Shorter than most dinghies but with twin ballasted keels and a proper cabin, the Voyager opens up a whole new world of budget boating. David Harding reports

Product Overview


The Voyager: a midget gem

When it comes to boats, size really does matter – and it’s just as important for kids as it is for grown-ups.

For some of us in our early years, sitting in the cockpit of our parents’ cruiser watching the same headland for hours on end was a big yawn.

Taking the helm wasn’t much better, straining against a tiller that seemed the size of a railway sleeper and waiting for an eternity for something to happen when we pushed it.

If you want to capture children’s interest in sailing, it often works best to put them in something that allows them to become fully involved and to see the results of their actions on a child-sized scale.

Even better, put them in charge of their own little ship.

Two boats moored next to each other

The Voyager in Keyhaven, alongside her mothership – the Aldridge family’s Atlantic 40, Geordie Lass. Credit: David Harding

For developing and honing the intuitive understanding of essential dynamics that so many sailors lack, a dinghy is the way to go–but if the juniors’ urge is for something along the lines of Swallows and Amazons-style adventuring, sending them off with the Oppie squad at the local sailing club might not be the best approach.

In that case, something more akin to a baby yacht than to a dinghy is called for, and that’s where the Voyager fits in.

At just 13ft 4in (4.06m) overall, she’s practically the same length as an Enterprise (or, for the modern generation, a shade longer than an RS200).

But length tells less than half the story: give a small boat a fully enclosed cabin, a self-draining cockpit and a pair of ballasted keels and it becomes a different animal.

For all its obvious appeal to small people, a boat like this isn’t just for kids.

A Voyager yacht with a blue hull and blue sails

A mini-cruiser like the Voyager is ideal for exploring the sheltered waters of Keyhaven. Credit: David Harding

It’s for anyone who wants an economical, easily-handled mini-cruiser that provides some of the creature comforts a dinghy or open dayboat can’t, while still being trailable behind a hatchback and fitting into your garage.

You lose performance compared with most dinghies because it’s heavier and blunter, it carries less sail, it has the windage of a cabin, it won’t plane and it doesn’t have a deep, properly profiled daggerboard or centreboard.

In compensation, however, you gain a fully-enclosed cabin offering instantly-available, permanent shelter, plus the reassurance
of sailing a boat that shouldn’t swamp or capsize.

The Voyager: fit for a family

One lifelong sailor who experienced the fun of cruising in a Voyager at an early age is Julian Aldridge.

A family man with a wife and two daughters, Julian currently owns an Atlantic 40 ketch that he rescued as a wreck from a beach in Alderney and rebuilt over several years.

Having served a boatbuilding apprenticeship in his youth with FC Mitchell & Son in Poole, and subsequently building and restoring a variety of boats, Julian isn’t afraid of taking on projects that might seem daunting to those of a less practical bent.

Now, despite harbouring long-term ambitions beyond the Atlantic 40, he still fondly remembers his time in the family’s Voyager more than 30 years ago.

‘It was supposedly bought for me and my sister Geraldine,’ he says.

A girl on a small boat with blue hull

The family’s second Voyager providing fun on the farm pond, which now has its own jetty. Credit: David Harding

‘Geraldine came out sometimes and quite enjoyed it but didn’t take to it the way I did. I had great fun, sailing from Poole to Christchurch and up the River Avon and on one occasion, when I was 15, from Poole to Newtown Creek. From there I headed to Yarmouth and across to Lymington. Then the weather turned and it was right at the end of the school holidays, so we hitched it up to the car and towed it back to Poole.’

By the age of 16, Julian found himself hankering after a larger boat and he started building Zeewind – a ferro-cement 23-footer that he later sailed single-handed to Venezuela and back.

As he says, ‘When I was 13 or 14, a 13-to-14ft boat was perfect. Then I started Zeewind when I was 17 and finished it when I was 18. That was quite a big boat for an 18-year-old!’

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Now, decades later, Julian is keen to make sure that daughters Isabelle and Hannah also have a chance to enjoy cruising in their own boat.

Both girls sail dinghies from their home port of Keyhaven and now, the family have added a Voyager to the fleet.

‘I had had such fun in mine when I was younger that I thought it would be great to get one for our girls,’ says Julian.

‘I’d been looking out for years and found this one. The problem was that it was in mid-Wales – and described as “a project boat.” I went to see it and it really wasn’t that bad, but not worth what the owner was asking. We eventually came to a deal after a few weeks, including sorting out the trailer, and I went back to tow it home.

‘It still had its original gelcoat, which buffed up OK. I had to replace a rubbing strake and one of the hatch runners, put the forehatch back on its hinges, do a few other bits and paint the inside because it was a bit mouldy and neglected. That was enough to get sailing – the rest of the jobs could wait for winter.’

Voyage of discovery

When I went to meet the boat it was still summer. She was in Keyhaven, alongside her mothership – the Aldridge family’s Atlantic 40, Geordie Lass – and it was time for sailing.

Julian went for a spin first with the girls while I took some photos, noting that the Voyager is actually very nicely proportioned.

If you couldn’t see the crew or the outboard engine to give the scale away, from a distance you could easily be looking at a 23-footer.

