These four diverse boats prove that you can have a lot of fun on the water for the less than the price of an Audi A6 estate
There must come a time in life when your ideas of how much something should cost becomes entrenched. Recently I’ve found myself turning into my father — “they’ll never sell it for that much” I mutter to myself at estate agent windows, new boat prices and even tins of beans.
Meanwhile the rest of the world glibly goes on buying. Nowhere is this more starkly demonstrated than in new car prices. A bog-standard 1.0 litre VW Golf is now a £21,000 car! But most startling of all is the price of boring mid-range ‘executive’ cars. An Audi A6 estate with a 2.0-litre diesel engine now costs £51,000 and that’s before you even start delving into the options list.
So here’s my advice, keep the car you have and spend your cash on a boat instead. Stick to the secondhand market and you can pick up some seriously good craft for under £50,000. That kind of money can buy you anything from a rugged, practical cruiser to a glamorous, high speed performance boat and everything in between.
I’ve tried to find four very different used boats that cover the full range of tastes but all of which offer impressive value for money – especially when compared with a dreary old car!
Windy Tornado 31
Windy threw the textbook away when it launched the Tornado 31 in 1997. A conventional (but good looking) boat from afar, once you get up close you notice some unusual thinking, not least the aft section of cockpit and central helm position. Underpinning these new ideas were core Windy values of quality and seakeeping that we know and love. It ran for seven years.
Windy’s latest weekender at this size, the Zonda 31, offers a very focused fixed double bed and a loo in the compact cabin, it’s basically a low-roofed ensuite bedroom. The Tornado 31 cabin, although still compact, was a little more traditional, with a dinette forward, the gorgeously styled table dropping to create a double berth. There’s a galley opposite the loo and room for two more to sleep on a double that extends back beneath the cockpit.
Outside, the Tornado swaps places with the Zonda, the latter offering the more traditional layout of a large sunpad aft. The Tornado by contrast has a completely open area behind the main cockpit. The idea was to create a versatile space that owners could use for any number of things. For instance it would be fantastically useful for storing a rolled-up inflatable tender, SUPs, wakeboards, fishing gear or even diving equipment.
Further forward, the central driving position is unusual but pleasing, putting the helmsman right in the centre of the action.
There were a staggering nine engine options, petrol and diesel, single and twin, from Mercruiser and Volvo Penta. The twin Volvo Penta KAD 32 170hp four cylinder engines fitted to this boat were extremely popular and give about 32 knots. Windy later offered the option of twin KAD 44 260hp engines, which pushed the speed up to 40 knots.
Epic — it’s a Windy so you already knew that. But while the 40-knot top end of the larger motors is tempting, many people familiar with the marque reckon the smaller engines give a better balanced boat than the heavy six-cylinder 44s.
LOA: 30ft 10in (9.4m)
Beam: 9ft 10in (3.0m)
Draught: 3ft 0in (0.9m)
Displacement: 3.3 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 530 litres
Engines: Twin Volvo Penta KAD 31 170hp diesels
Contact: TBS Boat Sales
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The name of this Finnish built boat comes from the company’s strong association with Yamaha. As ever with Finnish brands, all-weather ability and clever design come as standard — if it works at their northern latitudes it should be brilliant here. And it is — a sub 8-metre boat with a diesel engine, an inside helm, sleeping for up to five (just) and a comfy cockpit. It’s even trailable. What’s not to like?
The key component of the Yamarin 74C is its deck saloon layout, rare on a 7.5-metre boat. There’s a decent separate loo just inside the sliding door, a dinette that will convert to a short double berth (the forward backrest tilts aft to create forward facing seating next to the helm) and a compact galley with a diesel powered ceramic hob.
Hinge the foredeck access ladder out of the way and you’ll find a decent-sized double berth tucked into the bow and another very useful single berth further aft beneath the dinette. It’s a packaging masterclass and a real plus for bigger parties.
Despite all that interior, there’s a surprisingly decent cockpit with an L-shaped seat around a small circular table. Side decks are narrow, but you can head inside and up through the opening windscreen for a safer route forward. The wheelhouse even has a solid sliding sunroof so you can bring the outside in or stand with your head through the roof for better visibility or just to get the wind in your hair.
The engine is a Yamaha, naturally. In this instance a single ME372STI pushing 165hp through a sterndrive for about 30 knots.
Capable, rather than inspiring. When Motor Boats Monthly tested the boat back in 2007 it nevertheless reported favourably that the 74C corners well with little slip or cavitation.
