Pearson 40

2008 November 10
May 2003

Lively offshore or thin-water cruiser is one of this builder's best

Pearson Yachts was one of the grand old sailboat companies, one of the founding fathers so to speak, of the fiberglass revolution that liberated sailboat manufacturers from the dictates of wooden planks and frames. In spite of the new material's potential for radical behavior, Pearson established its proud reputation by building solid, moderately proportioned boats that appealed to mainstream sailors. The legendary 28-foot Triton designed by Carl Alberg was Pearson's first success story. Many others followed, including the Bill Shaw-designed 30 that sold in record numbers, and many popular, if unspectacular cruisers including the 365 and 424. Occasionally, Pearson veered off course and produced innovative designs that caught the sailing public off guard. One was the Pearson Flyer, a 30-foot one-design rocketship that was just ahead of its time. Another was the Pearson 40.

When the P40 was introduced in 1977 it was loaded with features that broke the Pearson mold. The hull was balsa cored with a unique whale-shaped underbody and a deep centerboard. The hull shape, which was similar to Ted Hood's centerboarders of the time, was a risky departure from form for Pearson. The deck, however, is the P40's most recognizable feature. Following the lead of the earlier Ericson 39 and Tartan 41, the P40 deck is genuinely flush. It looks racy, sexy and although the deck has proved utilitarian for cruising, it divided sailors into two camps when the boat first came out-either you loved the look or you didn't. Unfortunately for Pearson, more people didn't and production was halted after four years with just 71 boats built. The short run, at least by Pearson standards, is a pity because Shaw, the designer and Pearson's general manager, lavished attention on the P40. Not only is the construction top rate, the interior finish is also better than most Pearsons. The P40 is one of those boats that has fallen through the cracks of the used boat market, and that can work to the advantage of the used boat buyer, especially if they are in the market for a lively cruising boat with a budget in the $50,000 to $60,000 range.

First impressions
Naturally the flush deck commands attention. There are those who simply love flush decks, and Chip Lawson counts himself among them. Lawson is an experienced sailor and the driving force behind the spirited P40 owner's association. "I am a flush-deck guy," he said. "From the day the boat was first introduced I knew I wanted to own a P40, it just took me awhile to pull it off."

While the deck is the signature feature, the unique underbody is what separates the P40 from other boats. Nearly round, there is a trace of a keel at the lowest point and the original rudder is mounted on a full skeg. The tendency is to think that stability has been compromised, but that is far from the case. The boat is fairly heavy, displacing nearly 23,000 pounds. Lead ballast of 12,200 pounds, or more than 50 percent, keeps the boat on its feet. The angle of positive stability is 129 degrees and that's a good number for offshore work. The board-up draft of just 4 feet, 3 inches opens up shallow cruising grounds that are normally off limits for 40-footers, emphasizing the versatility that devotees love. With an air draft of just under 60 feet the P40 carries 802 square feet of working sail, quite a bit more than the similar-sized Tartan and Ericson.

The P40 was one of the few boats that Pearson built with a cored hull. Like the earlier Tartan 41, the balsa coring was more of a hull stiffener than genuine core between thin layers of glass. The hull is heavily layed up, and although all boats are more than 20 years old, the hulls tend to be in good shape. Lawson, who has tracked down most P40 owners, notes that hull core problems are almost unheard of. Decks were also balsa cored and delamination problems are also rare. Materials were typical of the time, including polyester resin used throughout the laminating process.

The hull-and-deck joint is on an inward flange and is mechanically fastened through the toerail. Pearson did a good job of tabbing in bulkheads and other secondary bondings, and its fiberglass work was almost always of a good quality. The lead ballast is internal mounted in the small keel cavity. The centerboard trunk is also stashed away in the stub keel and as result does not protrude into the cabin.

What to look for
The first thing to look for is a boat with a new, MK II rudder, although it is unlikely that you will find one. This new rudder is a classic example of how an active owner's group can not only sustain interest in older boats but also dramatically improve them. The original rudder was frequently overloaded and at least one boat lost the rudder racing in the Pacific. Lawson and a group of owners approached designer Roger Marshall and he designed a new, partially balanced spade rudder. Dick Dowall has extensively sailed a P40. "The new rudder is very well balanced and eliminates the downwind, deep reaching IOR concerns of the pinched stern," he said.

Lawson added that the new rudder made a world of difference, as the rudder was really the only drawback to the way the boat handled. While only a few boats have opted for the new rudder so far, the owners' association Web site has plenty of information about the project.

Chainplate problems are also well documented and many boats have already replaced the originals with an updated design. There is an excellent illustration of how to retrofit new chainplates on the Web site. Up to hull No. 60 the boat had discontinuous standing rigging and some owners have opted to change to continuous wire, eliminating the need for extra terminals and turnbuckles aloft which are difficult to tune. The original Navtec turnbuckles should be replaced.

Another feature to look for is a P40 that has a converted transmission. The original engine, a 37-horsepower Westerbeke 40 included a Paragon transmission and a V-drive gear. I am no fan of V-drives in general, but according to Lawson, the Walters V-drive is not the problem; the Paragon transmission is.

