Performance Reports

An Interesting and Affordable Cruising Boat Choice

An Interesting and Affordable Cruising Boat for First-Time Voyagers

“I want to go cruising now, don’t have a lot of money. What secondhand boats should I be looking at?” This is definitely in the top-10 list of questions potential voyagers ask us. During our 2008 voyage-diagonally across the Pacific from Ventura, California, to New Zealand-we stopped in only two places were other yachtsmen gathered. But the array of cruising yachts we saw there made for an interesting study. Yes, there were a lot of recently built boats in the 40- to 50-foot range with price tags ranging upward from $300,000. We also saw five catamarans, mostly very new ones in the 45- to 55-foot range. But liberally scattered among the fleet of 40 boats that came through the marina in Apia during our three-week stay, and the 80-plus boats we saw in Neiafu, Tonga, where we spent another month, were affordable secondhand cruisers ranging from a very modest 20-footer through the 26- to 40-foot range.

What is affordable? Three young people were earning their way as they cruised in an Alberg 30 they had bought for $22,000. One soon-to-be-married couple had set sail in a 25-year-old Mariner 32 they had purchased “ready to cruise, windvane and watermaker included,” for $40,000. Among the sailors we interviewed were four with affordable secondhand boats: a Cal 40 bought six years earlier for $40,000, a Rhodes Bounty II purchased for $68,000, a Catalina 36 that cost the owners $75,000, and an S&S-designed Yankee 38 that seemed a true bargain at $35,000.

As mentioned above, every respondent told of spending 25 to 35 percent of the boat’s purchase price to make it ready for a voyage across the Pacific. The affordable-boat-fleet owners tended to be closer to 35 percent. Were they as happy with their boats as those who had spent far more money for newer boats? It may just have been our impression, but they seemed to be more content with their choice (i.e., not yet looking toward “the next boat”), more carefree, and less concerned about money. More of the sailors in this group went out to join the local fun races in Neiafu. All definitely had lower expenses, far lower insurance premiums. In fact, three of these couples had chosen not to sell their homes and put the majority of their resources into a boat. Thus, since their boats represented only a limited portion of their assets, they did not feel they had to carry insurance for crossing oceans.

So now we’ll stick our necks out and answer the question: Which boat would we look at if we were in the market for a secondhand ocean cruiser? We definitely did see one among that 2008 fleet that would serve our purpose if we were looking for a cruising boat right now. It was the Yankee 38. Why? It has the pedigree of a good team of designers known for making sure the boat and its rig are strong. It is designed to go to windward well, to heave-to using a deeply reefed mainsail alone. It is modest in all its proportions-i.e., no long overhangs, a good long keel section (sure, we would prefer a full-length keel with keel-hung rudder, but compromises must be made). It has a hefty ballast-to-displacement ratio. It also sports a big spread of canvas with sufficient mast height and J measurement to carry generous light wind sails. And, at 15,500 pounds, it is a nice size and displacement for a couple to handle easily. Finally, a lot of these boats were built,1 so not only did the builders get the bugs worked out, there should be a reasonable choice available on the secondhand market. The usual caveats apply. We wouldn’t limit our search to only Yankee 38s or Catalina 38s but would look for others that could meet the same criteria. In fact, the Tartan 38 and Hughes 38 come from the same designer and period and have almost the same dimensions, so we would include them in our search. But, more important, we’d demand that a very careful survey be done by a surveyor who does not know the previous owner or the broker who is handling the sale of any yacht we were interested in buying.

Written by Lin and Larry Pardey

One owner of a Hughes 38 writes:                                                          “We’ve been in some nasty stuff, with up to 10′ seas and 45 knot winds. She handles like crap unless you’ve got a bit of sail up to steady her. Then it’s like she’s on rails and she just plows forward. Her underwater hull is excellent for dropping gently back down after coming off the top of a big wave. New flat bottom boats pound hard in big waves, but the Hughes 38 gives an excellent ride.

“Don’t worry about her 27 foot waterline. She will drop into her bow wave as she builds speed. Before you reach hull speed the water is at the transom. Therefore, the waterline grows with movement, allowing greater speed.”

“Olin Stevens, who designed the Hughes 38, was the lead developer of the IOR rule system.  I think he likely had her in mind when he developed the rules. Although long outdated, the IOR rules allowed for a design that is very easy to single-hand. Her mainsail is small for a 38′ boat, as she makes much of her power from the headsail. The mainsail is easy to hoist without help, and a roller furler makes simple work of any headsail. I run a 135% Genoa on a ProFurl C350. It’s excellent and ProFurl lets you take the furling line to a winch to furl it in under heavy winds.”

“The boat sails well on all points but is a bit cumbersome on a dead run. It will pull hard close hauled to 30 degrees off the wind.”

Another owner of a Hughes 38 writes:                                                                                               “I like the sea worthiness of SV_________.  She handles choppy seas and rides the swell nicer than some of the more modern boats.  The narrow beam helps with this.  Some of the negatives would be space in the cabin, but this doesn’t bother me and my better half.  We have space enough for a long distance trip.”

