Boat Review January 15, 1998 Issue

Ericson 380

Bruce King’s 1979 design lives on in this updated version by Pacific Seacraft. We like the interior and the way she handles, but found the cockpit on the small side and think the large headsails will be a challenge for weaker crew.

The Pacific Seacraft Ericson 380 began life in 1980 during one of the iterations of the Ericson Yacht Company. A proven West Coast performer in the windy conditions found every summer day in San Francisco, the boat also sold well on the East Coast and Great Lakes for whom the appeal was her traditional lines, heavy construction and shallow draft.

We sailed the original 38 on San Francisco Bay in the 1980’s and found her to be a responsive, seakindly boat. However, we were sufficiently impressed with the appeal of the new 380 at last year’s Sail Expo that we decided to try the newest version.

History
The company was formed in 1964 by Don and Gene Kohlmann, two San Francisco Bay sailors who set up shop in Southern California. Because the brothers had spent years sailing in the blustery conditions of San Francisco Bay and the Pacific outside the Golden Gate, their aim was to build boats that would endure in those conditions.

“We built an eclectic line of boats,” Don says of their early endeavors.

They commissioned naval architect Bruce King to design the boats. Early on, these included modifications to an existing Carl Alberg design and a 26-footer designed by W. B. Crealock, as well as some boats that were influenced by competitor Columbia.

Heavier than some of their competitors, they were good family cruisers that also fared well in handicap racing. The Ericson 27, for example, was a frequent winner on the MORA circuit, and racked up wins in the San Francisco-San Diego and Oakland-Catalina races. Several one-design fleets are still racing.

By 1971, the company was a takeover target for the CML Group, an East Coast holding company that had its fingers in a number of pies, including ownership of Boston Whaler. That ‘marriage’ lasted 13 years. In 1984, CML offered Ericson stock to the public and Gene Kohlmann reclaimed the company. He and Don operated it until it closed its doors in 1990, about the same time a long list of builders disappeared.

Pacific Seacraft purchased the molds for the Ericson 34 (now called the Ericson 35), and the 38 from creditors in 1990, and began production in 1991. Kohlmann remains with the company as a vice-president.

Pacific Seacraft is a seasoned company with a 30-plus year history. Founded in 1976 with the introduction of the Pacific Seacraft 25, a pocket cruiser that enjoyed great popularity, it followed with the Mariah 31, Orion 27 and Flicka 20, a popular Bruce Bingham design, all of which were produced at the Costa Mesa, California plant. The company’s association with W. B. Crealock began in 1980 when it acquired rights to build the Crealock 37, a handsome, seaworthy—and pricey—cruising sailboat. It was acquired in 1988 by Singmarine Industries, Ltd., a Singapore-based company.

As an example of its place in the American manufacturing world, Pacific Seacraft has twice been recognized by Fortune magazine as building products that are among the “100 America makes best,” the only boatbuilder that can make that claim.

Design
During his 30-plus years since joining the company as Ericson’s chief designer, Bruce King produced more than 29 Ericson designs, ranging in size from a 23- footer to the 380. Along the way, he also has designed the mega yachts Signe, Whitefin and the 92-foot Whitehawk, as well as a handful of IOR racers.

His original design for the Ericson 38 featured moderate overhangs and freeboard, conservative proportions and a low cabin trunk, all of which gave it a somewhat traditional look. You’ll never confuse this boat with the plumb-bow, wide-bodied designs favored by many of today’s naval architects.

King says that the 380’s performance is enhanced by a fine bow entry that flares outward to improve lift when sailing to weather, which also results in less spray on the decks and a drier ride. He also points to the basic fore and aft symmetry of the hull and the combination of fin keel and spade rudder as design elements that result in a constant center of lateral resistance (CLR) and a well-balanced yacht. Unfortunately, in the gusty conditions in which we tested the boat we were unable to find the balance point that affords self-steering.

Early boats had a quarter berth to port with a nav station, both enclosed by a sliding door. The 381 (about 1983) had an open berth to port, presumably to save expense. A few years later, the 38-200 restored the private aft cabin with berth extending under the cockpit; in this version, the nav station was moved to starboard. The boat was again redesigned in 1987, when King moved the keel and mast forward and lengthened the cabin, which facilitated the installation of a somewhat larger aft stateroom to port.

By 1990 the entire belowdecks accommodations had undergone a retrofit that brought the boat more in line with the interiors found in traditional Pacific Seacraft models. Lighter laminates replaced gelcoat surfaces, shiny stainless steel ports replaced aluminum frames, and the boat took on the appearance and feel of a classic cruising yacht.

The keel design of the 1980’s also was altered. Early boats were fitted with a shoal draft keel for shallow-water cruising; eventually, winglets were added to enhance performance. Since then, a bulb keel with an end plate that draws only 5' 3" is an option that Kohlmann says provides the same stiffness as the deeper fin keel, which draws 6' 6".

