BOAT REVIEW Pogo 36 Pipi

June 2023 Sailboat Reviews
Words by Alex Stone. Photography & video by Roger Mills and Alex Stone.
Build Quality
MODEL Pogo 36
BUILDER Pogo Structures
CONSTRUCTION Figreglass/polyester/PVC foam
LOA 10.86M
ENGINE Volvo Penta with Saildrive
  • Easy sail handling and steering
  • Dry cockpit, lifting keel
  • Lightweight, fast and fun, but rugged as well

Sometimes, it seems, the universe conspires. A boat review is meant to be an outing on a sparkling bay in perfect winds, just fine for the writer with notebook, and perfect conditions for the photographer. It didn’t work out that way for our look at an extraordinary sailboat, the Pogo 36. It was different – very different – and ultimately, all the better for it.

Steve Newcombe has always had an eye for lovely boats. Back in the day, oh about 1,000 years ago, we had raced Jollyboats against one another, the most beautiful sailing dinghies ever, from the drawing board of Kiwi legend John Spencer. Naturally Steve had the finest of them, his immaculate (and fast) E Hoa.
We’ve since been on separate tacks. Steve’s been beguiled by fast coastal racing monohulls. And he’s owned a few exemplars of the type: a Ross 780 and then a Davidson 37 named Sliver with which Steve did the 2002 and 2005 Round North Island Races. His shipmate was Mark Winters, another great Jollyboat sailor. Steve went on to acquire Zen, a Bakewell-White 36-footer and did half another RNI race, withdrawing with an on-board injury.


Then Steve found the boat that really rang his bells, but had to endure two and a half years on Pogo Structures’ production waiting list (the boat-builders at Combrit in France), before Pipi arrived in New Zealand. Pogo yachts are clearly very much sought after internationally.
While I instead got seduced by fast modern cruising cats. None of that leaning over bizzo and none of those interesting (challenging) coastal races either. I’ve been in cruising mode.
So when I heard Steve had bought one of the remarkable and nimble Pogo 36s, I though yeah, that figures. That’s Steve.
When I asked If I could write about the boat, Steve had a better idea – let’s do an overnight two-handed race around the Hauraki Gulf together, he suggested. Perfect for a boat like this.
So that was why we found ourselves lining up off a damp and blustery Westhaven in the company of a few other brave yachts facing a night of at least 20 knots easterly or north-easterly wind. No moon, cloud cover anyway, and rain increasing with a Hauraki Gulf sea state doing the same. Challenging stuff.

The course for the SSANZ race had us first heading to Gannet Rock, off the NE coast of Waiheke Island. A beat all the way. Then what could have been a fetch to Flat Rock, off Kawau Island. Only the swing to the NE was going to make that a beat as well. Then a couple more zig-zags before finishing (we estimated it would be at about 4am) at Stockyard Bay on the west side of Kawau Island. Not ideal for a yacht that – with that chine aft, that wide stern, that generous Code Zero – would appear to be a fast reaching or downwind exponent. But that’s exactly where Pipi shone, in opposite and unexpected ways. In the gale and in the dark, she opened my eyes.
Naturally Steve knows the boat’s sailing systems far better than me, so with him expertly hoisting/reefing/setting the sails, we beat our way up the harbour toward Gannet Rock in the failing light. He’d opted for a rig of the inner staysail and a reefed main, thereby shifting the sailplan aft a bit on the boat. There was no way we or the other race starters could have held the full genoa in the brisk conditions. With worse forecast to come.

Watching Steve work, I was impressed with the easy sail-handling systems, with lines all concentrated for easy short-handed sailing. And the infinitely adjustable sheeting system for the headsails, set up for both genoa and staysail, with both sheets leading through the floating eyes. And the useful electric winch for halyards and reefing lines.
With Roger Mills and his cameras chasing us (not flying conditions for his drone though), I found steering Pipi was remarkably smooth and easy. Naturally having two rudders helped enormously, with the leeward one keeping a firm grip, despite a major angle of heel in the more severe gusts. I later noted in Roger’s photos the windward rudder coming clear out of the water at times. Further out in the Gulf, I was reminded of this when whitecaps would slap the windward rudder, imparting a shiver to the tiller.

