can be fitted to Maxi 84s, so something will need to be worked out for Maximus.
Another sign of the times is the GRP forehatch, moulded to the shape of the forward end of the coachroof and with non-pigmented resin in the top to let though as much light as possible.
Like the Maxi 77 and 95, the Maxi 84 has raised topsides above the gunwale, leading to a near-flush deck with just a modest coachroof.
The single window each side is just above the chunky rubberised rubbing strake that caps the flange formed by the hull-to-deck joint.
It’s an arrangement that gives wide decks and generous headroom down below across nearly the full beam of the boat while avoiding towering topsides.
A bonus is easier passage ‘twixt cockpit and foredeck than on many boats of this size, even if you do have a bit of a step up from the cockpit to the aft end of the deck.
A moulded lip outboard helps security of footing when the boat’s heeled and provides an anchoring point for the stanchion bases.
For a boat of this age, the mouldings looked good. Star-crazing and stress cracks were hard to find and there was no obvious flexing.
It was good to see two vents in the deck – one just abaft the babystay and one forward of the hatch garage.
Scandinavian builders have generally been more conscious than many of the need to maintain a through-flow of air below decks.
Accommodation on the Maxi 84
To those of us who were bought up sailing on boats of this era, going down below on the Maxi 84 is like stepping back in time.
It was a while since I’d seen a brass plate on the bulkhead displaying the boat’s registered tonnage, or a sink that slides out over the heads between the saloon and forecabin.
When you reach the bottom of the companionway steps – which are flanked by grab handles each side – you find that you can stand up as long as you’re not more than 1.85m (6ft 1in) tall.
Petterson did well to make that possible in a boat with such a short waterline.
I was instantly struck by the amount of nicely finished woodwork.
It’s offset by the moulding that forms the interior up to bunk-level, and by the moulded headliner, but the overall feel is still one of nicely woody warmth.
It’s a traditional layout for boats of this age insofar as you have a forecabin, heads, saloon, galley and quarter berth.
All that’s missing compared with the traditional British layout on boats of similar vintage is a chart table.
To port by the companionway is the galley, complete with sink, coolbox, space for a cooker (removed on Maximus after the gas installation was deemed unsafe), utility stowage, several drawers, a hand pump for the fresh water and, somewhat curiously, access to the cockpit locker.
A slide-out chopping board above the drawers and a hinge-up work surface on the forward bulkhead make best use of a small space.
Workspace for the galley extends across the top of the companionway steps, where a useful box for stowing winch handles and suchlike can be lifted out to give access to the top of the engine.
Front and side access to the Volvo MD 2020 saildrive is good once the steps have been removed.
Forward of the galley, the settee berth is 1.78m (5ft 10in) long. You have a longer berth to starboard, butting up to the 1.83m (6ft) quarter berth that’s a few inches higher to accommodate the fuel tank beneath.
Stowage is under the bunks each side, behind the backrests and above them in the form of lockers with sliding doors, though arrangements vary.
When sitting at the forward end of the saloon, you’re conscious of the tie-bars for the aft lowers.
The chainplates for the cap shrouds are taken to the main bulkhead, to which those for the aft lowers are tied too, by means of an angled bar.
It’s perhaps not the most elegant solution, but hard to think of a better one.
In the middle of the saloon is the fiddled, drop-leaf table and, below that, the sole boards giving access to the keel stub and the keel bolts that run through the transverse stiffening members down into the keel.
Forward of the main bulkhead is the heads to starboard and hanging space to port, then you move into the forecabin with its V-berth (1.9m/6ft 3in long), and with open-fronted lockers above and stowage below.
I won’t do more than mention things like the previous leaks and the peeling hullside lining, because Ali will have covered those elsewhere.
Verdict on the Maxi 84
It’s easy to understand why 1,350 Maxi 84s were built during the six years of their production.
They’re impressively roomy and capable boats that are rewarding to sail and, in any breeze, by no means slow.
Owners report stiffness and good seakeeping qualities in heavy weather, along with some racing successes too.
Maximus even sports a CHS sticker on her mast, suggesting that a previous owner must have done some competitive sailing.
Boats from this era inevitably show their age in a number of ways.
Some might be seen as drawbacks compared with newer designs, while others are undoubtedly positives.
Given what you get for a very modest outlay, anyone looking for a robust family cruiser with some sporty pretensions in this size range could do a lot worse than buy a Maxi 84.
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