Hughes 31By Pat Sturgeon

I can clearly remember my first encounter with the Hughes 31. It was 1979 and I was helping my brother choose a hull/deck kit boat project. A kit boat is a boat that you can purchase at any stage of construction from the hull and deck on. Back then, only a few builders offered their boats in kit form. Manufacturers like Ontario Yachts, Grampian, Hughes and Alcona would go to the boat shows offering completed boats for people who had the money, and kit boats to those who wanted to sail but couldn't afford a second mortgage.

Unfortunately, building a sailboat is not as easy as most people think. Many ambitious buyers soon discovered this, and, as a result, most of the completed kit boats turned out pretty rough - a fact reflected in the low resale values kit boat owners swallowed when they cashed out. But regardless of the final state of the product, kit builders enjoyed a reward that other sailors couldn't buy: the huge sense of accomplishment of having built their very own boat.

A long, complicated story
Hughes boat works was founded in 1966 by Peter and Howard Hughes. The two men began building sailboats at an abandoned air force base in Centralia, Ont., and the company flourished until it was bought out by US Steel. Shortly after the purchase, the new owners approached yacht designers Sparkman and Stevens and asked them to design a series of performance cruisers that they called Northstar. This line consisted of the Northstar 500, 1000, 1500 and 80/21. Sadly, the new line was not fated to remain in production very long. In 1977, US Steel went into receivership. The receiver at the time contacted Peter and Howard Hughes and offered them the assets of the company. The Hugheses, in turn, approached the government and acquired a loan for restarting production of the boat line. Sparkman and Stevens cried foul when they learned of this development, as they could no longer lay claim to royalties on their designs since the builder went bankrupt. Despite the conflict the Northstar 1000 was given a complete face-lift and resurfaced in 1979 as the Hughes 31. The biggest modification was the raised coach house, which turned the boat into a more comfortable cruiser. The skeg was extended on the rudder from partial to full. OMC had also just introduced a unique sailboat engine called a Saildrive.

Hughes produced upwards of 250 Hughes 31s in either kit form or factory complete until 1982, when the company went into receivership. That was supposedly the end of the Hughes 31, though the odd kit boat may have been produced in the mid-'80s when Howard Hughes reacquired the company from Aura Yachts.

Hughes Columbia Yachts was the official name of the company in 1979, the year I started doing service and commissioning for the Port Credit dealers, Ivan Tait and his wife Kathie, who were responsible for 90 per cent of the local sales for Hughes. After the standard layout had been in production for a year, Ivan decided to build a boat for himself; with Kathie's interior design skills and Ivan's handyman back­ground, their Hughes 31 took on a more polished yacht look. A chart table, high-quality fabrics and accessories such as curtains made all of the difference, and out of the Tait's innovation the SE version of the Hughes 31 was born.

The interior of the standard Hughes 31 was typical of its era. The forward cabin had a long V-Berth that was very narrow at the end but flared out quickly. It is about 6.5 feet long and comfortable for two average size adults. The V-berth has limited storage, but as you move aft there is a large hanging locker and a series of pull-out drawers that provide ample storage for clothing. Across from the locker is a good-sized head. Most Hughes 31s came with hot and cold pressure water, as well as a hand -held shower for the head compartment. The head compartment, however, is primarily made of teak, so showering would require a meticulous cleanup afterwards to avoid the growth of mould and bad odours. The shower water drains directly into the bilge, but I strongly suggest that all owners connect it to the sink drain and install a macerator pump.

I always describe the Hughes 31 as a boat that gives "good bang for the buck" and the main saloon plays a big part in this evaluation. The table is all teak and folds up on the port bulkhead. This makes the main area of the boat very roomy. The cushions are made with four-inch-thick foam and the settees are quite comfortable. The location and layout of the galley make it appear to be an extension of the main cabin
and the quarter berth - another feature that makes the Hughes 31 feel very spacious. If you have guests on board, the port-side settee can be turned into a double bed, bringing the total number of available sleeping spaces to six. This is why I often recommend the Hughes 31 to families of five that want to go cruising without spending more than $30,000. The SE version is slightly different than the regular layout. Tait's chart table was designed to go at the end of the quarter berth. This addition works well because it provides a navigation station for chart work and electronics without sacrificing the additional sleeping space in
the quarter berth.

Power struggles
The Hughes 31 regular layout generally had an OMC Saildrive. Once the SE version was available almost everyone wanted one, but by that time the word of problems experienced by owners with the Saildrive engine were starting to circulate, and most SE buyers opted for the Yanmar 2GM diesel instead. The Yanmar did take up more space, however, so the steps leading down into the cabin had to be lengthened.

Despite the dock talk, the OMC Saildrive turned out to be a better engine than people thought. The early problems were threefold: the neoprene gasket between the engine and drive unit did not like gasoline and deteriorated prematurely, the engine tended to foul spark plugs and the magneto ignition had a relatively low charging capacity. However, once these three main problems were dealt with, Saildrive owners generally had a very quiet and powerful auxiliary engine.

