The Baba 30 is a small but serious cruising boat. And it certainly looks the part with a shapely canoe stern, springy sheerline and proud bowsprit. The Baba 30 pedigree arcs through Colin Archer’s converted lifeboats of the 19th century to the famed Tahiti ketches that carried early cruisers around the world between wars. More recently, like many small double-enders that sprang to life in the 1970s, the Baba 30 was inspired by the stunning success of the Westsail 32. Baba 30 designer Bob Perry confesses that the Westsail was a role model of sorts for some of his early cruising designs.
“To sell a cruising design in those days, it had to look something like the Westsail,” Perry said.
Indeed, salty double-enders with full keels were de rigueur during those cruising boom years, and not surprisingly they’ve stood the test of time. Many are still making bluewater passages today. This past summer I noted an older Baba 30 in the anchorage at St. George’s, Bermuda. It glistened with fresh varnish and its solo skipper was on his way to the Mediterranean.
When American exporter Bob Berg commissioned a small yard in Tainan, Taiwan, to build Perry’s design, few would have predicted that Ta Shing, then a fledgling builder of local fishing boats, would develop into one of the world’s finest yacht builders. Quoted in Spurr’s comprehensive book, Heart of Glass, Perry says that he had to kick the chickens out of the way when walking to the Ta Shing yard in those early days. According to Spurr, the workers couldn’t pronounce Bob Berg’s name, it came out as “Baba,” and it stuck. The Baba 30 sounds better than the Berg 30.
Launched in 1978, the Baba 30 was Ta Shing’s first sailboat, and by the time production stopped in 1985, 230 had been built. Perry credits Berg with taking the time to overcome communication snafus with the crew at Ta Shing, thus eliminating the construction woes that plagued other Taiwan yards.
“Ta Shing essentially required no learning curve,” Perry said. “They were great right out of the starting blocks.” Ta Shing went on to produce many fine sailboat lines, including Taswell, Norseman and Tashiba.
If you’re a traditionalist the Baba 30 will stir you. Nicely proportioned and laden with teak, the Baba 30 conjures visions of lush tropical islands. Close your eyes, can you see it, a lovely Baby 30 swinging at anchor in Cook’s Bay, Moorea? Once aboard you realize that the Baba 30 isn’t really a pocket cruiser. It’s a big boat trapped in short body. The 12,500 pounds of displacement and 5,000 pounds of ballast are the telling figures. By way of comparison, other early full-keel 30-footers like the Alberg, Bristol and Cape Dory weigh considerably less.
The rig is a classic cutter with 504 square feet of working sail area. Early boats were fitted with wooden spars and came standard with a hanked-on staysail and yankee. Today, most Baba 30s on the used market have furling headsails and some a furling staysail as well. The hull shape features a long bow overhang and gradual sloping forefoot that trails into a long keel section. The rudder is completely protected and the prop is housed in a small aperture. While the Baba 30 is at home in blue water, especially if it’s blowing, it’s a handful when backing into a slip under power.
The hull is solid fiberglass, laid up to heavy scantlings. Supposedly the lamination schedule exceeded Lloyd’s A-1 specs and some boats were built to Lloyd’s 100-A1 and have the certificate to prove it. This process didn’t require more fiberglass just more supervision. The deck is cored with either balsa or plywood, in either case end-grain sections were used to prevent the spread of core delamination caused by leaks. Most early boats had teak decks. Love them or loathe them, everybody has an opinion on teak decks. If they haven’t gone off yet, they look nice and offer the best nonskid surface ever developed. However, if the bungs are popping, the fasteners are weeping, and the planks are too thin to sand another time, replacing them is an expensive proposition. Even just removing them and switching to a fiberglass or a synthetic nonskid surface like Treadmaster is costly and a lot of work. Later in the production run Ta Shing went with textured nonskid decks and cabintops. That of course didn’t mean these models were low maintenance, there’s still plenty of teak to keep you busy.
The hull and deck are joined chemically and mechanically with stainless bolts. The teak caprail covers the joint. Although some older boats featured solid teak staved bulkheads, most Baba 30s have teak-faced plywood bulkheads, which are preferred. There is a lot of solid teak below and the overall joinerwork is superb. The internal ballast consists of a single cast iron ingot placed in the keel cavity and glassed over. The bowsprit is robustly constructed of laminated wood and anchored by an impressive samson post.
What to look for
Baba 30s demand steady maintenance. If the external teak is not kept up the boat can look shoddy. Conversely, an investment of time and sandpaper can make the boat look stunning again. The basic construction was first rate, and for the most part the boats have held up very well, especially considering many have completed extensive cruises. Naturally there are certain items to watch for when purchasing a Baba 30.
As noted above, early boats often came with wooden spars. I’d look for a boat with an aluminum mast and boom. If you need to replace a wooden spar contact Forespar; they built most of the later aluminum masts. In a perfect world I’d also look for a model without teak decks. However, that will limit your choices. Other documented problems concern the fuel and water tanks. The fuel tank was black iron, and although diesel is a wonderful lubricate, these tanks do rust because they are situated in the bilge and the Baba 30 bilge drainage system is not the best. Water tanks were often an inferior stainless steel and should be checked as well. Replacing the tanks is a big job that usually requires cabin sole surgery.
