As an understated fast cruiser with racing potential and a nicely appointed interior, the Maxi 1100 has much to recommend her. David Harding reports
Maxi 1100: Fast and stylish seagoing cruiser
As an understated fast cruiser with racing potential and a nicely appointed interior, the Maxi 1100 has much to recommend her. David Harding reports
Maxi 1100: A fast and stylish seagoing cruiser
Finding a boat that offers the right combination of comfort and performance is rarely easy. Every boat is a compromise, and you have to choose your priorities.
Then of course there’s the emotional element, which defies rational analysis.
As Phil Nicholas, the happy owner of a Maxi 1100, puts it: ‘I’m mindful of the saying that unless you’re a ferryman or a fisherman you don’t need a boat. For us, it had to be a love affair.’
To some people, like Phil and his wife Julie, a boat’s appearance and what you feel for her are important.
‘When you look at so many modern boats with their towering topsides they’re really not elegant,’ he says. Few of us would disagree.
Given Phil and Julie’s enthusiasm for their boat, coupled with the amount of time they spend aboard and the number of miles they have covered, you might imagine that they had owned a number of yachts before buying Destiny.
In fact they hadn’t. Julie’s uncle ran a sailing club on the Thames, where she sailed dinghies as a child, while Phil had owned a series of small motorboats between some early dinghy sailing before succumbing to the urge to buy a cruising yacht.
The Maxi 1100 proved to be that cruising yacht. Once the urge had lodged, Phil became ‘a serial boat-show goer’ even though, when he started, he was still several years away from taking the plunge.
‘I liked Beneteau’s First 31.7,’ he explains, ‘but I kept coming back to the Maxi 1100 for four or five years despite not being in a position to start looking seriously.’
Those of us who have been in the boat-sales business will recognise a message in Phil’s story: ignore someone just because he’s not about to write you a cheque there and then, and you might lose a sale a few years down the line.
Buyers of sailing yachts are often on a slow burn. So that’s how the Nicholas family came to buy a family cruiser – son Luke came along later – and it’s now 14 years on.
In that time, Destiny has covered a good many miles around the south coast from her base in Poole, both cruising and, though not initially, racing too.
Much of the racing has been with Poole Yacht Racing Association (PYRA). Phil had given no thought to competitive sailing at first.
He did, however, sail throughout the year and quickly learned that 20 knots of wind on a hot summer’s day is very different from 20 knots in the middle of winter.
Then, on the way back from the Solent one day, he found himself in the midst of a racing fleet heading the same way.
‘We asked what was going on, found it was PYRA racing back to Poole, and have been racing with them ever since,’ he says.
Given the way things have turned out, it’s just as well that the Maxi 1100 is capable of giving a good account of herself on the race course.
Regular PYRA competitors include everything from an Elizabethan 29 to a 50ft ex-Admiral’s Cupper, so Destiny sits pretty much in the middle size-wise even if she is closer to the cruising end of the spectrum.
Weighing in at over 6,000kg (13,000lb) she’s appreciably heavier than many comparable boats and, not surprisingly, goes best in a breeze.
Phil’s racing results show that, when the wind picks up, Destiny can outperform a lot of boats that one might expect to be faster.
It follows that light airs are not her favourite conditions, especially upwind when the relatively wide sheeting angle on the minimal-overlap headsail limits her pointing ability.
Phil suspects that the Maxi’s keel profile might not allow her to point higher even if the sheeting angle were narrower.
He knows that he can’t rely on boat speed to be competitive in under about 6 knots of wind and that other strategies are needed – which he often deploys to good effect.
He also accepts that, had he bought a boat principally for racing, he would probably have chosen something else. ‘For the reasons we bought it, the Maxi 1100 has been ideal,’ he says. ‘For racing, I could use more of a boy’s boat that I could bash around a bit more – something like a Sun Fast 3200 or a JPK’.
The right balance
On a boat with a nicely finished mahogany interior, bundling wet spinnakers down the hatch is something you try to avoid unless you have plenty of protection in place for the woodwork.
It’s the sort of compromise faced by many people who cruise with the family and race with friends, but the Maxi 1100 has proved to be a pretty successful cruiser-cum-racer and has stood up well to being treated from time to time in a way that Phil hadn’t envisaged when he bought her.
Her interior looks remarkably fresh for a 14-year-old boat. It’s testament to the way she has been looked after and to the way she’s built.
