The Sargo 31 sits right in the middle of the Finnish firm’s five-strong range: Nick Burnham takes the helm of a boat capable of covering ‘serious distances at high speed’
To really get under the skin of Finnish boats you need to visit Finland.
Largely flat, more undulating than actually hilly, and featureless in a very pretty, rolling field and pine forest kind of way, for miles and miles the only signs of habitation are the occasional attractive wooden house or barn.
Traffic is light, but with barely a sign of conurbation it’s hard to know where anyone’s going at all…
What is apparent, however, is how many of those houses have a boat in the barn or sitting on the drive.
These are generally small, trailable, outboard and practical, so it’s clear that there is a serious boating culture here. And when you hit the coastline, you quickly discover the reason why.
Spread over 5,000 miles and comprising in excess of 17,000 habitable islands, Finland boasts the largest archipelago in the world.
There are about 60,000 permanent residents, a population which can double over the summer months.
Stats like this explain why Finland has the highest percentage of boat owners per adult in the world. One in seven owns a boat of some sort.
It also explains the boats that they build. Fast, capable, tough – they frequently feature all-weather capability and are immensely practical yet seldom utilitarian – they’re more than simple tools of transportation. Welcome, then, to the Sargo 31.
Sarins Båtar Oy Ab (builders of Sargo, a 2014 rebrand of Minor Boats) is based on Finland’s tough west coast, where the often hostile Gulf of Bothnia separates it from Sweden, and has been in business for almost half a century.
It began making small island-hoppers under the Sarin banner back in the ’60s, later creating the Minor range of offshore powerboats for the world stage.
The Sargo 31 has been a stalwart of the range virtually since the offshore brand was formed.
Today, in lightly revamped form, it occupies the dead centre position of a five-strong range that spans 25 to 36ft.
The gentle restyle of the Sargo 31, mainly concerning the profile of the wheelhouse roof, hasn’t altered the fundamental concept of the craft one jot.
It’s still a superbly functional-looking beast, from its forward-sloping windscreens and chunky black rubbing band to its deep bulwarks topped by sturdy rails.
Although the sides are low enough to easily scramble over, the large bathing platform (complete with lifting flap to access the sterndrive) offers the easiest route on board, via a transom gate.
You’ll find yourself in an aft cockpit bordered on three sides by simple bench seats that contain storage beneath them.
It’s also possible to have an external helm fitted against the aft wheelhouse bulkhead for low-speed fishing or close-quarters manoeuvring – limited forward visibility precluding high speed work from here.
Wide decks sweep past the wheelhouse on both sides, giving easy access to the uncluttered foredeck with its offset anchor windlass and cradle, and its walk-through pulpit rails.
(In the archipelago the water is deep and the terrain rocky, so the preferred method of access is to anchor the stern off the island, nose the bow in and tie it off to the land. The shore is then accessed over the bow.)
Functionality of the Sargo 31
Large sliding doors either side gain you access to the interior. Yet again, the functionality shines through.
A pair of deep, comfortable and adjustable bucket seats hug the helm and navigator.
One step up, comfortable squared-off seating flows around both sides and the back of this area – another element improved in the revamp – surrounding a table that folds and swivels depending on whether you’re dining or entertaining.
Windows are generous – deep, wide and plentiful – banishing any sense of claustrophobia from this fairly compact area and ensuring that everyone gets a great view.
The only real area of compromise is the galley. Tucked into the forward port corner, lifting the lid reveals a sink and a smooth ceramic hob that looks like an electric unit but is in fact diesel-fired.
There are a couple of small cupboards beneath it, and above in the header rail, and there is a fridge beneath the helm seats, but bar a microwave tucked into the passageway forward that’s about your lot; you’ll need to use the table as a work surface.
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It’s perfectly adequate for making a quick sandwich, a bowl of soup or a cup of tea, but you’ll be dining out regularly of an evening unless you want to court a mutiny.
Head down the companionway forward and you’ll find the heads to starboard opposite a large locker with the microwave above it.
Again, the word adequate springs to mind – enough room to do all that needs to be done, but no more.
A shower curtain protects the wooden bulkhead between this and the vee-berthed forward cabin if you’ve specified the optional shower.
There is plenty of headroom, a decent amount of storage and everywhere is very nicely finished with a minimalist combination of smooth GRP mouldings and classy walnut wood (teak being the other option).
Had you cupped your hand against the saloon window and had a quick peek inside a locked Sargo 31 on the way down the pontoon, you’d have guessed at this layout and got it spot-on.
The bit you probably wouldn’t have imagined is further back…
Lift the port leg seat base of the three-sided dinette in the wheelhouse and you’ll discover that it hinges toward the centre of the boat, self-supporting vertically on a gas strut and revealing an intriguing stairway.
Access is a little tight, but the teak treaded steps are large and easy to negotiate, and doing so reveals another cabin.
