O’Day 27

2009 July 1
A small cruiser with a big-boat pedigree

I just received an e-mail from a reader looking for a good, inexpensive boat that would be at home on a small lake that's connected through a canal to the broader reaches of the Chesapeake Bay. The reader wanted a small, simple boat that sailed well. She planned to race with her local club, but it had to have enough space below for the occasional weekend cruise. Not surprisingly, she also wanted moderate draft. And, here's the rub, it had to cost less than $10,000. I entered all of these factors into the data processing center located in the dark chambers of my muddled brain. A few minutes later, after a bit of clunking and grinding, (the machine's not what it once was) the answer revealed itself in a vision of an old black-and-white brochure.

Yes, it's true, I actually remember the brochure of the O'Day 27. It was the early 1970s, maybe 1975 at the latest. I was in high school and I was a fan of Alan Gurney. He was famous for designing Windward Passage, and also one of my favorite production boats of the time, the Islander 36. O'Day commissioned him to design its new 27, and that elevated the boat into a new dimension, at least to a 15-year-old kid.

Do kids still worship yacht designers? I remember discussing the boat with my brother, and although my father owned a lovely Sabre 28 at the time, we secretly lusted after an O'Day 27. It was all because of Alan Gurney, and a nice brochure that showed the boat blasting under spinnaker. Ironically, these days I admire Gurney not for his yacht designs but for his books, including Compass and Below the Convergence, both of which I highly recommend.

First impressions
The O'Day 27 was launched in 1972 and remained in production for approximately six years before a new model, the 272, was introduced. More than 700 27s were built. It's a handsome boat, with a 1970s sheerline, moderate freeboard and a coachroof profile that was not overly distinctive. A lot of boats from this era-the Catalina 27, the Ranger 26, the Ericson 27 and the O'Day 27, look quite similar, although a connoisseur can spot the differences. I like the look, and they've aged very well.

Below the waterline is where Gurney left his mark. The entry is quite fine, the forefoot is just right and the fin keel is swept back. Early boats had a molded 3/4-skeg that was later reduced to a small partial skeg. This sweet hull shape is the reason why the O'Day 27 is still widely admired and, more importantly, still sailing in places with challenging conditions like San Francisco Bay and the Great Lakes.

The hull was hand-laid solid fiberglass and the brochure notes that, "it's more expensive to do it that way, but stronger too." I guess the option was to use a chopper gun to slam the hull together. The deck coring apparently changed from plywood to balsa early in the production run. Plywood was used for backing plates.

The test of any construction is longevity, and these boats, some nearing 40 years old, are still plying lakes, rivers and oceans all around the country. The O'Day 27 was a real boat, it wasn't a trailersailer masquerading as a keelboat. Molded hull and deck liners were used extensively down below, but that's not a bad way to build a small boat. They don't rot like marine plywood eventually does, especially after enduring decades of leaking chainplates. The mast is deck stepped, with a stout compression post supported just above the keel. And speaking of the keel, the 27 and the 27 MK II featured an internal lead keel, eliminating the worry over keel bolts in older boats. The 272 model came with an externally fastened wing keel.

What to look for
There's plenty to look for with any old boat, however O'Day, unlike Catalina, was relentless about making small changes from year to year. A 1975 O'Day 27 will have a few different features than a 1974 model for instance. Of course, let's be realistic, almost all old boats have been tweaked and retweaked as they are sold and resold. It is vital that you carefully inspect whatever boat you're buying. Whether you want to spring for a survey for an old, inexpensive boat is, of course, up to you, but you probably won't regret it. At the least, buy a copy of Don Casey's Inspecting the Aging Sailboat, and follow his guide for conducting your own survey.

The first model change was in 1975 when the keel and rudder were redesigned. The ballast was lowered and the big skeg was eliminated. Wheel steering also became an option. In 1976 the interior arrangement was changed as the galley was moved aft near the companionway. Also, the 27 originally came with either an inboard gas engine or an outboard. Some later models had inboard diesels. A boat with a new or newer diesel is much preferred to one with an old gas inboard or outboard. Surprisingly, the pricing does not reflect as much difference as you'd think for this distinction. Also, there's not much difference in price between the older 27s and the newer 272s, which is probably more of a sign of the general malaise in the secondhand market than a reflection of the original 27's superiority.

