Gentlemen Prefer Blondes - Dibley 55

Long term boating mates Mark Woods and Stan Peyton shared a dream to buy a large volume yacht and go offshore cruising with their family and friends. When a partially-completed Dibley 55 hull and decks came up for sale, they decided to take on the project.

Their project boat was designed by Kevin Dibley, then with Eagle Yachts, in 1994 for a boatbuilder who planned to sail her around the world. Her big volume hull suited his wants for an offshore cruising yacht, but partway into the build other commitments intervened. She eventually came up for sale five years ago as a hull and decks with single-wheel steering, engine and rig.

Mark and Stan hired boatbuilder Tim Lynch-Blosse and a cabinetmaker, and got to work in a large shed at Albany. Tim did the structural work, including the chainplates which are linked to the ring frames with foam and glass. Also on the team was Stan's father Bruce, who calls himself the fourth engineer, but as a former aircraft engineer he was a core member of the team.

A supporter presented them with a Marilyn Monroe poster which adorned the transom throughout the work. Marilyn copped a moustache and lost a few teeth to the inevitable black marker pen, but she stole their hearts anyway.

The original Marilyn was voluptuous; this one is voluminous. "The boat is performance-oriented," Kevin says, "but had to be shoal draft so it has a big bulb to get the stability up."

The layout, as they bought it, included two large cabins, a walk-in wardrobe and workshop. Mark and Stan brought Kevin, by then with Dibley Yacht Design, back to redesign the accommodation so it would suit cruising with Stan's wife Karen, their young children, Sophie (9) and Jake (6), and Mark's friends.

Kevin redrew the twin rudders to reflect modern thinking. Twin rudders tend to be a Dibley trait, and in this case they were chosen because a single, central steering quadrant wouldn't fit beneath the aft cabin. Kevin also did a major redesign of the cockpit, and drew the coachroof with an extension which almost makes it a pilothouse; how lucky for us that we got the only day of cold rain in several weeks of pre-summer summer.

Stan and Mark are rapt with the boat - especially with the cockpit - and even after five years of sanding, building and painting, they are still good mates. Mark, known as Woodsy, is the galley gourmet. He insisted on granite benches and a washing machine. Stan, an experienced yachtie, was against both for reasons of weight. Mark won on both counts thanks to 5mm granite. Several family cruises later, Stan agrees Mark was right.

They both agreed on storage, as in not having too much of it. With such a large volume boat, there could have been plenty, but Stan was adamant he didn't want a yacht which slowly accumulated clutter. Wherever possible, the stowage is drawers so they have access to areas well back beneath berths.

The general layout includes a double cabin with large berth for'ard; just aft is a head to port and the handbasin/shower to starboard. The sole of the corridor and head are the same level, for easy cleaning. Stan, a plasterer by trade, built the handbasins in bendy ply and recessed them seamlessly into the vanity, but you'd swear it was all composite.

The saloon is Party Central, enhanced by the large galley to port and the nav station to starboard. To avoid the dust-catchers of latches in the sole, floorboards are free of fittings and lifted with a suction cup.

"It's voluminous inside, with an open feeling," Kevin says, "But Stan and Mark have taken it to the next level to make it more open."

In rough weather, however, the area is short of handholds and crew would need to hug the sides to be safe.

The navigator gets an executive-style swivel chair with the rollers replaced by pads which secure the chair to the sole. Another nice touch, courtesy of Mark's profession as a master mariner, is a sleeve in the chart table into which the unused part of the chart slides. "You never fold a chart," Mark says.

With all the space, there is also privacy, making the yacht ideal for crews of six or more. There is a double cabin just aft of the galley, to port, and a short corridor to starboard leads to the aft cabin which has an ensuite.

The engine room is beneath the cockpit, easily accessed from the starboard corridor. Mark and Stan committed to using a minimum number of seacocks so the freezer is water-cooled, using water circulated from the fresh water tank. "It means we can leave the boat with all seacocks closed," Stan says.

The batteries, representing 900 amps at 24 volts, are stowed here too.

"Woodsy and I both hate generators so we have the 190-Watt solar panel on the coachroof," Stan says. There are two alternators, allowing several days' normal power usage at anchor without running the engine.

