The Scanmar 40 is a stylish and beautifully finished 40-footer that's a fine example of a performance cruiser built in Scandinavia to a standard that boats rarely are today
Scanmar 40 review – Scandinavian appeal
All too often it’s easy to think of today’s mainstream production cruisers as being designed for mass appeal and built to a strict (or sometimes restrictive) budget. While such commercial necessities might lead to compromises that some purists don’t approve of, they result in boats that typically provide the space, the style and (in most conditions) the pace that people find acceptable, at a price they can afford.
If you pay more you will generally get more – perhaps greater structural reassurance, better performance and hand-crafted joinery. But even critical and highly experienced sailors will sometimes decide that they can’t justify spending the money for the sort of sailing they’re going to be doing, so they decide to live with the compromises when buying a new boat.
Alternatively, of course, you can buy second-hand. This way you undoubtedly get more for your money in many respects, and you might be able to buy a boat of a quality that would be unaffordable new. On the other hand, you will get not only an older boat but also an older design. It will probably have less interior space, with hardware and a rig that will make you work harder.
It’s a question of swings and roundabouts.
I spend my life hopping between new boats and those built in the 1960s, 1970s or 1980s, and am always thinking about what has been gained and lost as design and construction have evolved.
If you buy a second-hand boat like a Scanmar 40, you see features on deck – the high bridge-deck, granny bars around the companionway, an array of vents, coaming lockers in the cockpit, hand-holds running well forward, and so on – that you rarely see today. Then, when you go below, you find yourself surrounded by beautifully finished joinery with lots of solid mahogany. Seldom do you find anything better on new boats, even from the most exclusive yards.
Swedish boats collectively have a reputation for being a cut or two above the norm when it comes to quality and finish, and there’s no doubt that the Scanmar 40, built by Börjesson Brothers in Örnsköldsvik, is a fine example of Scandinavian craftsmanship.
That’s one of the reasons why the Scanmar 40 appealed to Jimmy and Emma Warington-Smyth as a step up from their Contessa 32. They had moved to the Contessa some years earlier having sold their Privateer 30, built in wood and designed by Jimmy’s grandfather.
When their two children began to take up a little more space than they had, it was a question of ‘what next?’ I found myself on the receiving end of such deliberations a fair few times when working for Sadler and Starlight in an earlier life, because owners of boats such as Contessas often had a limited range of options. They wanted something bigger, while not losing the solidity, easy manners and all-weather capability they had become used to.
Many owners of Contessas, SHEs, Pioniers, S&Ss and boats of that ilk had little time for the mainstream offerings of the day, considering them unattractive, under-ballasted, flimsily built, uninspiring to sail and uncomfortable in a seaway. They were more often drawn to Scandinavian designs or – which is why they ended up talking to me – to a Starlight.
There’s a good deal in common between the Starlights and the Scanmar 40: a relatively slim hull, deep canoe body, plenty of ballast in the lead keel bolted to a moulded stub, and a long skeg in front of the rudder.
These are all features that tend to increase stiffness, structural integrity and directional stability, making a boat more comfortable and less skittish to sail as well as allowing it to carry a generous rig. They cost good money, however, and that’s where you have to make a choice.
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In Jimmy and Emma’s case, they hadn’t known what they were going to move up to when putting the Contessa on the market. The only boats they had considered were a Contest 35 or 36. Then a response came to their advertisement from the owner of a Scanmar 40, who was selling it because a change of circumstances had forced him to abandon his plans to cruise the Pacific. By chance, he was looking to move down to a Contessa 32 instead.
So Jimmy did some research, asked a few friends in the business about Scanmars, decided a 40 would be just the job, and a part-exchange deal was done. Despite having worked as a yacht broker for many years, he had never come across a Scanmar 40: ‘It’s one of those boats you know nothing about until you get one!’
Given that only around 20 Scanmar 40s were built, during a production run from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s, that’s not surprising. The Scanmar 35 and, in particular, the 33, are more widely seen in the UK, a good number having been sold by dealerships on the Hamble.
The more you look at the Scanmar 40 and think about the man-hours that must have gone into the construction, the harder it is to understand how the builders ever made a profit from her. Perhaps they didn’t, and that’s why so few were built. But that aside, this is an elegant boat that looks as though she should sail. And sail she does, very nicely indeed.
Boats with relatively slim hulls, deep canoe bodies and plenty of ballast often have a gentler motion than beamier, flatter-sectioned alternatives. An easy, loping gait is one of the Scanmar’s appealing qualities. She has a smooth, long-legged feel and gives the impression that she would cover the miles quickly and effortlessly.
When I sailed with Jimmy a few years ago we had 25 to 30 knots of wind. Under full main and a well-rolled genoa, Scamper made nothing of the challenging conditions, stiffening up at a comfortable angle of heel, remaining light on the helm, clocking 6 knots-plus upwind, tacking through 85° and punching through the seas in a manner that belied her relatively modest displacement.
She proved to be enjoyably responsive to sail while making life easy for the helmsman; she wasn’t one of those boats that behaves herself if you concentrate and punishes you the moment you let your attention wander.
She has a forgivingly wide groove to windward. The rudder provided plenty of grip and it was hard to find any vices in her handling. She allowed us to bear away with the sheets pinned in, pinch her mercilessly without stalling, make upwind without the headsail, and heave to in the conventional manner or – as can be very useful on occasions – under just the mainsail.
