Duncan Kent looks at the enduring appeal of this versatile yacht which is suitable for bluewater as well as coastal cruising

The Vancouver 34 Classic is one of a range of highly sought-after ocean cruising yachts built by Northshore Yachts between 1991-2012.

Initially designed as a 32-footer in 1979 by Robert Harris, she was later stretched to 34ft LOA in order to increase her waterline length and to enlarge the cockpit enough to enable wheel steering to be fitted. Around 120 of the Classic model were built in total.

Deck gear on the Vancouver 34 Classic 

The hull and deck were generously laid-up by hand using bi-directional mat with waterproof (Isopthalic) resin and substantially reinforced all around her long, encapsulated keel, the foot of which extends aft to provide support for the lower rudder pintle.

This design helps keep ropes and debris away from the prop, while a cutaway forward helps speed up tacking and improve manoeuvrability under power.

The topsides and deck of the Vancouver 34 Classic are sandwiched with end-grain balsa for insulation and weight reduction, and the hull deck join is both through-bolted and bonded over for watertight integrity.

Being a little pinched at her stern means the cockpit is relatively narrow, but a cut-away around the wheel improves the helmsman’s access forward. A pronounced helm seat hump offers support when heeled and the binnacle has a sturdy grab rail.

Vancouver 34 Classic

Wheel steering limits cockpit space

She’s not the easiest to single-hand because the primary winches are a little far forward from the helm, the mainsheet track runs along the bridge deck and the staysail sheets are on the coachroof, so a good autopilot is essential.

Access along the side decks is slightly restricted due to three chainplates and a headsail track each side, but the coachroof handrails are excellent.

Treadmaster was the standard non-slip covering and her attractive raised bulwark with integral scuppers works well.

The Vancouver 34 Classic ‘s foredeck is uncluttered, except for the inner forestay, and the anchor chain is fed below decks. She has twin bow rollers and her cleats and other deck gear are good quality and generously proportioned.

A masthead cutter rig was standard, with a deck-stepped, twin spreader Seldén mast. She has twin lower shrouds, the aft pair set well back to eliminate the need for running backstays. Roller furling was standard on the yankee, but not on the staysail, although a self-tacking option was available.

As standard the reefing lines terminate at the mast, although full battens with single-line reefing, lazyjacks and a zipped sail bag were also optional, as was in-mast furling.

Vancouver 34 classic

The Vancouver has a relatively shallow keel which allows owners to sail and anchor in shoal water, to a point

Her attractive, woody interior feels warm and cosy, whilst top quality materials and craftsmanship has ensured the woodwork a long life.

The Vancouver 34 Classic has a raised coachroof for the first couple of metres, giving 1.88m/6ft 2in headroom in the galley and nav areas. Forward of this the sole drops a few inches to enable continued standing headroom throughout the saloon.

The layout is traditional and straightforward, though dimensionally conservative. Beside the companionway steps is a narrow oilies locker. Uprights on the half-bulkheads forward of the galley and chart table, plus a stout rail all around the saloon, both provide excellent handholds going forward at sea.

The saloon seating is comfortable and, despite the relatively narrow beam, quite spacious. The port settee is straight and 1.96m/6ft 5in long, whereas the U-shaped settee to starboard can become a 1.0m/3ft 3in-wide double berth by dropping the saloon table.

Despite an abundance of teak, the white deck head brightens it up and all ports open for ventilation. Stowage is good, with plenty of room under and behind the settees, and in lockers and shelves above. The freshwater tank is over the keel, where it should be.

Forward of the saloon is a short corridor, offset to port, containing a large clothes locker. Opposite, the heads is sizeable for a 34-footer and has a GRP moulding up to basin level.

The aft-facing toilet has a shower seat over and is almost on the centreline. There is stowage under and above the sink and pressurised hot water was standard. A cowl vent and opening port keep it well ventilated.

Vancouver 34 Classic

Practical stowage systems throughout

Down below on the Vancouver 34 Classic

The Vancouver 34 Classic has no aft cabin, only a single 0.68m/2ft 3in-wide quarter berth. The forecabin is, however, quite spacious and headroom still 1.88m/6ft 2in under the large forehatch.

