Theo Stocker visits the Jeremy Rogers yard to see the latest Contessa 32 take shape
What makes a cruising yacht truly great? If years in production are anything to go by, even with a brief hiatus, then the Contessa 32 is right up there with the best of the last 50 years.
The Folkboat, the H-Boat and Rustler 36 rank alongside her as boats that are still being built after several decades.
But why keep producing such an old design?
I went along to the Jeremy Rogers boatshed in Lymington, now run by Jeremy’s son Kit and his wife Jessie, to find out.
When I arrived, the very latest Contessa 32 to pop out of the mould was part way through construction.
‘It’s a yacht that’s for people that want to sail more than be alongside,’ explained Jessie.
People who buy this boat seek it out because of her reputation, her prettily classic lines, her well-proven seakeeping ability and more than a handful of racing line honours.
Other boats have certainly improved on these classic designs but the Contessa 32 has gained a cult-like status, complete with an ardent band of followers; 13 boats competed in Cowes Week last year and 15 took part in the nationals, so the class is in rude health.
‘There are enough 32s around to make them instantly recognisable,’ says Jessie. ‘Our owners get quite emotional – there’s a real connection to these boats.’
Only a couple of Contessas are now built each year, alongside other refurbishment and build projects.
I was warmly greeted and a cup of tea pressed into my hand as we stepped through onto the gantry overlooking the shed.
Below us was hull number 25 of the boats built since the 32 came back into production in 1996.
Her bowels lie open to the light, her deck hovering several feet up.
Having come out of the mould a couple of months earlier, the deck has been offered up and fitted to the hull, before being lifted up again to allow the interior fit out to be completed.
Bulkheads have been laminated to the hull sides, giving the boat rigidity, while lockers, bunks, chart table and galley have all been built in.
Bronze Blakes seacocks have been set through the hull, an immaculately red Beta 25hp engine sits on its mounts beneath a protective sheet and a rugged Force 10 stove rests in its gimbals.
This boat is being finished in teak for a classic look, but she will also have a few modern touches – including a bespoke whisky cabinet and carbon fibre detailing.
It is this process that draws people to a small yard and a classic design.
Her sailing ability is well proven – Willy Ker took Assent, now owned by the Rogers, to Greenland and Antarctica – so you get a real sailor’s boat, but the small production numbers mean that every aspect of the boat can be tweaked as you wish.
‘Our owners like to come down regularly during the build to see how things are developing and to make decisions,’ explains Kit.
‘Often the whole family is involved. The build is fitted in around other work in the yard; it can take a year to complete, so the boat grows around the owner, and they end up with an intimate knowledge of the boat and how it is built.’