Greg Copp explores this new tune on an old fiddle, but a rhythm only the tone-deaf can ignore.
Reworking an old design is commonplace in the marine industry, and often for good reason. This is exactly what Nord Star have done with their new 28+. This model shares the same basic hull lines as the original 28, but with some substantial changes in the design and layout. One of the hull modifications is in the form of new patented hull strakes for a smoother and quieter ride – otherwise it has the same underwater lines. This is no bad thing, as these Finnish boats have a formidable reputation for seakeeping, being crafted in a country where all-weather boating is often a fact of life.
If you are familiar with the old 28, and Nord Star’s competitors in this field, the first thing you may ask when you open the wheelhouse door is: where is the galley? In the past, the 28 had a galley top/hob in front of the navigator’s seat, in place of a chart table, with a fridge under the seat, and storage spread within the wheelhouse. This is an unusual arrangement that several Scandinavian manufacturers still favour with this size of boat and smaller. Nord Star have now redesigned the 28+ to have a conventional ‘galley down’ layout. This is the most significant change to the 28+, and it has implications. The main impact is that the master forepeak cabin is slightly smaller, which is manifested in the total lack of cupboards or a hanging locker in this cabin. All storage is under the convertible V-berth, though there is a small lockable cubby for valuables. There is a slim hanging locker outside the cabin door, but that is really meant for oilskins, so you will have to store your spare clothes either under the V-berth or in something else. This also means that access to the mid cabin is through a hatch under the navigator’s seat.
Having said all that, this ‘galley down’ design works very well. It is far better than spreading it round up top, as you get more features, and they are all together. Storage is limited to two overhead lockers, two under-counter drawers and small hinged compartments under the companionway steps – but this is more than on the earlier model. Frankly, with the previous ‘galley up’ design, all I would have felt inclined to do is put the kettle on. However, with the 28+ I could see myself knocking up something on the double flush hob, especially as any crewmembers would not now be getting in the way. The heads has full standing headroom and a pull-out shower that doubles as a tap. Unless you are taller than 6ft 3in, the heads, the forepeak cabin and the galley will work for you. The mid cabin is what you would expect, i.e. a bit of a squeeze to get into, and the double berth is ideal for children, or a couple at a pinch, due to the shorter bed length on one side. What has been given to this cabin over its predecessor is bigger tinted windows, so there is a decent amount of natural light.
The helm set-up is perfect. The ergonomics are great whether you want to stand or sit when driving, with the wheel and throttle falling easily to hand. The dashboard has been improved to take a 19in MFD, sitting just under your line of sight, and the primary switches are not tucked away behind the wheel as is often the case. Both helm seats have been improved, I am informed, and the aft section of the wheelhouse has a U-shaped sofa set-up around a Scandinavian ‘tall pole’ table. It is a simple but effective design that places the table under the ceiling when not in use, while providing a super-rugged table in the blink of an eye when needed. Last but not least, the wheelhouse now has a big opening rear window. Why this was overlooked on the previous 28 I can’t fathom, as the effect of having a breeze blowing through the wheelhouse on a warm day is priceless, not to mention the improved rear visibility.
On deck, with its wide side decks, this boat is reassuringly safe to move around when underway. The bulwarks are tall and the handrails are at just the right height. Now there is a bulwark gate on either side, opposite each wheelhouse door – ideal for going single-crewed. Most people will feel inclined to board the boat via its newly extended bathing platform, which provides cockpit access through a chunky transom gate. Four fender cages sit on the rear guard rail, and inside the transom there are three bench seats, with storage lockers underneath – one of which houses the electrical master switches. Engine access is quick and easy, with the large cockpit hatch providing plenty of space around the engine. The standard of finish and engineering is of the highest quality. Not a single service item is a stretch or a squeeze to access, notably the raw-water strainer sitting at the front of the engine block. True to form, the deck hardware is hard-core, especially the stainless windlass, and the cavernous anchor locker houses more anchor chain than you are ever likely to need.
