Editor’s note: this guide applies to the first and second generation Sabre sailboats designed by Roger Hewson and sold from the company’s founding in the early 1970s through the early 1990s. The third generation of Sabres was designed by Jim Taylor and can be identified by their three number model name instead of a two number model name (for example the Sabre 362 is a third-generation Jim Taylor design, while the Sabre 36 is a second generation Roger Hewson design launched in the mid 1980s). Construction of the third generation boats differs slightly and so while many of these tips may apply, others may not. For example the Jim Taylor designed Sabres often had foam as opposed to balsa coring in their hulls.
During our four years restoring Sabre 42 #57 we learned heaps about how the boats are built and what to look for when we shop for our next Sabre sailboat (which are very likely to do after our ‘long’ cruise on the bigger boat). As a result of our blog, we also met several other Sabre owners online and picked up additional tips and tricks as a result of their experiences. We thought it would be fun to write an article enumerating our Sabre-specific learnings. We will deliberately avoid covering very generalized brokerage boat buying tips beyond saying that the standard guidelines apply to Sabres as well as other brands. For example most of these Sabres have balsa cored hulls and decks, and so surveyors should be careful to check for wet or rotten core on Sabres just as they should for any other boats.
We’d also like to point out that we think Sabres are fantastic boats and we look forward to owning at least one more some day. But like any product, they have vulnerabilities to be aware of when shopping. So with that disclaimer, here’s what to look out for:
- Check the keel floor timbers (ESPECIALLY the one under the mast step!!!) for wetness or rot. The timbers are cored with marine plywood and covered in fiberglass, but if water has been left sitting in the bilge, it can saturate and rot the marine plywood, destroying the timber and necessitating an expensive repair.
The keel timbers run athwartship and support keel loads in addition to providing a base for the cabin sole. Here they are shown on our Sabre 42. When looking at boats prior to the survey, check for signs that water has been left to stand in these areas of the boat (it should never be allowed to stand there for long; these boats have a deep keel sump where a small amount of water pools before being pumped out by the bilge pump. In the photo below the trickle of water in the center of the bilge is normal and is running aft from the mast through limber holes in the floor timbers. Note the absence of dirt or growth which would have indicated that water had saturated this general area for an extended period of time. A clean bilge and an un stained cabin sole are good indicators that a boat has been well maintained and that the timbers are likely to be fine, as they were on our boat.
By a considerable margin the most important floor timber is found under the mast step. In the photo below we drew lines to indicate the size and length of this timber on our Sabre 42:
Here is a look at the same timber on a Sabre 36, photographed from the forward hallway facing aft:
Prior to the survey check for signs of cracks in the fiberglass near the mast step and any signs of water weeping out of the timber’s fiberglass (for example near any cracks or the mast step bolts). Also ask the prior owner if they’ve had any challenges keeping the shrouds tensioned. The #1 symptom of a rotten floor timber underneath the mast is an inability to tension the shrouds correctly. At the survey have the surveyor carefully check this timber and s/he may even want to test for moisture with a moisture meter.
If you’re interested in a Sabre and determine that it has this problem, factor a very expensive and time consuming repair into your negotiations. At a minimum the mast needs to be taken down and the cabin sole needs to be removed to properly install a new floor timber, and depending on the model other interior components may have to be removed as well. We met one Sabre 36 owner who had received a $20,000 estimate for the repair, which seemed well within reason given the amount of work involved.
- On centerboard models, have your surveyor visually examine each of the pendant sheave boxes for corrosion and ask when the rubber coupler hoses were last replaced on the sheave boxes. If the owner does not know or is sure they have not been replaced since the boat was new, factor in your negotiations the replacement of these couplers, which requires a haul out and removal of each sheave box. Our Sabre 42 had three sheave boxes and the through-hull sheave box was particularly challenging to access.
