One of the most versatile cruiser/racers of the 1980s, the MG 335 is still an excellent buy as a fast, roomy and well-mannered cruiser with plenty of racing potential
There’s no shortage of sporty cruisers around 33ft/10m from the 1980s or 1990s that you can pick up now for less than £30,000.
Time was, in fact, when ‘a grand a foot’ was the yardstick for a new boat of this size (remember when the Sigma 33 was well under that at £20,000?), but those days are becoming distant memories for most of us.
Despite the fact that these boats are now 30 or 40 years old, some are still very good indeed.
Just think of the Sigma, the Sadler 34, the First 32s5, Westerly’s Storm 33 and the Moody 336 for starters.
Going back a little further, we find a whole host of boats that had lives as competitive half tonners or three-quarter tonners in the days of the International Offshore Rule (IOR): Stephen Jones’s Hustlers, Verls and Oysters, the Everitt-designed Eliminator 32, Rob Humphreys’ Mistral 31 and an assortment of Beneteaus, for example.
The builders of these and others made the most of their successes on the race course.
Some were also keen to point out that, especially when fitted with smaller rigs and shallower keels – as such boats often were in production form – they made excellent fast cruisers.
For all the choice that’s out there, however, it hasn’t always been easy to find the right all-rounder at the right price.
So it’s significant that, for a surprisingly large number of people I have known or sailed with, one boat in particular has stood out as fitting the bill: the MG 335.
The 335 later became the 346 following some modifications and upgrades, but is fundamentally the same boat.
The MG 335: the boat to beat
My first encounter with the MG was back in 1998, when I tested a Poole-based example called Heartbeat.
For more than 10 years Poole had been a hotbed of 335 activity.
Two of the small number of MG 346s also made their homes in Poole, where one is still based today.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s it was not uncommon to see up to five 335s racing in the harbour or bay.
All belonged to highly competent owners – some of whom went on to achieve notable results in high-profile events – including Jim Macgregor with his Southerly 42 RST.
Andrew Pearce, whose Magnum 4 was one of the top Fast 40s on the ultra-competitive circuit for a number of years, also raced an MG 335 in Poole back in the day.
The 346 on which I’m currently racing has won its class and group in Cowes Week and recorded a fair few successes elsewhere too.
By all accounts this is a boat that inspires people to get the best from it.
Some boats have that effect, while others almost make you want to jump overboard and swim away from them. I’ve tested a few like that.
I started racing an MG 335 when some friends bought one in 2002.
They had looked at a good many options as a move up from a Sigma 292. In the end, the MG 335 was the only boat to buy: it was a simple choice.
It was an equally simple choice for Steve Pearce when he was looking to buy his first cruiser in 2000.
Steve had been sailing a Wanderer dinghy with his wife, Karen, though he was in the Royal Navy at the time and an experienced cruising sailor.
The decision to start looking for their own boat was followed by a good deal of statistical analysis that soon brought the list down to two: the MG and the Beneteau First 32s5.
At that point Steve spoke to someone who was ‘around boats quite a lot’ and asked, ‘which one?’ Her reply was simple: ‘There is no choice. Buy the MG 335.’
That decision made, it was a matter of finding the right MG 335.
Steve looked at one that had been run aground and had some cracking around the floor-pan matrix.
This problem is by no means uncommon among MGs or, indeed, among other boats with moulded matrices.
Then he found one in Chichester that looked pretty well up together, and bought it in July 2002.
This boat just happened to be Heartbeat, which had been sold not long after my test and raced in Chichester for a couple of years.
Heartbeat came well equipped for her dual cruising and racing functions, with a Flexofold two-bladed folding prop, cruising and racing mainsails, no fewer than six headsails (she had a conventional headstay), two spinnakers and a selection of older sails.
Steve immediately started clocking up the miles and has logged more than 21,000 to date.
He maintains the ‘good old naval tradition’ of filling in his log book on every outing.
Among other statistics, it shows that he has averaged over 30 sailing days a year.
Upgrades & enhancements
Naval training also means that Steve hasn’t hesitated to do things to the boat when they have needed doing.
And he didn’t have long to wait for the first big job: after only a few years, movement in the keel became apparent during a winter lift-out.
The first yard that attempted to fix it failed in such a way that Steve wasn’t prepared to give it a second chance, so he went to another yard that had to start by making good the damage done by the first.
To all intents and purposes the second yard had to replace the bottom of the hull before laminating in a new matrix in timber.
As well as being stronger than the original moulded top-hat section, the new solid matrix wasn’t going to get water trapped inside it.
On occasions when I have seen sections of hollow matrix like this cut away following damage from a grounding, it has been disconcerting to find lots of sticky black gunge where water has found its way in from inside the boat – often because limber holes haven’t been sealed tubes.
Trapped inside the labyrinth of tunnels, water has soaked into dry mat and absorbent debris and festered there for years or decades.
This weakness, if that’s what it is, is by no means unique to the MG 335.
