You don't expect to find a boat called an OceanRanger tied up at the end of a garden 60 miles from the sea.
You don’t expect to find a boat called an OceanRanger tied up at the end of a garden 60 miles from the sea. And sure enough, Blue Fox of Kingswear is only visiting her owners’ home in Chertsey: her normal base is Hythe, on Southampton Water, and her usual cruising ground is the Channel. Blue Fox has been owned by David and Linda Griffiths since 1989, but their acquaintance with her goes back a little further. They first stepped aboard her at the 1987 Southampton boat show, where builders Aqua-Star were showing the new Mark II version of the OceanRanger 38 Aft Cabin. At the time David had a Broom 35, which was “a bit on the slow side”, but otherwise OK. Nevertheless, he recalls being impressed by Aqua-Star’s new motor cruiser. It was not until two years later that David met up with Blue Fox again. He came across an ad for an OceanRanger in Dartmouth and, with nothing in particular to do that day, decided to look at her. Of course, there was no way he was going to buy…
Aqua-Star began life in 1967 as a workboat builder in the New Forest, building 33ft (9.8m) craft which bore a remarkable similarity to Nelsons. Like Nelsons, they found a ready market among harbour and pilotage authorities, who needed all-weather capabilities together with a reasonable turn of Speed. And as with Nelsons, it was not too long before motorboaters began to appreciate their potential for serious offshore cruising. The yard moved to the Channel Islands in 1976. One of the principal reasons for the move, according to owner Geoff Willson, was to achieve greater continuity of labour. “On the mainland, we would lose skills whenever staff moved on,” he says. “On the island, there aren’t so many places for them to go.” The 33 had been designed by Geoff’s father (also called Geoff), who had founded the company. The move to Guernsey enabled Geoff junior to get his pen out and draw up designs for a larger boat on similar lines but with more beam and flare in the bow, and in 1978 Aqua-Star introduced a 38-footer aft cockpit. Like the 33, the 38 quickly developed a following among commercial operators, and then came to be noticed by motor yachtsmen looking for a seaworthy cruiser. By 1984 Aqua-Star were building aft cockpit and aft cabin motor cruiser versions of both the 33 and the 38. MBY’s opinion of the 38 Aft Cabin when it first appeared at the 1984 Southampton boat show was guarded. The standard layout on the 38 Aft Cabin provided four permanent berths in fore and aft cabins, with another four available on a convertible dinette in the galley/dinette area and on a convertible settee in the wheelhouse saloon. There was one shower/toilet compartment forward, plus another en suite to the aft cabin. A secondary helm station was available as an extra, which most owners chose to take up.
In our subsequent test of the OceanRanger 38, the standard engine installation of twin 158s pushed the boat to a shade over 16 knots. Over the past 15 years, increasingly powerful installations have become available, and it is now possible to fit up to twin 350hp Caterpillars, giving top Speeds of up to 29 knots. At the other end of the scale, there are a few single-engined OceanRangers, mostly built for Dutch customers. Blue Fox of Kingswear has twin 306hp TAMD 61Bs, which at the time of construction were the most powerful engines Aqua-Star had yet fitted to a 38. She will do 27 knots, but David prefers to cruise at 2,200rpm, 400rpm off the top, giving a Speed of 20 knots and fuel consumption of 1 1¸4mpg. To begin with, the Griffiths kept Blue Fox on the Medway, which gave them the whole of the Thames Estuary and the Kent and Essex rivers to explore. With her sterngear protected by a metre-deep keel, she can usually take the ground and is perfectly suited for creek crawling. And with her excellent seakeeping abilities the North Sea held no terrors, bringing Holland, Belgium and the Frisian islands within easy cruising Range.
