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45-year-old charmers

2011 September 1

Three great used boats first launched in 1966 are still sailing strong

45-year-old charmers

Three great used boats first launched in 1966 are still
sailing strong

In 1966 John Lennon infamously announced that the Beatles were more famous than Jesus. "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas" aired on television for the first time with Boris Karloff narrating. There were 250,000 American soldiers slogging through the jungles of Vietnam with no end in sight, and President Johnson signed the Uniform Time Act, officially regulating daylight savings time. At least we had an extra hour of light for sailing. And of course, SAILING Magazine was launched.

Sailing was a natural tonic for those turbulent times, and not surprisingly the magazine and the industry blossomed. Fiberglass production boats were affordable and easy to maintain. Waterfronts were accessible to middle-class sailors in those pre-condominium, pre-luxury marina days. People were sailing and reading about sailing in record numbers. They needed reliable information, and yes, inspiring pictures. SAILING Magazine delivered then, and still does today. I have been writing for SAILING for 25 years and I am proud to be associated with America's best, and best-loved, sailing magazine.

This month's column will be a little different. Instead of reviewing a single boat, I will look at three enduring models that were also launched in 1966. Sadly, the three manufacturers are no longer in business, yet their boats sail on, a legacy that plays out on rivers, lakes and oceans all over the world. Representing the class of 1966 are the Ericson 30, Morgan 34 and Bristol 39/40.

Ericson 30
The Ericson 26 and 30 were this fledgling California company's first production boats in 1966.These boats set a high standard that Ericson maintained for more than 30 years through good times and bad. Although a few boats were designed as pure cruisers or racers, the vast majority of Ericson models were quintessential racer-cruisers. Designed by Bruce King, 150 Ericson 30s were launched from 1966 through 1970. This was actually a small production run for the times, although builders today would rejoice if they knew they were going to sell 150 copies of a new model. King remained Ericson's chief designer for many years and it's interesting to see how his designs evolved, from the relatively conventional 30 to the flush-deck Ericson 39 and 46, to the classic Ericson 35 and 38. Still, if you look closely you can see the Ericson pedigree in the 30; the light bearing in the water and the graceful profile.

I won't deny that the Ericson 30 has a 1960s look, at least above the waterline. It's narrow with a pronounced sheerline, short ends and a classic stern. Below the water, King was more daring. He was fond of swept-back fin keels and the rudder has a partial skeg, which was a modern underbody for its time. Three thousand pounds of lead ballast is encapsulated in the keel and the total displacement is just less than 8,000 pounds. The 30 was successful as a CCA racer and the rig reflected the rule. The mast is stubby, the boom long and big overlapping genoas were the order of the day.

The fact that most Ericson 30s are still sailing today clearly attests to the high quality of construction. The hull is solid fiberglass and the deck balsa-cored. The deck edges are solid glass and the joint glassed over to prevent leaking. Most though-deck fittings are mounted in solid glass, which was a rare foresight that surely helped prevent delamination.

Down below the boat is surprisingly bright. There is a fiberglass headliner and 10 portlights, but unless they've been converted to opening portlights, there is not much ventilation, despite a good-sized forward hatch. The layout is conventional, with a V-berth forward followed by a small head. The saloon has a dinette, dating the boat like rings on a tree, and the galley is tucked right below the companionway. For those unaccustomed to the skinny boats of the 1960s, the lack of space is stunning. The Catalina 27, launched just five years later, seems twice as big below. But you don't buy an Ericson 30 to live aboard. You buy an Ericson 30 to sail.

The cockpit features abrupt mahogany coaming boards and tiller steering. Under sail, the 30 heels easily, stretching out the waterline, then stiffens up and finds its stride. There's a degree of weather helm, but less than the full-keel boats of the time, and the performance is impressive. Most owners report speeds in excess of 6 knots beam reaching in a moderate breeze. The soft hull shape also ensures a sweet ride in lumpy seas. Off the wind, with a big genoa pulling, the 30 racks up the miles. The boat originally fit with an Atomic 4 engine, although many have been converted to small diesels. The prop exits the hull just below the waterline, and maneuvering in close quarters is not the 30's strong suit.

