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Prout Snowgoose 37

2008 November 10
August 2004

While not as flashy as modern cats, this cruiser's built to sail the oceans

Just a few weeks ago I returned from delivering my boat across the Atlantic. While holed up in the Azores I saw three Prout Snowgoose 37s in the jammed-packed marina in Horta. Of course this isn't surprising; when you mention the Snowgoose 37 to an experienced multihull sailor their likely response will be, "Oh, what a great cruising boat. It's a real bluewater boat." Unlike more modern cruising cats that boast double-digit speeds and hotel-like accommodations, the Snowgoose is renown for its rugged construction and seakindliness.

The boat was built to cross oceans, not to fill Caribbean charter fleets. Somewhere around 500 boats have been built, and, although statements like this are impossible to confirm, I have been told that nearly 100 have completed circumnavigations. "If you have $100,000 and want a cat to sail around the world, you'll probably end up in a Snowgoose," said John Sykes, who owns 2Hulls, a large multihull brokerage in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

Monohull sailors tend to think that cruising catamarans are a new phenomenon. New is a relative term. The Prout family began building cats in the 1950s, and their boats have been well known and respected in the United Kingdom and Europe for half a century. In fact, a 1963 Australian-based Prout catamaran just completed its third circumnavigation. It's only recently that catamarans have earned similar respect on this side of the Atlantic. I remember seeing an old Snowgoose 35 on Lake St. Clair when I was kid in the early 1970s and it seemed odd and exotic at the time. I wondered if it was safe to be out on the lake in a catamaran when the weather turned nasty. I was a bit chagrined to later learn that the boat had been sailed over from England. Although Prout has had its financial struggles recently, its older models, especially the Snowgoose 34, 35 and 37, are held in high esteem.

First impressions
The Snowgoose 37 doesn't look like a world cruiser. Compared to many of today's cruising catamarans, which I confess, strike me as looking a bit bulbous, as if over-inflated, the Snowgoose seems a bit outdated and rather pedestrian. The solid bridgedeck forward is not as sexy as a trampoline and the 15-foot, 3-inch beam makes the boat downright skinny. The double-ended hulls don't offer stern scoops and easy access swim steps. The cockpit is, at least by catamaran standards, rather compact. However, as soon as you step aboard the Snowgoose 37 you realize that it's a solid, serious boat. It has a bearing in the water that most monohull sailors would recognize.

The wide, dark stripe that encapsulates the ports around the cabintrunk distinguishes the boat as a Prout. The hulls, which were among the first cats to have rounded bilges, show a slight reverse sheer. The Snowgoose 37, which saw the bulk of its production in the 1980s, and its later evolution, the Snowgoose Elite, both trace their lineage to the legendary Snowgoose 35, one of the most successful production catamarans. A relatively low-aspect cutter rig makes for a working sail area of 570 square feet. The single-spreader mast has an air draft of less than 50 feet.

The Snowgoose 37 is not, by any means, a lightweight. The displacement of more than 5,600 pounds is heavier than some modern monohulls of a similar length. The early hulls, which include molded stub keels, are solid fiberglass, while new models are solid below the waterline and cored from the waterline north. As mentioned earlier, the bridgedeck is solid, and although this adds weight it also provides rigidity between the hulls that a single crossbar can't match. The bridgedeck clearance is not as high as more modern designs and this will result in plenty of water action between the hulls. The deck on the older boats is balsa cored, while some newer boats have been cored with other materials. When you drop below and see the generous use of teak you quickly realize that saving weight was not the prime construction concern. While most cats rely almost entirely on modular construction, the Snowgoose 37 is built more traditionally with bulkheads and furniture facings securely tabbed to the hull. I recently inspected a 1994 Snowgoose Elite that had just returned from a two-year Caribbean cruise and double Atlantic crossing. There were no signs of deck delamination, gelcoat crazing or leaks. Marine surveyor and Snowgoose owner Jack Allinson notes that his 20-year-old boat shows only minor gelcoat crazing and is structurally sound. "I hope to sail it for another 20 years," he said.

What to look for
The first thing to look for is the right Snowgoose 37. Although it is hard to find information pinning down exact hull numbers, somewhere around 1986 the updated Elite model went into production. The primary difference is that the Elite is 12 inches wider than the standard Snowgoose, and as a result is slightly roomier down below but also a tad heavier and two inches deeper in draft. Of course, with a draft that's still less than three feet it isn't really much of an issue and the extra interior volume is worth the two inches. The hull shape of the Elite is slightly different. Unlike the standard Snowgoose which has two transom-hung outboard rudders, the Elite rudders are slightly smaller and located below the waterline.

Most Snowgoose 37s have single engines with a rotating, retractable sonic drive gear. While this gear is efficient-John Sykes claims it comes close to matching the performance of twin screws-it is not perfect and can be expensive to repair. Be sure to have it carefully inspected by a mechanic who actually knows something about it. Also, pay close attention to the wiring; most boats have had owner-installed electronic additions over the years and the original wiring was not the boat's best feature. In fact, an interesting aspect of the Snowgoose 37s on the market is that most boats have been retrofitted for offshore cruising-sometimes this is a good thing and sometimes it isn't. The discount offered by a boat with a limited inventory may not only save you money but save you a lot of aggravation too. Instead of dealing with worn-out equipment you can start fresh.

