Friday, September 25, 2015

Leisure Liner Houseboat

Leisure Liner 1 on a classic river cruise.
Designed by Angelo Lavranos.

The nicest thing about boats is that they whisk you into a different world - away from traffic, taxis, banks, politics and news. This is a world of freedom, sailing, fishing, barbecues, reading, photography or whatever. Trouble is, for most kind of boating adventures, it is a brief and limited experience because you need to return to port for some reason all too often, supplies, perhaps bad weather, or perhaps just because you are cold and miserable! This is the beauty of a houseboat, settled in a nice inland waterway, there is no need to go anywhere - you really have everything with you! Pure bliss!

Spacious and simple, with nice covered aft deck.

Over the past few years, I have had the privilege of three separate holidays or excursions on the Knysna Lagoon in a Leisure Liner Houseboat - being the original Leisure Liner series 1 operated by Lightleys. All three trips were very different but extremely enjoyable - due in no small measure to the design of this boat. I well remember arriving for the first trip in the middle of winter and with a fair bit of rain. We had booked for four nights and I first thought it would be a big mistake! It wasn't. Within an hour or so of arriving we had done the skippers briefing, loaded the boat, parked the car and we were underway. Easy-peasy - nothing complicated about it at all. With evening approaching we settled off Belvidere and laid anchor. Quite a decent anchor at that - this is quite important if you want to get any sleep! The cabin was really neatly laid out with all home comforts - a decent saloon, galley, heads and separate sleeping cabin up front. The sun had set by now so out came the red wine, the Weber braai, some music and soon we settled in for supper. Then a light rain started so we rigged the canvas bimini over the aft deck and just watched the lights on the shore and the odd fish jumping. The boat had very adequate lighting - including the navigation lights obviously - and it really was quite cozy. Eventually we moved into the saloon where out came some whisky, followed by my collection of cameras, ipads, laptops, GPSs, radios etc etc. We had a full 3G signal right across the bay which was a mixed blessing because I had some work to do as well. The rain picked up and we could see it bouncing off the water right next to us. Only 200m off the shore, but what bliss. I set the anchor watch on the GPS to a radius twice the length of the Anchor rode - being tidal one tends to spin around twice a night or so. The next three days were spent exploring the lagoon, braaing, and visiting the various restaurants such as Crabs Creek, the Waterfront, Thesen's Island etc. It was also a damn nice office for a while - very relaxing place to do the odd telecon, write a report etc. 

About the boat, at last! One of the nicest things about these craft is the size and placement of the windows. Strange to open with this but it has to be said. I am beginning to think this is one of the most important facets of practically any liveaboard boat these days - and one which could be largely improved in most cases. The Leisure Liner is fantastic in this respect. The saloon has great windows and so does the galley directly opposite. This makes it a great place to sit and survey the world should it be a bit cool outside. Even the cook and dishwasher can see the world which also helps! The sleeping cabin is superb with all round views - whether one has chosen to settle in and read a book in the afternoon sun, or see the sunrise, or simply to settle in during a day cruise in cold weather - as my ageing parents did on one day trip.
Main sleeping cabin. What a view!

Saloon and Galley. See the nice big windows.
Heads, including a shower.

I haven't spoken with Angelo about this design as yet - I don't know what the design brief was at this stage. But I would guess it would have included aspects of safety, comfort, stability at anchor, manageable by an inexperienced couple, economical to operate and maintain, fit into a standard mooring, decent aft-deck, shallow draft, transportable on a trailer for maintenance etc, cope with reasonably adverse weather in the larger estuaries, and be reasonably mobile (for a houseboat). All of which it does pretty well.... Did I mention anti-claustrophobic? Well that too.

