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Nicholson 32: an ocean-going pedigree that lasts

  • Duncan Kent
  • March 8, 2021

Built entirely out of GRP, the Nicholson 32’s ocean-going pedigree remains desirable to this day, says Duncan Kent

Nicholson 32 'Beduin' running past Ventisquero Italia of Cordillera Darwin, Brazo Noroeste of Beagle Channel, Tierra del Fuego, Chile

A long keel and heavy displacement makes the Nicholson 32 ideal for coastal and offshore cruising. Credit: Genevieve Leaper

Product Overview


The primary design considerations for the Nicholson 32 were to produce an easily handled yacht of moderate dimensions, capable of a sea-kindly sailing performance in all conditions.

She was to have the classic looks of a traditional wooden yacht but was in fact one of the first offshore cruisers to be built entirely out of GRP, to a high specification and enviable build quality.

A little history of the Nicholson 32

The Nicholson 32 was a development of the successful South Coast One Design (SCOD) and other proven Charles Nicholson designs like the nine-tonner, Jolina .

Charles’ son, Peter, believed demand for custom yachts was dwindling and glass-fibre production yachts were the future.

The Nicholson 32 had to meet three criteria.

It had to be about 32ft (9.7m) long, easy to build and cost less than £5,000 at the time.

The hulls were moulded by Halmatic in Portsmouth and mainly fitted out by Camper & Nicholson.

For maximum strength and integrity, the hull, deck, ballast, bulkheads and furniture were all bonded together.

Most have suffered from osmosis over the years and many will have been peeled, dried and re-gelled.

A yacht with a red sail cover

The Nicholson 32 was one of the first yachts designed for GRP production. Credit: Simon Braunholtz

Make sure the cost of any osmosis remedial work is reflected in the price.

The marque went through 11 model upgrades, including some quite major redesigns.

The 1963 Mk I models (1-6) had mahogany joinery and individually built furniture.

A few changes were made for the Mk II (7-10), most importantly aluminium spars.

A good many more additions were made to the Mk III (11-40) and the Mk IV yachts (41-87), including a cockpit sole engine hatch, U-bolt chainplates, aluminium framed windows and a teak interior.

By 1966, the Mk V boat (88-111) was in production with numerous enhancements to the engine compartment and a stainless-steel fuel tank.

Further refurbishments to the interior, including replacing the pilot berth with a pull-out double, denoted the Mk VI (112-147) and Mk VII (148-190) yachts, while the Mk VIII (191-236) models had new windows and hatches.

There was no Mk IX but the Mk X (237-329) underwent major modernisation and restyling.

The freeboard was raised 3in/75mm, enabling the coachroof to be lowered and the windows redesigned.

Her cockpit was enlarged by removing the afterdeck, increasing her length to 10m/33ft, and the offset companionway was moved to the centreline.

Myriad other modifications were incorporated, including new scuppers, bow roller, locker drains and handrails, a better 12-volt electrical system and the interior was again updated.

In 1977, Halmatic built another 40 Mk XI models, after modifications to make it cheaper to build.

They introduced GRP furniture modules, a restyled galley, a quarterberth behind a forward-facing chart table and optional wheel steering.

Down below on the Nicholson 32

Early models had a basic layout.

The positioning of the water and fuel tanks above the keel left plenty of stowage beneath the bunks.

She had comfortable twin berths in the forepeak and two 1.93m/6ft 4in straight settees in the saloon, plus a pilot berth above the port settee.

From the Mk IV the latter was removed and replaced by a double, formed by sliding a board out from under the settee.

It wasn’t until the Mk X model that she gained a quarterberth.

The heads were forward of the saloon, with a sink opposite.

Sliding both forecabin and saloon doors closed gave privacy and plenty of room for washing.

A galley on a yacht

The galley on older models is basic with a single sink. Credit: Bob Aylott

The original galley was pretty rudimentary, with a non-gimballing Primus stove and a single sink with hand-pumped cold water.

Stowage was reasonable, though, and most will have been upgraded by owners.

Headroom is 1.83m/6ft throughout the saloon/galley area.

The chart table was originally a longitudinal, stand-at affair, but was later (Mk X+) moved to port, turned sideways and used the settee as a seat.

That allowed the galley to be enlarged to take a gimballed cooker. On deck Her cockpit is roomy and high coamings keep the spray out and crew in.

Stepping out onto the side decks is safe as they are wide and uncluttered.

The coachroof-mounted handrails are well within reach as far as the shrouds and her raised, teak-capped gunwales provide good foot bracing.

There were originally difficulties with moulded-in stanchion sockets, causing the decks to craze if any substantial sideways pressure was put on them.

A nav station on a Mk IV Nicholson 32

The MK IV has a teak interior. Credit: Bob Aylott

Separate metal bases were used in later models.

The foredeck is roomy thanks to her broad shoulders and pre-1972 models have a moulded recess to accommodate a Danforth anchor.

This intruded into the forecabin quite noticeably, along with the chain pipe taking the rode down to a chain locker beneath the bunk.

The recess was finally removed in the Mk XI and replaced with a self-stowing, stemhead anchor roller for a CQR.

Her running rigging is simple, with long genoa tracks atop the bulwarks leading to large primary winches aside the helm.

Pre-Mk X models had the mainsheet track along the afterdeck, which was later moved to just abaft the rudder stock.

Rig & sails

All models were masthead rigged with a relatively short mast and a full set of stout shrouds.

Silver anodised masts from Proctors were installed from the Mk II model onwards and had a single set of straight spreaders.

 'Beduin' heavy weather in Canal Cockburn, Patagonia, Chile

Every model is masthead rigged. Credit: Genevieve Leaper

She came with several hanked-on headsails at first, but a furling genoa was later provided as standard instead.

Some had an optional inner forestay (often removeable) for rigging a storm jib.

Her well-balanced seakeeping qualities and comfortable motion were accomplished by giving her a heavy displacement, long overhangs, a full keel and a 50% ballast ratio.

A 24ft waterline, broad shoulders and high wetted surface area means she isn’t particularly quick in modern terms, especially in light airs, but that said she is stiff, stands up well to full sail, is relatively light on the helm and exhibits very little leeway.

Her bluff bows and relatively broad shoulders can make her baulk sailing close-hauled in heavy seas, but usually freeing her off a few degrees cures the problem.

A yacht with white sails sailing

The stepped coachroof on the Mk IV gives extra headroom. Credit: Bob Aylott

Her buoyant bow sections can produce a tendency to yaw downwind, so many advise adding some ballast up forward.

The combination of her short mast, hefty lead ballast, full keel and buoyant hull means she rarely heels beyond a comfortable ‘lean’.

Her barn door-style rudder can induce a little weather helm when pushed, but in mitigation the rudder never loses its bite, meaning she’s unlikely to broach in big seas.

Under power

Originally a 29hp diesel Watermota Sea Panther provided the power.

Like all long-keelers the Nicholson 32 was awful going astern under power.

The trick was to build up a little speed some way off where you wanted to end up and then knock it out of gear using the speed through the water to steer.

Too much speed, though, and the tiller would be ripped out of your hands!

Owners’ experiences

S/Y Fals Cappa (Mk VII, HN 171, LD 1969)

Alan Thorne, 63, has owned the five berth Mk VII model for 10 years and says she’s a delight to sail.

Under his ownership he has carried out numerous improvements, including upgrading the headsail winches to self-tailing, adding spinnaker winches and Aries wind vane steering, plus many of the usual upgrades to modernise the electronics.

He has also removed the furling headsail in favour of hank-on sails.

hank-on sails on a yacht

Fals Cappa has hank-on sails. Credit: Alan Thorne

Fals Cappa had already had her engine replaced when he purchased her.

‘I have found no faults in the design or construction,’ he notes.

Now widowed, he sails singlehanded along the East and South Coast, as well as to France, Belgium and Holland.

Asked how she sails, Alan says: ‘Wonderful! She sails like a dinghy, beautifully balanced, secure and reassuring in all sea conditions that I’ve encountered. Cuts through waves while other yachts are slamming or rounding up.

‘With an autopilot and wind vane a Nicholson 32 is a delight to sail single-handed. During the past couple of years, I have raced her single-handed too and thoroughly enjoyed it, although changing hank-on headsails mid-race is a tad exciting on short legs!’

S/Y Ballyhoo (Mk VIII, HN 203, LD 1970)

Sandy, 76 and Josephine, 72 Tyndale-Biscoe have owned Ballyhoo since 1999, and now keep her in Falmouth.

The couple both learned to sail dinghies as children.

Sandy also sailed the RNE Manadon college’s Morgan Giles 43 yachts when he was in the Royal Navy.

