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Islander 32 MK II

2008 November 10
March 2003

A good-sailing, good-looking family cruiser and a sound value

Searching for reliable material about Islanders is something of a challenge. The company, which began life as McGlasson Boat Company, was one of the early production sailboat builders. Later known as Wayfarer Marine, the company was firmly established as Islander Yachts by the time the Bob Perry-designed 32 MK II was introduced in 1976. Around 200 Islander 32 MK IIs were built during a four-year production run. Unfortunately, after Islander Yachts went out of business in 1986 most of the Costa Mesa, California, builder's records were lost or destroyed.

Although there is not much of a written record to draw on, the floating record is impressive, you'll find old Islanders at marinas all over the country. Like other West Coast builders Columbia, Cal and Ericson, Islander was a major player in the United States sailboat business for two decades. It produced many handsome designs, including Perry's popular 28, Alan Gurney's classic 36 and Ted Brewer's handsome 48-foot cruiser.

Perry told me recently that the 32 MK II was inspired by his earlier design, the Islander 28. "The team at Islander thought that the 28 was too tender so we went after a stiffer hull form with a harder turn to the bilge," Perry said. "Hank McCormick (Islander's marketing man) thought we should add 2 inches to my original drawings for more room below, so I did. The day the boat was launched we stood on the dock and watched the boat power around. As it took a run straight at us Hank said, 'It's good but it would have been better with 2 inches less freeboard.'"

First impressions
The Islander 32 MK II is a good-looking boat, and although the design is 27 years old, it could almost pass as a contemporary production boat. The bow is always the giveaway, most of today's new boats have snub bows that extend the waterline and flatten the forefoot for a pinch of extra speed. The tradeoff is that modern boats often pound the fillings right out of your teeth when sailing upwind. The Islander 32's bow is nicely raked without looking overly traditional and there is a subtle sheer that softens the otherwise modern profile. The reverse transom flows naturally in the hull line and the moderate beam is extended well aft, at least by mid 1970s standards. The cabintrunk includes two long ports aft and two smaller ones forward. When first observed, it is easy to mistake the MK II for a larger boat. Of course, there is about 2 inches too much freeboard.

There are no steep buttock lines below the waterline and the leading edge of the relatively deep fin keel is raked aft. Supposedly, East Coast sailors thought the draft of 5 feet, 4 inches was a bit excessive for a 32-foot boat, prompting the development of the 4-foot shoal-draft model. The large semibalanced rudder is positioned well aft for excellent steering control. The Islander 32 MK II is a fairly stiff boat with a ballast to displacement ratio of 40 percent. A masthead sloop rig, the 32 has a keel-stepped spar, with an air draft of 47 feet on the tall rig.

What to look for
Don't confuse the Islander 32 MK II, which as mentioned earlier was introduced in 1977, with the 1960's narrow-beam long-keel Islander 32. If you spot a used 32 with a great asking price it's probably the older 32. MK II prices typically range from the low 20s to the mid-30s. Another version of the 32 built by Iona is also confused with the MK II. Several different engines were used during the production run including the popular 30-horsepower Universal Atomic 4 gas engine, a single cylinder 7-horsepower Volvo, a more common two-cylinder 13-horsepower Volvo and the preferred 25-horsepower Westerbeke L 25.

Islander was hard hit by the dreaded pox, and many 32 MK IIs have had blister problems at one time. Try to find out if, when and to what extent a bottom job was completed and what barrier coat system was applied. Also, check the main bulkhead below, some 32 MK II owners have reported problems. The decks were cored with plywood and should be carefully sounded for signs of delamination. Leaks in the hull-to-deck joint were not uncommon and sloppy bedding compound along the toerail is indicator of this problem. Finally, check the age-related issues, particularly the standing rigging and steering cables.

