A practical trailersailer in an affordable package is perfect for coastal sailing adventures
We just might be the longest running sailboat builder in the country under the original management," said Gerry Hutchins, who with his brother Richard, owns and operates Com-Pac Yachts in Clearwater, Florida. "I am not sure about that," he added with a laugh, "But we have been at this a long time."
Founded by their father Les, Com-Pac is a division of The Hutchins Co., which builds trailerable catboats, pocket cruisers and two larger models, the 27/2 and 35. The company's first boat, the salty Com-Pac 16, was launched in 1974. Designed by unheralded Clark Mills, whose other designs include the Windmill and the Optimist, it was fashioned after a lifeboat. With a springy sheer, jaunty bow and ample beam, the 16 was easy to trailer and stable in the water, it was an immediate success.
Five years later the company introduced a larger sistership, the Com-Pac 23. Also a Mills design, the 23 had an actual interior and was a bit livelier under sail, more than 600 boats have been built to date.
Although the Com-Pac 23 is a very practical boat, its wide appeal comes from its traditional appearance. The sheerline sweeps aft from the short bowsprit before bending up again just before the transom-hung rudder.
The box cabintrunk, with round or oval bronze ports, flows naturally into the deck lines. From a distance the boat looks bigger than 23 feet. There is a shallow forefoot and a long, shoal keel with a draft of just 2 feet, 3 inches. Any more draft would make it difficult to launch on many ramps.
Although trailerability is a nice feature, most 23 owners keep the boat in the water all season. The aluminum rudder has a kick-up blade. Displacement is 3,000 pounds, of which 1,340 is ballast, accounting for the 23's stiffness. The mast stands 30 feet off the water.
Com-Pac farms out the molding of the 23's solid fiberglass hull and balsa-cored deck. The hull includes longitudinal stringers that encapsulate the bulkheads and stiffen the panels. The crew at Com-Pac builds the interior and finishes the boat. Surprisingly, the interior components are handmade, including plywood bulkheads and surfaces with teak veneers.
The interior is not a symphony of stark molded components and the teak-and-holly sole is a very nice touch for a small boat. The workmanship is first rate, much better in fact than most small boat manufacturers. Com-Pac uses good quality materials throughout, and the company's construction philosophy has always been to build small boats like they were just short big boats.
What to look for
The condition of all used boats is directly related to the care they receive. However, this seems to be more relevant with trailerable boats. For some reason these boats can be forgotten and languish on their trailers for years. If they are well sealed, they may be moldy, but otherwise are lightly used gems that just require a good cleaning and represent a solid value.
On the other hand, if the boats have been leaking while shut up, you may push open the hatch to find rotting plywood and cabin soles among other problems. There are plenty of 23s on the market, and prospective owners can take the time to find a 23 that has been well cared for.
There were several changes with different models and you should be aware of the differences. The first changes occurred with the model 23/2, which took place in the mid-1980s. This is when the popular hide-away galley was added, the interior finishing was upgraded and the bowsprit was added for much needed additional sail area. In the early 1990s, the 23/3 was offered and this model change included mostly small tooling upgrades. Small round portlights were changed to larger, oval ones for example. One model to look for is the rare 23 D, which includes a 10-horsepower single cylinder Yanmar diesel. According to Gerry Hutchins, only about 35 of these boats were built and they are quite desirable on the used market.
The cockpit is the best design feature on the boat. It is long, more than seven feet, and surprisingly comfortable. Many pocket cruiser designs sacrifice cockpit space to increase the size of the cabin but unless you are sailing offshore, and few pocket cruisers are capable of that, it is a mistake. The cockpit is control central, this is where you spend your time in most small boats.
The 23's self-bailing cockpit includes two lockers and a bridgedeck. The original tiller was laminate mahogany and ash and there is good leg support when steering. Although the triangular mainsheet arrangement crowds the helmsman and isn't very efficient, a traveler would be more of an intrusion. The transom will likely have both an outboard motor bracket and swim ladder mounted, making it a bit crowded as well.
The stainless pulpits and stanchions are beefy by small boat standards. In contrast, the standing rigging seems a bit undersized, but remember, the mast was designed to be raised and lowered without gin pole.
Teak handrails on the cabintop and molded nonskid make getting around the boat safe and easy despite narrow side decks. Newer boats feature a chain pipe and divided chain locker. Most boats will include bronze cleats and small standard sheet winches.
While nobody buys a Com-Pac 23 based on the interior, most are surprised when they drop below. The cabin is spacious, this is where you appreciate the nearly eight-foot beam. The bulkheads have teak veneers and the cabin sides are covered with teak paneling. Two overhead hatches and six opening bronze portlights provide excellent ventilation.
There is just one step down into the cabin and standing headroom is only under the companionway. The hide-away galley usually features a two-burner stovetop to port and a stainless sink to starboard. These cleverly fold and slide aft. A boat without these features is a pre-23/2 model. The interior really does sleep four with some comfort, including two settee berths and two berths forward. There is a storage compartment for a portable head between the forward berths. As undesirable as this arrangement is, sacrificing room for an enclosed head would waste far too much space. There are clever storage compartments throughout the boat. A portable table mounts on the bulkhead.
As noted earlier, the vast majority of boats came with outboard engines. A few, roughly 35, came with a 10-horsepower inboard diesel. While the inboard offers many obvious advantages, including the ability to efficiently charge batteries, don't set your hopes on finding one on the used market, and if you do, be prepared to pay for it. There is a bit of information on the Com-Pac owners Web site,
www.com-pacowners.com, that discusses retrofitting a diesel. Unless you are committed to owning the boat a long time, it probably doesn't make sense.
Outboards offer a few advantages of their own, one being portability for repairs. If something goes wrong, just heft it into the trunk and take it to a mechanic. A very unscientific survey reveals that most 23s on the market have 8-horsepower outboards. All major manufacturers seem to be represented. Another advantage of an outboard is that you can actually afford to repower without breaking the bank. A new four-stroke model would be a nice upgrade and a lot better for the water you sail in. A built-in locker is designed to house a six-gallon fuel tank.
The hull shape of the Com-Pac 23 is deceptive, the boat has a long 20-foot, 2-inch waterline. The theoretical hull speed is 6 knots and owners report hitting this fairly regularly on a reach. The hull shape is a bit prone to pitching but more importantly, it doesn't pound in a chop.
Although the 23 is nimble under sail it is not close winded. The sheeting angles are wide and it does develop a bit of weather helm when beating. So crack off a bit and enjoy the ride, the Com-Pac 23 is not a boat to race and it reaches beautifully. Besides, the 2-foot, 3-inch draft allows the 23 to skip across shallows that more weatherly deep-draft boats have to tack around.
The Com-Pac 23 blends quality construction, practical design features and a handsome appearance in an affordable package. Prices may range from $5,000 for an early boat to more than $20,000 for a recent model, however the bulk of the boats on the market are asking less than $10,000.
When you factor in the low cost of ownership, the 23 is genuinely affordable. If you live up north, you can trailer it south in the winter. It is an ideal boat for exploring the shimmering flats of the Florida Keys. It is also capable of crossing the Gulf Stream on a nice day, and is perfect for gunkholing the broad banks of the Bahamas.