Naturally, all age-related issues, especially if the boat has been cruised extensively, should be carefully inspected. Standing and running rigging and the condition of the steering systems are particular items to check.

On deck
The cockpit is quite comfortable but small when compared to more modern cruising cat designs. If you're heading offshore, that's not a negative. The bulkhead-mounted wheel is to starboard and because of the relatively low profile visibility is good from the helm, even with a full bimini and dodger enclosure. That is not always the case with smaller cruising cats. One well-known model requires that you peer through the cabin ports to see forward from the helm.

All sail controls are led to the cockpit and there is a clever stainless steel fairlead and a vertically-mounted winch to facilitate hoisting the sails. There is a large storage locker under the cockpit sole and access to the engine. One advantage of a single engine is the ability to center the weight on the bridgedeck instead of placing hundreds of pounds of metal in the end of each hull, which is exactly where you don't want it. The mainsheet traveler is aft, and although there is plenty of travel, it's not as long as most newer cat travelers. There is, however, a useful aft deck behind the traveler. The main companionway includes a thick, bi-fold Plexiglas door that can be closed quickly in ugly weather.

The side decks are narrow. Fortunately there is a stout stainless grabrail that is at just the right height as you make your way forward. The double lifelines and stanchions are tall, oversized and extremely well supported. Also, there is a lifeline across the bow, a nice safety feature. Overall the deck fittings are robust. The double anchor rollers are designed to host serious ground tackle. The solid bridgedeck allows for two large forward lockers, which gobble up fenders, lines, jerrycans and the like and keep the deck clean.

The anodized aluminum spar is deck stepped. Most boats are cutter rigged, and most have both the genoa and staysail roller furled. The main will likely have a decent- sized roach and be fully battened.

Down below
The Snowgoose 37 and the Elite came with two interior plans. The family layout includes a full queen berth forward and two spacious double cabins aft. The forward cabin is open to the saloon, with keeps it airy but limits privacy. However, this is an ideal place to sleep at anchor, you can simply raise your head and peer out the forward portlights to make sure you haven't dragged. The saloon includes wraparound settees and a large table. The Snowgoose 37 is not as bright below as some cats and the headroom in the saloon is around 5 feet, 8 inches. However, the use of teak and quality joinerwork lends a feeling of elegance that is rare on a cat.

Forward in the starboard hull there is a changing station, locker storage, a full-length bookshelf and two hanging lockers for the queen cabin. The galley takes up the center of the hull. Although the hulls are relatively narrow, the galley is more than adequate with a unique three-sink basin and a three-burner stove and oven. It is a very secure area to cook, especially because cats don't heel much. And while some prefer a "galley up," meaning in the saloon, the Snowgoose 37 arrangement is an excellent compromise. Although it's technically a "galley down," the partial saloon bulkhead is low, allowing the cook to be part of the social scene and still out of the way. The refrigerator and freezer are located under the bunk in the aft cabin, which I am sure at times is inconvenient.

Each aft cabin includes a double berth, a hanging locker, a seat and vanity and deep shelves forward of the bunk. These cabins don't have a lot of elbow room, especially when compared to more modern designs. The port hull houses a roomy navigation station with a clever folddown seat and a real chart drawer. There is plenty of room for instruments and radios and the electrical panel is located on the forward bulkhead. The head is all the way forward and it's quite large. A single head is sensible, and is one of the primary reasons why the interior plan works well.

The open plan is identical to the family plan except that the settees in the saloon continue all the way forward, eliminating the third cabin. They do, however, convert into a nice sized berth.

The vast majority of Snowgoose 37s were manufactured with a single engine. Typically this has been two-, three- or four-cylinder diesel ranging between 30 and 40 horsepower. Common engines are the Volvo MD series and three-cylinder Yanmars. Regardless of what engine is used, access is excellent through hatches in the cockpit and aft deck. The 35-gallon fuel tank is also located under the cockpit. The most unique feature of the engine is the stern drive unit. Most boats have the Sonic Drive by Sillette. This stern drive is, to use the English word, "steerable" meaning that it turns as you turn the wheel and offers good steering control in both forward and reverse. It is also retractable, which along with the small skegs protecting the rudder make it possible to beach the Snowgoose 37.

Under way
Allinson, who has sailed his 1984 hull No. 216 Snowgoose, Own N Sun II, from the East Coast to the islands, notes that his boat manages 6 to 7 knots in most conditions. It's not fast but it is consistent, and it doesn't need to be micromanaged, making it an ideal passagemaker. Allinson says that unlike modern cats that rely on a huge, roachy mainsail, the Snowgoose goes best when the big genoa is drawing. He also notes that punching the boat upwind in choppy conditions is challenging and that there is a lot of water action below the bridgedeck.

Allison, who often singlehands, appreciates the ease of handling three smaller sails from the cockpit instead of dealing with a large mainsail. One of the Snowgoose owners in the Azores told me that during two Atlantic crossings he has averaged 150 miles per day, and he was quick to add that he doesn't push the boat. The Snowgoose 37, with its flexible cutter rig, balances easily and handles well under autopilot.

The Snowgoose 37 is a solid, capable world cruiser with a proven track record. It may not be as flashy as newer-designed cruising cats, but when the ocean is in an unpleasant mood the last thing on your mind is flashiness.