The Victoria 30 is a small boat with big ambitions: a pocket cruiser that’s fun to sail and pretty to boot. Is she Queen Victoria or just a pretender to the throne? Rachael Sprot finds out...
Victoria 30: a small boat with big ambitions
If you can measure the success of a boat by the strength of its owners’ associations, then Victoria yachts are right up there.
Their devoted following spans the Atlantic, and boasts an active Facebook page that Chuck Paine, the designer himself, keeps up to date.
On this side of the pond the Victoria 34 is highly regarded. It’s the training boat of choice for the Joint Services training centre which owns 15 of them.
However, the Victoria 30s are less well known and there were only 50 or so made.
I hadn’t heard of them until I was invited to sail Rowan a few months ago by owner Bennie Mallet, but it’s the kind of boat that once introduced, you won’t forget.
The Victoria 30 is hard to pigeonhole. The most distinctive feature is the canoe stern and attractive shear-line, but she isn’t your typical, old-fashioned ‘double-ender’.
Despite the eclectic mix of 1970s and 1980s cruising boats in Torpoint Marina where I jumped aboard, Rowan still caught my eye.
I couldn’t put my finger on it, but she was just different.
Bennie told me that she had a whole suite of racing sails which she’d inherited from the previous owner.
All 16 of them were sitting in her garage at home, including multiple spinnakers! I was even more perplexed.
Canoe sterns have a significant place in the history of ocean cruising boats. From the Vikings to Sir Robin Knox-Johnston and Bernard Moitessier, many great sea voyages have been made in ‘double-enders,’ but I have to confess I associated them with Colin Archer’s heavily built Norwegian rescue ships, or the Nauticat motor-sailers.
Solid and seaworthy perhaps, but more of a survival pod than a sailing machine. Spoiler alert: I was wrong.
Aside from the canoe stern there are other features that make her stand out.
Rowan has a cutter rig, encapsulated keel, bowsprit, deep gunwales and a separate tri-sail track. There’s no messing about here, this boat means business.
There was a complex evolution behind the design. The Victoria 30 was originally built in the United States as the Leigh 30.
The Leigh in turn was based on the smaller Frances 26 which Paine had lovingly designed with his own, singlehanded sailing ambitions in mind.
Paine had fallen in love with the double-ended fishing boats he’d seen in Scotland in 1974 and promised himself that he’d try to replicate the design back home.
Thus the Frances was conceived, and it soon developed something of a cult following.
It was a natural progression to create a slightly bigger, family-sized version.
Small enough to be affordable, but rugged enough to withstand offshore conditions, there was one other important criterion: it needed to sail well.
So with its relatively small long-keel, substantial build quality, healthy sail area and generous ballast-ratio, the Leigh was born.
It was the editor of Yachting World at the time, Bernard Hayman, who persuaded Victoria Yachts in Southampton to bring the Leigh to the UK market.
Hayman spent many years perfecting his own small, offshore-cruiser, Barbican, and made pioneering voyages to the USSR and Norway in it.
So it seems that he and Paine shared many of the same values when it came to cruising boats: they needed to be bullet-proof, kind on the crew and a pleasure to sail.
Bennie bought Rowan in 2018 precisely for the Victoria 30’s offshore cruising credentials. She often sails it solo or with her daughter, Fiona.
She bought the boat in Ireland and sailed it to Plymouth, from where she cruises the English Channel.
Initially attracted to the Victoria 34s, which were slightly out of budget, she was delighted to discover their little sister and bought one straight away.
When I stepped aboard, I was immediately struck by how safe I felt. The raised coachroof is narrow with a solid teak handrail, allowing a decent side deck to move around on.
The cockpit was surprisingly spacious in port with the tiller up because it extends right out to the gunwales in the aft section, so there’s more space than you’d expect from a boat with a canoe stern.
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The aft part of the cockpit is directly enclosed by the push-pit, making it very secure. Under the cockpit seats are two large lockers, one aft and one to port.
Further forward the coachroof ends quite short of the bow and the flush foredeck has room for a well-lashed dinghy or in Rowan’s case, solar panels.
It’s a useful space for raising the anchor or setting up warps.
The cutter rig and wooden bowsprit were options rather than the default spec, so there are also standard sloop-rigged versions available with large overlapping genoas.
I’ve always preferred the cutter rig for sailing offshore though.