‘We were given an Albacore after we married, but found that small children and large, high-performance dinghies do not really mix. So, after some years canalling in a narrowboat, we bought Vin Rosé , a British Folkboat with a doghouse,’ says Sandy.

The couple have also owned a Fisher 25 Freeward before buying Ballyhoo at the Lymington Used Boat Show.

A yacht anchored

The Nicholson 32 had 11 model upgrades. Credit: Sandy & Josephine Tyndale-Biscoe

‘She is, I think, unique in having a deck-stepped mast. We replaced her engine with a 24hp Beta Marine in 2014. Otherwise,’ Sandy says, ‘she is original. We have found no faults beyond the usual wear and tear common in any boat of her age.

‘ Ballyhoo has plenty of sail for the conditions where we sail. I generally use the Nº1 jib and take a reef above 12kts true wind. Once, during a Channel crossing in a westerly Force 6, the jib furler jammed, so we dropped the main and proceeded under genoa alone.

‘Unable to cross the Chichester Bar for three hours forced us to beat up the Solent for shelter. Discovering that Ballyhoo would sail to windward under genoa alone in such conditions gave us enormous confidence. I like the security of knowing that she is able to stand up to practically anything the weather can throw at her.’

S/Y Hy-Brasail (Mk IV, HN 85, LD 1965)

Simon Braunholtz, 62, has owned Hy-Brasail for eight years, in which time he has fitted a removable inner forestay and a diesel heater.

Before crossing the Atlantic, her previous owner led all lines into the cockpit to simplify reefing.

‘When I bought her there were leaky deck fittings and windows, which we fixed. Hy-Brasail has the pilot berth behind the port settee, which Simon says, ‘is an excellent berth for off-watch crew and extremely useful for stowing bags on passage.’

A flexible water tank in the forepeak feeds a foot-pump at the galley and the previous owner fitted a fridge.

She has a wind generator to keep the batteries topped up.’

For several years Simon kept Hy-Brasail in Scotland before moving her to Falmouth and finally Devon.

A yacht anchored in a sheltered bay

All lines on Hy-Brasail lead into the cockpit to simplify reefing. Credit: Simon Braunholtz

‘The Nicholson 32 is a lovely boat to sail. Her deep long hull with over three tonnes of lead ballast takes her through seas without bouncing around or slapping the water, although her low freeboard means the toe-rails sometimes get wet. She is comfortable for two, although comfort is a relative term. She was built at a time when people wanted adventure on the water, rather than a chilled Chardonnay tied to a pontoon.

‘The Bukh 24 engine has proven reliable, with regular maintenance. Motoring backwards is “interesting”, but I’ve become accustomed to it.’

Simon also owns a 1970 Mk VIII model, Splashdown (HN 212), moored on the west coast of Scotland.

‘The main difference is she has no pilot berth so the settee is set further back. The additional space makes her more comfortable than Hy-Brasail and the cabin table is larger.

‘She is equipped with radar, AIS, a chartplotter, wind generator and an Aries wind vane, which I have rebuilt. Being previously kept in the Mediterranean, she also has a hatch in the main cabin to improve airflow.’

What the experts say about the Nicholson 32

Nick Vass, Marine Surveyor B,Sc B,Ed HND FRINA MCMS DipMarSur YS

Nick Vass


A proper-looking yacht with more freeboard (and therefore dryer) than other Folkboat-inspired yachts such as the Contessa 32 and Twister.

A handsome boat with grown up gunwales and a proper long keel.

Joinery was made to a very high standard and these up-market yachts were equipped with good quality seacocks and deck furniture.

The Nicholson 32 enjoyed a very long production run and evolved through many models and updates.

The defect that I discover most frequently on them is osmosis.

Full-blown, proper inter-laminate osmosis and not the ‘almost osmosis’ that you find between the laminate and layers of gelcoat on a Westerly, for instance. I commonly find osmosis with other Halmatic boats, such as Nelson motor cruisers and pilot boats.

It could be that Halmatic used the same resins as Westerly at the time, which also suffer.

Continues below…

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Another theory is that, whilst obsessed with attaining and keeping Lloyds A1 Scantling Certification, Halmatic tended to over-consolidate the resins into the chopped strand glass-fibre matting and cloth, leaving them a little dry.

Saying that, just about all Nicholsons and Halmatic yachts that have suffered from blistering will have been treated by now.

If buying one, look out for blistering as epoxy treatment only tends to last around 10 years.

The last Nicholson 32 I surveyed still had its original Watermota Sea Panther 30hp engine.

It wouldn’t start so the broker called a young marine engineer to get it going.

He looked at me in disbelief when I told him it was a Ford Consul/Cortina petrol engine with a diesel cylinder head!

He thought that I was messing with him when I further explained that the starter motor was not powerful enough to get a diesel going so there was a special switch to join the batteries in series so they whacked out 24 volts.

Although Watermota engines are actually very good (the company is still making engines in Devon), most of these will have been replaced by now.

Deck joints and stem head fittings have been known to part on some models, but most are likely to have been rectified already.

Ben Sutcliffe-Davies, Marine Surveyor and full member of the Yacht Brokers Designers & Surveyors Association (YDSA)


Ben Sutcliffe- Davies has been in the marine industry for over 40 years as a long- time boat builder, has been surveying craft for over 20 years and is a Full Member of the YDSA.


I’ve had the pleasure of surveying many of these well-built yachts.

The issues of moisture are common in all of them although the ones I’ve dealt with haven’t been particularly deep, as most of the boats built by Halmatic had clear resins that generally don’t absorb moisture in the same way as pigmented resin.

As they are predominantly laminated from chop strand, any moisture will be held longer due to the short glass filament strands.

I’ve had no issues with the encapsulated fin keel and ballast incorporated within its lower forward production.

The GRP rudder was hung from the end of her keel moulding and suitably supported.

But I have had a few loose bronze cast shoes, and fastenings should be checked for moisture ingress.

Lastly, be aware that some older boats I’ve surveyed have had a gas locker that drains below the waterline, which will need a rethink.

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Practical Boat Owner

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Nicholson 32 review and test sail

  • Rupert Holmes
  • August 7, 2020

Rupert Holmes test sails the Nicholson 32, one of the most desirable early glassfibre yachts and still a great second-hand buy

nicholson 32 sailboat

(photo: Genevieve Leaper)

The Nicholson 32 was one of the first production-built GRP yachts of its size. It quickly gained a reputation for being an ultimate go-anywhere cruiser that was also fitted out to a high standard. Some 370 were built over an 18-year period, following the launch of the prototype in 1963, and examples have ventured to all parts of the globe.

Well known boats include Claire Francis’s Gulliver G , a 1966 model in which she completed her first solo Atlantic crossing in 1973.

More recently, Tony Curphey briefly became the oldest person to complete a non-stop circumnavigation via the Southern Ocean on board Nicola Deux when he completed the Longue Route last year.

Profile: Tony Curphey – 77,600 miles and still going strong!

At the same time, many Nic 32s have been used as excellent family cruisers.

Nicholson 32 – multiple versions and updates

The boat was the result of a partnership between pioneering glassfibre moulding company Halmatic and the Camper & Nicholson design office and shipyard. It was designed by Charles A Nicholson and his son Peter, whose family had an enviable reputation for yacht design, including America’s Cup challengers Shamrock and Endeavour , plus a long string of desirable custom ocean racing and cruising yachts.

Very heavy displacement was married to a high ballast ratio, slender beam and ‘a cod’s head and mackerel tail’ hull form. This shape, with full forward sections and relatively slender aft, had long been believed by British designers to produce a fast and sea kindly hull. And it creates more forecabin space than might be expected given the Nic 32’s relatively narrow overall beam.

In the early 1960s no one knew how strong glassfibre boats needed to be and construction is of massively thick chopped strand mat. It’s a crude construction by today’s standards, but benefits from being strong and easily repaired.

Part of the reason for the boat’s long-standing sales success was a constant stream of improvements, modifications and updates, with new versions launched for almost every London boat show during the 1960s.

Most of these new models reflected a large number of small changes and it was not until the advent of the MkX in 1972 that the boat was substantially changed. This version has an additional three inches of freeboard, the hull length increased to 33ft, and a more streamlined deck moulding. The result was a more modern looking boat, with additional space and a much higher standard of fit out than the earliest boats.

