Best retro boats: 4 appealingly old fashioned options available on the used market

Nick Burnham picks out four classic boats on the market with quality heritage, classy styling and modern cruising ability…

Neighbours of mine have possibly the most beautiful 1960s Porsche 911 I’ve ever seen. Period-perfect details include the Fuchs alloys it sits on, the delicate chromed vents in the front, the chrome overriders on the rear bumper and the twin stainless steel exhausts jetting out of the centre of the rear.

Inside there is beautiful chequered upholstery and a period-appropriate three-spoke Momo-style steering wheel. But what’s really interesting is that it’s not a Sixties car at all, it’s a Nineties 964 version 911 and that means that it drives like a far more modern car and has such modern niceties as heated seats and air conditioning.

The result is all the style of the Sixties era but with the comfort and dynamics of a far more modern car. And it’s a combination that isn’t exclusive to the automotive industry. Here are three beautifully retro-styled vessels that evoke times past, plus one genuine classic for those who really do insist upon the real deal.

Supermarine Spearfish 32

Built: 2021
Price: £258,000

If you want authenticity to go with your retro-styled boat then you’ve come to the right place. The Spearfish name dates back to the late 1960s when Fairey Marine commissioned Alan Burnard to come up with a GRP boat that followed the concept of its ‘instant classics’ Swordsman and Huntsman.

The Spearfish 30 was born, plus a military version called the Spear. Northshore, in Chichester, builds the current version utilising the original Spearfish 30 mould tools.


In the same vein as those early boats, this is a vessel designed from the outside in. Make the boat look great (and it really does look great) and fit out whatever is inside as a cabin, a far cry from the modern concept of making a huge cabin and then trying to style a boat around it.

As a result there is no mid cabin, just a converting dinette in the forepeak and a galley opposite the heads. It is beautifully executed, with a clean modern aesthetic that makes the most of the space.


Space below is limited but what there is has been beautifully designed and executed


That no-compromise philosophy results in arguably the best looking circa 30ft boat on the water. It absolutely nails the classic Fairey vibe with its rounded heavily flared bow, low coachroof and beautiful curve of stainless steel windscreen frame, topped with a radar wing supported by pale grey spars.

Lack of a mid cabin means that the cockpit sole is sat deep into the hull, lowering the centre of gravity as well as maintaining the low profile look. Three SHOX 6300 shock absorbing helm seats dominate the forward section of the cockpit with a dinette aft ahead of two long sunloungers that stretch out to the transom.


Twin Mercruiser TDI 4.2L V8 diesels produce 370hp apiece, giving strong acceleration – 3,200rpm is a 30 knot canter and 4,200rpm a 46 knot flat-out blast!


Modern navigation equipment and suspension seats make it fast, comfortable and fun


We tested this boat in a choppy Solent, finding it “genuinely more comfortable at higher speeds, when the hull fell into step with the rhythm of the crests, nonchalantly ironing them out,” concluding that, “In the Spearfish 32, the legend lives on.”


Length: 35ft 2in (11m)
Beam: 9ft 8in (3m)
Draft: 2ft 9in (0.8m)
Displacement: 4.5 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 600 litres
Engines: Twin Mercruiser TDI 4.2L V8 370hp diesel engines
Location: Chichester
Contact: Supermarine Motor Yachts Ltd

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Spirit P40 2+2

Built: 2016
Price: £580,000

If you’ve seen either of the James Bond films Casino Royale or the (treacherous) No Time To Die, you’ll have seen a Spirit yacht in action. It’s what the movie producers put Daniel Craig aboard when they wanted to place the world’s classiest secret agent in the nautical equivalent of his classic Aston Martins.

Perhaps best known for its classically styled wood epoxy sailing yachts, the Suffolk-based boat builder also produces a handful of wooden motor launches and cruisers, the largest of which is the utterly beautiful Spirit P70. And a little further down the range, this Spirit P40 is another exquisite example of master craftsmanship.


Intriguingly, the P40 is an open cockpit sportscruiser with a single wood-framed ensuite owner’s cabin beneath the foredeck. Intriguing because that’s clearly not what you are looking at here.

This ‘2+2’ version was built for an owner who wanted more weather protection. So the owner’s cabin beneath the foredeck remains, but instead of the open cockpit, this particular boat has a ‘summer house’, an enclosed deck saloon with a small galley area just aft of the central helm position and then two settees running along either side.


Now that is what an owner’s cabin on all wooden motor yachts should look like!


The result of the ‘summer house’ is to put most of the usually outside areas inside, making this a true all-year-round proposition. There is, however, an aft deck outside, and of course the fabulous looking flat topped flush foredeck. The hull retains its magnificent bow flare and unusual vertically stowed Ultra anchor.


Epoxy wood sounds heavy but is surprisingly light, which is why this boat weighs the same as the considerably smaller Supermarine Spearfish 32. And although not as fast, it still manages a commendable 35 knots from far smaller 260hp Yanmar diesels running through sterndrives.


