Carl Alberg's stable one-design and daysailer gets a second life
What is it about the Ensign? It seems almost every sailor has an Ensign story lurking in the closet. Built by Pearson and launched in the early 1960s, the Ensign was dubbed, "the little big boat," and indeed, sailing an Ensign has provided many skippers with their first "big boat" experience.
The Ensign, which was designed by Carl Alberg in 1962 and is a recent addition to the American Sailboat Hall of Fame, remained in production until 1983 with 1,776 boats built. The boat features long overhangs, a flat sheerline, low freeboard, slab-sided topsides and a cutaway full keel with an attached rudder. The boat's most distinctive feature is a long, deep cockpit with mahogany coaming boards and a short cuddycabin. Displacement is 3,000 pounds, including 1,200 pounds of lead ballast.
Although the Ensign class association remained active after the boat went out of production, if you wanted to own an Ensign your only option was to purchase a used boat; at least until 2000 when the Ensign went back into limited production thanks to the Ensign Spars Company of Dunedin, Florida. Founded in 1995 by Ensign sailor and enthusiast Zeke Durica, the company was originally just a part-time business that made replacement masts and booms. Soon, however, Durica was supplying a variety of parts, refurbishing old Ensigns and toying with notion of building new boats. After locating the original molds in a Texas field, he made the plunge. Today, Ensign Spars is the licensed builder of the new Ensign Classic.
Already building the fourth Classic, Durica is dedicated to creating a boat with more options than the original production model. But the Ensign Classic still conforms to strict one-design rules and can race against boats built in 1962. The Classics, which began with hull No. 2,000, are available on a semicustom basis. Durica's 2,300-square-foot shop is set up to build two or three boats at a time.
The Ensign Classic is laminated to the same rugged scantlings as the old boats, with a solid glass hull and cored deck. Positive flotation in the form of closed-cell foam is sealed in the lazarette, under the bunks and cabin sole, and behind the keel trunk. The ballast is internal, and the large rudder is fiberglass. The aluminum spar supports a fractional rig. The interior features a V-berth, with a porta-potty in between and room for a small table.
The finish work on the new boats is excellent. Needless to say, you won't be buying a new Ensign Classic for the accommodations, but the cabin does provide a place to rest your body after a day of sailing, and when coupled with a boom tent, the Ensign Classic can be a comfortable camper/cruiser.
The large cockpit is the heart of the boat, and the Ensign Classic is available with either a fiberglass or teak sole, while the coaming boards can be mahogany or teak. Sail controls are led aft to jammers on the cabintop. The headsail sheet winches are mounted on molded coamings with the genoa tracks outboard. The wooden laminated tiller is mounted on a small bridgedeck aft. The mainsheet is led aft, and a traveler is optional.
"We're not just another sport boat," joked Durica, and the Ensign doesn't have to be. Indeed, one of the reasons for the Ensign's enduring popularity is undoubtedly the fact that it is a safe, stable boat that lends confidence to new sailors but also continues to challenge racing veterans.
The Ensign Classic, like the original, has an easy motion in a seaway with a reluctance to pound even when sailing hard on the wind. Off the wind, the performance is surprising, and the 375-square-foot chute turbocharges the boat. The Ensign is surprisingly nimble when close tacking around the buoys.
Although the Ensign can be raced under PHRF, it is more fun to race against other Ensigns, and the Ensign National Class Association sponsors a national championship regatta every year. In addition, there are 45 active fleets around the country with which to hone your racing skills during the rest of the year.
One feature that has changed since the original Ensign was launched in 1962 is the price. Early boats sold for $2,500, but Ensign Spars is offering the new Classic Ensigns at a base price of $27,500 with fiberglass cockpit seats and floors. When you add sails, safety gear and an outboard engine, you'll be up over $30,000. Still, few boats can offer more fun, pound for pound or dollar for dollar, than the new Classic Ensign.