Our test boat Beduin is an extensively restored and upgraded 1964 example that has been owned by Aleko Stephan for more than 30 years. Before that she was his father’s boat, who bought her in 1981 when living in Belgium while Greece was ruled by a military junta. She was then sailed with the family through the European canals to the Gulf of Volos, in the north-west Aegean. The boat has been based there since 1982, but has cruised extensively.

nicholson 32 sailboat

Nicholson 32 Beduin off Patagonia, Chile: Powering upwind in a breeze. Photo: Genevieve Leaper

nicholson 32 sailboat

Beduin sailing off the coast of Limnos, Greece. Photo: Rupert Holmes

nicholson 32 sailboat

Nicholson 32 Beduin in the Falklands: Nicholson 32s have a reputation for being solid, go-anywhere cruisers. Photo: Genevieve Leaper

Beduin proudly wears battle scars accumulated in 26,000 miles of mostly single-handed sailing from Greece to the Pacific ocean, out via the Magellan Straits and back via the Beagle Channel and Falkland Islands, in 2015 to 2017.

nicholson 32 sailboat

Nicholson 32 Beduin at glacier in Beagle Channel, Chile. Photo: Aleko Stephan

It should be no surprise that such a well used boat of this age has had many refits.

In 2010-11 Aleko stripped the interior bare, even removing bulkheads and bunk fronts, before rebuilding the accommodation to a more open layout that better suits his needs.

Early Nicholson 32s were prone to osmosis and Beduin was no exception. When he first owned the boat she had already be suffering for several years, so he carried out an epoxy job himself, but now admits he didn’t fully understand what was necessary at the time. As a result the repairs failed some 12 years later, with water making its way right through the laminate in places.

The resulting rebuild, for which Aleko worked with friend and glassfibre specialist, Tim Preddy, saw more material ground away from the hull. It was then relaminated locally, before the entire lower part of the hull, from well above the waterline to the bottom of the keel , was wrapped in several layers of epoxy and woven glassfibre cloth.

Finally, they painstakingly faired the hull and repainted it.


Although the accommodation is very traditional in terms of layout, the big windows of the early Nicholson 32 models allow plenty of natural light in to the saloon. Later boats have smaller side windows but retain plenty of natural light, partly thanks to additional windows in the front of the coachroof, both in the saloon and in the forecabin.

Early boats had a relatively basic interior fit out, although the latest models were much improved. These had a very high standard of joinery in teak faced ply with solid cappings. Stowage on these boats was excellent, including plenty of smaller easy to access compartments.

The saloon of early boats had two settees, with a pilot berth outboard of one of them. However, this arrangement emphasised the boat’s narrow beam of only 9ft 3in.

By the late 1960s the layout changed to a single settee, plus a dinette arrangement opposite that could be converted to a second double berth.

Later on, the standard model reverted back to conventional settees, but these were pushed out further towards the sides of the hull, to create a greater feeling of space.

Mark XI boats, from 1977 onwards, had a glassfibre inner moulding that finished at the top of the bunks. This has generally worn well, even on boats that have had a period of poor maintenance, and also gives plenty of dry stowage.

On all models there’s space in the bilge for water and fuel tanks, which frees up space under the bunks for other items.

Right from the outset the full-width heads compartment between the saloon and forecabin was intended to be well appointed, with much use made of easily cleaned glassfibre mouldings. The level of fit-out here also improved with later versions, particularly the MkX and MkXI.

The full bow sections mean foot room for the forecabin’s double V-berths is far greater than that of most yachts of this size. With their extra freeboard, and the coachroof extending further forward, the MkX and MkXI have even more space here.

On the downside, in order to improve performance by keeping weight out of the bow, a lot of Nicholson 32s originally had the hawse pipe for the anchor chain led between the two forepeak berths. Not surprisingly many owners have found a way to re-route it.

Beduin now benefits from a complete interior overhaul. Aleko is a woodworker with an artist’s eye and stripped everything back to the bare hull ten years ago, replacing it with a more up-to-date layout. He used teak for the floor, galley and table, and cypress from a tree his father planted for the rest of the woodwork.

nicholson 32 sailboat

Aleko stripped Beduin bare before refitting her interior. Photo: Rupert Holmes

nicholson 32 sailboat

Pushing the settees out towards the side of the hull created a feeling of space. Photo: Genevieve Leaper

nicholson 32 sailboat

All models included a proper navigation station. Photo: Genevieve Leaper

nicholson 32 sailboat

Beduin ’s galley is deliberately kept simple. Photo: Genevieve Leaper.

As with the later boats, the settees are now further outboard, with the port one designed to pull out into a double. He also reconfigured the navigation station and chart table areas next to the companionway.

The accommodation forward of the mast has been truncated, to allow space for a big foredeck locker with two hatches in which to stow hank-on headsails.

nicholson 32 sailboat

Aleko added these two foredeck lockers for hanked-on headsails. Photo: Genevieve Leaper

The long and narrow cockpit has safe space for several crew to sit on benches each side, plus a more open area right aft. MkX and MkXI boats have a longer cockpit, but no aft deck. Cockpit stowage includes lockers under both side benches, plus a large lazarette aft.

nicholson 32 sailboat

The companionway is offset to starboard. Photo: Genevieve Leaper

Despite the boat’s narrow beam, side decks of both versions are of a decent width. Going forward from the cockpit is therefore easy, especially as deep bulwarks add to the sense of security and the coachroof mounted grab rails fall easily to hand.

Originally halyards and other lines were handled at the mast. This is still the case with Beduin , although some owners have led key controls back to the cockpit. The broader forward sections provide plenty of space on the foredeck. Different versions had different arrangements for anchor handling, including some with a foredeck locker shaped to fit the anchor, in addition to a chain locker.

The single-spreader masthead rig is well supported. Beduin ’s mast is deck stepped in a tabernacle, although some Nicholson 32s have keel-stepped spars.

Aleko has upgraded the original winches to modern Andersen units, including self-tailing primaries.

This is an area in which the Nicholson 32 has always been considered to excel. Of course, over the past 60 years boat design has taken huge strides forward and new models can be significantly faster. However, few are as well proven at sea as this boat.

When passage planning for ocean crossings Aleko estimated on 120 miles per day – equivalent to an average of five knots – but could easily exceed that figure on a good day.

nicholson 32 sailboat

Beduin off Patagonia, Chile. Photo: Genevieve Leaper

A comfortable motion, even in confused seas, is a positive feature of the design that is certainly not shared with many newer yachts.

On the downside, in common with other relatively narrow boats, the Nicholson 32 can have a tendency to roll downwind more than you would find on board modern yachts with a broad transom. The heavy displacement can also make for a wet ride, so a sprayhood is essential when close-hauled in a blow.

The keel-hung rudder has no balance area, so the helm is heavier than that of a fin-and-skeg or spade rudder, but the boat is still small enough to be easy to manage with tiller steering. Optional wheel steering was introduced with the MkXI version in 1977, but this was more of a fashion accessory than a necessity.

In addition to the directional stability conferred by the length of the keel, the rudder’s lack of balance area helps to keep the boat on course. The helm can therefore be left for short periods of time, especially with the wind forward of the beam, without the boat wandering dangerously off course.

The long keel and hefty displacement might suggest slow progress to windward, but experience suggests otherwise and locally Beduin has a reputation for being a very fast boat in all conditions.

Pilot guides for the Patagonian canals say it’s impossible to make acceptable ground against the winds and currents there. Yet, when the freshwater cooling pump of Beduin ’s engine packed up, Aleko was able to continue under sail by finding back eddies and then short tacking up the narrow ‘rivers’ of favourable stream.

Trying to squeeze up super close to the wind when close-hauled will never deliver good results in a long-keel boat. However, Beduin reliably tacks though a very respectable 90°, measured using the track on a chartplotter. Boat speed upwind is typically 5 to 6 knots in a range of wind strengths, depending on sea state, and Beduin can hold on to her full sail plan in winds of up to Force 5.

Bearing away onto a reach the boat can maintain average speeds of around 6.5 knots.

What about in very strong winds? Clearly Nicholson 32s are very capable boats in this respect and Tony Curphey certainly experienced extreme conditions in the Southern Ocean during his circumnavigation.

Beduin doesn’t have wind instruments, so Aleko doesn’t know for sure the strongest winds he experienced on his trip to South America, but says: “I can only guess according to the height of waves, the flying spray and a wish to have ear plugs, but I would estimate Force 10 Beaufort.”

However, it must be remembered that no small boat is invincible. Golden Globe Race competitor Loïc LePage, for instance, lost the rig of his Nicholson 32 Laaland 600 miles off the coast of Australia. With the rig having punched a hole in the boat he was forced to abandon her.

Under power

Given the long production run it’s hardly surprising that a variety of engines were fitted when the boats were new. Most of these have been replaced with newer units, in Beduin ’s case a powerful 4-cylinder marinised 27hp Kubota engine. However, I also know of boats that have successfully been repowered with engines as small as the 18hp Yanmar 2GMF.

nicholson 32 sailboat

Beduin ‘s engine – a relatively powerful 4-cylinder Kubota. Photo: Genevieve Leaper

Handling under power is arguably is the Nicholson 32’s biggest weakness – the long keel and relatively small rudder makes for a large turning circle, while water flow over the keel stalls at a higher speed than modern yachts with keels of a more efficient aerofoil shape.

