I was recently invited to visit the Southerly factory and sail the Southerly 420 model.

As mentioned in a previous post, Southerly yachts have lifting keels, which makes them variable draft, and hence immensely versatile in where they can sail. Last year a Southerly 49 sailed down the French canals via Paris to the Mediterranean – demanding a maximum draft of 1.4 metres. And a Southerly 38 came 7th overall in the ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers), beating yachts nearly twice its size.

And so it came to pass, on a freezing cold, blowy day in early April, that I made my way to Itchenor, on Chichester harbour.

Following a very welcome cup of tea and initial chat, I was given a tour of the factory. Southerly yachts are all built on site in Itchenor with as few parts sourced outside of the UK as possible.

It was fascinating to see a factory floor with half a dozen yachts, ranging from 32 to 53 feet in length, next to one another at various stages of construction.

Interestingly to me, the hulls and decks are moulded and fitted out separately as far as possible before being bonded together. This means the deck fittings and teak deck are fitted long before the deck and hull come together. It’s also rather reassuring to see the build quality before going out in a wind gusting to 35 knots!

Then it was time to wrap up very warm in full thermals and foul-weather gear (aka as the Michelin man) and head out on the water. I have to confess I have sailed in colder weather, but I try not to make a habit of it! We managed an almost dead run down to Hayling Island, before rounding up a short way into the Emsworth channel and finally short-tacking back up to Itchenor.

It was the first time I’ve sailed a yacht with a self-tacking jib, which turns out to be an immensely civilised way to sail – as is an electric winch. It was quite impressive to be making 8.5 – 9 knots through the water downwind in a yacht that displaces nearly 12 tonnes, and even more impressive to be making a good 8 – 8.5 knots and heading right up to 35 degrees off the wind when we were actually over-canvassed for the conditions with just a single reef, and with only 3/4 of possible keel depth deployed.

So what’s the verdict? I thought the Southerly 420 was immensely sure-footed in what was a good wind. Although over-canvassed, she felt very solid in the water, not at all skittish even at a higher degree of heel than would perhaps be ideal in the conditions. I’ve felt less comfortable in Jeanneaus and Beneteaus with two reefs and 10 knots less wind. It’s really good to know how solid she feels and would feel if one were caught out by a sudden blow. The sea state was fairly benign, so I don’t know how she would handle a heavy sea, and likewise I don’t know how she would sail in very light airs as a reasonably heavy boat. But given the choice, I’d prefer a heavy, solid boat that needs some help from the engine in light airs over one that will sail with the slightest puff but feels unsteady as soon as the wind picks up.

And now for the critical question – does the Southerly marque make it onto my “money no object” list, with a view to a bucket list ambition of an Atlantic circuit, especially including the ICW (Intracoastal Waterway) in the US? Answer: most definitely so.