The deck saloon ‘summer house’ is finished to the same exquisite standards as the hull


A true planing lightweight hull and a narrow beam (the Spirit P40 is actually narrower than the Spearfish) combine with outdrives to give lively performance very much in
the ethos of the gentleman’s sports yacht conception.


Length: 40ft 4in (12.3m)
Beam: 9ft 6in (2.9m)
Draft: 3ft 1in (0.9m)
Displacement: 4.5 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 700 litres
Engines: Twin Yanmar 260hp diesel engines
Location: UK
Contact: Sandeman


Duchy 35

Built: 2019
Price: £630,000 (ex. VAT)

Visit Cockwells in Cornwall and you’re likely to find founder and managing director Dave Cockwell in overalls in the factory helping to build some of the finest custom made boats in the country. He is a proper boat builder and he builds proper boats, from one-off superyacht tenders to private yacht commissions.

A few years ago the company started producing a series production boat called the Duchy 27 which could be built on spec rather than requiring a firm order. So successful was it that a larger version was launched in 2017, the Duchy 35.


Two layout options were offered, either two cabins, each with a double berth, plus the heads on the lower deck and the galley in the saloon, or this version, which has a single cabin forward and the galley on the lower deck, clearing the saloon for seating, dining and of course the helm.

And it’s at the helm where you realise that behind the classic lines lies bang-up-to-date engineering. The entire switching for the boat, for example, is handled by an Empress Canbus system, so everything from fuel levels to lighting can be monitored or switched from one of the two Raymarine screens at the helm.

This particular boat also sports full air conditioning, a Seakeeper stabiliser and solar panels.


Galley down layout frees up the wheelhouse for a pair of long sofas and a dining table


The hull was originally created in wood as a plug for the mould from which the GRP hulls are formed. It’s an extremely easy boat to access and work, with doors everywhere – a transom door, side door from cockpit to side deck, saloon doors that bifold against the sides and a further door next to the helm. This particular boat has polished wooden cabin sides too.


Standard engines are a pair of 270hp Nanni diesels on shaft drive which gave 26 knots when we tested the first boat. This particular example has the upgraded 350hp motors which should nudge 30 knots.


Wonderfully sociable cockpit is perfect for picnics at anchor with the Seakeeper running


We tested this boat in near gale force winds and discovered that the semi-displacement hull gave the wipers a workout but delivered a rock solid and ultra confident ride.


Length: 38ft 0in (11.5m)
Beam: 12ft 6in (3.8m)
Draft: 2ft 9in (0.8m)
Displacement: 8.8 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 600 litres
Engines: Twin Nanni T8V350 350hp diesel engines
Location: Guernsey
Contact: Cockwells


Thornycroft Battle Class

Built: 1944
Price: £199,999

There are, of course, two ways of getting a retro-styled boat with facilities more modern than the exterior might have you believe. The first, as demonstrated above, is to build a modern boat with retro styling, but the second, as evidenced here, is to start with an old boat and add some modern comforts.

This particular vessel started life as one of 14 Battlefield Class high-speed target towing launches built by Thornycroft for the MOD in 1944 and is believed to be the only seagoing vessel left of her class.

There is some incredible history behind this boat from her service days with the Royal Army Service Corp as well as her time in commercial use as a survey vessel when she surveyed the sea floor for the Channel Tunnel.


The interior is where the biggest changes have been made, transforming what was once a utilitarian working ship into something far more cosy and comfortable.

So there’s now a large air conditioned saloon aft, a galley equipped with mod cons such as a dishwasher, and six berths in three cabins, including a huge owner’s cabin complete with ensuite – luxuries that those crewing her around the end of World War Two could barely have dreamt of.


Saloon now boasts unheard of luxuries for a former MOD high-speed target towing craft


Sensibly, the exterior has been left very traditional – surely the point of a classic boat like this. Diagonal wooden planking is clearly evident in the topsides, protected by a heavy duty mahogany rubbing strake. A flybridge with repeater engine controls and wheel has been added so sympathetically that you’d think it was original.


Rolls-Royce supercharged C6SFLM diesel engines on shafts with hydraulic Self-Change gearboxes were apparently rebuilt by Perkins prior to sale in 1994 and give an 8-10 knot cruising speed with a maximum speed of about 14 knots.


The mix of old and new works surprisingly well in the revamped wheelhouse


At nearly 70ft long and built out of wood with an eye for strength over performance, it’s fair to expect seakeeping to be every bit as stately as the rest of this fine ship.


Length: 69ft 0in (21m)
Beam: 15ft 8in (4.8m)
Draft: 4ft 7in (1.4m)
Displacement: 36 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 19,000 litres
Engines: Twin Rolls Royce supercharged C6SFLM diesel inboard engines
Location: Kent
Contact: Waterside Boat Sales

First published in the November 2023 issue of MBY.

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