With her lifting keel, good performance, practical interior and solid construction, the Parker 325 is one of the most versatile 32-footers afloat. David Harding finds out more
Sometimes you find sailors who seem so well suited to their boat that it’s hard to imagine them owning anything else. Take Barry and Orla Tiernan with Sulito, their Parker 325, for example. In their ownership since 2016 and preceded by a Parker 27, Sulito is based at Parkstone Yacht Club, which is home to more Parkers and Seals than any other club in the UK. Parkstone is also the final destination for a week-long rally in May, starting in the Solent and moving on to Poole, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Parker and Seal Sailing Association (PSSA).
It’s no surprise that Parkers and Seals are so popular in harbours with large expanses of shallow water, such as Poole and Chichester. These boats have always had lifting keels, from the very first Seal 22 that John Baker built to Angus Primrose’s original design in 1970, right up to the last Parker 335 built by Parker Liftkeel yachts in 2009.
In-between came several variations of the 22, plus the 28 and 850, followed by Ron Holland’s Super Seal 26. These were all built under the Seal banner by Baker, before Bill Parker took over and introduced the Parker 27, 275, 285, 21 (derived from the Mini Seal), 235, 31, 325 and 335. In total that came to nearly 1,000 boats over four decades, many of the owners today making up one of the most active owners’ associations in the UK.
A fair few, including Barry and Orla, have owned more than one boat from the Parker and Seal family. Their previous Parker, the 27, followed a J/24 as their first proper cruiser. Barry would have chosen a Parker 275 rather than the 27 had one been available at the time, preferring the newer design with its greater headroom, extra ballast in the keel and different interior layout.
He and Orla covered plenty of miles in the 27 nonetheless – sometimes with their sons, who went on to enjoy successful careers in competitive sailing – and became actively involved in the PSSA. Eventually, as so often happens, the temptation to move to a bigger boat became too great to resist.
The same only bigger
As for many owners of Seals and Parkers, there was never any question of what to buy next: a larger version of the same. A 31 was considered but, as a Parker 325 was the ultimate goal, it seemed to make sense to go straight there rather than move up by degrees.
Finding one wasn’t as simple as making the decision, although a Parker 325 could equally have been a 335 because they’re fundamentally the same boat. The story goes that buyers in Germany, where the Parker 325 was proving popular, decided that the name understated the hull length of 33ft 6in (10.21m). So the name was changed to 335 and, with some minor tweaks, that remained the designation for the last 11 boats, up to hull number 51.
Holland and home
Barry had been in touch with the owner of a Parker 325 up the road in Poole, who had been happy to offer advice although he wasn’t planning to sell. The search then took him to Holland to view a Parker 325 that was for sale, only to find that the owner changed his mind and wanted to keep the boat. As luck would have it, the owner in Poole did then decide to sell, so Sulito ended up moving barely a mile from one yacht club to another.
Parkers clearly engender a good deal of enthusiasm from their owners, so what is it that makes people so keen on them? According to Barry, whose views are backed up by several owners I know, the reasons are manifold. Among the important ones are that they sail well and are strongly built. ‘Nothing much showed up on the survey’, said Barry. ‘They’re generally better built than most.’
Unlike the original Super Seal 26, the 325 carries all her ballast – nearly 1.5 tonnes of it – in the keel, in the form of a lead wing on a stainless steel shaft. When Parkers took over from John Baker, their new models progressively moved the ballast from inside the hull down into the keel. That’s where it ended up on the 275 and later designs including the Parker 325, a development of the Tony Castro-designed Parker 31 that in turn evolved from Castro’s Passagemaker 30.
With the keel raised, the Parker 325 and 335 draw a mere 0.63m (just over 2ft) and will happily sit on the wing with no added support. Barry raises the keel to keep most of the shaft out of the water when the boat’s berthed or on a mooring, pinning it in the up position to take the weight off the hydraulic ram. Being a practical sort of chap who has done a good deal of electrical and mechanical work on Sulito, he removes the ram every two or three years to clean it, grease it and change the anodes.
Leaning to the breeze
Under sail, the lead keeps the centre of gravity reassuringly low – not that the Parker 325 is initially that stiff. In the 10 knots or so of breeze on the day of our sail, Sulito heeled quite readily as she picked up to just shy of five knots upwind.
It’s by no means unusual for boats that have good ultimate stability or sail-carrying ability in heavy weather to be initially more tender than beamy boats with more form stability, so sailing at a few degrees of heel in light conditions is nothing to worry about.
By all accounts the Parker is a fast and powerful all-rounder. She certainly felt nicely responsive in the flat water, with a finger-light helm thanks to the well-balanced rudder. The minimal weather helm turned to equally minimal lee helm when we came upright. Rudders on the Parker 325 and 335 hinge rather than lift vertically. This means that manoeuvring with the keel raised above the depth of the rudder (1.4m/4ft 7in) can become a challenge if you want the rudder to remain protected by the keel.
As Barry points out, ‘Raising the keel is more use when you’re going somewhere that dries out, rather than trying to manoeuvre in shallow water.’ Drying out is something he does infrequently, in places such as Wootton Creek and Bosham. Sulito is now quite at home in France too, the ability to make Channel crossings faster, more safely and in greater comfort being one of the many reasons for moving up from the 27.
