Evaluating The Privateer 20 Yacht by Oliver L. Shaw

26th September 2012
with minor updates 13th/14th September 2016, 25th July 2017, 8th August 2017, 10th July 2019, and 15th July 2020

This file originates out of correspondence with a new member of the online Privateer 20 Group who was considering buying a Privateer and was doing some research. In essence it contains the text of my emails to him, together with some of his queries, just very lightly edited. Since I have also been asked on previous occasions for my assessment of the boat this correspondence is now made available for permanent reference, as a service to other members of the Group, new members in particular, and also to save me a lot of typing each time I get a similar request in the future.

By way of establishing my credentials, my personal sailing background is boating from age 3 (and I turn 78 in November this year, 2020), racing Herons then Fireflies and then two successive GP14s, in my youth and early adulthood, including regularly representing both my college and my university (University Team, and College First Team) and later representing two different sailing clubs in interclub events. Then I switched to offshore cruising yachts (both modern and vintage) from 1971, culminating with the purchase of first a 29-ft Bermudian rigged Morecambe Bay Prawner (a.k.a. Nobby) in 1972 and then a 1912 25-ft gaff cutter in 1976.

For over fifteen years I cruised extensively throughout Sea Area Lundy in those two yachts, most particularly in the gaff cutter, while simultaneously regularly sailing a friend’s Bermudian-rigged Iona 23 in South Devon and the
Channel Islands, plus bringing her home from Spain in the summer of 1984. I then had to swallow the anchor in changed circumstances at the end of 1990.

I returned to sailing (with yet another GP14) in 2004, having deliberately downsized from serious offshore cruising yachts, but then started to get withdrawal symptoms! Gradually returned to yacht sailing c. 2007, decided to buy and to look specifically for a trailer-sailer, which for the first time in my life had to be in GRP – much as I love wooden boats I have now had enough of maintaining vintage wooden yachts, and cannot afford a new wooden one – and in the course of teaching a Seamanship Course for my sailing club I realized that over the period of my ownership of my
previous yacht I had developed a love affair with the gaff cutter rig. So she had to be a gaff cutter, and she had to be at an affordable price. All of those considerations narrowed the choice considerably, and I eventually bought my gaff-rigged Privateer 20 in 2009.

Simultaneously I got heavily into GP14 cruising, served on the Committee of the Class Association for several years, and did five years as their Cruising Representative (retiring August 2012, and then stepped up to the plate again in autumn 2018), and was also instrumental in fostering interest in the Vintage boats of the class. From July 2006 to July 2016 I owned one modern beautiful and heavily bespoke cruising GP14 which I had built for me in 2005/6, plus two seriously early vintage ones which I still own; no. 64, dating from 1951, and no. 3, no less, the second oldest survivor in the world, which is currently awaiting restoration.

Returned to very occasional racing in 2012, winning my club’s Veterans’ Trophy race by just 9 seconds in my first dinghy race since 1983 and only my second race of any type since that time, and gaining an acceptable fifth place sailing a 24-ft yacht in Liverpool Yacht Club’s Commodore’s Cup race at the beginning of the same month.
I am a past Commodore and a lifetime Vice-President of my current home club, currently also in my final year as President, and a past Chairman (for which read effectively Commodore) of a youth training sailing club back in the seventies.

25 years teaching sailing and seamanship.

Edited Text of Correspondence: Evaluation of the Privateer 20

I would, purely personally, suggest that it is the gaff cutter option which makes this boat special, and that if you particularly want a gaff cutter rig on a trailer-sailer GRP cruising yacht the Privateer may be a very sensible boat to consider. The Bermudian rig is of low aspect ratio, and if you prefer a Bermudian rig there are plenty of other Bermudian yachts in the same size range, and I suspect that many of them may be better options. The big plus point of the Privateer, at least for me, is the gaff cutter rig, and without that big plus point I don’t think there is enough to warrant putting up with some of her more serious limitations.

