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The Contessa 26 - A Brief History

In the mid-sixties Jeremy Rogers, with a background in traditional wooden boatbuilding got together with one of his Folkboat customers, David Sadler, to create a modified version of the same boat in GRP. A bit of a cliché, but the rest really is history. Contessa of Lymington was launched on April 28th,1966 and immediately made her name in local races. Then David's own new boat, Contessa of Mell, was equally successful and as well as gaining instant recognition as a force to be reckoned with on the inshore racing circuit 26s put up some notable results in the longer distance events. Binkie, the smallest entrant, took 1st place in the Handicap Class in the 1970 Observer/Daily Express Round Britain Race, Shamaal completed the 1972 Observer Singlehanded Transatlantic Race in 38 days to take 25th place out of 55 starters and Shamaal ll managed 14th out of 61 starters in the 1974 Round Britain Race. As well as these high profile events the 26 was taking owners wherever they wanted to go, Peter Hancock tells of his travels in Kylie in Sailing out of Silence and Sailing into Sunshine, and several transoceanic voyages have been completed, including two circumnavigations by Tania Aebi in Varuna, as described in her book Maiden Voyage, and Brian Caldwell in Mai Miti Vava'u, these latter two being in the J. J. Taylor built Canadian version of the 26.

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It is a testament to these boats that the first three built, and many others from the early years, are still going strong!

Sadly 1976 saw the end of production of the 26 by Jeremy Rogers, a few were then built by Chris Carrington before the moulds went to Maclan Marine who produced a few more during 1977/8 which brought total UK production to about 350 boats. J. J. Taylor produced the Contessa 26 in Canada under licence, the hull being identical but with minor differences in the coachroof/cockpit. They produced in the region of 400 boats before ceasing business in 1990.

So what are we left with? "A pretty boat" is the most common phrase in my experience, closely followed by "But how do you cope with such cramped conditions below?". Well standing headroom is possible in a 26 footer, but then the pretty boat epithet becomes inapplicable and you have any old 26, not a Contessa 26. So down below I sit down on that neatest of sliding seats between the galley and chart table and survey a very practical four berth layout. Two V berths forward which some owners have converted to a double with an infill, heads to starboard, hanging locker to port and then the main bulkhead at the forward end of the saloon. Immediately aft of this is the galley to port and chart table to starboard, although a few boats were produced with the galley aft by the companionway, and aft again two berths, port and starboard, which extend under the cockpit seats. The engine, originally a Vire petrol unit but now more often replaced with a small diesel, sits under the top step of the companionway. A self draining cockpit, in boats produced after about 1972, has two fair sized lockers and the aft deck hatch gives access to the lazarette.

Dysca lll was my first 'proper yacht' after many years of messing about in all sorts of boats, sail and power, and I suspect will probably be my last, but that suits me fine! She also has a special place in the history of this classic boat as she was originally owned by Dr. David Carnegie, a loyal customer and supporter of Jeremy's business who started with a Rogers built traditional carvel Folkboat, followed by two Contessa 26s and a 32 which he has only recently sold, all bearing the Dysca name.

Peter de Jersey