Home . Articles . Boats . Retrofits . Ericson 27

Ericson 27

2009 January 13

Updating the sail controls on a solid and comfy little cruiser makes for good sailing

The older I get, the more I appreciate accommodations. The creakier I get, the more I appreciate boats under 30 feet. There was a time when nothing pleased me more than working up a sweat manhandling acres of thrashing sailcloth. I would wear my bruises with pride. Now I can think of other, equally rewarding ways to pass the hours afloat-like munching hors d'oeuvres and sipping cocktails.

Enter the Ericson 27: Designed by Bruce King in 1971, this is one of those smaller boats that surprises when you first go below. Granted, with 9 feet of beam and an L/B of 2.97 the E27 is not exactly skinny. The boat's topsides are also a bit on the high side. Nonetheless, for a 27-footer that doesn't look like a floating box, the accommodations, and the saloon in particular, seem nothing less than palatial.

King was able to pull off this sleight of hand by doing two things. First, he forced everyone to sleep by themselves. The Ericson 27 has nice long settees on either side of the saloon and another nice single quarterberth starboard. There is also a V-berth forward that was billed as a double, but in reality is so pointy it would be a challenge for even a single sailor with big feet. By foregoing the great expanse of sleeping space that is de rigueur in so many of today's cruisers, King was able to limit unsightly and un-spritely volume in the ends.
Another thing King did was give the E27 plenty of displacement-7,000 pounds of it to be exact. These days displacement is kind of a dirty word. But as King knew when he designed the Ericson 27, displacement has its advantages.

For one thing, it provides for an easy motion through the waves, especially when combined with a good deal of deadrise. Looking at an E27 resting in its cradle, it is striking how much hull there is beneath the waterline compared to its contemporary cousins with their flat bottoms and high-aspect fin keels. The E27's deeply V-ed forefoot will slice through the chop as opposed to pounding over it. You also get less snap in the boat's lateral motion, thanks to that soft turn of the bilge. As Chicago sailor John Siska, owner of the Ericson 27 Ragamuffin puts it, the boat is a bit tender at first, but eventually reaches a nice comfortable moderate amount of heel and then stays there, steady as a church.

Granted, the E27 is hardly a rocket. But there's something to be said for comfort and practicality. If you just can't get enough of spooning with your significant other and need to do it afloat as well as on shore, fine, get yourself a boat with a double quarterberth. Sleep tight honey, I'll see you in the morning!

Created in 1971, the Ericson 27 enjoyed a very respectable nine-year production run, during which time the company manufactured 1,302 boats. One of a number of Southern California boatbuilders who largely defined the market in the 1970s, Ericson had a reputation for quality construction, and it shows in the Ericson 27. The hull is hand-laid fiberglass, and the deck, cockpit and cabintrunk include an end-grain balsa core for stiffness. Ericson substituted a marine plywood core in the bases for the primary winches. The company must have done a pretty good job of installing and sealing its deck fitting, because rotten cores don't seem to be a problem.

Like all boats from that era, blisters are not uncommon. Remember, many of these boats were built in the Nixon and Ford administrations. However, the E27 does not seem to have been one of those boats that were especially hard hit by the pox, and the blisters that do pop up seem to be largely cosmetic.

For the first few years, the E27 was only available with tiller steering. Then, in 1974, Ericson created an upgraded version with an optional reconfigured cockpit and wheel. Around that same time the company also switched from mahogany plywood to teak in its interior decor.
Most of the inboards installed were Atomic 4 gas engines. A few E27s received diesels. Boats with tillers employ a midboom mainsheet arrangement with the traveler mounted above the companionway. Boats with wheels employ end-boom sheeting with the traveler installed immediately in front of the steering pedestal.

The hull-and-deck are joined on an outward-turning flange, chemically bonded, mechanically fastened and covered with a rubrail. The hull-and-deck joint on the boats I looked at had also been glassed in, so leaks were nonexistent. The joint is easy to inspect by removing the wood paneling above and behind the settees.

The joinerwork below is well executed, and barring any overt abuse, tends to look good even after years of use. There is an enclosed head just aft of the V-berth, with either a sink or storage immediately outboard. The galley is alongside the companionway to port. Because so many where built, a number of Ericson 27s come on the market each year providing buyers with a range of options. A quick Google search and a peek at places like the Ericson page at www.sailboatlistings.com and www.ericsonyachts.org revealed a number of current and recent listings for boats ranging in price from $6,000 to $20,000.

Boats from the late 1970s with wheel steering and inboard power commanded the highest prices, although there was one rough-looking boat from 1971 for $6,000 that had been upgraded with wheel steering. Boats with either original or retrofitted diesels command higher prices than boats still equipped with Atomic 4 engines. Most of the listings were priced between $7,000 and $12,000. Boats that cost more had been lavishly cared for and showered with amenities. One boat with an asking price of $20,000 included a Bukh diesel engine, radar, television, refrigerator, electric head and even a propane heater and fireplace.