There’s no doubt that she’s several cuts above the average in the way she sails, too.
I have seen Destiny and other Maxi 1100s – including Maxi Magic, which graced Yachting Monthly’s July 2021 cover – racing and cruising in a wide range of conditions and have always thought they look pretty competent all-rounders.
When I went for a sail with Phil and Julie, we had winds that were on the light side of moderate, so it was interesting to see how Destiny handled in 8-10 knots and the sort of chop that even a gentle easterly often kicks up in Poole Bay.
For a relatively heavy boat with a small headsail, the performance was impressive.
The Maxi 1100 comes with genoa tracks fitted as standard but the majority of 1100s have never used overlapping headsails.
Phil has found the headsail settings that work best and, when the wind across the deck nudged 12 or 14 knots, we typically clocked 6.5 knots with the apparent wind at little over 30° in the flatter patches.
The rest of the time we had to keep the nose down a few degrees to punch our way through the chop, the Maxi’s weight and fine, rounded entry allowing us to do so quite comfortably.
Once she gets into her stride, she has an easy, relaxed feel. There’s no definite groove, so you don’t instantly know whether you have got everything right.
It’s a subtle process of getting to know exactly what the boat likes.
Whatever you do, the Maxi 1100 is nicely responsive to the wheel.
It gives good feedback from the rudder, has 1.5 turns from lock to lock and, with its 51in (1.3m) diameter, lets you sit comfortably on the coaming.
Both the mainsheet and the Lewmar 46 primary winches are within easy reach of the helm.
As Phil says: ‘One of the good things about this boat is that it is of a size and layout that you can manage singlehanded.’
In heavier conditions, Destiny has never given her owners any concerns – and much to be grateful for.
On one memorable trip from Brest to Ushant, they were flying the kite in 20 knots of wind with the autopilot in charge and the crew sunbathing in the cockpit as they surfed down the waves at 10 knots.
The highest speed to date has been 14 knots.
Sensible upgrades to the Maxi 1100
Being keen to sail the boat efficiently, whether racing or cruising, Phil has made sure all the rig and sail controls work.
Most of the hardware and systems were fitted from new, such as the jamming foot-blocks for the headsail sheets, but he has upgraded quite a lot of the kit too.
Nearly all the halyards are now Dyneema, the bottlescrews are in phosphor-bronze rather than stainless steel, the mainsheet is a 4:1/16:1 purchase and the backstay is 64:1.
The sails, by Sanders, are carbon with a double taffeta and tend to stay on most of the time except for the summer cruise, when they’re replaced with a suit in Dacron.
For cruising, the large cockpit locker to port provides good stowage. The calorifier and fuel tank are underneath, abaft the heads, so it’s big but not cavernous.
A full-depth locker is in each quarter. For smaller items, you find an open-fronted locker each side in the coaming – just what you want for keeping things like binoculars, a hand-bearing compass, pilot books and so on close at hand.
Those of us who were brought up sailing on boats with coaming lockers wonder how anyone manages without them. It seems extraordinary that they’re rarely seen on modern boats.
Moving forward from the cockpit is easy thanks to the wide side decks.
Outboard is a wooden toerail, and strong-points are fitted along the gunwale for attaching barber-haulers, spinnaker guy blocks and so on.
The chunky stainless steel cleats forward, aft and amidships are worthy of mention because they’re big enough to use with thick warps.
So often one finds them way too small. In the bow is a good anchor well and a double stemhead roller, while overhead the double-spreader, keel-stepped Seldén rig supports the generous spread of sail that’s balanced by the lead keel – the 2m (6ft 7in) version in Destiny’s case, as opposed to the 1.5m/4ft 11in alternative.
Verdict on the Maxi 1100
For a boat that’s heavier than a typical modern performance cruiser, the Maxi 1100 is pretty quick.
She has a comfortable motion, is easy to handle and incorporates features such as those oh-so-useful cockpit coaming lockers that lesser boats (including many that might not consider themselves to be lesser boats) don’t offer.
Below decks she differs from the modern norm in being finished in mahogany.
The interior doesn’t feel in the least bit dark, however: there’s a good window area as well as a centre hatch.
Phil also replaced the original hinged companionway door with acrylic washboards to let more light in.
