Chichester Harbour, on the south coast of England, is about as picturesque as they come, especially on a sunny, breezy day in June. Perched on the southerly side of harbour, on the north shore of a long peninsula, is the village of Itchenor, in which a boatbuilding facility has been growing steadily. I made my second visit in 13 months this week, and while the factory expansion continues, it seems to have been slowed up a little by the pressing need to keep building more boats. The company, named Northshore, has pushed into production some half a dozen models and nearly 70 new boats total in the last year, and almost all are part of their increasingly popular line, named Southerly—a unique double-rudder-designed sailboat that’s quick through the water, capable of long-distance sailing, and has the unique ability to enter shallow waters or even park in the mud, thanks to its unconventional ballasted swing keel.
Today I had a tour of the factory, which has expanded up the hill, visited the in-house design office, had a look at the new Southerly 49, which when finished will be introduced to the public at the Southampton (U.K.) Boat Show, and then went sailing on last year’s new model, the Southerly 38.
Claire Horsman, marketing manager, gave me the tour, and then Mark Williams, a company sales manager, took me sailing. The breeze immediately piped up into the 16- to 20-knot range, which unbeknownst to me gave Mark pause for concern. He wasn’t worried about the boat’s capabilities, but having had arthroscopic surgery on his shoulder a week earlier, he was a bit concerned about putting it to the test in a breeze. Fortunately, the boat was equipped for the occasion, with the optional electric winch on the cabintop, which we used to tuck in a reef, raise the main, and then sheet the self-tacking jib board flat. As we short-tacked out of the channel on a rising tide, Mark went forward to crank up the jib halyard and only then let on about his surgery. After that I tried to handle any tasks requiring significant exertion, but except for grinding in the mainsail a bit on one of the two winches just forward of the twin helms, there was little to do but sail the boat.
The 38 has a wide beam, drawn by designer Stephen Jones, who handles the basic lines of the smaller Southerly models. A year ago, I had sailed the 42 RST, drawn by Rob Humphreys, who now does most of the mid-sized Southerly designs, and I found the two very comparable, with fractionally rigged sailplans, balanced rudders, and performance-oriented keel shapes.
A bit lighter and a bit wider aft, the Jones design felt a shade more tender than the Humphreys, but thanks to the rudder configuration, the steering was always easy, even in the big gusts we experienced. The deck layout is similar, too, although the 38’s width, and the fact that the in-house design team led by Lester Davies moved the stanchions up onto the cap rails, noticeably opens up the working deck space.
The main point of difference from the 42 is the configuration of the interior layout. While the longer boat has a deck saloon area and nav station, very accessible to the cockpit, and a massive master stateroom aft, the 38 is more conventional—a lower, wide open saloon with a double-leaf table built around the top of the keel case. For one couple and anyone interested in doing bluewater sailing, a two- or three-cabin version of the 42 has more to offer, but for larger family crews and perhaps more coastal, performance sailing, I like the 38 a lot. And after checking out its two-cabin layout, I'd have to say that the size of the aft cabin probably beats any other in a boat of similar length, thanks in part to the lack of a center rudder post.
After six years of owning the company, Clare and her husband Lester Abbott have made steady improvements to the quality, performance, and reputation of the Southerly line. They are weathering the global recession with a reasonably full order book, and the fact that they only build to order has apparently helped keep their cash flow intact. Under construction during our tour were two 49-footers, big sisters to the bluewater 42 RST, new Humphreys’ designs that are the largest Southerly models yet. Visitors to the Southampton (U.K.) Boat Show will have a chance to step aboard one of the finished boats. And a year later, the 49s will be eclipsed by an Ed Dubois-designed 57-footer, currently beyond concept stage with tooling under construction. You can ask Clare for the concept drawings of the 65-footer, too, which to my eye begins to look like some of the Dubois superyachts; but all in good time. Northshore has been around for decades and is moving forward again at a good rate; but before the really big boats get underway, they may have to pause in the build process long enough to finish off the next addition to the factory.