Looking for a good all-round family cruising boat with a good turn of speed, there are plenty of strong contenders, including the Moody S38

Moody S38: a good all-round family cruising boat

Partners Mick Jeffrey and Val Conway have owned boats and sailed together for decades and have very similar tastes with regard to their preferred type of yacht.

They started cruising many years ago in 
a Westerly Konsort, followed by a Jaguar 

Both were great fun, they say, but a 
little cramped when friends joined them 
for a weekend.

Later, they moved up to a Moody 336, which they sailed extensively for 15 years, appreciating both her extra accommodation, performance under sail and her ability to take them further with less concern about the weather.

The Moody S38 helm is set up for singlehanding

The helm is set up for singlehanding

Four years ago, when Mick retired from his job as IT manager for a large bank, they decided to move up a little more to give them enough accommodation to cruise longer and further, and to provide more comfortable facilities both for themselves and their guests.

Although they looked at other makes, including a Wauquiez and a Sadler Starlight 39, they felt that, having had so few problems over the 15 years they had owned their 336, they had full confidence in the Moody brand.

Being keen on sailing performance, neither wanted a heavy and ponderous centre-cockpit boat, so they were drawn to the lighter and sleeker-looking, aft-cockpit Moody S38 – a natural progression from their 336.

The S38 was Moody’s attempt to 
shake off the rather staid reputation 
that earlier models in this marque had accumulated over the years, especially 
with its earlier Angus Primrose designs.

Designer, Bill Dixon’s brief was to introduce the first aft cockpit ‘performance cruiser’ 
into the Moody stable, and 60 were built 
by Marine Projects in Plymouth.

Moody S39 chart table

The forward-facing chart table on the Moody S38 has space for instrumentation. Credit: Duncan Kent

was indeed achieved thanks to her lighter build, shallower bilges, fine underwater 
lines and lengthy waterline.

Although her standard masthead rig and sail plan 
offered a reasonably generous sail 
area, her sailing performance could 
be improved further still by ordering the fractionally rigged Sport version, with its taller, double spreader mast and extra 7m²/75sq ft of sail area.

Yard options also included a deep or shoal fin keel, both versions sporting a high-aspect, semi-balanced rudder supported by a sturdy half skeg.

Mick and Val’s 1996 model, Chaika, has both the tall rig and the deep fin, although this requirement reduced their choice of available yachts on the market, meaning it took them a while to find a good example 
for sale.

Despite her more streamlined hull, the Moody S38 was actually slightly beamier than the centre-cockpit Moody 38, thus enabling an equally spacious and comfortable accommodation to be created.

The S38’s maximum beam was carried further aft as well, which not only increased her form stability, but also made more space for a decent aft cabin – one 
of the main selling points of the centre cockpit Moodys.

Galley on the Moody S38

A well equipped galley is good for long-term cruising. Credit: Duncan Kent

Mick said: ‘Although we loved the 336, Chaika offers a far better interior for extended cruising, which is what we’re planning to do as soon as Val retires as well. Having two heads in a 38-footer is a real boon and means our guests have their own private facilities to themselves.’

‘We also like the extra space in the aft cabin.’ says Val. ‘Being quite tall, with our 336 it was a real squeeze to get into the 
aft bunk and headroom was almost non-existent.’

When going below you have to take care as the bridge deck is quite high and the companionway steps very steep – more like a ladder in fact.

Mick and Val sensibly choose to descend facing aft, helped by stout handholds each side.

Having an aft cockpit means the saloon has been brought further aft than in the 38CC model, allowing for a larger forecabin and ensuite heads compartment forward.

The Moody S38 was offered with either a large aft ‘owner’s suite’, as with Chaika, or twin double cabins.

This single cabin version has the benefit of a settee as you enter, bags of useful locker space and stowage, and good headroom in the dressing area.

The door is rather narrow, however.

Saloon on the Moody S38

Traditional joinery below gives the boat a homely feel. Credit: Duncan Kent

There’s an emergency escape hatch out to the cockpit above the furthest side of the berth from the door, which is a sensible precaution when your only other exit is through the galley – the most likely place for a fire to start.

The saloon is warm and woody, with ample seating on a good size U-shaped dinette to starboard (that converts to a double berth) and a straight settee opposite that measures 1.94m/6ft 3in long (including trotter box) and makes an ideal sea berth with a lee cloth.

Lockers abound throughout the saloon, galley and forecabin, although the water tanks (2 x 180l) take up most of the space under the seats.