A lot of this is made possible only because of the choice of hull - being a nicely shaped cathedral hull. Cathedral hulls have excellent form-stability, shallow draft, good load capacity, useful internal volume, and they move easily and efficiently. It is possible to keep the weight quite low and central. Certainly this boat felt like it had pretty good reserve stability - even in a large side-on chop. A very stable platform it is and I don't recall any rolling to speak of. Buoyancy in the bow is another useful aspect and this one is high and proud, coping easily in a severe chop. All this means you can load it up with a large cabin right to the ends, on a small footprint, and still have a mobile boat. Construction would be economical relative to the capacity. 

The cabin uses the full width of the boat, which gives it loads of internal volume and full standing headroom. To get to the bow (anchor) it is necessary to walk on the gunwales either side - but this is very easy due to the handrails on the coach roof. Once on the bow, there is a secure place to stand and handle the anchor.

The coach roof is flat and accessible although I never really used it much. Nice for sunbathing on a calm day or perhaps sight-seeing... solar panels even....

This design (Leisure Liner 1) was intended to have one engine, about 22 kw (about 30 Hp), which is quite adequate for rivers and estuaries. I could imagine wanting a wee bit more on the Langebaan Lagoon if facing a fresh South Easter, perhaps 40-50 Hp, but that wouldn't be needed anywhere else. The boats I used all had single 40 Hp 2-stroke Yamahas, which did remarkably well. In practice I ran them at about 30% throttle at about 4-5 knots. This gives a pleasant and quiet ride whilst not wasting fuel. Full throttle would bring up 6-7 knots depending on load and wind etc, and a far higher fuel bill. Not necessary at all. In this age a 4-stroke would be a nice choice though. Personally I was quite happy with a single engine, having used outboards all my life without much trouble, even at sea. 

Single Outboard neatly mounted under a noise cover,
which can double as a lid for the small kettle-braai!

Under way, it looks the business!

Any criticisms? Of course it's easy to criticize a houseboat either as a boat or a house - it's actually quite a challenging design process! 

One issue I recall was trying to steer this boat between the pillars under the Knysna railway bridge in a fresh crosswind. These flattish hulls do tend to yaw somewhat at slowish speeds - and one is advised to go fairly fast and concentrate. That worked fine... 

Manoeuvring a large flat bottomed boat like this with one engine in the tight confines of a marina is another aspect that takes a bit of getting used to, and in some cases the charter agents offer a pilot to come aboard for this. But tight marina berths are not the norm for many of these vessels and it won't usually be an issue. A bit of practice is all that's needed. One one occasion, I thought it would be neat to have an indoor steering position, although I can see how this could add unwanted cost and complexity.

Overall - dam nice boat - cleverly conceived and designed - and loads of fun in my experience.

Near Knysna Heads
Leisure Liner 1, vitals, per Lavranos website:
  • LOA: 8.3 m
  • Beam 3.0 m
  • Draft 0.35 m
  • Max Speed 8 kts
  • Sleeps 6, 2 cabins
  • Power 22 kW
Described as a "LOW WASH GRP PRODUCTION HOUSEBOAT". Designed in 1988, 90 built!

NOTE that the Leisure Liner 1 is no longer being built, and would require design changes today to comply with current SAMSA regulations.

The Leisure Liner 2: In recent years, a newer update model of this design has been released - known as the Leisureliner 2 (LL2). Full details on their website at

I have not experienced or even seen the new model personally, but the new design is a MAJOR UPGRADE from the LL1. 

Recent LL2 at the V&A in Cape Town

Major new features:
  • Flybridge and helm option
  • Two outboards, 40 - 90 Hp - easy cruise at 10-12 knots, maxes out at 20-25+ knots with 90 Hp!
  • Covered aft deck
  • Complies with SAMSA CAT E and D 
  • Coastal capability in light to moderate conditions!
  • Improved internal layout, and slightly larger
  • Furnishing as for a luxury yacht.  
  • Quite good value considering the package - this is a substantial vessel... pricing per the wesbite shows R 795k for the basic vessel, excl. VAT, motors, options (at Sept 2015).
  • Large variety of ownership options (sharing, chartering etc)

Angelo Lavranos, the designer, has a website at

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Hout Bay 30, 33, 40, 50....