If you specifically want a gaff cutter trailer-sailer in this size range, the Privateer is one of the more affordable ones. The Cornish Shrimper 19 and the Cape Cutter 19 are probably the nearest competitors; both are delightful, and once on the water they are probably better boats, but in general they are vastly more expensive, and they are also heavier to tow.

I suspect that the same is probably true of the Norfolk Smuggler and Norfolk Gypsy ranges. Others to perhaps consider, but I know little about them, are the Tamarisk and the Memory series of boats, although not all of them have cabin accommodation. The Winkle Brig is highly respected and has a cult following, but I think it is a little smaller. The Drascombe range, and similar boats, are predominantly open boats although some of the larger ones have small cuddies up forward.

I think that most of the above, with the obvious exception of the Cape Cutter, are sloops rather than cutters. The cutter configuration has a number of practical as well as aesthetic benefits (see later). On balance I like my Privateer, but for at least my first three full seasons I felt that I was still on a learning curve with her in order to get the best out of her. And it doesn’t normally take me anything like that long to suss out how a boat handles, and how to sail her to best effectiveness; with most boats I can normally crack it in a single day’s sailing, if that – more often, within minutes!

Several strands to this.

You might be reefing a little earlier than other boats.

Perhaps, but not unreasonably so, and probably no earlier than cruiser-racer yachts such as the (somewhat larger) Jaguar 21, always provided that she is adequately laden or alternatively adequately ballasted. The designer points out that she is designed to sail with a family in the cockpit (two adults plus two teenagers), and he specifically recommends that for single-handed sailing one should add ballast beneath the cockpit sole to compensate for the missing crew weight. With my Privateer fully laden for extended cruising, and with the added ballast which I installed in 2014, I normally start reefing in about force 4, which is reasonable.

What is of more concern is her ultimate ability to cope with heavy weather, but owners who have extensive dinghy experience will find that such experience stands them in good stead. All other yachts that I have owned or sailed have been significantly larger than the Privateer, and I have generally regarded them as serious yachts, and as uncapsizable. I feel the Privateer has a very light displacement for her size, only around half that of the (vastly more expensive) Cornish Shrimper or Cape Cutter 19, and is best regarded as a “dinghy with a lid”; I have the intuitive impression that in seriously adverse conditions she is perfectly capable of capsizing, and that it is my responsibility as skipper to ensure that she is never allowed to do so.

However since adding the extra ballast I have never had any anxiety on that score, although I don’t think I have ever had her out in anything over force 6, and when that has been to windward it was motoring under bare poles. One of our experienced members, I think Aart van der Pol, has reported having had his one out in “a fair blow” with no problems, and feeling a great deal more confident in her as a result. On two, if not three, occasions in 2014 I had absolutely scorching sails in my one in what I judge to have been force 5 to 6 on the quarter, offshore, under double reefed main and reefed jib, regularly clocking 6 knots SOG on the GPS and repeatedly touching 7 knots; this was probably about the limit of her safe capability, but she was safe and I was enjoying the exhilaration.

On another occasion in either 2014 or 2015 I had brief advance warning of a monumental squall, at least force 6 and possibly more, on a moderately broad reach; when the wind hit I didn’t faff around with reefing as I decided that the main needed to come down pronto, so I dropped the main and furled the jib, and continued sailing – very safe and fully under control – on just the staysail.

I have roller reefing on the big Yankee jib, the staysail now has a furling system, and both the mainsail halliards and reefing lines and topping life are all led back to the cockpit, as are both the headsail reefing/furling lines, so reefing is easily accomplished without the need to go on deck. However a key feature of that latter ability is that she has gaff rig, so the luff of the sail does not run in a track, and instead is controlled by lanyards on parrel beads (shortly to be replaced by mast hoops). So the luff looks after itself as I reef, and normally also as I shake out reefs; alright the
rows of parrel beads sometimes get themselves interlocked while the sail is lowered, and then jam on re-hoisting, but that is easily cleared before hoisting, and that is the reason for my planned switch to mast hoops.

