IN THEIR WORDS
On a windy September day with squalls threatening, Linda Crown and Debbie Skinner cast off the dock lines and headed out of Noank, Conn., on a two-year cruise that will take them to Maine, across the Atlantic to the British Isles, and eventually to the Mediterranean.
“Like so many people, we both thought it would be great to sail around the world,” says Crown, 58, an owner of Crownsmiths dental lab in New London, Conn. “But rather than speed around the world, we decided to do the Atlantic, Europe and its canals, and end up in the Med.”
The two (Skinner, 41, is a geneticist) had decided on the cruise back in 2000, so the departure — celebrated the night before with dinner and Margaritas — was the culmination of four years of planning and preparation. In that time they’ve made countless choices and decisions, but one of the easiest concerned which boat to choose. The Tartan 37 they decided on has been prized for four decades by cruising sailors and circumnavigators for its durability, performance and seaworthiness.
For Crown, the decision also was based on personal experience; she’d grown up sailing on her parents’ Tartan 27, another classic from the pioneering builder. “I knew that Tartans were built like tanks and sailed very well, from my experience on the Tartan 27,” she says.
In fact, Crown had just bought a Tartan 27 that she was planning on fixing up when she heard through her son that a Tartan 37 was for sale. “I thought it would be perfect for us for long-distance cruising,” says Crown, who grew up in Essex, Conn. “It was selling locally, so we knew it had been well taken care of by the previous owner.”
Windchime, a 1981 Tartan 37, cost about $65,000 when Crown and Skinner bought her in May 2000. Though they purchased the boat with the cruise in mind, they gained experience sailing New England waters by themselves and with friends, touching at ports from New London to Newport, R.I., Provincetown to Marion, Mass. Along the way, they developed a good feel for Windchime and her abilities.
“She’s fast and very responsive, and points very well,” says Crown. “In rough weather the cockpit can be wet, but she plows right through. Her fastest point of sail is on a broad reach, and she does pretty well upwind, too.”
The boat can be handled by two, and the layout below includes a forward cabin and quarter berths (good as watch berths), a traditional midships saloon and nav area, and a wide companionway connecting directly to the cockpit. “It’s not only comfortable but functional,” says Crown.
The two sailors also whittled away at a to-do list for their impending cruise. “In the end, we changed and added a lot,” says Crown. “We’ve replaced all the rigging and added an in-boom furler. Most of the deck hardware is new, and we have new sails.” Other gear includes an SSB radio, watermaker, refrigeration, wind generator (with solar to come), radar, GPS, autopilot, Galerider drogue, and a canvas enclosure for that wet cockpit, says Crown.
By the time it all came together this summer, the two felt they were as prepared as they could be for their venture. They’re certainly not worried about whether they’ve chosen the right boat. “I think in Windchime we have the perfect short-handed cruiser. It’s a boat with a solid reputation,” says Crown. “We’re pretty well equipped, and we’re as ready as we can be. So it’s time to go cruising.”
Tartan Yachts helped set the trend for blue-water cruising sailboats in the early days of fiberglass construction. When introduced in the late 1970s, the Tartan 37 was a further refinement of this idea, a versatile cruising vessel with a turn of speed that could be handled by a short-handed crew and stay out on extended passages.
Designed for varying cruising grounds, it has a centerboard with a modified fin keel and draws 4 feet, 2 inches with the board up, nearly twice that with it down. (About a dozen Tartan 37s were built in the 1970s with regular fin keels and a tall performance rig.) The rudder is skeg hung and placed well aft for balance.
Tartan featured fiberglass-over-balsa construction, and both the hull and deck of the 37 are laid up this way. Beginning in the mid-1980s, Tartan incorporated solid fiberglass sections into the design to more firmly attach deck fittings and other hardware.
The rig features a high-aspect mainsail and large genoa (625 square feet total) on a single-spreader mast. The boat is known for its solid performance, and many 150-mile days have been logged by long-distance cruisers, who favor the boat for its seaworthiness and speed.
Accommodations reflect the boat’s cruising mission, with sleeping space for up to seven, a large open galley, and an ample head compartment with a shower. The layout is simple, with a forward cabin for two adults, a double quarter berth and a convertible settee bench in the midships saloon. The large galley is near the companionway and was laid out originally with a double sink, a countertop icebox and space for a standard alcohol stove. Storage includes three hanging lockers, cabinetry and under-berth lockers. Teak was used freely in the Tartan 37, and many have teak cabin soles, cabinetry and joiner work.
Because so many were built, Tartan 37s are easy to find on the used-boat market. The boats from the 1980s are most prevalent, with prices in the $50,000 to $100,000 range. Here are a few examples. A 1978 boat in Florida with a full sail inventory (including storm jib), cockpit dodger, all nav instruments, autohelm, AC and wind generator was listed on the Internet at $69,900 by its original owner. A Rhode Island boat — hull No. 206 and described as “impeccable … with all service records” — was listed for $84,000, with a seven-sail inventory and full navigation instrumentation. And a freshwater 1985 boat listed as in first-class condition with a teak interior, full set of sails, and 40-hp auxiliary diesel was priced at $87,500 in Michigan.
Tartan Yachts has been around for 40-plus years, and helped pioneer fiberglass sailboat construction when wood was still the norm in the early 1960s. Olin Stephens collaborated with yachtsman Charlie Britton to produce the original Tartan, the 27, a hardy cruising sailboat that was immediately successful and is considered a classic today. Two more models followed quickly, the Tartan 34 and the Blackwatch 37 (designed by Ted Hood), as Tartan established itself as one of the premier builders in the United States.
The Tartan 37, also a Sparkman & Stephens design, made its reputation in the early 1980s as a performance cruiser, featuring a centerboard keel for shoal draft, high ballast-to-displacement and beam-to-length ratios for stability, and sail area-to-displacement ratios that provide
a compromise between speed and seakindliness. The formula worked, and over the years more than 450 Tartan 37s (with some modifications) have been built. The latest version of this time-tested sailboat is the Tartan 3700, a two-stateroom cruiser designed by Tim Jackett that follows in the performance cruising footsteps of the original. It’s one of six Tartan models built today, from 37 to 51 feet.
LOA: 37 feet, 3 inches
LWL: 28 feet, 6 inches
BEAM: 11 feet, 9 inches
DRAFT: 7 feet, 9 inches (board down)
SAIL AREA: 625 square feet
ORIGINAL PROPULSION: 40-hp diesel
DISPLACEMENT: 15,500 pounds
TANKAGE: 90 gallons water, 50 gallons fuel
BUILDER: Tartan Yachts, Fairport Harbor, Ohio