Best wooden boats: Our top picks from the secondhand market

Our resident used boat expert Nick Burnham picks out four of the best wooden boats for sale right now, from the likes of Fairey Marine, Philips & Son and James Taylor & Bates…

There’s a line in a 20-year old Alan Jackson song called Drive, which reads “You can’t beat the way an old wood boat rides”. Whether that’s true or not, you certainly can’t beat them for style.

There are some fabulous fibreglass boats out there but wooden boats always seem to have an intrinsic rightness to their lines that’s never quite matched by GRP.

That’s partly down to the era that most wooden boats hail from. For the most part, GRP took over as the boat builder’s (and buyer’s) material of choice in the late 1960s but a few specialist builders are still turning out brand new (and surprisingly modern) wooden boats, an example of which we’ve included this month…

4 of the best wooden boats


Philip 50

Built: 1963
Price: £190,000

Philip & Son was a boat and shipbuilding yard on the River Dart, which is now home to Premier Marina’s Noss On Dart marina. The yard built passenger and cargo steamers, tugs and tankers. It even built the Trinity House light vessels.

In the early 1960s, in an era before any of the big British names like Princess Yachts even existed, the company decided to embark on luxury motorboat building – and the Philip 50 was its first foray into this new sector.

Costing £20,000 and weighing in at more than 30 tonnes, it was testament to the yard’s ambition, particularly given that it took Princess more than 20 years to build up to a 50ft craft.

Six were built, four remain, two are back on the River Dart and one – this one in fact – has come home to Noss On Dart Marina.


When the boat was 25 years old, it was repatriated into the UK and a major restoration followed. Happily, the new owner’s family business was all about high end aircraft and yacht interiors, and a lot of that expertise went into a refit sympathetic to the style and age of the vessel.

The layout was modified slightly, losing the forward crew cabin to create a forward guest cabin. There are two cabins back aft – a double and a smaller bunk cabin that share an en suite. Between them, the wheelhouse was extended and there’s also a well-equipped galley on the lower deck forward.


The forward lounge and galley lead down to a third double cabin in the bow


Extending the wheelhouse meant losing the cockpit area just aft of it, but sliding side doors open the wheelhouse to the elements. And there is also lots of space on the foredeck, as well as on the wide teak-laid side decks that encircle the boat.


As a displacement boat, it uses a pair of 105hp Perkins diesel engines running shaftdrives. MBY tested the first Philip 50 back in 1963 and recorded a maximum speed of 9.91 knots.


The wheelhouse has been extended, in keeping with the boat’s style and vintage


Over 30 tonnes of 50ft wooden motor boat travelling at displacement speeds means that the Philip 50 doesn’t bounce around like a speedboat. Procession is stately, entirely in keeping with a boat of this class.


LOA: 56ft 6in (17.2m)
Beam: 14ft 0in (4.3m)
Draught: 4ft 3in (1.3m)
Displacement: 32 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 3,637 litres
Engines: Twin Perkins 105hp diesels
Contact: Network Yacht Brokers


James Taylor & Bates 55

Built: 1933
Price: £390,000

For a privately owned and run motor boat in 1930s Britain, 55ft was huge. Built for a Mr H. G Heap, this was luxury cruising at its most decedent and, at £3,000 in 1933, it came with a price tag to match.

With a pitch pine bottom and Oregon pine topsides and deck, all copper-fastened to an oak-timbered frame, Margo III featured a cast iron keel a foot deep and 6in wide, running two thirds of her length.

Mr. Heap and his wife and family kept Margo III on the south coast of England, until she was requisitioned by the Ministry of Defence for use as a barrage balloon tether off Portland Harbour.


Although lightly modified (the forward crew cabin is gone to make way for a larger galley and heads; and the two single berths in the owner’s cabin have been replaced by a double) the interior is largely original. There’s a pretty substantial wheelhouse amidships, with a dinette and galley forward on the lower deck.

A glorious original writing desk still takes pride of place with leaded glass cupboard windows but the attractive fireplace that she originally sported is long gone. In the aft space, two cabins share an ensuite complete with bath.


While the original fireplace is gone, the elegant writing desk remains fully intact


From the canoe stern to the brass portholes, no one will ever mistake this boat for anything other than the absolute classic that she is. An external helm position on the aft deck is also a neat touch and is perhaps the equivalent of a flybridge today.


Originally fitted with a pair of 40hp Parsons petrol engines, nearly a century on she has of course been re-engined.

That was initially done with a pair of more powerful Ford Bowman diesel engines and more recently with a pair of Iveco FPT NEF 100hp diesel engines that provide an 8-knot cruise at a parsimonious 12 litres per hour.


The revamped master cabin has been switched from a twin room to a double


Amazingly, I’ve been lucky enough to put to sea in this fine ship. Weighing in at 25 tonnes and with a slim hull form by modern standards, she powered impassively through a short chop thrown up by a stiff breeze off Brighton.


