If you’re in search of a capable and competitive 37-footer for offshore sailing, you might like to have a good look at the Arcona 370, says David Harding
Arcona 370: A quality offshore cruiser that eats up the miles
Arcona 370: A quality offshore cruiser that eats up the miles
It can be a leap of faith to become the first person in the country to buy a particular type of boat.
If, however, you have faith in the company behind the boat, the people you’re going to be dealing with and, of course, in the boat itself, is there any
reason to hold back?
Back in 2003, Kathy Claydon didn’t think there was.
The boat she had in her sights was the Arcona 370, then the newest model in a Swedish range that few people in the UK had heard of.
Since then, Arcona has become an established and highly respected name among British sailors, helping to maintain the reputation of Swedish yachts in general for combining good performance with soundly engineered construction and an exceptionally high level of interior finish.
The fact that Arcona’s smaller models are built on an Estonian island (albeit one with a Swedish history) had no significant bearing on the way the boats were perceived in the early days – and nor should it.
Other Scandinavian yards have also taken advantage of the boatbuilding skills offered by some of the islands in the Baltic.
Arcona’s HQ was (and still is) in Gustavsberg, near Stockholm, where the Estonian-built boats are completed before being shipped or commissioned.
Kathy’s only problem at the time was that there were no 370s in the UK.
She had sailed the 400 owned by the then UK distributor, Tony Bottomley, liked it and had faith in the construction, but a trip to Sweden was needed for her to see a 370 in the flesh, to visit the yard and to meet the builders.
Arcon 370: Faster in style
Arcona buyers have often come from older cruiser/racers, such as Contessas, S&Ss, Sigmas, Hustlers, Sadlers, Starlights, Westerly Fulmars and so on – offshore passage-makers that are capable of covering the ground swiftly while looking after the crew.
Although the Contessa 32 that Kathy had co-owned since 1996 was reasonably swift for its size and age, it simply didn’t have the speed to match the newer, bigger boats that made up the bulk of the RORC and JOG fleets, and Kathy had become fed up with missing the prize-giving after a race.
She did a lot of JOG and RORC racing, and the final straw was when she arrived in Plymouth at the end of the 2003 Fastnet to find the silverware cleared away and everyone gone home.
She didn’t know it at the time, but she had won the two-handed class and finished 43rd overall in an IRC fleet of 250 boats.
For someone in Kathy’s position, finding a suitable boat to move up to can present a challenge.
She looked around, and sailed some that looked promising only to find that they slammed horribly upwind. She wasn’t prepared to trade more speed for an uncomfortable ride.
Then, via JOG, she caught wind of the Arconas.
They seemed to offer the qualities she was looking for and the Arcona 370 was the right size.
So, after sailing the 400 and visiting Sweden to see a 370, she placed an order. Her boat was delivered in March 2004.
I first sailed with Kathy on Arcsine (what other name could you choose as a former maths teacher who has just bought an Arcona?) in the autumn of 2006.
In those days the boat was based in the Solent because Kathy was running RYA courses and taking clients out on RORC and JOG races, local regattas and corporate team-building days.
Since she had already completed the 2005 Fastnet and put over 12,000 miles on the log, I had expected the boat to be showing a few signs of wear around the edges.
In the event, I was pleasantly surprised to find Arcsine looking remarkably new and fresh both above decks and below.
A quick look in the cabin confirmed that the Arcona 370 was built in a way that I considered a proper hand-crafted boat should be built.
There were no interior mouldings except in the heads. The joinery was in mahogany which, though not so fashionable now, stands up to abuse better than most timbers.
There were locker units each side in the saloon which extended to the underside of the deckhead, and the bulkheads were bonded directly to the hull and deck.
Everything I saw on the Arcona 370 pointed to a boat that was built to last and to stay looking good.
That includes Arcona’s internal galvanised steel frame, bolted to the stringers and the main bulkhead, which stiffens the hull and takes the loads from the rig and keel.
As you would imagine, the keel is bolted through the frame.
One Arcona 370 was reported to have hit a rock in the Stockholm archipelago at 8.5 knots.
The owner was airlifted to hospital but the boat was back in the water a couple of days later after a minor repair to the hull abaft the keel.
Lead keels, apart from being hydrodynamically superior to iron by virtue of their density, are also more forgiving when you hit something.
A frame like this should allow high rig tensions to be applied with no distortion to the hull.
Tony Bottomley had previously owned a 35ft one-design from a big European builder and said it went distinctly bendy because of the rig loads.
Maintaining adequate rig tension is fundamental when it comes to performance, and Arcona has always taken performance seriously.
