Niagara 35

Niagara35250Nov22By Paul Howard

The Niagara 35 is neither traditional cruiser (the fin keel and spade rudder are modern), nor modern racer/cruiser (the fin keel and spade rudder are too traditional). Indeed, it notable sheer further confuses the matter. The Niagara’s high topsides compare to contemporary designs but its coach house hints at the traditional shapes and trim of older designs.

The jib is tacked down forward of the stem on a short bow-sprit, but it still maintains a modern sail-plan. This boat is not a luxury cruiser, though the outfitting was well-planned, and when new, it came with an extensive standard inventory. And like other boats designed by Mark Ellis, it is distinctive and purpose designed. Ellis spent his childhood in upstate New York and completed a degree in business admin. at Boston University, but he began in the marine industry by scraping barnacles off boat bottoms. He also liked to draw boats. In his own modest words, he is a self-taught “doodler-draughtsman”. Ellis’ design and draughting experience was garnered in the prestigious offices of Ray Hunt, Philip L. Rhodes, Ted Hood and C&C, but he opened his own design office in Oakville, Ont. in 1975. His best-known works are the Nonsuch designs– a series that began with the 30 and was followed by four other models (the 22, 26, 33 and 36). Other achievements include the Limestone series of deep-vee powerboats, and the Niagara 42 (of which 20 were built, with 14 having completed ocean crossings). The North East 37+, built by Cabo Rico Yachts, is his latest design to go into production. Ellis said of the Niagara 35 lines, “She is a cruising boat that made sense.” Intended to be a comfortable boat for extended coastal passage-making, it is capable of extended ocean crossings, but Ellis states that he would have changed its rig and layout if it was intended solely for that purpose. “Her underwater shape is similar to racing boats of the 1970’s,” said Ellis. “The spade rudder is balanced and the keel form is a simple NACA foil without deep draught. Her sheer line is moderate and the ends are balanced.” “I suppose you could say she is a moderate design,” he continued, “but that sounds dull–I hope the 35 is better than that!” Ellis avoid trends, designing boats for longevity in the way in the way they please the eye and their durability in use. Preliminary drawings of the 35, intended for series production, were completed in 1977. George Hinterhoeller liked the design and tooling began the same year. The first boat was shown at the 1978 Toronto International Boat Show. About half of the 260 hulls built at the St. Catharines Ont. plant went to the U.S. The last boat built left the shop in 1990.

The original interior was said to be arranged for distant coastal passage-making, with two quarterberths in a cabin just inside the companionway. The head and galley separate it from the main saloon which extends forward of the mast. The forepeak is for storage. Owners began to tell Ellis they wanted a cabin up forward, “one that would be left as a bedroom.” The second interior (The Encore), introduced in 1984, has a large double berth forward, separated from the main saloon by a head and shower. A u-shaped galley is located to port just inside the companionway, with a quarterberth and nav station to starboard.

There were no changes to the hull, deck, or rudder, but the first five vessels were equipped with swaged wire standing rigging. The remainder of the boats have rod rigging. Until 1982, the Volvo two-cylinder, 21-hp unit was installed as the auxiliary. After that the three-cylinder Volvo, or four-cylinder Westerbeke was installed. Some equipment, optional on early models, became standard in later years. All boats had pressure cold water systems, but hot became standard in 1982. In 1983, the oiled interior with plastic lights was changed to a varnished interior with brass lights. The bowsprit was extended in 1985 to increase the foretriangle without increasing the overlap. The 35 was designed for a 140 per cent genoa, but owners wanted a 150 per cent sail for the light airs of the Great Lakes. Shore power also became standard in 1986.

Michael Pullen, a geological engineer, and his partner, Tom Tartaglia, an interior designer, began shopping for a high-quality boat they would own for a long time. Though not intent on an offshore boat, they expected a boat that would permit them to cruise safely on an extended passage. Eighteen months later, after working with extensive photos of the 35, they began a project to customise a standard 35 to their tastes. Pullen and Tartaglia presented Hinterhoeller with eight pages of computer printouts of changes to materials, rigging details, locker shapes, plumbing fixtures and so forth, down to the cabinet knobs and cabin sole coverings. The basic bulkheads of the Encore interior were left in position, but nearly everything else was open for change.

During the building of Syrinx (No. 234 in 1987) the owners met with the builders every Monday to work out the details for the week’s work. Her non-standard gelcoat colours of silver-grey and jade-green are accented by her green canvas cockpit enclosure and boom cover. In addition to a VHF radio and LORAN at the nav station, there is a duplicate set of repeaters in the cockpit. A teak grate covers the cockpit sole, and all lines, including the topping lift, are arranged along the cockpit bulkhead. Interior liners are silver-grey and smoke, while the plumbing fixtures are a Scandinavian design. Teak cabinets of the standard interior were rearranged for a continuity of line. Pullen proudly showed me the photographic record of the building of Syrinx, with detailed lists of the suppliers of all parts and materials, as well as maintenance schedules, all arranged in a large binder. He has nothing but praise for the workers at Hinterhoeller, and for their end product. I went for a tour of Toronto’s Outer Harbour aboard Syrinx on a cold and blustery day last autumn. The engine pushed us efficiently as the wind whistled in the rigging. We were comfortably zipped-up inside the cockpit enclosure with mugs of hot tea to warm our forefingers. Everything felt right. “Many Niagara 35 owners are still in the hands of their original owners,” said Dave Harris, a broker at Harris and Ellis Yachts Ltd., which specializes in Niagara and Nonsuch yachts. “Re-sale prices of the 35 haven’t dropped like some other designs. People bought this boat for her quality,” he added. Harris said an original Mark I, in rough shape, might sell for $60,000, although most sell for $10,000 to $15,000 more than that. In 1984, the price of a new Encore was $87,350. But Harris adds that he has never heard of one selling second-hand for less than $90,000, with most listed at over $100,000. Notable passages made in 35s include that of Gordon McClarity, who bought a second-hand model in B.C., then sailed her to New Zealand and Australia, returning to Vancouver via Japan. Pierre Desjardins of Montreal sailed his boat to the Greek Islands. During my family’s circumnavigation, we met a Niagara 35 in the Pacific and the owner gave he high praise for her load-carrying capacity and easy motion at sea.

Originally published in Canadian Yachting’s May 1994 issue.


LOA – 35 ft 1 in.

LWL – 26 ft 8 in.

Beam – 11 ft 5 in.

Disp – 14,000lbs

Ballast – 5,500lbs

Draught – 5 ft 2 in.

Sail area(100%) – 598sq ft


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