There’s also plenty of standing room with the infill removed, a large hanging locker and a small desk/vanity unit, plus a deep shelf around the bunk. Beneath the berth is additional stowage and room for a holding tank.

Her galley is L-shaped, well-appointed and large enough to prepare and cook for a crew of four, although work surface is minimal without the cooker and sink covers in place. There’s plenty of food and crockery stowage above, plus a cutlery drawer and pan locker beneath the worktop.

Opposite is a large, forward-facing chart table with bags of instrument/book stowage all around. The seat backrest is removable to extend the quarter berth to 2.28m/7ft 6in.

On deck, her cockpit is small, in today’s terms, so more than three working crew can cause congestion. However, at anchor there’s room for four to sit around the cockpit table.

Vancouver 34 Classic

L-shaped galley with capacity to cook a meal for four

Deck stowage is generous, with three sizeable cockpit lockers. One is full depth, the other two shallower, but still spacious. The two gas lockers (one for a spare cannister) both drain overboard.

The Vancouver 34 Classic’s ground tackle is easy to deploy, although she can suffer from ‘chain piling’ when retrieving a lot of cable, which can often require going below to tip the pile with a stick. Fairleads and cleats are all stout and solidly mounted.

Under sail her steering is light and positive, though it gets heavier if over-canvassed. She tracks well, thanks to her long keel, but tacking can be a bit slow. This is not entirely due to the turning resistance of her keel, but also because of the need to haul the yankee around the inner forestay.

As a cutter, she trims well and the slot between the headsail is easy to fine-tune. While she can just point up to around 35 degrees off the apparent wind, she’s a lot happier and quicker 50 degrees off, when 7 knots plus is easily achievable in 15-18 knots of true wind.

Vancouver 34 Classic

Despite being narrow-beamed, the saloon is spacious

Off the wind, as with all cutters, you have to mind the staysail doesn’t become shadowed by the mainsail. With the wind on her quarter or dead astern it’s easier to roll away the staysail to stop it flapping about, or simply gybe down your course.

Plain sailing

The Vancouver 34 is easy on the helm and effortless to keep on course. In fact, once the sails are correctly balanced, she’ll virtually sail herself, which is handy as not everything is within reach of the helm, including the mainsheet. A good autopilot, though, will alleviate the problem.

Although likely to have been replaced by now, her original 27hp (37hp option) Yanmar freshwater-cooled marine diesel has plenty of power and in reasonably flat water with a clean bottom she’ll easily cruise at 5.5 knots at 2,400rpm, reaching 7 knots at full revs.

Access to the engine is reasonable from the front, by removing the steps, but not so easy from the sides, where the panels are in lockers, limiting both light and movement.

The fuel tank is behind the engine, but the filter is just about accessible from the front.

For more information, visit: vancouveryachtsassociation.org.uk

Owners’ experiences of the Vancouver 34 Classic

Vancouver 34 Classic

Aquila can weather a storm

S/Y Aquila, hull no.93 (1995)

Retired opticians, Mike and Janet Jones, have owned Aquila from new and still love everything about her, ‘except, maybe, her dubious close-quarter handling’ says Mike.

Prior to buying her they owned a Westerly Merlin, Colvic 26 and a Coribee. The Vancouver suits their style of sailing, which comprises frequent, lengthy Channel cruises, as well as the odd dip down into Southern Brittany.

What they like most about her is the beautiful joinery below, along with the practical layout and her ability to stand up to her canvas in heavy weather.

Janet admits: ‘Her accommodation is slightly cramped when compared with a modern, high-volume cruising yacht but we spend most of the time cruising as a couple, so we don’t worry too much about the guest quarters.’

The Vancouver 34 Classic SY Picaro

Picaro: rough-sea ready

S/Y Picaro, hull no.16 (2004)

Owned for six years by Ken Marsden, Picaro is a fairly late model. Despite this he replaced her engine with the same model as the original, a Yanmar 3YM. Ken has also added a full cockpit tent for comfort, solar panels, a gas solenoid cut-out on the cooker and a removable bowsprit for a cruising chute.

He mainly cruises around the UK, with numerous cross-Channel trips to France, but longer trips have included the Bay of Biscay, the Isles of Scilly and Ireland.