Headroom in the main cabin is a healthy 1.90m/6ft 3in and there are numerous deckhead-mounted handrails to make getting around below when underway much safer.

Two other features were high on Mick and Val’s wish list – a decent galley and a forward-facing chart table.

Both of these are provided in spades by the Moody S38.

She has an impressive, wrap-around galley with everything you might need for long-term cruising including a full-size cooker, deep twin sinks, deep fridge, gash bin and ample stowage for food and cooking utensils.

There’s also a good size forward-facing chart table to port.

A smallish wet locker sits adjacent to the engine room.

Her original engine, a 39hp Volvo MD2040 freshwater-cooled diesel, was powerful for her size and provided plenty of grunt for battling a foul tide.

The larger sail area of the Sport version really boosts light wind performance on the Moody S38

The larger sail area of the Sport version really boosts light wind performance

On deck the S38’s cockpit is comparatively small, although it’s big enough for 3-4 to crew and is deep with nicely angled seatbacks and wide coaming tops.

Single handing is not difficult as the primaries are well within reach of the helm and the coachroof-mounted mainsheet is easy to reach around the smallish wheel.

All reefing controls and the kicker are brought aft to the coachroof winches 
and clutches.

Stowage is reasonable in two shallow lockers, while the helm seat lifts up and a door in the transom opens to provide easy access to a deep step and folding boarding ladder.

Her decks are wide with good non-slip, and the foredeck has fittings for warps and ground tackle.

Mick says ‘The extra few feet on the mast in the Sport model increases the size of the mainsail, which provides more power in light airs. It does, though, mean she likes to be reefed early. We tend to put the first reef in the main at around 15 knots true for comfort. The jib, though, is small and the foot cut quite high, making it easier to see ahead in crowded waters.’

The standard furling genoa was 130%, which gives enough power upwind without making tacking too much like hard work.

Off the wind the Moody S38 is a moderately quick cruiser

Off the wind the Moody S38 is a moderately quick

When Yachting Monthly test sailed a similarly specced Moody S38 shortly after the official launch, we found her to be responsive and powerful, yet still easy to handle when hard onto the wind with 24 knots over the decks.

Her steering is positive, but not the lightest until she gets into her groove.

Off the wind she’s moderately (by modern cruising yacht standards) quick and holds her course with few alterations to her helm.

The only problems Mick and Val have encountered in their four years of ownership has been with the saildrive gearbox, which failed on them at sea.

Despite this, they managed to sail her back into the marina without incident, 
‘a token to her excellent handling characteristics under sail,’ says Mick.

What the experts say about the Moody S38

James Jermain, Yachting Monthly boat tester and former editor

Her performance is a step ahead of the older 38, but it takes the taller fractional rig to put her truly into the sports cruiser class.

Above all she is a good all-rounder, capable of taking families offshore in safety or just pottering along the coastline in comfort.

Nick Vass, Marine Surveyor

Although she was constructed to Moody’s usual high standards and every hull was built to Lloyd’s specifications, some of the early Moody S38s suffered from various defects, including delamination, cracking and bulging on the coachroof above the forward heads compartment bulkhead, and again over the aft bulkheads where the bulkhead itself did not appear to fit properly.

Also watch out for delamination/bulging around the anchor locker drain and on the topsides below the stanchion bases.

They got better during the production run, however, with these few teething problems being quickly corrected on the original boats.

Duncan Kent, freelance yacht and equipment reviewer

The Moody S38 was a step, rather than a whole leap ahead for Moody at a time 
when the French production yards were launching lighter, faster, beamier yachts 
for a group of sailors keen to sail faster but without sacrificing the comforts of a luxurious accommodation.

Looking closely at the figures, the Moody S38 was in fact more moderate than extreme.

Her displacement to waterline length ratio of 242 put her in the moderate performance class, as did her modest 15.4 sail area to displacement ratio.

Though greater than most of the European 38-footers of that period, her sail area, even on the tall rig model, was less than the sportier Sweden Yachts 390 and Finngulf 38.

The taller rig is countered, however, by a deep fin keel, a healthy 36% ballast to displacement ratio and additional form stability provided by carrying the maximum beam a long way aft.

High topsides and pronounced positive sheer allow her to carve through the waves with a gentle nodding motion with little spray landing on the decks.

Alternatives to consider

Sadler Starlight 39

The Starlight 39 can be race or cruised shorthanded

The Starlight 39 can be race or cruised shorthanded

Built by Bowman after the demise of Sadler Yachts, the Stephen Jones-designed Starlight 39 was conceived as a fast and seaworthy cruising boat that could be raced or cruised short-handed.