‘You’re more vulnerable on the way across in a smaller boat,’ says Barry, ‘and if you’re living on a boat for weeks at a time, this has a really good forecabin and a great “garage” in the back for the bikes.’ With their wheels removed, two proper road bikes will fit into the aft cabin. Barry and Orla use them extensively in France and elsewhere when in harbour. Another wheel is found in the cockpit.
All bar a handful of Parker 325s and Parker 335s have wheel steering, most with the pedestal further aft than on Sulito to allow a traveller to be fitted immediately forward of it. Sulito’s mainsheet is taken to a strong-point on the pedestal itself. It’s not a big wheel, so helming from the coamings in the normal manner isn’t really an option but you can still sit on the seats either side of the wheel, and partially on the coamings if your arms are long enough.
Bill Parker never liked broad sterns on his yachts. He was at pains to make that point when I tested the 235 with him shortly after her launch in 2001, and the Parker 325 is also of moderate proportions for a boat of this era (she was launched in 1993, Sulito being the last of them, built in 2000).
It’s good to find that the cockpit is a sensible width in relation to the stern, leading to a leg-bracing width between the seats and to sidedecks that extend all the way aft. In the cockpit you have a half-depth locker to port and a sill of a decent height at the forward end, plus hand-holds either side of the companionway.
At the other end of the boat is a double bow-roller and a neatly-contoured lid to the anchor well. Barry has also added a short removable bowsprit for flying the cruising chute. It’s modelled on one supplied as an optional extra on a well-known range of Scandinavian cruisers for around £1,200. The one on Sulito was specially made for him for a fraction of the price by a local stainless steel fabricator.
Elsewhere on deck, everything seems to be robust and where it should be. In keeping with boats of this era, the chainplates for the caps and lowers, as well as the continuous intermediates, are in the middle of the side decks because of the overlapping genoa. Sulito has the addition of tracks on the coachroof for a blade headsail which, inevitably, is vastly more efficient than a well-reefed genoa when the breeze picks up.
A good deal of customisation was available with the Parker 325s, says Barry, who has made plenty of refinements himself to Sulito. One of them is having an extension fitted to the small stainless steel ‘skeg’ bolted to the shaft-log to help keep the prop clear of the ground when the boat dries out.
A shaft-log rather than a P-bracket is a reassuring feature, especially on a boat that takes the ground periodically, and extending the skeg with a flat base that’s less prone to sinking into soft mud helps ensure better protection for the prop.
Parker 325 below decks
Inevitably on a boat with a fully-retractable keel, the interior has to be designed around the keel case. It’s done very well on the Parker 325. The keel’s position leads to a forecabin that’s slightly longer than it might be otherwise, fitting in a berth over 2m long (about 6ft 8in) together with a seat, hanging space and shelving for clothes. Entry to the roomy heads, to starboard of the keel, is via the forecabin or saloon.
Space gained forward has to be lost further aft. Nonetheless, the saloon and galley, as well as the chart table to port of the keel case, are all comfortably proportioned. Barry has had up to 10 people around the rather beautifully made drop-leaf saloon table, a centrepiece that was a Parker trademark.
The aft cabin runs athwartships beneath the cockpit. It could accommodate a couple for a few nights, but the forecabin is decidedly more comfortable. Woodwork is neat, hand-holds plentiful and interior mouldings, except in the heads and galley, extend only to the height of the bunks. Headroom is just over 6ft (1.83m).
Expert view on Parker 325
Ben Sutcliffe-Davies, Marine Surveyor and full member of the Yacht Brokers Designers & Surveyors Association (YDSA) www.bensutcliffemarine.co.uk
The Parker 325 is a pretty unique yacht with what was a fairly radical keel design of its time, and still is, with its lifting wing keel. It does, however, come with a cost, and needs proper maintenance.
If you are looking to purchase, or currently own, a Parker 325, you need to confirm that the keel has been properly maintained. Boatyard receipts, evidence from the previous owner, or even advice from the owners’ association form is always helpful to reassure you of what has, and hasn’t, been done.
The winged keel ballast is lead and bolted onto a set of stainless vertical shafts with the hydraulic ram between them. It’s encapsulated within a set of skins that is designed to fill with water. With the proximity of a number of different metals in sea water, corrosion to the ram is common, so anodes are essential, and regularly checking their condition is advised. I am aware of
a few that have had the fastenings to the lead keel sheer off.
On deck, check condition of the chain plate arrangements that are through-bolted. I frequently find high moisture readings in these areas, suggesting water ingress and the possibility of structural issues within the laminate.
As with any yacht that is designed to take the ground, always have a good look at the underside of the hull for any potential damage, and don’t forget to look internally around the keel box arrangements for flexing or stress-related movement.
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It’s easy to see why Parker 325s and 335s are sought-after by people who want a boat of this size that will take them confidently and efficiently wherever they want to go. And then, when they get there, that allows them to drop anchor in knee-deep water and wade ashore or, if they prefer, to disappear to the top of a drying creek. An element of compromise is always involved with a lift-keeler, whether it’s cost, complexity, maintenance, accommodation, performance or a combination of all or several. If you want the benefits of ultra-shallow draft, you have to be prepared to pay some sort of price, but with the Parker it really doesn’t seem to be that hefty. This might be as close as you will come to having your cake and eating it. Or, in this instance, having your keel and lifting it.