With bermudian rig, I have not given any thought to devising a means of remotely feeding the luff into the track when hoisting, nor to remotely controlling the luff while reefing, so it might indeed be necessary to go forward to the mast for reefing operations.

Tacking up the River Wyre in 2016 in a freshening wind, and low on the tide (so with very little water), while short tacking across the river I furled the jib for better control as I approached a narrow and twisty part of the channel. That left her seriously unbalanced, so I then pulled down the first reef in the main in very short order just in the course of a single tack across the very narrow river. That may not have been the neatest reef I have ever done, but it was most certainly fast and efficient; set up the topping lift in advance just to take the weight of the boom; then check away both halliards, pull in both reefing lines, and re-tighten both halliards. Perhaps 20-30 seconds.
Job done. See also later note regarding ballast.

> One question is how hard and how long would it take to step the mast and rig the boat if I was
launching for a day’s sailing ?

That is a difficult one to answer, because I have never formally timed it. However I have the general impression that when single-handing I usually take around 2½ hours from arrival by road with the boat in tow to being launched and fully ready to sail, and similarly on recovery. That is acceptable at the beginning or end of an extended cruise, but more than a bit limiting for a day sail.

Other owners might be able to shorten that a little, perhaps even significantly. A well practised crew of 2 might well be able to do tasks simultaneously which I have to do in sequence, which would potentially make a drastic reduction in the time, although probably not as much as halving my time. And my rig is rather more complex than the simplest possible rig for the boat, which also increases my own time.

In terms of how hard the job is rather than how long it takes, it is fairly easy. Even the wooden mast is surprisingly light, as masts go, and it sits in a tabernacle. I have made up a lifting strut which fits onto the mast just above the tabernacle for this purpose, to which the inner forestay attaches at the end on the upper side, and the mainsheet is rigged between the end of the strut (on the lower side) and the deck fitting for the forestay, (plus, originally, a couple of guy ropes, which I find in practice I never need to use). With the aid of that strut, raising or lowering the mast is
quick and reasonably straightforward, even single-handed, even afloat if necessary, although I have only ever once done it afloat and that was in calm conditions in a marina.

If I absolutely must I can still do the job without that strut being available. With the assistance of a second person I rig two long hauling lines (the second one purely as a safety line), from points high up the mast, and the assistant takes those lines from well ahead of the boat while I stand in the cockpit or on the coachroof (moving between the two as necessary).

I also set up the boom crutch on the pushpit. With the two of us, and the mast in its tabernacle, it is then almost as easy, and a job of only a few minutes to actually raise or lower the mast.

All-chain anchor rode:

Having tried it initially, I thought for a long time that it was not a good idea on such a small and light boat.
With both my previous yachts and also all those which I have ever borrowed or chartered I used allchain rode as standard, and when I bought my Privateer I initially intended to do likewise; however I subsequently chose not to do so. I did initially ship aboard a borrowed 25 lb CQR anchor and the 15 fathoms of 3/8-inch chain (very approx equivalent to the modern 10 mm) which came with it, both of which are significantly heavier than is normal for a boat of this size, but they were what I had available on loan, and in any case I always prefer to have my ground tackle slightly oversize; that way I can sleep soundly at night!

Two problems were immediately apparent: first, the only way to access the chain would be to have it in a container on one of the forward berths and access it through the forehatch, and that was clearly unsatisfactory for normal use. Second, the weight of the chain gave her a definite bows down and slightly lopsided attitude (the latter because it had to be placed to one side of the centre line) when sitting at a mooring.

Prior to 2019 I had not experimented with all-chain rode of a lighter section. 6 mm might be more suitable. What I used for many years is 50 m of anchorplait warp plus 15 metres of 8 mm chain, all stowed in a bag on deck in the dedicated stowage space provided.