"Spirit of Victoria" is a Hout Bay 50 open excursion boat operating daily
from the Cape Town Waterfront. Licensed for 40 passengers.
Operates in up to 50 knots of wind - the picture above shows 40+.
Normal crewing complement of two!
After taking a good look at these traditional (Dudley Dix) designs I sometimes wonder if the current design culture of "modern" cruising yachts has completely lost the plot!

For me, it has been a startling revelation to find these traditional steel "low-tech" Hout Bay designs are actually superior to most modern designs of high-tech sloop-type cruising boats, in respect of practically all things that matter to cruisers... Their only compromise being nth-degree upwind performance, for course racing etc. Or to put it another way, the obsession with upwind performance has massively compromised the design of contemporary cruising boats in all but one area - that of upwind racing, which is of course the one exact thing that doesn't really matter to cruisers.

Nearly everything that makes a sailboat expensive has to do with upwind racing. Be it the tall multi-spreader rigs, the winches, furling systems, carbon-fibre bits, deep bulb-keels, lightweight hulls and engines -  these things serve limited or zero purpose off the wind! And worse than that, they actually compromise almost every aspect of a sailboats function when not actively beating - in which case a bulb keel is a drag, a low aspect rig is better, a longish keel for tracking and stability, light bendy masts not required etc etc.

This is a fine looking Hout Bay 33, home built in Knysna,
and now resident at Hout Bay Yacht Club.
That's not to say simple traditional rigs don't sail well upwind - they really do these days as long as they have decent keels - which the old gaffers seldom did unfortunately. The Hout Bay's do have decent keels - they sail very well upwind. And now I will argue they do better at everything else that matters to cruisers, commercial workboats or charter boats, at a fraction of the price!

The Hout Bays are all of robust steel construction. I have nothing against Ply and GRP - they have their merits - but when it comes to things that go bump in the night, tying up in fishing harbours, rafting for Panama, or the occasional grounding - steel has a definite advantage. Leave your boat in a foreign port for a few weeks while you have to go home or whatever, or on the hard during hurricane season - you sleep better with a steel boat for sure.

The simple rigs, steel hull and generally low-tech nature make for easy maintenance that anyone can do anywhere. Everything comes from the hardware shop, not the boat shop. Given the Hout Bay 40 and 50 gaff rigs, I think they could be sourced entirely from the farmers co-op! Even the mast is a simple steel pole, with galvanised wire rigging.... Spectra, stainless steel, fancy winches not required. Homemade blocks are used and large wooden spars.
Rig on "Spirit of Victoria" - Hout Bay 50
Solid Steel poles for the masts, galvanised wire stays.
Simple halyards with blocks.
Its all open and accessible and fixable.
These traditional rigs do very well on all points of sail, and the low aspect gaffs really do well off the wind and while reaching. But these Hout Bay's have huge load carrying capacity - for example the Hout Bay 50 is rated for 10T of load! This makes it possible to install a large simple engine and a few tons of diesel. And we all know passage-making times are often determined by the fuel available. Never mind ghosting over the ITCZ with drifters etc when you have loads of fuel and a long-life engine. Consider also bringing a boat back from say the Caribbean to South Africa. Motor straight back through the ITCZ and the South Atlantic high in about 4 weeks, or sail down via Brazil and the Southern Ocean in double that time, in rough seas and cold? Rhetorical question for most. These are excellent long-range motor-sailers. Under sail alone, the Hout Bay 50 "Cape Rose", a Gaff Schooner, once covered 1200 miles in 6 days under sail, a very credible log for even a racing boat.

Internal capacity of the Hout Bay's is unbeatable for their length. Big tick for liveaboard, charter or workboat. There is a lot of boat in the length. A Hout Bay 50 displaces almost 21T to the waterline. The hull designs are moderate and fairly deep, with fine bows, making them comfortable in a seaway. They are also amazingly stiff. Because you saved so much on the build, the furnishings below can be awesome....
This is a HB70 example interior. That champagne is a Magnum!