In stronger winds a staysail performs much better than a half-rolled genoa, though for coastal cruising the running backstays, which are a necessary accessory to the staysail, do create an extra level of faff when tacking.
The hull is solid GRP with a balsa-cored deck. Under each deck-fitting the balsa core is replaced with a plywood pad adding strength where it’s needed.
The GRP was laid to Lloyds’ specification, though Paine has commented that the resulting laminate was actually less substantial than the original Leigh hulls made by Morris Yachts in Maine.
The encapsulated keel was unique to the Victorias. The American-built Leigh had a bolt on lead keel instead but it was harder to get them cast in the UK so Victoria opted to encapsulate them.
Many ocean sailors prefer encapsulated keels anyway because it’s one less thing to worry about.
The companionway has an inbuilt GRP storm hatch which slides over the Perspex one in inclement weather. It’s another testament to the kind of voyages that this boat was designed for.
Although small boats are more vulnerable to down-flooding through hatches, due to the lower freeboard, it’s a shame you don’t always see this kind of belt and braces approach on larger yachts.
Below decks there’s enough solid teak and teak veneer to give it a warm, traditional feel.
The plastic laminate head-linings are easy to clean, keep things bright and have aged well. Timber strip planking lines the areas of bare hull and is a lovely touch.
There’s also plenty of stowage behind and under the seats. I particularly liked the saloon table which drops down from the main bulkhead to reveal the wine locker.
It’s a robust defence against the accusation that small boat sailing is glorified camping. The galley to port of the companionway is compact but well-equipped.
A small wet locker adjacent means you don’t drag soggy kit through the cabin. Forward of the saloon is the heads, which takes up the full width of the boat.
It’s a decent size with a large hanging locker behind the loo. Many of the interiors were customised, so the exact layout varies slightly from boat to boat.
Officially there are seven berths on Rowan. The saloon seats are decent sea-berths and one pulls out to make a small double.
There’s also a pilot berth above the port side which provides useful stowage. There’s a decent quarter berth behind the nav station and a V-berth in the forepeak with an infill to make a double, but it’s pretty cramped for two.
There’s no doubt about it, there’s much less volume below decks than a modern boat of the same length.
But there’s still 6ft headroom in the saloon and several berths over 6ft long.
She compares well with other boats of the same era and there’s an economy of space which means that every inch is well used.
Under power she handled the tight turn out of Torpoint Marina well and, with the help of her substantial prop walk, turned around in almost a boat length.
Like most long-keeled boats, reverse is not her forte, but the nice thing about the canoe stern is that it’s much easier to wiggle your way backwards into a tight berth than with a broad transom.
It wasn’t until we put some canvas up that I really understood the Victoria 30’s appeal. In a blustery Plymouth Sound we hoisted the main to reef two and unfurled half the genoa.
She shot off and I’ll admit, I was a little taken aback. I’d only just recovered from the initial shock when I noticed a big gust barrelling towards us.
I braced myself for a fight on the helm but it never came, she just dug in and kept going. I was even more taken aback.
There was only one word for this: fun, the kind of fun you can only have when you trust the boat implicitly.
The reason she feels so trustworthy comes down to two factors: the helm is supremely well balanced, and her high ballast ratio makes her extremely stiff.
‘I really like that you can walk away from the helm for a few minutes,’ Bennie explained later. ‘It’s easier for me to take her out on my own.’
The rudder design was something Paine put considerable thought into. Its square bottom concentrates power lower down where it’s needed.
The next day the wind had dropped to Force 3-4 and she easily hit 5 knots close-reaching with her fully battened main, staysail and genoa.
She pushed up towards 6 knots when we bore away to 110° apparent and if she’d had a clean bottom would have done more.
The wind instruments weren’t working, but we tacked through less than 90° without any effort at all.
In the lulls, her weight gave her enough oomph to power through the chop without stalling.
Though her keel is long, it’s not too long: the cut away forefoot means there’s less wetted surface area than there might be.
I could see why the previous owners had invested in such an extensive sail wardrobe and raced her; the Victoria 30 is rewarding to sail.
That said, the cockpit is pretty tight for a racing crew: two’s company and three’s a crowd. The tiller takes up much of the space when down, so the wheel version would be better if sailing with friends and family.
These boats have generally aged well and hold their value. The usual things will wear out: teak decks and toe rails, and interior woodwork if it’s not looked after.
