SAGA 35 • A scaled-down cruiser by Boby Perry offers performance, manageablility and long legs
The autumn wind came at last to Chesapeake Bay during the second week of December. And it came in force. I had just completed a season of light-air collegiate sailing, so I was excited to see streaks of blustery whitecaps roil the cold, gray-blue water below me as I drove across the Bay Bridge on my way into Annapolis, Md., to put a new Saga 35 through its paces. After a week of exams and endless term papers, the thought of flying spray and a buried leeward rail was pretty appealing. The clearing westerly breeze after the mild rain of the previous days brought with it blue skies and the first real bite of winter.
The Saga 35 is a cruising boat for couples looking to sail across oceans relatively quickly and cruise destinations in comfort and simplicity. Designer Bob Perry is well known in cruising circles as the man behind a storied selection of safe, comfortable boats. His Valiant 40 is among the most popular, well-traveled production boats in the world. For the Saga line, the goal was to create a fast and efficient cruising vessel using lessons learned from thousands of miles of ocean voyaging and developments in the open class. The result is a boat with a businesslike feel and the ability to maintain high average speeds with remarkably little effort from the crew.
Saga has derived concepts from the “cruiser-racer” school of thought and from singlehanded offshore racing and put them into cruising boats with relatively shallow underwater sections, deep bulbed keels and large spade rudders. The boats are easily driven and simple throughout. The idea behind the Saga 35 has been to apply these attributes to a small boat capable of sailing offshore. It is small enough for a couple to handle effectively on their own, but at the same time it remains a stable platform for that couple to live aboard. The overriding feel of the Saga is one of elegant simplicity and functionality.
CONSTRUCTION AND SYSTEMS
At 35’6”, hull length puts her at the diminutive end of the cruiser spectrum though not pegged there by any stretch. Saga wanted to take the success of the Saga 43 and shrink it down into a vessel about as small as most people would be comfortable taking offshore. The boats are built in Ontario by a number of former C&C builders, and the Saga line reflects the quality of these craftsmen in every boat through and through.
The 35 hull is balsa-cored, hand-laid using bi-directional E-glass. This is as light and as strong a build as possible without resorting to exotic (and expensive) materials such as Kevlar and carbon fiber. Within the hull there is a solid glass grid structure to maintain stiffness. The mast is stepped on the grid and the keel is bolted through it. The hull/deck joint is maintained with polyurethane adhesive and then bolted every four inches. Saga offers a 10-year warranty against osmosis.
A displacement/length (D/L) ratio of 151, combined with the 35’s large mainsail and a sail area/displacement (SA/D) mark of 20.3, indicates a light boat, easily driven in all conditions, with substantial horsepower aloft.
Electrical and mechanical systems are well thought-out and carefully put together. A 40-horsepower Yanmar engine located just beneath the companionway steps offers easy access. Lift off the cover and it sits out in the open with all its parts showing. Details such as a mounted work light and a standard oil-change pump and hose confirm an attention to practical detail that comes only from years of experience in the boatbuilding business. A bank of four golf-cart batteries with a separate starter battery, all stored securely under the aft bunk, anchors the electrical system. Behind the electrical distribution panel, wires are neatly organized with fuses easy to view and get at.
ABOVEDECKS AND RIG
On deck, the notions of simplicity and safety run throughout. There is no maintenance-intensive wood whatsoever, rather a fusion of nonskid and stainless steel. The massive bowsprit, the handrails and two large Dorades are made of indestructible stainless. The anchor is mounted at an angle so that dropping it doesn’t involve any lifting. The rig, what the Saga people call their “Variable Geometry Rig,” is a simple Solent affair with a large masthead genoa on the bowsprit and a small 100 percent self-tacking jib inside it. Both sails are roller-furled. A large full-batten mainsail with control lines led to the cockpit offers plenty of power.
In fact the rig makes a lot of sense for shorthanded sailors because it allows you to power up in light to medium air, then shorten down quickly and easily without leaving the cockpit if the need arises. The standard aluminum mast has moderately swept-back spreaders that obviate the need for problematic running backstays. The side stays terminate at chain plates located half-width on the side decks as opposed to full-width, a common trend among the newer cruisers. This allows the genoa track to be closer to the cabin sides for better sheeting angles sailing upwind.
All lines save the two jib halyards are led back to the cockpit, and because this is a small, light boat, most maneuvers and trim can be accomplished by hand. The cockpit is big and well protected for a boat of this size. The seats are long enough to stretch out on. The wheel is large enough to offer sensitive control, but of note it is virtually impossible to get at any of the sheets and lines from the helmsman’s position. The idea is that at sea the boat will be under autopilot most of the time anyway, rendering this problem arguably moot. Under the port cockpit seat is a very large sail locker with enough room to hold a small rolled-up inflatable dinghy or a valised liferaft. Also, there is an in-cockpit shower – always a good idea.
