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How to avoid expensive mistakes when you buy a new or second-hand yacht. 

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Icom IC-M35We review the Icom IC-M35 handheld.  Read the full review here.

GMDSS A User's Handbook

By Denise Bréhaut

GMDSS A user's handbook








The Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) provides a fast and efficient way of calling for assistance at sea, whatever the size of craft or its geographical position. Since it was first published, this book has helped explain the system for anyone using GMDSS and has been excellent pre-course reading for students.



SafaSail HatThe SafaSail Hard Hat looks just like a sailing cap, but will help protect you if you get a bang to the head.  See our review here

Sigma 33 just as happy cruising as racing

Sigma 33Cathy Brown reviews the Sigma 33

The Sigma 33 was a runaway success from the word go. Introduced at the end of the 70s, with the aim of making offshore racing affordable and accessible, David Thomas's brilliant design became firmly established as the definitive one design fleet throughout the 80s and 90s.
There were more than 300 boats racing regularly, and thanks to strict one design rules, and a hugely successful class association, it was impossible to buy your way to the front of what was a very competitive fleet. Everyone had the same sails, the same everything, and winning or not came down to the skills of helm and trimmers, teamwork and tactics - just as it should be.

But the true brilliance of this ground-breaking David Thomas design was that the boat did not just perform on the race course. She was conceived as a true cruiser racer, with comfortable accommodation and safe, seakeeping qualities to match her performance, and was just as well suited to a family holiday as a championship regatta.
In fact her spacious interior was so impressive, compared with other designs of the time, that quite a number of purely cruising versions (with a shorter, masthead rig and a slightly shallower keel) were commissioned to be used in Mediterranean holiday flotillas.
The Offshore One Design, with a fractional rig with swept back spreaders, which dispensed with the need for running backstays, was so well behaved that it seemed almost pointless to make such adjustments.
We owned a Sigma 33 from new for 16 years and loved nearly everything about her. We raced her with a full crew, and we cruised her thousands of miles two up, in good weather and bad, and she never put a foot wrong.
Of course, nothing is ever completely perfect. The worst thing about the Sigma is her wide flat bilge. If any water does get in, via the stern gland, the companionway, or by throwing wet spinnakers down below, when the boat heels it sloshes around a bit.
The other Achilles heel of the design is the mast step. The deck plate the mast sits on is subject to wear, and must be replaced every few seasons. But providing you keep an eye on it, you will not see the rig drop over the side, as happened a few times in the early days before the problem was diagnosed. But those two are the only things we didn't like about the boat. The fact that we kept her for so long shows how much there was to really love about her.
There are nominally seven berths, two in the forepeak (with removable infill), one quarter berth, a settee berth and a pilot berth to starboard, and a settee berth that converts into a double to port. You have to have seven berths because ideally you need a crew of seven to race the boat, but in fact seven people on board is rather too many. There's nowhere to put all their bags, for a start. So offshore we mostly raced six up, using the pilot berth as a luggage rack!
When cruising the ideal number sleeping on board is no more than four. Then there is enough stowage to get those bags unpacked. There's a roomy hanging locker, with separate spaces for wet and dry gear.
There's a workmanlike galley, with an oven with a grill and two burners, useful stowage lockers and a well-insulated cold box, but an on-board fridge was still a super-yacht luxury when the boat was designed. Many have since had the cold box adapted.
Hot water was offered as an optional extra, but racing purists did without in the name of weight saving, so many boats still just have cold water, delivered by hand or foot pump, as was the norm at the time. The heads compartment has a wash-basin, and a shower as well if hot water was specified.
There is a generous half-Admiralty chart table, with a comfortable perch for the navigator on the end of the quarter berth.
Older boats had a table which dropped down to form the base of the double bunk conversion. More recent ones had a rather smarter table with drop down leaves and a slide-out bunk conversion.
By today's standards, the Sigma hull has a lot of wasted space behind the engine. Where now designers would want to squeeze in a couple of after cabins, the Sigma has quite a tapered stern. But that streamlined shape contributes to her sparkling sailing performance and general sea kindliness. She is a delight to sail, pointing high and easy to get in the groove upwind, fast and balanced downwind, and never very heavy on the helm on even the broadest reach – given a reasonable mainsheet trimmer.
Designed to race, the boat has a huge, easily worked cockpit, with wide coamings angled to make sitting out comfortable, and spacious side decks. The mainsheet and traveller cut the cockpit in two, which might be anathema to today's “easy to sail” philosophy, but does mean you have the controls just where you need them. Most lines come back to the cockpit, (there is a winch underneath the boom for reefing lines) and the big cockpit winches and banks of jammers designed for efficient round the cans racing make for truly easy handling when cruising short-handed.
And although that is perhaps how she is best known, the Sigma 33 is not just a round the cans specialist. The boat has a proven offshore pedigree. One of the earliest safely completed the notorious 1979 Fastnet race. Many have been major prize-winners in RORC races. Several have crossed the Atlantic and at least two are known to have completed circumnavigations.
It all helps to explain why the boats are still clinging on to their status as a significant one design fleet, 30 years after they first appeared. And why many have been taken out of class, and found new life as family cruisers, with the addition of roller furling gear, fridges, heating and the like.
Originally fitted with Volvo MD7 and then 2002 18 hp two-cylinder diesel engines,  driving a two-bladed folding propeller through a conventional shaft drive, the Sigma is well behaved under power, cruising economically at just under six knots, but the racing prop means care is needed when manoeuvring astern!
It is true that Sigmas were to some extent built down to a price: the original sailaway package, complete with six sails and even fenders and warps, represented remarkable value for money. But by today's standards the boats, built by Marine Projects in Plympton, were almost over-engineered, and provided they have been well maintained, they have kept their value.
Expect to pay between £20,000 and £30,000 according to condition and inventory – and whether engine and electronics are original or updated. Either way, these modern classics still represent a seriously good bargain for anyone looking for a boat to combine cruising and racing - or just to do one or the other, equally brilliantly.
Vital statistics:
LOA 33’
LWL 26’2”
Draft 5’8”
Beam 10’5”

The Sigma 33 is an evergreen favourite with very good reason. If you value sailing performance above creature comforts, she still knocks most of today's production cruisers into a cocked hat. If you are buying one today you may have to spend a bit on updates, but she will repay time and effort put into her many times over.

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