The ideal wheelhouse boat should combine practicality, safe walkaround decks and all-weather ability. Nick Burnham picks out four used examples
Botnia Targa 35
No walkaround grouping would be complete without a Botnia Targa, king of the fast wheelhouse genre. Wessex Marine, the long-standing UK importer, rate the 35 as their personal favourite.
Sat in the middle of a range that runs from 23ft to the flagship Botnia Targa 44, it’s the perfect blend of size and ability. Introduced in 1998, it remains a mainstay of the range.
Most Botnia Targas have the sleeping space aft of the wheelhouse. The 35 is no exception, with a double and single berth tucked away at the back as well as the heads, but it’s large enough to add two further berths beneath the bow cockpit.
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In 2011, Botnia introduced a CFC (Comfort Forecabin) version, which loses much of the bow cockpit in favour of a larger forecabin and a separate heads. In 2013, the aft cabin berths and heads also grew a few inches.
The profile has remained largely unchanged throughout the boat’s life, with two notable exceptions. In 2005, the ‘+’ version was launched, which added 2ft to the hull length with the aid of a sloping transom.
This looks more attractive and increases the size of the engine bay. At the same time, a HiFly flybridge moved the exterior helm from the trailing edge of the wheelhouse to directly on top of it.
Targa 35 owners tend to spec the biggest engines available at the time, so you’ll typically find pre-2004 versions with twin Volvo Penta KAD300 285hp diesels and post-2004 models with twin D6s, initially 350hp, then 370hp and finally 400hp – the latter giving 42 knots! IPS pods are a recent (and rare) alternative to the usual sterndrives.
All Botnia Targas are epic sea boats and the epicness merely increases with the size of the boat. Suffice to say that there isn’t much that will slow, much less stop, a hard-charging Botnia.
Length: 38ft 6in (11.8m)
Beam: 11ft 5in (3.5m)
Draught: 3ft 6in (1.1m)
Displacement: 7.8 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 260 gallons (1,185 litres)
Engines: Twin Volvo Penta D6-350 diesel
Contact: Wessex Marine
It’s no surprise that all of our chosen boats hail from Finland, given the ‘wheelhouse’ brief. One in seven adults in Finland owns a boat, the highest proportion in the world, a fact made all the more amazing by their short season (May to September). So what the Finns crave are practical all-weather boats like this Aquador.
Rather less offbeat in appearance than the Botnia or Sargo, the coupé shape hides a conventional deck saloon layout with a galley opposite the dinette, all beautifully trimmed in high-gloss cherry. Head downstairs and you’ll find a double berth in the forecabin and a further double berth disappearing beneath the saloon floor.
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Large sliding doors either side of the helm and big sliding hatches in the roof allow you to bring some of the outside in when the weather is clement, and shut it out the rest of the time. The rear-facing dinette bench flips to create forward-facing seating alongside the helm under way.
Deep bulwarks and those side doors give safe, easy access to the side decks but it lacks the forward cockpit of the Botnia and Sargo. Early boats had an empty aft cockpit into which you’d put your own freestanding furniture. Later, boats like this one got proper fitted folding seats.
Most Aquador 32s are powered by single Yanmar engines between 285hp and 460hp, the 370hp of this boat being a typical example, yielding a top speed of about 28 knots.
The 32 C’s propensity to cut through waves rather than bouncing over them results in plenty of spray, giving the large pantograph wipers an excellent workout.
It’s worth closing the doors if it’s rough! The payoff is a soft ride which, together with the boat’s solidity, is confidence inspiring. Unusual twin rudders also help at low speeds.
Length: 31ft 6in (9.6m)
Beam: 11ft 4in (3.4m)
Draught: 3ft 1in (1.0m)
Displacement: 5.0 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 150 gallons (685 litres)
Engine: Yanmar 6LY 370hp diesel
Contact: TBS Boats
Grandezza is now the brand name for posh Finnmaster coupés, while the more prosaic range of speedboats and sportsfishers stay as Finnmasters. Ironically, the Finnmaster Grandezza of 2007 is neither one nor the other; instead, it’s a wheelhouse boat with a twist. Its fluid, organic lines make this about as sexy as a walkaround gets.
