Nick Burnham argues that a 35ft sportscruiser is the optimum size and style of boat. Here are 4 options from Sealine, Cranchi, Beneteau and Birchwood
One of the many platitudes bandied around about boating is “the smaller the boat, the more fun you have”. Unlike “a boat is a hole in the water into which you pour money”, it’s somewhat inaccurate, otherwise we’d all be charging about in Williams Minijets and giggling insanely. Nonetheless, there is a faint ring of truth to it.
I’ve known several long-term boaters who’ve worked their way up to large luxury motor yachts with hot and cold running crew, only to realise that the joy has diminished sufficiently that they’ve worked their way back down again.
So what actually is the optimum size? I think the mid-30ft sportscruiser is in with a shout. Big enough to cross the Channel, small enough to single-hand, easy to slot into any marina and roomy enough for a week’s family cruise. Something,
in fact, like one of these…
Launched at the London Boat Show in 2003, the S38 had a short yet successful career. By the time the SC38 (based on this model but offering a hard top option) was launched in 2007, over 100 S38s had been built by the Sealine factory, then in Kidderminster.
Despite a fairly standard two-cabin layout, split by the saloon and galley in the centre, there are two particularly standout features. The first is in the surprisingly generous mid-cabin at the aft end of the accommodation. The two athwartship single beds you’d expect to find here are present and correct, but there is also a third bed in the lobby area at the head of the twins – a massive advantage if you have three children.
The other standout feature is at the other end, where rather than a single heads, the toilet and shower are split, one either side and both accessible from the master cabin forward or from the saloon.
There are a few nifty details to the exterior too. The anchor hides neatly in a recess beneath the foredeck, rather than hanging over the top of the stem, and the forward sloping radar arch is thick enough to create a little shade over the helm as well as concealing the canopy in a neat clamshell storage locker. There’s also masses of cockpit seating and a small wet bar.
Sealine fitted various engine options, all twin sterndrive installations. The twin Volvo Penta AQAD 41 200hp motors fitted to this boat give a circa 30 knot top speed for a mid 20 knot cruise, the alternative KAD 44 (260hp) and KAD 300 (285hp) lifted the top speed into the mid thirties. Later boats got the D-series engines, either twin D4 or D6.
The S38 rides a chop pretty well, with a low trim angle keeping the ride level. Rough seas can make things a little more bouncy, but nothing that can’t be solved by slowing down a little.
LOA: 37ft 9in (11.5m)
Beam: 12ft 3in (3.7m)
Draft: 3ft 0in (0.9m)
Displacement: 7.4 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 680 litres
Engines: Twin 300hp Volvo Penta AQAD41s
Contact: TBS Boat Sales
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Beneteau Monte Carlo 37
In an era in which you can easily pay £120,000 for a cuddy cabin sportsboat with a single outboard engine, it’s staggering to look up the 2007 boat test of the Beneteau Monte Carlo and find that the base price with twin diesel engines for the soft top version was £147,000, including VAT. It’s French though, so things like a cockpit canopy and a windscreen wiper were extra. With a proper spec, the hardtop and larger engines this boat would have cost far more, but still…
It’s the usual central saloon and galley flanked by cabins either end, but with a twist. The forward cabin is pretty standard with its central double bed. But head aft and you’ll find the mid cabin on the centreline with its two beds running lengthways. It allows the cabin, and particularly the walkway between the beds, to sit deep in the centre of the hull, maximising headroom.
The optional hard top on this boat offers far more protection and the ability to slide the roof back on a nice day or close it up in inclement weather. Beneath it, the helm gets a single bucket seat with a bench seat for two more alongside it. There’s a dinette and wet bar aft.
We tested a boat with the same twin Volvo Penta D4-260 engines as this example and recorded a very acceptable 33 knots flat out with a 28-knot cruise at 500rpm off max.
Where this boat gets really interesting is the hull. Not only is it a twin-stepped hull, rare enough in itself, but it’s also an air step. What that means is that air is channelled through vents down pipes and released at the first step, meaning most of the boat is running on an air/water mix to reduce drag and soften the ride. Does it work? In the 3ft chop of our test it ran “very smoothly with hardly any slam”. And 42lph at 20 knots from a twin engine 37-footer is not too shabby.
