Combining space, power and pace with shallow draught, the Southerly 32 is one of the most sought-after cruisers of her size. David Harding finds out more
Owning a boat that can float in knee-deep water opens up all sorts of possibilities. Whether that matters to you depends on the sort of sailing you do, but for some people it’s fundamental.
In fact, shallow draught is so fundamental to so many that some boatbuilders, such as Parker, Southerly, Alubat (with the Ovni range) and Allures built (or have built) their names and reputations on the ability of their boats to go where few others can.
In the case of Southerly, for a long time their ‘wedge-of-cheese’ keels and shallow single rudders meant compromises in performance, so they mostly found favour among cruising folk who were prepared to trade speed, power and pointing for creek-crawling convenience.
Then all that began to change, to the point where the latest generation of Southerlys, designed by Ed Dubois, Rob Humphreys and Stephen Jones, were true performance cruisers that could more than hold their own against many fin-keelers while still allowing their owners to nudge the bow into the beach and wade ashore.
Smallest of these was the Jones-designed Southerly 32, launched in 2007. Despite being the baby of the range, she was vast compared with a typical 32-footer of the day. Generous freeboard, a slightly raised coachroof and a broad stern made her extraordinarily roomy down below.
Back then, her stern was about as wide as they came, and it was too broad for Richard and Lynaire Readings. ‘We saw the Southerly 32 berthed stern-to in the marina at the boat show and we didn’t like it,’ said Richard.
They now own a Southerly 32. As he says, ‘We revised our opinion on that.’ In 2007, Richard and Lynaire weren’t seriously looking to buy a boat of that size or type. Having raced Wayfarers at Parkstone for many years, they had bought a twin-keeled Sadler 29. They wanted shallow draught and the ability to dry out upright, and the Sadler was a good first cruiser.
After a few years with Painted Lady, they moved to a Moody 336, also with twin keels, which gave them more space and longer legs for Channel crossings and cruises to the West Country while still allowing them to explore shallow waters.
Moving up – and down
Although the Moody suited them in many ways, Emmie wasn’t the easiest of boats to handle because of her masthead rig and large genoa. A good deal of physical effort was involved, and Richard and Lynaire reached a point where they wanted something easier.
It didn’t have to be any bigger for the two of them; just less tiring to sail and with enough space below decks to allow them to go cruising and to live aboard, mostly away from marinas, for six weeks over the summer.
It made life relatively easy that only one boat was on their list: the Southerly. They had looked over a Southerly 38 (too big) and sailed on a friend’s 35RS as well as a 110, so they were familiar with Southerly as a breed.
The self-tacking jib was a major attraction, together with the minimum draught of just 2ft 7in (0.8m) with the keel raised. Another requirement to simplify sail-handling was in-mast reefing. It’s not commonly seen on Southerly 32s, so they were pleased to find Flapjack, very close to Southerly’s home in Chichester.
Even better, Flapjack came with a whole host of extras including a bow-thruster (considered almost essential on a boat with twin rudders and a lifting keel) and an electric coachroof winch on the starboard side to handle the main and jib sheets. ‘We found a boat that had been well thought-out, well equipped and well looked after,’ said Richard.
Flapjack moved to her new home in Poole in 2019, just before lockdown. The timing meant that she was used less in the first couple of years than her new owners might have hoped but, since then, she has covered a good many miles along the south coast and proved to be exactly what Richard and Lynaire thought she would be.
Slightly shorter than the Moody and with a little less stowage, the Southerly 32 has nonetheless been more comfortable for living aboard and the swing keel has allowed them to continue to visit the shallow harbours, rivers, creeks and estuaries where they like to spend time. They have yet to cross to France in Flapjack but have the Scilly Isles in their sights for 2024. Wherever they go, they tend to choose quiet anchorages away from marinas and, with plenty of solar panels, are able to live independently for some time.
For Richard and Lynaire, cruising is not about bashing across miles of open ocean or through heavy conditions in order to get somewhere. They have a boat that’s capable of doing that and, as competitive dinghy sailors in their day, they know a lot more than many cruising sailors do about how to harness that capability. For them, the pleasure of cruising is in relatively gentle sailing and enjoying the tranquility of a remote anchorage.
The fact that the Southerly 32 can swallow miles quickly and efficiently is still important, however. Reaching those nice-to-be places would otherwise be impossible or would take a lot longer. A high-volume caravan that’s too slow to get out of its own way would be of little use.
The harder it blows
You don’t have to spend long sailing the Southerly 32 in any breeze to realise that she’s a fast and powerful performer. We stayed inside Poole Harbour on the day of our sail, because a brisk easterly would have made it lumpy in the bay and Flapjack is more accustomed to calmer waters and comfortable angles.
With the tide high and the worst of the summer traffic out of the way, we had a reasonable amount of water to play with even if it was hardly a test of seakeeping qualities and we couldn’t let the Southerly 32 get too settled in one direction before we had to tack.
In our favour we had the ability to bring the keel part-way up so we could sail in water that would have been too shallow for most 32ft performance cruisers. Of course, reduced draught meant increased leeway upwind, but as soon as we rejoined a channel we dropped the keel to regain our full draught of 7ft 4in (2.26m).
A well-established feature of the Southerlies is that they carry two-thirds of their cast iron ballast in the grounding plate. This is set flush into the bottom of the hull and provides protection against drying out on hard and lumpy surfaces. The rest of the ballast is in the high aspect-ratio keel, which swings up to leave a flush bottom.
One effect of this arrangement is that raising the keel still leaves plenty of ballast low down for a good righting moment. Another is that there’s no need for the designer or builder to compromise the draught. When you can raise the keel at the touch of a button, you’re not bound by the same constraints as with a fixed fin.