Besides, any boat should be inspected for signs of groundings and, particularly when there’s a matrix that’s also part of a more extensive interior moulding, cracking can appear some distance from the area of impact.
As far as Heartbeat is concerned, it’s a matter of ‘problem solved’.
Other jobs Steve has carried out have included fitting a diesel-fired heater (running the pipes through the interior moulding was a challenge), epoxy-coating the hull, fitting a headsail roller-reefing system (not until 2012), curing the window leaks in the saloon (a recognised problem with the 335 and largely resolved on the 346), installing a holding tank and replacing the balsa core in the deck with a plastic alternative in way of the mast step.
This was because water soaked in through the electrics gland.
The fitting of a proper swan-neck for the electrics seemed sensible after that.
Replacement of the original Volvo 2002 raw-water-cooled engine was something Steve deemed essential in 2008, not least so as to have fresh-water cooling and a decent supply of hot water.
The need for a 7º down-angled gearbox ruled out a Yanmar, so a Volvo D1-20 was fitted instead.
After all this – and the list doesn’t end there – Steve has what he describes as ‘a properly fitted out cruising boat’.
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And cruise it he has, on regular trips to the West Country and Channel Islands, a few crossings to France and, last year, 1,400 miles on a ‘Welsh Wanderings’ summer cruise.
In addition to cruising extensively, Steve has entered the Round The Island Race a number of times, always racing under ISC, and has consistently finished in the top five in his division and top 20 in his group.
Before racing, he does what any cruising owner should really do and unloads the cruising kit.
He reckons the boat is half-a-ton lighter and half-a-knot faster when it’s all off.
On cross-Channel trips, when not restricted by racing rules and when he’s going to be on one tack for a while, he takes advantage of having a water tank each side in the saloon – joined by a connecting pipe with an isolating valve – and gives the boat the benefit of water-ballast.
It’s something else that makes half-a-knot of difference, which is significant on a trip of 60+ miles.
Although Steve’s sailing is predominantly cruising, he’s a good example of an owner who likes to make the most of his boat’s potential by sailing efficiently.
If an extra half-knot is up for grabs, why not take it?
On the day of my reunion with Heartbeat, it was good to see the boat looking even smarter than on our first meeting 23 years earlier.
Not quite so smart were the men from the Met Office, who had predicted wind and sun.
After a few glimmers of brightness and half-an-hour of fitful breeze that struggled to reach four knots, we found ourselves floating on a grey, windless Solent.
Thankfully, as I have found over many years of racing MG 335s and 346s, these boats go well in light airs: they will keep ghosting along when most cruisers are glued to the water.
Of course it makes a vast difference if you have an overlapping genoa as opposed to the self-tacking jib that MGs came with as standard.
Tony Castro drew the rig with a big mainsail, so the boat powers up pretty quickly as soon as the wind builds, but there’s still no substitute for an overlapper.
Heartbeat’s main and genoa both came from the North Sails loft less than three years ago.
The MG has few weaknesses across the wind range, performing well both upwind and down for a boat of her age, type and weight.
In competitive terms she’s often at her best in light airs (depending on the sail wardrobe and the nature of the competition, of course) and can hang on to higher-rated boats upwind in a breeze.
Downwind she won’t surf as readily as newer, lighter designs but, in the right hands, can still carry her spinnaker in nigh on 30 knots.
Choosing not to fly might be determined by a desire to preserve the rig.
By cruising standards she’s responsive and fun to sail, her only quirk of note being the almost neutral helm.
Verdict on the MG 335
The MG 335 and 346 would still be great boats even if they weren’t exceptionally roomy down below by the standards of the day.
They have a commodious double aft cabin, a good galley and chart table and a roomy saloon, albeit with cranked berths that would be more comfortable if they were straight.
Steve has fitted an outlet for the heater in the wet locker abaft the heads (‘it makes a difference having warm, dry waterproofs’) and has added a couple
of stowage units to the outside of the heads door for charts, pilot books and so on.
Even without these, the MG has far more stowage incorporated into her detailed joinery than you will find on most mid-range cruising boats built in the last 40 years.
As well as his carefully maintained log book, Steve keeps a book in which to record statistics and measurements.
Whenever something has to be replaced, he makes a note of the sizes and details to avoid having to re-measure or work it all out again the next time.
The chances are that he will have occasion to refer to it, because it looks as though he might well hang on to Heartbeat for a good few years yet.
As he says, ‘to get appreciably more space below while maintaining the same performance, you would have to buy a much bigger boat.’
For the MG 335, there the case rests.
Expert Opinion on the MG 335
Ben Sutcliffe-Davies, Marine Surveyor and full member of the Yacht Brokers Designers & Surveyors Association (YDSA)
As a surveyor, one of the most important things is not to critique any design or builder.
Tony Castro’s design coupled with North Shore as the builder was a good combination.
But, as with many of the lightweight, fast and semi-comfortable cruiser/racer designs, there are several common issues to be aware of.
