Home . Articles . Boats . Boat Test . Island Packet 320

Island Packet 320

1998 February 7

Refined 320 offers better seakeeping and living

I was skeptical when our boat test of Island Packet's latest cruising cutter, the 320, called for a 9 a.m. departure. While fall usually offers the best sailing on the Chesapeake Bay, the winds are invariably light early and build later in the day. And, while there is no disputing that Island Packet builds stout, handsome, bluewater boats, light-air performance is not usually a design priority. Fortunately, like many of my preconceived notions, both of these proved wrong. The morning winds were fresh and, not surprisingly, the 320 gamboled across the bay on a close reach, touching 7 knots a few times. By midmorning, the breeze began to wane but the performance of the 320 refused to follow suit.

Just when you think you have a handle on designer/builder Bob Johnson and his popular line of cruising boats, he surprises you. While the new 320 includes Island Packet's trademark blend of traditional lines, state-of-the-art construction techniques and spacious interiors, this new design also incorporates a few wrinkles that add up to better performance than you would expect from a small, heavy-displacement cutter. The bow sections are slightly finer than earlier Packets for better windward work and a stern step offers the additional benefit of a longer sailing waterline. The full, foil-keel underbody has evolved over the years and the new 320 has fewer hull line distortions. Johnson also gives credit for the 320Õs lively performance to the Garry Hoyt-inspired, self-vanging, self tacking staysail boom that makes the staysail more efficient.

The 320, which has an LOA of 33 feet, 3 inches and a displacement of 13,500 pounds, replaces the IP 29 and is now Island Packet's entry-level boat. This is new territory for a company that was once a major player in the under-30-foot market. The 320, which sells well-equipped for around $150,000, reflects the changing focus of Island Packet Yachts. Johnson and marketing director Bill Bolin see their customers as cruising couples and families who desire a high-quality boat that is both comfortable for coastal cruising and capable of crossing oceans with confidence-and boats like this are larger and more expensive than they used to be.

State of the art
The 320 has a one-piece, hand-laid, solid fiberglass hull with an encapsulated full keel that stretches just 4 feet, 3 inches below the waterline. Island Packet has developed its own gelcoat protection system, PolyClad, and offers a limited 10-year warranty against osmotic blisters. Speaking of gelcoat, even well-used, older Packets seem to retain the luster in their decks and topsides. The company uses another trademarked product, Durashield, which helps the gelcoat retain its gloss and also keeps it from fading.

The deck is married to the hull on an internal flange that is part of the bul-wark and is both through-bolted (incorporating the caprail and genoa track) and chemically bonded with a urethane adhesive sealer. The deck is cored with Island Pac-ketÕs exclusive material Poly-core, a microsphere and resin matrix that to my mind is su-perior to balsa, and comes with an unmatched, 10-year warranty against rot and delamination. The 320 has a molded interior grid support and cabin sole. Island Packet has always made extensive use of interior liners and moldings, both as an efficient manufacturing process and for structural integrity. My main complaint with linings is that they usually limit access to the hull, but this is not a problem with the 320.

Refined design
On deck, it is hard to believe that the 320 has an LOA of just 33 feet, 3 inches, since it feels like a much larger boat. Although the 320's entry is a bit finer than the old 29, the generous beam of 11 feet, 9 inches is carried well forward, creating wide side decks, although the staysail boom does crowd the foredeck. The molded bulwarks, double lifelines and full-length stainless grabrails on the cabintrunk make moving about the deck safe and secure. I am not a fan of bowsprits, at least not from an engineering standpoint, but I do admit that they are pretty and have a few practical applications. The 320 has a well-supported integral sprit and two stainless steel anchor rollers with chocks and hinged deck pipes to the forepeak.

From the self-tailing Lewmar 40 sheet winches and the Harken jib furling system to the oversized 10-inch cleats, meaty chocks and stainless chafe guards, the standard deck hardware is robust and high quality. The main spar is keel-stepped. A self-furling main, a factory-direct option that more and more owners are choosing, is available for an additional $2,295. Standard running gear includes a boom vang, a dual single-line main reefing system led aft through Lewmar stoppers and a mainsheet traveler with a four-part purchase and midboom sheeting.

