Theo Stocker takes an in-depth look at this iconic cruiser-racer, on an early season trip out of Sunderland
What’s she like to sail?
The Contessa 32 is one of the most successful cruiser racers of the last 30 years – and it’s easy to see why. She’s a joy to sail on the wind, quick on a reach, and well set up for spinnaker work downwind. With a dry weight of over four tonnes, a deep forefoot leading to a long fin keel and a skeg-mounted rudder, she’s a solid sea-boat that will see you through all seasons of offshore sailing. All that and she’s still winning races on handicap.
The deep cockpit felt very safe, and the proper gunwales made working on deck feel secure. The grabrail attached to the aft edge of the sprayhood made stepping onto the slightly narrow sidedecks easy. With the sprayhood and dodgers in place it did feel a little too cocooned and visibility to windward was a bit limited.
She is heavier and slower on the helm than a fin-keeler with a balanced spade rudder, and she needs 12 knots or more to really get going. But all of that pales into insignificance when you’re at the helm. She’s made to sail and she does so beautifully, cutting through the waves in a way that makes you want to let her keep going. Given a chance, she’ll eat up the sea miles, whether that’s around the cans or crossing the North Sea to Norway.
What’s she like in port and at anchor?
She manoeuvres predictably under engine in port. With the rudder immediately aft of the prop you have instant control when going ahead. Astern, it is a fact that she will walk to port and so as long as you work with that, you’re fine. A solid anchor and plenty of chain mean Charlotte can anchor almost anywhere with confidence and her low-windage hull shouldn’t be prone to sailing around
her anchor. While the hull shape limits living space below decks – anyone over 6ft tall will have to stoop slightly – there is a surprising amount of stowage. There’s space to sleep six, and Alan’s had nine for dinner around the large fold-out saloon table before, but living on board with a full crew would be a bit cosy. The galley gives plenty of space to whip up hot meals for your crew in port or at sea. She is a comfortable and homely boat inside, with some of the old charm that you no longer get from sitting in a tupperware box.
Would she suit you and your crew?
It’s hard to imagine many crews for whom a Contessa 32 wouldn’t meet a good number of their criteria. She’ll take you to Greenland and back without any qualms. She’ll happily potter out for a daysail or a weekend away and give you somewhere to get away from it all. The next weekend, she’d be just as happy racing around the
Isle of Wight and would still have a chance of winning. She’s a true sailing boat and built for mile after mile of satisfying cruising, and solidly built – she will look after you in pretty much anything.
She’s not a modern boat, so if you are going Mediterranean island hopping and want space to for an extensive bathing platform or a sun-deck, she can’t really help you. But that’s not what she does. For Alan, who often sails her singlehanded, or with a couple of crew on longer trips around the British coast, she’s the ideal boat. She certainly suits her canine crew Charlie, who was introduced to her at three weeks old and has happily accompanied Alan ever since, almost entirely ‘without accident’, as long as he gets his morning walk before departure. The Contessa 32 is a versatile, trustworthy companion of a boat that is game for pretty much any type of adventure you might suggest.
A joy to sail — quick on a reach and well set up for spinnaker work downwind