Ericson came out with a 30 II in 1977 and a 30 Plus a few years after that. But there's no reason not to consider an original 30, especially when you can buy one for less than $15,000.

LOA 30'3"
LWL 23'4"
Beam 9'6"
Draft 4'10"
Sail Area 425 sq. ft.
Displacement 7,800 lbs.
Ballast 3,000 lbs.

SAILING CHARACTERISTICS: This early Bruce King design had traditional 1960's looks above the waterline but a modern fin underbody. There can be a lot of weather helm, but it has a sweet ride in lumpy seas.

QUALITY: The fact that most are still sailing today speaks of the quality, and Ericson was careful to reinforce with fiberglass areas that are prone to leaks.

SUPPORT: There is an active group of Ericson owners at www.ericsonyachts.org run by Sean Engle. The site connects owners of all models, and has a resource page with downloads of original brochures and parts suppliers.

PRICE AND AVAILABILITY: As with any boat this age, prices vary, for as little as $3,000 for a beater to just over $20,000 for a boat in good shape. They can be hard to find, with only 150 built, and are scattered across the United States.

Morgan 34
Charley Morgan is one of the key players in the history of fiberglass sailboats. He founded Morgan Yachts in St. Petersburg, Florida, in 1962, and designed and built a wide assortment of boats. Cruising sailors tend to associate Morgan with the Out Island series. These husky, shallow-draft liveaboard cruisers are much maligned and much loved, but they're not known for stellar performance under sail. However, Morgan was a racer at heart. He designed, built and skippered the 12-Meter sloop Heritage, an America's Cup contender in 1970. He actually delivered her to Newport for the trials on her own bottom-can you imagine? Although he didn't win, losing to Intrepid, he garnered wide respect from the entire yachting community.

Whether racing or cruising, Morgan preferred a shoal-draft centerboarder that rated well under the CCA rule. The Morgan 34 is an excellent example, and it remained in production until 1972 when the rule was phased out. The replacement IOR was less favorable to centerboard boats, and the 34 was replaced by the beamier 35. Morgan 34s gracefully evolved into cruising boats, and the 3-foot, 3-inch board-up draft was enticing to shallow-water sailors everywhere.

Numbers tell the story as well as adjectives: LOA 34 feet; LWL 24 feet, 9 inches; beam 10 feet. You don't need to be a naval architect to see a skinny hull with long overhangs. Although long out of date, this equation and this shape are not to be despised. In fact, aesthetically the low-slung Morgan 34 is quite handsome. Like the Ericson 30 of the same year, the Morgan 34 has a relatively short masthead rig with a long boom. The full-keel underbody is ideal for housing the centerboard, and of course protecting the rudder and prop.

Morgan's construction was robust and practical, but not always finished to the highest standards. The hull was heavily laid up solid fiberglass and the deck was balsa cored. Lead ballast was internal, fitted into the keel cavity and glassed over. The original bronze centerboard weighed in at 250 pounds, which made it problematic to lift and prone to corrosion. Later in the production run the board was changed to fiberglass.
The interior finish usually included fake wood-grain Formica on the bulkheads, a touch that gives a sailboat that homey mobile-home feel. However, there is a bit of hardwood trim, either teak or walnut, and many 34s on the used market feature painted white bulkheads accented with varnished trim. It looks fresh and definitely brightens up the boat.

There were a couple of different interior plans available. The most common arrangement features quarterberths to port and starboard, with the galley along the starboard side. The U-shaped dinette is opposite. A galley-aft plan was also available, and probably preferred because working in a "side" galley is nearly impossible underway, especially if the boat is heeled to port. Moving forward the small head is off to port with a hanging locker opposite. The V-berth cabin is fairly roomy and the berths are actually long enough to stretch out in.

