NONSUCH 30: A Modern-Day Catboat With a Wishbone Rig

Nonsuch 30 under sail

The Nonsuch 30 was the first and most successful of the Nonsuch line of una-rigged cruising catboats built by Hinterhoeller Yachts of Ontario, Canada, from 1978 to 1994. Designed by Mark Ellis at the instigation of Gordon Fisher, a famous Canadian racing sailor who wanted a fast, easy-to-handle cruising boat for his retirement, this boat in particular and its four siblings (the Nonsuch 22, 26, 33, and 36) are among the most popular alternative-rigged production boats ever built. In all a total of 975 Nonsuchs were launched over the years; of these 522 were 30-footers. The Nonsuch remains a popular cult boat and its very active owners’ organization, the International Nonsuch Association (INA), has over 700 current Nonsuch owners enrolled on its lists.

The most distinctive feature of any Nonsuch is its sail plan. A freestanding tapered aluminum mast, situated all the way forward in the bow of the boat, supports a loose-footed mainsail that is hoisted inside a wishbone boom, the end of which is sheeted to the boat’s transom. The boom, because it is canted downwards, acts as a vang and keeps the clew of the sail from riding up as it is eased.

Nonsuch 30 rig
The choker line controls the boom’s relationship to the mast

Sail shape otherwise is controlled with a single line called the “choker,” which when tightened pulls the boom aft in relation to the mast, thus flattening the sail. When eased the choker allows the boom to shift forward, thus increasing draft. The only other controls (aside from the one halyard) are slab-reefing lines for the tack and clew. The reefed portion of the sail (or the entire sail when doused) falls unassisted into a set of permanently rigged lazyjacks hanging under the boom.

The great advantage of this rig is its simplicity. Tacking the boat involves no line-handling whatsoever (just turn the wheel), though jibing is more challenging, as the sail is very large and like a conventional main is unbalanced, with no area forward of the mast to dampen momentum as it swings across the boat. The rig automatically spills air when pressed, as the head of the unstayed mast is flexible. Reportedly, it falls off as much as a foot in just 10 knots of wind. The crew therefore need not work a sheet or traveler to keep the boat on its feet when gusts come barreling through. The lack of shrouds also makes it possible to set the sail square to wind when running off. Not having any standing rigging to worry about is also a big maintenance bonus.

The downside to the rig is there is no headsail slot to improve windward performance. Nor is there any way to increase sail area when running off in light air, though more zealous owners do sometimes try to fly bloopers to help things along.

There may be questions, too, as to the aluminum mast’s structural integrity when sailing in rough conditions. One Nonsuch 36 I was familiar with was twice dismasted during different offshore passages, and I’ve heard other stories secondhand about Nonsuchs losing their rigs. It is worth noting that boats with more contemporary unstayed wishbone rigs, like the much sleeker Wyliecat, have stiffer carbon-fiber masts. There was in fact a carbon-rigged version of the Nonsuch 30, known as the Nonsuch 324, but only a handful were built before Hinterhoeller folded in 1996.

The other distinctive feature of any Nonsuch is its hull form. Like a classic Cape Cod catboat, which it deliberately mimics, a Nonsuch hull is very beamy and carries a lot of extra volume into its ends. The underbody, however, is modern, with a fin keel and a semi-balanced spade rudder right aft. This keeps the boat from developing a heavy helm like a classic catboat and helps windward performance. The boats reportedly can sail just under 45 degrees off the wind when closehauled.

All that beam also creates a lot of initial stability and allows for an enormous interior. The Nonsuch 30 certainly has about the roomiest accommodation plan of any boat its size. The so-called “classic” layout, with single and double quarterberths aft and a saloon with two full-length settees all the way forward, can honestly sleep five people if necessary. The more conventional “ultra” layout, offered as an option beginning in 1983, with a Pullman double forward and a large saloon aft, makes a very comfortable long-term liveaboard space for a couple and even includes a head with a separate shower. The great sense of space aboard is accentuated in both layouts by the generous headroom (well over 6 feet) afforded by the crowned coachroof and, in the classic layout, by the lack of bulkheads aft of the forepeak.

Nonsuch 30 interior
Saloon looking forward, ultra interior
Nonsuch 30 interior
Example of an ultra galley
Nonsuch 30 interior
Saloon looking aft, ultra interior
Nonsuch 30 interior
The cozy Pullman berth forward

To save weight the fiberglass decks and hulls on all Nonsuchs, including much of the area below the waterline, have balsa cores. Both Hinterhoeller and its near-sister firm C&C Yachts were well practiced in this sort of construction–solid laminate, for example, is used around all through-hull fittings–but still the structure of any Nonsuch should be carefully examined for moisture intrusion. The deck joint is an inward flange bedded with non-adhesive butyl sealant and through-bolted at regular intervals; the ballast is external lead hanging on stainless-steel keel bolts. All structural bulkheads are right up forward, running both laterally and transversely, to support the area around the base of the unstayed mast and are well bonded to the hull.

The quality of construction generally on any Nonsuch is very high, as is reflected in the superb interior joinery. The most commonly reported problems–such as poorly designed propane locker drains, slipping rudder quadrants, and gate valves on through-hulls–are relatively minor and easily remedied. There have also been some bigger problems with corroding aluminum water tanks, but it is now possible to buy custom replacement plastic tanks through the INA.

Though Nonsuchs are strong and well built, I hesitate to recommend them as bluewater cruisers. Aside from the mast concerns mentioned above, the cockpits have no bridgedeck and open on to a large companionway with a low sill. If the companionway is not closed, there is little to stop boarding waves from jumping below. I wonder, too, about the motion of a Nonsuch in a seaway, as they are light and very beamy with flat bottoms, a combination that is likely to be uncomfortable in a steep chop. These factors are what give the boat it’s relatively high capsize screening value (over 2).

Nonsuchs do, however, make excellent coastal cruisers, as they are fast, easy to sail, and have extremely comfortable interiors. They are expensive compared to other used boats in their size range, but this reflects both the quality of construction and the fact that interior space is comparable to that seen on much larger vessels.

Nonsuch 30 drawing


LOA: 30’4″

LWL: 28’9″

Beam: 11’10”


–Standard keel: 5’0″

–Shoal keel: 3’11”

Ballast: 4,500 lbs.

Displacement: 11,500 lbs.

Sail area: 540 sq.ft.

Fuel: 28 gal.

Water: 80 gal.

D/L ratio: 216

SA/D ratio: 16.93

Comfort ratio: 22.47

Capsize screening: 2.09

Nominal hull speed: 8.3 knots

Typical asking prices: $45K – $80K

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5 Responses
    1. fuck you

      Hey I bought something that someone was selling and did zero inspection and now I am mad that I bought a POS, lol what a fucking moron

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