All the designs have been drawn by the late Stefan Qviberg, a talented designer who worked almost exclusively for Arcona and whose objectives were to create boats that were fast, attractive and fun to sail.
They also happened to be competitive under IRC in the right hands, though they were too stable to rate well under rating systems that penalised stability.
Qviberg certainly pulled it off with the Arcona 370.
As soon as I took the helm of Arcsine on my first sail with Kathy I felt very much at home.
The boat set off on a beam reach in 10 knots of wind at just under 7 knots, feeling lithe and eager to go yet not remotely skittish.
Hardening up on to a breeze that nudged 15 knots on occasions we consistently clocked speeds in the high 6s, de-powering the mainsail as necessary to maintain a comfortable angle of heel.
Unlike many modern equivalents, the Arcona 370 has a single wheel rather than twins.
Nonetheless, with the cut-out in the cockpit sole and a transom that’s only moderately wide by today’s standards, it’s comfortably reached by the helmsmen from the coamings.
I liked the light yet positive feel and the high gearing that gives a single turn from lock to lock.
So often, one finds tortuously low gearing partly because cruising owners are prone to over-steering: the high gearing on the Arcona suggests that she’s aimed at helmsmen who know how to sail.
Despite having been impressed in 2006, I couldn’t help wondering whether, 15 years on and having sailed dozens of newer boats in the meantime, I would still find the Arcona 370 to measure up as she had before.
I needn’t have worried, because when I headed out into Weymouth Bay on Arcsine earlier this year the boat felt exactly the same.
Kathy now sails from Weymouth, where she’s based, because she no longer operates commercially.
She races as keenly as ever and won the two-handed class in last year’s inaugural Lonely Rock race.
Since our first sail she has raced tens of thousands of miles (taking in four more Fastnets) in events that have taken her as far as Cascais.
At the end of this particular JOG race she found herself surfing down the waves under just the storm jib at up to 18 knots, one wave causing some concern until its height provided a lee and allowed the boat to slow down before hitting the bottom of the trough.
‘The boat will take anything,’ says Kathy.
She has wondered from time to time whether she might move to something a little smaller and less muscular to sail, but has yet to find a boat that has seriously tempted her.
If she ever does, buyers are likely to be queuing up for Arcsine: second-hand 370s are hard to find, particularly ones with a record like this.
Given that most of her sailing is shorthanded passage racing rather than around the cans, Kathy has changed from a twin-groove headfoil to hanked headsails on
a conventional forestay.
‘The bolt rope was prone to coming out of the foil during changes,’ she says. ‘You can’t do a peel with hanks, so it’s less slick but more reliable.’
In any event, headsail changes are less frequent than they used to be because the genoas with bolt ropes haven’t been replaced and, like many mainsail-driven boats with small foretriangles, Arcsine is now rated for minimal-overlappers.
Otherwise, on and above the deck she’s pretty much as she was apart from the mainsheet traveller arrangement.
Kathy wanted a Harken windward-sheeting traveller, but it wouldn’t fit (and Arcona have always used Lewmar), so she modified the arrangements of blocks to make it easier to control from the helm.
She did, however, specify Andersen winches from the outset and has now added electric power to the starboard coachroof winch to make hoisting the mainsail easier.
Verdict on the Arcona 370
It’s testament to the design and construction of the Arcona 370 that Kathy, who has covered so many miles with her boat, has needed to change so little.
The new Zeus3 plotter lives in a swivelling pod at the helm, though swivel-space is limited because the mainsheet is close to the pedestal.
Kathy likes having a display by the wheel that shows AIS data so she can watch other boats during races.
Having raced on Arcsine too, I can vouch for the fact that the deck layout works. In this case it’s geared more towards short-handed passage racing than to a full crew crashing around the cans.
Significantly, Kathy has had equally little reason to make any significant changes below decks.
She altered the hinges on the forwardmost access panel outboard of the chart table so that it opens about a vertical axis to swing the GPS display to a comfortable viewing angle.
For navigation she runs Sea Pro software on an ordinary laptop connected to a TV monitor, having never found a need for anything designed specifically for marine use (except a waterproof keyboard).
Keeping water out of the bunk cushions has to be a priority on a boat that’s slept on, so Kathy has vinyl-covered cushions in the saloon.
In the forward and aft cabins she has left the original upholstery, protecting the vulnerable areas at the aft end of the forecabin cushions and the forward end of the aft cabin cushions by wrapping them in industrial-strength cling film.
