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One of the prettiest production cruisers ever built, the Pionier 10 has the manners and performance to match her appearance, says David Harding

One lovely summer’s evening last year (and lets be honest, we didn’t have many of those) we were making our way down the Helford River. After six days of living and cooking aboard our chartered 25-footer, my crew and I were planning to drop anchor and row ashore for a decent meal.

As we went, we noticed a small fleet of yachts gathering near the mouth of the river. They were clearly getting ready to start a race of some kind and, as we were away from home and missing our regular club racing, we idly wondered if any of them might have needed extra crew.

It turned out that we might indeed have made ourselves useful. A few hours later, we were at the bar in the Helford River Sailing Club when I noticed someone standing next to me. It was Chris Olsen, who I had last seen a good 10 years earlier in Dartmouth when testing the Elan 210. Chris had owned and run Yachts of Dartmouth, and Elan had been one of his new-boat dealerships.

Since then Chris had moved to Cornwall and concentrated on the surveying side of his business. His current boat, which he had been racing that evening, was a Pionier 10.

A plan started to form in my mind. Here was a chap I knew, with a boat I had always admired. I needed no excuse to return to the Helford and was always on the look-out for Me And My Boat candidates. And so it was that, three months later, I did indeed return – with my crew, because there was no leaving her behind on a trip like this.

Stiff and well balanced, this is a boat that swallows the miles fast and comfortably. Photo: David Harding

Pionier 10 – lines of a classic

I have always admired the Pionier 10 (she has been around since the late 1960s) because she’s such a lovely boat to look at. And to some of us, that matters. There’s something about a spoon bow, a counter stern, well-balanced lines and a graceful sheer that encapsulates the essence of what a ‘proper yacht’ should look like.

One designer who made a habit of drawing boats that both looked good and sailed well was Van de Stadt. The legendary E G (Ricus) Van de Stadt was one of the pioneers in designing boats for glassfibre construction. He was also in the vanguard when it came to the development of the canoe body and the ‘fin and skeg’ configuration, separating the rudder from a keel that was shortened to create a fin.

A good number of Van de Stadt’s designs for glassfibre started life in England. He formed a long-standing association with Southern Ocean Shipyard (SOS) in Poole where, in 1959, his Pionier 9 became one of the very first GRP production cruisers. Moulded by Tylers in Kent and fitted out by SOS, the Pionier 9 was joined 10 years later by the longer and prettier Pionier 10.

With a pedigree like this, combined with her sweet lines and impeccable manners under sail, the new Pionier proved deservedly popular. She found favour with sailing schools and also excelled on the race course, twice winning her class in the Fastnet Race in the 1970s. She proved that a boat that paid little heed to the fashions or the rating rule of the day could still bring home the silverware.

As she was when Chris found her in Suffolk

These timeless qualities appealed to Chris Olsen when he was looking for his next boat back in 2009. He had sold his Centurion 32 – a Holman & Pye design of broadly similar ilk and vintage – and decided it was time to buy another boat. A Pionier was for sale near Ipswich at far too high a price, so he ended up buying an Ohlson 35 instead. ‘One of my earlier designs,’ he jokes (the Ohlson was designed by the Swedish 5.5m specialist Einar Ohlson, whose designs were among the most successful when the 5.5m was an Olympic class in the 1950s and 1960s).

Restoring and moving

Chris and his wife, Suzie, restored the Ohlson from a very run-down state. They cruised and raced her for a few years before selling her and moving to Cornwall. When a mooring on the Helford River became available, Chris then needed a boat to put on it, so he bought an Invicta 26 (coincidentally designed by Van de Stadt and moulded by Tylers, just like the Pioniers).

Since the Invicta was only ever going to be a stop-gap, Chris started thinking about what to buy next. As luck would have it, he saw the same Pionier advertised again. ‘It was at a bit of a low price this time and had been abandoned ashore for 12 years.

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I was surveying a big boat in Essex, not far away, and I just couldn’t help my car. It took over, and amazingly we ended up in Waldringfield!

‘Structurally she was absolutely fine’, he continued, ‘but cosmetically dire – really dire. Thankfully I could see through that. I negotiated a suitably low price because, quite apart from anything else, I knew the engine was going to be dead. I then spent the drive home working out how to tell my wife I had bought it.’

Chris’s ruse to maintain domestic harmony was to suggest naming the boat after their last golden retriever, which had recently died. It did the trick, and Maija became the latest addition to the list of boats that Chris had owned. ‘I wanted a good, classic-shaped boat – a 1960s tough design by the likes of Holman & Pye, Van de Stadt or Sparkman & Stephens.’

The Pionier ticked all the right boxes. The challenge was to bring her back to a sailable and presentable condition: this was the beginning of lockdown, and the boat wasn’t exactly next door. As soon as restrictions allowed, Chris drove over to Suffolk on several weekends to ‘get her physically into shape’. With the help of long-standing contacts in the trade, he replaced the engine and running rigging among many other jobs.

The keel had been taken off for checking in the recent past and the bolts replaced. The standing rigging had been replaced too, and the hull epoxy-coated, so some of the most important structural elements had already been seen to.

Two-tone decks look good and help reduce glare. The babystay is anchored just forward of the coachroof. Photo: David Harding

The fact that this particular Pionier had a shaft log instead of the usual P-bracket appealed to Chris, as did the rudder on its partial skeg. Further reassurance came from the wide flange on the root of the keel where it’s bolted to the hull. Essential jobs completed, it was time to sail the boat to Cornwall with a couple of friends and then to spend the winter working on her.