Beam is a moderate 12' 0", and displacement is 15,500 pounds in the current configuration. Because seakindly performance was a design objective rather than blistering speed and high pointing angles, the 380 won’t compete with the lightweights. A PHRF handicap of 112, however, indicates that race committees consider the 380 capable of sailing at 6-7 knots to weather.

Rig & Deck
Except for the mast, the deck hardware and rigging on the boat are supplied by major names in the industry. Harken builds the roller furling and self-tailing winches, of which there are six. Lewmar supplies the hatches. Ullman Sails of Southern California makes the sails. Spinlock rope clutches are standard gear.

The mast and boom are constructed by LeFiell, a Southern California company with 20 years of experience constructing spars and close ties to the aerospace industry, Kohlmann says. The mast, a tapered aluminum section equipped with double spreaders, is coated with linear polyurethane paint, as are many spars today because of costly environmental restrictions on anodizing. The headstay is 5/16"; the upper shrouds and backstay are 9/32"; the lowers 1/4" and intermediate shrouds 7/32".

The J dimension measures a big 16.25', which reflects the anticipated use of overlapping jibs.

The mast is keel stepped on the Tri-Axial Force Grid (see “Construction”), and has internal main and jib halyards and spare sheaves for spinnaker halyards.

The aluminum boom is equipped with vang bales, and also has internal sheaves for two sets of reefing lines as well as an internal adjustment for the topping lift. The outhaul, also inside the boom, has a 4:1 purchase for easy adjustment.

The shrouds are connected to a Navtec chainplate system; a stainless steel mast collar provides leads for control lines led aft.

On our test boat, the main and jib halyards, mainsheet and reef line, were led aft through Spinlock clutches to four Lewmar #30 self-tailing winches located on the doghouse (company literature says new boats will have Harken winches). Vang control is in a Harken cam cleat above the hatch. On the whole, the layout is efficient, though we do have one concern: The vent hatch forward of the mast has a stainless steel guard railing designed to protect the hatch from being stepped on and damaged while underway. The rail could be a toe-stubber, however, especially when working after dark.

Inboard genoa tracks are 1-1/4" x 3/16" aluminum T-track that begin at the forward end of the cockpit; they are long enough for close sheeting of a 150% genoa or a small headsail. The same holds true for the outboard track built into the fiberglass toerail.

The mainsheet traveler, forward of the companionway, consists of a double-ended mainsheet that runs through Harken ball bearing blocks with 4:1 purchase, so we found it easy to change mainsheet angles. The bitter end of the double-ended traveler sheet runs to a cam cleat on the coachroof.

Some owners prefer end-boom sheeting because it provides better boom control, and is easier to reach from the helm. Interestingly, in the 1979 drawings of the 38, the mainsheet traveler ran across the cockpit at the companionway—a trade-off between convenience to the helmsman and comfort for crew sitting forward.

All deck hardware, including the pulpits and stanchions, cleats and winches have backing plates and are bedded in polyurethane sealant.

Like most production cruisers, the anchor locker is in the bow and has adequate space for a lunch hook and rode. Chain for extended cruising, however, would have to be stowed belowdecks. The stainless steel anchor roller on our test boat held a 33-lb. Bruce snugly. Pairs of 10" mooring cleats are mounted on the deck and stern; amidships, a sliding padeye on the genoa track may serve as a cleat for breast lines, but a boat of this quality should come with mid-ship cleats.

The 380 has ample sources for light and ventilation, including three Lewmar deck hatches and 15 Lewmar portlights. That much hardware adds up to lots of weight, but assures lots of light and decent air circulation.

Our major complaint about the boat is the smallish cockpit. It is, of course, a trade-off with space below, and is caused by the addition of the aft cabin. It wouldn’t be comfortable with more than four in the T-shaped cockpit. Though the seats are 7' long, we found the tiny footwell cramped.

Steering the boat is comfortable from the skipper’s position on an ergonomically shaped seat that affords excellent visibility, even when the dodger is raised. Because the seat covers the width of the stern, the skipper can keep an eye on telltales.

The addition of the aft cabin also eliminated one cockpit stowage compartment, so the only locker is to starboard. The propane tank and cockpit shower are located beneath the helmsman’s seat.

As an accommodation to cruisers on both coasts, buyers are offered a choice of a conventional counter transom or a scoop stern with swim platform and stainless boarding ladder.

Interior
The Pacific Seacraft approach to boatbuilding may be best reflected belowdecks. While the largest builders in the production field—most notably Hunter, Catalina, Jeanneau and Beneteau—provide buyers with nicely completed spaces, we think the Ericson 380 is done better. The boat is as appealing in real life as in the company’s sales brochures.

The combinations of teak, blonde-colored wood tones and bright gelcoat surfaces combined with an off-white liner create an air of spaciousness. The entire length of the interior is covered by teak battens or teak cabinetry. Wood surfaces are nicely joined and smoothly finished. Our test boat had been in service for four years but varnished surfaces showed little deterioration, plumbing fittings were intact and wiring showed no signs of corrosion or rust.

The layout is straightforward: The aft cabin berth is 6' 6" x 5' 9", so will be adequate for two adults. But as with all aft berths, you’re in close proximity to the engine and cockpit.

