When we sailed in the Med back in the late 80s we first became aware of French Aluminium yachts. They looked slightly outlandish to us at the time with their hard chine hulls and bare aluminium topsides, but they also looked strong and purposeful and somehow we always knew we’d have one one day. We were invited on board by an owner, and both immediately felt his boat was something we aspired to.
Over the intervening years, we went for more conventional designs which suited our purposes at that time for practical and budgetary reasons, including a spell with a bilge keel Hunter Horizon to enable us to poke into the lesser frequented nooks and crannies of the Solent and dry out. This ability to extend the cruising possibilities became something that we added mentally to our list of desirable boat attributes.
The next boat we had was an Etap 34s, which fulfilled our next need which was for a cross channel capable vessel of the optimum size/value for the budget we had at the time – I have to say that we were very impressed with it’s capabilities and could happily recommend them.
When it came to the time of deciding on our “POA” boat, we were drawn back to the Aluminium idea, and also to the possibility of a shallower draft to enable us to maximise our range of potential harbours. Research led us to Aluminium boats with lifting keels which looked just the job. There are not many manufacturers of aluminium lifting keel boats, but more than we expected!
Once we started to drill down into the finer details, there was a clear winner in Ovni, in that they were the only manufacturer still making the size of boat we wanted – even then, the 365 is nearer 39 feet than the 36 we were originally looking for – that being a comfortable size for 2 and occasional extra crew, while keeping the harbour dues down.
We also looked at fibreglass boats of a similar size with lifting keels, Southerly and Feeling, but the Southerly’s did not make very sensible use of space (from our perspective, anyway), having a vast Master cabin, but virtually no stern locker space. The feeling looked more what we wanted, but by preference we were drawn to the strength and style of the aluminium.
We know that the Ovni is a slightly left-field or even controversial choice, but having talked to several enthusiastic owners, and also having chartered one for a 1 week “test drive” / holiday, we think it’s the right boat for us. We wanted to get away from the cosmetic nature of most modern boats, and whilst we don’t want to damage our new boat, we don’t want something for long-term cruising that we are scared to tie up beside a work-boat or rough quay when necessary.
There are always two areas of controversy whenever Ovnis are discussed, corrosion and stability. There is lots of opinion on-line about corrosion and aluminium boats, and having read what we could find ourselves we have concluded that we need to keep a good eye on the anodes, keep the epoxy barrier paint in good repair, use an isolating transformer for shore power, and avoid prolonged periods tied up next to steel boats. But at the end of the day, there are lots of old Ovnis around…… Again, lots written about Ovni stability so we read what we could, compared stability figures with those of similar-sized production boats and drew our own conclusions. There seem to be lots of Ovnis being successfully sailed to much more extreme destinations that we will ever contemplate……
Another point that is often mentioned in connection with Ovnis is sailing performance generally, and particularly windward ability. We sailed a 365 around for a week in moderate weather and concluded that whilst she is not as sharp as a modern fin keel racing-influenced cruiser, she seemed more weatherly than many older fin keeled cruisers that we have sailed. The chines seem to make a difference in keeping her up to windward. But if you pinch too much you will lose speed more than some other boats we have sailed. All things considered, for a pure cruising boat we thought the performance to be very acceptable. The rig is not huge, but when there are only two of you on a nearly 12m boat, we think it’s more important that the rig is easily handled. We particularly like the cutter staysail arrangement for this reason.
Handling under power was an area we were keen to try. In the conditions we experienced during our test week she was predictable but felt a bit more susceptible to cross wind than a typical fin keeler. (This was with the plate fully down). We contemplated specifying a bow-thruster, but Alubat want such an eye-watering sum to fit one that we are going to try without and only retro-fit if we feel absolutely necessary. Stephen at North Sea Maritime was adamant that we’d be wasting our money, I respect his opinion and we will see how we get on. On a windy day with a tricky mooring she is definitely a boat where the old adage applies ” go as fast as you need to and as slow as you dare”. We are having a Darglow Featherstream prop fitted in a bid to help manoeuvring under power. We’ have high-hopes for this this highly-rated bit of kit.
The dealers in the UK for Alubat, who make the Ovni, are North Sea Maritime. Steven and Francine were patient and encouraging as we went back to see them every year at the Boat Show for about 5 years while we slowly solidified our dreams and plans. Then, when we finally took the plunge and placed an order in September 2013, they came back to us the following day with the news that Alubat had just gone into receivership. We were gutted !
Back to the drawing board and several visits to see other options, including Southerly again later, we still came to the conclusion that an Ovni was what we wanted, so we waited for them to sort themselves out, and fortunately we had the news that they had been bought out and re-financed in December, so we took a deep breath and confirmed the order.