Bavaria 38 Ocean

This German-built production cruiser has first-class construction and is favorably priced. For serious cruising, however, she does have a few drawbacks such as a small galley and marginal sea berths.


In our travels to the boat shows, we’ve noticed an increased number of German and Scandinavian boats distributed in the U.S. by American dealerships. Part of the reason, certainly, is favorable exchange rates. To get a feel for how these boats stack up to their American and French counterparts, we decided to test sail the German-built Bavaria 38 Ocean. In a nutshell, it’s a well-built, comfortable cruiser with a small sailplan that may be well suited to offshore passage-making, but will not be exactly spirited in light air.

The Company
Bavaria Yachts is a family-owned operation that began as the manufacturer of glass windows. Today, it produces boats in a new, modern plant in Giebelstadt, Germany. The firm evolved into the boatbuilding business in 1970’s, and currently produces approximately 450 boats per year, ranging in size from 29′ to 50′. Bavaria builds several distinct lines. Heavy emphasis is placed on the Holiday series, multi-cabin cruisers destined for the charter fleets in the Mediterranean. The Exclusive line consists of traditional aft cockpit sloops with fewer sleeping compartments, and a large master stateroom. The 38 Ocean features a center-cockpit intended for family cruising. The first boats imported to North America began arriving in 1995, and are in service in a charter fleet in the Pacific Northwest.

Though the company may not have the decades-old pedigree of some competitors, it enjoys among Europeans a reputation as the builder of sturdy, seaworthy boats. Bavaria funds the cost of two Lloyd’s inspectors who are permanently on site to inspect each boat as it works its way through the production line. Consequently, boats aren’t simply “built to Lloyd’s specifications,” but are issued a Germanischer Lloyd A5 certificate that covers hull, rig, engine, electrical system and locking devices.

Bavaria yachts are designed by the J and J design office, a relatively obscure firm founded by brothers Jernej and Japec Jakopin in 1983. Their first yacht, the Elan 31, was an immediate success, winning the 3/4 Ton world championships; more than 700 were produced. The firm subsequently formed a boat engineering company, Seaway, that offers marketing, design, tooling and prototyping services.

J and J works with more than 20 production yards in Europe, and has designed boats for Jeanneau, Bavaria, and Dufour, in collaboration with Bruce Farr, Doug Peterson and the Jeanneau design team. Three designs received Boat of the Year awards at the 1997 Dusseldorf boat show.

The pleasing lines of the Holiday and Exclusive models are similar in appearance to many Baltic, Swan, Wauquiez and Swedish Yachts.

The Ocean 38 Ocean, because it is a center-cockpit design, presents a different look. Its beam is considerable (13′ 2″), which gives us some concern regarding inverse stability and upwind performance. On the other hand, it makes for a large interior and increases initial stability.

The displacement/length (D/L) ratio is 217, and the sail area/displacement (SA/D) ratio is 17.8, numbers that are reasonable for most coastal cruising conditions. The D/L is a bit low for what most people would consider suitable for blue-water cruising.

The whale’s tail fin keel and spade rudder represent current thinking to improve lift and control. The boat is available with either 5′ 1″ or 6′ 5″ draft.

We think that one of the major drawbacks of a center cockpit arrangement is the height above the water, which can translate to mal de mer in heavy seas when the boat pitches and rolls; the tradeoff is a drier ride, even when pounding to weather, as we learned on a trip from San Francisco to Hawaii.

The firm boasts that most of its employees have been working for Bavaria for more than 10 years, most having come through its formal apprenticeship program. A video we reviewed showed the operation to be highly efficient. Wood is brought into the wood shop as logs and milled; workers in the lay-up process are presented with shopping carts filled with numbered sheets of fiberglass that have been precut to specific sizes by a computer, and premixed containers of resin, so there is no deviation in the lay-up.

The downside to this rigid approach is that no customizing is possible. As Henry Ford said, “You can have any color you want as long as it’s black.”

The lay-up methods are fairly straightforward. The outer skin is powder-bonded glass mat and isopthalic resins. The hull below the waterline is solid fiberglass laid up to a thickness of 32 mm with alternating layers of 15-ounce and 20-ounce Verotex woven roving. The forward section of the hull, from the bow aft to the first bulkhead, is reinforced with a 2-mm thick layer of Kevlar. Additional strength is provided by double layers of fiberglass extending 12″ to either side of the centerline from the bow to the rudderpost, and a double lamination on the keel flange, a Lloyd’s requirement.

The hull is additionally strengthened by solid fiberglass stringers, and beams running athwartships that are bonded to the hull with S-glass. The engine bed is also laminated to the hull, and an aluminum engine bracket is glassed to its timbers so that engine bolts are lagged through the metal piece to the bed.

All of the interior bulkheads, as well as cabinetry and closets, are bonded to the hull before the deck is laid on. Areas around hatches are reinforced with marine-grade plywood.

A company video shows the boat sailing at full speed into a seawall. After the third collision, the boat is hauled, revealing only scrape marks in the bottom paint.

The hull above the waterline as well as the deck are cored with 15-mm Divinycell to provide strength, warmth, and a noise barrier.

