By Jack Hornor
Revised by BoatUS editors in October 2012
Photos by Gray and Gray Inc.
Hinterhoeller Yachts of Ontario, Canada, is best known for their popular and distinctive line of Nonsuch Catboats. However, their more traditional sloop, the Niagara 35, was introduced by Hinterhoeller the same year as the Nonsuch 30. Produced over an 18-year run, it is still in high demand by cruising sailors.
Canadian designer Mark Ellis, who also designed Hinterhoeller's Nonsuch series, is responsible for the Niagara 35 design which was introduced in 1978 and remained in production until 1995. The design is traditional in appearance with pronounced sheer, balanced overhangs and box-shaped trunk cabin. Overall length is 35' 1" (without appendages), beam is 11' 5", draft 5' 2" and displacement is 15,000 lbs with 37% ballast.
The underwater profile features a very long and shallow fin keel. Although this keel configuration adds wetted surface and frictional resistance, the extra length allows the designer to get the ballast lower while still maintaining a relatively shallow draft. I would prefer a skeg forward of the rudder for added strength, directional stability and to reduce the tendency for the rudder to stall, but I know of no reported problems with this balanced spade rudder design. Steering is quite good except in extreme conditions when extra attention to the helm may be necessary.
Both the hull and deck of the Niagara 35 are constructed of a composite of fiberglass cloth, resin and balsa wood core. Some people are opposed to the use of balsa core material in the hull construction, particularly below the waterline, however there is, in my opinion, little rationale for this. I believe the advantages of properly engineered and constructed cored composites significantly outweigh the disadvantages even for cruising boats. Few, if any, builders have more experience with balsa-cored composites than Hinterhoeller and they have the experience, craftsmanship and quality control necessary to produce long lasting cored hulls. Bulkheads and structural members are securely and neatly attached with fiberglass cloth and resin; ballast is external lead bolted to a deep and well-reinforced fiberglass sump.
A well-built boat is always the result of a combination of proper planning, good design and quality workmanship, all of which are evident in the Niagara 35.
The cockpit, side decks and foredeck are well laid out with the convenience and safety of the cruising sailor in mind. The foredeck is large and there is a short stainless steel bowsprit with two anchor rollers for convenient handling and storage of ground tackle. There are teak handrails on the cabin top and sturdy lifelines and stanchions around the decks. The side decks are quite wide with a molded bulwark for a real sense of security when moving about in nasty weather. The cockpit is comfortable and there are two large seat lockers for storage. Primary winches are within reach of the helmsman although the mainsheet is not.
There were two different interior arrangement plans offered for the Niagara 35; the standard dubbed the "Classic" and the Encore, which was introduced in about 1985. My personal preference is for the standard interior which I believe to be a near-perfect layout for a cruising couple. In this unique arrangement there is no forward v-berth but instead a forepeak with workbench and storage. This is followed by the main saloon with opposing settees and center, drop-leaf table. Nearly centered in the boat, is a galley to port and starboard head and further aft there is a master cabin with double quarter berth to port, a single quarter berth and navigation station to starboard and the companionway leading to the cockpit.
The advantages of this arrangement are many. First, it provides two excellent sea berths and secondly, the below deck accommodations, specifically the galley, the head and the bunks are all convenient to the cockpit and located where occupants are least effected by motion.
Of the 300 or so Niagara 35s built, about 75 were built with the more traditional "Encore" interior with an offset double berth forward followed by a head and shower to port and large hanging locker to starboard. The main saloon has opposing settees, a U-shaped galley aft to port and navigation station. This layout is certainly brighter and more open than the standard arrangement and may be preferred by sailors who principally use their boats for daysailing and weekend cruising.
The original 21-hp Volvo diesel with saildrive was changed in 1982 to a 27-hp Westerbeke diesel with v-drive. Saildrive advantages include no shaft angle to rob thrust from the propeller and no concern for maintaining proper shaft alignment although they do have a greater potential for galvanic and stray current corrosion of the aluminum drive leg.
With a displacement-to-length ratio of 353 and sail area-to-displacement ratio of 15.7, the Niagara 35 is no light air rocket. But, I think most will be pleasantly surprised by her performance in light to moderate wind conditions. When the wind picks up and conditions get nasty, it is important to shorten sail because this is where the shortcomings of the shallow spade rudder will be apparent.
History has shown these handsome, quality cruisers remain in high demand despite the fact they are no longer in production and the company no longer exists.
Naval architect Jack Hornor was the principal surveyor and designer for Marine Survey & Design, Co., based in Annapolis, MD. He was on the boards of the American Boat and Yacht Council, the National Association of Marine Surveyors, and the Society of Boat and Yacht Designers. He and his wife sailed their Catalina 42, Legacy, based on Maryland's Eastern Shore.