Thursday, February 24, 2011


L34 "Sensation" skippered here in 2006 Admirals Regatta in Hout Bay. She won the event comfortably and took the sword in 2005 (Mark Sadler) and 2006 (Andrea Giovani) if memory serves . . .

L34s have always intrigued me. Most yachts are easy to pigeonhole as cruisers, racers, small or large, comfortable or fast, but seldom all of the above. A number of 34 footers seem to have it all - perfect all rounders. In SA we have the L34, the Stadt 34 and the Didi 34 (already reviewed). At 34' a yacht can have generous accommodations without compromising its performance, be capable of ocean passages, and quite comfortable all at once. They are a good choice for offshore racing, round the cans racing, and easily converted to performance cruisers - enter the Holiday 34 (tailored slightly for cruising). Additionally, in South Africa, they have a large and active class association, and are by far the biggest class in this size in South Africa.

As far as I know the L34 class was conceived and driven by Dave Cox - also responsible for the L26 and obviously with a very clear view of what South African yachtsmen were looking for! I don't know the history, but between him and Angelo Lavranos (the designer) they came up with the L34, and most were built by Roberston Yachts in Cape Town. And very well built by all accounts. Designed as production boats from the start, they made a great one-design class, affordable for serious offshore racing, with just the right balance of performance, safety, comfort and handling.

The design is what I would call "modern-moderate" in all respects, with swept fin-keels, spade rudders, flattish underbodies, average beam (10'10"), average Displacement/Length ratios, and conventional fractional sloop rigs. Tillers are found on the L34, whilst the Holiday 34s seem to have wheels. At 4300 kgs they are light for their size but not super-light. Draft at 1.8m includes a fairly deep and powerful keel. They do very well in the blustery Cape waters, and are considered very safe.

Hout Bay Yacht Club has had several L34s based here over time, and we have had many racing here in our Admiral's Regatta. The picture above is of "Sensation", a very well known and well-campaigned example which has an amazing race record. I have seen it sailed in two Admiral's Regattas in Hout Bay - skippered by no less than Mark Sadler one year, and Andrea Giovani the next - in both cases it won the event . . .

Probably the best testament I have heard for the L34s comes from an old sea-salt yachtmaster we had living here, who was also a sailing instructor (L34s are very popular training yachts as well). As a veteran cruiser, his preference was for long-keel ketches loaded with salty gear - safety, seakindliness, strength, anchors, drogues etc etc etc -  but he did concede the L34s were as good a boat he had ever sailed for storm conditions and was also full of praise for the build quality. They routinely pop into Hout Bay from Cape Town and Langebaan in all kinds of conditions, no problems I have seen!  Unlike some of the big-name tupperwares . . .

The rig,  lines, deck layout, and interior layout are all very conventional and functional. No suprises anywhere. The execution is clean and efficient, and you simply don't want to change anything at all. Interior is very spacious and functional. The engine is mounted under the stairway, but easily accessible from a removable cover. Galley, chart table, saloon, heads and fore-cabin all very adequate and useable.

L34s tend to be well maintained and have aged very well. They hold their value and are generally priced around ZAR 450-500k in good condition (2011). They are a rare combination of great design, build quality, and a well conceived format. As a matter of interest the L34s are often seleted as the reference boat for PHRF handicapping, being the scratch boat at 1.000.


The Holiday 34 was the cruising version - with some minor changes including a more fully fitted interior, a slightly shallower wing-keel, and a steering wheel helm. I don't think the rig was reduced but if so it isn't noticeable. HBYC has a great example on the moorings - its a fine looking boat and just makes you want to go sailing!

The 10m Solar cruiser appears to be an updated L34, again commissioned by Dave Cox. It is designed as a wooden build, with a fair bit of extra performance. Remarkably similar to the Didi 34 in my view, these designs have little left to argue over  . . .