With around 4ft 7in (1.4m) of keel projecting below the hull, it can be an efficient section, provide a lot of bite and place a healthy portion of the ballast respectably low, so as variable-draught solutions go it’s a pretty good one from the sailing perspective.
Sailing the Southerly 32 gently in a breeze that was gusting to around 20 knots, we left a few rolls of the mainsail inside the mast and clocked an easy 6.2-6.3 knots upwind. When a gust hits, the Southerly 32 is one of those rare boats that heels a little further and simply accelerates, with scarcely any change to the feel of the helm.
Weather helm is minimal. Twin rudders almost inevitably lead to more friction and less feedback than with a single rudder, and an autopilot adds drag. The steering is light and responsive nonetheless, and the balance such that the boat was happy to carry on in a straight line for some time if the wheel was let go.
Tacking with the self-tacker, is, of course, as simple as can be and that has made an enormous difference for Richard and Lynaire. The electric winch for the sheets helps too, even though it means having both main and jib sheets on the same side.
In light to moderate conditions with the wind a few degrees either side of the beam, Flapjack can often be seen sporting a gennaker. Set on a furling system, it can play a major role on a boat with a self-tacker or a blade headsail once the wind comes off the bow. ‘It almost doubles our boatspeed,’ says Richard.
Given her generous displacement the Southerly is unlikely to be a flyer in light airs, so extra canvas like this can help compensate for the area lost through having a self-tacker and in-mast reefing.
Go with the flow
After a tack, it helps to sail slightly deep to build up speed and re-establish good laminar flow over the keel. That apart, there’s little you need to think about except enjoying the sailing.
At the helm you have a comfortable seat outboard of the wheel either side. It’s a large single wheel, and that works because the cockpit doesn’t use the full beam of the
boat. It leaves space for the side decks to run all the way to the transom, and makes the cockpit narrow enough to feel secure rather than like a dance floor. A folding
wheel would simplify moving forward from the stern, and that has been considered on Flapjack.
Richard and Lynaire sail with the sprayhood up and also have a full cockpit tent for use at anchor, supported on a frame that runs across the boat above the helm station.
Richard notes that you can’t reach the mainsheet from the helm, whereas the Southerly 38 has a German mainsheet system. In open water they mostly sail on the autopilot with a remote control, so it’s only potentially an issue when they’re sailing in confined waters. That said, the Southerly is so well mannered that you would rarely have to dump the mainsheet in a hurry to maintain control.
The immediate impression below decks is of brightness, space and quality. The finish on Flapjack, as on many Southerlies, is in cherry. It’s a relatively soft wood that doesn’t always wear as well as some, but in this case it looks good, has worn well and incorporates nicely finished solid trim.
At the foot of the companionway steps, you’re at the highest point of the accommodation because the sole is also raised. From here you drop down a level forward into the main part of the saloon or aft into the heads and aft cabin.
From the galley to port and chart table to starboard by the companionway, you benefit most from the raised sole and the raised coachroof with its large windows. In the saloon, the keel case is neatly incorporated into the table and is remarkably unobtrusive. The forecabin – down another level – is comfortably proportioned but the aft cabin, abaft the galley, is the master cabin. It has direct access to the heads via a stoop-through door beneath the bridgedeck.
Although Richard and Lynaire think the stowage could be better, there’s more than on many boats. Headroom and berth lengths are both generous on the whole and it’s clear that this is a boat on which you could live comfortably for several weeks at a time.
Southerly 32 surveyor’s view
Ben Sutcliffe-Davies, Marine Surveyor and full member of the Yacht Brokers Designers & Surveyors Association (YDSA)
Northshore has produced many reliably built yachts. Shallow draught yachts are always something of a compromise, but the design of the cast iron grounding plate is reasonably reliable in many locations around the UK, especially for tidal rivers with soft mud and softish sand like on the East Coast. However, I’ve attended insurance claims in the Welsh estuaries where yachts regularly ground in poor weather on harder river beds of hard sand and shingle. If looking to buy one, always ask where she has been moored. The cast iron keel system needs servicing every 5-10 years, so check its history.
Unfortunately, I’ve also had various models all suffer GRP keel box failures. In poor weather, the corners of the GRP can work into the GRP box. Try and look around the internal GRP recessed boxing. Fastenings are very hard to access but ensure they are all clean and dry, with no ‘tea’ staining to suggest weeping. Also look carefully at the bonding of framework supporting the keel box in the bilges. A heavy grounding can occasionally detach this.
Check the rudder blades are in good order and undamaged from regular groundings. I’ve seen several with slightly bent stocks. The decks are balsa-cored, which is fine as long as moisture has been kept out. Common areas of issue are around the mast wiring deck glands. Also look carefully around the jib track anchor points. Finally, the teak cappings stand slightly proud and can suffer from damage from the lifting strops when being lifted out.
Enjoyed reading this?
A subscription to Yachting Monthly magazine costs around 40% less than the cover price.
Print and digital editions are available through Magazines Direct – where you can also find the latest deals.
YM is packed with information to help you get the most from your time on the water.
- Take your seamanship to the next level with tips, advice and skills from our experts
- Impartial in-depth reviews of the latest yachts and equipment
- Cruising guides to help you reach those dream destinations
If you want a cruiser of this size that’s fast, roomy, comfortable and easy to manage, as well as capable of almost floating on a wet lawn, the Southerly is likely to be on a very short list. It’s easy to see why Richard and Lynaire didn’t feel the need to look at anything else.