Affordable coastal cruiser with accommodations perfect for living aboard
The O'Day 37 caused a stir when it was introduced in 1978. It was one of the first center-cockpit models less than 40 feet long that actually looked and behaved like a sailboat, not a powerboat with a mast. Aesthetically it was a big improvement from the company's other center-cockpit boat, a stubby 32-footer introduced a few years earlier. The 37 was an immediate success, popular with sailing schools, charter companies and sailing families longing for private accommodations. While hard-core sailors continue to eschew center-cockpit designs, and see them as heretics in the world of pure sailboats, most of us recognize and appreciate their practical appeal. And when it comes to practical, the O'Day 37 stacks up well against all comers, especially when you factor in price; a late model 37 in good condition usually sells for around $40,000. Liveaboard sailor Jim Schrader, who has cruised up and down the Atlantic coast during the last five years in his 1982 37, Lee Ward, puts it simply, "The best thing about the boat is the cabin arrangement."
The sheerline of the O'Day 37 is vintage mid-1970s, with just a subtle dip amidships but nothing extreme. In spite of a wide cove stripe, your eye tends to follow the cabintrunk and cockpit coaming, giving the impression that the boat has more freeboard than it actually does. The sloop rig is relatively low aspect with an air draft of 47 feet and a long boom, working sail area is a moderate 594 square feet. The stem is nicely raked and the forefoot trails into a sweptback fin keel that again, is straight out of C. Raymond Hunt's 1970s designer manual. The rudder is supported by a large, full skeg.
The displacement of 14,000 pounds was moderate in its day, less than the Tartan 37 and more than the Islander 36. The 6,000-pound lead keel translates in to a ballast/displacement ratio of nearly 43 percent. For a sensible coastal cruiser the numbers look good, displacement/length ratio is 224 and sail area/displacement is 16.35. The O'Day 37 won't win many races but it has better than average overall performance, is fairly stiff and has a good motion in a seaway.
Founded by Olympic sailor George O'Day in the late 1950s, the company was one of America's original fiberglass builders and produced many legendary boats, especially small boats. The 37 was built during the period when the company had been sold to the conglomerate Bangor Punta, which also variously owned Ranger, Cal and Jeanneau. I recently looked closely at Lee Ward, which is hull No. 194. I found it to be in very nice shape, and the condition of a 25-year-old boat, even one that has been well maintained, reveals a lot about original construction.
O'Days were not meant for rugged bluewater sailing-they were built to the production standards of the day-and yet they have held up pretty well over the years and many have logged thousands of offshore miles. The one-piece hull is solid fiberglass, and not particularly heavily laid up. The deck is both balsa, and in places where more support is required, plywood cored. The hull and deck are joined on a flange and chemically and mechanically fastened. A rubrail was a nice option.
The rudder is high-density foam covered with a thin outer layer of fiberglass and includes a beefy stainless steel shaft. The ballast is lead, internally placed in the keel cavity and fiberglassed over. The bulkheads are teak and plywood and are well tabbed to the hull. From 1980 on, O'Day used bronze through-hull fittings below the waterline and surprisingly good quality hardware and fittings in general during a production run that produced hundreds of boats before it was phased out in 1984.
What to look for
A quick survey of the 37 owner reviews on a variety of Web sites produced a few common problems, most of which were confirmed by discussions with Schrader. Most owners complained that the original hatches and especially the plastic port lights need upgrading, and in most cases, replacement. The flush mounted forward hatch is prone to leaking. Some boats had deck prisms (or skylights) forward and these also leaked. The solution was usually just to remove them.
Deck delamination may or may not be an issue, and this is one item to make sure the surveyor checks. You can usually spot this malady yourself with a careful inspection of the deck around the chainplates and where the cabintrunk and deck converge and forward around the chain locker. Delamination reveals itself with telltale creaks and groans as you put a bit of weight on the suspect areas. Also, the original standing rigging included swaged terminals and if they haven't been replaced they will need to be. In fact, most riggers suggest upgrading the rig every 10 to 12 years, so even if the boat was rerigged previously, it may need it again, especially if you plan to cruise extensively.