Even that, attached to my 6 kg Rocna, may be regarded as heavier ground tackle than the boat needs; but, as previously remarked, I like to sleep easily at night, without anxiety about whether my anchor will drag. On a small handful of occasions I have been very glad that I had invested in ground tackle of this calibre, most notably while riding out a full force 9 in Ravenglass on a difficult shingle bottom for one very wild night in 2014 during the tail end of ex-Hurricane Bertha.

However the update is that is that for 2019 I added 15 m of 6 mm 40-grade chain, between the 8 mm chain and the warp. That will give me 30 m of all-chain rode, albeit of two different weights, and the hope is that normally I will not need to deploy the warp; thus this will reduce my (currently) rather large swinging circle. This was after I had run the idea past the RYA, because even at 40-grade the 6 mm chain has a lower breaking strength than either the 8 mm chain or the warp; but Stuart Carutthers (their Cruising Manager) pointed out that it is still strong enough to lift just about the entire weight of the boat, so amply strong enough for any reasonably forseeable anchoring load.

During the course of the 2019 season the system worked perfectly, I never once needed to deploy the warp as well, and I never felt that the boat had too much weight up forward; so it is a success.

Gaff rig, and to a lesser extent, specifically the gaff cutter rig.

I should qualify my comments with the warning that I am an enthusiast for gaff rig, particularly for a cruising boat, although I have also owned and loved a Bermudian-rigged yacht plus several (bermudian rigged) GP14 dinghies. To get the downside out of the way first, gaff rig is not at its best to windward, and not as efficient as Bermudian if you need to go to windward. However for this particular boat there is an issue of windward performance anyway because of the keel configuration, and I am not convinced that having gaff rig handicaps her windward performance much more than it would be handicapped by the keel configuration anyway.

Far better with many boats, and with this one in particular, is to try to avoid windward work, or to motor or motor-sail when you really need to make a passage to windward, or to delay the passage until the wind is more favourable.
In any case, it is famously said that “Gentlemen don’t go to windward”!

Having said that, in the early part of the 2011 season I had a two-day cruise in company with a Bermudian-rigged Skipper 17. We had three adults aboard, so the Privateer was well laden; they had only two. The first leg was downriver on the ebb, which happened also to be to windward. Winds were moderately light, and although we were sailing they initially used their iron topsail and so got ahead of us, but as soon as they switched off their motor we started to catch them up; we subsequently overtook them, and then for the rest of the day we were regularly having to mark time and wait for them to catch us up.

Wind strength was very variable; occasionally strong enough for me to pull down the first reef, but twice fell light enough for us to set the topsail. Since then I have on several occasions enjoyed beating to windward for modest periods, and have made satisfying progress, especially when I have had a favourable tide under me. And in 2015 I did
a 5-day cruise in company with a bermudian-rigged Privateer 20; on the first day it was no surprise that he very modestly had the legs on me when working to windward and I had the advantage when off the wind; what was much more surprising was that after the first day there was nothing to choose between us.

I have also on a handful of occasions had informal unofficial races against other small cruising yachts of similar size, and even to windward she has acquitted herself reasonably well. Specifically, in Milford Haven in 2017 she was a good match for a Drascombe while we were both beating to windward into Dale, and although a week or so later a bermudian-rigged 20-ft sloop in close company did eventually catch me and pass me (as I knew from outset she must eventually do) while we were both beating to windward down the Waterway she took about two miles to do so.

So in the right conditions she will still work to windward effectively. However, even in a yacht which sails like a witch to windward, that is not a comfortable mode of sailing, except in lighter winds and smooth seas. So for cruising, it is both faster and more comfortable to plan your cruise (where possible) so that windward work is unnecessary.

Off the wind, gaff rig really comes into its own. First, it is an immensely powerful and low stress rig. The centre of effort of the mainsail is lower than on a Bermudian sail of the same area, thus reduing the heeling moment; and (in comparison with most bermudian rigs, but not necessarily that on the Privateer) the mast is shorter and therefore
the shrouds are set lower (i.e. no cap shrouds running to the top of a very tall mast), so the shrouds are less vertical than for Bermudian rig. Thus for a given wind strength and sail area the stresses are smaller, so in rising winds a gaffer can carry full plain sail longer than a corresponding Bermudian yacht of the same sail area.