Not long before sailing the Scanmar 40 for our recent outing I had tested a new boat with a slightly shorter hull and longer waterline. As you would expect, it had a relatively larger mainsail and smaller headsail – a self-tacker in this case – and was ridiculously easy to spin through the wind in the fresh conditions of our sail.
The Scanmar 40 invites rather more participation from the crew. Even with a pair of Lewmar 55 self-tailers, winching in the big overlapping genoa is good exercise. Big overlappers come into their own on certain points, but might dissuade you from tacking up a narrow channel.
The fact that they need to be reefed when the breeze picks up also compromises their shape, whereas you can often hang on to a blade headsail until the wind is nudging 30 knots and simply tuck a slab or two in the main.
Such are the considerations with a boat like this. She will be harder work to sail in some respects, but that is in comparison with new boats that, even though they are likely to cost more than three times as much, won’t necessarily be that much (if any) faster upwind and might not be as comfortable in a seaway either.
We had a little less wind for our second outing, so full canvas was the order of the day. Scamper felt as I remembered, and the ergonomics of the cockpit were comfortably familiar too. The modest proportions of the stern make the cockpit narrower than on most modern boats, so you can comfortably brace your legs between the seats. It’s a good depth too, with high coamings incorporating those oh-so-useful open-fronted lockers whose absence I bemoan on almost every new boat I sail.
The wheel is big enough to give a comfortable perch outboard while being small enough to walk around. At the forward end of the cockpit, the high up-and-over bridge-deck is a feature that, as on the Starlights, not everyone likes.
Having been pooped and had all the electrics put out of action many years ago while sailing in the Red Sea (coincidentally in a boat from Örnsköldsvik, where the Scanmars were built), I have come to appreciate the protection afforded by a high bridge-deck. Jimmy likes it too – on night passages he can sit under the sprayhood with Navionics on his iPad and a good view all round.
Since buying Scamper, Jimmy and Emma have done several night passages, mostly on the way to or from the West Country. Frequent destinations have included Dartmouth, Fowey, Falmouth and the Scillies. Their only real criticism of the boat is the lack of cockpit stowage due to the full-width aft cabin. The two lockers are right aft, under the helm seat, and they quickly fill up with fenders, warps and jerry cans. At least there’s space for an inflated dinghy on deck, forward of the mast.
Scanmar 40 below decks
Given the relatively slim hull there’s a surprising amount of space below decks on the Scanmar 40. That includes the generously proportioned aft cabin, which accounts for the limited cockpit locker space. You can’t have everything. Despite the absence of lockers, you still have lids in the cockpit seats to provide escape hatches.
The unfashionably high bridge-deck allows easy access between the aft cabin and the heads in an arrangement that works well and would otherwise be hard to accommodate in a boat of this size. It keeps the heads well aft but still en suite, leaving all the space forward of the companionway for everything else. That includes a large galley, and a chart table of a size you just don’t see in a more modern boat.
The most striking feature of the accommodation is undoubtedly the amount of beautifully finished joinery. Solid trim is plentiful. Bulkheads are bonded directly to hull and deck. Drawers are in abundance and made of wood. Wooden drawers are so much nicer, slimmer and more space-efficient than plastic ones. There are no internal mouldings to restrict access to the hull or to waste more space.
Other features I particularly like are the pillar hand-holds. They’re incorporated within the vestigial keyhole bulkhead at the forward end of the galley and chart table, which looks beautiful and stiffens the hull at its beamiest point.
I often lament the fact that pillars have fallen from fashion on contemporary boats. When you’re putting on your waterproofs at the bottom of the companionway, it makes all the difference if you can loop your arm around something and still use your hand to pull on items of clothing.
Yet more positive details on the Scanmar 40 include the lockers above the backrests in the comfortable saloon. They fit neatly right up to the underside of the deck, suggesting they were built in once the deck was fitted.
Ben Sutcliffe-Davies, Marine Surveyor and full member of the Yacht Brokers Designers & Surveyors Association (YDSA) – www.bensutcliffemarine.co.uk
The Scanmar 40 certainly has the right pedigree, coming from a Scandinavian builder where they were produced from around 1986, with the last being completed in 1991, so all are now over 30 years old. With that in mind it’s important to look carefully at items that wear. There were not many built during the production run and it’s been some time since I saw one, but they have a keel-stepped mast, deck collar seals are always a challenge to make fully watertight, so make sure you look at the mast step and bilge areas. Make sure you look carefully at the keel fastenings too.
The decks certainly do have a wealth of teak that will need careful inspection. I’m sure some will have had replacement decks applied by now, but be aware of the cost of replacement and potential costs for moisture trapped under the wood or held in the deck make-ups. Also look carefully where the alloy toerails are fitted as these can be a source of moisture ingress if damaged in a collision or alongside.
Give the engine a proper check. At 30 years some may have had several important items changed including mounts, exhaust manifolds, starter motors and the like, while some may have had the engine fully replaced. This boat has a shaft drive with a shaft log rather than P-bracket, but some later boats may have been fitted with saildrives, on which the seal needs to be in date.
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With a Scanmar 40 you get a superbly finished boat that will get you around quickly and comfortably, that you can enjoy sailing for sailing’s sake and that provides a practical and welcoming environment down below. As with most boats of this age and size you will have to be prepared to exercise those winch handles. Some maintenance will be essential, too – one of Jimmy’s first jobs was removing the keel and having the bolts replaced. At the same time, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if boats like this become appreciating assets. You might have to look long and hard to find anything else in this size range offering this sort of quality for this sort of money.