After a few years they decided to expand their horizons. David went looking for a mooring on the South Coast, and this time came back with a house – one in Hythe Marina Village, complete with a 49ft (15m) berth. Since then they have cruised extensively to the south and west. David also runs non-profit-making navigation and boat handling courses for fellow club members. Despite the heavy use the Griffiths have made of her, Blue Fox has required little in the way of repair or renovation. The biggest job has been trying to keep the saloon dry. Like most semi-displacement craft, the OceanRanger throws up a lot of spray. Blue Fox’s first owner sensibly decided against having a side door in the wheelhouse Ô side doors are almost impossible to keep watertight Ô but water still streamed in through the window frames. Eventually David had the frames removed, rebuilt and re-bedded, which solved the problem. Apart from the windows and the installation of central heating, most of the modifications David has made have related to Blue Fox’s training work. Even non-profit-making training vessels are expected to meet the requirements of the MSA Code of Practice. In some respects he has exceeded the regulations: there are no fewer than 12 fire extinguishers aboard, as well as a back-up bilge system. In the years since Blue Fox was built, Aqua-Star have moved steadily upmarket. To protect the image, they have stopped selling boats for home fit-out, and worked hard on improving the standard of factory-fitted craft. “It’s impossible for high-quality cruisers to be built by a workboat yard,” says Geoff Willson. So they moved the workboat construction to Ireland, and the motor cruisers to a new yard on Guernsey. This made it possible to introduce other improvements. The joinery on pre-1991 boats was fitted into the hull and then varnished in situ among the dust of construction; from 1991 onwards the yard had a dedicated varnish shop, allowing the furniture to be dry-fitted to the hull, removed and lacquered in a clean atmosphere, and then fitted permanently in place. The changes seem to have had the desired effect: the Ocean Star 45 won an accolade from MBY as the best boat in its size Range at the last Southampton boat show.
The OceanRanger 38 Aft Cabin was replaced by the very similar Ocean Star 118 in 1995. Next year sees the introduction of yet another version of the OceanRanger/Ocean Star, with a new deck mould incorporating an aft deck redesigned to provide a permanent stern seat and improved access to the bathing platform.
Aqua-Star Owners’ Club
Launched at the 1998 Southampton boat show, the Aqua-Star Owners’ and Enthusiasts’ Club has already attracted 47 members. Founder Commodore Mark Greenwood owns 33 Aft Cabin Salamander of Chambord, and is a real enthusiast with ambitious designs for the club. Membership is free, and plans include a quarterly newsletter, an annual laying-up or fitting-out dinner and an inaugural rally in Cowes over the Bank Holiday weekend of May 29-30, 1999. Further details from Mark and Kay Greenwood, Compass House, Portsmouth Rd, Liphook, Hants GU30 7DJ. Tel: 01428 727070.
Early OceanRangers fitted out by Aqua-Star were not particularly high quality (see main article). Of the rest, many were bought as bare mouldings or ¼motoraways’ and, as always in such circumstances, the quality of fit-out will vary from the exquisite to the amateurish. Second-hand values will reflect the standard. When introduced, the OceanRanger 38 Aft Cabin cost £62,000 ex VAT with twin 158hp TAMD 40Bs, compared today with £190,554 for a new Ocean Star 118 Aft Cabin with single-station steering and 200hp TAMD41B engines. On the second-hand market they go quickly: a 1992 model with twin 200s advertised at £130,000 in MBY a couple of months ago was sold within ten days for £125,000.
LOA 38ft 0in (11.08m)
Beam 12ft 9in (3.88m)
Draught 3ft 6in (1.05m)
Displacement 9 tonnes
Fuel capacity 2 5 150gal (2 5 682lt)
Water capacity 100gal (455lt)
Accommodation Six/eight berths in forecabin
fore and aft toilet-shower compartments
Engines Twin shaftdrive diesels
from 2 5 150 to 2 5 350hp
MBY tested February 1984
Built From 1978 as aft cockpit, 1983
as aft cabin version. Modified
version (Ocean Star 118)
introduced in 1995. Approx 160
38s and 115s built to date
Designer Geoff Willson junior
Manufacturer Aqua-Star, St Sampson’s, Guernsey