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Pearson 323

Tom Marquis has owned a series of boats: a 22-foot Bayliner, a 19-foot Grady-White and, most recently, a 26-foot Glacier Bay power cat. On the sail side, he has skippered a Flying Scott, an O’Day and a 26-foot Tanzer, and raced as crew on a 44-foot Cherubini and a 42-foot Beneteau.

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“I have been one of those odd ducks who likes both power and sail,” says the 66-year-old real estate agent, who has homes in Plymouth, Mass., and Fort Myers, Fla., and is familiar with waters from Maine to the Keys. But, he admits, his heart is in sailing. “There is no excitement quite like being out in open air on all types of water and in all kinds of weather.”

It started during family vacations on Lake Sunapee in New Hampshire and “sailing an old leaky daysailer with a guy named Eddie who was in the Merchant Marine,” Marquis says. He later graduated to a 19-foot Bullseye, which he fixed and sailed out of Quissett Harbor on Buzzards Bay in Massachusetts. Another mentor, Earl, “about 80 years old, as old a salt as you would ever know,” taught him the finer points of sailing, the former Air Force medic recalls.

So it’s no surprise that his latest is a sailboat — and it just might be his favorite. The 1979 Pearson 323 sloop that he bought from a sailing friend was just the cruising boat he wanted. “We sail for six hours or so, get into harbor around 3 in the afternoon, tie up and put the boat to bed,” Marquis says. “We take a dinghy ride, take a swim, enjoy the place we have come to. We cook dinner, enjoy the sunset and nature’s creations.”

The 32-footer is also a great dayboat. “We use it a lot for special occasions, such as the Fourth of July in Plymouth [Mass.] Harbor,” Marquis says. “We took our friend’s daughter and her husband, from the Middle East, out one day. I made them all take the helm. We took pictures and they loved it. It’s a trip to Cape Cod Bay they will never forget.”

In 2005, Marquis was looking for a cruising sailboat, something comfortable with plenty of sleeping area and a reputation for seaworthiness and dependability. “I had an older friend, Charlie Dulany, who had a Pearson 323, and he suggested I buy it,” Marquis says.

Tom Marquis

He knew the boat, he knew the owner and he knew the builder’s reputation for craftsmanship. The layout includes berths up forward and in the main cabin. And the boat came with the original Universal Atomic 4 gas engine. The price was $25,000. The Pearson also came with an unorthodox accessory. “I bought that boat and kept Charlie, too. We have sailed all over New England from Maine to Rhode Island,” says Marquis, whose wife, Shari, no longer goes on cruises. “He’s also about the best all-around sailor I know.”

Marquis spent his first five years of ownership making improvements — adding new sails, roller-reefing, a new dodger, new lines and running rigging, and a Bimini. “A great addition,” he says. Updated electronics include a GPS/plotter, radar and a VHF. “I figure I spent another $25,000 on the boat,” Marquis says. “It is in great shape, with all the bells and whistles.”

Marquis makes the most of New England’s June-through-October boating season and he’s out on the water as much as possible. Every year there’s a one-week cruise to “as far away as we can get,” he says. Last year, he and Dulany circumnavigated Cape Cod, transiting the Cape Cod Canal. Other ports of call beckon. “I get more enjoyment out of owning, working, thinking about boats — never mind sailing — for five months than anything I can think of. It’s my passion,” he says.

Along the way he has learned how the boat sails best and what it can take. Under normal conditions, Marquis sails with a single reefed in the main. “I can sail in and out of varying winds with little work,” he says, “and it doesn’t hurt performance worth worrying about.”

As for rough-weather, one particular squall stands out. “For 20 minutes it was wild, with bathtubs of water coming over the bow and almost knocking me down at the helm,” Marquis says. “I felt like a drowned rat. But the boat did just fine. And if you’ve been in a situation like that you know that the sun comes out afterward and it’s calm again, and you go, ‘Wow! That was cool!’ I can’t believe how well the boat performs. Two reefs, a third of a jib, and she’ll take most anything.

“This boat has done and been everything and more than I expected,” he says. “I would encourage anyone to own a Pearson — solid, dependable and a joy to own.”


The Pearson 323 is built on a solid fiberglass hull, with a full keel (4,500 pounds of ballast) and a skeg-mounted rudder. The masthead sloop rig provides nearly 500 square feet of sail area with a large (284-square-foot) headsail. Auxiliary power is the standard 30-hp Atomic 4 engine with V-drive, mounted under the companionway.

The boat sleeps five. (The early starboard quarter berth was eliminated in favor of a nav station.) The private master cabin is forward, with a V-berth, bookcase and alcove storage. The enclosed head (with optional shower) is adjacent. Moving aft, the main saloon provides bench seating to port and starboard — convertible to berths — a single to port and a double to starboard. There’s a folding table on centerline.

The L-shaped galley is set at the foot of the companionway, to port, with a standard sink, two-burner stove and icebox. A nav station is positioned across the way, to starboard. Both are convenient to the cockpit. Accommodations include a quarter berth to port.


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The Pearson 323 was produced by Pearson Yachts in Portsmouth, R.I., from 1976 through 1983. It was designed by Bill Shaw, who was chief designer of the America’s Cup defender Columbia while he was with Sparkman & Stephens. The 323 was designed as a comfortable, seaworthy and stylish cruising boat. As Shaw himself says, a boat should be “safe, attractive and a delight to sail.” The formula worked; 385 Pearson 323s were built during its 8-year production run. Pearson Yachts closed in 1991, later emerging as TPI (Tillotson-Pearson) Composites, then as Pearson Composites. Today, it’s known as the Pearson Marine Group, of Warren, R.I., the builder of True North, Alerion and North Rip boats (


 LOA: 32 feet, 2 inches

 LWL: 27 feet, 6 inches

 BEAM: 10 feet, 2 inches

 DRAFT: 4 feet, 5 inches

 DISPLACEMENT: 12,800 pounds

 HULL: fin keel, skeg-hung rudder

 SAIL AREA: 478 square feet

 ENGINE: 30-hp Atomic 4

 TANKAGE: 30 gallons fuel, 70 gallons water

 BUILDER: Pearson Yachts, Bristol, R.I.

This article originally appeared in the October 2012 issue.

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