‘That’s where people kneel and lean over in wet waterproofs,’ says Kathy, ‘so those areas need protecting but it’s nicer to sleep on cushions that aren’t covered in vinyl.’
In terms of layout, the Arcona 370 sticks to the tried-and-tested arrangement for offshore sailing, with the galley and chart table to port and starboard respectively by the companionway.
Abaft the heads is a useful door that opens into the aft locker.
It’s the details that really make the difference: the quality of the joinery and the abundance of laminated curves; the simple lift-and-pull solution to stop drawers flying open; the bottom-hinged lockers so the contents don’t spill out when you open them; the thick sole boards with sealed end-grain; the battened, vinyl-covered headlining that can be removed to allow access to the fastenings for the deck hardware; the stainless steel fuel and water tanks that wouldn’t call for a
chainsaw if you had to remove them – and so on.
Even the things that aren’t obvious at a boat show make a lot of difference in the long run.
For Kathy and Arcsine, it has been a pretty long run – and a happy and successful run too.
Expert opinion on the Arcona 370
Nick Vass B,Sc B,Ed HND FRINA MCMS DipMarSur YS, Marine Surveyor.
Fastening chainplates to the keel and bulkhead by means of a metal frame makes a lot of sense as steel fabrication, welding and hot-dip galvanising is cheap and easy. So, why aren’t all yachts made this way?
There are reasons.
Keel-stepped masts make the structure stiffer, too, so connecting up chainplates is such an obvious thing to do to make the boat very stiff indeed.
Steel frames are not a new idea and were found on Finot-designed yachts such as the Fastnet 34 from the 70s.
Steel frames were used extensively on timber yachts, such as the Holman-designed Stella, and later, strip-planked hulls.
There are drawbacks, however, as even galvanised steel frames can rust.
I discovered this on an Arcona where the shower drain broke allowing waste water to fester in the bilge.
The main bulkhead began to decay and the frame rusted from inside as water got into the holes that are cut to allow the zinc to flow.
You can’t galvanise closed box sections.
The frame had to be removed, stripped and re-galvanised. Something has to give when making a yacht stiff and I have found cracks on Arcona hulls around the keel as the flexible fibreglass hull distorted around the rigid frame.
Rod rigging is useful under both tension and compression but if you overtighten the shrouds, shock loads are transferred to the mast or hull causing stress.
Robin Milledge, Dip. Yacht & Small Craft Surveying, MCA Coding Surveyor.
Around 80 Arcona 370s were built between 2005 and 2013. I have surveyed a couple of early 370s, as well as larger and later models in the Arcona range and found them to be well built and fitted out with good quality fittings and equipment.
Hulls and decks are laid up using a resin infusion system to ensure accurate consolidation of the resin, with a closed cell foam core tapering to a solid laminate in the lower areas of the underwater body around the keel, through hull fittings and rudder tube.
The usual checks need to be carried out for any delamination, or high moisture content, although I have not found this to be an issue.
The hull-to-deck joint is over laminated and all bulkheads, structural floors and items of fixed furniture are hand laminated to the hull skin.
The hull incorporates a galvanised steel box section along the centreline, with transverse girders tying the hull structure, bulkheads, chain plate anchor points and keel fastenings together and evenly distributing keel and rig loads.
Access to inspect the steel structure and the keel fastenings is difficult unless the saloon table and fixed sole boards are removed.
Don’t be put off by any loose or cracked flow coat resin or filler between the hull skin and edges of the steel girder, this is purely a cosmetic issue.
Where cathodic protection relies solely on the sail-drive collar anode, the external flanges of the through hull fittings need close inspection for signs of de-zincification.
Ben Sutcliffe-Davies, Marine Surveyor and full member of the Yacht Brokers Designers & Surveyors Association (YDSA)
The Arcona 370 pushed the boundaries of normal production boats and don’t often surface on the UK second hand market.
As a result, I’ve not previously surveyed one, but like all good surveyors I have researched the design and structure of the yacht to highlight what to look out for.
These yachts were reinforced, with the use of a galvanised steel frame that takes the loading of the mast, keel and chain plates.
The frame also ties into the front of the engine beds as well.
It’s obviously quite important to spend some time looking at the framing; inspect its condition for signs of any corrosion.
Likewise carefully examine the fastenings and check for any indicators of grounding or overloading.
Be aware that this won’t be so obvious with this type of frame structure.
Her lead keel is a great shock absorber but will give only very subtle clues of past groundings.
The hull is built using a Divinycell foam core. This is quite a posh type of polyvinyl foam.
