Frequently asked questions

Frequently Asked Questions

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I see imported boats such as Beneteau and Bavaria advertised for around $250,000 “sail away”, why does the S&S 34 cost more?

It is a little like comparing a Hyundai to a Mercedes. The both perform the same basic function but to different standards of performance and durability. Most of the mass production imported boats are built down to a minimum price point. They use the minimum of materials, a specification that is just adequate for the intended purpose and fit the smallest winches and most basic equipment possible consistent with not too many breakages/warranty claims within the first few years. Many are built with chartering in mind, being sailed in light winds and at anchor every night. Generally such things as spinnaker winches, poles, extra halyards, folding propellers are extra. Those that are well built and well equipped will cost a lot more, usually around $300,000 when on the water fully equipped. Even then none are built to the standard of the new S&S 34, which uses materials and construction normally found only on custom race boats, such as vinylester resin and foam core construction throughout including the furniture (which then becomes an integral part of the boat structure, making it enormously strong).

This is not to say that the cheaper boats are bad – for costal cruising, twilighting and racing inshore they may be fine. However, the S&S 34 was designed as a serious blue water cruiser/racer, and the demands on construction and fittings are much higher. Owners expect to safely travel long distances. Many have completed Sydney-Hobart races and other offshore events. Lower quality fittings are not adequate. The rig needs to have ample safety margins for heavy weather.

A higher specification does cost more. The cheaper boats have winches which cost half as much. Top quality blocks cost up to three times more than basic ones. Cast iron for keels costs a few cents but lead now costs around $3 per kg. Polyester resin and glass mat is cheaper than vinylester Core-Cell construction.

However, having the cheapest specification is of no use when it doesn’t perform adequately or last the distance. Being built in Australia, the new S&S 34 offers premium quality for very little additional cost, as all of the price reflects build quality not transport and importation costs. You are also buying direct from the builder with no sales or agents fees. When true on the water prices are considered the S&S 34 cost is comparable with most imported boats. However, no other production boat can match the sailing qualities, seaworthiness or construction of the S&S 34. Very few if any can boast the proven history of so many voyages, race wins, circumnavigations and records, which count for far more than any specification sheet or sales promotion.

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What are the pros and cons of refurbishing a second hand boat vs building a new one?

This depends upon the extent to which you are prepared to accept second hand fittings and the extent of the refurbishment. Most second hand boats are around 30 years old and many do need quite a bit of work. If you can find one in good condition, are prepared to re-use some second hand fittings and do a lot of the work yourself, a refurbished second hand boat makes good sense and you could have a sound and functional boat for a very reasonable price. You may be lucky enough to come across a boat that has been well restored by a previous owner.

However, if you are intending a major refit, replacing mast, engine, fittings etc with new this will be expensive, and if the work is undertaken by a shipwright the cost may not be far short of a brand new boat. A large part of the cost of a boat is in the rig, engine and fittings as opposed to hull and deck. A new boat will usually be more expensive, but the difference may be as little as $50-100,000 compared to a professional total refit of an older boat. This difference must be weighed against the brand new hull and deck structure, greater strength and lighter weight of a new boat. Depreciation may also be a consideration, as when selling it will probably be harder to recoup the money spent on refitting an old boat compared to a new one. In the long run all S&S 34’s hold their value well (many are now selling for more than what they originally cost to build!).

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Why use vinylester resin?

Vinylester resin is used throughout construction as it is much stronger and less brittle than polyester. A strong, adhesive resin that doesn’t readily crack under strain is essential to get maximum advantage from the high tech foam core and cloths used in the layup. Vinylester is also very resistant to water penetration and therefore osmosis.

Epoxy resin is slightly better in strength than even vinylester, provided it is used absolutely correctly including proper post cure heat treatment. However, it is not easy to use correctly, there is little margin for error and it is much more expensive. There is little point in using it without also using very expensive carbon fibre cloths. The weight savings and performance benefits of using epoxy/carbon fibre over vinylester in the S&S34 are minimal, the safety margin is less and the costs are greater. For these reasons Gurit  recommended using vinylester rather than epoxy resin for the new S&S34.

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Why not have a carbon fibre mast?

There are a number of reasons why a carbon fibre mast is not standard. For a start, a good quality carbon mast (there is no point having anything else) would add to the cost of a finished boat. In addition, the S&S34 is designed to be a boat that can be readily cruised as well as raced and carbon fibre masts are still less desirable for cruising to many.  Insurance may also be an issue for long term cruisers. For those in Western Australia, where a mast hinge is normally required, this is very difficult to reliably engineer into a carbon fibre mast.

With the high ballast ratio of the S&S 34 and the relatively small mast of a 34′ yacht, the weight gains and the improvement in sailing performance using carbon fibre over a properly engineered alloy mast are relatively modest. For the racers, carbon also gives a rating increase, although in recent years this has reduced.

