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Ericson 380

1998 May 7

Multidimensional design means easy sailing

The charm and appeal of the Ericson 380 emanates from a quiet commitment to form and function and, subtly, to bucking the trends of an industry driven more and more by splashy, one-dimensional boats. Bruce King has been the primary designer for Ericson Yachts for 34 years and his latest design represents a logical evolution-a nice blend of modern and traditional elements.

Traditional may be misleading; in this case, I am using the world to define king's work in the '60s and '70s, when his handsome designs invariably sailed superbly and featured moderate proportions. The 380 does not attempt to be all things to all people. King is justifiably proud of the 380's sweet sheerline, shapely overhangs and low-slung cabintrunk, and he notes in his design comments that "some people prefer this friendlier look over the more aggressive appearance of many of today's vertically ended free-board designs."

This is not to suggest that the 380 is not a forward-looking design. king's underbody, with rounded sections, fin keel and balanced spade rudder, is modern enough. King puts a lot of stock in a boat's sea motion and balance under sail, however, and claims that if the ends are too asymmetrical and the trailing edge of the keel is too far forward, the center of lateral resistance will shift and destroy upwind balance, especially as the angle of heel increases. king's objective was to design a fast boat that would not sacrifice seakindliness and ease of handling in a reckless pursuit of speed. He credits the moderate overhangs with helping to prevent forefoot pounding. And, while there is no excuse for poor performance in any new boat today, there is also no reason why a boat can't treat the crew with a little respect.

At home on the water
The Chesapeake Bay winds were light, around 10 knots, as our photo boat eased alongside and I climbed aboard over the stern rail. I'll confess that, in some ways, taking the helm of the 380 felt like slipping into a pair of old deck shoes. I grew up sailing boats that just felt right in the water and I was quickly at home aboard the 380. The cockpit is comfortable and functional but not spacious. The seat backs are agreeably angled, the view from the contoured helm seat is excellent and the Harken self-tailing sheet winches are easily trimmed from the helm. The Whitlock steering system was tight and positive. The midboom mainsheet and all halyards are led aft through Harken stoppers to the cockpit. The starboard side locker is enormous, designed to hold a rolled-up inflatable. I especially like the sleek, molded swim platform. It does not protrude astern like an added-on patio; instead, it blends unobtrusively into the sheerline and has a deep ladder that cleverly folds up to form a gate in the aft rail.

Proof of a sound marriage
Ericson was rescued by Pacific Seacraft several years ago and the marriage seems to be thriving. The construction of the 380 combines many trademark Ericson techniques with the general robustness of the Pacific Seacraft line. The hull is solid fiberglass, utilizing vinylester resin for maximum blister protection. Ericson has long used a system of transverse floors and longitudinal stringers, called the Tri-Axial Force Grid, to provide rigidity for the hull and to support the extreme loads of the mast and keel. This system also anchors the chainplate attachments for unitized structural integrity. The keel section is externally fastened through both the hull and the Force Grid with stainless steel bolts. The deck is balsa cored with plywood reinforcement in high-load areas. The hull-to-deck joint incorporates a small, molded bulwark and is fiberglassed with alternating layers of mat and cloth, although some might question the lack of a mechanical fastening system as well. The rudder is steel reinforced: foam cored with a fiberglass skin and draped around a 31/2-inch stainless steel stock.

The deck features inboard and outboard headsail tracks with Harken lead cars and has a clean profile. There are double lifelines with port and starboard gates, a stout single-anchor-roller stem head fitting and sleek stainless grabrails on the deckhouse. A removable inner forestay is optional. There are three Lewmar deck hatches and 15 opening portlights. The double-spreader spar and boom are painted with white polyurethane, which means more maintenance at some point down the line. The chainplates are set well inboard for tight sheeting angles.

While the deck and cockpit seemed to me like vintage Ericson, I recognized the Pacific Seacraft influence at once when I stepped below. Separate fiberglass moldings are used for the stateroom berth supports, saloon settees, head compartment and galley counter areas. When properly bonded to the hull, fiberglass modules and molded liners add extra strength and rigidity, especially when tied into a bilge support system like the Tri-Axial Force Grid. They also give the interior a finished, uniform appearance. They can limit access to critical parts of the hull, however, and do not eliminate the need for structural bulkheads. Neither of these concerns apply to the Ericson 380.

Interior glimpses of quality
The interior is bright with teak trim and veneered bulkheads accenting fiberglass and Formica surfaces. The headliner is vinyl with convenient access zippers. The accommodation plan features a double berth forward with two hanging lockers and drawers below the bunk. The saloon settees face a large, drop-leaf table that wraps around the mast. Handsome teak slats line the hull beneath lockers and bookshelves. The aft-facing nav station is to starboard and uses the settee for a seat. I have never liked aft-facing chart tables, which is probably a silly throwback to the days when navigation was more involved than glancing at the GPS and chart plotter. The hinged electrical panel opens for easy inspection and wires are neatly bundled.

The galley is to port and, although compact, is quite functional. There are two stainless steel sinks, a Force 10 two-burner stove with oven and broiler, and a small but well-insulated icebox. A substantial fiddle edge surrounds the limited counter space.

Many times, small installations offer glimpses of the overall quality of a Boat's construction. The bronze freshwater manifold under the galley sinks offers such a glimpse: It is impressive, as are the bronze seacocks throughout. The head, a modular fiberglass unit, is opposite the galley and includes a separate shower stall. I like having one good-sized head with a dedicated shower on a boat of this size. In fact, Bruce King has done a commendable job of not trying to squeeze too much into the 380Õs interior. The owner's stateroom is aft to port; the double berth stretches under the cockpit. Three opening portlights into the cockpit help keep this cabin light and airy.

Yanmar diesels have come to dominate the sailboat industry, and for good reason-they are reliable, quiet-running and fuel efficient. The 380 is powered by the 3JH2E, three-cylinder, 38-horsepower, freshwater-cooled model. The engine is mounted on laminated stringers and is perched over a molded drip pan. Access is excellent beneath the companionway. The stuffing box can be reached through a hatch in the aft cabin. The aluminum fuel tank holds 40 gallons, providing a safe, realistic motoring range of 350 to 400 miles. There are three water tanks in the boat: 287 gallons beneath the port settee in the main saloon, 33 gallons in the starboard cockpit locker and an optional 47 gallons under the forward berth.

A sweet sailer
Back on the bay, hull No. 22 clipped along on a close reach under full-batten main and 130-percent roller-furling genoa. The B&G Network Series instruments revealed that we were making just under 6 knots in 10 knots of wind. The 380 sliced through the afternoon chop, caused as much by passing boats as Mother Nature, without the slightest hint of pounding. Bringing the boat hard on the wind, we accelerated to over 6 knots. The steering was too easy and, after I let the helm go, the boat steered itself for several minutes, tracking true.

We tacked through the wind cleanly at less than 80 degrees, gaining way on quickly. Easing off onto a reach, we slowed down. Still, the 380 maintained excellent steerage and speed hovered around 5 knots. Perched on the port-side cockpit coaming, steering by instinct with one finger, I was reminded how enjoyable it is to sail a boat that is well thought-out and well executed.

The Ericson 380 doesn't claim to be a world cruiser, although there is no doubt that she is capable of cruising the world. The 380 doesn't claim to be a high-performance racing machine, but performance is excellent and a well-sailed 380 will be hard to beat in PHRF. What the 380 does claim to be is a sweet-sailing, well-proportioned, well-constructed boat, at home in most sailing environments. And this is no idle claim.