The job of restoring the more intricate interior joinery was entrusted to a skilled local shipwright. ‘He did all the nice bits inside,’ explained Chris, who took the rest of the woodwork (‘anything that moved’) home to strip and re-varnish. ‘After that it was a question of what I could afford when and where.’

Discovering a classic

When you’re sailing a lovely looking boat in beautiful surroundings, on a glorious day and in good company, it might be easy for analytical perspectives to become slightly skewed. Boat-testing can be surprisingly intensive and give little opportunity to draw breath, but on this occasion we had planned the day to allow some breathing space.

On board we indulged in proper coffee in the morning, one of the famous Gear Farm pasties from up the road for lunch, tea in the afternoon and even a tot of the Cornish-inspired Dead Man’s Fingers rum on passing Rosemullion Head on the way back. A tot on passing a headland is a tradition on Maija. Chris runs a thoroughly civilised ship.

A good ballast ratio and low centre of gravity provide plenty of power upwind. Photo: David Harding

For all this, I was still fully in boat-testing mode the rest of the time. After shooting the stills and video from the RIB – kindly made available by the sailing club – I hopped aboard Maija. Then we hoisted the radial-head spinnaker as we made our way out of the river. Downwind in about 12 knots of true breeze we surged along at an easy 5.5 knots before dropping the kite and hardening up for the beat home.

Clocking speeds in the high 5s upwind, the boat remained finger-light on the helm. The balance of boat and rudder between them was such that I was able to let go of the tiller and steer just using the mainsheet. She dug her shoulder in, stiffened up and covered the ground with the steady, purposeful feel of a thoroughbred. At the helm you can perch comfortably on the coamings, steering with the tiller extension of course. Few true sailors would have dreamed of having a wheel on a boat of this size in the 1960s, and even fewer would have wanted one. How times change – not always for the better.

The mainsheet is conveniently on a traveller across the cockpit, and the headsail winches – new Andersen self-tailers that Chris fitted – are within easy reach as well. Other treats in the cockpit include a coaming locker to starboard, and slatting on the seats made from teak left over from a job on a Swan 44.

As is the norm on boats of this era, the masthead rig with its substantial foretriangle calls for a bit of winching when you tack, especially given the babystay. The roller genoa by Crusader came with the boat, but Chris had just fitted a new mainsail from Dart Sails. Even with the old main, Maija had won her class in Falmouth Classics earlier in the summer, racing against other classic GRP cruisers.

The Pionier uses the conventional layout of the day, though the full-height pillar handholds by the galley and chart table have been added. Photo: David Harding

Below decks

Down below you find the traditional layout of the day, with the heads between the forecabin and saloon. The galley is to port by the companionway and the chart table to starboard. Abaft the chart table is a quarter berth, its head forming the navigator’s seat.

High bulkheads separate the galley and chart table from the saloon. On their inboard sides, Chris had full-height pillar handholds fitted – such useful features because you can loop your arms around them. In the saloon, the backrests hinge down for access to stowage outboard. Originally they hinged up to form pilot berths.

More joinery has been added in the forecabin: teak slatting along the hullsides, and a locker at the forward end of the V-berth abaft the anchor well bulkhead.

Teak hullside slatting and the locker at the forward end are additions on Maija. Note the support wire for the babystay. Photo: David Harding

One of the few structural weaknesses on the Pionier, says Chris, is the support wire for the babystay. It runs from the deckhead in the forecabin down to the inside of the hull, from where it breaks away if the boat has been sailed hard. Chis bonded and laminated in a new hardwood attachment pad.

Notable by its absence is a compression post. The load from the mast is taken by beams across the top of the bulkhead.

Behind the companionway steps is the new 25hp Beta engine. The cockpit sole can be lifted for access to the top and the aft end. Chris’s only regret in the engine department is that, because of lockdown, he was unable to replace the original mild steel fuel tank. Instead he designed his own fuel-polishing system to guard against debris and diesel bug. The original Gori left-handed folding prop has remained.

Pionier 10 verdict

It’s always interesting to see what boats are owned by people who work in the boating business. After a career in the merchant navy, followed by many years in the marine trade and experience as a cruising sailor, delivery skipper, yacht broker, dealer and surveyor, Chris is in a better position than most to recognise a good boat when he sees one. He has always had boats from this era that are good-looking, tough, capable and well-mannered cruisers.

Despite her moderate displacement, the Pionier’s fine ends and low wetted area help her to slip along in light airs. Photo: David Harding

The Pionier 10 might not match a modern equivalent when it comes to volume below decks, but she looks gorgeous and sails like a witch. Especially if you had to beat more than a mile or two into meaningful weather, she’s the sort of boat you would want to be on. It’s great to see Maija being sailed, enjoyed and given the attention that a boat like this deserves.

Pionier 10

Designer: E G Van de Stadt
Built: 1969-1975
Price: £15,000-£25,000 LOA 9.70m/31ft 10in
LWL: 7.35m/24ft 1in
Beam: 3.00m/9ft 10in
Draught: 1.80m/5ft 11in
Displacement: 4,100kg/9,039 lbs
Ballast: 1,690kg/3.726 lbs
Sail area: 43.20m2/465 sq ft

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