The deep cockpit is cozy, in the words of one owner, and lends a feeling of security. The pedestal crowds the entry into the aft cabin, however the 28-inch wheel is just the right size for getting around. Visibility from the helm, usually an advantage of a center cockpit, is average at best but at least the helmsman can easily access the main and headsail sheets. Although the aft cabin is entered from the cockpit, the addition of a fully enclosed bimini makes the main cabin, cockpit and aft cabin feel like one well-connected working and living area. There are good-sized lockers beneath the cockpit seats. The mainsheet is led aft to a triangular block and tackle arrangement on the aft deck and is controlled with a small winch. It's completely out of the way and utilizes efficient end-boom sheeting. The genoa tracks are located directly outboard of the cockpit, with turning blocks aft for the sheet leads. While this arrangement makes lead adjustments easy, it also makes for flapping sheets in the cockpit when tacking.
The single-spreader mast is deck stepped. The chainplates are mounted in the middle of the narrow side decks, which makes going forward a bit awkward. The chainplates are also difficult to access from down below. Double lifelines were optional but most boats on the used market seem to have them. The bow and stern pulpits are beefy and well supported. A molded toerail with a teak cap offers deck security although you will find most 37s have gelcoat worn nearly smooth. Long teak handrails line both cabin tops. An external chain locker is handy, although the cast single anchor bow roller is a bit undersized.
The disadvantage of a center-cockpit design is that space in the main cabin is usually sacrificed, and this is the case with the 37. After dropping below, the small galley is immediately to port. A two-burner, counter top alcohol stove was standard, although most owners will have upgraded the cooker. If a propane system has been retrofitted be sure to check the installation carefully. Double stainless steel sinks were standard, although one sink is quite shallow, and pressure hot and cold water was also an unusual standard feature. The icebox is typical of its day, fairly large and modestly insulated, if you plan to live aboard and cruise in warm climates you'll need to improve the insulation. A small chart table is opposite the galley.
The main cabin features opposing settees with a drop-leaf table between. Some owners have removed the table for added space. By the way, the 1980 brochure notes that off-white shag carpeting was listed as an option. There are shelves above and bulk storage below the settees. The finish is in teak and the joinery work is simple but very well done. Teak grab rails overhead are well spaced and the headline is foam backed vinyl. It's a good reach up to the rails; headroom is 6 feet, 4 inches. The forward head is rather small, although it has everything you need. A generous hanging locker is opposite to starboard. The forward cabin includes a V-berth with a removable filler insert. The cabin is separated from the head and main cabin by somewhat flimsy folding doors.
The roomy aft cabin, the feature that really defines the 37, offers a large athwartships double berth with storage below. Additional storage is found in a hanging locker and in teak-faced drawers and shelves. The private aft head includes a fiberglass liner and a shower.
The standard engine was a four-cylinder, 32-horsepower Universal diesel. This is a reliable machine and many of the boats have original, i.e. high hour, engines. Still, an O'Day 37 that has been repowered is worth paying a bit more for on the used boat market. Schrader says that despite being loaded for cruising he still makes close to 6 knots without too much effort, at least in flat seas. The standard aluminum fuel tank carries 28 gallons, which corresponds to close to 300 miles with the stingy Universal. Engine access is not as good as it should be from behind both companionways. Accessing the stuffing box is particularly challenging, and one owner notes that he installed a dripless model to solve the problem.
Almost across the board owners report that the 37 finds its stride when the winds start blowing, and that it needs a lot of trim and coaxing to keep moving in light air. Schrader notes that once the winds hit 10 knots the boat comes alive and sails smartly up to 20 knots when he considers reefing the main. Although the sheeting angles are not overly tight, the boat is fairly close-winded and tracks well. It is also dry upwind, which is not always the case with a center cockpit simply because you're closer to the spray. Schrader described one nasty Gulf Stream crossing with winds gusting to 30 knots and the seas at 15 feet.
"The boat felt rock steady in the water, we had two reefs and tiny headsail and never felt threatened. We were zooming along at 7 knots and the ride was OK." He also notes that the boat sails well under autopilot, explaining, "she balances easily."
The O'Day is a nice example of an affordable coastal cruising boat. Although many boats were originally chartered or school boats, most have been retrofitted into family cruisers. If your budget is between $35,000 to $45,000 and a private aft cabin is high on your priority list, take a hard look at the O'Day 37, it just might surprise you.