LOA: 37ft 0in (11.3m)
Beam: 12ft 3in (3.7m)
Draft: 3ft 6in (1.1m)
Displacement: 6.5 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 650 litres
Engines: Twin 260hp Volvo Penta D4s
Birchwood Commando 370
The Commando 370 was quite the departure for Nottinghamshire based Birchwood Marine Limited when it launched at the London Boat Show in 1999. Well known for its comfortable, if slightly staid, aft cabin cruisers, it was the only open cockpit sportscruiser the marque had in the range and was designed to broaden the appeal of this British builder, and maybe even take on the mighty Princess and Fairline.
Offset stairs into the cabin mean that you must lead with your left foot every time, but they do free up space in the saloon, which is rather nicely finished. Cabins are a good size, especially the mid cabin, which has a generous lobby and two single beds 6ft 6in long that infill to create a double berth.
A particularly clever feature is the saloon table. Many boats have demountable tables but nowhere to stow them. On the Commando 370 it stores vertically against the bulkhead creating a headboard.
The hull of the Commando 370 is actually that of the Birchwood TS34 and later 340, the extra length justifying the 370 badge created by a larger bathing platform. Scalloped topsides were a Birchwood trademark feature and the cockpit features an unusually high window line, giving extra protection at higher speeds.
When we tested the boat in 1999 it was from the rather unusual location of Chelsea Harbour on the River Thames in London. We took it down to the Medway where we achieved 31.7 knots on the (pre GPS) radar gun from its twin Volvo Penta KAD 43 230hp diesels. This boat has the KAD 300 285hp diesels, which give it 40 knots according to the broker.
A wide cruising peed range and a level ride was how we described it at the time. Low noise levels merited a mention too.
LOA: 37ft 2in (11.3m)
Beam: 12ft 4in (3.7m)
Draft: 3ft 1in (0.9m)
Displacement: 7.3 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 650 litres
Engines: Twin 285hp Volvo Penta KAD 300s
Cranchi Zaffiro 34
A good-looking boat that offers great value, the Cranchi Zaffiro should be on the shortlist of any mid 30ft sportscruiser hunt.
The interior isn’t quite as ‘cherry ’n leather’ as a Fairline, but the pale linings and light upholstery look fresh and contemporary (and high-gloss wooden doors throw in a little contrast). Another classic two-cabin layout, one either end of the saloon, might be entirely conventional, but it’s a proven formula that works well.
The mid cabin features two single berths that infill to create a double – best of both worlds, and although the cabin bed is offset, it’s still able to be accessed from either side.
The split-level cockpit has a raised section forward protected by a sweep of windscreen with space for crew on an L-shaped settee next to the helm. Drop down to the lower section aft to discover a big three-sided dinette that converts
to a sunpad to port and a wet bar opposite.
Access forward is via narrow but perfectly useable 6-inch wide side decks, but unusually there is also access through a central opening section of windscreen – very handy for fast access forward from the helm.
Twin 5-litre V8 petrols were a fast but thirsty option, so twin diesels were more popular. Base diesel engines were Volvo AQAD 41 at 200hp but most got the more powerful KAD 43 230hp motors for a mid 30-knot top end. Some of the last boats got the new D4-260hp engines when they came on stream in 2005.
We were given four consecutive days in the South of France to test the Zaffiro when it launched in 1997 – happy days! Sadly, our carefully crafted plan to spend them cruising from Antibes to Iles d’Hyères and back to St Tropez (all in the interests of serious consumer journalism) were thwarted by 25 knot Mistrals. They did at least give us the chance to test the seakeeping, finding a ‘useful sea boat and fun performance drive’.
LOA: 35ft 9in (10.9m)
Beam: 11ft 4in (3.5m)
Draft: 2ft 10in (0.9m)
Displacement: 5.4 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 570 litres
Engines: Twin 230hp Volvo Penta KAD43s
Contact: Tingdene Boat Sales
First published in the May 2020 edition of Motor Boat & Yachting.