Like Botnia’s CFC versions, this boat has a double berth forward (which has decent headroom) instead of a bow cockpit, and a mid double berth aft beneath the cockpit (which doesn’t). Unusually, the galley is on the lower level too. The wheelhouse is well lit by a huge glass sliding roof and has fantastic visibility over almost the full 360º.
Curvier it might be, but the deck layout of the Grandezza is no less practical for it. Two big sliding side doors grant access to deep, wide decks that encircle the boat. There’s a folding aft-facing seat let into the back of the wheelhouse, but otherwise it’s standing room only – brilliant for fishing and spacious enough to adorn with a couple of director chairs.
The Finns love big single diesel engines, so it’s a surprise to peek under the cockpit hatches and find two Volvo Penta D3-160 sterndrive engines. They give the boat about 31 knots flat out and a 26-knot cruise at 3,600rpm, when it’s consuming about 50 litres an hour. It’s quiet too, 77dB(A) in the wheelhouse.
The Grandezza handles extremely well, tucking into hard turns like a sportsboat. Open the roof and windows for as close to a wind-in-the-hair experience as you’re likely to get in one of these, or close it all up against the elements and cover ground with speed and comfort in equal measure.
Length: 27ft 7in (8.4m)
Beam: 9ft 10in (3m)
Draught: 3ft 0in (0.9m)
Displacement: 4.1 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 92 gallons (420 litres)
Engines: Volvo Penta D3-160 160hp diesel
Contact: Michael Schmidt & Partner
Sargo 36 Fly
Edy Sarin started off making wooden interiors for other boatyards before building his first craft in 1967. Based on Finland’s west coast, the company is still owned by the same family. In 2014, with the range expanding and export sales building, the brand name was changed from Minor to Sargo. The 36 Offshore, its biggest boat yet, was launched in 2012.
Sliding doors both sides augment a third door aft, giving easy access to all deck spaces. Access to the forward accommodation (vee berths and a heads) is where you’d expect to find it, but lift the leg of the settee and you’ll find steps down to a second cabin. Headroom is surprisingly good and a single and double berth is handy for families. There’s even an ensuite.
Two years into production, a flybridge version was added to the range, giving a second helm position and an upstairs dinette. The deck layout stayed the same, meaning deep bulwarks and wide walkways with seating around the aft deck and ahead of the windscreens. An ‘Explorer’ version toughens up the look with black rather than stainless rails and alternative hull colours.
A single Volvo Penta D6-400 offers the most efficient progress and a top speed of about 28 knots, or you can opt for a pair of D4-300s. But for the full performance hit you need either twin D6-400s or twin MerCruiser 370hp TDI 4.2Ls. Both should see the Sargo 36 top 40 knots.
My first experience of a Sargo 36 Offshore was at a press event for the Finnish marine industry. There were about eight of us on board, stood around in the saloon casually chatting as the boat scorched up the archipelago at 40 knots, serene on the inside, imperialistic on the outside – a genuinely impressive performer.
Length: 38ft 7in (11.8m)
Beam: 11ft 8in (3.6m)
Draught: 3ft 6in (1.1m)
Displacement: 8.8 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 308 gallons (1,400 litres)
Engines: Twin MerCruiser 4.2TDI 370hp diesel engines
Contact: Marco Marine
The Aquador 32 C is the sleekest, although in this company, that might be damning with faint praise. It’s nicely put together too; attractive looking and with a generous layout. The Botnia Targa is the classic – it is to this segment what Grand Banks is to trawler yachts, the original and arguably the best with its solid build and epic seakeeping.
The Finnmaster Grandezza is a quirky alternative, and with its curvy styling and twin engines, it’s a tempting choice. But the Sargo 36 Fly is the one that lights my fire: a storming 40-knot bruiser, intelligently configured and solidly put together.