Naturally, all age-related items should be inspected carefully, including the standing and running rigging. The chainplates deserve close scrutiny as they’re prone to crevice corrosion and there have been some documented failures. The Baba owners’ Web site, www.babaowners.org, offers maintenance tips and other more involved retrofit suggestions.
The cockpit of the Baba is designed for offshore sailing as defined in the 1970s. Translation: It’s cramped and uncomfortable but offers little volume for water to accumulate should a wave crash aboard. This is a tradeoff you just have to live with and try to make things better with cockpit cushions. Steering can be either tiller or wheel. I prefer the tiller for simplicity and because it occupies less space, especially in port when it can be pushed aft out of the way. However, because the Baba 30 can carry a lot of sail in a blow, it can also develop biceps-building weather helm and that gets tiring with a tiller. Like any serious cruising boat, reliable self-steering is vitally important. The canoe stern is well suited for fitting a wind vane. There is a stout bridgedeck and I like the teak doors that are always ready to close if things turn snotty.
The deck feels secure as you make your way forward. The small bulwark, well-supported stanchions and lifelines and a long teak grabrail combine to give you something to lean on when you leave the cockpit. The headsail lead tracks are mounted on the side decks while the staysail track is on the coachroof. There’s plenty of clutter on deck, including a large wooden hatch forward, a lovely butterfly hatch over the saloon, dorade vent guards and other assorted bits and pieces. But that’s part of the charm too. You don’t choose a Baba 30 if you’re looking for a sleek, modern deck profile. The mainsheet traveler is forward of the companionway. Some boats will have sail controls led aft, which is convenient if not wildly efficient.
While the layout is predictable, the workmanship is remarkable. The interior fairly drips with teak. White mica surfaces in the galley are about the only areas below that are not finished in teak. It’s impressive how well many of the 30s still look. This is a testament to excellent original construction and to building boats that didn’t leak. Nothing spoils a handsome teak interior faster than leaky decks and overhead fittings. While the interior is a bit dark by today’s standards, it’s also warm and inviting in colder climates. There’s good ventilation provided by two huge overhead hatches and opening bronze portlights.
The layout features a U-shaped galley to port including double stainless sinks, a full-sized stove and oven and ample storage. This is a galley more likely found aboard a 36-foot cruiser. Opposite is a quarterberth that forms the seat for the nav station. This berth usually turns into a storage bin. The chart table is also well-sized with a couple of shelves above. The electrical panel is positioned so that it is easy to accidently trip breakers when seated at the nav station, but this is easily corrected. There’s also a draining wet locker to starboard of the companionway.
Later boats featured a bulkhead-mounted fold-up table in the saloon, freeing up valuable space. Some early boats had fixed tables. The port settee makes the best sea berth and there are lockers and bins above each. Some boats will have retrofitted mica surfaces around the portlights, a practical move that brightens the boat. There are stout overhead grabrails throughout. The head is forward to starboard and includes a shower sump. The V-berth is spacious with lockers below and louvered shelves to port and starboard.
Ta Shing used a variety of engines during its seven-year production of the Baba 30, including Volvo, Westerbeke and Yanmar. The last engine, the Yanmar 3GMF 27-horsepower is probably the best, at least it’s less expensive to maintain. Buying parts for old Volvos and Westerbekes can break your heart. I know, I’ve owned both. Access is from the behind the companionway steps, and it helps to be small and nimble when it’s a time to work on the engine. The Baba 30 performs surprisingly well under power, at least in forward, with owners mentioning 6 knots as comfortable cruising speed. The fuel tank holds 40 gallons. If it’s the original tank, it is baffled and has a large inspection plate, allowing you to peer in and see if the external corrosion has reached the inside of the tank.
The Baba 30 won’t win many races but it will carry you across an ocean safely and, considering it’s just 30 feet, in relative comfort. The boat is at its best on a reach, and can carry full sail up to around 20 knots. Sail handling depends on how the boat is set up. If you have a genoa forward, you’ll use the staysail less than if you are using the working yankee. Most Baba 30 owners seem to have opted for furling genoas. By the way, a partially furled genoa raises the center of effort making them quasi-yankee-like. On a deep reach, some owners prefer a reacher, others a cruising spinnaker, and others a poled out genoa. For an ocean crossing I’d opt for a lightweight reacher for light winds and a robust genoa that can ride poled out day and after day withstanding stiff trade winds and putting miles below the keel.
Sailing upwind, the Baba 30 becomes more efficient as the wind pipes up. Owners report that it becomes necessary to reef the main when the wind pipes up to 20 knots when working headsails are flying, and a bit earlier with a genoa. The main is best trimmed with the traveler when sailing to weather, to balance the natural weather helm. In heavy air, the Baba 30 handles well with a double-reefed main and staysail. The hull shape is well suited for heaving-to and this should be your first option when things get ugly.
The Baba 30 is a capable, high-quality cruising boat. Yes, it’s on the small side, but that also makes it affordable. You can find a nice Baba 30 in the $60,000 range, and when you compare other cruising boats available for the same dollars the value becomes apparent. Plus, it’s nice to have other sailors ooh and ahh every time you pull into a new harbor.