Duncan Kent looks at this classic and solidly built motorsailer, the Nauticat 33, which promises comfort and reliable passage making
The Nauticat 33 comes from a generation of yachts intended for sailors who prefer the comfort of helming inside and the advantages of motorsailing to reach your destination on time.
Although her wheelhouse is a veritable cocoon, its huge windows and hatches keep the crew in touch and in control.
Being a ‘double-ender’ with a generous, almost constant beam throughout her length, she is surprisingly roomy, making them popular liveaboard boats with both blue water cruisers working their way around the world and those closer to home just seeking a comfortable, spacious and characterful yacht.
Design history of the Nauticat 33
Nauticats were built by Siltala in Finland for 50 years up to 2018.
When asked by local sailors to build a 10m motorsailer able to cope with the worst ravages of the stormy Baltic, they created the Nauticat 33, its hull closely resembling a traditional Nordic fishing boat.
The MkI boats (pre-1977 with hull numbers 1 to 440) had a long shoal-draft, encapsulated keel and a wooden wheelhouse.
The following 59 retained the latter but had a raised poop deck with a second helm.
In 1979, an all-GRP MkII version was introduced (numbers 500 on), and from 1982 a deeper fin keel and skeg-hung rudder were offered.
In total, some 1,100 were launched over the boat’s 31 years in production.
The Nauticat 33s are bestowed with warm hardwoods, creating a cosy feel below.
Rarely were two boats the same as Nauticat were happy to personalise the layout.
At the time, the Nauticat 33 had a larger internal volume than almost any other similarly sized yacht, which was, to many, its primary attraction.
Her beam remains fairly constant for two-thirds of her length, allowing enough room for two spacious cabins and heads.
Wheelhouse entry is via sliding side doors, which makes her vulnerable to breaking waves should you leave one open.
Entering from leeward when heeled isn’t easy either as the narrow side decks leave you leaning out over the rail.
Once inside, though, you are protected from the elements and large windows keep you in touch with the outside.
The Nauticat 33 has a wheel on the centreline and although her bulwarks rise going forward, they don’t restrict your view ahead.
An eye-level instrument console makes them easy to monitor and the engine controls are to hand.
There are wipers on all forward-facing windows and a clear hatch above for checking mainsail trim. In addition to the helm station, there’s a small table that can double as a cockpit table, surrounded by an L-shaped settee, and a single pilot’s seat opposite.
Beneath the sole is the powerful engine, commonly a 4.1 litre, 90hp Ford Lehman diesel, driving a fixed three-blade prop through a conventional shaft.
Service access is obtained by lifting the sole boards.
Steps down aft lead you into the aft cabin, which has a 2.1m/6ft 10in-long offset double berth and an ensuite head/shower.
Early models had a desk/vanity unit with a sink inside, but this was soon moved into the heads.
The hull sides were often planked and there is an abundance of stowage.
Three opening ports provide light and ventilation, but there was no overhead hatch as a means of escape from an engine fire.
Some had them retrofitted, despite creating a trip hazard in the cockpit. A modern ‘flush’ hatch would be ideal.
Stepping down forward from the wheelhouse brings you into the dinette-style saloon.
Early models had transverse settees each side of the table but this was later changed to a U-shaped settee to provide more seating and an optional double berth.
Headroom in the Nauticat 33 is 1.83m/6ft or more and stowage abounds in deep lockers above the seating, and in cavernous bins below.
A 450 litre/88 gallon freshwater tank is located under the cabin sole.
Opposite is a linear galley, comprising a deep sink with drainer, tall fridge and full-size, gimballed cooker/oven. Lockers, shelves and drawers are plentiful.
Moving forward brings you to the main heads/shower, opposite which is a large hanging locker.
The forecabin has two singles or a vee-berth, plus standing headroom without the infill. Again, there is bags of locker stowage above the bunks.
The Nauticat 33 has reassuringly high bulwarks, inspiring confidence when moving around the decks, although they’re a little narrow beside the wheelhouse.
Her foredeck features a large, planked bowsprit keeping the forestay well clear of her substantial ground tackle and bow rollers.
Cleats and fairleads are equally chunky and the chain locker is accessible from on deck.
Moving aft past the wheelhouse you step up onto the raised afterdeck which, in all but the first few boats, has its own wheel and engine controls, plus all the sail control lines and winches.
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Halyards and mainsail reefing lines were generally left at the mast, leaving just the headsail sheets running aft to the poop deck and the mainsheet track within reach on the wheelhouse.