In light winds the sail area can then be enormously boosted by setting a topsail, and in ghosters it can be boosted yet again by setting a spare jib as a water sail below that nice long boom. Not for nothing are gaff-rig sailors inventive!

Gaff rig is also an immensely flexible rig, and the gaff cutter particularly so. The mainsail can be very easily depowered on a temporary basis by just “scandalising” it, by lowering the peak halliard and allowing the gaff to sag away; very useful if you need to briefly slow the boat down.

My crew for our Northumberland cruise in 2011 is a keen angler, and on several occasions he fished from the boat while we were sailing, and on some of those occasions he asked me to slow the boat down because we were travelling too fast to have any chance of catching anything. Nothing easier; just eased off the peak halliard and furled the jib, and we continued sailing on the same course but slowly enough for the fishing. And in my previous gaffer I have occasionally done it in what was then my home creek, which is narrow and tortuous, if on approaching an obstruction I have seen a boat coming towards me; slowing my boat down enabled me to ensure that he passed the obstruction first rather than us both arriving there simultaneously.

On passage I quite routinely heave-to for lunch by furling the jib, dropping the peak, backing the staysail, and putting the tiller down. That takes only seconds to do, and she then lies there beautifully docilely, while I enjoy a civilised lunch.

I have not experimented with reefed main plus topsail, but I do know that a few gaffers sail like that. When I was weather bound in Tenby Harbour in 2017 my first neighbouring yacht skipper had arrived in a Westerly Centaur, after a passage from Swansea in which he said they had taken a pasting. Since this was in conditions in which I had sought shelter, and he would have been going to windward with a Strong Wind Warning in place, and with wind-against-tide conditions, and with known overfalls to contend with, I can well believe that he would indeed have taken a pasting, despite the benefit of his larger size.

We briefly discussed his yacht, which replaced his previous long keel gaffer, which had a single keel. We then discussed options for moving on, and he made a very telling remark about my boat. In the context of seaworthiness, he said “You have the benefit of gaff rig. …. Much more manageable, and a more seamanlike rig.” Of course we are both enthusiasts for gaff rig, and I have long been known to extol its advantages (as well as its limitations) to anyone who will listen, but although I fully agree with this skipper I had never myself phrased it in those terms.

But of course he is absolutely right; most of the sail area is in the main (even on my boat with her large Yankee
jib), so either dumping sheet or letting go the peak halliard will very rapidly ease her in a squall, and when you let go the main halliards and haul on the throat downhaul you know that the sail is going to come down. Add to that the fact that it is a low stress rig, with the centre of effort lower than on a Bermudian rig (so less heeling moment), and it is a very manageable and flexible rig. As well as being great fun to handle.

Having said that, and agreed with him, if offered the choice when caught on a lee shore in deteriorating conditions and urgently needing to claw hard to windward to escape imminent danger, other things being equal I would choose a well found and well set up Bermudian rig any day of the week. But for that one situation only.

The cutter configuration has three benefits (at least);

  • The total headsail area is split between two sails which are each small enough not to need
    winches. Admittedly the big yankee jib is getting a bit borderline, especially for this
    septuagenarian, but I still manage it effectively without winches.
  • In stronger winds you have the option of using only one of the two headsails. She balances
    very nicely on reefed main plus staysail and reefed jib, and with all reefing lines led back to
    the cockpit that rig is wholly controllable without going on deck; even to the extent that if
    the wind rises too much you can get rid of everything, still without going on deck, and start
    motoring. And double reefed main and staysail only, with the jib furled, is a very snug rig
    indeed, with everything inboard.
  • The jib, being set on a bowsprit, is far enough forward to have very useful leverage if you
    want to back it when head to wind in order to force her head round. That can sometimes be
    very useful in leaving an awkward berth, for example.