Yet another owner reports:                                                                                                                    “Although the typical S&S lines are not like the latest trends in hull shape she is a very easily driven hull, and a very seaworthy, proven design.  I have no problem handling this boat solo.”

An owner reports:  “One of the main reasons I fell for my Hughes 38 is because of it’s upwind ability, and it was affordable.  The classic S&S lines show up in many other seagoing designs.”   “(My Hughes 38) points like crazy”.  “I love my Hughes 38, it got me to Mexico, no problem.  Now I know why Capn. Fatty likes his so much.  Headroom is about 6’3″”

Some Hughes 38 Numbers:

IMS Certificate Limit Positive Stability: 118.2º                                                                                (minimum race standards – Whitbread: 125º, Hobart: 115º, PIYA: 105º)  IMS Stability Index: 124.6
Angle of vanishing stability (angle at which boat will roll over): 118.3º
PHRF Rating: 141 – 180  (difference possibly spinnaker vs non spinnaker)          
IOR Handicap Rating: 28.7 – 30.2
Calculated hull speed under power: 6.9 Kn (1.34×27^1/2) Calculated hull speed under sail: 7.9 Kn (1.34×35^1/2)

SA/D ratio: 15.8 (optimum 16 – 18, > 20 racing)
D/L ratio: 328 (optimum 100 – 400, >100 self-righting / < 200 racing)
Ted Brewer Comfort Factor ratio: 34 (optimum 30 – 40, < 30 racing)  
Comfort ratio = D ÷ (.65 x (.7 LWL + .3 LOA) x Beam↑1.33), where displacement is expressed in pounds, and length is expressed in feet.
Capsize risk ratio: 1.61 (optimum <1.8, > 2 extreme racing)
Velocity ratio: 1.06 (optimum 1.06, >1.14 racing)
LOA/Beam ratio: 3.72 (< 3 very beamy)
Roll acceleration: .014 G (> .06 poor offshore cruiser)
Roll period: 4.75 seconds (<4 stiff, >8 tender)
LWL/Beam WL ratio: 3.25 (optimum 3.4, <3 very beamy)
Ballast/Displacement ratio: .44 (optimum .4, >.5 very stiff)
Fineness coefficient: .67 (optimum .65 – .68, < .65 hull finer than normal at waterline)
Lb per in immersion: 804 lbs (weight required to sink boat 1”, PPI increases as hull sinks)
Moment to trim 1”: 954 lbs (force required to trim boat fore and aft 1”)
Calculated Cruising Speed/length ratio: 1.21 (optimum .9 – 1.3, > 1.4 racing)
Sail area/Wetted surface area ratio: 2.34 (optimum 2.2 – 2.4, > 2.5 good in light air)
Calculated engine power for offshore (displacement hull auxiliary):   31 hp

Notes      1.  A ballast of 6400 lbs is used because of the engine (400lbs) over the keel (6000lbs), and below the waterline.

2.  I used 14,500 lbs displacement as this is probably the weight in cruising trim.

Above specifications based on data courtesy of Robert Hess


A circumnavigator writes:                                                                                                                        “The Hughes 38 is a great design.  She sails like a dream in all conditions”  but adds  “(Hughes) built some terrible gunitted messes… a few of which leaked water right through the hull!  (The) hull to deck joint is a squished bike inner tube with no visible caulking!”  and   “Many of the Hughes 38s have balsa core problems, especially in the deck.  They all have rotten wood in their chainplate webs and rotten mast-steps as well.  All of them.”

Another owner writes:                                                                                                                                  “…but this boat is solid, balanced, tracks well and can take a beating on when sailing close to weather. My crew has failed well before the boat has any time she’s ever been pushed. And while most of my cruising is in the Long Island Sound,  the Sound can dish it out when the tide’s running opposite a 25 knot breeze – I’ve seen the waves stack up 6’+ and very close together. ”

Howard Hughes is reported to have said:   “More than 17 degrees of heel is wasted on most monohulls”

Someone said:  “The (late ’60’s to early ’70’s model) Hughes 38 is a really great sailing and well constructed S&S designed boat.”

The Hughes 38 has the bad habit of sailing on its anchor, unless there is windage aft such as a dodger, bimini, or riding sail.  This is characteristic of yachts that are good performers to windward.

How to heave to in a Hughes 38:

1.  Double reef the main, or raise a storm trysail.

2.  Put the boat hard on the wind.

3.  Roll up the (roller furling) jib or strike the jib totally.

4.  She should now be 45 degrees off the wind.

5.  You have four possible adjustments to improve the heave to:  Main sheet, traveler, topping lift and rudder.  Play with them to achieve to minimize hunting and forward speed,

6.  Use the topping lift to take stress off the leach of the sail and the sailtrack.

Email from S&S about a polar diagram for the Hughes 38:



Thank you for your interest in the Hughes 38 – S&S Design 1903.

Unfortunately, there is not currently a polar diagram available for this design. Should you desire to have one created, we could undertake this project, but there would be substantial costs involved as this design does not currently exist in the digital world that we work in today.

Please let me know if we can be of further assistance.

Best Regards,