Getting to know Red Admiral

We sailed the Red Admiral on a lively run from Plymouth to Hamble to assess her ability as a comfortable cruiser/racer

The Holman and Pye designed Red Admiral started life as an entry in the design competition which, sadly for her, resulted in the emergence of the Rogers OOD 34, Aphrodite 101 and Hunter Impala.  Although she wasn’t one of the chosen three the Red Admiral clearly had potential as a powerful cruiser/ racer, and Buchan Yachts who market her, felt there was a strong demand for such a concept.

The intention was to produce a tough, comfortable and fast offshore sailing yacht. We felt that the only way we could judge whether the designer and builder had succeeded was to sail the boat on a reasonable passage. Buchan Yachts kindly arranged

a delivery trip for us from Plymouth to Hamble, so during a particularly unsettled period of we her in December we Arrived in Plymouth and met the yacht at the Mayflower Marina.

Hull form and construction

There is nothing out of the ordinary about this; 36ft 2ins (11m) hull. The 5000lb (2270-kg) fin keel is attached with eight stainless steel bolts, which are tapped into the keel so that they can be removed easily for inspection. Her stern sections are generously wide and flat to encourage downwind’ stability and her large semi‑balanced rudder is located well aft which should also aid control. In terms of the hull moulding, a folding bathing ladder stows into a neat recess on the transom. We liked this sort of attention to detail and. seamanlike planning.

The standard of the hull moulding looked good with a very clean gel coat. The moulding consists of woven rovings and chopped strand mat and the weight varies from 12oz per ft2 in the topsides to a massive 36oz per ft2 at the, garboards. Two longitudinal stringers, six main bulkheads mounted on transverse foam floors and a pre-formed girder system by way of the keel provide Hull stiffening. As far as we could see, bonding in of the bulkheads looked solid, and in general we were impressed by the construction.

The deck moulding has an end grain balsa core for stiffening and insulation and the deck/hull bond is a standard lip over system bolted through and bonded.

On Deck

The deck layout has been impressively well planned although there are one or two niggling faults. Equipment up forward consists of a solidly attached pulpit, a good bow roller and a good‑sized anchor well with a‑flush fitting cover. One bad point was that there was no apparent means of fastening down the locker lid. Enclosed fair‑leads are fitted forward, something we are not keen on particularly when one is trying to cast off or take in a warp very quickly. One kink and there is a jam up.

Although the chainplates, are situated in the middle of the side decks there is still plenty of room to move about.

The bridgedeck area and main companionway linked, with the welldesigned cockpit are extremely good features of the boat. During our sail from Plymouth, which was a brisk overnight run, we found the cockpit well protected and comfortable. Because Holman and Pye have designed the boat with an after cabin with standing headroom, the bridgedeck is expansive and raised almost to the level of the top of the coach-roof. This gives good protection for those in the cockpit which could seat five quite easily.

The steering position is right aft and there is a convex athwartships seat for the helmsman protected by a deep coaming. There were two bad points, about the steering position. One was that there wasn’t quite enough knee room between the seat and the steering wheel which is mounted on a pedestal (with Sestrel compass atop). The other is that when sitting in the middle of the seat the top of the rudder stock, which emerges through the deck moulding for emergency steering purposes, tended to catch the helmsman painfully in the small of the back.

A liferaft is stowed beneath the helmsman’s seat, throttle and engine stop controls are recessed in the cockpit coaming to port and engine gauges and ignition switch are in a panel in the coaming to starboard. The echo sounder is also in the latter position and is difficult to see from the helmsman’s seat.  A Henderson Mk V bilge pump, is fitted in the cockpit and there is a secondary system below.

We liked the companionway positioned just forward of the bridgedeck. It is virtually a hole in the coachroof with a sliding transparent hatch and a six inch deep washboard. In heavy weather the sliding hatch could be closed offering secure protection without the danger of loose washboards failing out. The only drawback is that one feels slightly exposed when entering or coming out of the companionway because one has to cross the high bridgedeck. There are metal grabrails either side which help, although the handles for the halyard winches on the coachroof fouled part of this structure. We were pleased to hear that the grab rail structure has been moved aft to solve this problem.