Bob Johnson is committed to the cutter rig and with each new design he adds a refinement. Because the cutter needs an extended base for the sail plan, the bowsprit is vital. Johnson tackled some of the thorny structural problems of sprits in earlier models by making the support appendage integral to the hull. Now he has incorporated Hoyt's concept of a free-standing, self-vanging boom. With a conventional, club-footed boom, it is difficult to keep the sail from riding up off the wind and hard to keep any shape upwind. The pivoting Hoyt boom simplifies control and allows the staysail to maintain good shape on any point of sail.

Console-mounted, rack-and-pinion steering, an Island Packet trademark, is the heart of the cockpit. The Whitlock steering system has a surprisingly nice feel-if you didnÕt know better you'd think it was cable-and it's virtually bulletproof. The visibility from the wheel is good, since the helmsman's perch is slightly elevated, and the sheet winches are within easy reach. The cockpit seats are long enough to sleep on and are contoured for comfortable seating.

The cockpit has several innovative features, including a sleek line locker hidden in the coaming, a built-in cooler, a shower that stretches to the stern step and molded seats on the stern rail. With the addition of the stern step, or swim platform, Island Packet's competitors will have one less feature to sell against. And, since Johnson has always kept safety as a priority in his designs, the 320's cockpit includes dedicated pad eyes for harnesses, pin-locking drop boards, good-sized scuppers and, most importantly, a stout bridgedeck.

Good living
While I'm sure that the traditional lines, innovative manufacturing techniques and high resale values have a lot to do with why so many people purchase Island Packets, I suspect that what really closes the deal are the spacious, thoughtful interiors. There are few boats with an LOD of 30 feet with interiors that make you want to move aboard and take off for points south. The 320 is such a boat. There are two legitimate staterooms, each with a Pullman-style double bunk. The forward, or owner's, cabin has the bunk to port with a cedar-lined hanging locker and storage bins to starboard. The aft stateroom features an athwartships bunk tucked under the cockpit sole, a hanging locker and good storage. This cabin, which also houses the navigation table, converts to a private cabin by flipping and pinning the nav table into the vertical position and closing a clever bifold door.

The U-shaped seagoing galley features a double sink, two-burner propane stove with oven and a good-sized (but not so deep that you canÕt reach the bottom) icebox compartment. A clever roll-away trash bin, decent-sized fiddle edges to keep a plate or bowl in place during a pitch or roll, and a handy fold-up counter extension make this an uncommonly functional galley for a boat of this size. The main saloon has a bulkhead table that drops into place when needed and otherwise folds neatly away. There are settees to port and starboard with adequate storage behind, and the 6-foot, 4-inch headroom lends a feeling of spaciousness. The cabin sole is varnished teak and holly; it could be dangerously slippery when wet and the interior could also use a few more access hatches. Ventilation is excellent with nine opening portlights and six overhead hatches.

Value added
A Yanmar 27-horsepower diesel, the popular 3GM30 three-cylinder model, is the standard power plant. Access to both the engine and stuffing box is excellent and the engine compartment is well-insulated. These little Yanmars not only run quietly but offer terrific fuel economy as well. The 45 gallons of fuel stored in a welded aluminum fuel tank give the 320 a realistic range under power of at least 300 miles. The mechanical systems throughout the boat are the high-quality type usually found on larger boats. From the pretinned wire and big-boat electrical panel to special odor-resistant plumbing and a solid-state bilge pump sensor, the interior systems of the Island Packet 320 have been well thought out.

Smooth sailing
Back on the bay, the 320 maintained nearly 6 knots on a broad reach with fluky winds. We then brought the boat hard on the wind and managed to keep good speed at 40 degrees apparent. The boat came through the wind without too much trouble, and the ease of handling the staysail was readily apparent. Island Packet now uses Sobstad Sails and includes a 130-percent roller-furling genoa with the double-reef main and staysail. I think a conventional high-cut yankee would probably be a better sail to complement the cutter rig when sailing upwind.

I was accompanied on my test-sail by Jack Heffner of Gratitude Yachting Center and Ron and Nancy Glendening, who were considering a new 320. The Glendenings sail an older Island Packet 31 on Lake Erie and were attracted to the 320 by the improved accommodations. "We like this size of boat; it is easy to handle," Nancy said, "and we love this new interior." The Glendenings, who spend a lot of time aboard every summer, looked at the exciting performance of the new 320 as simply a nice bonus, just another reason to consider an Island Packet 320.