I am not sure weither I am really addressing you question but here you go for what it is worth.
I can't comment on the Ariel but can on the Contessa as I own one(built in 79). A very solid boat with few negatives.
- Generally the Contessa comes with a farymann single cylinder 8hp diesel. It vibrates like crazy but has a great rep for reliability and low fuel consumption. It does not have an external alternator so adapting a newer high output alternator would be difficult. It is worth noting that the farymann engine while not still being installed in new boats, the basic engine is still being used in newly built generators by a company in the Pacific NW. With that said core engine parts can be hard to find if needed. I can't comment on the other engines that came with this boat.- Cabin size, small by any standard, unless you are 5'7" ish forget about standing up.
- No sliding hatch. The boat has a solid entry way, I prefer it as it makes the boat dry below and makes for a solid cabin roof but it does make getting into and out of the cabin a bit more of a chore.
- With a full keel and traditional rig she is not fast in light winds but more than makes up for it, safety wise, in a solid blow. She is a very good high wind boat for her size.
- A balanced rig, once the rigging is set correctly she has little weather helm.
- Encapsulated keel, a big plus IMHO.
- Deck stepped mast, I don't know if this is a positive or negative.
- Cracks in the gel coat- a common problem over several years of production. I am told it is due to the manufactor using too thick a gel coat. My boat had the same problem at purchase, the cracks were ground out and filled with epoxy and the deck repainted. Virtually none of the cracks have re-appeared since(8-10 years later)
- pintle and gudgeon mounts on rudder - they tend to wear over time, I am not sure if this is a issue that effects the co26 more than other boats but it has been reported more than once as an issue, worth inspecting.
- Beyond the gel coat and pintle/gudgeon mount issues I am not aware of any production issues or weaknesses that are common with this boat.
A couple of sites you can visit to learn more
The Contessa Corner - A site for Contessa owners, sailors and dreamers.
- a forum dedicated to the contessa 26
Bigoceans | Tiny Boat
- a website created by an Aussie documenting his purchase of a co_26 in England and his adventures sailing it home to Australia.