Most 34s came with tiller steering that keeps the cockpit uncluttered. A tiller on a cruising boat seems odd these days, but it is nice to sail with a tiller; you can feel the boat in a way the mechanical advantage of a wheel does not allow. Also, you can push it up and out of the way at anchor or at the dock. The mainsheet traveler runs across the transom, not an ideal arrangement, and the original winches were single speed and quite small. However, it's rare to find a 34 in original condition. Most have been upgraded with modern travelers, self-tailing winches, furling systems and new electronics. That's the impressive thing about these early boats, you can incorporate new technologies that make them more user-friendly and you can buy them for a fraction of the cost of a more recently built boat.

Another thing about the tiller on the Morgan 34 is that you won't need that P90X workout program, at least not while sailing upwind. The weather helm will keep your biceps pumped. However, when you drop the board down, the long-keeled 34 tracks quite well, and off the wind, with the board up, the hull can get up and surf. The Morgan 34 did well in the early SORC races, especially on the longer legs.

A Floridian by birth, Charley Morgan also loved the Bahamas, those alluring islands that lie just 50 miles away across the Gulf Stream. The Morgan 34 is as well suited for exploring these turquoise waters today as it was 45 years ago.

LOA 34'
LWL 25'9'' (24'8'')
Beam 10'
Draft board down 7'9'' (8'')
Draft board up 3'3''
Sail Area 545 sq. ft.
Displacement 12,500 lbs.
Ballast 5,000 lbs.

SAILING CHARACTERISTICS: This Charley Morgan tiller design can be a brute to steer upwind in a blow, but off the wind with the board up it really flies.

QUALITY: The construction was robust and practical, but not always finished to the highest standards, and the heavy centerboard can be prone to corrosion. The original fake-wood Formica interior has a homey mobile home feel if not updated.

SUPPORT: Morgan owners connect through several active sites. At Charley Morgan's website, www.charleymorgan.com, you'll find useful links and information on the annual Morgan Invasion held in April at Treasure Island, Florida .

PRICE AND AVAILABILITY: There seems to be plenty of Morgan 34s on the market across the country, and prices seem steady in the $20,000 to $30,000 range.

Bristol 39 and 40
I recently conducted one of my cruising boat buyer's workshops and one of the attendees, Mark Mesone, was determined to buy a used Bristol 39 or 40. I say 39 or 40 because they are essentially the same boat, taken from the same mold. The 39 was launched in 1966 with 58 boats built before it became the 40 in 1970, and remained in production until 1986. Mesone had concluded that the Bristol was the boat for him because it was beautiful, well built, large enough to live aboard with style, and when compared to more modern boats, quite affordable. He also loved the idea of owning a "classic." I couldn't find fault with any of his arguments.

The Bristol 40 was designed by Ted Hood and Dieter Empacher, and in many ways it is similar to the Morgan 34 with a shallow draft, long keel, centerboard and attached rudder. The difference is in the styling and the pedigree. It's fair to say that the Bristol 40, Hinckley B40, Block Island 40 and others were inspired by Carlton Mitchell's famous centerboard yawl Finnisterre. Designed by Sparkman & Stephens, Mitchell raced and cruised Finnesterre all over the Atlantic in the 1950s and early 1960s and wrote countless articles and several charming books. This shape, which was a bit radical when introduced, is now, ironically, considered classic Down East boatbuilding.

Like the other two boats in this column, the Bristol 40 has long overhangs, and by today's standards, a narrow beam. In its day, the 40 was considered a wide body with a whopping 10-foot, 9-inch beam. The 6,000 pounds of ballast and 17,580 pounds of displacement are moderate even by today's standards and certainly were in 1966. The boat is not a heavy displacement tub by any means-it displaces 2,000 pounds less than the B40. The standard rig was a masthead sloop with just less than 700 square feet of sail area. A yawl was optional and I confess, as impractical as a yawl is, they sure are beautiful. The yawl, like the centerboard, was favored by the CCA rule because sail area aft of the rudder post was not counted in your rating. And there's no better place to mount a radar dome anyway.

