THE 27-foot S-Class boats are modest classics of their time. They are sturdily built, yet they still exude an undemonstrative elegance with their swooping canoe sterns and their low cabin sides. The boats represent a blend of styles and types, but it is a judicious blend – they manage to combine a little of the gentleman’s yacht, a lot of the everyday cruiser built for an era of austerity, and just a touch of the tough working boat. They were designed by Robert Slater in 1945, and all 22 of them were built at his boatyard the Shipyard Company in Bangor, Northern Ireland. (Sorona, the twentieth boat, was actually started by Robert Slater but completed by Bruce Cowley who bought the Shipyard Company from Robert Slater in the early 1960s, Bruce Cowley building the final two boats, Shejenka and Quinsibar, with their raised cabins).

‘My father started to design the S-Class after the war as he felt there was a need for a small, seaworthy, 4-berth cruiser,’ writes Ronnie Slater. ‘He subsequently had two regrets about the design. An extra strake on the topsides would have given sitting headroom under the side decks, but in 1946 the freeboard was about as high as fashion would accept. His second regret was that he really wanted a 30-footer, but that would have been a much bigger boat. There was not much money about at that time and he was not prepared to take the gamble.’ But we need not trouble about the designer’s regrets, for his first instincts were probably right: the S-Class is a serious boat, and it feels bigger than it actually is. That is thanks not just to the quality of the build and the materials, but also to the authentic sea-going design with its uncluttered decks and intelligent allocation of space within. The S-Class is a little ship, but a ship with ambition.

The Bangor Shipyard

Bangor Shipyard in late 40's

All the S-Class boats – the ‘S’ refers both to the designer Slater and to the builder the Shipyard Company – were built on commission from customers. Most were launched initially into Northern Irish ownership, although Sandera for one was immediately shipped to Southampton (that was the boat commissioned by Frank Hopkirk, brother of Paddy Hopkirk who won the 1964 Monte Carlo Rally in a Mini Cooper). Other boats made their way across the Irish Sea to Scotland (where several remain) and to points south in England, Wales and the Irish Republic. At least one customer managed to own two S-Class boats: in the 1960s the late Fr Padraig O’Kelly bought Suantrai and then sold her to take up flying, but after surviving an air crash he decided that sailing was the safer option, and so bought Seaquester as his second S-Class. Yacht broker Peter Gregson of Wooden Ships in Dartmouth who has had several S-Class boats pass through his hands may have been excessively optimistic, or at least generous, when he noted in a broker’s report on Salna ‘this particular design seems to attract careful owners.’ Nevertheless it remains the case that the great majority of the 22 boats built remain in fine sailing condition today. For much more on the history of the S-Class, its builder and those who have owned these boats, read William Nixon’s history of the boatyard and the boats themselves.

The 22 Bangor S-Class(by Number, Name of yacht, year, rig and location):

Stealaway (1947)    S1    Cutter     West Mersea

Saunterer (1947)  S2 (K84T/1196C)   Sloop    Lymington

Southward (1947) S3 (135C)   Sloop

Sandera (1949)  S4   Sloop     Faversham    

Seaquester (1949)   S5   Sloop    Balbriggan (Ireland)

Scarlet Pimpernel (1952)    ??   Sloop     Burks Falls (Canada)

Saturnia (1950)  S11     Sloop      Porthdinllaen

Silhouette (1951)  S8

Spelga (1951)    S7    Sloop     Troon Yacht Haven

10 Sarcelle (1955)    ??   Sloop    Mullaghmore (Ireland)

11 Suantrai (1950)     S10 (1068C)     Sloop     Sandwick

12 Sonas (1951)  S9     Sloop     Maine (US)

13 Seatang (1955)   23C    Sloop      Whiterock Bay, Strangford Lough

14 Scallywag (1961)    IRL14    Cutter (Sloop)    Kenmare (Ireland)

15 Seonaid (formerly Seaquin) (1962)    532C     Sloop (Cutter)

16 Segala (1962)   Sloop     Abandoned at Fahan, Lough Swilly, County Donegal, Ireland

17 Salterello (1962)   ??   Sloop       Galway Bay (Ireland)

18 Shemdra (1962)    S18    Cutter    Quoile, Strangford Lough

19 Salna (1962)    S19     Sloop     Southwold

20 Sorona (1963)   S20  Sloop  Drogheda (Ireland)

21 Shejenka (1963/4) ??   Whiterock Bay, Strangford Lough

22 Quinsibar (1964)   S22    Sloop   Abandoned near Strangford Lough  


Information courtesy of the Bangor S-Class Archive