There wasn't much wrong with its predecessor but could the new Arcona 345 get even closer to the ideal performance cruiser?
Arcona 345 review: 24 hours onboard Arcona’s latest
Bigger isn’t always better. Yes, the longer the boat the faster you go, theoretically, and the more space you get on board, but the bills go up exponentially, and the further you are away from the water and the beautiful feeling of wind and water balancing to create speed. In many ways, the best boat is the smallest boat you can get away with for the cruising you want to do, and for many the Arcona 345 is just what’s needed.
I was excited to take the baby of the Arcona range out for a spin last summer not just once, but twice, including an overnight, giving us over 24 hours aboard, letting us properly put the boat through her paces in a test that included night sailing through the Hurst Narrows, anchoring in Newtown Creek in the dark, swimming off the boat in the morning, making breakfast, washing up and even using the heads. In short, experiencing the boat as she is meant to be used.
The Arcona 345 is an update of the Arcona 340, first launched a decade ago. When YM tested her then, we loved the boat and her sailing could not be faulted, but there were a few niggles and rough edges; the Arcona 345 promised to have addressed these.
On this latest model, twin wheels control the single deep rudder, replacing the single large wheel, making a clear walk through to the transom, which is now open. The transom lockers have been replaced by a wide, deep lazarette and there is now space for a full-width main traveller ahead of the wheels.
There’s also now a permanently fitted bow roller, with the option of a GRP bowsprit, both of which provide a point from which to rig furling offwind sails. Other than that, the changes are cosmetic, such as the addition of hull windows, a window from the aft cabin into the cockpit, and an opening window above the galley.
Setting sail from Lymington not long before sunset, we still had plenty of midsummer light left. With a glorious northerly Force 4 and flat water, the Code Zero pulled us out towards the Needles at 7-8 knots. I could have kept going all night. With the helm light and precise in my hands, the boat felt powerful and purposeful beyond her size.
The Arcona 345 relished the fetch back upwind too, as we picked out boats to test our speed against, sailing through the lee of some much larger boats. On the our first sail, while the boat was still being commissioned, the helm had felt heavier than other Arconas I had sailed. Whether this was to do with the autopilot or steering quadrant, it had been fixed by the time I sailed her again, and the helm felt as light and precise as an Arcona should.
Sharp and assured
With the clouds turning baroque oranges and pinks, the sky behind studded with early stars, we cleared Hurst Narrows to find a slight seastate. There was enough chop to make itself felt – one downside of a smaller boat is that it will respond to seastate sooner than a larger boat – but it was also proof that the Arcona 345’s fine entry, modest beam and absence of hard chines does indeed make light work of such conditions, slicing onwards through the small waves, maintaining both boatspeed and a light, responsive helm.
Even though her displacement is relatively light at a smidge over five tonnes, with a long waterline length, relative to her length overall, she demonstrated a seakindly motion. She also remained dry on deck despite what is, by current standards, a low freeboard; you’d need worse to get the decks wet.
Turning to run back downwind under white sails with the moon in our wake, The Arcona 345 was easy to keep on course even when concentration lapsed, albeit in benign conditions.
We anchored for the night in Newtown Creek, seeking deep water to accommodate her 1.95m draught. The deep keel is one of the reasons she sails so well, but may put some off, as it does restrict the anchorages you can visit, or how far upriver you can venture.
This boat’s new owners told me they are still getting used to these limitations, having previously owned a Corsair 31 trimaran for 20 years. They were, however, eager to venture further afield in a boat in which they could head offshore and keep punching to windward even when it blows up rough. For them, the Arcona 345 was the best compromise of seaworthiness and performance, and the length means the boat squeezes under the size limit for their local mooring.
Anchored up at last, it was time to go below for a well-earned drink and some food. There’s a high sill to the companionway hatch to keep water on deck from going below. Step over this and down the four steps (the bottom two are a removable box around the engine to give excellent access, as well as via the aft cabin) into a comfortable and seaworthy layout, with the right features close to the companionway.
An L-shaped galley is to port, with a double sink (a splashback needs adding to protect the saloon upholstery), top-opening fridge, and two-burner gas oven with a crash bar, and plenty of stowage.
To starboard is a cavernous heads, enlarged from the Arcona 340, with separate shower stall, wet locker, and access to the hull-depth cockpit locker. Forward of the heads, the chart table is now aft-facing, using as a seat the aft end of the starboard settee, which doubles as a full-length (200cm) berth. The table is big enough to stow leisure folio chart packs, and has instruments and electrical panels to hand; the wiring for these is immaculately done.
More generally, handholds abound, with deep wooden fiddles around furniture, good handles in the companionway, and discreet wooden grabrails along the coachroof-deck join, low enough even for shorter crew.
Talking of height, I’ve mentioned that this boat has a sleek, low freeboard; the only downside of this is that, in a boat of this length, headroom is limited. At its highest, there’s 183cm (6ft 0in) at the bottom of the companionway, in the heads, galley and aft cabin. Move forward though, and this drops to 170cm at the forward end of the saloon and 168cm in the forward cabin. This might not be a sacrifice worth making for some, though once aboard I didn’t particularly notice it even though I’m 185cm (6ft 1in) tall.
