Perfect starter boat in a stylish, well-built package
Ericson was part of the vanguard, one of the early fiberglass builders that helped shape the course of the burgeoning American sailboat industry. The first Ericson, a 26-foot racer-cruiser, was launched in 1965. By the early 1970s the company was one of the country's leading builders and produced a range of boats from 23 feet to 46 feet. Ericsons were invariably stylish, good performers, well built, expensive and designed by Bruce King. Ericson and King were joined at the hip, a union that served both well. For those of us who came of age during this golden age of sailboats, Ericson's trademark wide cove stripe with its embedded Viking helmet insignia were symbols of quality.
In an attempt to carve out a slice of the booming trailersailer market, Ericson introduced King's sprightly 23-foot sloop in 1968. Although the boat was designed to be trailerable, this was before the advent of the SUV and it was never intended to be hauled behind the family station wagon and dragged up to the lake for weekend outings. It is a real boat masquerading as a trailersailer and most 23s remained happily afloat all season. It is nice, however, to have the option of leaving the boat on a trailer during the off-season, saving ever-increasing yard storage fees. And should you get transferred, downsized, outsourced or just plain sick of sailing in the same place, you can hitch the trailer to a husky vehicle and head to sunnier climes.
There were two versions of the 23. The MK I, as it came to be called, was built until 1971 with around 140 boats launched. The MK II was introduced after a four-year hiatus. Approximately 270 more boats were built during a three-year production run. Most MK IIs were built as shoal-draft centerboarders. Prices for most used models fall between $2,000 to $4,000, making the Ericson 23 an exceptional used boat value.
Both versions of the Ericson 23 are good-looking boats. Each has a sweet, subtle sheerline, moderate freeboard and a sexy, sloping cabintrunk with two small portlights. The most obvious difference between models, aside from the centerboard, is the rudder. MK IIs have a transom-hung rudder while the MK I has the more common rudderpost mounted through the cockpit sole. The MK II deck is also a bit more flush, and the cockpit coaming boards of the MK I were exchanged for molded coamings. Although the MK II has a higher aspect sailplan, the mast on both boats is a beefy aluminum section, especially for a small boat, and is a bit of a load to hoist from the trailer, at least until you get the hang of it. Ericson used the same mast section on its 23, 25 and 27 models. The rig on the MK II translates into around 240 square feet of working sail area and that provides plenty of horsepower for the 3,200-pound Ericson 23. The MK II also came with a fixed keel however, as noted earlier, most were centerboard models. Naturally these latter models were easier for launching from a trailer and the less than 2-foot board-up draft makes the shallowest channels navigable. An optional hoist allows easy adjustment of the rudder, reducing drag downwind and depth for thin water sailing.
The 23 features a solid fiberglass hull and a plywood reinforced deck. It may be small but in many ways the 23 is built like a bigger boat, Ericson didn't scale back on construction scantlings for its small boats. The port side main bulkhead is plywood and solidly tabbed to the hull. The starboard side is part of the hull pan. On MK I boats these bulkheads support the mast in lieu of a compression post. On the MK II model a compression post was added. The cabin sole is a molded pan and part of a liner that incorporates most of the interior furnishings. The fixed fin keel is bolted in place with backing plates on the MK I and the few MK IIs with fixed keels had internal lead for ballast. The centerboard is constructed around a steel web core with lead plates weighing 86 pounds and fiberglassed over.
What to look for
Bob Boe, a recently retired math teacher from Lynchburg, Virginia, sails his Ericson 23 on nearby Smith Mountain Lake. Boe, who recently completed an offshore passage with me, is a fine sailor and honed his skills on his Ericson 23. To say he is passionate about the boat is putting it mildly. He heads up the Ericson 23 association and has compiled a trove of information including copies of the original manual. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When looking at old Ericson 23s, Boe suggests that you should check the main bulkhead for signs of rot and delamination, particularly the port side. The port side chain plates may have leaked and over the years softened up the plywood. Some boats will have a sister plate to help transfer the load between bulkheads. Boe also suggests that you carefully inspect the centerboard. He and a friend rebuilt his last year and it was not a small undertaking. Naturally, any boat that is more than 30 years old will have gelcoat cracking and crazing. Check the standing rigging, some old trailerable boats still have the original rig.
The cockpit is comfortable and well set up for easy and efficient sail handling. The Mark IIs, with the transom-hung rudder, have a bit more space and legroom. Some early boats had a U-bolt on the cockpit floor for attaching the mainsheet, although most were delivered with either an optional traveler or a cabintrunk-mounted triangle mainsheet. While the main halyard is typically raised at the mast, the genoa halyard and centerboard pendant are accessed from the cockpit. The boat is ideal for singlehanded sailing, as everything is reachable from the tiller. There are two good-size cockpit lockers. Also, MK I models have a cut out in the transom for the outboard while MK II models will typically mount the engine on a bracket.
The side decks are narrow and bit tricky to navigate with the low slung flush deck. Lifelines were optional and there are few good handholds. However, you must remember that this is a small boat, the stays are just a quick reach away as you make your way forward, and swinging forward of the mast is just another step. Deck hardware is light but adequate. It is interesting to look at the original brochure, the option list includes pulpits, masthead light, even the outboard motor bracket.
There isn't much down below on the 23 and what there is needs to be discovered from a deep crouch, headroom is just over four feet. But you are not buying an Ericson 23 to live aboard, at best the interior provides a couple of decent bunks for camping out, a place to get out of the rain and a small galley for heating up coffee and light meals.
The plan is straightforward with a V-berth forward. MK II models may have a head tucked behind the partial port bulkhead. The saloon has facing settees and a table can be mounted on the bulkhead. The galley is aft to starboard and includes a sink and usually a single or double burner stove top. The interior is nicely trimmed in mahogany on early boats and later in teak. This joinerwork separates the Ericson 23 from other plastic, stamped-out trailersailers of the same period. The 23 feels like a real boat.
"The second best thing about the Ericson 23 is the way she sails," Boe said. "She's a great performer and is still winning races." Incidentally, according to Boe the best thing about the 23 is "her drop dead gorgeous looks, she has a beautiful profile in the water." Boe races his 23 MK I aggressively and sails to his 222 PHRF rating consistently. With a 19-foot, 6-inch waterline length the hull speed is just under 6 knots. Boe notes that his boat balances easily, even with a big headsail. Some boats will have tracks long enough to flatten out a 150-percent genoa. "The boat really comes alive in light air with a 150-percent," Boe said. "Under most conditions, when the sails are trimmed well the helm has a light, two-finger feel with good feedback and little strain on the helmsman."
He also notes that weather helm can build in a puff but is easily controlled by traveler or mainsheet adjustment.
An outboard engine was not provided by Ericson, that was up to the owner and today's boats have a wide variety of engines perched astern. Boe exchanged his 7.5-horsepower Evinrude for a 5-horsepower Mercury to save a few pounds. "I find the 5-horsepower will push the boat along at hull speed at about four-fifth throttle in a reasonable calm," he says. "I only miss the bigger engine when motoring into a choppy sea." One key advantage of an outboard is that when they need service you can loosen the clamps and haul it home or to the shop.
The Ericson 23 is an especially handsome boat that is easy and rewarding to sail. It is inexpensive to purchase and maintain. It's a perfect starter boat and as your skills develop it can be raced with some success. Best of all, it's a boat that you will be proud to call your own.