Ken says: ‘She is a powerful yacht, but not very close-winded. Her long keel and large rudder keep her on course and she has a steady motion through rough seas. Single-line reefing and her cutter rig make her easy to sail singlehanded.’

Ken’s only dislike is having the mainsheet on the bridge deck, out of reach from the helm.

The Vancouver 34 Classic Inti at anchor

Inti’s in it for the long haul

S/Y Inti, hull no.67 (1992)

Matthew and Ursula Freestone have owned Inti for six years, during which time they have added staysail furling, a feathering prop and solar panels.

Shortly after buying her they sailed Inti to the Balearics and back as a shakedown cruise.

Matthew says: ‘She needs a good breeze but will then sail at hull speed on most points of sail. Although slow to tack due to her long keel, she doesn’t get knocked off course easily. Having sailed a number of other boats, this is the one I’d choose to be in during a blow.’

In her lifetime Inti has been sailed halfway around the world before being shipped back to the UK from Southeast Asia. In 2009 she underwent a major refit, including new decks, engine and rigging.

Vancouver 34 classic

Amoret: safe in any seastate

S/Y Amoret, hull no.64 (1991)

Owned by Trevor and Irene Brook since 2011, Amoret was the first V34C built.

Trevor says: ‘There have been many like-for-like changes of fittings and equipment, including the Treadmaster and upholstery, plus we have added a trysail bag for rapid hoisting, LED lights, AIS transponder, Navtex and an SSB Pactor modem for weather data.’

Trevor and Irene, both RYA Ocean Yachtmasters, began sailing together 20 years ago. After numerous mile-builders and charters they left Ramsgate in 2015 and cruised south, spending successive winters in La Rochelle, Lagos (Portugal), the Canary Islands and Madeira.

‘Fully stowed,’ Trevor says, ‘Amoret needs a good Force 4 to get going, but she has proven to be very safe in all seastates we’ve experienced and is easy to handle under sail.’

The Vancouver 34 Class

The Vancouver’s relatively shallow draft allows for access to shallow anchorages

What the experts say…

Duncan Kent, yacht and equipment reviewer

Duncan Kent

Duncan Kent

The Vancouver 34 was designed and built with bluewater cruising and long ocean passages in mind, although she is equally suited to coastal and weekend sailing.

Her relatively shallow draft will enable you to sail and anchor in shoal waters, to a point, but without sacrificing her seaworthiness in rough seas and poor weather.

Many love the flexibility of the cutter rig and appreciate the ability to sail under a staysail and triple-reefed mainsail in a gale. Others prefer to swap the yankee for a larger genoa for better off-wind speed.

I’m in the compromise camp, preferring to keep the yankee and staysail, but fly a gennaker when the wind is light and on the beam.

Like most traditional long-keel boats, the Vancouver 34 Classic is one of modest speed but powerful demeanour.

She’s not going to impress the club racer types and neither is she ideal for short-tacking up narrow rivers, but when challenged with a Channel crossing in a sou’westerly gale, she’ll romp home safe and sound with the crew still able to make a brew and eat a hot meal along the way.

Nick Vass, Marine Surveyor

Nick VassThe Vancouvers are solid and well-made yachts but production quality from Northshore did vary quite a lot. Check the saloon windows for leaks and, like any well used bluewater yacht, wear and tear on the engine, standing rigging and teak decks will mean they will likely need replacing unless already done.

The good thing is that all the Vancouver 34s I have surveyed have had a plethora of long-term cruising gear such as water makers, generators and wind vane steering systems. Engine access is limited, though, and gas bottle storage a quirky compromise.


Alternatives to consider

Hallberg Rassy 34

With sail controls within easy reach of the helm, the HR34 is easy to sail single-handed

Hallberg-Rassy 34

Designed by German Frers and launched in 1990, the HR34 was the first of a new range of Hallbergs created to attract customers looking for a more modern, performance-orientated yacht, whilst retaining that legendary ‘Swedish classic’ look much loved by traditionalist sailors.

The HR34’s hulls are hand laid-up using isopthalic resin in the gelcoat and outer laminate and incorporate a PVC foam sandwich above the waterline and in the deck.

