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Island Packet 38

2014 March 6

This proven offshore cruiser is built for comfort, not speed

Bring up the Island Packet 38 as a topic of discussion and you're likely to hear opinions that range from amazing offshore cruising yacht to sit back and get comfortable, it's going to be a

long ride.

When the 38 rolled off the assembly line in 1986, it offered few surprises from a boat builder known for staying close to the same design despite variations in hull length.

On the up side, buyers expecting a safe, heavy, solidly built, full-keel yacht got exactly that. The boat's relatively high price tag of $128,000 put off some potential buyers. Sailors in the market for a pre-owned boat have since found the 38 holds its value remarkably well, and in some cases the current used price is about the same as it was in the showroom.

First impressions

Sound construction, utilitarian layout and voluminous storage capacity are the prime virtues of the Island Packet 38. With a chopped-off transom, high freeboard, uninspiring sheer and slablike sprit, this cutter-rig sloop has a somewhat ungainly appearance when viewed from abeam. But belowdecks the roominess and overall comforts are likely to catch the eye of liveaboards, couples cruising with guests and sailors planning an extended journey. Teak trim above deck and generous wood panels below add a traditional nautical luster.


The first 38 was built in 1986, and the 188 were build by 193. Bob Johnson, founder and chief executive officer of Island Packet Yachts designed the 38-footer with a protruding bowsprit that pushed its overall length to nearly 42 feet.

An MIT graduate with a master's degree in naval architecture, Johnson worked in California designing missile systems for McDonnell Douglas and later, using aerospace materials, made surfboards for a company he started under the Hollow Wave brand. As his career progressed, he joined Irwin Yachts as a designer, eventually taking those skills to Endeavor Yachts before striking out to build boats on his own.

The 38, with its distinctive beige hull and deck, boasted 100% hand-laid fiberglass construction. The hull was molded in one piece with strong triaxial glass that was unified with a molded, interior grid structure. The laminated deck was cored with a synthetic material nearly impervious to rot. All deck hardware was through-bolted with aluminum backing plates. The deck was attached to the hull flange with bolts, lock nuts and adhesives. Ballast was integrated into the full keel.

What to look for

Like any boat that has been in use for nearly three decades, condition of the standing and running rigging, all sails and the engine are key factors that must be taken into consideration. The deck should be inspected for delamination, although Island Packet claims the core of its sandwich construction doesn't take in moisture like balsa or other fillers.

Engine maintenance, or lack of it, can often be verified by the presence of fluid leaks, cracked hoses and worn belts. Closely sight along the hull and feel for smoothness to determine if repairs to cracks, crazing or blisters have been made. Such repairs are easier to spot because of the hull's beige color. The chainplates are embedded in the fiberglass hull rather than to the exterior and so cannot be inspected without removing built-in furniture, followed by chiseling
and grinding.

Since the oldest 38s came off the assembly line 28 years ago, it could be time for new roller furling. Many owners already have replaced the mainsail with a full-batten version and a Dutchman flaking system.

On deck

The 38 has a roomy cockpit with shower, folding swim ladder and cavernous lockers. The engine control panel has a protective cover. Nonskid decking, double lifelines and full-length cabintop rails suggest safety, while teak coamings and caprail add touches of elegance.

Deck hardware and equipment includes cutter-style standing rigging with twin backstays, self-tailing Lewmar winches, a mainsheet traveler, a boom vang with preventer package, spring line cleats and a single-line reefing system.

Down below

Spaciousness is a key word aboard the 38. Headroom tops out at 6 feet 4 inches. Large staterooms are located fore and aft, flanking the saloon. There are two heads, but owners have maximized the space by keeping the forward head and transforming the aft head into a dedicated navigation station instead of a cramped navigation nook.

Bill and Amy Betts of Florida, who spent 12 years circumnavigating aboard their 38, Estrellita, gutted the forward head and turned it into a sail locker, but say the boat has plenty of storage.

"This boat swallows tools and spare parts, along with three months worth of groceries," he said. "We have all kinds of storage, especially behind the settees. We call it our hardware store."