While I fully understand the benefits of strength to weight ratio, I’ve never been the greatest fan of any core under the waterline, although many boat builders use several types of foam or the dreaded balsa.
If the boat has suffered any overloading of her structure then the foam is more likely to come apart where the sandwich of the foam is introduced.
Overall, Arcona is known for its pedigree and quality build finish and their boats give years of good service.
Alternatives to the Arcona 370
Slim, swish and sporty in the traditional Scandinavian style, this Finnish design by Karl-Johan Stråhlmann has much in common with the Arcona 370 in many respects.
Launched in 2004, she was the last of the second-generation of Finngulfs, coming after the 28, 41, 33 and 46.
All were designed by Stråhlmann, who was then Finland’s only full-time independent yacht designer.
Performance and handling are hard to fault.
She’s a remarkably quick boat, thanks to slippery lines, a light but stiff foam-cored hull, plenty of ballast in the lead keel and a powerful rig with an inboard shroud base that gives the option of overlapping genoas for extra power in light airs.
Since Finland’s coastal waters are almost as rock-strewn as Sweden’s – if not more so – keel attachment and stiffness in the bottom of the hull is also taken seriously, but Finngulf preferred to use a laminated grid rather than a steel frame.
The grid is tied into substantial stringers, while directional fibres direct the loads from the chainplates down to the stringers and frames.
Performance-wise, the Finngulf is capable of showing a clean pair of heels to most boats her size or a good deal larger.
She will readily clock 7 knots upwind and nigh on 10 knots downwind in flat water.
She’s stiff, responsive and great fun to sail, though you might want to fit the biggest wheel the cockpit will accommodate because the standard one is barely big enough for comfortable helming from the coamings.
Below decks the Finngulf is beautifully finished, with teak being the standard timber.
As on the Arcona 370, internal mouldings are minimal and access to the essential systems is good.
Out-of-sight areas are given almost as much attention as those on show, to the extent that even the top of the plywood headliner panels are varnished to prevent water absorption. Ventilation is taken seriously too.
The layout is traditional, with the galley and heads by the companionway, and there’s a choice of one or two double cabins in the stern.
One of the best-known Scandinavian builders of cruiser/racers with a high-grade interior finish, X-Yachts launched the 37 back in 2004.
She was part of an all-new range, following the 43, 46, 50 and 40, and proved highly successful on the race course.
She was also numerically successful – nearly 150 boats were ordered and left the yard in Haderslev until production ended in 2010.
Distinctive features include the fine bow sections, which contribute to an easy motion upwind in a seaway but inevitably limit space forward of the mast below decks.
Compared with boats such as the Arcona 370 and Finngulf 37, the X is built in a more modular manner with a greater number of interior mouldings and perhaps not quite the same attention to the detailing and interior finish, especially where it’s less obvious.
Nonetheless, she’s several cuts above most of the performance cruisers from the big European builders.
On the water, as her racing record testifies, she’s a hard boat to match and, in common with sports cruisers of this nature, she’s highly responsive.
If you can’t handle a quick boat with just over one turn of the wheel from lock to lock, look elsewhere.
Accommodation-wise she comes with a choice of two-cabin or three-cabin layouts.
Because of her slim hull, the twin double aft cabin layout is a little tight for space and stowage but that’s something you have to live with if you want the extra berths in a 37-footer as fast as this one.
Grand Soleil 37
This is not the Grand Soleil 37 designed by J&J and introduced in 1996, but a very different model from the Spanish-based design team of Botin and Carkeek that was launched in 2005.
Built in Italy by Cantiere del Pardo, she’s an altogether racier proposition than her predecessor and, indeed, than the Arcona, X or Finngulf.
In fact racer/cruiser might be a more appropriate description than cruiser/racer although, in the Grand Soleil tradition, she has an interior (in stained mahogany) that places her in a league above most other boats of similar size that are capable of getting anywhere near her on the race course.
Despite the emphasis on performance, acknowledgement that some owners might want cruising concessions beyond pleasing woodwork comes in the form of an optional shallower fin giving a draught of 1.9m (6ft 2in) rather than the 2.4m (7ft 11) of the deep fin.
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As with the Arcona 370, the loads from the keel and keel-stepped rig are taken by an internal steel frame, this time bonded rather than bolted to the hull.
Layout-wise, there’s a choice of one or two double aft cabins.
Either way, the single heads remains to port by the companionway.
Forward of the heads and opposite the seating and table in the saloon is a linear galley, which some might consider makes the Grand Soleil less suitable for passage-making than the traditional galley-aft arrangement because it means fewer sea-berths amidships.
The master cabin is forward.