The sprit on Rowan was rotten on the inboard end, and Bennie has put big stainless backing plates underneath all the deck fittings after the bolts for the main halyard block ripped up through the deck.
It’s not a bad defects list for a boat that’s needed little maintenance in 40 years. I began to wonder what kind of voyages I’d do if I owned a Victoria 30.
She’s ideal for medium-distance, shorthanded sailing in challenging waters.
She’s a boat in which you can be self-sufficient and that will handle heavy weather well.
Her modest draught means you can get off the beaten track and if you ground her on an uncharted rock, with her long, encapsulated keel you’ve got a good chance of coming away unscathed.
I came back to her Viking heritage – she’d be perfect for a summer cruise around the Northern Isles, the Faroes and Iceland.
It’s the go-anywhere attitude that I like most about the Victoria 30. How many boats of this size have a separate tri-sail track? How many boats of any size have a tri-sail track?
She’s the kind of boat where some of your daydreams can become a reality. The canoe stern was still troubling me though on what is otherwise a practical boat.
I’d heard the assertion that it ‘parts the waves’ in heavy weather but I was sceptical – Paine may be a legendary naval architect, but he’s not Moses.
I asked him what purpose it served. ‘I do not believe there is any practical advantage. Sailing is a pastime that is all about quality of life. There is nothing practical about using the wind to propel a boat at five knots [but]… there are some folks who just like the look of this shape, and if it only does a little harm, they will still love it.’
As you’ve probably guessed by now, I couldn’t agree more.
Expert opinion of the Victoria 30
Nick Vass B.Sc B.Ed HND FRINA MCMS DipMarSur YS, Marine Surveyor
The Victoria 30 is a long-keel, canoe-stern yacht introduced in 1982, designed by American Chuck Paine, on the same lines as the flush-decked Francis 26 and the coach-roofed Victoria 26, which were based on his older American made Morris 26 and Morris Leigh 30 designs.
The Victoria 30 has a long keel moulded into the hull with encapsulated ballast. It is likely that the ballast is lead shot.
Encapsulated ballast has the advantage of not requiring keel bolts that can work loose and the keel won’t need to be re-bedded.
Lead has value and can be sold to pay for the responsible disposal of the yacht when it comes to the end of its working life.
Watch out for the plethora of teak on the decks of Victoria 30s as this can be expensive to replace when worn out or decayed.
Most were fitted with Yanmar 2GM20 16-hp engines which were reliable and common.
The double-ender stern pinches the cockpit and makes access to the stern gland, gearbox and rudder post gland problematic, so make sure that these components have not been neglected.
The lack of transom makes fitting an emergency boarding ladder tricky as the banana shape means the very aft end is high out of the water.
Make sure you have a boarding ladder ready for emergencies such as a roll-up rope ladder Velcroed to the guardrail which can be grabbed and deployed from the water.
I have found leaking chainplates on Victoria 30s. Leaks can damage the elaborate hardwood interior joinery.
Ben Sutcliffe-Davies, Marine Surveyor and full member of the Yacht Brokers Designers & Surveyors Association (YDSA)
Generally, the Victoria 30 was pretty well built, but having surveyed several over the last decade, there are a few issues to look out for which are rectifiable but costly.
I should also note that these issues haven’t been found on every Victoria 30 I have surveyed! Boats which were fitted with teak decks are now 35-plus years old and need careful inspection.
I’ve seen many with water ingress through the caulking which has become trapped under the timber decks and got into the balsa deck core, causing softening.
The keel is encapsulated and reported as lead. Generally there will be a lean mix of sand and cement to act as a packer around where the lead is laid into the keel void.
I have seen some where, following a grounding, water has got inside affecting this lean mix. It is fixable over time in a warm workshop. The rudder is keel hung.
I have seen very high moisture in this shoe support area and several boats needed work to dry the area of laminate and address this problem.
I’ve surveyed one Victoria 30 where the bonding failed on the hull to deck arrangement near the chainplates and required work.
Several had genoa tracks which leaked through the side decks. Internally, be aware of the chain locker and drain, which is accessed from within the forepeak.
I have had a few where the plywood was quite soft at the base of the locker. Check the deck collar of the keel-stepped mast as water can inevitably get in.