Our windy December day saw the Saga 35 through what most reasonable people would consider their comfortable cruising limits. I thought it was perfect. It was blowing a solid 20 knots and the gusts out of Annapolis easily broke 30. As Jerry Cann of Cann Yachts and I motorsailed out, we got the boat up to 7.8 knots with the Yanmar 40 and a two-blade prop. In the lee of the Naval Academy we hoisted the full main and turned downwind to broad reach out toward the Bay. Downwind, the 35’s easily driven nature became readily apparent. Boatspeed didn’t dip below 7.5 knots, and whenever a puff hit the boat responded eagerly. She would heel over a little and accelerate into the eights. She tracked along as steady as a rock with very little weather helm. The large rudder allows you to drive her down and maintain control.
When we turned upwind she showed the other side of her easily-driven nature. The two of us were able to roll
up the genoa, roll out the Solent and put a reef in the main without leaving the cockpit – and without a lot of effort. As we suspected, in 30-plus knots of apparent wind the single reef proved to be less than adequate. After we got the second reef in, however, she settled down dramatically and began to power upwind making a steady six knots.
We were sailing in very flat water so I didn’t get the opportunity to feel how she would respond to a seaway. In our conditions, however, the ride was steady and tracking spot on. Short-tacking home, the self-tending jib really showed its stuff. The only thing we had to do to tack was to throw the helm over, and with a little adjustment at the traveler the boat was powered up again on the new board. In my opinion, the only drawback to a self-tacking jib system is a bit of difficulty adjusting the sail shape to your liking. If we’d been able to trim the jib a little flatter, the upwind tacking angles would have improved a lot.
The interior is open with a light, airy feeling. Six large opening ports, two large Lewmar hatches and the Dorades should provide plenty of ventilation even in the steamiest of tropical harbors. The finish is in cherry, lighter than the standard teak of most traditional cruising boats. The companionway is flanked by a decent-size galley and small nav station. The galley is classic U-shaped with the two sinks forward. They are not exactly on centerline but drainage would only become a problem under the most extreme conditions. The sinks come with a back-up manual foot pump as standard.
I was impressed by the huge top-loading fridge/freezer. It runs off the 12-Volt system and is insulated well enough to make running the engine everyday hardly necessary. The plumbing also reflects careful attention to detail. Thru-hull fittings are clean and easily accessed beneath the floorboards; the floor panels have locking mechanisms to keep them in place if the boat rolls heavily. Storage throughout is quite adequate. There is not much in the way of bilge space, so most of the storage ends up under the settee seats and under the bunks. The wet hanging locker is hidden behind a large bank of shelves in front of the nav station. A very good solution.
The nav station is nicely done with good storage. The chart table itself is a little bit small by my reckoning, but on a boat of this size compromises have to be made. Behind the chart table bench there is a large double berth. It is designed as a guest bed but it is bigger than the forecabin berth and for a couple living aboard it might prove a better bunk. Your heads are right next to the engine box, however, so noise and heat must be factored into the mix.
A cherry table with drop leaves runs down the saloon’s centerline aft of the mast. The settee seats port and starboard are almost seven feet long and will be the best bunks at sea; lee cloths come standard with the boat. Handholds are everywhere as I discovered when I went below in search of my notebook while we were on our
ears sailing upwind. The single head is made from a single molded-plastic unit with neat cubbies for toilet paper and toiletries. The faucet doubles as a handheld shower.
The forecabin is designed as the master cabin and offers the best storage onboard. The double berth is large and comfortable. It’s not the Ritz but it would be quite comfortable at an anchorage just about anywhere.
The Saga 35 is a couple’s cruising boat in the truest sense. None of the gear aboard will be too heavy for one person to handle, and the forces on sheets and lines will never be more than can be handled by a lone watchkeeper. As noted, the sailplan can be reduced quickly and easily from the cockpit, so night journeys to the foredeck do not have to be part of the cruising plan – at least while under way.
These days, the average size of the boats that couples choose for cruising is growing at a steady rate – it’s not unusual to meet couples cruising the world in 55-footers. Yet there is something to be said for the simplicity and economy of smaller cruising fare. I can see the Saga 35 appealing to younger couples who may not have the budget for a larger boat – and may not require condominium-style creature comforts – and to older couples who no longer have the kids sailing with them and are downsizing to suit their own changing strengths and ambitions.
A vessel built to cross oceans safely and swiftly, the Saga 35 has what it takes to be a practical, sensible, modern cruising boat that happens also to be a heck of a lot of fun to sail.
Designer Robert Perry
LOD 35’6” (10.8 m.)
LWL 33’7” (10.3 m.)
Beam 10’9” (33.3 m.)
Draft (std. bulb) 5’1” (1.6 m.)
Ballast 5,100 lbs. (2,313 kgs.)
Displ. 12,810 lbs. (5,811 kgs.)
SA (100%) 696 sq. ft. (64.7 sq. m.)
Mast above water 52’6” (16.0 m.)
LPS 128 degrees
Fuel 45 gal. (170 ltr.)
Water 80 gal. (303 ltr.)
Holding 20 gal. (76 ltr.)
Auxiliary 40-hp Yanmar
Base Price $184,000
423 Lakeshore Road
Ontario L2R 7K6