Some had removable benches or fixed seats, others were bare.
Later models had a proper cockpit with moulded GRP seating.
Both mainmast and mizzen are deck-stepped, stoutly engineered, and well stayed.
You need to be quick when close-quarter manoeuvring as her high topsides generate considerable windage.
She accelerates quickly, though, thanks to her big prop, and gives steerage almost instantly, but you need a plan for the prop walk!
She needs a solid Force 4 to really start sailing, but then she’s quicker than she looks.
Helming under sail from the poop deck is a little unnerving, due to the height above the water and the inability to see past the genoa, but the sturdy guardrails offer some reassurance.
The lead of the jib sheets rising up from the deck to the wheelhouse-mounted winches isn’t ideal, though, and you must remember to duck when tacking to avoid the mizzen boom!
Despite her hefty looks she only has a 29% ballast ratio, so isn’t as stiff as you might expect.
When reaching the long-keel version in gusts over 20 knots, she feels a bit tender, despite tracking straight with her helm light and positive.
In these conditions she is better balanced with just her mizzen and jib hoisted.
With the long keel, tacking in light airs requires the headsail to be held aback until her bows are through the wind.
She heaves-to nicely, though, gently bobbing with the wind just forward of the beam.
The fin-keel version is stiffer, tacks quicker and the semi-balanced rudder reduces weather helm.
Off the wind, the drag from her substantial underwater surface area requires all the canvas you can muster.
Helming from the wheelhouse is easy, although you have to venture outside to trim the sheets.
In summary, the Nauticat 33 is an attractive and solid motorsailer that will cruise at around 5 knots.
Her high, bluff bows keep the decks dry and, should the weather turn nasty, there’s always that cosy, warm wheelhouse.
Owners experiences of the Nauticat 33
S/Y Darika (1986)
According to her owner, Steve Klietz, Darika is probably the only Nauticat 33 in Southeast Asia.
‘Being a late model, she has the GRP wheelhouse, fin keel, skeg-hung rudder and taller mast. My mizzen has a slightly raised boom to accommodate a custom-made GRP bimini,’ he explained.
‘She has one hanked-on headsail, the other furling, and my mainsail is manually hoisted with one reef that I’ve never used. I can also hoist an asymmetrical spinnaker in lighter winds.
‘Darika is a great passage-maker. With 15 knots of wind, I can sail at five knots, more in favourable conditions. She also has a Ford Lehman 90hp diesel with which I can comfortably motor at eight knots (hull speed). In a 5-10 knot wind 30° off the bow, with just the main and mizzen up she will motorsail through anything at 7 knots/1500rpm.
‘Darika has been retrofitted with two 300 litre stainless fuel tanks, giving her a range of 600 miles. Then I can add four 25 litre cans of fuel/water on custom foredeck fittings, plus two more in the engine compartment. She came with 450- litre freshwater tanks and I can carry another 100 litres in cans that can be refilled ashore.
‘Along with a bag of rice and a fishing rod I can carry provisions for a month. I have added insulation and a water-cooled compressor to the under-counter fridge/freezer and ice maker, and I’ve fitted a full-size, front-opening refrigerator where the forward clothes locker was.
‘I have removed the wheelhouse pilot seat and added a bathroom to the rear cabin with toilet, sink and hot shower. Some of the space gained now contains three more house batteries (giving me a total of four 120Ah deep-cycle house batteries) plus solar/wind charging controllers and extra switches and fuses.
‘My engine has a 160A alternator and I have five 120W solar panels, a wind generator, a 40A shore power charger and a 2kW/220V portable Honda generator. Normally, my solar panels run for 12 hours a day here in Thailand and my wind generator runs at night, keeping my batteries fully charged. I rarely start the generator.’
S/Y The Boat of Laughter and Forgetting (HN 1072, 1989)
Bruce, 60, and Shari, 56, Goldman have owned their Nauticat 33 since 2017 and have since fitted a bow thruster, holding tank and lazyjacks, plus renewed the sails, running rigging, anchor and chain, most of the plumbing and gas lines, and changed all the lights to LED.
Previous owners fitted dinghy davits, behind-the-mast mainsail furling, a wind generator and solar panels, and replaced the fuel tank and water hoses.
‘I started sailing in the 1960s with my parents on a 23ft Pearson Ensign and got my own boat, a 30ft Beneteau racer/cruiser, in 1997,’ says Bruce.
