Colson 9.7.


The racing action in the open 30ft class is hotting up in Auckland with several recent high-profile launchings. Steve Raea catches up with veteran racers Colleen and Neil Bassett in the Bay of Islands and runs a weather eye over their new Colson 9.7.

Colson 9.7.
Colson 9.7.

A self-confessed ogre at times, boat builder Neil Bassett did not flinch when his dearly beloved suggested Shrek's House as an appropriate name for the Bassett family’s new performance-orientated Barry Colson designed 9.7m yacht.


Trimmed in green and resplendent with transfers of the ugly guy on her topsides, Shrek’s House looks anything but rustic as she rolls past my inflatable under masthead gennaker in the Bay of Islands’ Veronica Channel. The Bassett's are enjoying their first family cruise on the yacht and they’re keen to see what they’ve got.


Designed by New Zealander Barry Colson, Shrek’s House was a long time in the making with several changes of ownership during her seven-year construction period. Launched in November, the Bassett's have yet to mix it but early performances in pre-Christmas rum racing suggests the boat is up there with the likes of well-performed Ross 930s.


Originally designed as a light displacement race yacht, Neil Bassett introduced his own design ideas to make the yacht more family-friendly. Changes included a comfortable cruising interior, a single Kevin Dibley-designed spade rudder over Colson’s twin rudders and a powerful inboard diesel. Alterations have also been made to the deck and cockpit layout to cater for the family’s cruising ambitions.


Now based in Australia, designer Barry Colson drew the yacht in 1998 and, in typical Colson fashion, penned what is now his trademark hard chine hull with twin offset rudders and wide open transom. Construction began two years later at a shed at boat storage facilities in Te Atatu. Neil Bassett’s interest in the yacht was fuelled by his plans to build a 9m Townson "Ershara" design, a blown-up version of Towson’s popular hard-chine 22ft Pied Piper.


"I was doing a refit at the same yard on Cotton Blossom and would pop my head in to see how things were going. I believe Barry Colson set the frames up and started the project but it was taken over by a guy called Mike Archer. I helped Mike a bit with the chine angles and offered a bit of advice here and there. The job ran into difficulties through personal circumstances and work stopped. Anyway, I picked the boat up as hull and decks in July 2004."


Neil says the owner had bought a lot of second hand gear including a used Young 88 rig and sails and, with the equipment he had sourced over the years for his 9m Townson, hoped to have the yacht ready for launching that Christmas.


"Yeah, well, the best made plans. The more I worked on the boat the more changes I made and for most of that year...and the next...the project seemed to go backwards. I decided second-hand gear wasn’t where it was at so I commissioned Fosters to build me a rig with a SparCraft section. That meant new sails and, well, a new engine. The costs got out of hand so it was a case of as and when I could." Progress was further delayed when Neil accepted a position with Strait Shipping in Wellington refurbishing a commercial ferry for passenger services across the Cook Strait.


"The bottom line is the yacht took nearly three years to finish and ended up costing a lot more than I had originally budgeted. But with the changes made we’ve now got a boat that will satisfy our racing needs and give us a comfortable cruising yacht for family holidays."
The Bassett’s are no strangers to competitive sailing. Wife Colleen is a top women sailor who has represented New Zealand at home and abroad in events like the prestigious Rolex Cup. Neil, too, is no slouch, being class champion for many seasons in his M Class 18-footer, Mach 1.
"I love the competition but the time commitment was such I was spending most weekends out on the water. It wasn’t fair on Colleen and the kids who are now old enough to enjoy sailing. This yacht will give us an opportunity to spend time together doing what we love."


With the summer holiday cruise now over, the Bassett’s plan to get started tuning the boat up for race mode. "We’re both interested in the idea of two-handed racing and I would like to have a crack at the two-handed Round the North Island Yacht Race. That won’t happen for a year or two but the short-handed Barrier Series appeals."


Shrek’s House is something a little different from the norm, most notably because of her hard chine hull. This is not immediately noticeable from head on but, from amidships aft, becomes a predominant feature. Neil says that if he were to build again from the ground up he would have done away with the chine completely.


"The yacht is initially quite tender until the chine finds the water and she stiffens right up. It was a little disconcerting to begin with but it’s something we’re now used to. We are particularly pleased with her pointing ability and performance in the light. But until we tune the rig and get a full complement of crew on the rail, we’re really just guessing. But I’m confident the boat will perform near the top of her respective division."