LOA: 55ft 0in (16.8m)
Beam: 12ft 6in (3.8m)
Draught: 5ft 6in (1.7m)
Displacement: 25 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 2,750 litres
Engines: Twin Iveco FPT NEF 100hp diesel engines
Contact: Sandeman Yacht Co.


Fairey Super Swordsman 33 Aft Cabin

Built: 1974
Price: £90,000

Fairey Marine was created by the directors of Fairey Aviation in the late 1940s. The idea was to build boats in Hamble on the UK’s south coast, using techniques that had been developed in the construction of some of the company’s aircraft.

A hot-moulded vacuum process enabled Fairey to build a range of highly successful sailing dinghies and later on, a range of high-performance motor boats. In its day, Fairey Marine was the world’s largest boat builder outside the United States, selling up to 1,000 boats per year.


The Swordsman 33 was launched at the London Boat Show in 1964. Initially, an aft cockpit configuration was the standard layout, but a later version offered the privacy of a completely separate cabin aft of the cockpit.

The main cabin remained forward with a dinette, galley and heads. Later Super Swordsman versions like this one had a much improved aft cabin with standing headroom and an ensuite heads.


The fore and aft cabins are divided by an elegant central saloon and cockpit


Alan Bunard designed all of the Fairey boats, from the original Huntress onwards. They each featured his distinctive flared bow with wide side decks and a low-profile cabin roof.

The Fairey Swordsman, with its increased length, took this elegant styling to what was perhaps its ultimate culmination. Then and now, it’s simply one of the most beautiful boats on the water.


Refitted in 1996 with a pair of Ford Sabre 212hp shaft drive diesel engines, you can expect 27 knots flat out, a cruising gait of 21 knots, and the ability to keep the speed up when all around are losing theirs.


The helming experience is a genuine pleasure, even in aggressive offshore seas


Alan Bunard designs are generally noted for two things: looks and seakeeping. Originally based on a Ray Hunt deep-vee hull design, Alan was appointed to help evolve the concept into what became the Huntress – the boat that would go on to set the template for all other models to follow.

Fairey won an astonishing 202 awards (54 in 1969 alone) for their success in a range of endurance events, such as the Cowes to Torquay, Round Britain, and London to Monte Carlo race.


LOA: 33ft 2in (10.1m)
Beam: 11ft 5in (3.5m)
Draught: 3ft 0in (0.9m)
Displacement: 6 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 1,362 litres
Engines: Twin Ford Sabre 212hp shaft drive diesel engines
Contact: Nicolle Associates

Swallow Whisper 300

Built: 2022
Price £169,000

It’s important to make the point that wood is far from dead as a boat building material. That’s why we’ve included a new boat in this month’s ‘Find Me A…’ series.

Various specialist builders still use wood as their primary construction material. At one end of the spectrum, you will find Spirit Yachts, with its incredible 21m Spirit P70; and at the rather more affordable end, Swallow Yachts will build you one of these great little weekenders for a lot less money.


The interior of the Swallow Whisper 300 is very straight-forward. There’s a double berth in the bow with a removable section to create a small seating area.

There are also decent sized hull windows and a lovely grooved headlining to simulate planks. A separate heads compartment concludes the lower deck but there are some neat details like sea cocks beneath the cabin step.

The lower deck features a convertible double berth and a separate heads compartment


It’s pretty simple in the cockpit too. There’s a double helm to starboard, opposite an integrated galley, beneath an open-backed hard top.

Further aft, there is seating on either side and a small table. But again, it’s the details that stand out. The helm seats fold forward to increase social space at rest and wooden steps flip out of the coamings to aid side deck access.

Wine glass holders also swing out from below the seat bases and the canopy slides along a track so it doesn’t have to be removed and stored.


The Whisper 300 looks like an inboard engined boat, but lift the aft seat base and you’ll find a pair of Yamaha 70hp outboard engines nestling underneath.

And while 140hp doesn’t sound like a lot in a fast 30ft boat, this is where that wooden construction pays off. It’s built from box section marine ply, bonded together and then sheathed in epoxy resin.

With a stiff structure that’s said to be just as durable and easy to maintain as fibreglass but considerably lighter, that enables this boat to deliver a top end in the region of 26 knots.

The cockpit’s open-decked hardtop arrangement might seem simple but the details are outstanding


We’ve not tried a Whisper 300 at sea yet, so we’ll have to defer to Alan Jackson’s assertion that “you can’t beat the way a wood boat rides”.


LOA: 30ft 6in (9.3m)
Beam: 9ft 4in (2.8m)
Draught: 2ft 3in (0.7m)
Displacement: 2.4 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 240 litres
Engines: Twin Yamaha 70hp outboard engines
Contact: Swallow Yachts

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