In reverse there’s lots of prop walk and the rudder shape means steerage way in reverse is only gained at relatively high speeds. Having said that, handling is predictable and can therefore always be allowed for when planning manoeuvres.

The Nicholson 32 dates from a different era, one in which 32ft was seen as being a largish yacht. Today there are clearly boats of this size that offer a lot more accommodation volume and are easier to squeeze into tight marina berths.

But the Nicholson 32 stands out from the crowd thanks to its well proven sea keeping qualities, classic lines, robust hull shape/keel configuration and high quality of original fit out.

There are few boats in this price range that so demonstrably offer the potential for go-anywhere passage making. These abilities are also just as relevant for those looking for a tough cruiser for less ambitious sailing.

SPECIFICATIONS LOA: 9.7m / 32ft 0in LWL: 7.31m / 24ft 0in Beam: 2.80m / 9ft 3in Draught: 1.60m / 5ft 6in Displacement: 6,100kg / 13,450lb Ballast: 3,000kg / 6,615lb Sail area: 55sq m / 594sq ft Price: £9,000-£22,000 www.nicholson32.org

Originally published in Practical Boat Owner magazine: Summer 2020


My second hand boat / Nicholson 32: a 9.75m sailboat capable of circumnavigating the globe

nicholson 32 sailboat

Benoit is the 5th owner of a Nicholson 32, a long-keel sloop with an excellent reputation. He tells us why he chose this yacht, as well as his first impressions.

Maxime Leriche

Benoit, a sailor who wants to sail the open seas

nicholson 32 sailboat

Originally from Martigues , Benoit has been sailing on all kinds of sailboats since his early childhood. For several years now, this liveaboard sailing instructor has owned a Karaté, with which he has completed a number of coastal cruises, as well as the local regatta circuit. But the desire to change boat in anticipation of ocean cruising is on his mind.

" I was looking for a simple, very seaworthy boat within a reasonable budget. What's more, I'm very sensitive to the lines of classic turn-of-the-century sloops. But a wooden hull is too demanding to maintain. After a long search, I settled on the Nicholson 32, which has both classic lines and an excellent reputation for seaworthiness ".

A solid sailboat with several round-the-world voyages under its belt

Built in 370 units, the Nicholson 32 is a long-keel sloop that has sailed the seas of the world. Designed by architect Charles A Nicholson and his son Peter, it was one of the first production boats built in polyester .

nicholson 32 sailboat

Seaworthy, simple and well-built, it offers excellent handling and satisfactory living space for its time. Several models have sailed non-stop around the world via the southern seas. It was also aboard this yacht that sailor Clare Francis crossed the North Atlantic in 1973.

A well-maintained 1966 model

nicholson 32 sailboat

After visiting a first model that didn't inspire him, Benoit came across an ad for a Nicholson 32 based in Spain . The asking price was at the upper end of the range, but this 1966 model was in very good condition.

nicholson 32 sailboat

What's more, it has benefited from a number of modifications that have been very well executed. All manoeuvring is back in the cockpit, an opening deck hatch has been installed forward of the coachroof, and a beautiful bow fitting allows the attachment of a stainless steel bowsprit. All the old Goiot winches have been replaced by self-tailings, and the yacht is equipped with a Volvo MD2B, which has been completely overhauled

nicholson 32 sailboat

After starting her career in Southampton, this Nicholson 32 sailed to La Rochelle , then Marseille , before arriving in Spain . Her 4 e owner restored her for 5 years. Osmosis treatments were carried out regularly, and the on-board equipment was meticulously maintained.

nicholson 32 sailboat

An invigorating grip

nicholson 32 sailboat

Benoit, accompanied by a crew member, picked up his boat in Segur de Calafell, south of Barcelona. This 240-mile winter delivery trip is an ideal trial run for getting to grips with a new sailboat . After a technical check-up and inventory , the duo cast off for Martigues .

nicholson 32 sailboat

Right from the start, they attacked a long downwind leg with a 20-25 knot SW'ly wind. Then, after a small phase of calm under engine, the crew made 35-40 knots on the beam in the Golfe du Lion, with a nice 3m swell, as Benoit tells us:

" We had quite a bit of air for a first time, but the boat behaves really well. Under pilot, she's super-stable and very well-balanced. We even reached 9 knots!

If I had to point out any shortcomings, the main one is the difficulty of maneuvering in reverse with this long keel and 7-ton displacement. I'm also going to add some lazy jacks to make it easier to hoist the mainsail. And living space is pretty limited for a 32-foot sailboat. "

However, the results of this introduction are still very positive. Benoit will continue to learn how to handle his new boat, and, why not, start dreaming of taking part in the next Golden Globe Race .

nicholson 32 sailboat

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The Nicholson 32 Association


Nicholson 32, the classics.

© Yachting World – April 1983 (p.58-62), and reproduced with permission

The Nicholson 32 heralded the advent of series boat production in glassfibre and began a revolution in building techniques, most of which are common practice today. We visited Halmatic and Camper and Nicholsons and we also spoke to Peter Nicholson while tracing the boat’s history. M.D. Duff, surveyor, Eric Adams and Yachting World deputy editor, David Glenn, inspected a Mk VIII and sailed one of the latest Mk XIs built by Halmatic.

There can be few greater or more extraordinary milestones in the evolution of small yacht building than the introduction of the Nicholson 32. Twenty years ago, her revolutionary glassfibre modular construction was completed in the unlikely surroundings of an aircraft hangar in Wymeswold in the heart of England. The design came from the fertile minds of Peter Nicholson and his father Charles, the former concentrating on accommodation and hull profile from a marketing point of view and the latter converting these ideas into practical material for the drawing board.

The 32 was a development of boats like the highly successful South Coast One-Design and other proven winners designed by Charles Nicholson, such as the 9-tonner Jolina and the 12-tonner Lothian, both built by Clare Lallow. It may seem incongruous that a company famous for building some of the largest wooden sailing boats of past and present, including the mighty J Class yachts, should plan the series production of a tiny 32-footer in glassflbre. Peter Nicholson, however, was convinced that the way ahead in small yacht construction lay in this material. The demand for one-off building was dwindling and he recognised the need for a range of standard boats. But he knew that Camper and Nicholsons didn’t have the means or the inclination to start production boatbuilding, so in 1960 he went to Halmatic Ltd, the moulders, a company then based in Portsmouth which had just been taken over by the giant Hunting Group.

Halmatic had already been approached by John G. Alden, the American designer, to build the Alden 34, 36 and 38. These boats, with glassflbre hulls and superbly finished, hardwood interiors, could be built far more cheaply in England. Their first joint project was the Nicholson 36 and, although only about 20 were built, they are still sought after today. The idea was to produce a glassfibre-hulled boat which was so well finished in wood that it would be difficult to tell that it was based on a moulding. About the only other glassfibre production boat then on the market was the Van de Stadt-designed Pioneer built by Southern Ocean Shipyards. This boat was all glassfibre, with no attempt made to disguise the mouldings. Nicholson thought his wood finish technique might be more attractive to those used to traditional boats and he was right.

The 36 was moulded by Halmatic and finished at Gosport, where operations were slow and unsuited to relatively mass production. Peter Nicholson felt that the logical progression from here was to what he termed the ‘people’s boat’. The design had to meet three criteria. It had to be about 32ft (9.7m) long, easy to build and cost less than £5,000. The Nicholson 32 was about to be born.

Since 1963, when the first 32, called Forerunner, was launched, 369 examples of the class have been built and the price has risen from £4,500 to about £30,000 depending on specification. There have been 11 Marks, each one including modifications and improvements. Mark X saw a major change, with a new deck and coachroof moulding and a 3in (70mm) addition to the freeboard of the hull moulding.

Apart from being a ‘first’ in new building techniques (always exemplified by the separate toilet moulding) the Nicholson 32 was the first British production boat to have thorough sales literature in the form of a glossy brochure, written by Peter Nicholson.

The relationship between Camper and Nicholsons and Halmatic was cemented with the 32 project. Dennis Porter completed the tooling work at Portsmouth in 1961 and, in the summer of 1962, the prototype mouldings were delivered to the fitting out yard in Wymeswold. This was the home of Field Aircraft Services, Marine Division, a company owned by the Hunting Group, which specialised in wooden aircraft building and fitting out the interiors of executive jets.

Modular glassfibre inner mouldings, an encapsulated lead keel and bonded-in bulkheads, made for the fast, strong construction of the 32. Norman ‘Nobby’ Hall was in charge of the Wymeswold operation and with Jerry Lines at Camper and Nicholsons in Gosport, they ironed out the bugs in the first six pre-production boats. The highly skilled fabric and woodworking specialists at Field Aircraft not only ensured a high standard of finish within the boats , but also tried their hand at spar and sailmaking. These efforts were shortlived and Campers soon used established manufacturers like Proctor and Ratsey.