Merit points in the test report were also awarded for the super-smooth Hydradrive leg. The Yamarin 74C is a smart, sensible boat for smart, sensible cruising. That was the conclusion back in 2007 and it stands true today.
LOA: 24ft 3in (7.4m)
Beam: 8ft 6in (2.6m)
Draught: 3ft 6in (1.1m)
Displacement: 2.1 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 185 litres
Engine: Yamaha ME372STI 165hp diesel
Contact: One Marine
Sunseeker Thunderhawk 43
Designed by powerboat racer and designer Don Shead, the Sunseeker Thunderhawk 43 hull was based on a Class 2 race boat called Rejuga. It has a sleek narrow hull with a deck moulding to suit – long and low, graced by a perfect sweep of stainless steel windscreen frame. There’s also a slender forward raked radar arch.
When it was launched it was utterly stunning and the years have been kind, the Thunderhawk segueing into an elegant classic that still cuts a dash.
Of course the cost of that slim, sleek, low profile is paid for inside — don’t expect much accommodation. What you get is a double berth right in the nose that requires a scramble over the semi-circle of dinette to reach. Privacy extends to a couple of curtains. But there’s a separate heads with shower and a compact galley. It’s all you need for a couple to overnight in comfort.
The cockpit is no wider, but of course headroom is no problem. And actually there’s a fair bit of space, with a very social 270° sweep of seating and twin drop bolster seats at the helm. Back aft, a huge raised sunpad stretches back across the engine space. This boat has the optional foredeck pulpit rails, which make access forward far more reassuring.
Sunseeker fitted a range of engines. Twin Volvo Penta or Mercruiser V8 petrols from 330hp-420hp and two diesel options, twin Volvo Penta AQAD 41 200hp or a pair of Sabre 370hp. This particular boat is fitted with twin MerCruiser 496 MAG HO 425hp petrol engines that were new in 2003 and have run for 350 hours.
The broker claims 48 knots, which seems entirely realistic against Sunseeker’s claim of 54 knots for the 465hp engines when the boat was new.
Here’s where that super-slim race hull pays off. The Thunderhawk has the agility and the sheer ability to really make the most of that performance, slicing through wave tops and cushioning the landing when you do get airborne.
LOA: 44ft 0in (13.4m)
Beam: 11ft 0in (3.3m)
Draught: 3ft 10in (1.2m)
Displacement: 7.3 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 780 litres
Engines: Twin MerCruiser 496 MAG HO 425hp petrol
Contact: Waterside Boat Sales
Hardy Mariner 25
British-based Hardy’s reputation for rock-solid build quality extends to its smaller boats, including this neat Mariner 25 (not to be confused with the Hardy 25). It’s a manageable size, has good accommodation and a hull shape that works well inland and offshore.
The small wheelhouse is fitted with two bucket seats with a great view out. Rear doors allow you to enclose this area or run with them fully open (or anywhere in-between) and the sliding roof slid back on sunny days. On the lower deck a large dinette converts to a double berth, there’s a compact galley and heads, and a further single berth extends back under the cockpit, taking sleeping to three or providing a great place for bags.
Take a walk around the deck for that authentic ‘little ship’ feel created by deep bulwarks, high pulpit rails, sturdy handrails and wide side decks. It makes for a very safe working environment too. Back aft, a very deep cockpit connects with the cabin, the cutaway transom allowing easy access to water or tender. The shaft drive layout creates room for a lazarette.
Single 170hp or 230hp Yanmar shaft drive diesels were offered plus a Nanni option. The larger 230hp is the one to have unless the boat is purely for inshore duties. With the larger option, expect low 20 knots maximum, with comfortable cruising at 16 knots. Service access is okay but not brilliant, an acceptable corollary of a small boat with a shaft drive layout.
With a deep forefoot, planing hull and small keel, the hull works equally well punching into a head sea (although it can pick up some water if it’s rough enough), running fast in calmer weather or pottering up inland rivers.
The only mild criticism is that a small boat plus shaft drive puts the engine directly under the wheelhouse. It’s not oppressively noisy, but you’re aware that it’s there. An optional bow thruster gives more options in close quarters (and can be retro fitted).
LOA: 25ft 0in (7.6m)
Beam: 9ft 7in (2.9m)
Draught: 2ft 0in (0.6m)
Displacement: 4 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 219 litres
Engines: Yanmar 4LM-STE 230hp diesel
Contact: Precious Marine
First published in the October 2019 edition of Motor Boat & Yachting.