Belowdecks there are oversized hanging lockers, a bureau with chest of drawers, large settees, retractable table and a pull-out double berth. The U-shaped galley has an LPG range with oven, double deep sinks, 14-cubic-foot icebox, teak dish rack, cutlery drawers, hot and cold water pressure in the galley and both heads, and lots of natural light via overhead hatches and opening ports. Four dorade vents assist ventilation. The boat can carry 157 gallons of water.


The yacht is equipped with a reliable 44-horsepower, freshwater-cooled Yanmar diesel engine. Access to the engine compartment is excellent, via matching side panels and from behind the companionway ladder. The fuel tank holds 57 gallons and a supplemental, flexible fuel tank can be added.


If your dream is to win races around the buoys, this probably isn't your boat. The full keel hull is relatively slow and the boat is not particularly responsive in light or
moderate air.

"This boat isn't a racer, but if you want to go places, it's great," said Florida yacht broker Alan Both. "It's comfortable, and in heavy air it doesn't get knocked around in a following sea like boats with fin keels."

He noted the owners of an upgraded 38 have sailed it without incident along the East Coast, to the Bahamas and on to Central America.

Bill Betts offered a different view, noting Island Packet yachts often participate in the Newport-to-Bermuda Race and other prestigious offshore competitions.

"We cruised around the world for 12 years and just got back in the fall. We had a 110% genoa and a large drifter. The latter makes all the difference in light air," Betts said, adding the boat is seakindly and has never been swamped by a following sea. "The rear end lifts up for a dry and comfortably ride, not a sloshy one."

Blaine Parks wrote about his family adventures aboard their Island Packet in an online journal.

"We agree that our boat doesn't move as well in light air, but we're going around the world, not just around the racing buoys," he wrote. "The ability to take the heavier air is more important to us than the lighter air sailing."

Parks added that a quality cruising chute kept their boat moving in most conditions.


Built for comfort, not for speed, the spacious and stable 38 is an ideal yacht for a family planning to coastal cruise, sail offshore to the Bahamas, hang out indefinitely in the Caribbean, and maybe even go around the world.

PRICE: When the Island Packet 38 entered the market in 1986, the standard model was offered for $128,950, slightly more than the average used model sells for today.

DESIGN QUALITY: The 38 is a full keel, cutter-rig sloop designed by naval architect Bob Johnson. Ballast is integrated into the keel and its design does not offer the performance of a fin-keel boat but most IP-38 owners are not racers.

CONSTRUCTION QUALITY: The 38 is solidly constructed of hand-laid fiberglass and the deck is securely fastened to the hull. Teak handrails and trim enhance the deck while exotic wood panels warm the interior. High-quality Island Packet workmanship is exhibited throughout.

USER-FRIENDLINESS: The full-keel design lessens the need to worry about snagging fishing nets while providing plenty of living and storage space below deck. The cutter rig allows for easier sail handling. The 38 is, however, a weighty vessel and that typically translates to needing more sail area to get her going.

SAFETY: The 38 was designed with generous freeboard that keeps its passengers high above the water where it's easier to stay dry. The boat has a Category A offshore rating. From the helm, views across the cabintop and deck surface are unobstructed.

TYPICAL CONDITION: Most Island Packet owners take pride in, and care of, their boats, so finding a used 38 in good-to-excellent condition is more the norm than the exception.

REFITTING: The 38s are often upgraded with refrigeration, electric winches, electric windlass, full-batten mainsail, larger genoa to replace the standard 110% genoa, and three-blade propeller instead of the stock two-blade version.

SUPPORT: Island Packet Yachts in Largo, Florida, (www.ipy.com) maintains an active customer-service department. Support is available from Island Packet Yacht Owners' Association at www.ipyoa.com and at www.iphomeport.com.

AVAILABILITY: At least 10 38s were on the market in late 2013 in Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida and Alabama. Brokers report the boats tend to get snapped up quickly.

INVESTMENT AND RESALE: The 38 holds its value and can even sell for more than its original price when new. A cultlike following ensures the resale value remains high.