Considering the number of production breakthroughs the 32 was making, there were surprisingly few problems as the first boats were put through their paces, possibly because optional extras and interior design changes were kept to a minimum.

Perhaps the worst fault was a leak which emanated from the chain plate fixing and transferred water right round the boat in the cavity formed by the deck to hull joint. As can be seen in the diagram, the deck and hull upstands formed the joint. Flat strap-type chain plates passed through the joint and were then simply bonded to the topsides. All was well while the rig was in tension, but when sailing upwind, the leeward shrouds would loosen off and allow water in through the joint. The water then flowed through the cavity formed by the additional interior bonding. To locate the leaks, Halmatic had to dye the water. The problem was eventually solved by injecting a mixture of resin and sawdust into the joint, which not only stopped the leaking, but also formed a solid base for the mahogany toe-rail. This leaking occurred in several of the early boats, but in 1966 (from boat number 41 onwards) the chain plate was completely changed. Instead, a U-bolt type was fitted, which went through the deck and picked up a massive (about 1in [25mm] diameter) stainless steel bar, which then passed through a strong web bonded to the inside of the topsides. This system still exists today, the beauty of it being that if the shrouds (or even the chain plates) have to be removed, the fixing can be dismantled with ease. The only other structural problem, which surveyor Eric Adams reported was a slight flexing and crazing of the hull mouldings 200 to 210. A thinner but stronger laminate was used for a few boats, the flexing caused some superficial damage around the main bulkhead areas. These boats were then taken back to the yard, stiffened and made good.

The emotive subject of osmotic blistering is one which has certainly not escaped the Nicholson 32, but Eric Adams said that almost all boats with this problem had been treated successfully. He had found that there were more osmotic problems with younger boats, which might support Nobby Hall’s contention that it is not the building process which is at fault, but the application of new primers which react with gel coat surfaces. Mr Hall now believes that gel coats over five years old are incapable of accepting self- etching primers without letting the solvent right through into the glass laminate. Paint manufacturers nowadays discourage the use of primers like this, but in the past there has been an understandable temptation to apply primer once the antifouling has been removed.

In a brief chronicle of the history of all 11 marks of the Nicholson 32, it is worth looking at some of the major alterations made, beginning with standard engine changes. The installation until 1971 was the Watermota Sea Wolf engine, which developed 27hp (20kW) and drove a two-bladed 16in x 12in (460mm x 340mm) propeller on a 1in (25mm) bronze shaft. The 10hp (7.4kW) Sabb diesel was chosen as the standard engine installation from 1971 to 1973, although some people felt that this wasn’t powerful enough for the boat’s 6 ton displacement. In 1974, the standard was changed to the Watermota Sea Panther diesel, which developed 29hp (21.6kW) and swung the same prop as the Sea Wolf. There were options during the series production and these were the 16hp (12kW) Sabb diesel, 29hp Watermota Sea Panther (until 1973) and the 15hp (11.1kW) Volvo Penta MD2 diesel. The Sea Panther is still standard.

The Mark I version covered the preproduction batch of six boats, all launched in 1963, several going to owners of South Coast One-Designs. The unit-moulded furniture proved to be a success and other features met with immediate public approval. For instance, it was the first time a builder had moulded in stainless steel backing plates to take fixing bolts for deck fittings. Peter Nicholson was intent on selling a boat that was almost ready to sail away, so for the initial price £4,900 (the very first were sold for £4,500) the 32 was fully equipped. Only £10 was added to the prlce of the Mark II version, which covered boats seven to ten. Silver anodised masts from Proctors were stepped instead of the Field Aircraft and non-anodised Proctor versions. Problems with the moulded-in stanchion sockets caused concern. When sideways pressure was put on the stanchion, the gel coat would craze where it came into contact with the upright. Boats 11 to 40 were built mainly in 1965 with their deck joinery in teak instead of mahogany. It is interesting to note that the cost of teak was a mere 33 shillings/cu.ft. and that the equivalent amount today would be about £35. The recess in the foredeck to accommodate a Danforth anchor was also introduced at this stage and although it was another first in terms of stowage design, it intruded into the forecabin quite severely. However the idea survived until the new deck moulding was made in 1972. In fact, there were no less than 230 modifications made for the Mark III version, includlng the addition of white window trim to hide the rubber seals they were set in.

In 1966. Clare Francis bought the Nicholson 32 Gulliver G and her famous single-handed crossing of the Atlantlc, in 1973, did a great deal for the class. Gulliver G was one of the Mark IVs which covered boats number 41 to 87. The new Halmatic factories at Havant were finished in 1973 and the completion work on the 32 was transferred from Wymeswold to this new site in the same year. Oiled teak furniture was introduced on this Mark. The price at this stage was still just £5,475. In 1965, the number of scuppers was reduced from three to one each side which was insufficient, so the Mark V compromised at two, but increased their bore. Other modifications for this Mark included re-designed engine beds, which could take the Sea Wolf Sabb or Volvo. The beds consisted of stainless steel plates bonded into a girder-type glassfibre moulding, which also incorporated a great engine oil drip tray. The propeller aperture was increased to take the larger propeller of the Sabb. The major change in the Mark VI version, built during 1967/1968. was the removal of the pilot berth from the port side and the inclusion of a double, formed by pulling a section of the settee out towards the centreline. This made the main saloon much less cramped and gave the boat a simple, practical double berth. Mark VII was produced in 1969 and saw the prlce reach £6,260. but it was the Mark VIII in 1970/71 which underwent major refurbishment before the decision was made to re-mould the deck and completely re-design the interior. The VIII spanned boat numbers 191 to 236, with re-styled windows. CQR anchor stowage, the addition of the Canpa forehatch instead of the original solid moulding and a new anti-slip moulding amongst the changes. By 1971, the price had risen to £7,150 and although the 32 was still selling well, it was beginning to look old-fashioned alongside newer designs.

Improvements before the re-moulding included the fitting of Lewmar 40 sheet winches instead of the inefficient Canpa Es and changing the standard engine to the diesel Sea Panther, an economical unit, but complicated by a 24V starter motor which was incompatible with the boat’s main wiring. Eventually, a 12V system was designed for the starter, but not before many buyers took the Sabb option.

In 1972, the 32 underwent such fundamental re-design that the entire appearance of the boat changed. The main hull mouldings were retained (the hull is made in two halves) but the freeboard was increased by 3in (76mm) and alterations made to the stern gave her a ‘new’ overall length of 33ft (10m). The deck moulding was scrapped and the new version with re-styled and cleverly re-positioned windows was introduced. The offset (to starboard) companionway was replaced with one on the centreline. Cockpit coamings were made a lot deeper and without an after deck, and much more space was introduced forward of the steering position. Although tiller steering was standard and the wheel an extra, the latter became the most popular option when it was first offered in 1977, the launch date of Mark XI.

Changes down below saw an athwartships chart table moved to the port side . but the quarterberth just abaft this was not included until 1977. The galley was positioned on the starboard side and improvements were also made to the stemhead roller, cockpit drains, battery box, deck scuppers, sail locker drains and hatchboards.

Changes in the market place were happening so quickly that Camper and Nicholsons had already drawn up plans for a new boat, the 31, which first appeared in 1976. Camper and Nicholsons were sure that a new boat was needed to meet public demand, but with this move came Halmatic’s decision to withdraw the Nicholson 32 selling rights, so that they could market the boat themselves. There are 31 Mark Xl boats afloat at present and, despite changes aimed at cost reduction, the boat is still relatively highly priced at around £30,000, depending on specification. One interesting aspect which has kept the price high is the cost of lead. Unless a new hull moulding is designed, there is no alternative to the encapsulated lead keel. The same volume of iron would require the centre of gravity to be raised and would therefore ruin the balance of the boat, and if more metal was poured in, the sole would have to be raised and headroom would be lost. When the boat was first produced, lead cost about £30 a metric ton. A Nich 32’s keel would therefore work out at about £100. Today the cost has soared to a prohibitive £350 a ton …

The Mark XI saw the arrival of a glassfibre accommodation module which did much to improve the look of the boat, keep lockers dry and clean and allow further modification of the galley area. Other major changes were the introduction of the port side quarterberth and the removal of the intrusive anchor locker. This was replaced by a stemhead roller, which could carry a CQR anchor properly. Stock production of the 32 has now ceased. They can be built to order by Halmatic and are available in part assembly. According to Nobby Hall, many enquiries are still received, particularly from owners of existing boats.

