Theo Stocker takes to the water in the new Arcona 385 to see if she lives up the reputation of her much-loved predecessor
Arcona 385 review – evolution not revolution
Plenty has changed in the last 10 years. We’ve come through Brexit, Covid and TikTok dance crazes. Some things haven’t changed much though. Swedish yard Arcona has just launched its new Arcona 385, effectively a Mark II of its highly successful Arcona 380 from 2013.
So confident is the yard in the Stefan Qviberg-drawn hull that they’ve left it almost entirely as it was, with nothing but the faintest nod to chasing the latest trends.
No hard hull chines, full bow sections or double rudders to see here. Yes, she has square hull windows now, but her twin wheels are original and she’s just as fine-bowed and low-topsided as she was before.
Other changes on the Arcona 385 include larger coachroof windows, additional instrument mounting space and an open transom doing away with the aft helm seats to increase space on deck and lazarette stowage as well as getting rid of weight in the stern.
Below decks, light fittings have been moved and that’s about it.
I’m not surprised this was Arcona’s approach, given the 380’s reception at the time. When YM first reviewed the 380, Chris Beeson said that in 30 years on the water, he had never sailed a boat that felt better; the experience was one of ‘pure driving pleasure’.
When Arcona got in touch to say they had a new Arcona 385 ready to sail in the UK, I jumped at the chance to find out if she was not only as good as the yard – and my predecessor – said she was, but also to see if they had managed to improve on the design.
When you hear the words ‘performance-cruiser’ you might think of either a racing boat with few creature comforts, or a cruising boat with pretensions of performance. While the Arcona 385 has race-winning performance (proven over the last decade) this side of the boat is really aimed at making a better cruising boat. It might sound obvious, but she is built around sailing and the accommodation, as lovely as it is, fits within those constraints, rather than vice versa.
Her lightweight hull is built with reassuringly expensive multiaxial fibreglass with Vinylester resin vacuum infused over a Divinycell 20mm foam core, with solid laminate used for the rudder, keel attachment, engine bed and all through-hull fittings. Bulkheads are bonded to the hull and deck to add to stiffness.
The heart of the boat’s strength, though, lies in the galvanised steel cradle which handles the dynamic loads of the keel, mast and rig, and is bolted and bonded into the hull, bulkheads and fibreglass beams. The keel is a lead bulb on a cast iron fin, sheathed in GRP.
The single rudder, laminated over an aluminium stock, is almost as deep as the keel, with twin carbon wheels on a Jefa steering system. The twin-spreader Selden mast is 7/8ths fractionally rigged, with a 48:1 cascade backstay and deck gear is from Harken.
Sails are owner-specified, and the test boat was fitted with a suit of One Sails’ 4T Forte recyclable laminate sails. In other words, all the trappings of a proper sailing machine.
Powering up the Arcona 385
We were greeted at Hamble Point by a calm early summer morning, with the promise of breeze building through the day. Motoring down the river, the powered starboard coachroof winch (Harken 40ST) got the main up with ease.
Sheeting in the jib, we came up on the wind, and settled into our first beat in 10 knots of breeze. Heeling to around 15º the boat started to come alive. Feather-light on the helm, I could steer with one finger.
Towable jib cars and inhaulers allowed us to get the slot to the main just right, and then take in a little on the inhaulers to bring us higher on the wind. A touch of backstay and we were fully powered up, making 6.5 knots upwind at 25-27º to the apparent wind (about 40º to true) with around 20º of heel. That’s good for any boat, let alone a beautifully fitted-out cruiser.
As the breeze built, the helm loaded up slightly. From the wheel, I reached down and pulled on a handful of backstay, balancing the boat immediately. A little later, as a chop started to get up, the helm felt a little sluggish. The main was backwinding slightly so we eased the inhauler, opening the slot,
and the helm came alive again.
If you’re not a ‘tweaker’, this may not be your cup of tea, in which case reefing down from about 14 knots true would settle her down very happily. But having a boat ‘talk’ to you like this, with the controls to hand to settle her back into the groove, was immensely enjoyable.
We kept full canvas up, even as the wind nudged Force 5, hitting 7 knots boat speed. It might not be how you’d sail her cruising, but even with all that power, the boat remained totally composed. I bore away with the sails sheeted in hard to try and find her limit.