A seal of approval plaque on a boat

It’s official: the blue disk of the Ship and Boat Builders’ National Federation (SBBNF), which later became the British Marine Federation (BMF) and then British Marine. Credit: David Harding

Although slipping along nicely, she adopted a stern-down attitude with two people in the cockpit and one in the companionway.

You would expect a boat like this, where the crew makes up such a high proportion of the total weight and is abaft the longitudinal centre of buoyancy, to sit bow-down when unladen.

With the Voyager, however, there’s no internal ballast and nothing in the hull lines to compensate for the crew.

It was clear that three people could sail in reasonable comfort, even if two in the cockpit is enough – as I found after swapping places with the girls and going on a scenic tour of the harbour with Julian.

The Voyager isn’t desperately fast but she’s obedient and fun to sail, doing what’s asked of her with no fuss.

Plan of a Voyager yacht

Plan of the Voyager

She’s more than capable in modest conditions and flat water and, as Julian found all those years ago, on coastal passages too.

Such shallow twin keels (the draught is just 0.41m/1ft 4in) will inevitably limit upwind performance in a seaway, and that might be one reason why this particular Voyager came with extensions in the form of steel plates welded to the main keels (which are themselves simply steel plates).

The original keels are splayed out at an angle, while the extensions are vertical.

Their effect is to increase both draught and ballast, though extra ballast shouldn’t be needed for stability because the 68kg (150lb) in the original keels was shown to be quite enough to bring her bobbing back up should she ever be laid flat.

David Pelly found this when he tried to get the mast in the water during a test for Yachting World soon after the boat’s launch in 1970.

Launching from a trailer is straightforward enough, and it’s said that the Voyager can even be manhandled on to her trailer when sitting on her keels: the bow is lifted up, the trailer slid under the forward end of the keels and the bow pulled down as she’s slid forward.

A proper little yacht

As a baby cruiser, the Voyager has a furling headsail (not fitted to the originals), a topping lift, a forehatch, a cleat on the foredeck, a fairlead on the bow, a pulpit, a sliding hatch, solid guardrails around the cockpit and grabrails on the coachroof.

The most significant omission in some ways is any sort of lip around the outboard edge of the cockpit seats to stop things sliding into the oggin.

More cruising features are found below decks.

A girl lying on a berth of a Voyager yacht

Looking aft, showing the stowage beneath the companionway and at the aft end of the berths beneath the cockpit. The berths are over 6ft long. Credit: David Harding

Berths each side are 1.98m (6ft 6in) long and 0.5m (1ft 8in) wide and there’s 0.96m (3ft 2in) of sitting headroom beneath the deckhead; further proof, were it needed, that this isn’t a boat designed only for small people.

A stowage unit occupies the bow, where there’s space for a cooker and a chemical loo.

Built-in buoyancy was claimed in the publicity material to be enough to keep her afloat if flooded.

The berths extend beneath the cockpit seats precluding any lockers, so warps and fenders need to live down below.

Voyaging onwards

Most boats that have cabins and ballasted keels are appreciably bigger than the Voyager.

Here’s a baby cruiser that – according to the original brochure – can be towed behind a Mini and that really can live in an ordinary garage.

Two Voyager boats in a garage

The Aldridge family enjoy Voyagers so much, they’ve bought a second – so now the daughters have a boat each!. Creidt: David Harding

When Julian recently saw a second one, he couldn’t resist.

‘It needed a lot of work,’ he says, ‘but it means the girls have one each. Hannah has been having fun with it on the farm pond, where I have built a small jetty. Real Swallows and Amazons stuff!’

Whatever your age, budget or aspirations, there’s lots of fun to be had with a Voyager.

History of a Voyager

Designed by Maurice Redman and Col. Trevor McMullan, the Voyager (not to be confused with many other boats of the same name) was introduced by Polycell Prout in 1970.

The company was the result of cooperation between Polycell and the Prout brothers, Roland and Francis, but the resulting boats were promoted separately from the Prouts’ catamarans.

Designs included the polystyrene Pioneer Puffin dinghy, demonstrating Polycell’s interest in small boats that could be produced economically in large numbers using new materials.

An advert for the Voyager dinghy

The Voyager was built in Essex, first in Bradwell and then in Burnham, by Col. McMullan under the name Juxta Mare Marine.

McMullan was later joined by Adrian Jardine (Olympic bronze medallist in the 5.5 Metre) and they jointly produced a stretched version of the Voyager called the Redstart.

‘The idea was to make it a bit more unsinkable’, says Adrian. ‘The Voyager would sink in time if it was flooded, so we increased the buoyancy. We also made the Redstart so it would trim less stern-down when people were sitting in the cockpit.’

Early Voyagers cost less than £400 in ready-to-sail form. Now, 40 years on, a good one will probably fetch a good deal more.

It’s worth looking carefully as the owners often don’t know what class they are, but they’re fairly easy to identify.

More than 400 Voyagers and 200 Redstarts were built.


LOA:4.06m (13ft 4in)
Beam:1.55m (5ft 1in)
Draught:0.41m (1ft 4in)
Sail Area:7.43sq m (80sq ft)
Displacement:236kg (520lb)
Ballast:68kg (150lb)