"The switch to a more robust and more reliable Borg Warner Velvet Drive is not difficult, and if you buy a rebuilt gear, it's not all that expensive-definitely worth the trouble," Lawson said.

On deck
Like most boats of this era, the pinched stern dictated by the IOR rule results in a fairly narrow cockpit. Still, the deep cockpit is more than adequate for cruising with long seats and large lockers. The wheel is placed well forward, another one of those design features that you either like or don't, although you can't deny that the visibility is terrific. Dowall, who sailed with his wife from their homeport of Newport, Rhode Island, to the Caribbean and back a few years ago, clearly likes the arrangement. "The wheel forward makes short-handed sailing a dream," he said. "Access to winches, sheets, halyards and the instruments is great. Also, the helmsman can steer from under the dodger if need be."

The flush deck makes going forward easy and offers a friendly platform for sail handling. It is also ideal for dinghy stowage and lounging about in fair weather. In heavy weather, however, you have to bend over to reach the teak handrails that are mounted well inboard. Stanchions and double lifelines are well supported. The mainsheet traveler is mounted forward of the companionway with a midboom sheeting arrangement. Most boats are set up with inboard and outboard headsail tracks. The double-spreader spar is a beefy section and keel stepped. Many boats will have updated deck gear, and if you find a boat with self-tailing winches consider it a nice perk.

Down below
Unlike the innovative hull and deck designs, the interior plan is straightforward. A decent sized V-berth cabin is forward with a small dressing seat and plenty of storage. The head is next aft to port with a hanging locker and a bureau opposite. The saloon includes a drop-leaf centerline table that accommodates six and pilot berths with built-in leeboards. It is hard to resist not turning these berths into storage areas but they do make excellent sea berths, up and out of the traffic flow. The settees are a bit stiff backed but they do slide out to make comfortable berths.

The U-shaped galley is to starboard and includes double stainless sinks and the stove with oven located outboard. There is ample counter space, useful fiddles and a huge fridge. The surfaces are covered with Formica. There are numerous lockers for food and utensil storage behind the stove and facing aft, in fact, the amount of storage throughout the P40 is impressive.

A large navigation station is opposite the galley. The desk can accommodate a full-sized chart with storage below. There is also space to mount instruments and repeaters on the partial bulkhead. A small quarterberth is aft, which has been converted to storage on most boats.

The interior is nicely finished with mahogany and ash. In his designer remarks Shaw is effusive in his praise of the joinerwork and overall finish, claiming, "the interior of the 40 is my proudest achievement." The 6-foot, 3-inch headroom is surprising considering the flush deck and it is not as dark below as one might suspect. Several overhead hatches and sidelights provide light and decent ventilation.

The standard engine was the Westerbeke 40, a 37-horsepower diesel, but some boats came with a 4107/4108 Perkins, which is comparable in horsepower. The placement of the engine requires a V-drive transmission, making accessing the stuffing box a challenge. The P40 is a candidate for a dripless stuffing box.

Many owners consider the boat underpowered. Dowall puts a new, larger engine on his wish list, but notes that the Westerbeke is good on fuel consumption at 1,800 rpm, which translates into a 600-mile-plus motoring range. Lawson claims that the addition of a feathering-type propeller improves performance. This is especially helpful in reverse, as V-drives are notorious for poor performance when working astern.

Under way
Both Lawson and Dowall comment on how easily driven the P40 is and how a large, overlapping genoa is not necessary in most conditions, at least for cruising purposes. The high-aspect-ratio main combined with a working jib or small, fairly high-cut genoa keeps the boat moving smartly. Lawson sails with a yankee and several boats, including the Dowall's Endeavor have been converted to cutters.

Lawson notes the boat is a touch tender and he usually ties the first reef in the main when the apparent wind nears 20 knots. The boat is quick and fairly close winded although the centerboard needs to be deployed to track well. The full board-down draft is 9 feet, 5 inches although it can be partially lowered in shallow water or for trim. Off the wind, especially with the board up, the P40 flies, although like many IOR boats it can be squirrely running before big seas. The Mark II rudder improves downwind steering dramatically.

Lawson recently sailed his boat around the bottom of Florida from Tampa to Melbourne and encountered a variety of conditions. He was impressed with how well the boat handled rugged conditions in the Gulf Steam.

"The wind was gusting to 30 knots from the northeast with nasty steep seas, you know, the square waves found only in the Gulf Stream. The boat did great. The crew, on the other hand, needed a break," he said.

The Pearson 40 has completed numerous offshore passages, including at least one transpacific run.

The Pearson 40 is an intriguing boat. It is comfortable and offshore capable and yet the centerboard design allows for gunkholing in the thinnest of waters. It is an ideal boat for my local cruising grounds, the Bahamas and Florida Keys. With asking prices usually around $60,000 the boat is a terrific value. Be warned, used P40s do not linger on the used boat market.