Venilia is a Roberts 57 staysail schooner. Designed by Bruce Roberts, she was completed in ’96. To call this vessel sturdy, would be a considerable understatement given she probably has more in common with a navy frigate than the typical production boat one sees at boat shows. She is a full keel vessel of 57 ft on deck and 65 ft LOA (length overall) weighing in at 30,000 kg. When there is no wind, she is powered by good old fashioned iron in the form of a venerable Gardner 5LW.
A schooner is a vessel with at least two masts where the aft mast is at least as tall as the forward mast. Typically, this would mean there is a headsail forward of the forward mast, and a main sail on each mast. A staysail schooner differs in that it has a head sail forward of the forward mast, another head sail (called a saysail) between the forward and aft mast, and a single main sail aft of the aft mast.
Like most Roberts designs, she could be built in a number of materials and Venilia was built in solid GRP (fiber glass) for the hull, and balsa cored fiber glass for the decks and cabin tops.
We wanted a boat that would look after us when the going gets rough and this boat certainly will. When things get out of hand, we can deploy a sea anchor, batten the hatches and go down below to wait it out while the boat looks after herself. Hopefully we will never have to test this theory.
Since Venilia is going to be our home for many years, we needed a vessel where we can all feel comfortable as the kids grow into teenagers. Venilia provides this with generous airy living spaces combined with comfortable cabins where everyone has their own private space. There is a small laundry with a washing machine (an unthinkable luxury on many sailing boats), a large galley suitable to keep growing kids fed, loads of storage throughout the boat and a pilot house in which to keep watches when being outside is less than pleasant.
Venilia offers 3 cabins, with a large foc’sle holding 4 full sized bunks. Aft of this, there is another forward cabin with 2 full sized bunks and in the stern, there is a master cabin with a king size bunk. There are two heads, one forward and one aft. Important to us was the clear separation of living spaces so that as parents we can get away when needed and Venilia provides this with the aft section of the boat being akin to a small parent’s retreat.
Venilia is powered by a Gardner 5LW, the same engine as was used in Ye Olde red London buses. It is an engine that was designed before the days of disposable everything and was not built to a price tag. It is a very understressed and overbuilt design producing just 78 BHP from 7.0 litres displacement inside close to a tonne of hard steel. A modern Yanmar or Volvo engine will squeeze the same amount of power out of just a fraction of that displacement or weight, but it will need to spin at 4000+ RPM to do so compared to the 1000 RPM typical cruising speed of the Gardner. It is therefore easy to understand why a Gardner is specified for a minor service every 15,000 hours with overhaul at 100,000 hours while more modern engines are already getting quite “long in the tooth” by 10,000 hours. The final selling of the Gardner for us is it’s frugality which remains unmatched by modern engines. It can rumble away all day long pushing this 30,000 kg boat at under 1 litre per nautical mile.
Venilia’s engineering, much to the credit of her builder, was designed to be functional and simple much like the commercial vessels her builder spent his life working upon. This is reflected in some choices such as an engine powered bilge pump/fire system, hydraulic windlass and minimal electronics.
Safety and comfort are the important factors here. We investigated many boats before choosing Venilia and listed a few points that were critical to us travelling with kids. One of the most important was tall safety rails all the way around rather than the flimsy knee height wire life lines that are still the standard on just about all boats on the market today. During our search we had the opportunity to have a look at a very expensive and popular model of catamaran. This vessel had the typical useless lifelines at around 40 cm from deck, but just to make things worse, to move from the cockpit to the foredeck, it was necessary to step onto the cabin top which was at the same height as the lifelines! I could not imagine how one could safely work on deck in anything less than mirror flat seas. Venilia has solid 1 metre tall handrails all the way around giving us the confidence that nobody is going overboard unless they intend to.
Venilia in a centre cockpit vessel which means that the cockpit is essentially an island surrounded by deck space on all sides. This is another important safety factor with children as we do not want them sitting in the cockpit with nothing but a rail between them and the water. There is typically a cost to such a layout on sailing boats, because this usually means that the cockpit impedes on living space below creating a low ceiling area between the front and rear of the boat. This is however not a problem with Venilia since Bruce Roberts cleverly designed step downs in the floor levels on the Roberts 57 to ensure a minimum of 6’4″ standing room even beneath the cockpit.
No, not even close. As with all boats, new or used, there are many things that we want to change to make her truly our home. The list is extensive, but the main items are (in no order of priority):