Alternatives to the Victoria 30 to consider
Morgan Giles 30
The Morgan Giles 30 came from the chief designer at Morgan Giles yachts, Kenneth Collyer, and was initially designed for his personal use.
Francis Morgan Giles, who was still alive at the time, is reported to have said that ‘God made man so he could float on a piece of wood’.
So, the first boat was built out of timber but with the inevitable transition to GRP, it was used as plug for the moulds.
First built in Teignmouth, when the Morgan Giles yard closed in 1969 Somerset Plastics bought the moulds.
It produced 70 hulls between 1969 and 1996. The lines are gorgeous, with a gentle sheer and classy counter stern.
The MG30 has good seakeeping abilities and handles heavy weather well.
Proportionally she’s got quite a bit less sail area than the Victoria 30 but they have many similar qualities, including an encapsulated long keel and efficient, square-bottomed rudder.
First specced with 1.6T of lead ballast, most of them actually have 1.8T of cast iron instead.
The original layout is quite unusual, with the galley taking up the full port side of the saloon and a table and short bench seat opposite.
There are two quarter berths either side of the cockpit, a heads across the full width of the boat forwards of the mast and V berth forwards.
Nearly all of the MG30s were home-finished, so there are quite a few layout variations and the usual pitfalls for the enthusiastic amateur to watch out for.
They don’t tend to come up for sale very often due to the limited production run and because faithful owners tend to keep hold of them.
Owing to their age some of them are quite neglected when they come to market, and even the well-maintained ones will need investment as things like chain plates get to the age where they require pulling.
A thorough survey is essential. But, they don’t make ‘em like this any more, the lines are lovely so it’s worth snapping up a well-maintained one, or taking the trouble to restore one.
Halmatic has a reputation for building solid, no-nonsense boats. It produced the hulls of lifeboats, work boats and Royal Navy Patrol boats.
But between the bulky grey bruisers a lot of very attractive yachts emerged from the company’s sheds at Portsmouth harbour.
The Halmatic 30 is one of them, as are most of the Camper and Nicholson designs.
The Halmatic 30 is the younger sibling to the Nicholson 32 and was designed to open up the offshore cruising market to those on a smaller budget.
Like many of these classic hull designs, it had a further evolution too and became the Barbican 30.
The long cast-iron keel makes her sea- kindly, though unlike the Victoria and the Morgan Giles 30, it is bolt-on rather than encapsulated.
The transom-hung rudder extends the wetted surface area, but there’s enough sail area to make up for it.
The interior fit out is more basic than the Victoria’s and they command a lower price as a result.
Unusually for a boat of this size and era, there are no quarter berths. Instead, the coachroof comes well aft, giving a generous saloon with 6ft headroom throughout.
Although this results in a small cockpit, the upside of the lack of quarter berths is two generous cockpit lockers.
Everything on a boat of this size is a compromise, and in our infinitely varied British climate, prioritising space below decks, rather than above it, might be a good compromise to make.
Frequently described as a ‘go-anywhere’ boat, the Halmatic 30 is still achieving its original mission: to prove that you don’t have to spend a fortune to get your hands on a serious offshore cruiser.
The only fin keeler in this selection, it seemed a shame to miss out this little gem.
Designed by David Thomas, the Elizabethan was originally designed as a RORC half-tonner so they’re a performance yacht with cruising capabilities, rather than the other way around.
David Thomas created some of the most successful cruiser-racers of the last 50 years including the Sigma 33 and 38, and British Steel Challenge 67s.
Like many of his other designs, the Elizabethan is robustly built and extremely seaworthy.
The layout below works well for cruising, though some boats were home finished with varying degrees of success.
The two full-length saloon berths make clever use of trotter boxes so as not to reduce the space in the galley or nav station; there’s a quarter berth to starboard and the usual V-berth forwards.
The cockpit is a good size with useful lockers, although to go up and down the companionway you’ll need to clamber straight across the traveller, which sits just outside the hatch.
There’s an active owners’ association which would be a good source of knowledge for those new to the boat or undertaking refits.
At almost 20% lighter than the Victoria 30 and sporting a larger sail area, they’ll be good in light airs and a whippet around the cans.
The real proof of the pudding is that Thomas kept one for himself and even came second in the Round the Island Race on her.
A versatile cruiser-racer which is often compared to the Contessa 32, but can be yours for a much lower price tag.
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