Centre cockpit, deck saloon yachts with full-beam aft cabins seem to offer everything, but is the promise too good to be true? Graham Snook heads to Denmark to find out
Nordship 420 DS: The boat that offers everything
Boats like the Nordship 420 DS are rare.
On paper, centre cockpit, deck saloon yachts, with full-beam aft cabins have everything; a vast full-beam owner’s aft cabin that can be ensuite, a raised saloon with 360º views out, and a well-protected centre cockpit.
On top of that, you get everything else you expect to find on a 40-45ft yacht (second heads, large galley and a vee berth forwards).
So why aren’t there more on the water? OK, they are not cheap.
You can find many aft cockpit deck saloon yachts lacking a full-beam aft cabin, and centre cockpit yachts with full-beam aft cabins but no deck saloon.
By combining all three features in its range of cruisers over 38ft (it does make the 360 DS but the aft cabin is not full beam), Nordship creates an enigma that few others offer.
Hull Number 1 from any builder is often a work in progress, but after four hours poking around the Nordship 420 DS, the only issues I could find were (spoiler alert) a few upper corners in cupboards that hadn’t received the grey flow coat, a few odd placements of lights, and a spring strut in the engine compartment that was desperate to detach itself.
Hull Number 2 was in build and I saw these had been rectified.
Thomas Dan Hougaard, joint owner of Nordship Yachts since merging with Faurby Yachts, explained that every boat depends on what an owner wants, and every boat is a prototype that Nordship must get right.
It’s always a conundrum reviewing yachts where an owner chooses their layout, in a finish and style they want. What you, good reader, or I might find impractical, an owner may find irreplaceable.
You may think the deck and cockpit remain the same, but Nordship will alter the moulds to raise seating or even build female hull moulds without plugs to make full-custom yachts.
If you can afford it, Nordship will make it.
Boarding in the Baltic
So, let’s see how we get on, literally. Getting on a yacht in the Baltic is usually via the bow, and the Nordship 420 DS includes an integrated boarding ladder in
the GRP bowsprit.
As well as provide attachments for a code zero or asymmetric sail, it covers the bow roller where the chain passed through the stem, keeping ground tackle below deck level and decks mud-free.
There are large mooring cleats and, without a spare roller on the bow, they’ll be needed when picking up a mooring.
In the anchor locker is a windlass, the shore power connector, and large hooks for warps and fenders. Beneath the locker is a watertight crash box.
Nordship has redesigned the window line across the range. Gone are rounded clear windows in anodised aluminium frames, replaced by double-glazed tinted windows with black-painted mullions appearing to be a single wraparound window.
It’s a neat trick that gives the boat a surprisingly modern look, without the increased cost of custom-made curved glazing.
Above the side windows are moulded GRP overhangs, and the inboard edge of these are cut away to create a full-length coachroof handhold.
The chainplates are taken outboard of the teak deck, but the D1s (the lower diagonals of the standing rigging) and the raised coachroof conspire to make negotiating them a little awkward.
Getting to the cockpit, those with long legs can step over the high coaming just aft of the spray hood, but most will go a little bit further along the side decks and step over the genoa winches.
All lines are led back under deck to the helm and a winch on either side.
Standing at the large single wheel, I felt high and a little vulnerable, but sat on the broad raised coamings, found around the helm, it felt far more secure.
The wheel pedestal offers good bracing for feet. Rails, like a pushpit for the cockpit, are available and if I wanted to cross an ocean, I might be tempted to get them as a backrest which would make the seating more relaxing – like the pushpit seats to the rear.
She felt really good on the helm. It was light, with a pleasant involving feel.
Having seen the 0.5m (1ft 7in) deep skeg that the rudder stock passes through, the boat was more agile than I was expecting.
She has a sure-footed feel and, even when well-heeled, she showed no signs of losing grip.
The single wheel does make reaching over and around it (for engine/instrument controls) a little tiresome.
Sailing in these unfamiliar waters, with the central chartplotter away from the most comfortable seating, I felt obliged to stand.
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We had a decent south-easterly Force 4-5 breeze, enough to kick up some chop with the wind against the tide flowing into the Little Belt after weaving its way past Middelfart on the island of Funen (Fyn).
She made short work of it without a squeak from the interior or any slamming on the hull and kept a good speed in the process.
The hull was originally that of the Nordship 40 DS. It’s foam-cored to the waterline and solid laminate to the bilge sump.
The keel is GRP; bolts are laminated in the top and bottom, and through the fin, attaching it and its lead ballast to the hull.
This method keeps the full weight of the ballast as low as possible.
Within the hull is a bonded galvanised steel frame that takes the loads from the keel and the mast compression post.
Where the cabinetry and bulkheads touch the hull or deck, they are laminated in place.
This boat had electric Andersen 46 primary winches. These, and her self-tacking jib makes her a doddle to sail by one person at the helm – there’s also the option of a 105% genoa with tracks added on deck.
Nordship uses a two-cockpit design; the aft cockpit is for the helm, and the forward cockpit is free of lines and is a sheltered space for the crew.
The other reason for this design is that it gives a 1.75m (5ft 9in) walkthrough across the aft cabin beneath.
On the bridge deck, between the cockpits, is the mainsheet traveller that’s at a comfortable knee height rather than on the sole.