The method of attaching deck hardware is unique. Winches and cleats are mounted to 3/4″ thick aluminum backing plates bonded into the deck.

Deck Layout
Because the boat is targeted for cruisers who are more likely to hoist a reacher or drifter than a spinnaker, the deck arrangement is rather simple. In fact, there are only four winches. The primary sheet winches are Harken 44 self-tailers, and on the coachroof, to handle halyards, reefing and furling lines there are two Harken 40’s aft of Rutgerson rope clutches. Track for the jib cars is located at the base of the deckhouse and is equipped with Rutgerson cars, as is the mainsheet, which is located at the aft end of the cockpit.

Though there’s adequate room in the cockpit to seat six passengers, and enough length for a 6-footer to stretch out for a nap, we discovered that the steering pedestal can inhibit crew work. The helmsman will find the mainsheet, which is located on the aft coaming of the cockpit, and both jib winches, to be within close reach from the normal steering position. However, because jib winches are well aft, crew will soon discover that moving from windward to leeward will require navigating forward around the front of the pedestal on tacks, or aft of the cockpit. Our test boat was equipped with a storm dodger that extended aft from the five-piece windshield. This arrangement kept us out of the wind on a cold winter day. When tacking, however, we found it difficult to make the trip across the boat in the space between the dodger and front of the pedestal.

With 16″ of pathway between the teak toerail and the cabin trunk, movement fore and aft is easy; additionally, boats are equipped with double lifelines, stainless steel stanchions, a bow pulpit and pulpits on each corner of the stern. So, with the addition of jacklines, a crew can operate in relative safety, even at night. The boat is a 9/10 fractional rig, which we think performs more like a typical masthead rig. The mast is a tapered, double spreader Selden spar supported by 3/8″ wire standing rigging. Standard equipment includes a Furlex headsail furler, hard vang, topping lift, and hand-cranked backstay adjuster. The sail inventory consists of a 5.7-ounce Dacron Elvstrom mainsail with car sliding system and two reef points. Buyers can opt for a conventional, fully-battened main, or an in-mast furling mainsail at no additional cost. Selection of the furling mainsail reduces the size of the mainsail by 75 square feet, and the ability to shape the sail.

Stowage on the deck is in several large areas. The bow area has a chain locker large enough for an electric winch, as well as 100′ of 3/8″ chain, and rope. The stainless steel double roller, which houses a 44-lb. CQR anchor, is designed to can’tilever downwards when the anchor is lowered. This simplifies the task while avoiding damage to the gelcoat. A second stowage area aft of the locker is large enough for dock lines and fenders, and the windlass motor.

Stowage to starboard in the stern is designated for fire extinguishers; to port is a locker for propane tanks. European boats are typically plumbed for butane, so the aft compartment of boats headed for North America must be modified to provide space for propane tanks, since sizes and shapes are dramatically different. The compartment is properly vented overboard.

The stern is clearly designed for the casual cruiser. It houses a two-step swim platform equipped with a stainless steel ladder hinged to go in the water, and a freshwater shower. The emergency rudder mounts outboard on the platform. Long-distance cruisers will be challenged by the engineering necessary to mount a mechanical wind vane.

The generous beam of the Bavaria 38 Ocean provides large, comfortable spaces in which to lounge and sleep. The workmanship is of a quality found in boats costing considerably more.

The layout of the saloon is fairly typical, with the galley and the engine compartment beneath the companionway. A folding dining table and 6′ 6″ settee are located to port. A similarly sized settee is to starboard, forward of the nav station. The head, with doors from the saloon or the skipper’s stateroom, is to starboard.

The boat is particularly well ventilated by four deck hatches, three forward and one in the aft stateroom, and four opening ports on each side of the deckhouse. We found the boat to be well lighted, even on a cloudy, rainy day.

The master stateroom spans the stern and has a 6′ long, 5′ 6″ wide berth in the center of a compartment having 6′ feet of headroom that is surrounded by finely finished mahogany closets and cabinetry, and heavy, 3″ cushions. Because boats seem to shrink in size in proportion to the number of people aboard, we liked the fact that both staterooms have sitting areas that, albeit small, provide some private space.

The head, which is subdivided by a plastic curtain, is equipped with a single stainless sink, hot and cold water, and a medicine cabinet. The shower area has 6′ of headroom and 30″ of elbow room.

The V-berth measures 6′ 4″ on the centerline, and is 6′ wide at the head, tapering to 18″ at the bow. Cabinetry includes a 43″ tall hanging locker to starboard and a similarly sized cabinet with three shelves to port.

About the only drawbacks we noted were the lack of a good, tight sea berth or two, and the size of working space available in the navigation station and galley, which oppose each other amidships near the companionway. But while one might wish them larger, the space would have to be subtracted from the dining area and head. One must remember that despite its great beam, this boat is still just 38′ LOA. The working surface on the nav station is only 22″ deep and 38″ wide. The galley runs fore and aft, and is equipped with a double stainless steel sink, two burner stove, and an L-shaped countertop. There’s adequate working space on the 24″ x 66″ countertop when the stove is covered. However, when the stove is in use, 24″ of countertop are lost, so the cook may have to use the dining table for preparations.

