Starlight Yachts Profile

Very rarely do yachts genuinely break new ground in as many areas as the Starlight yachts. Even more rarely is this achieved in yachts which are pleasing to the eye and which have all the virtues of design, set to outlive their more radical contemporaries. Here are yachts, which successfully blend modern innovation with those traditional virtues which have attracted sailors to the Sadler marque for so many years.

“A yachtsman’s yacht” is how Yachting Monthly summed up their description of the Starlight 35 “. . . representing as she does the very best attributes of contemporary yacht design – space, high performance, impeccable manners and above all the ability to operate efficiently at sea. Whilst other yachts of her size can claim some of these qualities, very few combine all, which along with her construction standards make the Starlight a tribute to her designer and builders”.

“Sadlers have come as close as is possible to producing the ideal modern 39 footer” was the Yachting Monthly verdict on the Starlight 39. Why have the press been so fulsome in their praise of these two yachts? What is it that makes them stand head and shoulders above other boats of their size?

Performance At Sea

To understand just what it is that makes the Starlights so special, it is necessary to take a close look at some of the more significant design features. A key element in the Starlight concept is the lead keel bolted, to a deep moulded GRP stub. Ballast ratio is in excess of 40% and this high percentage of the total boat weight, sited as low down as possible, provides exceptional stiffness and righting moment. The boats can therefore carry more sail and go faster; also in extreme conditions, when most yachts have to reduce sail to such an extent they can hardly overcome the windage on their hull, the Starlights continue to drive powerfully to windward. The keel stub also provides a feature rarely found on boats these days – a deep sump, so ending the misery resulting from bilge water finding its way around the inside of the boat when heeled.

This low centre of gravity and high ballast ratio also gives the designer a much freer hand in determining the hull lines. Most yachts, with proportionately lighter iron keels bolted directly onto the hull, rely on hull shape to provide a certain amount of initial stability. This necessitates a relatively slab sided, flat-bottomed and usually beamy hull, with a hard turn to the bilge. Although this does give some initial stability when upright, it presents a very distorted underwater shape when heeled and lacks stiffness when pressed further in heavy conditions.

The Starlights do not depend on form stability, so the hulls are designed without this compromising feature. A section through the hull shows a semi-circular form, which retains a very similar wetted shape when heeled. This is the reason why the boats are so remarkably well balanced even when hard pressed, while many yachts exhibit an alarming tendency to broach and turn head to wind when heeled beyond a critical point.

This hull shape also results in a lower wetted area. Though Starlights are firmly in the moderate displacement category, their fine waterlines mean better light weather performance too.

Hull Shape

Drawing on designer Stephen Jones’ experience from generations of racing and cruising yachts, Starlight hulls embody all the features necessary to provide fast, comfortable and vice-free sailing. Forward sections are a soft U-shape which gives a gentle upwind motion but are not so deep as to cause the boat to ‘trip over her nose’ downwind.

Smooth and well drawn-out stern sections, enable Starlights to surf comfortably off the wind at surprisingly high speed and under complete control. More than one 39 has been clocked at 16 knots! Starlights are exceptional in their ability to combine stunning upwind performance and impressive downwind capability. A lot of boats are good one way, but very few excel at both!

A partial skeg enhances directional stability, whilst affording additional protection for the rudder. The rudders themselves are a particularly generous size, keeping the boats on track in the most boisterous of conditions. There is very little tendency to roll downwind and even with a quartering sea, rolling is considerably less than with other comparable yachts – thanks to the undistorted sections and underwater shape of hull, keel and rudder.


Moderate displacement and sail area/displacement ratios give the Starlights a combination of excellent sailing performance and easy handling under all conditions.

Many people are under the impression that a cruising boat needs to be of heavy displacement and have a long keel. The trouble with this configuration is that the combination of high weight and large wetted area means the boat has a sluggish performance in lighter winds. Also, the rig and all gear needs to be heavier and consequently more difficult to handle. Downwind performance of such yachts also tends to suffer, because they roll downwind and are reluctant to surf. The apparent wind is therefore stronger, the loading on the rig greater and the waves are overtaking the boat faster, making downwind control difficult and progress slow. The light displacement yacht is the other extreme. These may sail very quickly when not laden, though giving a rather bumpy and skittish ride, but try loading them up for cruising with a few thousand pounds of gear and their performance falls away dramatically. They require to be sailed with great concentration to avoid being knocked off course by the waves, need to be reefed early and require lots of weight on the weather rail to keep them on their feet. Not the kind of sailing most cruising yachtsmen are after!

By now it is clear why moderate displacement is favoured for the performance cruising yacht. Enough weight combined with a suitable hull form to carry the extra cruising gear and not be thrown around too much by the waves, enough sail to keep going in light and moderate conditions – such an important consideration for long distance passages and for maintaining good downwind speed.


A masthead rig (for strength and simplicity), powers the Starlights, with a smaller fore triangle and larger mainsail, than found on most masthead rigged yachts. This means less winching on the headsails, and more off-wind drive from the mainsail which, when fitted with full-length battens and lazyjacks, is a good deal easier to manage than conventional mainsails of the same size.

