A roomy, well-built middle-of-the-road cruiser with both aft and center cockpit versions.
The history of S2 Yachts is in many ways a parable for the modern fiberglass sailboat industry. Begun in 1974 by an experienced fiberglass builder, the company grew rapidly, building first some unattractive “two-story” cruisers, followed by a series of conventional cruiser-racers in the late ’70s and early ’80s, then a successful fleet of race-oriented cruisers in the mid ’80s. Finally, as sailboat sales took a nosedive in the late ’80s, the company converted its entire production to powerboats.
In late 1989, the company was approached by the class association of its popular 26' racer, the S2 7.9. Would the company be willing to do a small run of 7.9s for those serious racers who wanted to replace their seven-to nine-year-old boats? The company thought it over and said, yes—provided they could be guaranteed 10 orders.
As we write this, the class association and S2 dealers around the country have been unable to come up with the 10 orders, and the company has cancelled the offering, perhaps the end of sailboat building by this prosperous company, and perhaps also an unfortunate commentary on the sailboat industry.
During its heyday, S2 developed a strong reputation for good quality boats. The company was founded by Leon Slikkers after he had sold his powerboat company, Slickcraft. As part of the sales agreement, he was not to make powerboats for a period of time, but there was no restraint on sailboat building. So he built a new plant which was, at the time, a model for production-line efficiency. Among other things, the hulls were laid up in an enclosed, climate-controlled room, and they remained in molds until most of the interior was installed to ensure that there was as little deformation of the basic molding as possible.
In the late 1970s, S2 did start building powerboats again, and soon established its Tiara line at the top end of the market. As evidence of Slikkers’ insight into the business (as well as a bit of luck, perhaps), when the conglomerate that owned Slickcraft began to see declining sales in the early ’80s, S2 was able to buy Slickcraft back at a fraction of its original sale price. And of course, S2 enjoyed the boom in powerboat buying which accompanied the decline in sailboat sales during the mid and late ’80s.
From the start, Slikkers also assembled an experienced crew of builders and sellers from the local area. At the time, Holland, Michigan, was the home of Chris Craft as well as Slickcraft and several other smaller powerboat builders.
The company continues today with a strong crew, managed primarily by Slikkers’ son, David, and other family members. The company personnel helped establish a reputation for good relationships with S2 owners, a reputation which continues, even though the company is no longer in the sailboat business.
In preparing this story, we talked with a number of S2 9.2 owners who reported that they are still able to get information, advice, and some parts and equipment from the company.
The Boat and Builder
As its nomenclature suggests, S2 Yachts was one of those few American companies willing to commit to the metric system when the government said it would be a good thing to do. The 9.2 stands for 9.2 meters, as with the company’s other boats (7.3, 7.9, 10.3, etc.). S2 stuck with the classification for a long time, only advertising the 9.2 as the S2 30 after it had been in production for years (not to be confused with the later S2 30 designed by Graham & Schlageter).
The boat overall is 29' 11", the most common length of 30-footers in those days when one of the popular racing rules—the Midget Ocean Racing Club (MORC)—required boats to be “under 30 feet.” The boat was built in two configurations, from 1977 to 1987. The 9.2C was a center-cockpit version, and the last one built was hull number 427. The 9.2A was the aft-cockpit version, and the last one built was hull number 520.
From talking to the company, it is unclear whether the hull numbers represent the actual number of boats built. In the 70s, it was not unusual for companies as part of their marketing strategy, to start a production run with hull number 10, or even hull number 100, so that a model would appear to be more popular or successful than it actually was. The people currently at S2 simply didn’t know if that had been done, but we suspect the total of 947 hull numbers is more than the actual number of S2 9.2s built. Nonetheless, the 9.2 had a successful run.
The 9.2 was designed by Arthur Edmunds, who was S2’s “in-house” designer. Beginning in 1981, S2 built a number of racing-oriented cruisers designed by the Chicago naval architects Scott Graham and Eric Schlageter, but all of the earlier cruising boats were done by Edmunds. Edmunds also contributed engineering and design detail to Graham & Schlageter’s hull designs.
We would describe the 9.2 design—and all of Edmunds’ S2s—as moderate and conventionally modern. The hull has short overhangs, a relatively flat sheer, a long fin keel, and spade rudder. The boats are reasonably attractive, and the aft-cockpit model has pleasing proportions. The center-cockpit model has a high, boxy superstructure whose profile is relieved by good contour moldings of the deckhouse, cockpit, and aft cabin.
One advantage of the conventional looks of the 9.2 is that it is not likely to go out of fashion—a plus for the boat holding its value. Though the rigs were identical on all versions, shallow-draft keels were a popular option; these reduced the draft from 4' 11" to 3' 11". The deeper keel doesn’t seem excessive for most waters and is our choice. The lead ballast is internal. S2 did a good job of embedding and sealing the lead in the keel cavity, so leaking should be minimal even in a hard grounding.
The hull is a conservative hand-laid laminate, and the deck is balsa-cored. S2 used a conventional inward-turning flange to attach the deck, with an aluminum toerail for protecting the joint. S2 is known for good glass work, particularly gelcoats, and almost all the used 9.2s that we have seen still are cosmetically good or recoverable with a good rubbing out.
‘Adequate’ would be a good way to describe the sailing performance of the 9.2. The boat came with a deck-stepped Kenyon spar and North sails as standard, later with Hall or Offshore spars. The rigging and other sailing hardware was good enough in quality that little re-rigging or upgrading is likely to be needed.