A specific mention needs to be made regarding the latest generation of Volvo D6, in this case the 380hp version. This comes with the new duo-prop DPI sterndrive, which is now fitted with stainless props as standard and also has a wet multi-plate clutch instead of the old cone clutch. This provides extremely smooth seamless transmission, as well as a ‘slow speed’ mode, which slips the clutch below 700rpm in order to bring your speed down to 2 knots when needed. This is ideal for berthing on wind-free days, or simply dropping the speed in congested waterways. At the other end of the spectrum, the DPI drive provides a healthy degree of grip in the turns and can handle the torque of the latest 440hp D6. The engine itself, despite looking externally similar, has had a lot of changes: there are new injectors, new turbocharger geometry, a new DCU, new pistons and a new block, among other things. What is particularly forward thinking is Volvo’s latest generation of oil. This enables oil samples to be taken, which determine whether you can increase, or need to decrease, your service intervals. Also, in the event of extreme use, this sampling feature can also determine specific engine wear.
Driving the 28+
The new 28+ really benefits from Volvo’s latest technology. Firstly, the new 380hp D6 is a beauty – smoother and quieter than before, and with a slightly broader spread of torque. All of this is enhanced by the automated Zipwake interceptor trim tab system, which makes it easy to drive this boat to its best. The Nord Star accelerates quickly onto the plane, as the Zipwake system trims the bow down perfectly when needed and can keep the boat’s planing down to 12 knots. Pushing up to the boat’s maximum speed just shy of 35 knots requires no fettling, as the interceptors retract as you pile on the power. From my experience of Nord Stars, they have very good natural fore and aft trim, so the Zipwake system doesn’t have to work hard, thus responding quickly and seamlessly. When throwing the boat hard to port, you need to check across your port beam first, because the top of the window line shuts off your view over this area with the boat heeling. However, this effect is reduced by the interceptors, and to a degree it decreases the Nord Star’s ability to execute its sports boat-like tight turns.
This is a boat that can be enjoyed fully from a driver’s perspective. Driving in a ‘spirited’ manner is pretty easy as Volvo’s latest electrical steering is perfectly composed – steady, light and responsive – and the hull holds a steady line in full-lock turns. The ride is dry as the bow flare does its job, and at no point was there a need for the windscreen wipers. The only confused weather was off Calshot, which we ran through at over 30 knots without any complaints, especially as the Zipwake system rapidly adjusts to a changing sea state. I would like to be able to give this boat a specific sweet spot, but that is not easy, as she planes at 12 knots thanks to Zipwake and maintains a quiet composed pace up to 30 knots, above which only a small increase in engine tone gives any real impression of speed.
This is a boat that gives an impression of being bigger than it is. However, its generous beam and plenty of deck space enhance this impression, as do the driving experience and seakeeping. It is offered with many engine options, but the Volvo D6 in 380hp to 440hp versions will be the one to choose. The build quality and finish are of a very high standard, which is to be expected from this brand. There are cheaper 28-footers out there, but I often consider that in real terms they represent less value for money, as this boat offers an all-weather boating experience and a level of depreciation that few brands can match.
What we thought
- Great handling – very responsive steering and exceedingly sure-footed
- Soft-riding hull
- Good performance
- Very solid build quality
- High-quality finish inside and out
- Practicality/safety on deck
- Good galley for size and type of boat
- Limited storage in the forepeak cabin
- LOA: 9.5m (31ft 2in)
- Beam: 3.1m (10ft 2in)
- Transom deadrise angle: 18.3 degrees
- Displacement: 4500kg (single Volvo D6 – dry)
- Power options: Mainstream options are a 1 x 320hp Volvo D4, 1 x 340hp Volvo D6, 1 x 380hp Volvo D6, 1 x 400hp Volvo D6 and 1 x 440hp Volvo D6 – all on a DPI duo-prop sterndrive. There are also Yanmar and MerCruiser diesel options (single and twin), plus twin outboards.
- Fuel capacity: 585L
- RCD category: B for 8
- Test engines: Single 380hp Volvo D6 on a DPI sterndrive
- From: £176,500 (plus VAT) (single 340hp Volvo D6 with DPI sterndrive)
- As tested: £225,000 (plus VAT) delivered to the UK
- 34.8 knots (2-way average), sea conditions F3, crew 3, water 50% and fuel 90%
MCC Marine, Unit 2 Firefly Rd, Hamble Point Marina, School Lane, Hamble, Southampton, Hampshire SO31 4JD