An extremely active owners’ association is run by the secretary, Mrs Isobel Porter (note: in 1983) and there are many annual events which attract members. There are great advantages in joining such an association, not the least being a ten per cent discount on insurance premiums under a scheme run by Bowring Camper and Nicholsons Ltd.

Boats inspected Looking through the classified advertisements of yachting magazines and talking to the staff on the yacht broking side of Camper and Nicholsons, it is fair to say that a well equipped Mark XI boat in good condition should fetch from about £21,000 to £23,000. However, there was some evidence to show that prices had recently been lowered.

We inspected the Nicholson 32 Murmur, a Mark VIII built in 1970, which was laid up on hard standing at the Camper and Nicholsons site at Gosport. Eric noted that there was slight blistering just forward of the propeller aperture, noted the strongly attached rudder (he’s never found a troublesome one) and pointed out the neatly recessed cathodic protection anode fitting. This boat was fitted with a Sabb diesel and swung a two-bladed propeller on a shaft which showed almost no sign of any wear in its taiI bearing.

Some of the teak sheathing was coming away from the bulwark on the starboard side, but this could be repaired easiIy. The main problem up forward on this boat was the heavily crazed Canpa hatch, which Eric thought would need replacing. He also commented on the U-bolt chain plate fastenings which were made of a rounded section length of stainless steeI. He pointed out that where the clevis pin of a bottle screw bore against the U-bolt, the latter tended to groove and harden and he recommended that this should be regularly inspected. A neat point in this area was the provision of indelible labels screwed to the inside of the bulwark indicating forward, mid and after slinging positions.

The deck was equipped with well-sized guardrails at the right height, set in stanchions using the Lewmar-style sockets instead or the unsatisractory moulded-in sockets. We noted that the streamlined dorade vents on deck had survived throughout the development of the 32. The advantage or them is that their shape prevents ropes snagging. Although the old cockpit is relatively small, it still offers good protection, and has an attractive teak coaming. The laminated wooden tiller is well positioned and the mainsheet is out of the way on the small after deck. Good points include the moulded-in drains in the forward corners or the cockpit, the wooden sheet cleats and the moulded pedestals for the Canpa E winches. These winches would probably have to be repIaced with more efficient, modern equivalents.

Being a Mark VIII version, this boat could sleep five with two in the forecabin and three in the main saloon, using the port side pull-out double which replaced the pilot berth of the earlier versions. It was easy to get at the chain plate fixings in the lockers either side of the head compartment module and Eric Adams noticed a sIight leak on the by way of the starboard U-bolt fixing.

The conventional layout in the saloon made for easy movement fore and aft , and good points included the excellent centreline table, good locker space over the port hand berth and solid fiddles on the work surfaces. The classic U-shaped galley on the port side left little to be desired in terms of work space and seamanlike stowages for crockery, although there seemed to be a lack of locker space for food. The big problem with the cooker is the gas bottle stowage which is just to port of the engine compartment with no provison for overboard draining. Eric Adams strongly recommended that this be re-located in the cockpit.

This boat has an outboard facing chart table on the starboard side and just abaft, a spacious cool box. Although there are drip catches-cum-finger- grabs running the whole length or the saloon, beneath the windows there was a need for a more solid deckhead grabrail. Both the fuel and water tanks are shaped to fit into the deep bilge of the boat, sitting on top of the expensive but characteristic lead keel. Some of the electrical wiring looked in need of attention and battery stowage in one of the cockpit lockers could have been improved, although some effort had been made to secure the battery in the event of a knockdown. Eric Adams thought the boat was sound.

The boat we sailed was Emmbrook, a four-year-old Mark XI owned by Graham Bailey. Graham uses the boat for Channel cruising and even in the winter he drives to Gosport every week and sails if the weather is reasonable. The first owner of Emmbrook only kept her for six months. Graham said that this was his first boat and the Nicholson 32’s long, deep keel was one of the features which helped him to buy.

We sailed her on a bright, breezy day out of Gosport in a 15 to 25 knot east-south-easterly which allowed us to carry full main and a working jib. Fitted with Whitlock chain and cable wheel steering, she was a pleasing boat to sail upwind, although by modern standards she was not able to sail very close to the wind. Hard on the wind, we just managed to put the rail under, which was the limit of heel for maximum efficiency. She remained light on the helm, had an easy motion with no slamming and appeared to be stiff in the gusty conditions. We felt that a more powerful mainsheet arrangement would facilitate trimming. We were slightly undercanvassed for off wind work and the boat tended to yaw quite violently in the Solent chop. Indeed the 32s are renowned for being particularly buoyant right forward. She was equipped with a well worn suit of Butler Verner sails which set well on the simple rig. It is interesting to note that the rig has remained unchanged since the boat was designed.

There were major differences in the accommodation compared with Murmur and we thought Halmatic had done an excellent job finishing the interior. Points which were noticeable were the heavy deep fiddles on all work surfaces and the clever use of space, particularly in the chart table area. The forecabin had been greatly improved by the removal of the deck anchor locker. The trusty head compartment module has remained the same, although a mirrored glass locker door spoils the wash basin area. This boat had a complete inner moulding which made lockers clean and dry, helped to insulate the boat and assisted in the design of the galley. One thing we did notice while sailing was how quiet it was down below while the boat was sailing to windward.

The new deck moulding for the Mark X and XI has the slightly raised dog house section of the coachroof pushed further forward so that there is more standing headroom in the saloon. Also, forward facing windows in the doghouse and at the forward end of the coachroof let plenty of light into the cabin. There are only two coachroof windows each side. The port side settee in the main saloon converts easily into a double and the seat backs on both settees can be lifted up and secured to make useful stowage surfaces while sailing. The main table has remained largely unchanged, but the navigation area is to port with a spacious quarterberth running aft and the galley is to starboard. The gas bottle for the stove has been moved into a draining compartment in the cockpit as have the batteries, but we wondered whether these might be prone to salt water dousing as there was no seal on the wooden lid.

This boat was fitted with the 25hp (18.6kW) Watermota Sea Panther diesel and, although access had been somewhat restricted by the addition of the quarterberth, there was still just about enough room to reach most parts of the engine. Graham Bailey said that he gets 6 knots when cruising at about 1,700 rpm and 16 gallons (73 lit) of diesel give him adequate range.

Although big changes have been made in the cockpit design, there are still snags. For instance, when the excellent cockpit dodger is in position it is difficult to step over it and onto the side deck. However, when the dodger is down, there is a neat, moulded-in step to make the operation slightly easier . There are four cockpit drain outlets, which should be adequate for most eventualities, and a large sole opening which gives further access to the engine. There is a small hatch just forward of the steering pedestal which allows access to the shaft bearing.

With her extra freeboard, we don’t think the Mark X and XI look as good as the original boats, but other improvements have been well worthwhile and Halmatic certainly finish the boats beautifully. Although he’s selling Emmbrook, Graham Bailey is still ecstatic about the boat, a feeling which seems almost universally shared by all owners of Nicholson 32s.

Yachting World – April 1983

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  • Nicholson 32 Mk10

The Nicholson 32 Mk10 Sailboat Specs & Key Performance Indicators

The Nicholson 32 Mk 10, a heavy displacement long-keeled sloop, was designed by Charles Nicholson & Peter Nicholson and built in the UK by Halmatic Ltd.

A Nicholson 32 Mk 10 sailing at hull-speed in the Mediterranean

Published Specification for the Nicholson 32 Mk10

Underwater Profile:  Long keel

Hull Material:  GRP (Fibreglass)

Length Overall:  33'0" / 10.1m

Waterline Length:  24.0" / 7.3m

Beam:  9'3" / 2.8m

Draft:  5'6" / 1.7m

Rig Type:  Masthead sloop

Displacement:  12,200lb / 5,534kg

Designer:  Charles Nicholson & Peter Nicholson

Builder:  Halmatic Ltd (UK)

Year First Built:  1978

Year Last Built:  1981

Number Built:  ?

Owners Association:  The Nicholson 32 Association

Published Design Ratios for the Nicholson 32 Mk10

1. Sail Area/Displacement Ratio:  16.7

2. Ballast/Displacement Ratio:  49.2

3. Displacement/Length Ratio:  441

4. Comfort Ratio:  40.

5. Capsize Screening Formula:   1.55

read more about these all-revealing numbers...

Summary Analysis of the Design Ratios for the  Nicholson 32 Mk10

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1. A Sail Area/Displacement Ratio of 16.7 suggests that the Nicholson 32 Mk 10 will, in the right conditions, approach her maximum hull speed readily and satisfy the sailing performance expectations of most cruising sailors.

2. A Ballast/Displacement Ratio of 49.2 means that the Nicholson 32 Mk 10 will stand up well to her canvas in a blow, helping her to power through the waves.

