History of the Sadler and Starlight Yachts


The Early Days

The Sadler story started in 1969 with David Sadler designing and building the Contessa 26, with Jeremy Rogers. This was an evolution of the successful Folkboat design and a few years later, was followed by the Contessa 32.

Following the success of the Contessa 26 and 32, David set up with his son Martin a small boat building operation in 1974, and their first boat was the Sadler 25. Following his experience with the very successful Contessa range, the 25 was the forerunner of the Sadler range of boats. The 25 quickly became popular as a club racing boat and had many successes in longer races such as Round Britain and Transatlantic.

This was a tough boat for seagoing, had the latest fin keel and skeg configuration, was robustly constructed and provided a safe, small family cruiser with wide appeal. Some 300 were built between 1974 and 1981. The later 25s were generally better constructed with well laid out interior, with GRP sub-mouldings and a slightly taller rig, which made the yacht even more competitive.

It was inevitable that David Sadler would extend his experience gained in the Contessa 32 into the Sadler range. This happened towards the end of 1979, when the Sadler 32 appeared and this was to be another success story. David built into the Sadler 32 a number of new desirable features which were considered lacking in the Contessa 32. The most important of these was a requirement for more accommodation, a stiffer yacht and one which would rate favourably under the current IOR rating rule.

The result was the elegant Sadler 32, which received immediate enthusiastic acclaim from the yachting press and clearly possessed all the desirable attributes of the modern cruiser/racer. The boat was developed with a straighter sheer line, more beam, increased freeboard, cambered decks and this gave greatly improved interior accommodation. The canoe type stern and small transom provided for a smooth water flow and easy motion at sea.

Just over 300 Sadler 32s were built between 1979 and 1989, when the moulds were purchased by Mike Slack on the East Coast, who went on to build about fourteen yachts. The moulds have now been bought by Andy Middleton (ex Sadler employee, telephone: 01202 631608), who is currently able to build new Sadler 32s to special order. Incidentally, he also has the Sadler 25 moulds and has built several of these boats for customers in the UK.

The Unsinkable Sadlers

There was a major mile stone, (the millstone came later!) in the history of Sadler, when Martin having completed a yacht building course at Southampton College, developed the desirable notion of unsinkability as being a key factor in the decision to buy a family cruising boat.

The unmistakable profile of the popular Sadler 29, followed quickly by the 26, came to the market in 1981. This was the boat which gained immediate acceptance as a family cruiser with standing headroom right through the cabins, separate toilet, dinette in main cabin and this wonderful feature of “unsinkability”.

The yacht was rendered unsinkable by bonding into the inside of the hull a completely separate interior moulding, which also provided for the galley, bunk bases, chart table module and all manner of features cleverly moulded in as an integral part of the hull structure. All the voids between the interior moulding and the hull were then filled with expanded polyurethane foam. This was inserted in liquid form and rapidly expanded to fill all the voids available.

This foam was of “closed cell” construction, thus rendering it impervious to moisture. Water was unable to progress through the foam – unlike many other smaller unsinkable boats, where the foam absorbed moisture.

Tests were in due course carried out on a Sadler 26, by opening all the seacocks whilst sailing off Poole in 22 to 25 knots of wind. The results were dramatically impressive and written up in several yachting magazines, since the boat could continue to be sailed, with the natural water level only coming upto the bunk bases. In fact, as part of the test, the little yacht was overburdened with water from a remote fire pump, which initially made the motion a little “groggy”. However, the boat went off sailing again and the water attained its natural level (just above bunk base) and finally sailed home.

Nearly 400 Sadler 29s were built and about 200 Sadler 26s, so there are a fair number of Sadlers in service, giving owners this great feeling of security in the event of the unforeseen happening.

Evolution of the Sadler 34

A natural development of the unsinkable design was to progress towards a bigger yacht and the Sadler 34 (designed by Martin Sadler) came to prominence in 1983. Some 260 of these cruising yachts were built until they ceased production twelve years later in about 1995.

Immediately popular with charter groups, sail training organisations and the Services, the Sadler 34 achieved many notable successes. Providing all the sturdiness and comfort of a larger cruising yacht, the 34 also had a fair turn of speed and excellent seagoing capability. With easy entry and a fair hull shape, the boat had a sea-kindly performance and provided an excellent motion at sea.

With full standing headroom right through, separate heads facility to one side of the companionway, separate aft cabin, substantial galley and a really comfortable main saloon, this yacht was widely acclaimed by the yachting press.