The photo below shows the aft sheave box on our Sabre 42. Note the indications that small leaks had sprung up on the box near the welds. Having the box re welded was inexpensive and really gave us piece of mind. The rubber coupler is seen on the left; these are lengths of ordinary rubber hose that allow for movement between the coupler and the metal conduit through which the pendant travels to the centerboard. Our boat was built in 1989 and by 2016, when these photos were taken, the couplers were in dire condition. The hose clamps were also badly corroded and one failed when we tried to loosen it for removal (!!!). Since these couplers are under the waterline and there is no seacock to close should one fail, you want to be sure these are in good condition.
The photo below is from a 1986 Sabre 36 and shows the sheave box where the pendant exits the hull. This photo should serve as a huge red flag. The prior owner of the boat noticed the coupler beginning to leak, but rather than hauling the boat and fixing the problem, they have simply split another length of hose and clamped it over the existing coupler. NOT GOOD. Apart from being generally stupid and dangerous in and of itself, this jury rig should give a buyer great pause about any other work the owner did on the boat.
- If the seacocks on the boat you are considering have all been replaced, major bonus points (assuming the replacements are high quality), but it’s not a necessity. That being said, make sure each of the seacocks can be operated during the survey because seized seacocks can be a lot of work to remedy on these boats.
This generation of Sabre was manufactured with bronze tapered seacocks. At each seasonal haul out, they should be disassembled, greased and checked over. If they have been allowed to corrode too much internally, they may not fully seal even when properly greased unless they are lap fit with a grinding paste, which is a lot of work. In other cases, the cones may have worn enough that they cannot be fully tensioned with their nuts, which requires fabrication of shims. We encountered both conditions on our Sabre 42 and put in many challenging hours remedying the situation. Before closing on a Sabre it would be a very good idea to know the scope of any required work so the costs can be factored into your negotiation.
- Be aware of the different interior trim and finishing options that were available on these boats – particularly the option for a finished headliner and the option for either stained or varnished teak. These options can make a huge difference in the aesthetics of a particular Sabre mode, especially in the case of stained teak that has not been maintained. If you look at a particular model of Sabre and like the boat but feel that the interior was a let down, don’t give up! You may find another example where the stained teak was maintained properly that looks much better, or you may even find one with the satin varnish that gives a massive aesthetic lift.
The first Sabre we looked at was a late 1980s 38 model with a stained teak interior and the listing photos made the interior look reasonably decent. We learned as soon as we saw the boat that stained teak in particular can look far better in photos than in person, and at the same time we learned that stained teak – if not regularly re stained – can look drab.
For example, the, the photo below is a closeup of the book shelf in the aft cabin of a Sabre 425 that has not been well maintained.
The teak joinery has dried out, darkened, and the grain has opened noticeably. In this particular case the problem has been aggravated by a companionway leak that has gone unfixed. Bleh.
While not quite this bad, the interior of that first Sabre 38 we saw was such a disappointment we hesitated a bit before taking trip to see another Sabre. Boy are we glad we made that trip, however! Below is the interior of the second Sabre 38 we looked at, which also had a stained (rather than varnished) interior. In this case, however, the boat was beautifully maintained, and – wow! – what a looker! It was almost hard to believe the two boats were the same model. We made an offer on this Sabre 38 on the spot, but it was too low for the sellers, who changed their mind about selling altogether. We were disappointed, but look at the photo – who can blame them?
Finally the third boat we looked at was the Sabre 42 we bought, which had the best interior of the three we’d seen. Look at the uplift the varnish gives the interior relative to the stain. We spent many, many cozy evenings below with cocktails enjoying the warmth of that joinery.
In both photos above, also note the upgraded headliner. The headliner is vinyl with varnished wood battens and hatch frames. On smaller models like the 34, this upgraded headliner was optional while a plain fiberglass headliner was standard, as shown below in a photo of a Sabre 36. The fiberglass headliner doesn’t look bad, but the upgrade to the vinyl / wood batten headline is really noticeable.
So if you are interested in a particular Sabre but are disappointed by the interior aesthetics, look at plenty of listings and do some research. The upgraded headliner may have been an option on your model of interest and some examples may be available with a varnished interior. We have close friends who found a pearl of a Sabre 34 with satin varnish and the aesthetic lift it gives their boat relative to the Sabre 36 pictured above is astounding.
Good luck and happy shopping!