Freedom 32

2008 November 10
October 2004

This well-built and spacious bluewater cruiser pegs the user-friendly meter

The Freedom 32 was something of a transition boat for Gary Hoyt and Freedom Yachts. Introduced in 1983, the 32 married Hoyt's devotion to the free-standing catboat rig with the benefits of a self-tending headsail. Hoyt conceded that there were advantages to the slot created by a jib, especially sailing upwind, and when the 32 proved successful at sea and in the marketplace, "cat sloops" became the future of Freedom Yachts. Some boats, like some people, find an identity later in life. The Freedom 32 has not only aged well but it has also completed many ocean crossings and has evolved into something of a cult boat among open-minded bluewater sailors. With its easy handling rig, roomy interior and low maintenance, it is an ideal boat to consider for a sailing sabbatical.

Hoyt was a breath of fresh air for the sailing industry when he launched Freedom Yachts in 1976. Hoyt wanted to make sailing simple and more accessible to those who had not been born to boats. Combining an unstayed cat rig with modern fiberglass materials and construction technology, his first boat was the quirky but popular Freedom 40, a cat ketch. Although the 40 was designed for easy handling, its lively performance was a bonus and the prototype won the cruising class in the 1977 Rolex Cup in the Virgin Islands and others performed very well in various Bermuda races.

The Freedom 40 was followed by a 44 designed for short-handed offshore racing and several smaller cat ketches, including a Ron Holland-designed 39. The Freedom 21 and 25 were Hoyt's first single mast boats and the 32 followed shortly after. In addition to the clever vestigial jib, the 32 also included a carbon fiber spar and the innovative gun mount, which allows the spinnaker to be raised and dropped from the cockpit. The 32 remained in production for four years and more than 90 boats were launched, making it one of the company's best-selling models.

First impressions
The Freedom 32 is deceptive; at first glance it doesn't look like a boat to buy for sailing across the Atlantic. It isn't heavy on teak and doesn't have a heavy-duty sheen caused by oversized bronze hardware. It's also not a boat that is usually lavished with adjectives like beautiful and handsome, although it certainly has a unique bearing in the water. Aside from the rig, the most striking features are the wraparound cabintrunk and long coamings, both of which are often painted a solid, contrasting color that gives the boat a distinctive profile.

Like any good catboat, the hull shape is beamy although the hull narrows at the waterline and the canoe shaped underbody has low wetted surface area. What you don't notice until you probe around is the very solid construction by Tillotson-Pearson. Two keels were available with drafts of either 4 feet, 11 inches or 6 feet. The lead ballast of 3,500 pounds translates into a ballast-to-displacement ratio near 40 percent. When you crunch the displacement of 9,000 pounds with the moderate waterline of 25 feet, 9 inches you come up with a displacement-to-length ratio of 258, which is a very good number for a cruising boat. Theoretically at least, it is light enough to be easily driven and yet heavy enough to stand up to a blow and also able to carry a reasonable amount of stores. Most of the 505 square feet of sail area is carried in the roachy, full-batten mainsail.

The Freedom 32 was built by TPI in Warren, Rhode Island. However, it predates the development of the company's patented Scrimp method of construction. The hull is balsa cored, which, as regular readers of Used Boat Notebook know only too well, is a construction technique I am not wild about. However, when balsa coring is done well it creates a very strong and light hull. TPI's original construction was excellent and there have been few reported problems. However, delamination issues can arise when new through-hull fittings are added or changed. It is important to make every effort to keep the core material dry. The deck is also balsa-cored. On the positive side, TPI was one of the first builders to use vinylester resins in the outer laminate to limit blisters and the builder's attention to detail is superb.

The ballast is lead and the tapered carbon fiber spar is stepped on the keel. The mast was guaranteed for life for the original owner, which of course doesn't do used boat buyers much good. The balanced fiberglass rudder has a stainless post. The bulkheads are stout plywood with teak veneers and securely bonded to the hull. The interior workmanship is solid if not overly showy, just the way I like it.

What to look for
The Freedom 32 has aged very well and the boat doesn't have a litany of items to be wary of. Naturally, be sure to have the hull and deck carefully inspected by a surveyor to make sure that the coring is in good shape. Also, a knowledgeable rigger should check the carbon fiber spar. Freedom developed its own spars and there were a few problems with early boats. Most masts are now 20 years old. One age related issue that is not a problem for the Freedom 32 is the standing rigging. However, the running rigging, lifelines terminals and keel bolts should be checked. Also, any evidence of deck leaks should be attended to without delay.