The Red Admiral is offered with a fractional or masthead rig. On the way back from Plymouth we sailed the masthead version which is equipped with Kemp spars. The mast is a pretty heavy section stayed by single caps and lowers on single spreaders. Holman and Pye have gone for a simple rig and we found it easy to manage. The straightforward slab reefing system worked well and all sheeting arrangements appeared satisfactory. Any one sitting forward in the cockpit had to watch the mainsheet track and traveller which is mounted at the after end, of the bridgedeck. It tended to get in the way here but we couldn’t think of a better arrangement.

Sometime after our delivery trip we sailed the fractional rigged boat in the Solent. Although the mast is stepped in the same position the main difference is that the boom is much longer and tends to overwhelm the cockpit area. There is a good deal of droop in the boom and we felt that for cruising orientated owners the masthead version would be a better option. Safety features on deck include good stanchions and lifelines, effective non‑slip, and good grab rails on the coachroof. However, on the boat we sailed in the, Solent the coachroof grab rails didn’t extend forward of the mast which left one feeling a little vulnerable on the way to the foredeck.

Under Sail

We set off from Plymouth somewhat apprehensively with a Force 9 forecast for later the next day. However, we reckoned, we could get to Hamble ahead of the bad weather and eventually had a superb run/ reach all the way up the Channel. With a couple of slabs and a number two genoa set she performed admirably in a fairly lumpy following sea and a wind which never reached more, than Force 6.

She was completely controllable downwind although she occasionally came off a wave awkwardly and started heading up. Nothing at all to worry about though. The excellent Whitlock Mamba steering system was a joy for the helmsman and although we occasionally used the autopilot fitted to this owner’s boat (extra) we preferred to helm through the moonlit night simply because sailing the boat was exhilarating and enjoyable.

The cockpit offered comfort and security and, going forward in the fairly lively conditions presented few problems. Her motion was easy and predictable and we felt we could sail a long way without tiring.

The only time we sailed the masthead version on the wind was for a short period as we left Plymouth. In a Force 5 with a single reef and the number two she felt powerful and solid. The self‑tailing Lewmar 44’s (self‑tailers not standard) were perfectly adequate as primary sheet winches and we found all halyards and other running rigging working properly. The Lewmar 16 self‑tailing reefing winch on the starboard side of the coachroof is standard and can be operated by the person on the main halyard during a reefing operation.

Spinnaker gear is standard and during our sail in the fractional rigged boat there were no problems handling this sail or any others. One got the general impression that the boat is not outstandingly fast but someone, with serious cruising in mind is unlikely to be disappointed.


The Red Admiral is moulded by Halmatic but there has been a succession of yards finishing them off. The boat we sailed from Plymouth was finished by Rank’s Port Hamble yard. Stangate has also had a go but now Rank’s and McGruers in Scotland are doing the work.

Because of the aft cabin the main and forecabin accommodation has been allocated a little less space than one would expect to find in a more conventional layout. The forecabin is very small and there is only room for a pipecot and restricted sail stowage. However, it is useful as a bosun’s locker and the use of wood to line the, cabin gives it a comfortable atmosphere.

Moving aft there are three deep lockers to starboard and an adequate hanging space. The toilet compartment opposite is fitted with a Lavac toilet, basin and shower and there is good ventilation through a small opening hatch in the coachroof.

The main saloon consists of two settee berths and a pilot berth to starboard all well upholstered and equipped withlee cloths. All these berths proved to be good sea berths and although it looked obstructed by the chain plates, the pilot berth was in fact very comfortable and secure.

There, is good stowage outboard of the berths although on the Rank’s version some of the locker doors didn’t fit properly. The layout of the galley was sensible but there were some mistakes in the stowage areas. For instance, the locker beneath the cooker, which one would normally use for pots and pans, was jammed full of plumbing junctions and the electric Jabsco pressure pump. There was no room for anything else. Similarly, the locker beneath the sink was filled with two 12v 80amp/hr batteries.