It stops short on either side – to protect the coaming and the feet of any crew long enough to be lying asleep.
The forward cockpit has a central cockpit table with a removable cup holder (with notches for cup handles) and sits over a substantial bracing bar.
When not required, the table can be removed, leaving just the bar as a handhold and foot brace. The hinged companionway bi-fold door is permanently attached.
There is a cockpit locker to port, while the locker is vast, its opening is a little small. There is a locker beneath the helm seat too.
When you buy a Nordship, you’ll sit down with Nordship’s other owner, and designer, Lars Buchwald and discuss plans and layout ideas.
You may want a lower galley, a mid-cabin or any combination of layouts that work for you. Nordship will customise its boats extensively.
The owner of this boat wanted at least 6ft 3in of headroom in the main area, so the sole of the galley, heads and saloon were lowered, as was the saloon seating.
I’ve long been a fan of the deck saloon concept; one reason we sail is to visit new places, but then sit in low saloons without a view of scenery.
The saloon of the Nordship is the opposite; raised, with excellent views in all directions.
The inboard-facing U-shaped seating is comfortable and the outboard seat is 2.35m (7ft 8in) long. Beneath this seat is a cavernous locker, accessed by lifting the seat base, although access is a bit awkward as the table is fixed.
The downside of a deck saloon is usually a lack of privacy when in harbour. You can feel like an exhibit for promenading people – especially at night.
Nordship uses quite a heavy tint on its windows to reduce this, but it also has its snug area.
A few steps down, en route to the aft cabin, three seats create a cosy space with a removable bar cabinet (to convert the two outboard seats to a 2.0m/6ft 6in sea berth) and space for a television or bookshelves opposite.
Whether you’d use this space to enjoy a whisky and a book or for the kids to have a games area or to watch films, it’s one of my favourite areas.
Opposite the saloon seating is a deep locker and the nav station. The chart table can be opening or, as on this boat, have a small drawer instead.
Beneath the chart table, her owner wanted a freezer; I would have preferred drawers. Forward of the chart table is the lower linear galley.
It offers plenty of workspace and has a front-opening marine fridge beneath the seating. The galley is narrow enough to offer bracing on either tack, but still wide enough for two strangers to pass without feeling uncomfortable.
There is plenty of handy stowage in drawers plus deck-level lockers; supplied with crockery.
There is also stowage beneath the galley’s hinged floorboards and in a deep locker in the saloon.
To port, is the heads with a separate shower compartment. There is good stowage in front-opening lockers and outboard of the heads.
Forward of the galley and heads is the forward cabin. It has deck-level lockers, two bookshelves, and a well-ventilated hanging locker with an automatic light.
The 2.0m (6ft 6in) berth was a 0.85m (2ft 9in) step up, which if you need over 6ft headroom isn’t an issue, but for me, at 1.78m (5ft 10in), it felt like a climb.
Thomas said he’d add a step if I bought one.
Saving the best to last, the full beam owner’s cabin is wonderful.
Throughout the boat, the quality of workmanship is on show, but in the aft cabin, you feel pleasantly cocooned in mahogany, hidden away from the rest of the boat.
The berth is 1.58m x 1.94m (5ft 2in x 6ft 4in) and, like the forward berth, it sits on a slatted base for good ventilation.
The cabin has lockers on either side, all with inch-thick mahogany frames.
On the port side, a door leads to what could be an en suite heads but on this boat, access to the cockpit locker.
I’d keep this walk-in locker but just add a toilet and sink to save disturbing guests if I needed the loo at night.
The locker also gives access to the tech area and the engine; starboard side is accessed via the snug with an engine box that has a removable side for excellent access.
Verdict on the Nordship 420 DS
I might have changed a few things on this boat, not because there was anything wrong, but because I could, such is the way of custom yachts.
It’s hard to fault a boat that has been tailored to someone else. If I’d found fault in the craftsmanship, I could pick up on that, but I didn’t.
Whether it’s a fiddle in a seldom-used locker or the grab handles sculpted out of the saloon table, the look and feel of the woodwork was beautiful and irresistibly tactile.
She was enjoyable to sail, hitting the right balance between responsiveness without demanding constant attention.
I did feel quite high up and therefore exposed when standing at the helm, but the 2ft 6in clearance over the aft berth has to come from somewhere. The feeling when seated was much better.
With one foot on the pedestal, I felt ready to sail away and not come back.
Would the Nordship 420 DS suit you and your crew?
The Nordship 420 DS stands out in many ways, but the three main reasons for choosing her would be the huge aft cabin, the social raised deck saloon, and the wonderful craftsmanship with the ability to customise.
OK, that may be four. Yes, there is the snug to keep adults and kids occupied, and lots of stowage too, but if you want a deck saloon with an aft cabin and the ability to make her your own, this is your boat.
She’s solid enough to cross oceans, yet nimble enough to enjoy coastal cruising. Her forward cockpit may leave your crew feeling redundant, but whoever
is on the helm has the controls at their fingertips.
In the past, a Nordship could have been seen as old fashioned – like the centre cockpit Moodys and Westerlys of the 1980s.
But take a centre cockpit boat with a spacious aft cabin, add a deck saloon surrounded by tinted wraparound windows, boost her performance with a composite keel, and you get something special.