Bristol Yachts went through many changes in reputation. Founded by Clint Pearson, Everett's brother, the company was not considered a top-quality builder at first. However, the company evolved into one of the country's best sailboat manufacturers and owning a Bristol was something to aspire to, especially in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Finally, as the company struggled financially in the late 1980s, its reputation took a hit, but that didn't make the company unique in the sailboat business.

The Bristol 40 was built over a long period of at least 20 years, but the construction was consistently good. The hull is solid fiberglass, the deck has plywood reinforcing where necessary and the coachroof is balsa cored. The hull and deck are joined on an inward flange, which, according to some reports, has been known to leak occasionally. The bulkheads are well tabbed to the hull and the ballast is internal lead. Deck hardware and fittings were upgraded over the years.

The interior plan is straightforward. The galley is off to port when you drop below, with the nav station or freezer opposite. The saloon usually featured a dinette to port and a settee with a pilot berth above to starboard. The port side head is quite large and can be accessed from the V-berth cabin. The V-berth itself is more like two singles but with a filler piece, and it can be made into a fairly large bunk. The fit and finish is nice, in either mahogany or teak. Bristol did not rely on molded pieces or liners and the wood interior is warm and friendly. The interior plan is really ideal for a cruising couple. It offers privacy, sea berths and just enough elbowroom. Another nice feature of the Bristol 40 is that most have been well maintained and upgraded-these boats tended to be owned by folks who could afford them.

The cockpit is large, and for a 1966 design, comfortable. The seats are nearly eight feet long, and you can support yourself when heeled. And that's a good thing because the 40 is tender, at least initially. Most boats have wheel steering and a traveler running forward of the pedestal. Some owners have retrofitted midboom sheeting that allows the traveler to be moved into a less efficient but more convenient position above the companionway.

The boat sails quite well in moderate conditions, especially off the wind. The hull shape is designed for reaching and the 40 has won its class in the Marion to Bermuda race twice. Owners report that reefing early is the best way to deal with the initial tenderness and keep the boat on its lines. Upwind, the centerboard helps the boat track, and while it is not particularly close winded, it doesn't make a lot of leeway and the motion is soft. A Perkins 4108 was the standard diesel, the workhorse of the industry in those days, and it carries plenty of power.

One of the best aspects of fiberglass sailboats is that you can still buy with confidence a boat that was built in 1966. And while that makes it hard for builders of new boats to compete, it speaks to the healthy ethos of sailing and sailors. We love sailboats, new and old, and respect them for what they are. I'd happily spend a day sailing on a 1966 Ericson 30. I'd love to cruise the Bahamas in an old Morgan 34, and it would be terrific to sail from Marblehead to Halifax in a classic Bristol 40. These boat, just like SAILING Magazine that has chronicled them, are 45 and going strong.

LOA 39' 8.5"
LWL 27' 6.5"
Beam 10' 9"
Draft standard 5'4"
Draft centerboard up 4'
Draft centerboard down 7'10"
Sail Area sq. ft. 694
Displacement lbs. 17,580
Ballast 6,500 lbs.

SAILING CHARACTERISTICS: The boat sails quite will in moderate conditions, especially off the wind. The boat continues to win offshore races like the Marion to Bermuda.

QUALITY: The model was built over a long period of at least 20 years, but construction remained consistent. The company evolved into a top-notch builder.

SUPPORT: There is an active owners' association at www.bristolowners.org. Although no longer building boats, Bristol Marine in Bristol, Rhode Island, (www.bristolmarine.com) still specializes in parts and service.

PRICE AND AVAILABILITY: There are always a few on the market, and prices vary greatly considering the large age range. For the most part, these boats have been treated well and that is reflected in the price.