Bayfield 32

2010 February 1
This scion of the Great Lakes is an ideal family cruiser

Believe it or not, there was a time when sailboat production flourished all across our wide continent. And when we think of geographic areas where sailboat builders congregated and even prospered, several locales spring to mind. New England was home to notable early fiberglass builders including Pearson, Hinckley, O'Day, Bristol and others. Southern California was a hotbed of building in the 1960s and 1970s with Columbia, Cal, Westsail, Ericson and of course Catalina, turning out record numbers of boats. The west coast of Florida emerged as a boatbuilding center in the 1970s and 1980s with companies like Morgan, Irwin, Gulfstar, Endeavour, Island Packet and others setting up shop. However, one area that is rarely mentioned may have been the most enduring of all: Ontario. From the 1960s through the 1980s, and in a few rare cases beyond, this boating-crazed Canadian province was home to many top builders.

Along the southeast shore of Lake Huron, Ontario builder Bayfield Boat Yard Ltd. began producing a salty full-keeled 23-foot sloop in 1970. Designed by Ted Gozzard, it evolved into the Bayfield 25 and became something of a cult boat.

From modest beginnings-the first 23s were built in a small shed-Bayfield Boat Yard grew steadily and by the mid-1980s the company was producing five models, including a handsome 40-foot ketch. The 32, which began life as the Bayfield 30, was introduced in 1973. United States dealers insisted on calling the boat a "32" based on its LOA, which included the clipper bow and sprit. With its blend of traditional design and modern construction the boat was popular from the start. More than 300 Bayfield 32s were launched during a long production run. When Ted Gozzard left to branch off on his own in the early 1980s, the company soldiered on. But hard times in the late 1980s did in many boatbuilders and Bayfield Boat Yard closed its doors in 1990.

First impressions
For the purposes of this review we'll call the Bayfield 30/32 the 32, both for clarity and because that's how it's most widely known. I remember seeing a traditional Bayfield 25 on the dealer's lot in Mt. Clemens, Michigan, when I was kid. With its clipper bow and carved wooden trailing boards it seemed so much more serious than our Sabre 28, which of course wasn't true. Then the dealer brought in a 32. Those were the days when dealers actually floor-planned boats. My brother Ed and I were awestruck by the traditional Bayfield 32. With its full keel, sweeping sheer line, long keel and the turned spindles of its mahogany taffrail, it was the manifestation of a cruising boat. And although I was a kid stuck in Michigan, I was dreaming of the South Pacific and, until I later encountered the doughty Westsail 32, the Bayfield 32 was a regular in my dreams.

Bayfields have been called "affordable Gozzards," and there's some truth to the claim because there are plenty of similarities between Gozzard's early designs built by Bayfield and his later work built by his own North Castle Marine. Gozzard's boats typically are relatively beamy with ample freeboard; have broad bilges and shoal draft; and rudders attached to cutaway full keels. This defines the Bayfield 32. Most 32s were built as cutters, although a handful of ketches were built, as were a few special, tall-rig sloops.

The Bayfield 32 was built conservatively, and no matter what your politics might be, when it comes to sailboat construction, that's usually a good thing. Most old Bayfield 32s are still in good shape, and that's the real test of original construction. The hulls were solid fiberglass and fairly heavily laid up with mat and woven roving. The deck was cored with 3/8th-inch balsa. Some high-load areas were cored with plywood. This was all typical of the day, and Bayfield paid attention to the details. Naturally you will want to check the deck for signs of delamination. The hull and deck are joined on 6-inch centers and the stainless fasteners incorporate the aluminum toerail that is mounted on a raised bulwark.

A thick liner, or pan, was used to stiffen the hull, encapsulate the bulkheads and add cosmetic appeal. The molded white headliner is substantial and adds a layer of sound and weather insulation. As my devoted readers know-and I am sure there are some of you out there-I am no fan of liners. They become even less attractive as boats age and there are more reasons to want to see behind them. They also limit any changes you might want to make to an older boat, as the furnishings are pretty well set in place. However, Bayfield did such a nice job installing them I can overlook some of the problems they create. The interior of the 32 is very well put together. The ballast is lead and internally placed in the keel cavity. From robust transverse floors to bulkhead tabbing, the construction was well done.

What to look for
Apparently some early Bayfield 32s were powered by a unique Sperry Vickers hydraulic drive that was problematic. Be sure to find out about that. Fortunately many 32s seem have been repowered along the way. Delamination is always a potential problem with cored decks. Probe around, especially near the areas where the cabinhouse and deck join and around through-deck fittings. Inspect the chainplates; crevice corrosion is something to be concerned about. Also, take a good look at the standing rigging. If you are planning to cruise the boat, consider replacing it. Also, chances are the running rigging may need to be upgraded as well. Some owners report that both the fuel and water tanks have corrosion issues.

