A Contessa 26 Story
My previous 36 ft sailboat had been sold and I was looking for a smaller yacht with oceangoing qualities. My search took me through the usual suspects from the Swedish Albin Vega to the venerable Dana 24 by Pacific Seacraft. A lovely boat in any book, yet impossible to come by in this part of the world. In fact I only knew of one in Europe. The well documented Dana 24 Doolittle in the south of France had been sold a while ago.
Then, along came a Contessa 26 and I decided she would make an interesting project.
Scandinavia - An unknown paradise for second hand boats
Scandinavia must be one of the best places to buy a secondhand sailboat. The market is practically flooded with older yachts at a fair price. Most people are quite well off and interest rates are low. Growth in the economy since WW 2 paired with low unemployment rates and some nifty political craftsmanship has resulted in a region where many can afford owning a yacht. This, in turn leads to a well functioning second hand market.
In addition, most yachts are lightly used because the latitude (snow and ice) makes most of us having our boats on the hard half the year. Less sun has several benefits and that is less wear on teakdecks and gelcoat.
I searched in Norway, Denmark and Sweden primarily. You can find the links to some great classified pages in the end of the article.
The Contessa 26
The Contessa 26 story begins in 1965 in Lymington, England with a collaboration between Jeremy Rogers and David Sadler. Jeremy Rogers was a builder of the classic Swedish Folkboats. David Sadler, one of his customers, had the idea of modifying the Folkboat design to give it a horizontal keelbase so that it could dry out upright in the very substantial tides you'll find in the UK.
Vernon Sainsbury of the Sainsbury grocery family was an avid yachtsman and took a chance in providing the funding for the tooling and ordered a boat a few numbers down the production line where the kinks had been ironed out.
Of course I knew the Contessa yachts very well. I had read they had an impeccable reputation for being well built and the 26 footer was based on the tried and tested nordic Folkboat design. The principal dimensions were LOA 25’ 6" , Beam 7’ 6" and draft 4 feet.
When I came across one for sale in Sweden, I ended up getting it right away. Unseen.
I had read all the stories about circumnavigators Tania Aebi on Varuna and Brian Caldwell in Mai Miti Vava’u, followed Nick Jaffe's YouTube channel and read hundreds of accounts from owners who all seems to nurture a special relationship to their Contessas. I like passionate owners and few things does more for a brand than exactly that.
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Of Folkboat stock
The design of the Contessa 26 stems from the Nordic Folkboat which was conceived by the Royal Gothenburg Sailing Club in 1939 as a new one design class for a wide section of society which would provide more accommodation for the cruising family than the traditional Dragon Class.
A competition organised by the Swedish Sailing Association in 1940 attracted 58 entries. Choosing a winner proved difficult so the final design was decided by the committee and Tord Sundén was commissioned to draw a boat based upon designs from Sweden's Jac Iversen and Denmark's Knud Olsen.
With her graceful lines, acutely raked transom and easily handled rig, she proved almost as fast as a Dragon, and considerably more seaworthy.
In Scandinavia, the IF is particularly popular and a project boat can be had for as little as 500 Euros.
The first Contessa 26 was built in 1966. Approximately 350 Contessa 26s were built in Lymington from 1966 to 1977, after which the moulds were sold to Chris Carrington of Maclan Marine, also in Lymington, who produced a few more during 1977/8.
Another set of moulds was shipped to Canada, where they were built until 1990 under licence by J. J. Taylor & Sons Ltd. of Toronto. J.J. Taylors built another 400 or so boats, originally being sold as Contessa 26s, but after 1984 being called J J Taylor 26s - some of these later boats had a slightly modified deck moulding with an enlarged 'hump' by the hatchway to give greater headroom, and a slightly revised interior layout, although the hull always remained the same.
The Contessa had been on the hard for a few years, and speaking to the yard I was told the rudder wasn't in a good shape. Well, it turned out to be all rotten and broken in half. So, I had a problem. What better than to reach out to Jeremy Rogers himself, or more specifically; his son Kit Rogers and the very helpful staff in Lymington. He quickly replied that they had an old wooden rudder lying around in the shed that needed a bit of fixing up. I took them up on the generous offer and had the rudder shipped to Norway. I had just had my first "Rogers experience". An experience of fantastic customer service I had read so many times before others had had the pleasure of discovering before me.
I took a quick trip to Henån to cut out the pintles and gudgeons from the old rudder and prepared the refit in my shed. Loaded with epoxy, cloth, sander and vinyl gloves I set out to fix the rudder.
The rudder from Kit Rogers had a split in the bottom where the bronze pin is. A vital part to hold the rudder in place inside a hole in the shoe.
I was back and forth between just filling the cavity with thickened epoxy and thread the old bronze pin back in or open up and glass the whole section thoroughly. I though that this part of the rudder is so important that it needed to be fixed properly and made watertight. So, out came the saw!
After cleaning up the cavity and sanding, I wiped the surfaces with acetone and painted the wood with penetrating epoxy. After waiting for the epoxy to tack up a little I mixed a pot of thickened epoxy to fill the cavity from both sides and clamped the two halves together.
I then measured and cut up the cloth I needed for the glasswork and encapsulated the whole area with overlapping fiberglass cloth.
Then came the daunting task of drilling the new 16 mm hole for the bronze rod. This is one of those; "you have one chance and one chance only" moments! Fortunately, it all went very well the first time.
After drilling and inserting the new bronze rod I faired and sanded before painting the area with epoxy paint.
I had salvaged the pintles and gudgeons from the old rudder and had to do some surgery to fit them onto this rudder. A couple of teak blocks was epoxied in place and bolted on with stainless bolts.
After a fair bit of glorious sanding and more paint, the rudder was ready to go to back on the boat. I can confirm the rudder shape moves very well going upwind at 70 knots!
The big disadvantage of fixing stuff two hours away from the boat is that you can't measure and test underway. Well, I was exited to see if the gudgeons and pintles would line up. I thought about the boatbuilders at Jeremy Rogers yard back in the sixties and perhaps one friday one worker was more keen on going to the pub than measuring exactly where the rudder fittings would go. Well, I can testify that the staff at Jeremy Rogers had done an impeccable job even then and the rudder fitted just right shy of a 1 mm nylon washer!
After arriving from the west coast of Sweden, the boat had been on the hard at Adams Boat Care in Henån, Orust Sweden. Home to the "creme de la creme" of Swedish Yacht Industry and the famous yards of Hallberg Rassy, Vindø, Regina, Malö, Sweden Yachts and Najad. The list goes on.
Carl Adams and the rest of his staff are ex premium yards specialists and have set up a a small dedicated company with personal attention to every detail. They specialise in refits and judging by their reputation, they are very good at what they do.
Carl, Anna, Kjetil and the staff at Adams Boat Care have all welcomed this project and I felt immediately at home at the very including and open atmosphere at the yard. We shall report more on the Contessa 26 and from the fabulous world of refitting at Adams Boat Care in future articles coming soon.
Want to find your next boat in Scandinavia? Begin your search with these links and cut/paste the ad text into Google Translate.
Second hand yachts in Norway: Finn.no
Second hand yachts in Sweden: Blocket.se
Second hand yachts in Denmark: DBA.dk
Second hand yachts in Finland: Nettivene.com
If you find a yacht you're interested in, please contact us if you need any advice.