Gaff rig is very rewarding in terms of being able to set it up and tweak it for the best possible set; lots of bits of string to pull! Standard drill is to raise or lower sail with the gaff either horizontal or just a little above horizontal. Then set up the throat halliard taut, to give good luff tension, and cleat it off. Then use the peak halliard to raise the gaff, and set it so that the creases just disappear; too much tension in the peak halliard and you will see creases from tack to head, too little and they will run from throat to clew, but with exactly the right tension the creases will disappear. The adjustment of the peak halliard needs (very) slight tweaking as you move from one point of sailing to another, to keep the sail setting well and without creases, but that is all part of the fun. And, of course, it looks superb.

For sheer fun, which is what we all do it for, there is little to beat gaff rig unless it be a really efficient and well set up Bermudian rig with all the gubbins – and until I passed the boat on to my godson I had that with my modern GP14.


A couple of unexpected practical points with the staysail, which are specific to the Privateer. Sheeting angle: I have recently had a new staysail made for me, and have found significant differences between that and its predecessor.

Original Staysail. When I first sailed my Privateer I found that the staysail leech was continually fluttering, partly due to an elderly sail with a stretched leech (since sorted), and partly due to a very poor sheeting angle (too near horizontal) giving insufficient leech tension, and I also found that there was far too much friction between staysail sheets and fairleads.

The latter turned out to be a design error, exacerbated by fittings which in my case were getting on for forty years old. The poor sheeting angle turned out to be due to the way I had initially rigged her; unfortunately after fifteen years or so owning my previous gaff cutter I thought that I already knew how to rig a gaff cutter and sail her, so I did not think to check the manufacturer’s literature until after I had sailed her a few times!

Unlike most boats the tack should not be attached at deck level. Instead, one should hoist the sail until the head is chock-a-block, and cleat off the halliard, and then bowse down the tack; if not using a furler, a small block and tackle at the tack may be helpful to ensure plenty of luff tension – before I fitted a furler I used to use a 3-part dinghy kicking strap for this purpose. This sets the sail a few inches higher, and this is just sufficient to give a good sheeting angle. The photographs in the manufacturer’s sales brochure clearly show her sailing with the staysail set a few inches up from the deck, and “mastheaded”, if only I had bothered to look!

It is essential for this that you use a reasonably non-stretch halliard. When I first set it up, using the halliard that came with the boat, as soon as I tensioned the block and tackle the halliard stretched and the tack came back down to deck level. A replacement halliard was the answer; no need to use dyneema, prestretched polyester is ample – but it must be the prestretched type.

If you use a furling system, which I personally like to have, then you still need to set the head of the sail as high as possible, but the method of tensioning the luff will depend on the details of the furling system.

New Staysail. In 2017 I had a brand new staysail made for me by Jekckells, with new roller reefing kit by Rob Helyar (his Mk. 2 system), because the original had been in my car when it was stolen in September 2016. After my experiences with its predecessor I fully expected to have to do a certain amount of tweaking of the sheeting angle for the new sail, but not a bit of it; it sets superbly, exactly “as is”, and with the furling drum mounted direct to the deck
fitting and the tack secured direct to the furling drum, and a small gap at the head of the sail.

So some of the previous issues may have been due to a clapped out elderly sail, and in any event it would seem to depend on precisely how the sail is cut.

Fairlead friction: for some reason known only to the designer he has set the fairleads (amidships, on the side deck) lined up fore-and-aft, i.e. with the axis athwartships. This means that the sheet has to make a right-angle turn as it enters the fairlead, and a second right-angle turn as it leaves, and then turns through yet another right angle as it passes through the second fairlead on the cockpit coaming; this lot is the cause of the excessive friction, and the effect is probably exacerbated by the fact that the cumulative effect of these sharp angles is exponential rather than linear.