Bayfields were Great Lakes-built boats and fresh water is easier on a boat than salt water, plain and simple. Fortunately there are still plenty of 32s on the lakes. I'd look to buy a freshwater boat first. The most important item to inspect is the bowsprit, particularly the wooden piece below the flattened platform. This piece is a laminated boxed section and it needs to be extremely stout because the forestay is supported by the sprit and bobstay. Also, Bayfield made many changes during the 15-year production run. The boat was never a great light air performer and the Bayfield 32C addressed the problem by extending the mast 4 feet. That's what the "C" denotes on some listings.

On deck
If you've only been exposed to modern boats you will find the next line of this review hard to swallow, but here it is: The Bayfield 32 is quite spacious on deck. It is, really. The cockpit is well laid out and big enough for four adults to sit comfortably and be well supported when the boat heels. It's an especially nice cockpit for a cruising couple. Wheel steering was standard. Most used boats have self-tailing primary and secondary winches. The mainsheet traveler is mounted on the taffrail behind the helm. It's out of the way but the sheeting angle is not very efficient-the vang is important. There are good-sized lockers to port and starboard and large coaming bins. The seat backs are a bit abrupt, but not horribly uncomfortable like the coaming boards on early fiberglass boats. The bridgedeck step allows for easier access through the companionway but is still substantial enough to keep cockpit spray from sloshing below.

Making your way forward you will appreciate the raised bulwark, which lends a feeling of security, and you will also notice the rather unobtrusive and ineffective nonskid. There is a teak handrail on the cabintrunk and side decks are relatively narrow. This is a 30-footer after all. The headsail tracks are well inboard and can support leads for both the staysail, set well forward, and the jib or yankee, set well aft. The toerail can also carry the lead for a genoa or spinnaker.

The bowsprit usually is set up with a single anchor roller and led to a hawse pipe that faces aft on the forward section of the raised bulwark. It's a serious arrangement more likely found on a much larger boat. A used boat with a beefy windlass is a plus. The husky bow cleats are mounted on the bulwark as well. The mast is keel stepped, a sign of the serious nature of the boat but also a potential leak source. The Bayfield 32 was one of the first boats to route the halyards aft to the cockpit via rope clutches.

Down below
The interior layout is rather standard, especially by Gozzard's standards. He's usually the master of interior innovation. Still, for a 32-foot boat designed in the early 1970s, it is quite commodious and nicely finished in teak. Dropping below you'll find the galley quick to starboard. It's pretty impressive. Most used 32s have a two-burner stove and oven outboard and a single sink facing aft. There is a large top-loading icebox, and in many boats you'll find 12-volt refrigeration. There is a decent amount of counter space, especially if the stovetop is fitted with a covering piece. There's storage behind the stove in bins and in teak-faced lockers below. There is a fold-down nav station and quarterberth opposite.

The saloon has two facing settees, both adequate sea berths with the addition of a lee cloth. The seat backs fold up, making the settees wider and better for sleeping. A handsome and clever teak table, with two different foldouts, allows a place at the table for the entire crew. The head is forward to starboard, with a locker opposite and can be closed off from the V-berth and saloon. The V-berth is a bit tight but the berth is set low, which gives a bit more space. There are a couple of drawers below and storage beneath the cushions.

Most 32s on the market seem to be fitted with a two- or three-cylinder Yanmar, with the 15-horsepower model the most common. As noted above, some early boats had a Sperry Vickers hydraulic drive gear, one of the first of its kind that apparently was troublesome. There's mention that some early boats also had small Mercedes diesels. Look for a Yanmar. These small diesels have been incredibly durable and problem-free. The engine is tucked behind and beneath the companionway. Access is tight but that's the nature of a 1970s 30-foot boat. The standard fuel tank had a 20-gallon capacity. Many owners report that the 32 is a chore to steer in reverse; a function of the hull shape not the power plant.

The Bayfield 32 has an impressive track record. Bob Lush sailed an early boat in the 1976 OSTAR, the singlehanded transatlantic race. Lush noted that the eastbound, off-the-wind passage to England was a delight, with the boat making 1,000 miles a week and handling well. The race itself, more of a windward slog, was tough going and Lush had to bear away to find milder conditions. Plenty of other 32s have completed ocean passages, and the boat is a good choice for a Caribbean or Bahamas sabbatical.

It is no secret that the 32 is not a terrific light air performer, especially with the standard low-profile rig. It's also not a great boat to weather. However, it does have a nice motion in a seaway and despite a 3-foot, 9-inch draft, tracks decently. It is dry, even up wind, and fairly fast on a reach. It's a cruising boat, that's what it was designed for, and it was never purported to be a so-called "racer-cruiser" like almost every other boat launched in the 1970s.

The Bayfield 32 is another example of why there's no excuse not to get out on the water. This sturdy, handsome, quality cruiser is an ideal family boat that will provide drama-free sailing for years to come.

LOA 32'
LWL 23'3"
Beam 10'6"
Draft 3'9"
Displacement 9,600 lbs.
Sail Area 525 sq. ft.