Arabesque: a Hood 23

Practical: my boat

Kirsten Wilkins and her partner Paul find the Hood 23 fits the bill when it comes to getting on the water without spending up big.

When we tell people we have a yacht, they usually give us the once-over. “How can they afford that?” you can see them thinking. Of course, they're imagining a huge, gleaming production boat, a far cry from our dated but dependable Hood 23.

When friends roped me and my partner, Paul, into lessons a few years ago, it was on J24s. We learned the basics, but hurtling across the deck as movable ballast wasn't an experience I was happy to keep paying for. That's when we came up with a better idea: why not buy a boat and teach ourselves?

Fortunately, we were living on the Central Coast of NSW and had a great cruising ground – Brisbane Water – on our doorstep. But what kind of boat did we need? A small sailing boat easily managed by two people, with sails that could be reefed, a ballast keel and a comfortable interior for short voyages.

She's the one
Eventually we found a Hood 23 moored on Brisbane Water. Her name was Arabesque – after the ballet position where a dancer balances on one leg with the other extended behind – so we figured she would dance over the waves.

The Hood 23 was designed in 1966 by naval architect Warwick J Hood, AO. While a tyHe considers the Hood 23 to be one of his most influential designs. “I think it introduced people to the idea that you could get a small, reasonably high-performance sailing boat in a small size that was properly built, properly designed,” he told the ANMM.

Hood Boating Company
The first Hood 23s were made by his Hood Boating Company Ltd, but it seems most were built in Queensland by a Max Stoddart. These days there are only about 20 boats registered with the Hood 23 Yacht Association, but the class president, Col Hubbard, reckons there are hundreds of them around. In Sydney Harbour, where there's a use-it-or-lose-it mooring policy, they are popular mooring minders.

Apparently the design was updated in 1972 and there are at least four versions floating around, including pop-tops and those with a centreboard.

Arabesque, built in 1976, has a full keel and a full-standing-room coach-house ð a real bonus. Of course, having been built in the '70s, she also has green vinyl seats and dark wood veneer panels. Still, these were mere details. How did she sail?

Test sail
We headed off for our trial sail in about 25 knots, with a full main and jib. In hindsight, she was at her limit, and in those conditions since, we'd double-reef the main and set the storm jib, a more balanced and comfortable arrangement. We were pretty happy with the way she sailed ð no hurtling across the deck necessary ð but the post-sail conversation was brief because the owner tipped himself out of the dinghy on his way back to shore.

The survey showed up some dry rot in the packing timber for the coach-house, a non-compliant gas stove and seacocks that could do with replacing. All in all, we were told it was one of the best examples of a Hood 23 around, so that was good enough for us.

Next on the list was insurance. Unfortunately, the marine department of our usual household insurer said any mention of “dry rot” meant she was uninsurable – even though it was above the waterline and in a fibreglass boat. It was exasperating, but we finally found a great broker, Anchorage Marine, that was not only familiar with the Hood 23 but knew what we were talking about.

Plain sailing

With that out of the way, it was time to enjoy some day-sailing on Brisbane Water. Over time, we tried out all the sails: two partially battened mains (each with two reefs), two jibs, a genoa, a storm jib and spinnaker. To balance the helm we single-reef the main for the jibs and double-reef for the storm jib, and in very light winds the main and genoa still keep her moving, so we never get the spinnaker out. With a fin keel, she tacks quite cleanly and we've never been caught in stays.

By this stage, we were feeling quite comfortable with the boat, so we headed off on our first trip to the Hawkesbury River and Mullet Creek. The Hawkesbury is navigable for 60nm for a boat of Arabesque's size. Her masthead is about 11m above the waterline, which means we can sail under the Hawkesbury River railway bridge. Her draught is just over a metre, but we waited for high tide to enter Mullet Creek to be safe. Our anchor, a 15lb CQR, held securely that night. However, that didn't stop me jumping up to check our position every half-hour while Paul slept on oblivious.

When we're not sailing, we seem to spend a lot of time reading chandlery catalogues and we've been fixing what we can. When the main halyard chafed during a recent storm we rerigged with Spectra halyards, weighting them with a sinker and using our trusty tool, a bent-wire coathanger, to fish them out at the bottom of the mast.

My boatbuilding dad and brother took pity on us and replaced the timber support for the coach-house, and we finally had the old gate valve seacocks replaced with bronze-ball valve ones that you can tell are closed at a glance. Recently Paul scarfed some new wood on the tiller, but most of the other changes we've made have been cosmetic. When we last slipped Arabesque for antifouling, we spent a gruelling weekend buffing the hull, and we recently painted the coach-house and decks. A propane one-burner stove and a marine BBQ mounted on the back rail (yes, we're cruisers, not racers) replaced the old gas stove and are more than adequate. We also added a 50L water bladder under the V-berth; a hose up through the forward hatch makes it easy to fill.

Looking good
For a 31-year-old boat, Arabesque is looking pretty good. While we were once desperate to change the green seats, now we kind of like them. And our favourite retro feature, the striped orange and brown sunshade, has proved the perfect foil to scorching sun and morning dew. Chances are you'll spot us at a mooring somewhere enjoying a sundowner amid the kind of yachts we coveted at our first boat show, fending off livid stares as our '70s sunshade offends our neighbours' modern sensibilities!

If you're looking for a good sailing boat that doesn't cost a fortune, the Hood 23 is spot-on. As Warwick Hood told the ANMM: “It doesn't have many vices and so I'm quite pleased with that.” So are we.


Paul Colvin and KirstenWilkins live on NSW's Central Coast. They have been learning to sail for the past four years and have ditched full-time work in publishing and logistics in favour of contracting in the same industries so they can fit work around sailing. They plan to buy a boat suitable for coastal sailing to set off on their next adventure: sailing to their wedding in Magnetic Island, Qld.


LOA 7.2m
LWL 6.1m
Beam 2.4m
Draught 1.15m
Displacement 1.5T
Engine 15hp Johnson outboard

The folding cover over the galley doubles as a chart table. The coach-house offers plenty of light and full standing room.

M.O.S.S Australia
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Multihull Group
Coursemaster Autopilot
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West System Afloat