Rustler Yachts: Maybe There’s Hope Yet?

Rustler 42

Rustler 42

In my last piece I remarked on the current state of production boat building, and wondered where the builders (and the market) for honest, well-built cruising GRP (fiberglass) yachts had gone. In a world of identikit models destined for the charter market, built to a price, are there yards out there that have been successfully bucking the trend?

To find at least one answer to that question, I didn’t need to look too far: just down the hill from our home in the Cornish port of Falmouth, where Rustler Yachts have for some years been building a range of attractive cruising yachts that embody most of the qualities that seem to have fallen by the wayside elsewhere.

With a steady stream of faithful customers, they have obviously developed their own niche, where others have failed. So how have they achieved that, and how do they plan to develop in these challenging times?

The Early Days

R36 (2)

Rustler 36

The Rustler name had been around for many years, coming from a range of traditional long-keeled designs from the revered design team of Holman & Pye. The 31 and a 36 were basically a GRP update of their wooden designs of the 1960s, with narrow beam, deep wine glass hull sections and a transom hung rudder.

Like most of the boats of that style, they weren’t the fastest boats, but were tough, had great seakeeping qualities and a well-earned reputation for looking after their crews. Originally built up-country, in the 1980s the moulds were bought by Orion Marine and production moved to Falmouth.

Concentrating on the 36, Orion began to move the design upmarket, with more teak, a high quality finish and a range of options unseen on the earlier boats, such as wheel steering.

Although the design appeared somewhat dated in comparison with the offerings from nearly every other yard in the business, the boats sold well and it was clear that there was still a strong demand for a solid yacht of high build quality, even if it came with a substantial price tag.

The Big Jump

There comes a crucial moment for every boat builder when the decision has to be made to build a bigger boat, or remain within the current size range. Orion Marine decided quite sensibly that to ignore the demand from owners wanting to trade up to a larger yacht would be a mistake, and so bravely decided to develop a new 42-ft design.

Wanting to retain their traditional values but within a higher volume, more modern framework, they selected design wizard Stephen Jones to draw a yacht with classic style, moderate freeboard and an attractive sheer. With a long fin keel and skeg hung rudder, she would be faster and more nimble than her long keeled predecessor, and with a more roomy canoe body would have far more internal space to make her comfortable to live aboard for extended periods.

Freed from the constraints of an inherited design like the 36, which had many of the design limitations of her era, the 42 was designed to be well balanced, and to that end had the engine installed beneath the saloon table, no doubt influenced by Stephen Jones’ successful racing designs. This also had the welcome effect of making the engine highly accessible, making servicing and maintenance of the engine as straightforward as possible, another positive benefit for the long-term live aboard owner.

The yacht remained true to tradition in other ways in the interior, not least through staying with an island galley with the sinks close to the waterline, still the best arrangement for a safe, ocean ready galley in many people’s view.

Cutter rigged, with a simple, robust spar, owners confirm that the 42 is a fast, stable, safe and well balanced yacht in all weather conditions.

A New Beginning

Unfortunately, the usual difficulties in developing and building a new design—moulds, tooling, the inevitable extra time required to finesse a new and complex yacht—brought Orion close to the brink, and in 2000 they were merged with another great name in British boatbuilding, Rival Bowman, to become the current company, Rustler Yachts.

At that time Rival Bowman had been building the excellent Chuck Paine designed Bowman range, and also the spritely Starlight. Slowly the emphasis moved away from those designs towards the Rustler 42, representing as it did a new direction, and in 2005 the company moved to the current production facility at Ponsharden on the shores of the Pernyn River.

This new facility not only had far more internal space to enable production to be scaled up, but also a much larger external storage area, enabling the yard to take on more extensive re-fit and maintenance work, particularly of the Bowman range, helping to consolidate their position and diversify from yacht construction.

 Anchor handling equipment is exemplary on all models.

Anchor handling equipment is exemplary on all models.

New Directions

Rustler 24

Rustler 24

To many people’s surprise, the next ‘new’ Rustler was a 24-ft open dayboat. This pretty little craft represented a drive towards further diversification, Rustler being determined to have options beyond their cruiser range.

It was also perhaps the first indication that the company wanted to develop a family of boats bearing their name, to encourage owners to steadily trade up to bigger Rustlers as time and affluence would allow. This move has gained further traction with the launch of the more recent 33, a much more performance oriented daysailer, once again from the board of Stephen Jones. That this has been a successful strategy is beyond doubt with 45 of the former built so far, and 10 of the Rustler 33 model on the water already.

Rustler 44

Rustler 44

Rustler don’t come up with new designs every five minutes, preferring to concentrate on talking to their existing ownership and getting feedback on what they would like to see as future boats. A case in point is the 44, a deck saloon, extended version of the 42 hull with a much enlarged aft cabin, to suit owners who require a more palatial interior.