3. A Displacement/Length Ratio of 441, tells us the Nicholson 32 Mk 10 is firmly in the ultra-heavy displacement category. Load her up as much as you like and her performance will be hardly affected, not that it was ever startling. Few if any sailboats are built to this displacement category these days - but they remain popular with some long-distance sailors.

4. Ted Brewer's Comfort Ratio of 40.9 suggests that crew comfort of a Nicholson 32 Mk 10 in a seaway is similar to what you would associate with the motion of a heavy bluewater cruising boat. Pitching and rolling will be well damped - your cup of coffee on the salon table stands a reasonable chance of staying there in most conditions.

5. The Capsize Screening Formula (CSF) of 1.55 tells us that a Nicholson 32 Mk 10 would be a safer choice of sailboat for an ocean passage than one with a CSF of more than 2.0. 

Cruisers' Questions...

How many Nicholson 32s were built and what are the main differences between the models?

According to the Nicholson 32 Association, 369 Nicholson 32s were built between 1963 and 1981. The boats went through 11 model upgrades, from Mk I to Mk XI, with various changes to the hull, deck, cockpit, rig, engine, interior and windows. Some of the most noticeable differences are the raised freeboard and lowered coachroof of the Mk X and XI models, the enlarged cockpit and centreline companionway of the Mk X models, and the different window shapes of the Mk I to VIII and Mk X and XI models.

What are the dimensions and specifications of the Nicholson 32?

The Nicholson 32 has a length overall of 9.75m (32ft) for the Mk I to IX models and 10m (33ft) for the Mk X and XI models. The beam is 2.82m (9ft 3in) and the draft is 1.68m (5ft 6in). The displacement is around 6.5 tonnes (14,330 lbs) and the ballast is around 3.2 tonnes (7,055 lbs). The sail area is around 46 sq m (495 sq ft).

How does the Nicholson 32 perform under sail and power?

The Nicholson 32 is a lovely boat to sail, with a sea-kindly motion, good stability and balance, and a moderate speed. It can handle rough weather well and has a good track record of ocean crossings. It is not very agile or fast in light winds or tight manoeuvres, but it can be improved with a larger genoa or a bowsprit. The original engine was a BMC 1.5 diesel with 35hp, which was adequate but noisy and smoky. Many owners have replaced it with more modern and reliable engines, such as Beta or Yanmar.

What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of owning a Nicholson 32?

Some of the advantages of owning a Nicholson 32 are:

  • It is a beautiful boat with classic lines and a timeless appeal.
  • It is well-built, strong and durable, with a high-quality finish.
  • It is comfortable and spacious inside, with a traditional layout and plenty of storage.
  • It is easy to handle and maintain, with simple systems and fittings.
  • It is affordable and holds its value well, with a loyal following and an active association.

Some of the disadvantages of owning a Nicholson 32 are:

  • It is prone to osmosis and may require peeling, drying and re-gelling.
  • It has a low freeboard and may take water over the toe-rails or windows in heavy seas.
  • It has a limited headroom of around 1.8m (5ft 11in) in the saloon and less in the forecabin.
  • It has a small cockpit that can be wet and cramped for more than two people.
  • It has a slow performance in light airs or upwind, especially with the original rig and engine.

What are some recommended upgrades for a Nicholson 32?

Some recommended upgrades for a Nicholson 32 may depend on the model and condition of the boat, but here are some general suggestions:

  • Replacing the original engine with a more modern and reliable one, such as Beta or Yanmar. This can improve the performance, fuel efficiency, noise and emissions of the boat.
  • Installing new winches or upgrading the existing ones to self-tailing or electric models. This can make handling the sails easier and safer, especially for short-handed sailing.
  • Adding a bowsprit or a larger genoa to increase the sail area and improve the light wind performance. This can also balance the helm and reduce weather helm.
  • Updating the electronics and navigation equipment, such as GPS, AIS, VHF, radar, autopilot, etc. This can enhance the safety, communication and convenience of the boat.
  • Renewing the upholstery and cushions, or adding more insulation and ventilation to the interior. This can make the boat more comfortable and cosy, especially for long-term cruising.

The above answers were drafted by sailboat-cruising.com using GPT-4 (OpenAI’s large-scale language-generation model) as a research assistant to develop source material; we believe them to be accurate to the best of our knowledge.

Other sailboats in the Nicholson range include:

A Nicholson 32 Mk8 sailboat on a mooring ball in the River Tamar, UK

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Nicholson 32 mk X - XI

The nicholson 32 mk x - xi is a 33.01ft masthead sloop designed by charles a. nicholson / peter nicholson and built in fiberglass by halmatic ltd. between 1972 and 1981., 132 units have been built., it accomodates 5 people in 1 cabins plus salon..

The Nicholson 32 mk X - XI is a heavy sailboat which is slightly under powered. It is very stable / stiff and has an excellent righting capability if capsized. It is best suited as a bluewater cruising boat. The fuel capacity is originally small. There is a short water supply range.

Nicholson 32 mk X - XI sailboat under sail

Nicholson 32 mk X - XI for sale elsewhere on the web:

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Nicholson 32 VS Endeavor 32


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Endeavor 32: Endeavour 32 - Sailboat Guide Nicholson 32: Nicholson 32 - Sailboat Guide Hello there, I'm wondering if these two have significant differences in terms of blue water/atlantic crossing/stormy weather? Is the one significantly safer? They both have very similar stats, and I know the stats don't say much by themselves. The significant difference between the two is draft length. 1.3m/4.2ft vs 1.7m/5.5ft. I wonder how this will effect ocean passages and dealing with stormy weather in practice? Is it comfort? Speed? Safety? All of the above? Or are the differences negligible to an experienced sailor? Better yet some insight from people who have sailed the two. I know the Nicholson has a long history as a successful blue water boat but the draft of the Endeavor 32 is very tempting if the blue water characteristics are mostly circumstantial. As most of the sailing will be coastal. Thanks~  


There is huge differences. The Endeavour was poorly constructed coastal cruiser. The Endeavour began life as a pretty nice Ted Irwin designed CCA era keel/centerboard racer-cruiser that Endeavour cheapened where they could. Nicholson 32's were a well constructed RORC Racer Cruiser which by any reasonable standard translates as a proportionately long over hang/short waterline, tender, poor tracking, poor roll and pitch motion, poor carrying capacity relative to displacement, cramped, slow and wet choice to use for a transatlantic passage. If you are an highly experienced, and skilled old school minded sailor, and you found a Nicholson that was not beat to death, you might think of the Nicholson 32 as a passable option. Otherwise, if the goal is to pick a good affordable choice for a transatlantic, the answer probably should be 'none of the above'. By comparison if you want to go old school you would be way ahead of the game with a Nicholson 31 or better yet a 35-1 which is a better choice for a heavy cruiser. Respectfully, Jeff  

RegisteredUser said: Jeff, In your opinion, do all 'old' boats just plain suck? Click to expand...


I’m not familiar with the Nicholson 32, but having owned and sailed and Endeavour 32 for the last 12 years (Florida east coast, Keys, and some Bahamas) I heartily agree with Jeff H that this isn’t the boat for an Atlantic crossing.  

bigdogandy said: I'm not familiar with the Nicholson 32, but having owned and sailed and Endeavour 32 for the last 12 years (Florida east coast, Keys, and some Bahamas) I heartily agree with Jeff H that this isn't the boat for an Atlantic crossing. Click to expand...
  • it just wasn't built ruggedly enough (hull to deck joint, chainplate design, sail controls, portlights, deck hatches, rudder & steering, etc.) to withstand the pounding it could take under prolonged gale conditions in the open ocean;
  • the cockpit is huge and doesn't drain well, and the bridge deck is fairly low, leaving the boat exposed to being swamped in heavy seas if you were to take a breaking wave over the stern; some of this can be mitigated with upgrading the cabin hatch boards and installing bigger cockpit drains, but those don't really solve the issue of the huge cockpit;
  • the interior isn't designed to accommodate safe stowage of gear and supplies under storm conditions (not that this couldn't be retrofitted and mitigated to a certain extent), and there aren't enough good handholds when the boat is really bucking around (I've only seen 8-10 foot seas and even there have been a bit challenged for safe entry
  • there isn't sufficient water tankage for a voyage like that without carrying way too many Jerry jugs on deck and also spending a lot of time praying for rain;
talmoc said: @Jeff_H Would you have other recommendations in the 30-32' range? And how would you describe the contrast between the Nicholson 32' vs Nicholson 31'? And in what areas? As I'm considering a pretty good deal on an old Nicholson 32'. Thoughts on the Pearson 30/32 or Bristol 29/32 ranges? Thanks~ Click to expand...