However, technology is advancing, the cost of carbon fibre is coming down and the production reliability is increasing.  It is possible that a carbon rig may be an option in the future.  For the best performance results, this would also need some weight reduction from the keel.  The overall weight reduction could be around 400kg, which along with the reduced weight aloft and greater righting moment  would improve performance to a small but significant extent, which could be worthwhile to a competitive racer.  Any potential owner interested in exploring this option should contact the builder.

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Why does the S&S 34 rate so well on handicap?

This comes back to the genius of Olin Stephens, arguably the 20th century’s greatest yacht designer. The S&S 34 was designed as a racing boat, incorporating Olin’s philosophy that she must be seaworthy and able to perform in all conditions. She was carefully designed to perform better than her leading dimensions would suggest. When heeled or under spinnaker her waterline length increases, allowing extra speed. Her keel was designed using years of experience with America’s Cup winning yachts to provide maximum stability and lift for its dimensions. The current “Mk2” keel is an improved S&S design drawing on further experience with the 12m America’s Cup yachts and results in even better performance and balance.

Although initially the racing rule was RORC, followed by IOR, then IMS and now IRC, all racing rules look at the basic measurements and adjust accordingly. The same qualities that made her a handicap winner years ago still hold true, and she remains very competitive under the IRC rules, as evidenced by her class 3rd in the 2007 Sydney-Hobart race and many recent major offshore trophies in Western Australia, including outright race wins against brand new, high tech racers up to 50′ in length.

Of course, she will not necessarily be a line honours contender, a purpose built grand prix race boat will be quicker, and a larger boat is quicker than a smaller one. However, this is not the intention, as many owners will want a boat that they can also safely and comfortably cruise or sail short-handed, and the purpose built racer cannot do this. The new S&S34 is designed to be a true cruiser-racer that will be fast, comfortable and safe for cruising, yet capable of winning races under IRC both in serious offshore races and in club racing.

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Why specify a twin spreader rig?

The strength of a mast relates to the strength (measured as stiffness) of the mast section and the length of unsupported mast sections. Having 2 sets of spreaders reduces these section lengths and means that for the same strength the mast does not need to be as large or heavy. This translates into less heeling, less pitching and more speed. The disadvantage is the added cost of the extra set of shrouds and spreaders. As more spreaders are added there is a diminishing return and for the S&S 34 two pairs are optimal. The strength of the twin spreader and original single spreader rig is about the same, both have ample strength. Having the mast keel stepped adds about 35% to its structural strength, and therefore reserves of safety. Although it is possible to step the mast on the deck, this is not recommended and requires an extra heavy mast section to give the same safety margins as a keel stepped mast.

The mast height and sail area has been specified based on extensive experience. The current twin spreader rig is similar to the original Swarbrick “Mk2” rig but the boom is 200mm higher. This results in about 0.5m2 less mainsail area, but still significantly more than the original Mk 1 rig. It has been found to give optimal performance for both cruising and racing, and a good IRC rating. The original boom height was specified under RORC/IOR rules using a much shorter boom than the current design. By raising the boom there is no significant performance difference, but much less chance of being hit on the head!

This rig is very suitable for cruising for the reasons given above, and is identical to that of Huckleberry, Constellation and Blondie, all of whom have recorded impressive racing records under IRC.

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Doesn’t the twin spreader rig require a running backstay?

Runners were originally specified with the twin spreader “tall” rig. However, in practice they are very seldom used, even by those racing offshore and the rig has proven quite strong and reliable without runners. The current twin spreader rig has a slightly smaller mainsail area than that specified originally, as this has proven the fastest and best balanced layout so is equally if not less likely to require runners. It is possible that under some circumstances of long distance cruising or offshore racing in heavy weather that owners may opt for the additional security of a running backstay, and the masts are equipped with slots to fit the runners if required. When not in use they can be secured to the chainplates. They do provide the advantage of extra support to the mast in the event of a breakage in another part of the rigging, and represent an option that is not available in most other cruiser/racers.

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Isn’t it better to place the engine amidships as in the original S&S design?

Theoretically this is true. Weight placed as low and centrally as possible is good for performance. It made a big difference in 1968 when engines weighed 200+kg. However, thanks to modern engines weighing around 100kg the engine placement is not so critical. Due to the hull shape the under cockpit engine is almost the same height above the keel as a midships engine, and about the same distance from the centre of gravity and centre of buoyancy. By appropriate positioning of fuel and water tanks fore/aft balance can be maintained. The dinette layout also allows batteries to be placed lower and more centrally than a midships engine arrangement allows. The performance difference between a midships and under cockpit engine installation is small, but the under cockpit positioning allows for more flexibility and storage area in the saloon. However, for those who prefer a midships engine, this is also available as an option.

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