Galley equipment included a gimballed Flavel stove, a sensibly deep sink, two deep lockers set into the working surface, pressurised hot and cold water (a calorifier is fitted) and a retaining strap for the cook. There is good light from the companionway and a port in the coachroof, and ventilation straight from the deck is adequate.

Water is carried in a plastic 22-gallon (100 litres) tank under the port settee berth.

Opposite the galley is the chart table. This can take once folded Admiralty charts and there is plenty of space for instruments on the various bulkheads in this area. Fiddles on the chart table, however, restrict the use of parallel rules.

Other good points about the accommodation included full length grab rails and hand holds, a teak grid at the foot of the companionway ladder to take water brought ‑in on oilskins etc (there is a sump in the sole so that water doesn’t wash around the cabin) and subdued, red lighting for use while night sailing.

The aft cabin is accessible by walking under the bridgedeck to starboard, behind the navigator’s area. There is an enormous amount of space in here, much of it taken up by useful lockers and the large double berth to port. Ventilation is available through two opening ports which face the cockpit. The nice thing about this is that offwatch crew kipping in the after cabin can communicate with the cockpit directly without even having to leave the bunk. In the boat we sailed in the Solent there was an opening hatchway linking the after cabin and the galley. This improves the air of spaciousness and improves ventilation when sleeping aft.

Wood, trim throughout the accommodation was of moderately high standard. One of the main accommodation differences between the two boats we tried was that the McGruers. finished boat was fitted with an L‑shaped settee berth to port. The Rank boat had an optional diesel‑fired cabin heater on the bulkhead instead. This was fine but an irritating problem associated with it was the fuel tank which was rather stupidly installed in the main locker outboard of the bunk. Anyone sleeping there kept on getting a whiff of diesel which doesn’t help the weary. Although this isn’t standard equipment we thought it was worth mentioning for people envisaging a heater.

The 23 h.p. (17 kW) Volvo, Penta MD11C diesel had restricted access in the first boat we looked at but in the second the arrangements for getting at it had been greatly improved and the resulting installation had marvellous access. The engine drives through an S‑Drive system and diesel is carried in a 32-gallon (145-litre) tank under the cockpit sole.

Despite the feeling of narrowness in the main saloon and up forward, we liked the cosy atmosphere in the accommodation.

Under Power

The Volvo diesel was reasonably quiet and appeared to have plenty of power to push the Red Admiral along adequately. Manoeuvring in close, quarters was relatively simple as long as one was careful to judge the amount of way the boat carried. The compact S‑Drive system saves space, is quieter than a conventional shaft‑driven arrangement and makes installation a much’ easier task. On this boat

the drive emerges just aft of the keel which means there is a long run between it and the rudder.


It is perhaps interesting to note that Edward Bourne, secretary of the Royal Cruising Club, bought one of the early Red Admiral’s and last year completed some long passages from the UK to Spain and back to Ireland for the centenary celebrations in Cork. He is apparently delighted with the boat. There, is no doubt that this yacht would make a comfortable, fast cruising boat with excellent accommodation for a family and a powerful but manageable rig which will really get the boat going when required.

Holman and Pye are masters of the cruising design and they have put much thought into deck layout and accommodation. We don’t mind stressing the effectiveness of the cockpit and bridgedeck layout that is safe and protective yet manageable for helmsman and sheet trimmers.


Holman’s assignment was to design a wax yacht that should be suitable for successful participation in the Fastnet race. At the shipyard there were four construction orders for a Red Admiral which yachts wanted to participate in the Fastnet race 1979. Due to construction delays, only one yacht was ready. Only one Red Admiral was ready in time for participation in the tragic Fastnet race 1979. This yacht was the “ Autonomy”. Read more about this in the article about the Fastnet race 1979 on this site.

The test boat in this article is the “Admirality”.

A Race cruiser sailboat, built in 1979 to participate in the Fastnet race, but due to a delay in the yard she was unable to participate in that twenty-eighth tragic edition. The ship was designed by the prestigious naval architect Kim Holman. As described above, it is a sailing yacht of classic and elegant line and suitable for fast and safe sailing in all sea conditions.