The Contessa 32 is a 9.75 meter (32 ft) fiberglass monohull sailboat, designed in 1970 by David Sadler of Great Britain. Rigged as a masthead sloop, with a fin keel and a skeg-mounted rudder, the Contessa 32 is classified as a cruiser-racer. Boats in this category are seaworthy enough for offshore voyages in a variety of weather conditions, but also perform well in races. The trait most often associated with the Contessa 32 is her ability to endure harsh weather and rough seas. A Contessa 32 was the only yacht in the small boat class to finish the disastrous 1979 Fastnet race, in which 15 lives were lost.
According to John Vigor, the hull of the Contessa 32 is a cross between older and newer designs. She has the well ballasted keel, low center of gravity, and narrow beam of traditional English cutters, but has a fin keel characteristic of newer, lighter racing yachts. Because it is shorter than a full-length keel, a fin keel creates less drag. The fin-keeled hull gives the Contessa more speed, and the narrow beam and substantial ballast provide a high degree of positive stability. If rolled over sideways or capsized, the Contessa readily rights herself. The design is an unusually successful marriage of the best of both extremes. The blending of the keel into the hull forward captures the lateral stability of a full keel, and with the cut away aft portion lends greater responsiveness to the helm. While the skeg also bestows additional lateral resistance to the hull aft, it greatly supports, strengthens and protects the rudder with its robust design.
The furnishings of the Contessa 32 cabin are typical of boats of her size and vintage. There is a V-shaped berth in the bow, followed by a small head (toilet) opposite a wet-locker to starboard. The saloon (main cabin area) includes a folding table, with sofas that convert into berths (one can be made into a 'snug' double). At the aft end of the saloon next to the companionway, and to port, is a small galley (stove, sink, and counter) and to starboard, a navigator’s desk. Beneath the cockpit and behind the navigators table is an additional quarter berth. An inboard engine is mounted beneath the cockpit.
Though small in terms of accommodation in comparison with modern boats with wider beams and greater headroom, the compact cabin of the Contessa resulted from the low, narrow-beamed design that emphasized rough weather handling and seaworthiness at the expense of cabin space.
Noteworthy voyages in the Contessa 32
In 1984, in a Contessa 32 named Gigi, John Kretschmer and a crew member sailed from New York down to Cape Horn, rounding the Horn against the prevailing winds and currents, and sailed up to San Francisco. After lying abandoned for many years in an American boatyard, Gigi was purchased and completely refurbished by builder Jeremy Rogers in 2007.  From 1979 to 1983, Declan Mackell sailed around the world alone in a Contessa 32 named Sean-Ois. In January 2003, Seb Clover, a 15-year-old from Great Britain, became the youngest person to sail across the Atlantic alone, in a Contessa 32 named Reflection. Also in 2003 the Contessa 32 Hurrying Angel won the fastnet double handed division crewed by Harry Allaway and Kathy Claydon. The most often mentioned exploit involving a Contessa 32, however, is the 1979 Fastnet race. A sudden storm of near hurricane strength brought death and destruction to the race, capsizing 25% of the 303 participating boats. Among the 58 boats in the smallest class (28 – 32 ft), only one managed to finish the race: a Contessa 32 named Assent, owned by Willy Ker.
The Contessa 32 was first manufactured by Jeremy Rogers in Lymington, England. The Rogers boat works built more than 700 Contessa 32s from 1971 until production stopped in 1982. Between 1973 and 1990, an additional 87 were built under license by J.J. Taylor of Canada. In 1996, Jeremy Rogers resumed production of the Contessa. At least one other Contessa 32 was built by MacBar Marine in Poole in 1986.
- LOA: 9.75 m (32 ft)
- LWL: 7.31 m (24 f)t
- Beam: 2.98 m (9 ft 6 in)
- Draft: 1.65 m (5 ft 6 in)
- Windward sail area: 52.2 sq m (562 sq ft)
- Displacement: 4300 kg (9500 lb)
- Lead ballast: 2045 kg (4500 lb)
- Howard, Paul. “The Contessa Turns Thirty.” Boats.com. Trader Publishing Company. 31 Aug. 2006. article
- Kretschmer, John. “Used Boat Notebook: Contessa 32.” SAILING Magazine. October, 2003: pp 42-43. 
- Rogers, Fiona. The Origins of the Contessa 32 (Contessa 32 Class Association)
- Description of Contessa 32 (Jeremy Rogers Limited)
- Contessa 32 class association. Contessa 32 class association
- Vigor, John. Twenty Small Sailboats to Take You Anywhere. Arcata, California: Paradise Cay Publications, 1999.
- Kretschmer, John. Cape Horn to Starboard. Camden, Maine: International Marine Publishing, 1986.
- Pickthall, Barry. "Yachtsman and Young Sailor of the Year Awards." Boats.com. Trader Publishing Company. 08 Jan. 2004. article
- Rousmaniere, John. Fastnet, Force 10. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2000. p 5.
Other works of interest
- Coles, K. Adlard, Adlard Coles' Heavy Weather Sailing, Camden, Maine: International Marine Publishing (McGraw-Hill), 30th Anniversary ed., (1999). ISBN 0071353232