A laminated floor grid increases stiffness and supports the keel, above which are the stainless-steel fuel and freshwater tanks. The skeg-hung rudder has roller bearings and the rudder post is solid stainless steel, while her mast is deck-stepped and very securely supported.

Hallberg Rassy 34

The HR 34: a quiet and undramatic sailing experience

The deep and roomy cockpit is protected by high coamings and a fixed windscreen, which has grab rails each side and an opening centre window for ventilation.

Initially, she had a traditional retroussé transom, but in 1994 a bathing platform and gate was added and the forward end of the cockpit moved slightly aft to make more space below.

The light mahogany joinery below is superb, with neatly laminated edgings and counters, and louvred locker fronts.

Early layouts had a longitudinal galley opposite the dinette but after the interior was ‘stretched’ she had a longer saloon, a larger navigation area and a more sea-friendly L-shaped galley. Both fore and aft cabins offer generous berths and plenty of useful stowage.

As well as being stiff in a strong breeze, thanks to a near 40% ballast ratio, in light airs she remains quick, responsive and well balanced. All sail controls are led aft, within reach of the helm, and the fully battened mainsail has single-line reefing, making her particularly easy to single-hand.

The engine installation is smooth and quiet, with the original shaft drive changed to a quieter sail drive at some point. Close-quarter manoeuvrability is effortless and undramatic.

Barbican 35

Sought after: the Barbican 35

Barbican 35

Designed by Holman & Pye, creators of the famous Stella, Seamaster, Hustler, Super Sovereign, early Oysters and many more accomplished ocean cruisers, the Barbican 35 is a highly sought-after ocean cruiser.

Built between 1979-1992, she is a traditional, seakindly, heavy displacement cruising yacht that utilised the hull of the earlier Super Sovereign 35 ketch, though modernised and with a more efficient masthead sloop rig.

Other than the hull dimensions and the long, encapsulated lead keel, the two boats look quite different, thanks to the Barbican’s sleeker coachroof.

Her all-lead ballast means her draught is moderate, however with a ballast ratio of 35% and a conservative sail plan she is stiffer under sail than similar yachts.

Below she is fitted out traditionally, with two settees that convert into ideal sea berths with lee boards/cloths. She has a sensibly- sized chart table, good food preparation and cooking facilities and enough stowage to hide away a few months’ cruising provisions.

On deck, she has wide side decks and plenty of handrails. The foredeck is uncluttered and has chunky cleats, a stout Samson post and twin chain rollers.

The cockpit is offshore friendly with high coamings. Though it narrows aft, there are no seats near the wheel, so access isn’t a problem.

She sails exactly as any heavy long keeled cruising yacht should, with a gentle rocking motion and a determined, undramatic and steadfast attitude.

In all, she is a powerful, but seakindly ocean cruiser that would get you home safely in all weathers.


The IP350: stable, spacious and sumptuous

Island Packet 350

The successor to the IP35, the 350 extended this US yard’s reputation for creating roomy, luxurious, rock-solid world cruising yachts by refining and updating numerous aspects of the original 35, including a brand new interior layout.

She has a full-length encapsulated keel with no cutaway forward so, though she might be somewhat ponderous when tacking, there are no keel bolts to worry about.

The generous buoyancy created by her high topsides and superstructure, added to the significant form stability provided by wider, flatter underwater sections aft, results in a very stable platform going to windward.

Build quality is exceptional and the interior, with an abundance of warm teak joinery, feels huge for a 35-footer. IP has squeezed in two large double berths, a large galley, a heads and a saloon big enough to entertain six with ease.

On deck she has a spacious and deep cockpit with good stowage and easily handled sail controls. Decks are wide and clear, handrails excellent and the long bow plank increases the foretriangle sail area.

Rigged as a cutter, the staysail is self-tacking and has IP’s trademark Hoyt boom, allowing it to be trimmed very flat in high winds.

Although she looks and feels likely to be a little slow under sail, in fact she’s reasonably quick for this type of world cruiser. She can battle through adverse conditions under triple-reefed main and staysail, making ground to windward up to a Force 10 storm.

Running downwind her long keel comes into its own, keeping her steadfastly on course.

First published in the July 2020 issue of Yachting Monthly.

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