The hulls which are raced frequently are worked hard so do tend to soften up; this is often very noticeable around the keel root and rudder stock areas.
When buying it is essential to see the yacht in suspension with a tip test to the keel and rudder.
Also see the boat set down to check her hull doesn’t slump over the keel. If it’s soft, there is a significant amount of work to undertake.
The internal keel matrix will fail from groundings and sometimes from significant overloading which happens as a result of hard racing in bad weather.
The decks are notorious for moisture ingress into the balsa core.
Check the pad in the mast step for moisture too; this is a problem in many yachts so it is worth checking your own boat this spring.
Lastly, be aware of the age of the engine and, as is common with many of these craft, check the port light fittings for leaks.
Alternatives to the MG 335 to consider
Beneteau First 32S5
Designed by Jean Berret, the 32s5 caused quite a stir when she was launched in 1988.
The principal reason for this was the interior styling by Philippe Starck (who was responsible for the ‘s’ in the name).
Starck created an interior in polished mahogany with stainless steel and aluminium trim, complemented by white upholstery.
Not surprisingly, such a radical approach caused a few ripples, especially since everything below decks was highly stylised right down to the taps and light fittings.
Nothing like this had been seen before.
If prospective buyers found it all a bit much, they could choose the ‘classic’ interior in teak. It wasn’t exactly understated either, but less controversial.
Whatever you might think of the interior, there’s no doubt that the 32s5 is a quick boat.
She’s notably more racy in tone than the first of the s5 series, the 35s5, and needs to be sailed with a degree of attention.
Sailed in the way she needs to be, and reefed in good time if you’re cruising, she’s by no means unforgiving but the long carbon tiller and tweaky, double-spreader fractional rig serve as reminders that you’re on a race-bred boat.
The elliptical keel in cast iron has a bulb at the bottom which, though smaller than bulbs typically found on more recent designs, helps to lower the centre of gravity nonetheless.
It sets the First apart from many of the earlier post-IOR designs that were still influenced by the IOR and the way it effectively penalised stability.
The nature of the 32s5’s interior means that it will need to have been well looked after to look good today.
Longevity might also be an issue because of the full interior moulding and headliner into which all the joinery units and bulkheads were slotted.
It creates a very modular interior that’s slickly finished but it doesn’t allow easy access to all the systems and fittings.
The layout itself, with straight saloon berths and the galley and chart table by the companionway, works well out at sea.
More of a cruiser by nature than the MG 335 and certainly than the First, the Sadler 34 is a spirited performer nonetheless.
Launched in 1984, she made a name for herself in long-distance offshore races, establishing a reputation as a long-legged mile-swallower that can keep going when the going gets tough.
Three Sadler 34s entered the 1990 two-handed trans-Atlantic race and were among the five finishers from 13 starters in their class.
Her upwind ability and ease of motion in a seaway are partly a function of her relatively slim hull.
While it can undoubtedly make life more comfortable out at sea, it means she’s less roomy below decks than many boats of similar length, especially since the double-skinned hull with foam injected between the hull and interior moulding further reduces the internal volume.
The foam enabled her to carry the ‘unsinkable’ label, however, and this claim was borne out when a 34 was hit by a trawler in the English Channel and badly holed.
It remained afloat to be salvaged and repaired.
The double-skinning also provides good thermal and acoustic insulation, though the foam in the bow sections of some heavily used boats has been known to break down and need replacing.
Later boats had low-cg keels designed by Stephen Jones, and were stiffer and faster as a result. Twin keels were offered too.
Another change during production was the introduction of lighter-coloured interior mouldings to replace the original and delightful ‘nicotine yellow’.
Westerly Storm 33
Like many Westerlys, this design by Ed Dubois has a slightly chequered history but is fundamentally a good, swift and solid cruiser with racing potential.
Conceived as a cruiser/racer, she was soon found to be too heavy to be competitive on the race course in light airs.
She was also given a masthead rig, as opposed to the fractional configuration originally drawn by Dubois, because Westerly thought that a fractional rig might be considered too racy by cruising sailors.
The Storm appeared in 1986 and sat in Westerly’s range alongside the Fulmar 32, which was later extended with a sugar-scoop to become the Fulmar 33.
Three years later, the Storm Cruiser was introduced as an alternative, with a shorter rig, reduced deck hardware, the option of twin keels, a bigger engine and more creature comforts down below.
It was only after Westerly’s receivership in the early 1990s that the Storm became the boat that, perhaps, she always should have been.
Westerly turned the sportier, aft-cockpit models into the Regatta range, with fractional rigs and stylish new interiors from Ken Freivokh.
Sadly the combination of their prices and the economy at the time meant that none of the revamped boats, including the Regatta 330 (as the Storm became), sold in significant numbers.
Though the Regatta 330 is still heavy by racing standards, she sails very nicely and makes an excellent fast, well-finished cruiser.
You might be lucky to find one, though, as only around 15 were built.
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