Skip to main content

USED BOAT review Bristol 47.7


Condo on the beach, or a boat on the open water? For Al Griffin and his family, it was the latter. And the 47-foot 1990 Bristol sloop they bought seven years ago has proven to be more than a home; it’s a way of life and a window on the world.

“It’s been the best decision we ever made,” says Griffin, 51, a Warrenton, Va., orthodontist. “[Harkaway] has allowed us to see so many different areas from a much more interesting perspective.”

From their home port of Annapolis, Md., the boat has taken Griffin, his wife, Susan, and their three kids — sons Alfred III, 22, and Chilton, 21, and daughter Sallie, 15 — north to Cape Cod, Nantucket and Newport, and south to the British Virgin Islands.


The family has had its share of adventure and rough weather, all experienced together.

Harkaway is a center cockpit, aft cabin Bristol 47.7 from Bristol Yachts, the pioneering Rhode Island builder. With its skeg-hung rudder, centerboard/keel, and two-cabin/two-head layout, the 47.7 has earned a reputation for seaworthiness and cruising comfort. Along the way, it developed a following of appreciative owners, translating into a 16-year production run — all signs of a successful design now generally considered a classic.

Griffin paid a little more than $370,000 for Harkaway. He knew all about the builder’s reputation, having owned a 41-foot Bristol for a dozen years. “It was the first big boat we bought, and we sailed her all over the Chesapeake, then took her to the British Virgin Islands,” says Griffin. “What a blast.”

Along the way, the family took sailing lessons together and learned to sail by sailing. “It was really great being in class and on the water on an equal level [with the kids],” says Griffin. “It set the tone for a more equal footing for all when sailing. This may sound corny, but I really attribute a lot of our children’s self-confidence and independence to their sailing experiences.”

But as kids get older, families need more room. So, to wile away the time one rainy weekend, the Griffins dropped in on Annapolis broker Bristol Yachts to see a larger Bristol just listed: the 47.7. “We were hooked, and we bought it on the spot,” Griffin says.

The 47.7’s roomy, versatile layout has long been an attraction for growing families and big cruising crews. “We loved the custom settee in the main saloon, and the fixed ports in the topsides made the cabin much lighter,” says Griffin. “[It] has a great aft cabin with a centerline queen berth, and a head with a shower stall for us. Forward is the V-berth for two, with separate large head. One of the kids sleeps in the main saloon. It has worked out very well for us.”

But when you take your family to sea you want a boat you can trust. “Being a rather heavy boat, [Harkaway] is great in rough weather, and that’s why we like her so much in the islands,” says Griffin. “We blow those light charter boats out of the water all the time down there. But her rig makes her very nimble in light air.” The 75-hp diesel moves her along at 6 or 7 knots, as needed.

The boat did get a major systems upgrade, with Griffin adding new electronics (including a computer system), setting up new standing rigging, buying new sails, replacing old ground tackle, repowering, and installing refrigeration, air conditioning and a new generator. “We thought of bow thrusters, but the 47.7 backs very true,” Griffin says. “Instead of relying on bow thrusters, we now rely on better boat skills.”

It’s all paid off, and Harkaway has become more than just a reliable, comfortable boat in Griffin’s eyes. It’s a part of the family, providing the backdrop for a host of memories. “Many birthdays and anniversaries have been spent on board Harkaway, and many of our most cherished family pictures are set on her decks,” he says.

Another sign of a successful design.


A medium- to heavy-displacement sailboat, the Bristol 47.7 starts with a solid fiberglass hull laminated with vinylester resins and reinforced in stress areas. The deck is a composite of balsa-core and fiberglass. Moderate overhangs define the hull above the waterline; the bottom is characterized by its centerboard/keel and skeg-hung rudder. Mast height is 62 feet, and the boat carries a total of 1,125 square feet of sail, starting with a 445-square-foot main and a 650-square-foot fore triangle. Sheets are led to the large center cockpit. Auxiliary power comes from a diesel engine mounted abaft the companionway ladder.

Below deck, the galley is located to starboard at the foot of the companionway, and is equipped with a refrigerator, three-burner propane stove with oven, and double sink, with ample counter space. The saloon has a center table with drop leaf and an L-shaped settee (convertible to a berth) to port, with two swivel chairs to starboard. The master stateroom is aft, with an island berth and its own private head with shower. The forward stateroom has a V-berth and its own full head. Bristol offered teak, mahogany, ash and cherry in the interior.


Company records show 78 Bristol 47.7s were built from 1979 through 1994. Today, these boats are scattered to all corners of the United States, with prices ranging from around $200,000 to more than $400,000 for late models. A 1990 boat was for sale in Virginia for $485,000 with many extras, including air conditioning, varnished cherry interior, full galley with refrigerator and separate freezer, and cockpit dodger with Bimini. A 1992 model “in excellent condition” was for sale in California for $385,000, “beautifully equipped … set up for luxury world cruising,” with a complete sail inventory and full nav instrumentation. In Maryland a 1990 model was for sale for $346,500, and featured a custom cherry-finish interior and upgraded electronics, including an on-board computer. A “professionally maintained” 47.7, vintage 1985, was listed for $275,000 in Illinois with a dark blue Awlgrip hull, teak toerail and teak cabin house trim, as well as air conditioning, bow thruster and auxiliary diesel. A 1987 boat in Michigan was listed for $229,000, billed as “the ultimate cruiser/liveaboard” with air conditioning, new genset, teak interior, radar, Loran and autopilot.


Bristol Yachts founder Clint Pearson was among the innovators in the early development of fiberglass boats four decades ago. Pearson started Bristol after founding (and then selling) another pioneering glass boatbuilder, Pearson Yachts, with his brother Everett. In 1964 he bought a yard in Bristol, R.I., not far from the old Herreshoff yard, to produce sturdy cruising sailboats with offshore capabilities.

Bristol established its reputation with the highly successful Bristol 27 (172 built in one year alone), designed by the legendary Carl Alberg. Over the years Pearson continued to attract top designers, and Bristol Yachts produced a series of successful sailboats, including the Bristol 29 (Halsey Herreshoff), the Bristol 32 and 39 (Ted Hood), and the Bristol 34 (John Alden). In all, the company built more than 4,000 boats, as large as 72 feet, in a 33-year span under Pearson. Today, Bristol Yachts is the boatbuilding arm of Bristol Marine, a full-service boatyard specializing in the maintenance and repair of Bristol sailboats. And it’s still located in Bristol.


LOA: 47 feet, 4 inches

LWL: 37 feet, 3 inches

BEAM: 13 feet, 2 inches

DRAFT: 4 feet, 11 inches to 11 feet, 6 inches

DISPLACEMENT: 34,000 pounds

RIG/SAIL AREA: masthead sloop/1,125 square feet

DESIGNER: Ted Hood Group

BUILDER: Bristol Yacht Co. (Bristol Marine) Bristol, R.I.

PHONE: 401-253-2200