Performance first.

This will be the last post in the series about first or starter boats until i do another round of boats at a budget point.   When i do that i intend to hit a lower budget point and i already have a few in mind although boat buying and selling tends to be a bit slack at this time of year.

In the previous post i took as the starting point that comfort onboard might be a high priority as it was mentioned in the feedback that stimulated this series of posts. I like being comfortable on my boats especially when i am relaxing at anchor but i also like my boats to sail reasonably well.  For this post i want to take as starting post the idea that sailing performance might be the higher priority and see what we can do with that.  My Frances 26 certainly wasn’t regarded as a performance boat although she often did out-perform similar sized and larger boats and the model is known for its ability to get the miles done on long passages.  I have to admit though that it was a bit weak in some conditions and i did spend quite a lot on reducing those weaknesses notably its performance in light weather.   I do want to emphasise once again that the owner can go a long way to reducing the loss of sailing performance that many cruising boats seem to accept : basic stuff like having a super-smooth hull finish, setting the rig up and keeping junk off the boat.

Alan’s boat (Little Boat) in NZ.

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So lets go looking for some performance orientated budget boats and see what we can come up with.  The first boat on today’s list is one that we have seen already : the race modified Achilles 24.   This one has had new spars, rigging and some better sails and it sounds as though the owner has kept it very light and simple which helps.



I like this little boat and i like what the owner has done to improve it.  He has put a taller rig on it which is fractional rather than masthead, got the shrouds nicely outboard and put much better sails on it. The interior is described as simple/basic with just 2 berths and the forepeak sounds as though its stripped out for stowage.  I would like to see some interior pictures but there aren’t any on the brokerage site.    The owner modifications all hit the points that i would like to make about maximising sailing performance on boats that don’t start with much to begin with.  The original boat isn’t particularly quick, one races locally and i have often seen it trailing the fleet bravely around the river….but that one has an original and not very tall stick and old-ish sails .

Lets see what else we can find within our budget.  I was hoping to find an old and knackered (like me) J24 that is past it’s racing days because i once hatched a plan to convert one into a fast cruising boat but as of today i can’t find a cheap one on the market and the older heavier Westerly molded ones did occasionally come up around the £2500 mark.  They really are quick little boats, i had one plane past me when i was making good speed downwind in my Frances.

When these boats were around and going cheap i hatched a plan to refit one as a fast cruising boat.  One of the problems with them as a cruising boat is that they are small inside and mainly because the deck is almost flat which severely restricts sitting headroom although the aft bunks are quite good.  My plan was to alter the deck in the hatch area to have a raised section rail to rail to give me sitting headroom.  For what i intended to use the boat for it would have also given the boat better righting bouyancy if knocked down as i was thinking about the boat for the Jester Challenge.  Anyway….might have…didn’t.   What reminded me of this project was a video clip that Stephen Mundane sent me of Webb Chiles sailing a similar boat transocean and looking anything but comfortable.

Right then lets look at the French connection.


In their day these were a quick little boat especially upwind.The last time i saw one was just as we exited the Passe De La Gaine in surfing conditions and a little Ecume was just starting the upwind slog in the opposite direction towards Treguier. He was down to a couple of reefs and a small jib but powering upwind really well.


Right now there is a pair of these on the same brokerage at around £2500 and £3000 as a base price.  I have seen French and Dutch registered ones sailing in UK waters so they do get around. Possibly a bit plastic inside but the main cabin space is good and wide and that short doghouse is a good watch keeping shelter.  I think i know of one of these that was sailed across the Atlantic singlehanded.

The lead boat in the photograph today is a GK 24 built by Westerly, initially as a quarter ton contender in which it wasn’t successful but the type did go on to become a good club level cruiser-racer.  I sailed against one for several years in the Menai straits and that one was always pretty consistent.  It was an extreme boat in its day for being so beamy on a short hull and what that creates is a very wide if low space inside and they are boats that go cruising.  They do come up quite cheap from time to time : there was one going locally for not much over a thousand pounds ! but i guess needed stuff like new rigging and sails.     Of all the types of boats that i talk about it is the IOR boats of this era that i have the most broad experience of and i have often wondered about having one as a cruising boat….not necasarily a GK 24 although its a useful starting point to think about.  As an exercise i messed about with trying to come up with an interior layout which would give a much more comfortable interior as the standard boat isn’t a comfortable boat inside. Once again the aft bunks work well but the forepeak berth is an extreme vee shape and only any good for children.  I never took the idea very far beyond some drawings but what i came up was an interior like the one designer Danny Greene did with his modular interior but where the main living space was essentially long and wide cushions almost at sole-board level.  I didn’t ever take that idea forward except when i was working on the potential project of a long term cruising and liveaboard boat which might have been the little GK 24’s larger sister which could be an excellent boat.


Where all of that took me was to try and find a better boat at about the same hull size as the GK 24 but with a more initially useful interior space.  The search took me through several ideas and ended up with the Sadler 25 and the Waarschip quarter tonner.  Both of those boats come with different keel and rig options and in the context of this thread the ‘performance’ version will be the one with the deepest fin keel and tallest rig. There are few good Waarschip’s in this country (i only found one for sale) so this one is a borrowed picture



It’s possible that i have a bit of a thing going with yellow boats (ask Alan) but i did like that one. That potential project is really outside the scope of this thread in that it would have entailed a rebuild/refit of an old plywood boat. Many of the type are re-build worthy as the base ply was of such a high quality.  Where the search ended though was with the Sadler 25 and i took a serious ‘buyers’ look at several of them.  I was very tempted to go for the performance option ie the tall rig/deep keel but immediately ran into the problem that it would be very difficult to beach and dry out. Contact with the specialist broker advocated firmly against using beaching legs on the deep swept back keel option and the man suggested the bilge keel version as being ready-built for my requirements.  I don’t know why but i just couldn’t quite accept sailing a bilge keeled boat even though the idea is basically sound so instead i bounced off in a completely different direction.

Bilge keel and deep fin keel Sadler’s. I can’t help but think that the bilge keeled Sadler might be the better starter boat.


Where that took me was to define the specifications for a higher performance cruising boat (as compared with the Liberty) but that would also do the same things ie dry out level.  From my new specifications i realised that i would be looking for a small variable draught boat with a faster, more powerful hull and much bigger rig.  For a while i got interested in the Dehler 25, again outside this budget point, and when we saw the actual boat neither of us liked it.  A possible was this one which is quite rare in the UK but they do come up quite cheap sometimes but the ones i have seen on brokerages have all needed significant work.

The boat is an Evolution 26 design, this one photographed on a miserable day in the Dart.

I can’t find one at our budget point but the main principle here is once again to define the specification and then see if we can find anything that fits. Once again it might be fun for readers here to see what they can come up with that would work although, once again, that’s my spec and my requirements and not necasarily the needs of our new boater.


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1 Comment

  1. Fascinating series of articles Steve — great distillation of your own sailing experience, hard-won knowledge and personal preferences. That modified Achilles 24 is pretty and I like the inboard-outboard. It would be even better in yellow eh 😉 But I don’t think I’d enjoy living in a rabbit hutch for more than a few days, no matter how well she goes. I don’t suffer well. Then again, it’s all compromise isn’t it? You pays your money and you takes your choice I suppose.


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