Water gurgled at the stern and the helm loaded up as we heeled to 45º, but the rudder refused to let go.
In the cockpit
The cockpit and helm is well-laid out for this kind of sailing. The transom is open, but with high guard-wires and a solid stanchion midships, it didn’t feel vulnerable. Standing to leeward, I still had a 360º view, and sitting down at the windward helm, I could still keep a lookout under the main.
Foot blocks on the deck are well positioned to brace in a variety of positions, with a decent seat outboard where the coamings are lowered to a comfortable height while still keeping your backside dry. The pedestal instrument pods house a B&G Zeus 12in chartplotter on each side, putting all the data where you need it.
The boom-end mainsheet runs on a full-width traveller just forward of the wheels, and a German mainsheet brings the sheet back to winches just forward of the wheels and was easily adjusted from the helm, as was the traveller. The genoa winch is further forward, and would need use of the quadrant-mounted autopilot if sailing solo, but it’s a good layout if sailing two-up.
The cockpit is too wide to brace against the opposite bench seat easily when heeling. Instead, the base for the removable table provides a foot brace amidships, which gives more space in the cockpit.
Coamings are comfortable to lean against and house rope bins for the coachroof lines as well as side-access stowage for on-deck cruising clobber. There are no cockpit bench lockers, but generous lazarettes abaft the helms use the full beam for stowage and access to the steering quadrants.
There’s a transom shower at the stern to starboard, and single-bottle gas locker to port, with an option for extra gas stowage in the bow locker.
Bearing away towards Osborne Bay as white caps began showing, the boat accelerated to just under 8 knots under white sails at 60º to the true wind. Later, we topped speeds of 8.5 knots.
Sadly, the spinnaker hadn’t arrived from the sailmakers in time for the test, so we couldn’t see what she’d really do off the wind, but the polars suggest she’ll do 10.5 knots in 20 knots true with an asymmetric kite flown off the fixed bowsprit.
On a run the apparent wind dropped and she sailed at 6.2-6.4 knots in under 10 knots of apparent, and this is where sailing the angles and extra sail area would really help. It’s worth noting that for taller crew members, the boom will be at head height and the mainsheet falls do pass through the cockpit with the boom-end mainsheet, requiring careful gybing.
It wasn’t long until we were west of Bramble Bank and we began beating back into the now Force 5 breeze. The boat was standing up well to full canvas, nudging over 7 knots, and I was enjoying myself.
The cockpit remained dry, and there was no sign of slamming. All too soon, Calshot loomed up and it was time to stick the engine back on.
While electric propulsion is now an option on all Arconas, this boat had the optional 40 horsepower Yanmar engine (30hp is standard), with a saildrive and two-bladed Flexofold prop, a gentle 2,000rpm gave us 6.5 knots. Revving up to full chat at 3,000rpm we got to 8 knots, so we backed off to 2,500rpm and ploughed along at 7.4 knots, giving me a chance to have a better look around the deck.
On the deck of the Arcona 385
Stepping out of the teak-decked cockpit, the deck felt grippy and secure under foot thanks to textured grey gelcoat, which is laid up into the mould at the start of the build rather than painted on afterwards – a classy touch.
Side decks were wide and unobstructed, with deck hardware well inboard and shrouds taken to the gunwales where they are bolted into the boat’s steel cradle. Fitted along the gunwales were also some folding padeyes to provide securing points for spinnaker guy blocks and tweakers, and outboard sheeting points for running under genoa.
I would have liked coachroof handholds further aft, as it felt slightly exposed stepping out of cockpit. Handholds on the sprayhood frame are an option I would take.
The foredeck is completely clear, giving a large working area, and the teak toe rails gave good, though not excessive, bracing. There’s teak around the foot of the mast for grip, though the coachroof does not have any anti-slip.
A folding mast step helps reach the mainsail head when putting the covers on. A nice touch in the deep anchor locker was that the chain stowed behind a baffle, leaving the forward part of the locker free for stowage – we fitted the mooring lines and eight fenders in there, even with the below-decks headsail furler in there too.
An integral bow roller sits in the 75cm bowsprit, which is flat to make stepping on and off through the split pulpit easy when moored bows to, and has securing points for two offwind sails.
Heading below, the companionway hatch panels stow in a neat holder below the hatch – the lip is 36cm (1ft 2in) high, so no water should get below, and there are clipping-on points either side of the companionway.
