USED BOAT review

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Pacific Seacraft 37

IN THEIR WORDS

Upon entering his 50s, Ben Fulton decided it was time to buy “the last boat.”

A government employee living in Solomons, Md., Fulton had started with jonboats as a youngster in Arkansas, learned to sail as a youth with friends on Chesapeake Bay, and cruised aboard his own boats as an adult. Now he was looking for the sailboat he’d hang on to, the one he’d continue to cruise his beloved home waters with, and maybe one day take on an offshore voyage to the islands. He wanted to move up from the 30-footer he’d had for 17 years but “still have a good single-handed boat suited to Chesapeake Bay,” says Fulton, who’s used to running his sailboats alone. “But it also had to be capable of sailing to the Bahamas or the Caribbean if I want to go.”

After an exhaustive search, Fulton found his boat, a 37-foot canoe-stern cutter designed in the 1970s for offshore sailing by Bill Crealock, and built by Pacific Seacraft. It’s alternately known today as the Crealock 37 or Pacific Seacraft 37 Voyager. Now completing his third season with the boat, Fulton is a fan of what’s been called “one of the best and most versatile designs” among offshore sailboats.

Fulton had started looking at full-keel boats, having owned two Cape Dorys. He looked at more than 1,000 boats in 15 months on the Internet, starting at 36 feet and working up to 40 feet. “I just wasn’t finding what I wanted,” he says.

An Annapolis, Md., yacht broker told him about Crealock’s 37-footer, which has a large fin keel and skeg rudder. “I didn’t know much about them, so I did some research,” says Fulton. “I found they were highly praised.” When a close sailing friend confirmed the boat’s reputation for seaworthiness, Fulton was convinced.

When he found a 1990 model that fit his budget, he didn’t hesitate. It was hull No. 226, in excellent condition, and the price was a little less than $140,000. Equipment included a 44-hp Yanmar diesel, radar, GPS/plotter, multifunction data repeater, and an under-deck autohelm. “I saw it on a Saturday, made an offer the following week, and settled the following Saturday,” says Fulton.

The boat’s reputation certainly interested him, but Fulton says sailing it is another story. The boat fits. Its cutter rig, with removable inner headstay, is handy for single-handers, the short mast (47 feet) carries an easily managed low-aspect mainsail, and bulwarks and 30-inch lifelines afford safety on deck.

“It’s a very easy boat to sail, and it’s very easy to get around on, too,” says Fulton. “My biggest question was, would it track well with that rudder-and-skeg bottom, using the autohelm? That’s how I sail, most of the time.” A glorious day “with a light breeze and the cruising chute set, just going down Chesapeake Bay,” answered the question, says Fulton. “It tracks true-to.”

Fulton’s put almost 4,000 cruising miles on the boat in three seasons. The cabin and large cockpit are as perfect for entertaining as they are for overnighting, and Fulton, who cruises with four boating clubs, says he has had a few memorable gatherings on board.

Bay winds and weather are seldom a problem, and Fulton sails from Crisfield, Md., in the south, to Chestertown, in the north. Favorite backwaters — the Wicomico River in Maryland and the Yeocomico River in Virginia — are accessible, thanks to the 37’s shoal-draft keel.

“I’ve found the boat I wanted,” says Fulton. “And you know what? I didn’t buy the boat for its looks or to get compliments. Yet people are all the time asking me about the boat. They say it looks like a yacht.”

It apparently sails like one, too.

WALKTHROUGH

The Pacific Seacraft 37’s interior layout is conservative, with many of the requirements of an offshore cruiser, including a spacious nav station, main saloon sea berths, and well-placed grab rails. The forward cabin has a double berth offset to starboard, dressing seat, vanity and mirror, and a pair of hanging closets. Moving aft, the head compartment to starboard is equipped with a marine head and a shower with a teak seat and grate. The main saloon amidships contains an L-shaped dinette to starboard, with a drop-down table that’s convertible to a double berth. To port, the cushioned seat converts to a single berth.

The nav station is to port at the foot of the companionway and has a large teak table with a lifting lid for chart work and space for electronics. Abaft the station is a single-person quarter berth. The U-shaped galley to starboard comes with a gimbaled propane stove/oven and refrigerator/freezer. There’s room for food and dish storage as well as additional appliances, such as a microwave. Interiors are finished in varnished teak woodwork and white Formica.

The deck layout is comfortable and uncluttered. The cockpit measures nearly 9 feet long, with high coamings. Bulwarks, lifelines and heavy-duty hardware are evidence of the boat’s offshore pedigree. Most of the boats are rigged as cutters or sloops, though a yawl is offered, too. Hulls are constructed of hand-laid fiberglass; balsa and plywood coring are used in the deck. Shoal-draft and standard keel versions are available.

AVAILABILITY

There’s a good supply of Crealock/Pacific Seacraft 37s on the market, with prices below $150,000 for most boats 15 years or older. Some examples include: a single-owner 1983 model in Connecticut “in remarkably good condition” — cruising-equipped and with a shoal draft keel — for around $115,000; a 1987 boat in Maryland with a Yanmar diesel, five-sail inventory and cruising extras — from radar and a windlass to a refrigerator and cabin heat — for $119,000; and a 1988 model in Virginia, cruise-equipped with a large sail inventory, GPS, SSB, steering vane, life raft and a new windlass for around $125,000. Prices for newer boats approach and exceed $200,000. For example, a 1998 boat in Texas, “well-equipped but little-used,” was listed at around $195,000. A 1999 boat, “expertly outfitted” for offshore cruising and “superbly maintained,” was for sale in North Carolina for $199,000. And a “spectacularly equipped” 2000 model with a cutter rig was for sale in Maryland for around $228,000.

BACKGROUND

Pacific Seacraft of Fullerton, Calif., first made its name as a builder of small seaworthy sailboats. It was part of a coterie of West Coast designers and builders using fiberglass to redefine the offshore cruising sailboat in the 1960s and ’70s. One of those designers was W.I.B. Crealock, who introduced a 37-footer in the late 1970s that featured a canoe stern, fin keel and skeg rudder. The so-called Crealock 37, built first by Cruising Consultants in Newport Beach, Calif., was a hit with sailors, who called it a “true bluewater cruiser.” In 1980 Pacific Seacraft began to produce the boat as the Pacific Seacraft 37 in conjunction with the designer, and the two have continued their relationship to this day.

Today, Pacific Seacraft produces high-quality offshore Crealock-designed sailboats from 31 to 44 feet, as well as the Crealock-designed Dana 24. In fact the builder was recognized by Fortune magazine for products that America builds best. Still located in southern California, Pacific Seacraft branched out into powerboats with an oceangoing 38-foot trawler designed by Bruce King, of Hinckley Picnic Boat fame. It also built 43 Nordhavn 40s before production of that passagemaker was moved to China, according to information on the company Web site.