The used 9.2 we examined thoroughly, for example, had internal halyards, reef lines and outhaul, a good Harken mainsheet traveler, Lewmar #8 halyard winches, and two-speed Lewmar #30s for the jib sheets. On the down-side, every equipment list of used S2s we looked at listed the original North sails, with an occasional newer furling genoa. One disadvantage of a late model boat with good gear is that the owner is less likely to upgrade before he sells it, so the second owner probably will be facing the purchase of new sails.
When we sailed a shoal-draft 9.2, our initial reaction was surprise at its tenderness. Other owners in our survey agree that the shoal-draft model heels fairly easily, and a number thought that even the deeper draft model was tender. Several reported that you need to reduce sail fairly early to keep the boat on its feet and sailing well.
The boat sails reasonably well. The one we were on, however, would not go to weather decently—a combination of the shoal draft and a well-worn suit of sails. On other points, the boat was respectable. Close and broad reaching, it moved very well and was just a bit sluggish running.
She’s not a fast boat by contemporary standards. In most areas, the 9.2 carries a PHRF rating of 180 seconds per mile (six seconds slower for the shoalkeel), which is six seconds per mile slower than a Pearson 30 and 12 to 15 seconds slower than the popular Catalina 30 with a tall rig. In contrast, the 9.2’s racing-oriented sister, the S2 9.1, a 30-footer, rates 50 seconds per mile faster.
On the plus side, the boat is easy to sail, with a good balance between main and jib sail area. The running rigging and deck hardware is well set up. Oddly, not one equipment list for used 9.2s that we looked at had a spinnaker or spinnaker gear, an indication that the boat is rarely raced. However, if someone is interested in an occasional club race, the boat should sail up to its rating, assuming the sails are good and the boat well handled.
The deck is well laid out, though the walkways are a bit narrow for getting forward, and there’s a considerable step up into the center cockpit. Details of the deck—anchor well, bow fittings, cleats, halyard runs, and so forth—are well executed.
Performance Under Power
A few of the 1977/1978 boats were sold with an Atomic 4 gas engine. After 1979, diesels were installed. Through 1984, the engines were 12-hp or 15-hp Yanmars, or 12-hp Volvos. In 1985, a Yanmar 23 was optional.
The Atomic 4 was a good engine for the boat, as was the Yanmar 23. However, a number of owners report that the boat is underpowered with the Yanmar 12 and 15, and the Volvo 12. For a 10,000 pound boat, 12 to 15 hp would be adequate by traditional standards, but many sailors seem to want a little more these days. The Yanmar 15 in the boat we sailed had no trouble pushing the boat in calm waters, but the owner did say that the boat couldn’t buck any kind of head sea. For some, the optional Yanmar 23 will make the later models more desirable.
In the center-cockpit model, many owners complained about the inaccessibility of one side of the engine and the difficulty of getting at the dipstick, but otherwise the engine was serviceable. A few boats were apparently sold with raw-water cooling rather than a heat exchanger. We’d be cautious about one of the older boats with raw-water cooling unless it had been kept exclusively in fresh water.
The interior was undoubtedly the strong selling point of the boat. For the most part, the belowdecks finish is well done, and there’s about as much usable room below as you could get without making the hull significantly larger.
S2 was one of the first sailboat builders to use fabric as a hull liner, and it became almost a trademark of S2 interiors. The fabric is a neutral-colored polypropylene, treated to be mildew resistant. When we first saw the fabric, we were skeptical, wondering how it would hold up to saltwater soakings. But having owned a smaller S2 for five years, we finally became converts; in fact, in refitting our current boat, we used the fabric extensively, rather than replacing aged vinyl and wood veneer ceilings. The fabric is contact-cemented to the hull, and it holds up amazingly well, absorbing virtually no water. It is quite resistant to mildew and stains. The new owner of an S2 will want to find a good, compact wet/dry vacuum cleaner, which is the required maintenance equipment for the fabric.
The rest of the interior has teak veneer plywood, Formica, and solid teak trim, and the workmanship is good. Layouts changed little throughout the production of the boats. The aft-cockpit model is conventional, with a V-berth that is a bit short, a large head and hanging locker, a large dinette/settee with a settee opposite, and an L-shaped galley with a chart area/quarter berth opposite. There’s adequate stowage under the berths and decent outside stowage in the lazarettes.
The center-cockpit model moves the main cabin forward and the head aft, near to and partially underneath the center cockpit. The galley is opposite the head, running lengthwise down the port side of the cabin and partially under the cockpit. The aft-cabin is roomy, with an athwartship double berth and good locker space. The shortcoming of the center cockpit is that there is virtually no outside storage.
Choosing between the center and aft cockpit is largely a matter of personal preference. With children, or two couples cruising, the aft cabin is hard to beat for livability.
Overall, the interiors are well enough designed and executed that little major work or upgrading should be necessary on most used boats. Many people will want to replace the alcohol stoves on earlier models, perhaps add refrigeration (or replace the original Unifridge), and perform the normal long-term maintenance of re-upholstering, but otherwise the interiors should need little major attention.
The S2s were well-built. Whereas other production companies frequently cheapened or upgraded models from year to year to find marketing niches, S2 made boats to sell near the high end of the production boat market, and kept the quality at a consistent level.
The 9.2s have maintained their value about as well as any 30-footer in the current market. Because the only significant advantage of the 1986 model is the larger Yanmar engine and newer equipment, we would gladly take one of the older 9.2s at a lower price, since the necessary upgrades could easily be done (sails, cushions, electronics) and the final cost would still be much lower than the newer boat.
It’s easy to pay too much money for a used boat these days, but S2 owners generally think they have a good product, and they’ll probably be harder to dicker with than many sellers.