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Used Boat – Nonsuch 30

How do you turn a “3” into a “10”? For Rob and Sue Watts of Deep River, Conn., it took hard work and patience, tethered to a vision … and the right boat.


How do you turn a “3” into a “10”? For Rob and Sue Watts of Deep River, Conn., it took hard work and patience, tethered to a vision … and the right boat.

 They found the latter in the form of a 1981 Nonsuch 30, one of the distinctive cruising catboats with the wishbone boom designed in 1978 by Canadian Mark Ellis.


The hard work and patience came during a two-year restoration that turned the decades-old, down-on-its-luck sailboat into a Bristol-fashion beauty.

When they bought the boat in 2003, it needed everything, says Rob Watts, 43, a senior manager in health care. “It had been donated to a non-profit organization, and as we looked her over for a couple of months [before buying], the to-do list grew with each visit.” Topping the list? Fix that hole in the starboard side.

That’s where the vision came in. “I wanted to make her the Nonsuch I’d always envisioned, with dark topsides, thick varnish, and updated and overbuilt systems,” says Watts, who sold the boats as a broker in the 1990s. “I wanted to take her from a ‘3’ to a ‘10.’ ”

The couple paid around $20,000 for the 22-year-old vessel, and work began on every part of her: teak stripped and varnished, mechanical systems overhauled, wiring redone, through-hulls replaced, new electronics installed (depth sounder, GPS/chart plotter/radar, VHF), and every deck fitting removed and rebedded. The hole was fixed, and the hull painted. Watts and his wife did virtually all the work themselves (except the paint job), investing almost twice the purchase price in the upgrade.

Why was a Nonsuch in Watts’ vision? Familiarity, he says. “[As a broker] I had experienced sailing these boats in various weather conditions. I came to respect their ease of maneuverability [and] how they were built,” he says. “In short, we felt she’d be the perfect boat for not only our use, but also [to] provide some equity when the time to move up arrived.”

The boat’s large, roomy interior and cruising comforts suit the family of four, which includes 11-year-old son Robbie and 9-year-old daughter Katie. It measures 30 feet, 4 inches overall and 28 feet, 9 inches at the waterline, with an 11-foot, 10-inch beam. The result is a voluminous interior with the room of a 35-footer, says Watts. (One owner called the main cabin of his Nonsuch the “ballroom.”) The boat sleeps four with ease, and there’s a full head — a necessity for family cruising. The midships galley has a combination propane stove/oven, large icebox and plenty of storage.

With a displacement of 11,500 pounds, Watts says the Nonsuch 30 handles like a larger boat in rough seas. “She’s heavy and seakindly,” he says. “One feels very secure in the deep, large cockpit.”

The wishbone boom provides for ideal sail-shape control, explains Watts, who likens the Nonsuch to a very large dinghy with a sailboard rig. “Easing the wishbone increases the draft of the sail in light air; pulling the wishbone aft flattens the sail,” he says. “All reefing is done from the cockpit. The unused sail sits in the lazy jacks, supported by the boom.” The unstayed, catboat rig leaves the boat clear of travelers, shrouds and chain plates, providing for wide, comfortable side decks.

Day sailing, weekending and cruising — the Nonsuch 30 works for all three, the couple says. Starting from their Connecticut River home waters, destinations include Fishers Island Sound, Block Island, R.I., and Gardiner’s Bay and Shelter Island, N.Y.

So far, the like-new Nonsuch has “fulfilled every vision,” says Watts. “She’s comfortable for our family of four; she’s safe and easy to sail. I suspect the decision to sell will be motivated by finding the next project boat. Since we’re only in our second season of use, a little too early to consider that.”

It’s hard to part with a “10,” too.


The Nonsuch 30 has a classic, salty look, thanks to her plumb bow, cambered coach roof and catboat rig. But designer Mark Ellis gave the boat a modern underbody with fin keel and spade rudder to reduce many of the catboat’s quirks, including weather helm. The boat’s low wetted surface and large sail area (540 square feet) are balanced by a draft of 5 feet. The boat’s signature wishbone boom aids in sail trim and shaping.

There are two layouts to look for. The original design called for opposing bench seats in the main saloon, with a drop-leaf table between, galley to port, head to starboard, and opposing quarter berths aft. The so-called “Ultra” interior, offered first in 1983, included a private stateroom with a double berth forward. Ample wood trim was used throughout in both designs, and many boats have teak-and-holly soles and other refined features.

Both hull and deck are constructed of fiberglass and balsa coring. The catboat’s unstayed mast is held in place by a female-mast step and matching mast base, and a deck-level pinning system. Original power was a 23-hp Volvo Saildrive, and later boats were equipped with a 27-hp Westerbeke and a conventional shaft/prop drive.


The popularity of the Nonsuch 30 (and later the 36) means that they’re easy to find on the used-boat market. Prices run from around $40,000 for an older model to $80,000 or more for later models in exceptional condition. Here are a few examples found in the Soundings classifieds and on the Internet. (Boats also are listed on the International Nonsuch Association’s Web site,

A 1981 boat was for sale in Maine for around $50,000, with new sails, radar and depth sounder, and undergoing a complete revarnishing. A 1983 model was selling for $58,000 in Nova Scotia, with a 27-hp engine, new bottom paint, dinghy davits, radar and autopilot, as well as a teak-and-holly sole and cabin heater. An “immaculate” 1989 boat in Florida was listed at $72,000, with a 30-hp diesel, a shoal-draft keel (4 feet, 6 inches), feathering prop and teak wheel and cockpit coaming trim. Layout extras included a three-burner oven/stove and a private shower compartment. Another Florida boat, also 1989 vintage, with a 30-hp diesel, new bottom paint, Bimini and dodger, running rigging and mainsail was priced at $77,900. “Extras” included a wind generator and portable air conditioner.


The Nonsuch 30 was the inspiration of Canadian yachtsman Gordon Fisher who, after a career racing big sailboats, wanted a comfortable, easy-handling cruiser. Canadian designer Mark Ellis realized the vision in an unusual way, the most notable being the wishbone boom.

The Nonsuch — named for an 18th-century Great Lakes trading vessel — was a quick success upon its 1978 debut, and owner groups sprang up not just in North America, but in Europe as well. The builder, George Hinterhoeller, already was known for the 24-foot Shark, which he designed in the late 1950s as a semidisplacement racing sloop (more than 2,500 built). He also served as builder of C&C racing sloops, in partnership with designers George Cuthbertson and George Cassian. Hinterhoeller formed his own company, Hinterhoeller Yachts, in 1978 and that same year the first Nonsuch catboat emerged from his Ontario yard. It was followed by more than 900 from 22 to 36 feet over the next 16 years. Nonsuch sailboats went out of production in 1994. The Austrian-born Hinterhoeller died in 1999 at age 71.


LOA: 30 feet, 4 inches

LWL: 28 feet, 9 inches

BEAM: 11 feet, 10 inches

DRAFT: 5 feet

DISPLACEMENT: 11,500 pounds

RIG: catboat

SAIL AREA: 540 square feet

AUXILIARY POWER: single diesel

TANKAGE: 30 gallons fuel, 86 gallons water

BUILDER: Hinterhoeller Yachts, St. Catherines, Ontario