On deck
The cockpit is control central for the 32 and all sail controls, including the spinnaker, are led aft. There are clutches to port and starboard on the aft end of the trunkhouse and usually No. 23 Barient self-tailing winches. A molding is provided for a spray dodger. The cockpit is large and comfortable with nicely shaped seats and seatbacks. Freedom was one of the first builders to incorporate proper ergonomics in its designs. There is a serious bridgedeck and the mainsheet traveler is forward of the companionway, freeing up cockpit space. The Edson wheel and pedestal is located well aft with a raised and curved helmsman seat. There are small cubbies to port and starboard and a decent-size locker to starboard. The aft cabin has a portlight that opens into the cockpit.

If you are not used to a free-standing rig you'll notice the absence of stays and shrouds the first time you make your way forward-there is nothing to hold on to. You will get used to it and the 32 does have long grab rails along the trunkhouse and well supported stanchions and lifelines. The nonskid may be worn and the boat I looked at in Ft. Lauderdale had added treadmaster in select places. Freedom didn't cut corners and used good quality deck hardware. The bow pulpit, which houses the gun-mount spinnaker pole, is especially robust, although the tube itself is a large contraption on deck.

Down below
Next to easy sail handling, the spacious interior is the feature owners like best about the 32. The plan includes two private double cabins, 6-foot, 2-inch headroom, a comfortable saloon and a functional, seagoing galley. Add excellent ventilation and quality joinerwork and you end up with a terrific interior, especially for a 32-foot boat.

The 32 was one of the first boats to sneak a full double cabin aft, tucked under the cockpit, a design concept that would eventually sweep the industry. The aft cabin is to port and is entered from the galley. Hoyt was able to expand the aft cabin by locating the engine amidships, under the aft dinette settee, which also helps center weight. The aft cabin includes a hanging locker and adequate storage under the bunk. The L-shaped galley features a two-burner stove and oven outboard, a large fridge/icebox and two good-sized sinks. Pressure hot and cold water was standard. Counter space is at a premium although the boat I inspected had a removable panel that fit over the stovetop. Storage is limited to small lockers behind the stove. In fact, that's one issue owners note consistently: it is challenging finding enough room to stow provisions for long passages.

Opposite the galley is a head with shower and just forward of that is a stand-up nav station, which allows for storage underneath. My current boat has a stand-up nav station and I confess, I prefer a more traditional sit-down arrangement. The saloon includes either a folding or half-moon-shaped table with a wraparound settee to port. The starboard settee makes the best sea berth and should be fitted with a lee cloth. An additional head and basin were options in the V-berth cabin, however that option does not seem popular, at least not with the 10 boats currently for sale on

The standard engine was the 22-horsepower, 3-cylinder Yanmar 3GMF diesel. This is a sweet little engine, reliable and fuel efficient, although it is on the small size for the 32. Although most boats on the market still have their original engines the two that have repowered have opted for the 27-horsepower Yanmar. Access is excellent, the engine in tucked under the port side dinette settee. The 32-gallon fuel tank is located under the forward dinette settee.

Under way
Although Hoyt was always interested in speed (as a champion one-design sailor he had racing in his blood) the Freedom 32 was really a cruising boat from the get-go. Easy sail handling is the essence of the boat. With the self-tending jib and main, tacking is simply a matter of turning the wheel, that's it, come through the wind, fill the sails and straighten things out. No sheets to release and trim, no winches to grind. The 105-square-foot jib includes a flexible batten that maintains shape on any heading, Hoyt called this arrangement a Camberspar jib. The lack of a backstay means that the mainsail can have an extra large roach and it's the workhorse sail. The main is set up with single line slab reefing and the small headsail makes a natural storm jib. Heaving-to is not a viable option for a catsloop, although heaving-to is not a viable option for most modern fin keel sloops anyway.

Several 32s have crossed the Atlantic and one owner reported averaging better than 135 miles a day on an Atlantic Circle. That's great going for a boat with a LWL of less than 26 feet. Owners note that like all catboats, the 32 develops weather helm upwind, although a bit of helm usually allows for better self-steering. The 12-foot, 3-inch beam creates plenty of initial stability and limits heeling to a degree. The 32 is at its best reaching and watching the knotmeter arc past 7 knots is not uncommon. The 32 is nimble, and it's able to sail in and out of the dock. One of the more interesting features is the gun mount, which allows short-handed crews and singlehanders to raise and drop the chute from the cockpit. This system, which has been copied and tweaked by other builders, employs a short yard that extends from a tube mounted on the pulpit. The spinnaker clews are attached to each end of the yard, and the halyard is led aft. Yank up the halyard and trim the sheets. A chute scooper cleans up when it's time to drop the sail and finally the yard is retracted-a brilliant idea.

The Freedom 32 is an intriguing option as a small but capable bluewater cruiser. Prices hover around $45,000, which may seem a bit expensive for a 20-year-old, 32-foot boat. However, the boat is deceptively big, well built and cleverly designed. It is an easy boat to handle and well proven at sea. A couple planning to take a year off should take a good hard look at the Freedom 32.