Four bevelled steps lead down to the beautifully finished accommodation – on this boat in Khaya mahogany – though Scandinavian light oak is an option.
I’m a fan of sensible layouts below when on passage, and having the galley at the bottom of the companionway to port and the heads to starboard, with the chart table just forward of it, all helps avoid traipsing through in wet-weather gear.
Solid laminated handholds around the worktop and chart table edges, and running full length below the coachroof windows, also makes moving around in a seaway easier. The J-shaped galley offers a generous amount of work surface.
A two-burner ENO gas stove and oven is protected with a crash bar, with pan stowage below, drawers to the left, and a large fridge with split access from above to the right.
There’s also a double sink (a splash-back was missing on the test boat and isn’t standard, but will be fitted to all UK boats), and the small return is just large enough to offer useful bracing when using the galley at sea on port tack.
There’s a neat solution for the forward-facing chart table, which has a proper seat when under way and is large enough to use Admiralty leisure folio charts. Slide the table aft and add the infill, however, and you have a berth that is nigh on 7ft long (2.10m).
There’s C-shaped saloon seating to port, which, with the table folded out, will let you host eight at a squeeze, with stowage for bottles and glasses in the base. The only downside is that this sits over the keel bolts and the sole boards would need unscrewing to inspect these.
Reading lights have been adjusted so they don’t interfere with where you sit, and now also offer USB ports for phone charging in all cabins.
Accommodation of six berths is shared between three cabins (there’s also a two-cabin layout offering more stowage and separate heads and shower compartments).
The single heads compartment includes a shower with a curtain to keep the compartment dry, and a wet locker outboard of the sink.
Which one the owner’s cabin would be is a toss up between the forward cabin, with a V-berth (2m long by 2m wide at the shoulders and 70cm at the feet), a seat and hanging and shelved locker space but with headroom restricted to 174cm, or an aft cabin, which has 190cm standing headroom but less natural light and stowage space.
Maintenance access is straightforward and well thought through.
The wiring is some of the neatest I’ve seen, and engine access is excellent from the front, with good access to water and fuel filters, and even a collection bottle for any drips that escape from the anti-syphon loop to keep the bilge completely dry.
Test verdict on the Arcona 385
A lot may have changed in 10 years, but the fundamentals of what makes a good sailing boat have not. Windward ability, an easily driven hull and a beautifully balanced helm are all as important as they ever were.
The Arcona 385 is a younger, fresher version of the 380 but with just the same delightful sailing experience as her predecessor. There is very little to find fault with on board.
The low coachroof and limited headroom forward might put some off. She doesn’t have the stowage of a bluewater cruiser, and she won’t like being overloaded, though she is more than capable of crossing oceans.
You can race her if you want to, and will have a lot of fun doing so, but you don’t need to push her to enjoy sailing her. What she will do is eat up the miles whatever point of sail you’re on, and you’ll arrive feeling fresher because she is so easy to sail well.
Would the Arcona 385 suit you and your crew?
This probably isn’t a beginners’ boat. There’s a lot of power in the rig that rewards nuanced handling, and care will be needed when gybing, but you’ll also want some experience of other boats to appreciate how nice a boat this is to sail.
She might be a boat you can tweak, but I also found her to be a forgiving boat to sail; she gets into the groove easily upwind and wants to stay there.
A moment or two of inattention won’t see the boat stall or fall off the wind. Overpower her, and she won’t punish you with a broach – I couldn’t find the limit of her grip on the water.
In many ways, the Arcona 385 might just be the ideal cruising boat.
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A lot may have changed in 10 years, but the fundamentals of what makes a good sailing boat have not. Windward ability, an easily driven hull and a beautifully balanced helm are all as important as they ever were. The Arcona 385 is a younger, fresher version of the 380 but with just the same delightful sailing experience as her predecessor. There is very little to find fault with on board. The low coachroof and limited headroom forward might put some off. She doesn’t have the stowage of a bluewater cruiser, and she won’t like being overloaded, though she is more than capable of crossing oceans. You can race her if you want to, and will have a lot of fun doing so, but you don’t need to push her to enjoy sailing her. What she will do is eat up the miles whatever point of sail you’re on, and you’ll arrive feeling fresher because she is so easy to sail well.