The boat’s mechanical systems are well-conceived and executed.

The engine compartment is accessible by removing the companionway steps, and via a removable panel in the galley. This permits one to work on all four sides of the engine. The Whitlock cable steering system is directly overhead and easy to inspect or service.

Wiring and plumbing are accessible by removing wooden panels in the back of stowage compartments. We found all wiring to be bundled and wrapped every 6″, which reduces the possibility of chafe. Through-hulls are bronze with stainless steel ball valves, and all hoses and manifolds are accessible and double clamped. Though the headliner is not removable, deck hardware fasteners can be inspected by removing mahogany covers attached to the overhead.

We tested the boat on a rainy day on flat water in wind speeds ranging from 15-22 knots. Whether you like the looks of the five-section permanent windshield is a personal matter, but it certainly affords superior protection from the weather and is easy to see through. The center section opens to provide ventilation. There certainly is a trend amongst cruisers toward hard dodgers or at least hard-top dodgers, and a permanent windscreen is a good foundation from which to design an all-weather enclosure.

Under power, the 50-hp. Volvo Penta, equipped with a fixed, 3-blade prop, powered the boat into 10 knots of wind at 7 knots at 2,500 rpm. We noticed that at 2,100 rpm the noise level belowdecks allowed conversation at normal voice levels; at 2,500 rpm engine noise was more noticeable.

The saildrive has pros and cons. Its horizontal thrust is efficient, but the aluminum housing is vulnerable to corrosion, particularly from stray AC currents in marinas. Owners should monitor the unit carefully. The Wauquiez Pretorien 35 reviewed last month also has a saildrive, and owners were cautioned to regularly replace the zincs and to dive on it for a visual inspection every 90 days.

The boat proved responsive to the helm, and easily turned a tight 360°. She also tracked well in reverse, even in gusty conditions.

Our test boat had both furling main and jib, which will simplify sailhandling for cruising couples. The furling main looked disproportionately small for this size boat. We also learned rather quickly the importance of fully hoisting the main; if there’s a scallop at the tack, the sail will not furl into the mast.

We began the test sail with a full main and 150% genoa and discovered very quickly that we were overcanvassed. We shortened the jib to about 90% and in this configuration we sailed comfortably to within 40° of the apparent wind at just less than 6 knots. The boat tracked well. Because the jib sheeting angle is 16°, it is unlikely the boat will sail closer to the wind. Speed increased to 7.5 knots when we footed off and sailed at 85°, but she became less stable so we further reduced the headsail. She proved more manageable at 120°.

We suspect that owners will be motoring until wind speed reaches 6-8 knots, and using the 150% genoa until wind speed reaches 10 knots. In stiffer breezes, she’ll need a shortened headsail or reef in the main. However, with a properly balanced sailplan, we think most cruisers will find the boat manageable and comfortable.

Sailors in gusty conditions, such as San Francisco Bay, will find a sail inventory consisting of main and genoa to be adequate; the need for a light air drifter or reacher will become apparent where winds are lighter.

We think the Bavaria is an exceptionally well-built boat. She’s finely finished; gelcoat surfaces are smooth; and joinerwork is of the highest quality. Crew and guests will find accommodations below to be spacious and well-appointed.

The Bavaria 38 Ocean comes well-equipped with brand-name hardware, Par head, Espar forced-air heater, and a Coolmatic 12-volt refrigeration system that fared poorly in our December 1, 1996 test. Though securing foreign replacement parts can be a headache, the North American distributor maintains a modest inventory of post-1992 parts for all Bavaria yachts.

The boat comes with an extensive list of standard equipment such as teak cockpit seating and sole, ICOM VHF radio, Autohelm ST 50 instruments, dodger, windlass and anchor with 165′ of chain.

Given current exchange rates and a sailaway price of $189,900 (US), fob Seattle, or $182,990 (US), fob Annapolis, we think the boat is a very good value. For comparison, the somewhat larger Jeanneau 40 Deck Saloon 40 lists at $190,000 and the superb but somewhat smaller Halberg Rassy 36 at a bit under $200,000. A more run-of-the-mill production boat, such as the Beneteau Oceanis 381, starts at $138,000.


Contact- Yacht Sales West, Unit B, 2144 Westlake Ave. N, Seattle, WA, 98109; 206/378-0081. In Canada, Yacht Sales West, 1523 Foreshore Walk, Vancouver, BC, Canada; 604/488-1202.

Nick Nicholson
Nick Nicholson is a boatbuilder, racing sailor, and circumnavigator. He began his career at Practical Sailor as an Associate Editor in 1979, and has been Editor-at-Large since he left full-time work in the early 1990s to finish building a 40’ cutter in his backyard, and subsequently sail it more than 40,000 bluewater miles. The voyages of Calypso were chronicled in the Offshore Log section of Practical Sailor during that circumnavigation. He has also raced from the US east coast to Bermuda more than 20 times, winning numerous navigator’s trophies in the process. In recent years, he has primarily worked as a race official and technical rules advisor in the Volvo Ocean Race and the America’s Cup. He also chairs the Technical Committee for the Newport Bermuda Race.