The galley counter runs amidships with double stainless steel sinks, hot and cold pressure water, plus saltwater pump. The two-burner Force 10 stove has an oven and broiler. The ice box, which is insulated with poured urethane foam, will be adequate for most short-term cruising.

The drop-leaf table in the saloon offers a dining area for guests at the starboard settee, and may be lowered to form a double berth. Settees on both sides of the boat are 6' 6".

The head has a separate shower stall enclosed by a fabric curtain; the space is well vented by two ports.

The nav station is aft of the starboard settee. The chart table has plenty of room for charts and instruments. It’s arrangement seems something of a compromise because the navigator sits on the settee facing aft with no back support; we’ve always appreciated a firm, separate seat when underway. Instruments are mounted on the forward side of a hanging locker bulkhead with room for a chartplotter, VHF radio and SSB. Other electronics are mounted in cabinetry above the hinged electric panel, which has six AC and 16 DC circuits.

In the forward cabin, the V-berth measures 6' 4" x 5' 5" with stowage beneath, and there are two hanging lockers with vented doors.

The 38-hp. Yanmar diesel is located below the companionway steps, with good accessibility from the top, front, both sides, and from the aft stateroom. It is also constructed with a molded drip pan, so will be easy to clean. It is well insulated; we noticed little engine noise while underway.

Improvements adopted since Pacific Seacraft began building the boats include cleaner plumbing and electrical installations. There’s easy access to breaker switches and wiring; all plumbing and wiring harnesses are grommeted with rubber chafe guards where passing through bulkheads; double hose clamps are on all hoses below waterline; high quality polyethylene hoses are used in the galley; and the flush bronze through- hulls have seacocks.

Construction
Though King drew the boat’s lines, naval architect Dave Pedrick was responsible for the structural grid system used to stiffen the hull. The hull from the waterline to the sheer is a solid fiberglass laminate that has a skin coat of 3-oz. chopped strand mat hand laid up with vinylester resins, over which are laid 1.5-oz. mat and Coremat. The balance of the laminate is biaxial roving with supplemental reinforcement in the chainplate and keel areas where the Tri-Axial Force Grid (TAFG) floor system bonds to the hull.

The TAFG is a fiberglass pan with molded beams in the keel area and where the chainplates are connected to the structure so that rigging loads are adequately distributed. In the chainplate area, four plies of 18-oz. woven roving extend from the knees into the beams.

Additional longitudinal strength is provided by girders constructed of unidirectional E-glass in the aft section; extra layers of woven roving are used to reinforce the keel attachment and rudder post area. All of the bulkheads are bonded to the hull and deck, as is all of the cabinetry.

Kohlmann says that this construction method adds 500 to 600 lb. of displacement, but to his mind is offset by longitudinal stiffness, and better keel and rig support.

The deck is cored with 1/2" balsa and laid up with mat and woven roving. The cabin sides are cored with Coremat.

Performance
We tested the boat in 12-knot winds with occasional gusts into the high teens. Seas were 1' to 2'. Sailing with a full main and genoa, we sailed up to 40° to the apparent wind, making about 6 knots. We think we could have achieved greater speed and a higher pointing angle by moving the sheet leads inboard and tweaking the car position.

Though we didn’t have big waves to challenge the boat, her movement was seakindly, and we found she was easy to steer.

Sailing off the wind, odds are you’ll want to add bigger downwind sails. To confirm our opinion, we contacted the owner of an original 38 who had double-handed his boat from San Francisco to Hawaii. A typical weekend sailor who spends weekdays in an office, he reported an uneventful trip in 15-25 knot winds. Sailing to weather to clear the coast, he said the boat handled easily, but took water over the bow.

Once sheets were eased and the spinnaker hoisted, the rest of the 13-day passage was spent sailing fast but comfortably in 10-15 knot tradewinds.

Conclusions
The Ericson 380 is interesting in that its basic hull design now is somewhat dated, but other modifications—to the interior, deck and keel—constitute sufficient change to keep the boat in production. And we have to admit to being somewhat partial to boats of conservative proportions, finding many contemporary designs to have excessive beam and quirky handling. Still, if you’re hoping to turn heads when you leave the dock, as do some of the newer, sexier designs, you may be disappointed.

Our two principal criticisms of the 380 are its small cockpit size, and large headsails (100% foretriangle = 409 sq. ft.), which can prove a challenge to trim. And, unless you’re prepared to deal with handling and flaking of large sails, roller furling is a must.

Pacific Seacraft offers a 100% warranty for four years, and a warranty against blistering and all structural components for 10 years. Price is $187,900, FOB Fullerton, California. For comparison, base price of a Catalina 380 is about $125,000, a Beneteau Oceanis 381 about $128,00, a Valiant 39 about $214,000 and a Moody 36 about $172,000. A 1985 Ericson 381, which had a base price of $98,000 when new, now sells for about $66,000.


Contact- Pacific Seacraft Corporation, 1301 E. Orangethorpe Ave., Fullerton, CA., 92831, 714/879-1610.

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