The Dark Days and The New Dawn

Towards the end of the 1980s, Sadler was among the “big three” boat builders and they launched into the unusually styled Barracuda 46. This was a big step for Sadler, to develop a new yacht with many technical innovations such as lifting keel, twin rudders, shifting water ballast and other ideas which were well ahead of all the other boat builders. This of course led to exposure through the national media, particularly as a result of the television series “Howards Way”, when the Barracuda became the best known cruising yacht ever.

Sad to say, only 19 of these yachts were built and the “hype” associated with this boat and Howards Way, probably distracted senior management, to the extent that Sadler Yachts went into receivership in August 1988. Very quickly, the assets were bought by two businessmen, already successfully trading in the marine market and new money was injected into the business.

The Starlight Years

The first Starlight to be designed was the 39 and when this new yacht emerged onto the market, it was perceived as the perfect cruiser/racer. Designed by a widely acknowledged designer (Stephen Jones), built by an experienced team (Sadler) and having unsinkability as a bonus, the Starlight range has now acquired an almost “cult” status. There were 34 39s built between 1990 and 1994 and about 50 35s built in the same period.

The Starlight 35 was a natural development and this appeared in 1991 to provide a cruiser with the same remarkable sea keeping capability as the 39, but more easily handled by a man and wife crew.

Both Starlights had the now famous wing keel, designed by Stephen Jones, whose experience in Six Metres and modern racing yachts aquitted him very well for optimising the design of the Starlight.

The seakeeping capability and qualities of the Starlight are now legendary. Speak to any owner and they will extol the virtues of the boat, above all others on the market – no better ambassador than the owner! The exceptional qualities of these yachts can be summarised as:

  • Superb windward performance
  • Exceptional stiffness (high ballast ratio and lead keel hung very low on GRP keel stub)
  • Very good directional stability downwind in waves (good news for autopilot and less likelihood of a broach)
  • High passage speeds achievable in comfort and at minimum heel angles

Accommodation is traditional and seamanlike, blended with modern style and quality construction. The yachts are extremely tough and have withstood the rigours of ocean sailing in demanding conditions. Our experience is that most Starlights on the market, at five to eight years of age, receive exemplary reports from surveyors.

The interior moulding provides generous positive buoyancy and there are several other advantages. Substantial insulation provides for an almost condensation-free boat. Bedding and clothes can be stowed beneath the bunks with confidence. In addition to this, there is acoustic insulation which results in a quiet boat down below, when sailing at night and there are none of the “creaks and squeaks” which are commonplace in many other production yachts.

Spars, deck equipment and gear are all carefully selected and positioned to give effective sail control from the shelter of the cockpit. Deck plan has been most carefully configured, to minimise friction and to make sail handling a pleasure for the short-handed yachtsman. A good example is the speed at which a reef can be taken in when single handed, being less than a minute, from beginning to end!


  • LOA: 7.4m
  • LWL: 5.8m
  • Beam: 2.7m
  • Displacement: 1,814 kg
  • Ballast: 860 kg
  • Fin: 1.4m
  • Shallow fin: 1.2m
  • Bilge: 1.0m
  • Centre plate: 0.7-1.5m


  • LOA: 9.6m
  • LWL: 7.3m
  • Beam: 3.2m
  • Fin: 1.7m
  • Shallow fin: 1.4m
  • Bilge: 1.2m
  • Centre plate: 1.1/2.0m
  • Displacement: 4,320kg
  • Ballast: 1,860kg


  • LOA: 7.9m
  • LWL: 6.2m
  • Beam: 2.7m
  • Fin: 1.4m
  • Shallow fin: 1.2m
  • Bilge: 1.1m
  • Displacement: 2,177kg
  • Ballast: 907kg


  • LOA: 8.7m
  • LWL: 7.0m
  • Beam: 2.9m
  • Fin: 1.5m
  • Shallow fin: 1.2m
  • Bilge: 1.1m
  • Displacement: 3,720kg
  • Ballast: 1,540kg


  • LOA: 10.6m
  • LWL: 8.5m
  • Beam: 3.3m
  • Fin: 1.8m
  • Shallow fin: 1.4m
  • Bilge: 1.2m
  • Displacement: 5,800kg
  • Ballast: 2,210kg


  • LOA: 12.3m
  • LWL: 9.6m
  • Beam: 3.8m
  • Fin: 2.1m
  • Wing: 1.6m
  • Displacement: 7,937kg
  • Ballast: 3,312kg


  • LOA: 11.0m
  • LWL: 8.6m
  • Beam: 3.5m
  • Fin: 1.8m
  • Wing: 1.5m
  • Displacement: 5,993kg
  • Ballast: 2,406kg