One solution would be to replace the midships pair with fairleads aligned with their axes fore-and-aft. However
my solution, more convenient in terms of what kit I already had to hand, and arguably better, is to use those fairleads only as attachment points for securing single blocks aligned the correct way; very much less friction. I used a short length of 3mm dyneema, several turns of it, to secure the block to the fairlead, and after around seven seasons it still does not need to be replaced, so as well as being a very easy means of attachment I think that it is a satisfactory one.

I would expect that exactly the same problem would apply to the jib fairleads, except that on my boat I have never set the standard jib. With the big yankee, which is what I always use, reefed or otherwise, I lead the sheets direct to the fairleads on the cockpit coaming, so the problem does not arise.

Keel configuration.

This is one of the idiosynchratic features of the Privateer; an excellent idea, once you understand the designer’s intention, but unfortunately seriously flawed in its execution. This, rather than the rig, is the origin of the poor windward performance. However for cruising you can very often avoid the need for going to windward, by choosing the routes for those of your cruises which involve longer passages according to the wind direction, or alternatively wait for a fair wind, and there is excellent precedent for this; in the heyday of commercial sail that is precisely what the great sailing ships did as a matter of routine. If forced to go to windward for any distance, if progress is
disappointing you can always regard her as a motor-sailer and use the iron topsail for going to windward.

The unusual characteristics arise because the drop keel is incredibly far forward; indeed it is forward of the mast. That is very probably the result in part of the designer trying to minimise the intrusion of the case into the cabin space, which is of course a very laudable consideration.

The designer’s brief (in the manufacturer’s brochure, available on the site) is that you should forget everything you know about using a dinghy centreboard, and instead use it only as a trim tab to balance the aft skeg. It should be fully down only in exceptional circumstances, such as when sailing under headsails alone. On all other occasions it should be only part way down, typically only 50% or even less, and adjust the depth to produce balanced helm. Full keel with all sails set produces serious weather helm.

That is all well and good, and the facility to balance headsails alone and still sail to windward is an excellent and occasionally useful feature – as when leaving a mooring when it is necessary to leave downwind (perhaps because wind against tide), so the standard drill is to leave under headsails only and then at your leisure round up and hoist the main.

Unfortunately the flaw in the execution is that the aft skeg simply is not large enough. The result is that although she sails very well off the wind, she makes very considerable leeway when driving to windward. Either decide that you can live with this, and perhaps slightly improve it, or decide that this is an absolute bar to your purchase of this boat.

However one practical benefit of the small skeg is that when the boat dries out on a falling tide she sits almost upright, which is a major bonus for comfort aboard when cruising and living aboard, as also is the fact that the drop keel case does not intrude too seriously into the cabin space. In these matters, as with so many things, all boats are compromises; and one key question is where the lines of compromise are drawn, and how well or how badly this corresponds with your own wishes and requirements.

By way of possible small improvements, I have now completed 8 seasons with a redesigned and semi-balanced rudder blade, which possibly allows me just a little extra grip on the water, albeit right aft, which in turn possibly therefore allows me to deploy just a little more drop keel. However the main reason for the different rudder profile is that a semi-balanced rudder reduces the tiller loading, so I can afford to sail with slightly more weather helm than would otherwise be acceptable, which is a second factor allowing me to deploy a little more drop keel than perhaps I otherwise might. This rudder blade profile seems to work very well indeed, and the tiller load remains acceptably light.

Increasing the ballast:

From outset this was my intention, and I finally did it in time for the 2014 season. This transformed the boat for the better, and a number of other owners have done likewise and reported similar improvements.

I installed 50 kg of scrap lead beneath the cockpit sole, together with an additional 100 A-h lead acid battery in the cockpit, mounted inside a purpose made (and heavy) oak battery box which is firmly through bolted to the structure of the boat. The extra battery was because when I am cruising for extended periods I have a use for the extra capacity, and I discovered that there is not a great deal of difference in cost between scrap lead and a brand new lead acid battery – so some of the additional ballast which I was seeking to install might as well earn its keep in a second capacity.