While mahogany might no longer be appreciated as widely as it once was, it’s still one of the most hard-wearing of timbers and far more practical in any number of ways than many of the paler alternatives that have become fashionable in recent years.
On the Maxi 1100 it’s nicely finished too, with well-matched grain, plenty of solid trim, radiused edges and properly aligned doors.
A purist might point out that, for example, the drawers have plastic sides and a tray moulding forms the interior up to bunk level, whereas on boats from some Scandinavian yards you will find no plastic (except in the heads) and all joinery bonded directly to the outer hull.
None of this is obvious until you start poking around in the Maxi 1100, and the general level of detailing is way above that seen on most production cruisers.
Significantly, the bulkheads are bonded directly to the hull and deck. Then there are touches such as the anti-rattle fabric edging the lifting sections of the sole boards.
It has all been thought about. This is an interior that not only gives you confidence in the boat but also makes it a pleasure to spend time down below.
There’s little to complain about when it comes to day-to-day functionality either.
It’s a relatively conventional arrangement and one that incorporates useful features such as a wet locker abaft the heads.
Because the tankage is aft (arguably a concession to cruising convenience, because it means the weight isn’t concentrated amidships), all the under-bunk space in the saloon and forecabin is usable for stowage.
Plenty of handholds are fitted and the layout lends itself to seagoing use.
]What matters most is that the owners of this particular Maxi 1100 have been, and still are, more than happy with their choice.
Phil reckons that, with the benefit of hindsight, he might have bought something second-hand rather than new so as to reduce the inevitable worry about every knock and scrape on a brand new boat.
Nonetheless, in almost every respect that matters, Destiny has proved to be just the boat her owners wanted.
Expert opinion on the Maxi 1100
Nick Vass B,Sc B,Ed HND FRINA MCMS DipMarSur YS, Marine Surveyor
If money was no object I would buy a Starlight 35 or a Maxi 1100.
Both are great looking ‘proper’ sailor’s boats; the cockpits are compact and safe with good foot holds.
Maxi has favoured low coachroofs and wide side decks on all models which is attractive but can slightly reduce headroom and accommodation.
Maxi yachts were not cheap and so tend to be well looked after. I have found several 1100s with corroded seacocks, especially around the sea toilet/holding tank outlet.
The stainless steel holding tanks can rust too. Maxi 1100 keel bolts are a little problematic to check as access is not great.
The production of Maxi yachts was taken over by Nimbus Boats in the 1990s, and the yard has a reputation for producing well put together motor and sailing vessels.
The Maxi 1100 was a development of the 34 which followed the Maxi 33 and Maxi 999.
The pre-1985 yachts had a distinctive blue band around an unusual superstructure together with rather high topsides.
They have all been trendsetters but new models have been evolved and are improvements on earlier craft rather than radical changes.
All Maxi yachts were fitted with Volvo engines which give little trouble if properly serviced and are smooth and quiet.
However, make sure that the saildrive diaphragm ring seal has been replaced. Maxi yachts extensively use foam as a hull and deck stiffener in favour of balsa.
This material is not so prone to moisture ingress and provides a lot of insulation whilst being very light.
Ben Sutcliffe-Davies, Marine Surveyor and full member of the Yacht Brokers Designers & Surveyors Association (YDSA)
I’ve had the pleasure of surveying many of the Maxi range and Pelle Petterson’s designs and attention to detail is always impressive.
The Maxi 1100 had quite a short production run, which does make them hard to find for sale in the second-hand market.
Several of the vessels I’ve surveyed have had a light teak internal finish, which makes them airy and bright.
To find issues with the Maxi 1100 is to be really nitpicking. The hull is woven rovings with a PVC core, which is generally quite reliable.
Her keel is lead, and I’d recommend the torque settings of her fastenings are checked every 15 years.
It is important to confirm the servicing of the Volvo MD2030 saildrive engine’s drive leg; the gator rubber seal should be replaced every seven years.
The engine is a Perkins base unit and quite reliable; parts are also available globally.
The fastenings of the stainless steel framework for her bow roller and anchor arrangement on her stem do need an occasional check.
I have surveyed a few which had heavy staining and on removal, the fastenings were found to have some crevice corrosion to the threads.
The deck has a PVC foam core, and as with any second-hand yacht purchase, pay close attention to any loose deck fastenings.
Lastly I’ve surveyed several 1100s which had leaks around the port lights and fixed glass, but this is not an unusual issue in craft of this age.
