Hello: I'm sure you have made a decision regarding the Northern as your post was placed in 2008 and it is now 2010. I found your question of interest and thought I'd provide commentary anyway.
The Northern 29 is not a family boat being designed to the IOR 1/2 ton rule. That said, if you are looking for a strong well built "low cost" boat to have fun in at very modest speeds, you have found the right boat. What the S&S design does do, is sail very well when the wind is forward of the beam. Downwind a shute is a must; but being an IOR boat you will have lot's of rock and roll, but that is the fun part. Most of these boats have been used without much love so expect to find most in poor cosmetic condition. What you will find is a boat that does not suffer moisture issues with either deck or hull. If looked after, the Atomic bomb will run for years without much fuss and your question regarding the placement of the engine simply adds to the stability of the boat especially in the greatest blow. I have never heard of fume issues and would suggest the exhaust be replaced to ensure proper working order.
I have had some wonderful experinces with a number 4 and a double reefed main with the only caution being the front hatch is prone to opening if the helmsperson is not great at performing "S's" to avoid pounding. For two people, the boat can be used for extened distances as long as your not in a hurry. The other caution is, if you really do wish to travel with the boat, it is not a cruiser so it becomes a tradeoff to load the boat up. To get the most out of a N29, the sweet spot is 12-14 knots just off a beat with both a number 1 and the long forgotten staysail (the double slot really does make a difference). Although designed as a racer-cruiser, there is not enough lift below the waterline to really point well. But just off the wind, a N29 will surge along happy around 5.7-5.9 knots all day and almost live up to the 186 PHRF rating. Some have suggested the boat tender, but this is unfair as they were designed to be rule cheaters and intended to extend the miniscule 21.3' waterline when heeled. This is the only way the boat will exceed 5.4 knots which at the best of times will not get you very far. The modest 384' sail area is more than enough for the 4.6' draft and the spec of 7300' displacement is likely never the case (a challenge to the PHRF rating). I know of completely dry hulls, incuding mine, which exceed 8000'. The monetary value of these boats has dropped in recent years to next to nothing but the overall sailing experience is beyond dollars but not cents... Hope this helps, even if this note is a year and half after the fact.
Last edited by warood; 02-19-2010 at 11:21 PM.