I then filled the remainder of the space beneath the cockpit sole with bagged gravel; specifically “small rounded
stones” from B&Q, sold for laying decorative paths and driveways, bagged into “sausages” formed by putting 1/3 of a bag at a time into rubble sacks which were then rolled up into sausage shapes and then bound with gaffer tape. In total, I reckon that I added almost 150 kg of ballast as a minimum, and my estimates of the individual masses (where not directly measured) were deliberately at the lower end of the range.

However three points should be noted. First, a great deal of my sailing is single-handed, and the designer specifically recommends adding ballast beneath the cockpit sole if single-handing; she is designed to sail to her marks with a family (two adults and two teenagers) in the cockpit.

Second, it appears that the designer subsequently recognised that the original design is too light, as it appears that later Privateers have permanent built-in ballast beneath the cabin sole, while the early ones (including mine) do not.

And, although she is light for her size, any significant increase in ballast would put the cockpit drain underwater even when empty and lying at moorings. Thus the cockpit drain becomes usable only when the boat is ashore, possibly indeed even without any added ballast; when afloat the cockpit can be emptied only by means of a bailer or a pump.

Her freeboard is only small, but adequate and commensurate with the size of the boat, and is not significantly eroded by additional ballast (within reason). My own Privateer, fully loaded for extended cruising and with the added ballast (estimated to be at least 160 kg, and that may be an under-estimate) and with myself aboard has a measured displacement of around 1500 kg, and a total towing mass when on her trailer (still fully loaded for extended cruising, fully fuelled and watered, and with the outboard and all gear aboard the boat) of a little under 2 tonnes.

That towing mass is well within the capacity of my Landrover, but would be excessive for a conventional car; in the latter case some of the load would need to be offloaded from the boat into the car, and perhaps tow with minimal fuel and water and food and liquor aboard, and stock up only on arrival.

Living Accommodation:

Limited!  If you are trading up from a dinghy you will probably find it luxurious; I have traded down from bigger yachts, and find it very cramped by comparison, although I still manage to live aboard in a reasonable degree of comfort and civilisation.

It is probably par for the course as compared with other small yachts of similar size, and with very careful organisation of the interior space it is possible to manage reasonably well. The drop keel box necessarily intrudes into the cabin space, the loo is totally unscreened and awkward to use (gentlemen will find it easier to sit for both functions, otherwise “number one” involves very awkward kneeling, and I have recently reverted to very largely using “bucket and chuck it”), I doubt whether it is viable to create a usable fixed chart table or dining table, the galley space is limited, and as standard there is no sink and no plumbed water. Note however that at least one owner has provided the latter, in the course of refitting the interior, by choosing to scrap the loo. And I have invested in an Omnia stovetop oven, which works acceptably; for me, the oven is perhaps the single most used cooking appliance after the kettle.

Accommodation reminds me of Adlard Coles’s description of the accommodation in the Tumlare class, his first yacht, “in which one person can live in reasonable comfort, two in mutual
tolerance, and three in bitter enmity!”

Overall Assessment

Having said all that, overall I still like my Privateer, warts and all; she ticks a lot of boxes for me, at an affordable price, and much as I would like a larger boat when I am actually on the water this one is quite large enough for me to launch and recover single-handed.

On a purely cosmetic and personal satisfaction front, not only do I think the boat looks attractive, I like the fact that when I am away cruising it is by no means unusual for total strangers to compliment me on having a very attractive boat!

I did at one stage have a pipedream that one day – when I have first got my Privateer up to the standard that I would like in all respects, and when I feel able to afford it – I would like to trade up to a Cornish Crabber 24. However I also accept that for reasons of age I am starting to run out of time, and trading up is an expensive option which may well never happen – and especially so as I periodically sail other people’s larger yachts and that partly removes the need to own a bigger one of my own! And although I would be entirely happy to tow a Cornish Crabber 24 once I had her
actually on her trailer I am not sure that I would be happy to manage launching and recovering one on my own.