Alternatives to the Maxi 1100 to consider
Introduced nearly 10 years before the Maxi, the Starlight 35 followed the Starlight 39 (which was originally launched as the 38).
Both Starlights were designed by Stephen Jones and built with closed-cell foam between the outer hull and the full interior moulding.
The idea was not to make the boats unsinkable, as with the earlier Sadlers, but to enhance structural rigidity along with thermal and acoustic insulation.
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In terms of performance and seakeeping ability, the Starlight 35 set standards that were matched by few boats at the time and have been surpassed by surprisingly few since.
She’s a remarkably quick boat for her weight and the builder’s demonstration model immediately proved as much in the early 1990s by giving a good account of herself in events such as the Round the Island Race (despite being helmed by Yours Truly).
Most Starlights have always been cruised, however, and have appealed to owners who like being able to cover the ground quickly and comfortably in a boat that also has a thoroughly practical seagoing interior.
Apart from the double-skinned hull construction, a distinctive feature of the Starlights is the wing keel.
In the case of both the wing and the fins – deep and shallow fins were on offer too – the keel was cast in lead and bolted to the bottom of a moulded stub.
This achieved a low centre of gravity and provided the luxury of a good bilge sump.
Thanks to the stub, the lead and the high ballast ratio, there was no need for the hull lines to be compromised to contribute to form stability, so the Starlight remains notably well balanced when hard pressed.
The wing keel further enhances the balance, by moving the centre of lateral resistance aft as the boat heels.
Compared with newer boat designs, the Starlight has a relatively large foretriangle so a little more winching is called for.
And some of the later boats moulded by a sub-contractor to Rival Bowman had structural issues and were subsequently rebuilt.
This sporty Swede from the drawing board of Ron Holland was in production from the mid 1980s to the early 1990s, so she’s a good deal older than the Maxi 1100 but in similar vein as a nicely finished Scandinavian performance cruiser.
Several features mark her out as an earlier design, such as the relatively flexible, low-fractional rig (with a keel-stepped mast as you would expect) and a narrower stern than found on most modern equivalents.
The hull was slim by the standards of the day anyway, so you won’t find as much space down below but she still fits in a decent chart table, galley and aft cabin.
There’s also a single cabin in the stern abaft the heads. Below the waterline, as on the Starlight, the lead keel is bolted to a moulded stub for a low centre of gravity and a decent bilge sump.
Similarly, the rudder is hung on a partial skeg. The hull is a solid laminate below the waterline with Divinycell core in the topsides, while the deck is cored with balsa.
Because of her constructions and slim lines, the Omega is appreciably lighter than many boats of her length, tipping the scales at just over 5,000kg (11,000lb).
This contributes to her impressive performance even with a self-tacking jib.
She was quick to make her mark on the race course and is still a competitive boat in the right hands.
The relatively light weight combined with the speed and crisp handling give her a distinctly sportier feel than some, but she’s nicely balanced, well behaved and a good choice if you want a spirited performer that’s easy to handle.
Westerly Typhoon 37
To some, it might seem strange to mention a Westerly in the same breath as beautifully finished performance cruisers from Scandinavia.
Nonetheless, just as the Starlight 35 found owners who had previously been looking at boats from Sweden or Finland, so too is the Typhoon well worth considering.
Designed by Ed Dubois, the Typhoon was launched in 1990 and was instantly praised for her sailing performance.
She didn’t sell particularly well, though, because not everyone liked the fact that the galley and chart table took up a lot of space and pushed the saloon well forward.
Then, in 1994, the design was upgraded to become part of the Regatta range along with revamped versions of the Spirit 25, Merlin 29, Tempest 31 and Storm 33, which respectively became the Regatta 260, 290, 310 and 330.
Some of the new Regatta models were given fractional rigs instead of their original masthead configurations, whereas the Typhoon was fractional to start with.
The big changes were down below. Ken Frievokh was commissioned to redesign the interiors, and that’s exactly what he did.
Westerlys had always been tough and functional when it came to layout and joinery, but Frievokh gave them a distinctive style that set them apart from anything seen before.
Sadly, this still wasn’t enough to turn around the boat’s fortunes and the hull was then used for the Ocean 37 for a couple of years before Westerly finally folded.
This is definitely one of Westerly’s underrated designs.
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