In every case, they have resisted any changes that they feel would take them away from their established values, such as increasing freeboard to gain internal volume at the expense of ease of boarding and additional windage.

Substantial dorade box on the deck saloon 44 for good ventilation in the tropics.

Substantial dorade box on the deck saloon 44 for good ventilation in the tropics.

With this same process of developing new models through evolution rather than revolution, the yard have two new designs on the boards for the cruising range, at 53 and 63-ft.

Both will be built in aluminum, Rustler believing that the cost/weight equation turns favourably towards that material in yachts over 50-ft, and which also, of course, avoids the costly moulds and tooling that a low volume GRP yacht would entail.

Rustler 53

Rustler 53

Rustler have selected a Dutch yard to carry out the fabrication. The completed structures will then be shipped to Falmouth for fitting out by their own highly skilled workforce to ensure prestigious yachts that will identifiably be from Rustler.

The Current Focus

Rustler Yachts have steadily broadened their range of cruising yachts to develop a family of boats designed with family crews in mind, and especially for those who have long distance ambitions.

Diversification into the dayboat and daysailer market is allowing them to develop a new layer of ownership, which together with their commitment to re-fit and rebuild work, should help the yard weather storms in the market for any aspect of their portfolio.

Commendably, they are also determined to maintain a design in the mid-size range. The old 36 can still be built to special order, but the totally new 37 that has just been launched undoubtedly represents the future. It’s good to see a yard of this type maintaining a presence in that market, and who knows but it may make good marketing sense in the years to come.

Far from being a high volume builder of average yachts, Rustler has chosen to concentrate on building low volume, high quality yachts. True to known values that work at sea, their new range encompasses the best use of traditional design and materials in a modern idiom, to create a range of yachts that are finding a dedicated and loyal audience.

Part 2

Join me next week in Part II to see how they do this, and to meet the new 37.

Disclosure

Neither Colin or Attainable Adventure Cruising Ltd have received any benefit from Rustler Yachts in money or in kind.

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Meet the Author

Colin

Colin, European Correspondent here at AAC, is a deeply experienced offshore sailor who holds a Yachtmaster licence, and a gifted photographer and talented writer who has added a whole new dimension to Attainable Adventure Cruising. In addition, since Colin and Louise are from England and had their OVNI 435, Pèlerin built in France, they bring a European perspective to our site. You can read more about Colin and Louise and their business at their website.

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13 comments … add one
  • richard s. (s/v lakota) Dec 15, 2014, 12:52 pm

    hats off to these folks…caliber yachts out of fl, a brand of similar ilk to this one, bit the dust as a result of the great recession…maybe they didn’t market their boats strongly enough ? cheers

    richard (home base tampa bay, but lying today at marina key, bvi…overcast all morning, almost no breeze, 8o degrees)

    • Colin Speedie Dec 15, 2014, 4:15 pm

      Hi Richard

      They’ve done very well by refusing to compromise on what they believe works at sea as opposed to in harbour (amongst other things). I’ve just passed a Caliber yacht here in the anchorage at Carriacou, and – who knows – maybe they deserved to survive, too.

      Best wishes

      Colin

  • Dick Stevenson Dec 15, 2014, 1:10 pm

    Dear Colin,
    You have done a great service to all American sailors planning to visit European waters. They will not have to endure the feeling of ignorance that yours truly experienced when we ventured across the pond. I believed I could carry on at least a knowledgeable conversation about boats and boat manufacturers, but quickly learned that I was woefully ignorant of the quality manufacturers whose products rarely grace American shores and never get to our boatshows.
    Great article and, as usual, I learned a lot.
    My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

    • Colin Speedie Dec 15, 2014, 4:18 pm

      Hi Dick

      If I’ve done US sailors a service in this regard, I’m only too happy to have down so. Quality endures, wherever you are, and I’m sure many of your compatriots will be only too happy to show me US made excellence when we visit your waters next year, so it will haves been well repaid. And judging by the next comment from Ben, maybe Rustler are making efforts to become better known in the USA – which they deserve to be.

      And thanks, as always, for the kind comments.

      Colin

  • Ben Dec 15, 2014, 1:28 pm

    I delivered a new 36′ to Annapolis boat show in 2013. What a sweet little ride she was. Got a chance to speak with the builders, I mean sailors who build the boats. Glad to see them making some good decisions. Thanks for sharing.

    • Colin Speedie Dec 15, 2014, 4:22 pm

      Hi Ben

      good to hear they’re making themselves known in the USA, especially as I’ve always thought they would appeal to the American market. And it’s interesting, isn’t it, that they are indeed sailors (like the Boreal team) who build boats they’d want own themselves, not bankers who are just looking for the next dollar. I’m sure there’s a moral in this….