The strong double-spreader rig has cap shrouds with slightly swept back spreaders, intermediate and aft lowers. This results in a rig that is only moderately stressed, is easily tuned and is tolerant to variations in wire tension.

Below Decks

The interior design has to blend and balance a number of important features. Starlights are comfortable – just because the boats are fast, there is no need for the crew to “rough it” down below. They are practical for living in, both at sea and in harbour and they also have that unmistakable flair and style, that is so evident in every aspect of the design. Judging from the reaction of the yachting press and from Starlight owners, this has been achieved in no small measure.

Interior designer Jonathan Sherwill (an experienced offshore sailor), was called in and together with the Sadler in-house design and production teams, set about creating a style which is a refreshing blend of warm teak woodwork and light, contrasting fabrics. Starlights feature plenty of opening portlights and hatches, which help to create an exceptionally light and airy “below-decks” environment.

The engine is further forward than in most yachts, so the engine box provides a convenient step at the base of the companionway ladder, which doubles as a handy seat for the galley or chart table.

Being positioned here, the engine does not intrude into the aft cabin and allows a “walk-through” between the aft cabin and heads, which is a standard feature on the Starlight 39 and an option on the 35. Galleys are designed with ample stowage and work space and being close to the companionway they benefit from plenty of ventilation, are easy to wedge oneself into and are at the point of the boat where there is least motion. Opposite are the navigation stations with an eye-level console (teak clad in later boats), which houses a comprehensive switch panel and provides space for mounting navigational instruments, VHF and radio cassette or CD player.

Heads compartments are an object lesson in practicality, being high quality GRP mouldings with smooth curves, rather than hard corners, making them exceptionally easy to keep clean. The aft cabin provides a roomy double berth, while the forecabin, which is so often nothing more than a cramped V-berth with barely room to stand (or stoop!), is unusually spacious and particularly well endowed with hanging space and plenty of stowage.

The main saloon is undoubtedly the centre feature of any boat’s accommodation and the Starlights belie their sleek external lines with a central living area that would grace boats several feet longer. Generous sea berths and plenty of handholds ensure the whole below-decks environment is as practical in mid-Atlantic, as it is comfortable for relaxing and socialising in port.


No description of the Starlights would be complete without mention of the keels. Both the wing and fin are cast in antimony-reinforced lead and represent the very best in hydrodynamic design. The wing produces stunning performance with remarkably shallow draft – 4’ 9″ on the 35 and 5’ 3″ on the 39. The swept-back wings are angled downwards and are broader in span than their draft – a feature incidentally which provides a wide and stable platform on which to dry out either alongside or with legs. One of the greatest attributes of the wing keel is the damping effect on the boat’s motion and the way in which the swept back wings simultaneously increase the draft and move the centre of lateral resistance aft as the boat heels. This reduces leeway and compensates for the weather helm, developed by all boats to a greater or lesser extent when they are heeled beyond a certain point.

The wing is therefore a keel highly suited to a cruising yacht. However, the favoured option for racing is the deep fin, with its smaller wetted area and even lower centre of gravity.

On Deck

The deck and cockpit layout of the Starlights reflect the experience of tens of thousands of sea miles. The side decks are wide and the highly effective non-slip finish ensures secure footing in the wettest of conditions. Tapered stanchions add a touch of refinement and elegance to a deck layout, which is as well suited to short-handed offshore cruising as it is to fully crewed racing.

All principal sail controls and reefing lines are led aft in neatly covered recesses in the coachroof, which keeps them out of the way of the crews’ feet, but readily accessible when necessary. A battery of clutches and two powerful winches at the aft end of the coachroof handle these lines, making all sail handling operations manageable from the cockpit. Never before have such powerful and efficient sailing yachts been so easily handled by a small crew.

In true Sadler style, the cockpits are deep with comfortably angled backrests and just the right leg-bracing width between the seats. Stowage abounds, with large sail locker, aft lazarette lockers, cubby holes in the coamings and an exceptionally useful small locker opposite the gas stowage for storing such items as sunglasses, binoculars and drinks, which one needs readily to hand.

The recessed step in the transom not only gives the Starlights an exceptionally attractive stern, but also is an important safety feature, with a strong boarding ladder that hinges down deep into the water.

At the other end, the anchoring system has been designed to make life as easy as possible, with the anchor sitting snugly in its specially designed stem roller and a large, self-draining anchorwell accommodating the chain. A substantial plinth in the well provides a base for the windlass, which is covered by a hinged lid, to keep the foredeck clear.

Stainless steel handholds run along the length of the coachroof, with U-bolts fore and aft providing attachment points for the jackstays. The aluminium slotted toerail incorporates bases for the stanchions and provides for barber-haulers and preventers, when required.

These are yachts for which every piece of deck hardware is carefully chosen and positioned, so as to operate at maximum efficiency with the minimum of effort on the part of the crew. As a result of their ease of handling under sail and their great manoeuvrability under power, Starlights are the sort of boats which not only are capable of crossing oceans or sailing around the world, but which are perfect for a short sail in the evening. With a Starlight, the sailing is there to be enjoyed.