This is the reason that the dinette is raised (although increased visibility is a bonus of doing so); there’s actually a double berth down here that runs transversely beneath it.
Interestingly, pre-revamp the bed was arranged lengthways down here: despite the cabin being no larger, turning it 90° has freed up a surprising amount of floor space.
Headroom is limited, especially over the bed, but nonetheless it’s a very usable area, not to mention very private.
How many 30-footers boast separate access to each cabin? Not to mention the sheer distance between them.
It’s a very cunning arrangement, and while hardly palatial, it works well.
I’ve used the word ‘adequate’ a couple of times describing the interior of the Sargo 31. It’s clearly not a floating caravan; there are plenty of other similar-sized boats that can offer as much or more space inside.
No, what this boat is about is going boating, and on this subject the adjective ‘adequate’ to describe this or any other Sargo is firmly banished.
This is what this boat is built for, and it starts before you even leave the marina.
That transom gate and dips in the side rails make hopping on board a doddle for the crew, and almost waist-high rails atop those huge bulwarks mean that this is probably the easiest 30-footer you’ll ever move around.
The decks are completely devoid of any steps to trip over or stumble down, there’s just a gentle slope upwards as you move forward.
Stow your lines in the anchor locker or one of the three deck lockers beneath the seats back aft, haul in the fenders and you’re good to go (although optional fender baskets would provide a useful home for these away from the dock).
It’s a similarly positive experience at the helm.
Those two side doors make communing with the crew easy – the big windows banishing virtually all blind spots.
If you want to stand then after raising the seat bolster you can pull a knob on the dash and the entire section that the wheel emerges through, as well as the wheel itself, tilts through an arc, bringing the throttle and vital controls such as the bow thruster, anchor winch and wipers with it so that they’re as easily accessed standing as sitting.
The powerful bow thruster (standard fit on all but the smallest Sargo) is a real help on our test boat, powered as it is by a single Volvo Penta D6-400 400hp engine, largest of the three single options (all of the big D6 5.5 litre straight six units are available in 330, 370 and 400hp slices).
A stainless steel ball on the steering wheel allows fast ‘pointability’ of the drive so you can direct the thrust easily at the rear and match it with the thruster at the front to punt the boat sideways.
There’s a massive sliding roof section above your head at the helm. Slide that and both doors right back and you’ve got a surprisingly open experience considering it’s a wheelhouse boat.
Even the large window in the aft bulkhead hinges up, held open by a pair of gas struts – perfect for a bright warm sunny day.
The day of our test, however, was none of those things, so we got to experience the boat’s full all-weather capabilities.
Usefully though, simple wooden catches that drop over the interior door handles to keep them shut at speed have two notches so you can pin the doors just slightly ajar for a little fresh air; and three glass panels let into the sliding roof (an option but a very worthwhile one) allow plenty of light to augment that which is flowing through the large windows.
Sargo 31: Fast and capable
Acceleration is effortless, the boat planing nicely at 17 knots.
With the throttle pinned, the top speed just clips 30 knots, well short of the manufacturer’s 35-knot claim for this combination of boat and engine (in fact, on par with quoted figures for the smallest 330hp engine option).
I believe it’s a realistic claim, however, since we are also a good 250rpm off the normal 3,500rpm maximum revs for this engine.
Years of experience with planing boats combined with the knowledge that this example had been in the water since May leads me to believe that an extra five knots is but a hull pressure-wash away.
Whatever – 30 knots is quick by anyone’s standards, and more pertinently, a mid-20-knot cruise is an effortless 3,000rpm, giving the boat serious cruising reach.
At this speed, the good news is twofold.
Firstly, the hull is extremely capable. Fast, capable planing boats is something Scandinavians in general always do very well, and this is no exception.
The flared bow keeps the spray down (and looks wonderful), while the deep vee hull soaks up turbulent topography like a well-damped luxury car.
But the luxury car analogy stretches a little further, because the other piece of good news is the noise level.
Even flat-out, this is an exceptionally quiet boat – my noise meter staying firmly south of 80dB(a).
To give that some context, I’ve tested half-million- pound 40-footers that are noisier.
It’s at 25 knots that this boat’s Finnish heritage really shines brightest and you really gel with this boat, because suddenly all that serious boating and practical thinking comes together to create a superb fast cruiser capable of covering big distances in effortless comfort. A keen sailor, the owner of this boat celebrated taking delivery with a trip to Paris for the Yacht Squadron Bicentenary Celebrations – indeed, in six months he’s put 150 hours running on it! That’s a long way when your cruising speed is 25 knots. If you do want a floating caravan, then there are better options; but if you want a boat first and foremost to go boating and to cover serious distances at high speed, then this could be the boat for you. And if you want to go ‘whole hog’ on that speed thing, then just tick the twin-engine option – the combined 600hp punch of a pair of Volvo Penta D4-300 motors tops out at about 45 knots!