Interior of Hout Bay 50 "Cape Rose"
Example interior of Cape Rose, an HB-50.
Engine midships under the saloon table,
 great for access but also weight distribution.
The generous rudders placed well aft allow good steering under sail and in marinas. The moderate (longish) keels make for excellent tracking and stability - in many cases self-steering isn't even required. I recall reading how one of them sailed straight without auto-pilot for about ten days returning from St Helena I think. The traditional rigs offer a relatively low centre of effort, and present far less rolling and broaching opportunities than a "tallmast" outfit sailing downwind. The "Spirit of Victoria" is a Hout Bay 50 operating from the Cape Town Waterfront. It is a Gaff Schooner, and is operated by just two crew, with up to 40 passengers, in winds up to 50 knots. The other rigs will be even easier.

Longish /Moderate keels.
Rudder well aft.
The Hout Bay 30 and 33 are fine looking boats with a classic and practical look about them. Understated and elegant, they look the business. This one is a nice plain simple sloop.
Hout Bay 33 in Hout Bay!
Very easy on the eye, it will go anywhere.
Simple transom-hung rudder with tiller.
Steel railings.
The Hout Bay 40 and larger are spectacular and traditional, especially the Schooner options - either the Gaff or the Marconi Staysail Schooner. You can do the Chesapeake Classic Schooner race in one of these! For some reason I am beginning to prefer these to Sloops. One has to admit, the looks of a boat are really quite important to the whole sailing experience. Nothing worse than arriving in port with an ugly slab-sided boat - people think you're an aesthetically challenged squatter. Well maybe there is one thing worse - a fancy modern tupperware - in which case you come across as a poser from Wall Street or some such thing. But arrive in a Gaff-Ketch with traditional sails and people will buy you beer (maybe even rum), whilst admiring your senses of taste, traditionalism, wisdom and wonderful seamanship. Add a pipe and a beard and you will soon be fully booked for pirate parties. Bonus - no-one will know you have a brilliant motorboat hidden below all those ropes and climbing ladders!
Hout Bay 50 "Cape Rose"
How can you beat this for sheer spirit?

Beautiful Gaff  Schooner  for the HB 40 and up.
Versatile, inexpensive, low-tech.

Marconi Staysail Schooner on the HB 40 and up.
Very easy handling.
Various other rigs are available - including a Gaff cutter, and a Marconi Cutter, each with their own merits. Links are provided below to the detail specs of each design on Dudley's website.

I have already mentioned these boats sail well, motor well and are practical for all sorts of options and places. The gaff rig particularly appeals because the air-draft is quite low (Inland waterways), while the Hout Bay 40 offers the option of a shallow keel (1.3m) - European canals anyone? The gaff masts would be fairly easy to lower and stow on deck. And then of course you could go around the Horn or the North West passage too.

So which does one chose from the Shearwater, the Dix 43, or the Hout Bay 40 or 50? I don't think I can afford the wine for that debate - but I reckon one could cobble together a Hout Bay 50 gaffer for about the same budget as a Shearwater 39 or a Dix 43. Just saying....

So there you have it - a simple traditional boat that works better, looks better and is far cheaper than that cruise-adapted race boat you used to think was perfect. Or maybe that was me.... Anyway - there's a whole lot more to these great boats than meets the eye!


There is also a Hout Bay 70, and 65. See

One other thing - the Pratique 35 is really part of the same family.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

"Belle Andrea" runs aground at Misty Cliffs, 1 July 2014

Owner/Skipper is a Hout Bay local, who has owned the boat only a few months. He was not hurt and managed to beach the yacht without much damage on the sand - somehow clearing a good number of rocks. I am not sure what the circumstances were for this mishap but glad he is ok. The yacht - one of the older Flamenca 25s, was en route from Hout Bay to Simonstown.

It will be interesting to see if the hull can be refloated as there is no chance of vehicle access to this point. Fortunately we are near neap tide currently....