The saloon of the Arcona 345 is much the same as the 340 but with a few key changes. There’s a large drop-leaf table amidships, aft of the keel-stepped mast, with a straight settee to starboard and newly C-shaped seating to port, thanks to the seat backs having been pushed wider. Outboard of these either side are generous lockers and bookcases, above which small, rectangular hull windows have been added.
There’s stowage behind the settee backs and beneath the seats with the 130-litre water tank under the port settee. This is a generous social space, seemingly larger in every way than aboard the Arcona 340, that also offers two good seaberths and works well under way.
The space below is in part thanks to the fact that the Arcona 345 only comes in a two-cabin layout; Arcona has resisted the temptation to squeeze more berths in. If you use the saloon berths, you can still sleep six aboard, or four if you just use the cabins.
The forward cabin has standing space inside the door, with a seat to port and locker space either side, as well as two long shelves above the berth. Although headroom is a little limited, the berth is generous at 200cm long and 196cm at the head end, with 64cm at the foot end.
Similarly, the double in the port aft cabin is also large at 200cm long, 180cm wide at the forward end, and narrowing to 140cm aft. They’ve managed to avoid the engine box stealing space from the berth, and there’s 182cm of headroom, plus a hanging locker and long shelf on the outboard side. The absence of a third cabin frees up space for the large heads, and a hull-depth cockpit locker aft of it.
Cruising at pace
After a good sleep, a morning swim and breakfast the following day, we were ready to continue the test. The Arcona 345 is billed as a performance cruiser but Arcona says this doesn’t mean she is tricky to handle. While Arconas perform very well on the race circuit, their turn of speed is conceived as a means of extending cruising range. Sail faster and in more comfort and you’ll get into harbour sooner and fresher, or cover more ground in the same time.
Soon we were sailing upwind, making 4.5 knots in just 6-8 knots of true wind, and that was punching tide. In these conditions, she was light and precise to helm, but with a groove that was easy to find and stay in. Later, in 8 to 10 knots of true wind we were nudging over 5-5.2 knots at 28-300 to apparent wind, and we could probably have pointed higher.
On a close reach at 600 we topped out at 8.2 knots in 10-11 true, 12-13 knots apparent. These weren’t conditions that would push the boat hard, but the rudder’s grip on the water felt secure, and even when oversheeted, there was no suggestion of letting go; she won’t bite your hand off if you get it wrong.
On deck, the layout is clean and sensible. There’s an open transom with an offset bathing ladder and central 48:1 purchase backstay, aft of a large, deep lazarette which also houses the 100-litre diesel tank. Engine controls and a deck shower are to starboard, with gas bottle stowage to port (a spare bottle will have to go in the anchor locker). Twin carbon 70cm wheels sit on Jefa pedestals with instrument pods housing dual chartplotters and protected by steel grabrails, with a helm seat on the sidedeck coaming.
From here, you can lean forwards to trim the German mainsheet winch or tweak the traveller. Hefty primary winches and coachroof halyard winches are out of reach from the helm, so you’ll need a crew, or to engage the autopilot to go forward for these. Bench seats are a decent length with good back support from the coamings, though I’d have liked some bracing on the cockpit sole midships when heeled.
Moving forward, the decks have the trademark moulded grey non-slip, which I think is as smart as any heavy teak deck, and there’s a good clear foredeck. The anchor locker is deep, with a shelf for the windlass, and a baffle to separate chain from fenders, as well as the under-deck headsail furling gear.
Building a small boat is tricky because the costs and overheads are almost exactly the same as those of a larger boat, save slightly less resin and wood, but with a price tag significantly lower – there’s £100,000 difference in price between the Arcona 345 and the Arcona 385. It is encouraging to see that finish on this boat is every bit as good as on the larger Arconas.
I could find no discernible difference in build quality or spec. How Arcona have managed this I’m not sure, but I’m very glad they still see a market for high-quality small cruising yachts. Like her bigger sisters, the Arcona 345 is constructed in epoxy resin vacuum-infused over a 20mm Divinycell core. A galvanised keel matrix takes the load from the 1.9m keel, the rig and hull, with bulkheads laminated into the hull and deck, making the boat light and extremely stiff.
This kind of quality doesn’t come cheap, and at £300,000 all-in, it’s a lot of money for a 34-footer, although this doesn’t seem quite so much when you look at what other boats on the market cost. What you’re getting for the price is an Arcona that might just fit your budget.
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Like one of James Bond’s suits, this boat is understated, beautifully crafted, and sharp as a knife. Even in areas not on show I couldn’t fault the workmanship. Scandinavian in its straightforward, clean and practical design, this is a boat that doesn’t need to flounce about with dramatic hull shapes, preferring to let her performance on the water do the talking. She is light, stiff, and well-built. Her slim lines and sharp bow make her weatherly and more than able to take chop in her stride, and the low topsides and subtle sheerline make the Arcona 345 a boat that looks just right for her length. The improvements made in this version – the twin wheels, mainsheet traveller, cockpit layout and saloon modifications – all make this a materially better boat than what was already a cracking little yacht. A few small complaints remain: I'd like locker stowage for two gas bottles; the cockpit needs a centreline foot brace; and I missed the rope-tail bins of her bigger sisters. Below, the headroom is a compromise you’ll have to decide if you’re happy to live with or not.