Coastal race boat is a relative term. N32 is a 1962 design and back then it was designed to be as fast a boat as it could be for the time. that would mean that it's just another 4 knot boat and if sailed well might be a 4.1 knot boat and might beat the other 4 knot boats of the time. the old wives tail that full keel boat are the only thing you can take into blue water was no longer valid back even as far back as the late 60's and 70's when much better designs were being sailed around the world. Some full keel boats sail OK but will never sail as well as some of the newer designs. full keel designs are a function of wood boat building technics and not a function of boats could be used for blue water sailing. if it is a requirement of ocean sailing then why do most of the newest ocean sailing boat Like Hylas and most other modern designs lack the full keel.  


Am I wrong to think that a spade rudder would be disqualifying for a Bluewater boat?  


The makings of a bluewater boat - Ocean Navigator


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  • Sailboat Guide

1968 Camper Nicholson 32

  • Description

Seller's Description

Price reduced for winter sale. Please email for website link.

This Camper & Nicholsons 32 is a Mark VI, equipped for long distance cruising. She was moulded under Lloyds supervision. Her hull has been peeled and blister treated. She is located in Maple Bay near Victoria in British Columbia.

Highlights include wind vane self-steering, 2 autopilots, GPS chartplotter, radar, VHF & HF radios, great sail inventory including drifter and pole, electric windlass, 4 anchors, refrigeration, diesel heat, solar, wind generator, and inverter. Reliable Yanmar 2GM with rebuilt injectors and salt water pump. A small inflatable and unused Honda 2.3 hp outboard are included. Safety gear includes a drogue with reinforced deck attachments, staysail, and storm trysail on its own track, aluminum shutters for the windows, and emergency rudder. Also includes 4 man liferaft (needs repacking), and EPIRB (requires new battery). She is rigged as a sloop with a removable inner forestay, giving the advantages of a cutter rig when needed.

Proven offshore boat having transited the Panama canal, sailed the US east coast , and voyaged to Mexico. We have had her since 2019 and have sailed her to Desolation sound, Princess Louisa inlet, and in the Broughtons.

Being an older British design she is narrower than a modern boat has headroom between 5’11” and 5’9” in the salon and galley.

Her decks are solid fibreglass (no core) and hence no delamination issues. Her chainplates are fastened to large solid glass knees and she has none of the issues that occur with bulkhead mounted chainplates.

She was hauled in April and painted with two coats of Micron CSC, good for two to three years.

No recent survey, but I will assist you in arranging one and help ensure that she passes an insurance survey.

If you are looking for a safe, capable, but manageable cruising boat that will take you to Alaska or Mexico and beyond, please drop me a line. Price is 29,900 Canadian dollars (US dollar price is for reference).

Equipment: Chart Plotter

Wind speed and direction (not currently working - possibly a wiring issue)

VHF Compass Radar Autopilots (ST 4000 and Navico (Simrad) TP10) HF Radio (older with manual tuner) CD player/radio CARD Radar Detector Depthsounders (one modern and one original, both work well)

Furling genoas (3 including one nearly new) Drifter Storm jib Storm Trysail on own track Fully battened cruising mainsail

Rigging Spinnaker pole

Inside Equipment

Fresh water maker (membrane preserved)

Electric bilge pump

Propane Oven - Force 10 burners fitted to original cast iron and brass stove

Sea water pump

Manual bilge pumps

Refrigerator/Deep freezer

Diesel Heater

Battery charger

Composting head

Electrical Equipment Shore power inlet

Outside Equipment/Extras Radar reflector

Swimming ladder

Wind generator

Liferaft (canister on deck - out of service)

Solar panels (3)

Electric windlass

Covers Large boat shade cover

Mainsail cover

Spray hood with extension and cover

MECHANICAL Yanmar 2GM20F 2-cylinder 18 hp diesel inboard with approx. 6000 hours (New 1991)

Includes spare water pump, filters etc.

Oil change/ extraction pump

Monell 20 gallon fuel tank & separate 13 gallon gravity tank (feeds heater & engine)

Lofrans 1000W electric windlass with gypsy & capstan

2 x windlass controls (at bow, inside anchor locker)

45 lbs CQR anchor with 250’ 5/16 high test chain (chain will need regalvanizing soon)

Large Danforth anchor with 250’ nylon rode

Bruce stern anchor

4 x golf cart house batteries in custom battery box

1 starting battery

High output Balmar alternator

MTM Mans Tech battery charger

Power monitor

Air X wind generator

3 x Solar panels


Standard Horizon GPS Chart 175C chartplotter

Lowrance Global Map 2400 GPS chartplotter (backup - not connected)

Raytheon SL70 radar

Raymarine ST4000 autopilot and backup Navico Tiller pilots

Standard Horizon wind speed & direction (not functional)

Depth sounders (two)

Icom IC-M422 VHF radio

Icom HF Transceiver IC-745 HAM/ SSB radio

MFJ Versa Tuner II antenna tuner

Ritchie compass with light

Tiller steering with Spinlock tiller extension

Fleming Global wind vane self-steering with spare blades

Doyle premium offshore mainsail

Separate trysail track installed on mast storm sail ready

SpinTec headsail furler

3 x Headsails 150%, 130%

Removable inner forestay with 70% blade

Whisker pole

Standing rigging replaced with 5/16 & large bronze turnbuckles

Reinforced Masthead fitting & newer lower mast tangs

4 x Anderson stainless self-tailing winches

Small drogue

Drogue attachment plates at stern and reinforced bow chocks with retaining plates for sea anchor

Masthead light with 15 mile visibility

Rule electric bilge pump

Manual bilge pump

Emergency backup manual bilge pump

Aluminum storm plates for port lights

Safety latches on lockers & floorboards

Water tight rings inside boat to seal dorades in extreme conditions

Emergency rudder & tiller

Radar reflector

Global Fix EPIRB (Requires servicing)

Sea Sava 4-person life raft in custom stainless steel cradle (Requires servicing)

Rig and Sails

Auxilary power, accomodations, calculations.

The theoretical maximum speed that a displacement hull can move efficiently through the water is determined by it's waterline length and displacement. It may be unable to reach this speed if the boat is underpowered or heavily loaded, though it may exceed this speed given enough power. Read more.

Classic hull speed formula:

Hull Speed = 1.34 x √LWL

Max Speed/Length ratio = 8.26 ÷ Displacement/Length ratio .311 Hull Speed = Max Speed/Length ratio x √LWL

Sail Area / Displacement Ratio

A measure of the power of the sails relative to the weight of the boat. The higher the number, the higher the performance, but the harder the boat will be to handle. This ratio is a "non-dimensional" value that facilitates comparisons between boats of different types and sizes. Read more.

SA/D = SA ÷ (D ÷ 64) 2/3

  • SA : Sail area in square feet, derived by adding the mainsail area to 100% of the foretriangle area (the lateral area above the deck between the mast and the forestay).
  • D : Displacement in pounds.

Ballast / Displacement Ratio

A measure of the stability of a boat's hull that suggests how well a monohull will stand up to its sails. The ballast displacement ratio indicates how much of the weight of a boat is placed for maximum stability against capsizing and is an indicator of stiffness and resistance to capsize.

Ballast / Displacement * 100

Displacement / Length Ratio

A measure of the weight of the boat relative to it's length at the waterline. The higher a boat’s D/L ratio, the more easily it will carry a load and the more comfortable its motion will be. The lower a boat's ratio is, the less power it takes to drive the boat to its nominal hull speed or beyond. Read more.

D/L = (D ÷ 2240) ÷ (0.01 x LWL)³

  • D: Displacement of the boat in pounds.
  • LWL: Waterline length in feet

Comfort Ratio

This ratio assess how quickly and abruptly a boat’s hull reacts to waves in a significant seaway, these being the elements of a boat’s motion most likely to cause seasickness. Read more.

Comfort ratio = D ÷ (.65 x (.7 LWL + .3 LOA) x Beam 1.33 )

  • D: Displacement of the boat in pounds
  • LOA: Length overall in feet
  • Beam: Width of boat at the widest point in feet

Capsize Screening Formula

This formula attempts to indicate whether a given boat might be too wide and light to readily right itself after being overturned in extreme conditions. Read more.

CSV = Beam ÷ ³√(D / 64)

One of the most successful yachts built by Camper & Nicholson. Hulls were molded by Halmatic, at the time, sister company under the same corporate umbrella. A number of changes were made to the design during it’s nearly 20 year production run. Beginning around 1968, a number of boats were built under license by Rudder Yachts of Australia. Some of the later boats were sold directly from Halmatic.

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    Definitions Rig and Sail Particulars HELP Sailboat Links Notes One of the most successful yachts built by Camper & Nicholson. Hulls were molded by Halmatic, at the time, sister company under the same corporate umbrella. A number of changes were made to the design during it's nearly 20 year production run.

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