Ultimately, we decided to go with a boat built in 1974 that had an Atomic 4 auxiliary and tiller steering. The price was $8,000, which also bought us a solid cradle and mainsail cover. Like so many older cruising boats, our Ericson had long since been upgraded with a roller-furling headsail and VHF radio. There were also a number of other bits of gear that had accumulated over the years, including a knotmeter, aluminum transom swim ladder and a tiller pilot.
An inspection showed that both the wiring and Atomic 4 auxiliary-which had last been overhauled in 2004-were in good shape. During this inspection we made sure to check all through hulls, hoses and clamps. Engine access is good, making this process that much easier. It was nice to see the through hulls all had been upgraded from gate valves to quarter-turn valves. The bottom was OK-only a handful of superficial blisters-but very much in need of new bottom paint.

The deck and cockpit sole also looked good. We were especially careful to check the area around the shrouds, which is reportedly prone to leakage and rot. If we had been inspecting an outboard version, we would have also been sure to closely examine the cutaway area where it is mounted on the transom-another area that sometimes falls prey to leakage.

Below, the joinerwork all looked solid as did the chainplates. There is an account on the Ericson Fleet One Web site at www.ericson27.com of a boat that was dismasted because of a chainplate failure. Apparently, moisture came in from the deck and collected in the crevice where the chainplate attaches to the inside of the hull. Fortunately, the area can be inspected by removing the same wood panels that provide access to the hull-and-deck joint. Again, things looked good, but we will be sure to continuing checking in the future.

We were also lucky in that the ports looked solid. If they had been a problem-or if they ever become a problem in the future-I could see following the lead of Pacific Northwest sailor Nigel Barron, who completely removed the leaky ports on his souped-up E27 and replaced them with Lexan bedded in silicon.

The one downside to our boat was that its sailing hardware was pretty dated. On the plus side, the headsail had long since been upgraded with roller-reefing gear, and the vang and jib leads are still good. However, the halyards and vang were still cleated at the mast, a state of affairs that is simply unacceptable in this day and age. Fortunately, because the rest of the boat is basically in sailaway condition, we can afford to splurge in this area.

Starting at the bottom and working our way up, the first job was to sand off the old paint and get rid of those blisters. Because they were confined to the gelcoat layer and not the underlying fiberglass, we simply ground them out and let them drain and dry for a few days. Then we filled them with West System epoxy, using 100 percent epoxy for the first couple of layers followed by epoxy with filler to take care of the rest of the cavity.

Once the holes were filled and faired, we put on three coats of Interlux Primocon. We decided to go with Primocon primer because there was no telling what might have been used in the past, and we wanted to make sure our new bottom paint was going to adhere. After that we put on a couple of coats of Interlux Pacifica bottom paint. Pacifica paint is copper free, and we want to do what we can to help preserve the marine environment. It is said to be quite effective.

While in drudge mode, we scrubbed and buffed out the topsides, and scrubbed the bejesus out of the deck and cabintrunk. Finally, we tidied up the teak handrails on either side of the mast with the help of a Star Brite teak care kit, and gave the wood tiller a light sanding and a couple of layers of Z-Spar Flagship Varnish we had left over from a previous project. Nothing feels saltier than doing a little varnishing.

To update the rig, we first installed a new main traveler to replace the simple aluminum track and slide the boat came with. Our traveler of choice was comprised of Midrange CB High-beam track from Harken mounted on a pair of risers to clear the companionway hatch. High-beam track is self supporting, making it ideal for spanning things like companionways. A Midrange CB car, end controls and double swivel blocks completed the system.

For the mainsheet, we installed a 5-to-1 arrangement comprised of a Midrange fiddle block with a becket and five three-inch blocks. With this system, the mainsheet leads forward along the boom to the mast, then down to the cabintrunk, where it runs through a three-inch block that guides it aft to the cockpit.

The next task was to install the necessary hardware so that we could tend the main halyard, mainsheet and vang from the safety of the cockpit. To do this we first bolted a three-sheave deck organizer from Ronstan on top of the cabintrunk to starboard of the vang. Some Ericson 27s have two hatches, one forward and one aft of the mast, which can make things a bit crowded. However, ours only has a single hatch forward, so placing this piece of hardware was a piece of cake.

After that, we installed an XAS triple Powerclutch rope stopper from Spinlock alongside the companionway and a Lewmar one-speed, non-self-tailing Ocean series winch. The latter is a good, solid piece of equipment that will help with those last couple feet of mainsail hoist and trimming the main in heavy air. While we were at it, we picked up a new winch handle pocket, which we mounted on the aft bulkhead of the cabintrunk.

Rounding out our new rigging scheme, we ran all new lines, including Sta-Set X polyester double braid from New England Ropes for both halyards, and Sta-Set Polyester yacht braid for the mainsheet, vang, jib sheets and reefing line. We went with Sta-Set X for the halyards because it offers low stretch at a good price.

Finally, we picked up a Down-the-Hatch ventilating sail from West Marine to help get some fresh air below on muggy days. Again, our boat only has a single hatch, as opposed to the two that were available later on in the production run.

And with that we're ready to go sailing. Ours was already a well-built and adequately cared-for boat. Now, in addition to its intrinsic amenities, we have a bottom that should once again stand a fighting chance against blisters and a manageable rig that will allow us to enjoy our time afloat. Time for some cocktails!