‘After 20 years, we wanted a slightly bigger and more cruising-friendly boat. Shari and I frequently day sail with friends and family on Lake St. Clair but we’re now outfitting and planning for summer cruises in the Great Lakes.
‘Even though the owner’s manual states that she sails best in a ‘fresh breeze’, she is surprisingly slippery and will make way in all but the lightest airs. In heavier airs, she’s perfectly fine under jib and jigger, sailing on her lines. The ketch rig allows for an easily handled combination of sails.
‘Although she’s a great boat for two I frequently sail singlehanded. The most difficult part is mooring. All sail controls except the vang are led to the aft helm station. The main and genoa are furling, and the mizzen has lazyjacks. Tacking in light airs can sometimes require a gybe instead or use of the bow thruster, and steering in reverse under power is always an adventure.
‘She’s very comfortable and the layout makes her seem much bigger. She’s airy and bright with four hatches, sizable ports and windows throughout, plus doors on both sides and a sunroof in the pilothouse. She has ample storage and the galley is spacious. We have diesel heating for the early/late season chills and aircon throughout for the summer. If cruising further we would install a bigger fridge/freezer, add a gate and swimming platform at the stern, and improve the aft deck with seating.
‘Nauticat 33s have distinctive ‘little ship’ good looks and are substantially over-built, providing a sense of security. She’s also very comfortable under sail and at anchor.
‘Her only negatives are the hydraulic steering, which gives no feedback, and the headsail sheets running from midship up to winches on the pilothouse roof. Also, other than in the aft cabin, our portlights don’t open.’
S/Y Artemis of Wareham (HN 518, 1979)
Nicholas Clegg, 64, has owned Artemis for the past nine years and still reckons she’s a superb vessel.
He started sailing in dinghies in his youth and then owned a motorboat before buying Artemis.
He now cruises the UK South Coast regularly with friends and is happy to sail single-handed, although he finds manoeuvring into a marina berth tricky due to her high windage.
Just after buying her, Nicholas stripped her interior down to bare bulkheads before installing a new galley, bunks, and wheelhouse seating.
He also fitted a bow thruster, together with new wiring and a modern electrical management system.
‘She’s a compromise between sailing performance (not being able to point too close to the wind), comfortable and spacious accommodation and the ability to motor well in light airs,’ noted Nicholas.
What the experts say about the Nauticat 33
Nick Vass B,Sc B,Ed HND FRINA MCMS DipMarSur YS,
Marine Surveyor www.omega-yachtservices.co.uk
Nauticats hold their prices well and represent good value for money when you consider the vast quantity of fibreglass and hardwood required to build them.
Vessels of this type are rare these days due to massive build costs and availability of teak and mahogany, so investing in and maintaining a Nauticat 33 could be considered quite environmentally friendly.
Fitting a new engine to a Nauticat is often more sensible than refurbishing a lighter constructed yacht that has become worn and tired.
Many of the Nauticat 33s that I have inspected have suffered from osmotic blistering.
I have also found softness and flexibility underfoot on the decks of several, especially around the forward and aft ends of the superstructure.
In these cases, the balsa core sandwich stiffening material had absorbed water and begun to decay, causing it to compress and not bounce back when walked upon.
Water enters the core sandwich through the teak decks’ slat screw holes.
Teak decks are expensive to replace so make sure that all the slats are sound, free of movement and rot, and that the caulking between the slats is good to keep the water out.
Also, ensure the windows are not leaking as water ingress can cause massive damage to internal joinery.
Some early 33s had timber superstructure so make sure that it is sound and free from leaks and decay.
Ben Sutcliffe-Davies, Marine Surveyor and full member of the Yacht Brokers Designers & Surveyors Association (YDSA)
The Nauticats were certainly in a class of their own, and they do vary quite a bit in terms of fit out, finish and layouts.
I’ve surveyed several that all had a common fault of mast compression; the causes of which can be manifold.
The boats I examined all had a slight lack of suitable support for the loadings; some just had a bulkhead that had suffered from overloading.
Water ingress had caused the bulkhead to start rotting. Two had compressions of over 10mm on deck.
My advice is to look carefully before buying; faults will be obvious if it is raining!
As Nick highlighted, many Nauticat 33’s suffer with osmosis and dry laminate under the waterline so care is needed at survey.
I’ve also looked at many which had soggy decks under the teak finish.
This is not a cheap problem to solve.
Alternatives to consider
The popular Fisher 34 was first launched in 1978.