The true measure of a boat's construction is how well it holds up over time. For the most part the Islander 32 MK is going strong-it was a well-built boat. Several MK II's have completed impressive offshore passages, including one documented circumnavigation, and others sail regularly on windy San Francisco Bay. The hull is solid fiberglass and as mentioned earlier the deck is plywood cored. The construction is typical of the period with hand-laid hull and polyester resin. The hull-to-deck joint includes the aluminum toerail that runs nearly the entire length of the deck, an Islander trademark. The ballast is lead. Bulkheads are tabbed to the hull, the floors are stout and use of liners is limited.

On deck
The MK II has a spacious, comfortable cockpit that was a major improvement over the earlier 32s. The pedestal is placed well aft, which opens up the rest of the cockpit, yet the primaries remain within easy reach of the helm. The MK II was one of the first boats to offer optional midboom sheeting with the traveler over the companionway, although many boats still have the mainsheet led aft of the helm. There isn't much of a bridgedeck, and in heavy weather, prudence dictates leaving the bottom washboard in place. There are lockers aft, to port and starboard. The engine control panel on the boat I inspected was inconveniently located underneath the helmsman's seat.

The shrouds are mounted inboard, making it easy to navigate the side decks and also improving the sheeting angles. It seems that some boats came from the factory with full double backstays. The single-spreader spar is keel stepped. The nonskid may well be worn smooth. Deck hardware tends to be a bit undersized. Most boats are setup with a single anchor roller forward and an external anchor locker. The securing latch for the anchor locker is inadequate as are the small deck-mounted forward running lights.

Down below
Like its big sister, the Islander 36, the interior was a major reason for the 32 MK II's popularity. Almost every owner comments on the spaciousness, comfort and ample storage down below. The finish is classic late 1970's dark teak but the workmanship is first rate and large portlights help brighten things up. The interior arrangement is conventional but half bulkheads aft and a fold-away table in the saloon create a feeling of roominess-the 32 MK II seems like a bigger boat than it really is.

The forward V-berth is a good-sized double with storage below. Next aft is a hanging locker to port with the head opposite. The saloon features offset settees, both capable sea berths, and the table folds onto the main bulkhead. Cane faced lockers above the settees are deceptively large, attractive and practical as they allow the lockers to breath. An L-shaped galley is to port and includes a two- or three-burner stove outboard, a single sink and decent sized icebox/refrigerator. Drawers and lockers swallow up provisions and there is enough counter space for most seagoing cooks.

The electrical panel is tucked away on the aft bulkhead just to port of the companionway and a quarterberth is to starboard. The only thing missing from the interior is a chart table.

The engine is tucked away under the companionway and access is adequate. Ironically, the boats with small Volvo diesels are a little easier to work on, although they're less desirable on the used market. If you find a 32 MK II with an Atomic 4 don't automatically scratch it off your list. Parts are still widely available and cheap, the engines are fairly reliable and the asking price might be a lot less than a comparable boat with a diesel. As noted earlier, the Westerbeke L 25 is the preferred model as most owners with the smaller diesels say the boat is under powered. Fuel capacity is approximately 30 gallons.

Under way
Like many older boats selected for the Used Boat Notebook, the most enduring feature of the Islander 32 MK II is its sailing ability. By almost all accounts the 32 MK is nimble, well balanced, fairly fast and able to stand up to a blow-what more can you want from a boat. Most owners note that the boat is quite seaworthy and typically doesn't require a reef until the wind pipes up over 20 knots. Consequently it can be a bit sluggish in light air. One owner notes that there is just enough weather helm so that it adapts well to his Monitor self-steering windvane. Owners who have cruised long-distance on the boats complain of a shallow bilge that easily soaks the cabin sole and praise its stout construction and ability to sail well upwind. Although primarily used as a coastal cruiser a generous PHRF rating of around 180 makes the boat competitive around the buoys.

The Islander 32 MK has much to commend it. It is a solid, good sailing boat with a comfortable interior. It can fill many needs, from a family weekender to inexpensive cruiser. And with asking prices usually in the mid-20s, it is also a sound used boat value.