When above decks, you're either in the cockpit or you're out of it. There is no gentle transition as the cockpit is a vertical, a one-metre drop below the surrounding decks. Access is via a nifty set of steps which fold away when not required.

Originally, the cockpit had one, large wheel but it required gymnastics to get around it, so they replaced it with two smaller wheels. This is a good move, although the view from the helm and general space in the cockpit would work better if the twin wheels were further apart, however the interior layout precludes this.

The cockpit seats of more than two metres provide comfortable, sheltered seating either side, with good views through the toughened glass windows, including an opening window facing forward. Digital readouts on the bulkhead are easily read from the helms and a drop-down screen provides a chartplotter or DVD player. A large locker under the starboard seat is fully insulated for use as an icebox for drinks or bait, or later conversion to a fridge.

The cockpit provides almost-indoor quality shelter but I had a mixed relationship with the area. In rough conditions, it would be a port in a storm, but I felt a bit closed-in. Nearly all sail controls run along either side of the cockpit above and behind the seats, and are trimmed from the cockpit where they are handy to the helms, or from the aft deck where it is easier to see the sails, but it's an awkward trimming position at foot level, and I felt exposed and even vulnerable, especially when Marilyn was heeling.

There is an electric winch for the headsail furler but not for the mainsail.

"We were going to get the primaries retrofitted electric but we don't need them," Stan says.

Hatches in the coachroof would help in viewing the sails, but are not possible due to the large solar panel mounted beneath the boom, although there is a large companionway-type hatch in the coachroof that slides open for viewing sails. As we headed out and moved through ferry wakes, the rain ran off the coachroof onto the aft deck and then into the cockpit.

However, Stan and Mark absolutely love the cockpit configuration.

"The hardtop is just fantastic for cruising," Stan says. Having sailed his Ganley 42 offshore, he welcomes the shelter of the cockpit. "It suits offshore cruising," Kevin adds. "The yacht will be sailed single-handed for long periods."

I enjoy helming with twin rudders. The trade-off with them is that when reversing there is a delay of about five seconds before you get steerage, as there is no prop wash over the rudders, but to me they feel extra-confident, especially when reaching in brisk conditions.

"You never feel like you're going to lose it," Stan says. The helms are hydraulic, with lock valves, and the yacht tracks well on course while the skipper attends to trim. There is a Simrad autopilot.

The light airs didn't give an accurate gauge of the yacht's performance. The genoa was designed by Rick Roydon for Marilyn, the mainsail is secondhand, and the boom came from an imported yacht that went for in-boom furling. We were usually around the 5-6 knot mark, coming up into the sevens as the breeze picked up. Upwind, she's comfortable at around 35 degrees apparent, and in offshore work her generous sections will likely provide a comfortable ride and steady mileages.

Boating's verdict
Stan and Mark wanted to go halves in a yacht for offshore cruising. Through a find on TradeMe, a commitment to hard graft, and two well-matched senses of humour, they've got it. Inevitably, as a 16-year project which has evolved through three owners, there are compromises. However, for coastal cruising, Marilyn has masses of interior volume, a great swimstep, spacious decks and a galley to cater for the crowds. For me, the cockpit doesn't rate highly on ergonomics, but its shelter for the night watch on offshore work, or coming home in a blow, will be much appreciated.

Stan and Mark have a great attitude and made it a priority to launch Marilyn in time for this summer. The two-bladed propeller does the job - just - but will be replaced with a three-bladed propeller when the budget allows. A bow thruster is on the wishlist, as are a few more electronics and probably some new sails, but until Stan and Mark figure out How to Marry a Millionaire, they will enjoy the yacht just as she is.

SPECIFICATIONS - Dibley 55 Marilyn
loa 16.82m
lwl 15.5m 
beam 4.96m 
draft  2.3m 
displacement 18,890kg 
sail area (main and foretriangle) 145m² 
engine Yanmar 100hp turbodiesel 
propeller two-bladed (to be upgraded) 
fuel 850 litres 
water 1900 litres
holding tank 250 litres 
designer Kevin Dibley  enquiries Dibley Marine ph (09) 940 9745

This boat review first appeared in Boating New Zealand magazine's January 2010 issue.

Boating NZ