Roger and the photo boat headed back to the dock, composing a poem to Steve and I on the way. Thanks, mate.
But mostly, as the evening descended into black night, we found we could steer Pipi accurately by feel. And by carefully watching the numbers. Apparent wind angle (between 28-32 degrees); true wind angle (40-44 degrees); boat speed (consistently over seven knots, but this sometimes being hampered by the increasing waves). We beat on into steadily stiffening wind, heading eastwards along the northern coast of Waiheke.
I had expected it to be a pitch-dark night; but we found enough subdued light from the loom of Auckland’s city lights bouncing off the low cloud (when it wasn’t pelting down). And with so much phosphorescence in the sea that night, the approaching whitecaps were clearly illuminated. Which helped in steering around them. Mostly.
Steve went below to prepare a delicious hot meal. At Westhaven before we left, I had cursorily glanced at the Pogo 36’s interior appointments. (While struggling to fit into my wife’s foul language gear trousers – I had brough the wrong ones. Fortunately I had the right-size jacket). I noted the clean-ness of the layout, with smoothly aligning lockers made from moulded plywood in the saloon sides looking like overhead airliner compartments, and the functional galley with plenty of bracing points. A clean and generous heads space, cleverly-placed lighting and a centrally-located fridge at the back of the console accommodating the lifting keel hydraulic gear. A clean practical, modern yacht, reflecting the best of recent monohull design developments.

This lifting (swinging like a centreboard) keel reduces its draft to a very practical 1.18m when it’s up. The fully-down depth of the keel is 2.95m. Steve tells me that the boat has a different aspect of trim when motoring, with the bow lifting a bit as the keel goes aft as it comes up. The raising and lowering of the keel is accomplished via an electric motor and a touch of a button. The whole boat weighs just 3.8 tonnes.
And here’s the thing: this athlete of a yacht is listed in the ‘Cruising Boats’ section of Pogo Structures’ website; the Racing Boats page includes super-sleek short-handed racers, including mini Trans-Atlantic sailboats on foils – and steroids, I’d say.

The Pogo 36 has good standing headroom below with three double-berth cabins, two in the after, quarter berth part of the boat, and one in the forepeak. There’s also a berth on a settee in the saloon. All are fitted with lee-cloths because this is a serious offshore racing boat as well as a cruiser.
Back up on deck with the marina far behind us, I was truly astonished to experience how dry the Pogo 36 is – even in these conditions. In the entire night of beating, I recall only two douches over the foredeck that reached us in the cockpit. It could be the wide stern of the boat hoisting the helmsperson up high while the boat is heeling, or the shape of the for’ard sections of the hull. Either way, steering Pipi was easy – and dry.

Our only company in that dark night was the mast light of Niksen a Dehler 30, a boat I reviewed for Boating NZ, and a serious short-handed speed merchant. At times I envied their water ballast, their retracting propeller (the Pogo 36 has a fixed saildrive unit), but mostly I admired the way Logan and Dane Fraser, their experienced race crew, have clearly optimised the boat for challenging conditions (they had just recently completed the Round North Island race themselves). Still, our ‘cruising yacht’ was footing it with them. They had edged ahead with some clever pointing high and tacking in the flatter water while we were still exiting the Waitemata Harbour. I put it down to my inexperience in helming the Pogo for the first time. Steve maintained a diplomatic hush on this score.

But weather conditions and sea state were deteriorating. Approaching Kawau Island, when I went down into the cabin for a spell, Steve made the captain’s call and spun the boat around, pulling out of the race. With the wind consistently over 35 knots and the swell at around 3m, he didn’t want to break the boat just for a magazine review. Fair enough.
So we skedaddled downwind, with Pipi surging at up to 15 knots with just the tiniest of sails – by now we were reduced to the staysail and a double-reefed main. And steering as if on rails. (A week previously Steve had the boat at 18 knots reaching with the gennaker in an around-Waiheke jaunt.)
We were visited by a group of dolphins who came surging alongside, bathed in haloes of phosphorescence. An extraordinary sight! It put Steve and I in mind of poems we had written previously. Mine went:
Faced with dolphins flashing along
in luminescent haloes
made up of
millions of miniscule glowing green
living lights
Coming from where?
in a vast-calm-dark ocean
to ride between our bows and commune with us a while
on a softly-sweeping half-moon night
[yes, the poem was first written on a very different Hauraki Gulf outing]
You’d think there’d be a poem in there somewhere
But no.
Poems come unexpected
Poems come unbidden,
Haughtily, naughtily ignoring all standard cues. Etc.
Enough of the lyricism. We found a safe anchorage way past midnight, out of the gale at last, and with a toast of rum punch, put ourselves to bed.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about our boat test was next morning. A sail like last night’s would have put most keelboats under real duress. I could envision wildly flapping backstays, a bunch of things broken, torn dodgers, bilges awash, a saloon in turmoil, the cockpit a tangle of ropes. Certainly no poetry afoot.

The Pogo 36 greeted us and the morning completely composed. Nothing broken. Nothing out of place. The interior and decks looking like they’d just stepped out of the brochure. Elegant as.
And we were well refreshed after a comfortable, deep sleep on the acres of bunks. Steve brought out the breakfast. Fruit and muesli. A welcome cuppa tea. All under control.
And all of the above, I say, is the true test of a fine sailing boat.


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