While OMC struggled to correct the problems with the Saildrive, the Yanmar diesel took off as the primary small diesel auxiliary for sailboats in the 30-foot range. Almost every sailboat manufacturer at that time used a Yanmar diesel in at least one, if not all, of their models.

Simple and sturdy
Hughes boats were not the Cadillacs of their time, but they offered good value for coastal and inland cruisers. Their construction was in accordance with Lloyd's of London specs, but, there are a few areas of concern. This first is the deck-stepped mast, which is supported by a compression post of 2x2 solid teak inside the head compartment. The post was fitted between the hull and deck liner and was not completely supported at its ends. As a result, the mast tended to compress the deck, causing a dip at the mast step. As time went on, the boat would oil-can at this point and you ended up with delamination and core breakdown around the mast step. Other than that, most of the construction is quite solid, the cabinetry is professional and the bulkhead placement is typical of most other manufacturers at that time. I would prefer to see the main bulkhead bonded to the hull and deck all the way around, but this type of construction is costly and usually only done by custom shops or race boat builders.

The deck has a large one-piece liner inside and it makes for a very bright interior. The hull-deck joint, which was through-bolted with a toe rail all the way around, is notorious for leaking. In fact, the factory would provide a tube of household silicone with each boat, along with a disclaimer in the warranty against leaks.

The rigging is substantial, but the mast is questionable. Hughes used a Cinkel spar made by Alcan Aluminum at the time. It was an Isomat (French spar manufacturer) copy, but it did not compare in quality. The boom has internal lines and a built-in four-to-one purchase for the outhaul. Beware of the original gooseneck fitting though, because it is made of cast aluminum and can break easily if it is strained in the wrong direction.

The Hughes 31 has a deep-chested forefoot, a fin keel and a skeg rudder that is very deep. This makes the boat track beautifully upwind. The long bow and curved sheer keep the cockpit quite dry by throwing the water out instead of back. l only wish that the boat had some inboard genoa tracks and a narrower rig to get better sheeting angles for the genoa -with these additions I think that the boat would point and behave even better. The boat is very stiff and performs well when it is windy. Downwind, the Hughes 31 behaves typically for a narrow transom design and the helm will need much attention.

The cockpit of the Hughes is a traditional ocean-going size and shape which mean s it is narrow and long. The cockpit coamings are quite high, providing good back support and protection from spray. The side decks are easy to get around and going forward to the small foredeck area is painless. The Hughes 31 has a built-in anchor locker, that is large enough to hold two anchors and a small bow roller. The halyards are all lead aft to coach house winches and it is an easy boat to get underway from the cockpit.

Having sold and worked on boats for 20 years, I constantly find myself having to convince people that the Hughes line of boats is not bad. I can assure you though, the company has a bad rep but the product is sound.

We can not ignore the impact Hughes has had on the Canadian boat­building market. Hughes was the second-largest Canadian boat manufacturer in 1981, second only to C&C. There are Hughes boats all over the world, and in most marinas and yacht clubs in Canada. The designs are all from reputable designers, the construction is sound, and most of all, the value is out­standing. You can have your pick of the bunch for under $28,000 (1999 pricing).

Originally published in Canadian Yachting Sailpast 1999 issue.

No specifications listed in article.

Related Articles

 

 

Beneteau Oceanis Yacht 54By Zuzana Prochazka

Beneteau saw an opportunity to add a little thrill to any cruising adventure, so they took the hull of the First 53 racer (introduced just last year), and with a few fashionable changes, created the Oceanis Yacht 54, the new entry-level of Beneteau’s swanky Oceanis Yacht line. The result is a performance cruiser that sails like a witch and looks like a grande dame.

Design

Roberto Biscontini is the naval architect and Lorenzo Argento created the details of the exterior and interior design. 

Read More

Destinations

  • Prev
Over the course of four days in September 1864, representatives from Prince Edward Island, Nova ...
The new owners of L’Orignal Marina offer boaters a new destination. Located in a charming ...
On Friday, April 2 at 7 pm ET on TVO and streaming anytime after that on tvo.org and the TVO ...
Salt Spring Island, the largest among the Gulf Islands, has a certain mystique—much of it having to ...
Located in Lake Huron, the internationally significant Manitoulin Island is the largest freshwater ...
In Part I, Sheryl Shard ended the story at June and the start of Hurricane Season when they were ...
You likely aren’t quite ready to travel yet, but we have our fingers crossed that we can all fly ...

Riverest MarinaThe new owners of L’Orignal Marina offer boaters a new destination. Located in a charming francophone village in Eastern Ontario, this joined marina and restaurant venue is the ambitious initiative of long-time entrepreneur André Chabot and biologist Alexandra Quester, both residents of L’Orignal.

The purchase of the L’Orignal Marina was made official in November 2020. The new year was barely underway when all 50 available slips were already reserved. No wonder the addition of member and visitor slips is already planned for the 2022 season – the 2021 count is up to 62 power and sail already. At the moment, the Riverest Marina offers boaters a stop where they can launch their boat...