Designers David Freeman and Gordon Wyatt teamed up in 1969 to produce a range of boats that had the seaworthiness of a North Sea fishing boat and the sailing abilities of a long-distance cruising yacht.
The Fishers all had canoe sterns and long keels for directional stability, plus a deep-vee entry and pronounced sheer with high, flared bows and deep bulwarks to keep the waves out.
Renowned for their build quality, Fishers are all hand-laminated and incorporate a long keel with encapsulated cast iron ballast.
Hulls are solid GRP, while the deck is a balsa sandwich.
Bulkheads are laminated to the hull and deck, and the raised bulwarks are part of the deck moulding, topped off with 25mm-thick teak capping.
The deck/hull join is through-bolted and then laminated over for strength and water tightness.
The Fisher 34 has a traditional, cosy wheelhouse from which the vessel may be steered under power or sail, the latter made possible thanks to a large transparent sliding hatch in the wheelhouse roof.
As standard she was ketch rigged, but a sloop option was available with double doors opening aft into the cockpit.
She has a generous sail plan that, given a good Force 4 breeze, allows her to be sailed quite competently.
When the going gets rough and making way to windward is mandatory, however, she also boasts a powerful 75hp Yanmar diesel engine driving a large fixed 3-blade prop via a conventional shaft.
Below, they were fitted out to a high standard with oodles of lovely warm wood in the cabin and wheelhouse.
No space was wasted, with locker and stowage fitted into every nook and cranny.
Every Fisher was built to order, so a degree of customising will be apparent between boats.
The 34 can sleep up to six comfortably with a double forecabin, and double aft quarter cabin set under the wheelhouse and a double berth in the saloon.
Over 100 were launched in three models, the final MkIII being launched by builders, Northshore, in 1995.
Colvic Watson 34.5
The largest of these renowned Colvic Watson motorsailers, the 34.5 is a canoe-sterned, long-keeled ketch loosely derived from one of Watson’s lifeboat designs.
The hulls were moulded by the prolific Colvic yard on the UK east coast and the large majority were fitted out by their owners, so the finish quality can vary considerably.
Her decks have high bulwarks and a sturdy teak-capped handrail all round.
Ground tackle is usually substantial, with a massive windlass and samson post on the foredeck.
Unlike the Fisher, she has no cockpit or outside steering position, but this is rarely a problem with this type of vessel.
A few boats had fitted seating on the poop deck for relaxing outside at anchor.
Although not dissimilar in displacement terms to the Fisher 34, she has another 2ft of beam so her internal volume is extremely generous.
All featured a cosy wheelhouse with a raked screen, coffee table, wheel steering and chart shelf.
Layouts varied, but most had a spacious double cabin aft, a well-equipped galley, dinette-style saloon, and a twin or double-bunked forecabin.
Quite often they were cutter rigged with a long bowsprit plank, increasing her sail area and sail plan flexibility for ocean passages.
They certainly aren’t the quickest under sail, due mainly to their considerable wetted surface and heavy displacement, and neither are they very close-winded.
Her barn door-style rudder also results in a good deal of weather helm.
But her ample beam adds considerable form stability and stiffness under sail, and she loves gentle motorsailing to windward with her large diesel humming quietly at little more than tickover revs.
Beneteau Evasion 34
Launched in 1984, the 34 was the most popular Evasion built and was lighter and roomier than the earlier Evasion 32.
For a motorsailer she had a fairly performance-orientated hull shape with a long fin keel (or centreboard) and a skeg-hung rudder.
She has a good size cockpit with a full depth locker.
As with most wheelhouse motorsailers the decks are on the narrow side, but access is secure thanks to the high guard wires and well-placed grabrails.
There’s also plenty of clear flat areas for lounging at anchor and enough room on the foredeck for handling the substantial ground tackle.
Anchoring is easy with stout twin bow rollers, windlass, and deep chain locker.
Though not built for speed, her masthead sloop or cutter rig sail plan was large enough to provide an acceptable sailing performance, particularly as she was comparatively light for a motorsailer.
Plus, her 50hp diesel engine and shaft-driven, 3-blade fixed prop ensured she could be motored against a foul tide with ease, and over a good range thanks to her 200-litre fuel tank.
Down below, she is spacious and practical, with her extended wheelhouse containing a well-equipped galley, dinette that seats six and converts into a useful double berth, and an inside helming position with an aft-facing chart table.
Headroom is a generous 1.90m/6ft 3in.
Steps down from the wheelhouse lead to three cosy double cabins and a single heads with shower and wet locker forward.
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