Duncan Kent examines the enduring appeal of the Sadler Starlight 35 and discovers a yacht that is a delight to sail and built to last
Stephen Jones drew up the first of Sadler International’s Starlights, the 38 in 1988, which soon after became the 39. He followed this in 1991 with the equally popular Starlight 35.
The company was rescued from the recession in 1993 by Rival Bowman Yachts, which continued to build the range, launching an improved MkII model with a slightly larger rig.
Sadly, it too went under in 1998 and the moulds were sold to Rustler Yachts, which built a few more to order.
In total 105 were launched.
Design detail of the Sadler Starlight 35
The 35 was similar to the 39; in fact several of the deck mouldings and the entire cockpit were incorporated into the 35, giving her the feel of a much bigger boat.
She has a long bow overhang and a noticeable sheer rising from quite a low freeboard aft, to high bows with a little flare to keep her dry in heavy seas.
She is relatively heavy by modern standards and has a healthy amount of form stability, together with generous ballast to enable her to carry a good sail area and keep her stiff and upright in a blow.
Her hefty ballast keel is bolted onto a GRP stub, keeping the weight low and forming a deep bilge to stop any water from reaching the accommodation when heeled.
Starlights came with a wing keel option, which is said to add lift to windward whilst keeping her draught as shallow as possible.
Though built using the foam-filled technique, Jones never claimed her to be unsinkable, unlike the earlier Sadlers.
But she still had an inner moulding, bonded to the hull at the ring frames, with closed-cell foam injected between this and the hull.
This produced plenty of additional positive buoyancy as well as insulating the hull from the cold and noise.
The inner moulding provided the basis for much of the furniture and a smooth, easy-to-clean finish inside lockers and stowage bins.
The decks on the Sadler Starlight 35 are wide with a very effective, moulded-in, non-slip surface.
The coachroof melds nicely into the foredeck and there are virtually no slippery areas to avoid except, maybe, the top of the cockpit coamings.
All lines leading back to the cockpit from the mast run under hinged covers, which protect them from the sun and remove a trip hazard.
The handrails – big, through-bolted stainless rails leading all the way from the sprayhood to the foredeck – are excellent.
Her foredeck has a deep chain locker with a plinth for a below-decks windlass, twin chunky bow rollers for self-stowing anchors, sizeable deck cleats and fairleads integral to the aluminium toe rail.
The cockpit is spacious enough for a crew of three to work in without hindering each other.
It has a deep, self-draining well with a seat-height bridge deck and a cutaway aft to clear her large wheel.
Steering from the coamings is easy and comfortable and she has stowage aplenty in three deep lockers.
Access to the small transom platform and hinge-down boarding ladder is through a rail gate and requires climbing over the helm seat.
She has a stout masthead rig with deck-stepped, twin spreader Seldén mast.
Her standing rigging is generously sized and boasts both fore and aft lower shrouds plus an adjustable back stay.
She has a fully battened mainsail with lazyjacks and luff cars for easy handling.
All lines are led into the cockpit via clutches, to two Lewmar 30ST winches.
The primary winches are Lewmar 48STs, which handle the large genoa with ease.
Under way A 29hp Volvo drives a two-bladed prop through a conventional shaft, which gives her the ability to cruise at around 6 knots at an economical 2,400rpm.
Maximum speed is just over 8 knots at 3,600rpm.
She goes where you point her and is easy enough to manoeuvre at close quarters, providing you make allowances for the prop walk.
Her spreaders are swept aft just 10°, allowing the boom to go nearly right out without the mainsail fouling on them, so the chances of an accidental gybe are minimal.
Her deep rudder and skeg kept her tracking dead straight with little effort on the wheel.
Working through tacks and gybes is easy and safe, thanks to a sensible deck layout and good, strong deck gear and winches.
Her mainsheet is just forward of the pedestal, within easy reach of the helm, but the genoa winches are set a bit too far forward to reach from behind the wheel.
Upwind she ploughs a dead straight furrow as soon as the genoa is trimmed.
The helm is light until she is really pushed and the deep rudder means she never breaks out.
In one test sail we had the lee rail well under during a few 22 knots plus gusts with little effect except that the hard-over rudder was knocking a knot off our speed and we had to gimbal the tea mugs!
Her wing keel exhibits the same effect as a much deeper fin and appears to produce no more leeway than a normal fin keel.
The wings also have a damping effect, which helps prevent pitching in big seas.
The Sadler Starlight 35 tacks easily and confidently through 80° and will point right up to 32° off the apparent wind until the mainsail luff starts flapping and the speed drops off.
Her favourite point of sail is around 45° off the wind, when she’ll see 7 knots in a stiff breeze.
Despite having a tall bridge deck, going below is made safer thanks to sturdy stainless grab bars each side of the companionway, both above and below the hatch.
The lower step is the engine box, which is well forward, making it easy to access the engine for servicing.
The layout is pragmatic and well suited to long-term cruising.
Because she has foam between the GRP inner moulding and the hull, a small amount of interior volume is lost, but this is barely noticeable.
Her navigation area, just inside to port, contains an Admiralty chart-size, forward-facing chart table with neat instrument storage trays.
There’s a deep bin beside the table for pilot books and logs, and ample space for electronic instrumentation next to the switch panel and on the half bulkhead.
The L-shaped galley is large and has all you’d need for preparing and cooking during a long voyage.
There are two deep sinks, a large fridge and a fully gimballed cooker with crash bar and bum strap.
The abundant stowage is well organised and partitioned, and the worktop fiddles are deep enough to rest your tea mugs against when heeled.
Above are two portlights.
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Teak handholds on the deck head enable you to go forward safely.
The saloon isn’t huge, but it is seamanlike and the two 1.98m x 0.65m (6ft 6in x 2ft 2in) settees make excellent sea berths.
The starboard side also has a pull-out extension.
Light and ventilation are good thanks to the four ports each side (two openable), so despite teak in abundance it isn’t gloomy.
Electric lights all have a red/white option for night passages.
Beneath the seating is stowage, and above are a mix of lockers and fiddled shelves.
The table seats four to six comfortably and has a large bottle store.
A fiddled centre section ensures items stay put when the leaves are folded down.
The two cabins are roomy enough and comfortable, with plentiful lockers and shelves and a small dressing area with standing headroom.
The berths, however, are not large by modern standards.
The fully lined heads compartment, aft of the nav station, is a good size and has a shower seat over the toilet.
Headroom, like the saloon and aft cabin, is 1.83m (6ft).
The Sadler Starlight 35 has a reputation of being a tough, long-legged blue water cruiser with an above average sailing performance.
She is built to last and her outstanding seakeeping qualities and well-balanced handling make her a delight to sail.