Fast cruising yachts are invariably a joy to sail, with precise handling and a deck layout that makes it easy to tame their extra power. Here are half a dozen great examples, with second hand prices ranging from less than £10,000 to well into six figures.
J-Boats have been responsible for long-running lines of both out-and-out racing yachts and civilised fast cruisers. This 40-footer is one of the company’s longest running models, having been first launched in 2006. It is still in production, as the updated J/122E.
In some respects the design shows its age – the transom, for instance, is narrower than the latest designs and has a single rudder. Yet it’s also a very well proven easily handled boat that can put in very impressive times on long passages when cruising, or be raced either around the cans on inshore courses, or on longer offshore races, including across oceans.
The two-cabin interior arrangement gives plenty of space, with a mostly white moulded finish, plus a little wood trim in early examples. The more recent J/112E has a higher standard of interior finish, with greater use of timber and additional windows and ports to increase natural light and ventilation.
In many ways this brand has epitomised the ultimate performance cruisers ever since the first Sparkman and Stephens Swan 36 was launched in the late 1960s. Of course yacht design has moved on considerably since then, but subsequent models have continued to embody many of these advances, while also retaining an almost old-fashioned attitude to the quality of construction, fit out and joinery.
The Swan 44, designed by German Frers in 1989, enjoyed a production run of more than 10 years. It was updated with a new Mkll version in 1996 that benefited from a more refined interior and a heavier keel bulb. In both cases the general interior arrangement is similar, with two spacious cabins, two heads compartments, a large saloon and particularly impressive galley and navigation stations.
Owning any Swan – even if it’s not one of the largest or latest models – also enables owners to enter the exclusive world of Rolex sponsored Swan regattas. These take place in the Mediterranean, UK and Caribbean, offering a mix of top-notch racing in stunning locations, along with an enviable social scene. If you like the brand, see our feature on the best Nautor’s Swan yachts of all-time.
This 28ft design from 1977 remains popular for both cruising and racing, with many owners combining both types of sailing, including cruising as far afield as Ireland and Norway. The Impala has stood the test of time well, although the hull has less form stability than more recent designs and doesn’t benefit from a low centre of gravity keel.
Construction used robust materials, including woven rovings in place of the once ubiquitous, but vastly inferior, chopped strand mat. This helps to contribute strength and stiffness, while keeping weight down. The practical interior has almost 6ft of headroom at its highest point. The double forecabin is separated from the saloon by a full width heads compartment. Immediately aft of the main bulkhead are the galley and nav station areas, leaving the rest of the interior for two long settees that extend as quarter berths well under the cockpit. With many examples changing hands for well under £10,000 the Impala is unquestionably excellent value for a very versatile boat.
This 1979 design by David Thomas remained in production until late 1991, by which time 364 had been built, although most were sold before 1987. Although the ultimately ill-fated IOR rating rule was dominating yacht design at this time, the Sigma was never intended as an IOR race boat and was therefore a very moderate performance design of its time.
The one-design racing format helped the boat gain significant popularity and at one time fleets of more than 70 boats were regularly competing. Nevertheless, the Sigma 33 was still a product of its era in that the iron keel has most of its weight towards the top, unlike today’s low centre of gravity bulb keels that confer higher stability. Nevertheless the prototype was one of the smallest boats to successfully complete the infamous 1979 Fastnet Race.
Although this was a spacious boat below decks by the standards of the late 1970s, in today’s terms it appears to be relatively small and a little dark. The conventional arrangement has a quarter berth and chart table aft on one side of the companionway, with the galley opposite. The saloon has two good settees that double as excellent sea berths. There’s a small double cabin in the forepeak, which is separated from the saloon by a full width heads compartment and hanging lockers.
The Sigma brand also spawned a number of other boats with a similar ethos. The most numerous of these are the Sigma 36, which followed a couple of years after the original boat, and the later Sigma 38 one design.
The Danish X-Yachts brand has a long-standing reputation for both successful racing yachts and high-quality performance cruisers. Most are now used as fast cruising yachts, although a number still compete in both JOG and RORC races. Over the years the design has proved itself as being supremely seaworthy, having completed ocean passages in arduous conditions.
It’s a more recent design, and significantly faster than the Sigma 33 – you can expect a 6-7 per cent speed advantage. The later design date also means this boat benefits from a low centre of gravity keel. At the same time it also has more internal volume, which gives space for a double aft quarter cabin and aft heads/shower compartment. The downside is that the X-332 is significantly more sought after and selling prices are much higher than those for even the very best Sigma 33s.
A recent design from the board of Rob Humphreys Yacht Design, this boat was launched in 2013 and intended to fit into gaps in the market that have been vacated by boat builders such as Nautor’s Swan as they have pursued ever larger models.
The Azuree 46 was designed as a well-rounded boat, with the capability to cruise long distances in comfort at impressive average speeds and compete in iconic long-distance races. Moderately light displacement, a high ballast ratio allied to a deep bulb keel, and a powerful sail area add up to brisk performance from a yacht that also offers plenty of creature comforts. Twin rudders allow for a broad chined transom, which also increases stability and offers the prospect of fast controlled surfing downwind in strong breezes.
The hull also has plenty of interior volume, which gives excellent accommodation space. As standard there are two double guest cabins aft, plus a large forward en suite master cabin and an excellent saloon, galley and navigation station. The L-shaped galley is well appointed, with extensive worktop space and stowage. There is ample natural light, via hull windows, long coach roof windows and half a dozen flush fitting overhead hatches.
Other good choices
There are plenty more good performance cruisers, including Beneteau’s First series, which ran for four generations from the mid 1980s to 2016. The Elan brand has also been perpetually popular in this market, as has Dehler, not to mention the 34, 40 and 45 footers in Dufour’s Performance range.