Read More

Lifestyle

  • Prev
Last issue we featured a story about the engagement proposal aboard Via-Mara, a 1969 Trojan 42 Aft ...
With thanks to Sail Canada, here’s a collection of photos that are Olympic quality. Clearly our ...
Wow. That was a lot of fun reading the collection of boat names that came in from all over the ...
No individual had a greater impact on the modern sport of sailing than Bruce Kirby. Known and ...
Just off The Ocean Race European Tour, Daniel is setting his sights on competing in The Ocean Race ...
After being our fearless leader and publisher since CYOB kicked off, Greg Nicoll, handed over the ...
Swim Drink Fish is spearheading the Vancouver Plastic Cleanup by installing, maintaining, and ...
With but four weeks to go, Sarah is in Japan, staying safe while acclimatizing to the heat at ...
MJM is a different kind of boat builder, second generation family owned and operated, we design and ...
Stuart Hendrie, a pro photographer sent along this photo of the pirate ship in Jordan Ontario. Many ...

DIY & How to

  • Prev
It’s a scary thought - whether your boat is made of wood, fiberglass, aluminum or composite – it’s ...
It’s a scary thought – but whether your boat is made of wood, fiberglass, aluminum or composite – ...
Last summer there was tremendous interest in buying a boat to have fun in the restricted world ...
The boat buying or selling market is hot now and has been since the late spring of 2020. Sean ...
Last issue we got up with Montreal sailor Marc Robic who has accumulated a lot of tips and tricks ...
While some parts of the country are lucky enough to have year-round boating, there are plenty of ...
A Transducer is a device that is installed below the waterline that provides underwater data to a ...
Spring has finally sprung! At least it has weather wise here in Montreal, so it is with great ...
For most of us, the thrill of being aboard is associated with the motion of the water, wind in our ...
An important, but often overlooked maintenance item on any type of boat is it’s steering system. ...

Galvanic CorrosionIt’s a scary thought – but whether your boat is made of wood, fiberglass, aluminum or composite – it’s slowly deteriorating under you. Part of this is the nature of the marine environment: Sun, moisture, waves, wind, movement and vibration all contribute to components breaking down.

But there are other factors that are much more concerning and act at a significantly faster rate that the environment can take credit for. One of these is commonly spoken of, but not terribly well understood: Corrosion. As boaters, we’re concerned with two main types of corrosion: Galvanic and Stray-Current. This edition will focus on galvanic corrosion – in two weeks, stay tuned for info on stray-current.

Read More

 

  

Marine Products

  • Prev
Watermakers take ocean water and create perfect drinking water using reverse osmosis. A Schenker ...
If you’re headed out for a weekend afloat or on a week-long cruise you often must park your vehicle ...
Ten years ago, St. Margaret’s Bay (Halifax), Nova Scotia-based SailTimer Inc. made the first ...
Between the odor and working in confined spaces, replacing an onboard sanitation line is never a ...
For many boat owners who have gear to tote and the occasional stretch of bumpy road to negotiate, a ...
The 2022 Sea-Doo Switch is a re-imagined pontoon that makes hitting the water more accessible than ...
On the water audiophile-quality sound is attainable with the new JBL-R3500 source unit. The latest ...
An environmentally friendly product for refinishing your teak, hemp wood finishing oil is an ...
August means cruising, entertaining and enjoying summer at its finest. And that means food and ...
A Bluetooth-enabled phone or tablet is ideal for streaming music, but it's often stowed safely away ...

News

  • Prev
Royal Canadian Yacht Club’s Defiant completed a six-race sweep of the Cup for Canada over Zing, the ...
On September 6, Groupe Beneteau laid out its course to develop new boating experiences, new ...
Last Friday, the first ever Canada’s Celebration of Sailing honoured the season for Sailing in ...
Boating Ontario is very proud to have Transport Canada’s Office of Boating Safety jump on ...
Montreal-based Vision Marine Technologies, Inc. is headed to the Lake of the Ozarks Shootout to ...
Summer is in full swing with Canadians enjoying time outside and on the water. So, while enjoying ...
On July 23 last year, CYOB published a piece on a beautifully restored 1967 Trojan 42 Motor ...
HanseYachts AG presents RYCK, its third motorboat brand carrying the "Made in Germany" label. The ...
“We are all proud of our athletes and coaches who have dedicated themselves to push Canadian ...
Collingwood, ON hq’d Limestone Boat Company – owner and builder of Aquasport Boats, Limestone Boats ...

Mia and Caleb's EngagementOn July 23 last year, CYOB published a piece on a beautifully restored 1967 Trojan 42 Motor Yacht in Oromocto NB. (That piece was also expanded in CY magazine later in the year.)

One of our Canadian Yachting contributors, Denise Miller, had shared the article on my social media and a young man reached out and asked if she could connect him with the owners of the boat, Dave and Barb. Denise leapt into action and Dave and Barb were thrilled. They concocted a plan that the young lady, Mia, thought she was coming to model for a sales brochure for Dave to do charter tours.

Read More