Construction consists of strip-plank treated Kahikatia to the waterline with 9mm Gaboon marine plywood topsides, glassed inside and out with 860 weight double-bias fibreglass. The decks and cabintop are also ply and similarly glassed in and out in double bias cloth. The standard of finish is first class with the only tell-tale signs of her timber construction being her highly varnished box combings. "I didn’t want people to think she was glass. I’m a wooden boat builder. The combings prevent any confusion."


Shrek’s House racing pedigree is obvious in her deck layout and rig configuration. This is a twin spreader SparCraft section with jumpers and light running back stays for windward work. The mast stands 13 metres off the deck which, for comparison, is about one metre more than the standard Young 88 mast. Interestingly, it shares the same spreader angles as the 88.


The keel is similar to a Mark II Ross 930 keel with a steel fabricated fin and torpedo-shaped bulb, collectively drawing 7’8". Total displacement is estimated at 2800kgs, about 400kgs more than the design weight. Ballast is estimated at 820kgs. The spade rudder has been designed by Kevin Dibley in Auckland and built from high density foam and heavy tri-axle glass with a solid 2205 stainless steel shaft tapering from an inch and three-quarter to 15mm.


The cockpit layout is fairly conventional with all lines led aft through Spinlock clutches. Deck gear is primarily Harken and Lewmar with Harken 40 primary winches, Barient secondaries and a mix of air blocks. Electronics include Silva windgear and Navman’s 3100 speed/depth combo with cockpit repeater.


Sails so far include new generation Quantum Fusion M Mylar/Kevlar racing main and full-hoist number three blade. These are supplemented with a Doyle gennaker and dacron cruising main. Neil hopes to complete his sail wardrobe with a racing genoa and light and heavy spinnaker as the family budget allows. The non-retractable prod allows the boat to squeeze into a 10m berth while not compromising what will eventually become a double forward V berth.


Storage is a feature on the boat, again reflecting her dual modes. Hatches in the cockpit sole provide separate lockers for twin gas bottles and a large aft lazarette for cruising gear. A further double locker has been built in on the aft edge of the bridge deck and this has been heavily insulated with polystyrene to double as a fish/beer bin when not being used for rope storage. Fishing is a Bassett family passion and, yes, the boat does catch fish – three good size fish were awaiting processing during my onboard sortie.


The accommodations below deck are comfortable and airy with three overhead deck hatches and good standing headroom. The saloon layout is traditional with twin quarterberths aft and a three-quarter settee to starboard. When complete with double forward V berth, Shrek’s House will accommodate up to five overnight – an important racing consideration.


The galley is small but functional and located on the port side. It runs forward to the main bulkhead and is equipped for weekend cruising with two-burner gas hob, single sink, pressure water and an Isotherm 12-volt refrigeration system. Galley storage is cleverly arranged with built-in cupboards and lockers to prevent wayward projectiles.


The head is located opposite the galley on starboard and is fully enclosed and equipped with a gas califont and shower. The toilet is plumbed to a holding tank. With a single 70-litre fresh water tank and 30-litre stainless steel diesel tank, Shrek’s House has the capacity to be self-sufficient for long weekends without route planning around marinas.
Fitted with a new-generation YM three-cylinder 20 horsepower Yanmar on a sail-drive, and coupled to a feathering Max prop, Shrek’s House cruises effortlessly at 6.5 knots and tops out at about 7.3 knots in flat water. Unlike her namesake, she’s as neat as a pin with quality two-pot sprayed surfaces and a highly varnished teak and holly sole to add a touch of the traditional.


While it will be a long time before the Bassett’s consider putting their new family treasure on the market, Neil estimates the boat cost somewhere between $90 and $100,000 to complete. This does not, of course, include his time. He estimates the same boat in the same trim would cost between $190,000 and $205,000 to build from scratch at commercial boat building rates.


With the racing season back in swing after the Christmas break Shrek’s House will be a regular competitor on the Waitemata. And pass on our regards to the ogres in the back – they’ll know what you mean.


Specifications Colson 9.7 performance cruiser
Designer Barry Colson
Builder Neil Bassett
LOA 9.7m
Beam 3.3m
Draft 2.35m
Displacement 2800kg
Ballast 870kg
Engine Yanmar YM20
Price as tested $195,000

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