Although deep fin and shoal keels were offered, many owners opted for the more novel wing keel, which was intended to increase lift and stability when sailing to windward.

It also reduced her draft to 1.60m/5ft 3in and helped support her when taking the ground.

The hand-laminated hulls were built 
using isopthalic resins and, like all 
Sadlers before her, a one-piece GRP interior moulding incorporating fixings for bulkheads and furniture was bonded to the outer 
hull and the gap between filled with 
closed-cell polyurethane foam for buoyancy 
and insulation.

Below, she has berths for six crew in two double ensuite cabins and the saloon, which has a warm, woody finish but with the four good size windows keeping it bright and airy.

The double drop-leaf table seats six comfortably and the galley is well-equipped for cruising with generous stowage, although it lacks preparation space.

Continues below…

She also has a decent navigation station with forward-facing chart table and room for plenty of charts, plotting gear, pilot 
books and displays.

Behind it is a locker for oilskins.

The Sadler Starlight 39 is a speedy and seaworthy alternative

The Sadler Starlight 39 is a speedy and seaworthy alternative. Credit: David Harding

Her cockpit is a little small due to the large bridge deck, which can make going below awkward at times.

However, it is deep and safe with high coamings and easy foot bracing. Stowage is generous, too.

Her tall masthead sloop rig supplies plenty of power, even in light airs, and the fully battened main with aft-led reefing lines simplifies handling.

Typical of Jones’ designs, the Starlights were renowned for their upwind performance and sea kindly manners.

She’s fast, points well and tacks deftly, while her helm remains light yet positive.

Westerly Typhoon 37

Heavily built, the Westerly Typhoon 37 tracks well up and downwind

Heavily built, the Typhoon tracks well up and downwind. Credit: David Harding

The Ed Dubois-designed Typhoon was an attractive, streamline, sporty performance cruiser with a sumptuous interior for her day.

The hulls were heavily built using solid laminates, but with a balsa-cored deck.

Her 7/8ths fractional rig makes her a powerful performer who can be handled easily by a couple alone.

She has a huge aft cabin with settee and bags of stowage, but the clearance above the double berth is restricted a little by the cockpit well.

The forecabin is smaller but still has a heads and washbasin.

A large proportion of the main cabin is taken up with an excellent galley and large navigation station, at the expense of the saloon dining area, which is positioned well forward.

Headroom is over 6ft throughout, though, and the quality of furniture construction top-notch, with endless rich, warm teak on show.

On deck she has a large, well-organised cockpit, wheel steering and stout deck gear and winches.

Although the mainsheet track runs across immediately forward of the wheel, the primaries are on plinths by the companionway so well out of reach of the helm.

All other sail control lines are led aft to another pair of self-tailers on the coachroof.

Under sail, the Typhoon is reasonably quick and easy to handle, pointing well to windward and passing through tacks swiftly.

Her deep spade rudder and fin keel keep her well in the groove upwind and tracking on rails downwind, with only the lightest touch needed on her helm to keep her 
on course.

Sweden Yachts 390

Very pretty lines and a sleek coachroof make the Sweden Yachts 390 an extremely attractive yacht.

The Sweden Yachts 390 is sporty, but still well set up for long term cruising

The Sweden Yachts 390 is sporty, but still well set up for long term cruising. Credit: David Harding

Using the IOR-inspired hull of the original Peter Norlin designed SY38, the 390 had a completely revamped and much improved deck and interior but kept the fine bow overhang and retroussé transom.

She is stoutly constructed with a balsa cored hull and deck, reinforced floor grid and bonded bulkheads.

The layout below is ideal for long-term cruising, with two double cabins, a quarterberth and two straight saloon settees/sea berths with lee cloths.

She has a good size galley to port and a large, outboard facing chart table to starboard.

The saloon is very comfortable and roomy with loads of warm mahogany.

Although forward of the saloon, the head is spacious and effectively ensuite to the forecabin.

Stowage is very good all round, although there are water tanks beneath both settees, and there’s over 1.90m/6ft 3in headroom throughout.

Her cockpit is well organised and set up for short-handed sailing, with the primary winches and double-ended mainsheet within easy reach of the helm.

Wide side decks lead to a clutter-free, flush foredeck.

Her tall, 7/8ths fractional rig and powerful sail plan make her a genuine performance yacht that ploughs on through the seas at an impressive lick shrugging off oncoming waves.

Despite being slick and close-winded, she is responsive, light on the helm and easy to handle in all but the worst conditions.

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