On deck
The spacious cockpit was designed to accommodate a family or a racing crew. Don't laugh, this is lifted straight from the brochure. And, it's actually true. The cockpit is spacious with two long settees and a small lazarette to port and a larger locker to starboard. The tiller boats have more space and feel better than the boats with wheel steering. Be wary of some funky owner installations of pedestals and wheels. A nice factory option was the traveler, which runs behind the tiller. Even there, however, the sheet lead is still raked aft. Some boats had secondary winches, while many didn't. Winch upgrades would be another reason to pick one boat over another.

The side decks are narrow, that's a trade-off for more interior room, but the handholds are well placed along the coachroof as you make your way forward. The foredeck is decently sized and you have some room to work while setting the chute. There is no provision for anchoring, but adding a small roller if it hasn't already been done is not complicated. There is a small hawsepipe for stowing the rode below. Some owners opted for mounting a PVC tube to house a lightweight Danforth anchor in lieu of mounting a roller, which might interfere with the tiny, borderline useless, deck-mounted running lights. Be sure to check the chainplates, especially where they pass through the deck, for signs of crevice corrosion. Also, the stanchions and bases can be a bit wobbly. One other item, make sure the gasket on the large forward hatch is in good shape as it is prone to leaking.

Down below
The interior is quite nice, and was a major reason for the 27's sales success. Post-1974, the interior lays out with the galley to starboard after you drop below and a quarterberth to port. The galley sink is located somewhat awkwardly just below the companionway step. Some owners have added marine stoves and refrigeration, others use a Coleman camp stove and the 4-cubic-foot icebox. There is room to make a decent galley if you feel the need. Older boats had the galley along the starboard side.

The saloon features two settees and a large bulkhead-mounted table, which is the right way to deal with a table in a small boat. Set it up when you need it, then stow it away when you don't. There is storage behind and below the settees and shelves above. There's a surprising amount of stowage in the boat. The head is squeezed in to port and runs athwartships. The V-berth is large enough for a couple to stretch out in, and the big hatch above provides plenty of ventilation and natural light.

The cabin is nicely trimmed in teak, which complements the many molded pieces including the cabin sole. The main bulkhead also supports the chainplates, so be sure to sound it for signs
of delamination.

As noted earlier, the 27 came with either an inboard or outboard engine, although it seems that most boats by now are fitted with inboard diesels. The once ubiquitous Atomic 4 is now a historical relic, an artifact. Although none of us plan to use the engine much when we sail, the truth is, we all do. Look for a boat with new, or newer engine. This is a strong buyer's market, so take the time to find the 27 you want, not just the one for sale in the yard's back lot. Access is from a small hatch behind the companionway and through the quarterberth. The shaft is mounted on a skeg. One advantage of an outboard is that when it's time for maintenance or repairs you can lift it off the stern and carry it home or to the shop. Also, today's four-stroke outboards are quiet and clean running.

It didn't take long for the O'Day 27 to become a success on the racing circuit, particularly in the MORC division. Jim Gleason, the former president of O'Day, reportedly never lost a race in a 27. Whether this true or not is hard to prove, but it does point to the fact that the 27 is a fast boat. The 27, like all of Gurney's boats, sails well in a wide range of conditions and that's why it has remained popular. Upwind, it's fairly stiff, as owners note they don't typically reef until the wind is consistently above 15 knots and the helm starts to load up. The rig is set up well inboard, allowing for fairly tight sheeting angles. These were the days of big headsails, so be prepared to crank in the 150 that seems to stretch back to the cockpit. Off the wind, owners don't hesitate to power up with a chute, and it seems most boats on the used market are set up with spinnaker gear. If you are looking at a 27 with old sails, remember, nothing breathes new life into an old boat like a new suit of sails.

The O'Day 27 is just another reason why there's no excuse not to get out on the water. In today's market you can find a nice, clean 27 for less than $10,000. In some cases, a lot less. And speaking of markets, right now an O'Day 27 just might be a better place to put your money than the stock market. There's no doubt it will deliver a lot more pleasure.

LOA 27'
LWL 22'9"
Beam 9'
Draft deep 4'
Displacement 5,000 lbs.
Ballast 2,230 lbs.
Sail Area 240 sq. ft.