      And for what it’s worth, I think the 37 is a much better boat than the 36, nice though it is – have a look next week and see whether you agree.

      Best wishes

      Colin

  • Marc Dacey Dec 15, 2014, 5:16 pm

    Colin, you may not have received any “consideration” from Rustler Yachts, but that’s a fine piece of marketing material you’ve written! Like the best examples, it informs just enough to make the reader wanting more.

    • Colin Speedie Dec 15, 2014, 5:46 pm

      Hi Marc

      I am unashamedly enthusiastic about any business that turns out an honest product that is fit for purpose. As John will attest, I am equally down on dishonest products that are simply ‘sheep in wolves’ clothing.

      The difficulty is finding those products to enthuse about…..

      Glad you liked the piece – thanks for saying so.

      Best wishes

      Colin

  • Justin C Dec 15, 2014, 9:12 pm

    I’ve long aspired to a Rustler 36. My current boat is a baby of similar ilk, a Trintella 1a. The R36 has always seemed to me the logical “step up”, sea-kindly, and correctly laid out with not even a nod to the marina ‘caravan’ of the mass produced European yards (and I can stand upright in one!!!). OK, I agree, not as fast as an Adventure 40, but, the displacement, and where the mass is situated, I’m certain an R36 can give the A40 a run for her money in the comfort-at-sea stakes.

    Thank you so much for this post on yard I respect so much.

    Oh, BTW, I took a look at a 42 at a boat show a few years ago and found the engine housing/galley just too close to the bottom of the companion-way steps and banged my knee *really* hard. I didn’t damage the boat but it put me off the 42!

  • Colin Speedie Dec 17, 2014, 3:24 pm

    Hi Justin

    these boats are very different from the A40 concept, but both aim to be safe, fast and seaworthy. As an Ovni owner I know there are many ways to achieve those ends!

    Sorry to hear about your knee – I hadn’t noticed that myself.

    Best wishes

    Colin

  • Bill Attwood Dec 18, 2014, 5:33 am

    Hi Colin.
    I thought for some time about a response to your article. I own a R36, launched in 1992 and with a circumnavigation behind her. Bought in 2007 and started a refit in 2009 in preparation for a second long voyage. I owned a Twister for 10 years and had the R36 identified as my next boat for a long time. Helped another R36 owner bring his boat from Borneo to Mauritius in 2012 and was very happy with heavy weather performance. He had owned a Rival 34 for the previous 8 years, but had endless problems with Rustlers with the new build of his boat. My refit has exposed any number of problems in both build and fitout, some of which I list below. A friend with a somewhat older R36 and a lifetime of deep water experience has identified similar problems with his refit, and I have had some email correspondence with the US owner of a brand new R36, confirming that even new boats have some problems. I should emphasise that this is not a general criticism of Rustlers, but merely identifies some of the problems we have had. I shall probably never have another boat, but if I did have a new R36 built, I would accompany the whole process of build and fitout, and recommend anyone else to do the same. If you don´t have the time to do it yourself, then get a professional to do it for you. Not a surveyor (the failings of my surveyor would fill another few pages) but an experienced deep water sailor.
    The following items can all be fixed by a handy sailor, and probably don´t matter for a weekend/summer holiday sailor, but have no place on a boat meant for voyaging:
    Mooring cleats – no backing plates, only penny washers
    Hollow core on edges of cabin top
    Deck hatches with rounded corners fitted to cutouts with square corners
    Chainplates inaccessible without surgery
    Diesel tank inaccessible without removing engine
    S/s tanks sitting direct on GRP = sitting in water = rusted
    Cockpit lockers not watertight
    Drain for anchor locker too small to be of use
    None of holes/apertures in deck sealed (probably true of all GRP yachts)
    I am now very happy with the yacht I have, but the investment of time and money makes no financial sense. If I weren´t a retiree then I could not have afforded it. I have tried to separate out only the items which in my opinion are the result of poor design or build, and not to include all those items which are the inevitable result of the hard life that a voyaging yacht has. In conclusion, I would buy a R36 again, but my approach to a new build or second-hand purchase would be different!
    Yours aye,
    Bill

  • Bill Attwood Dec 19, 2014, 12:53 pm

    Postscript
    On rereading my comment above I did not make it clear enough that the new build which had so many problems was launched in 1999. Adrian Jones of Rustler Yachts has pointed out that a lot has changed in the intervening years. However, my basic thesis remains, that while the R36 has the basics of a sound off-shore boat, it is not “off the peg” so to speak, a voyaging yacht. The A40 is, in contrast, designed to be exactly that.

  • Jeffrey Dec 20, 2014, 5:40 pm

    Very helpful comment Bill – thank you. I’ve added these issues to my list of issues to be aware of when purchasing my next boat.

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