Surely one of the most popular and versatile midget racers of the modern era, this Mull design has devotees all over the land. You can get them cheap, and cruise 'em, too.
Designed by Californian Gary Mull in 1971, the Ranger 23 was influenced by the Junior Offshore Group (JOG), a forerunner of the Midget Ocean Racing Club (MORC, which evolved to MORA, which is now nearly extinct as an association). MORA rules provided designers, builders, and performance-oriented sailors with a venue in which many of the most mannerly, small-sized performance cruisers of the time could compete on a near-level playing field.
At the time, Jack Jensen, founder of Jensen Marine, was enjoying great success building Cal boats and making race history with the Cal 40 and Cal 27. However, to appeal to East Coast buyers, he formed Ranger Yachts (which actually were built in Costa Mesa, California), and commissioned Mull to design the new lines. Mull's star was on the rise at the time, partially because of the success of the Santana 22, which he considered one of his most successful, and favorite, creations.
Cal and Ranger were eventually sold to Bangor Punta in 1973, and production of Cal boats was moved to Florida. A victim of a downturn in the industry, the Ranger line folded in 1978. In 1983, Bangor Punta sold both companies to Lear Siegler, shortly before their complete demise.
The company built six Rangers in sizes ranging from 22 to 37 feet.
The R-23 had an excellent production run, with 739 hulls built between 1971 and 1978. The boat is a sporty looker whose design is as appealing 30 years after her launch as when introduced. She carries a high-aspect sailplan and presents a fine bow entry and racy lines, especially compared to her contemporaries. Viewed from abeam, she appears proportionately shapely with a smoothly rising sheer, visually appealing cabintop, and long, narrow ports that hint at performance. Though not designed to meet a measurement rule, her lines were influenced by the CCA and, eventually, IOR racing rules.
In a lengthy epistle evaluating the boat, penned for the R-23 owners association shortly prior to death in 1993, Mull described the design as being "a little ship capable of sailing anywhere in the world safely, and swiftly."
Her sailplan was the subject of many changes. Of the mast, Mull wrote, "In those days I was able to design each of the masts for Rangers for specific designs rather than having to pick from stock extrusions." The same held true for chainplates, spreader roots, and mastheads.
Though offered with a rig designed to sail in the prevailing 15-20 knot Pacific northwesterlies, a tall rig was offered for sailors in light-air regions. In its standard configuration, the mast stood 27.7 feet above the deck. The tall rig added two feet to its height, with a corresponding increase in sail area.
Eventually, "when the IOR was introduced, we produced a revised plan with a shorter mainsail foot to qualify for the Quarter Ton class." The boat sailed with some success in this class.
The single set of spreaders on the beefy, deck-stepped masthead rig are supported by 3/16", 1x19 stainless steel headstay and upper shroud, and 5/32", 1x19 backstay and lower shroud. A typical comment among long-time owners is that the rig is overbuilt; no failures have been reported by owners responding to a PS survey.
The deck-stepped mast "was a consequence of wanting a clear access through the interior." While accomplishing that objective, the design compromises the amount of compression an owner can develop on stays while attempting to improve sail shape.
Underwater appendages are "standard trapezoidal profiles with standard NACA sections." The keel carries 1,500 pounds of lead ballast. The spade rudder is mounted on a stainless steel rudder post. Owners describe the boat as providing excellent windward performance, and typically carry a 150% genoa with a full mainsail until breezes exceed 15-18 knots.
"On deck our concept is most noticeable because it has a proper cockpit with coamings, seats, and all. We were designing a boat for the occasional day or weekend sail, and a boat that could be taken to sea for extended periods." She'll seat four in relative comfort, even with a tiller occupying the center of the footwell.
"We didn't feel compelled to offer standing headroom as we were fairly certain that the owners were smart enough to sleep lying down and would probably have the good sense to sit down when they went below for a meal. We also assumed that people making long passages in a boat of this size would probably be pretty good friends, and sited the head where it would be convenient and stable, though not so private as might be appropriate for a larger boat."
There's 5'6" of headroom in the cabin, and 6'6" settees that convert to berths. Creature comforts include a tilt-away dinette table, and a 25-pound icebox that doubles as a companionway step.
The galley, located at the junction of the saloon and V-berth, is, of course, pretty minimal. It consists of a sink located to port, optional two-burner alcohol stove to starboard, two drawers, and a storage cubby. (Note that in the accommodations drawing below, from the original sales brochure, the stove and sink appear on sides opposite where they ended up.)
Again in Mull's words, "We didn’t even have, let alone feel compelled to offer, three- and four-burner gas stoves with oven and lighting system. We figured that one-dish meals and a pot of coffee made much more sense for a boat of this size."
That's certainly true—the set-up will allow good sleeping and just enough civilized eating during a long coastal passage to keep the crew content (as long as they're within a day or two of a sheltered anchorage, a shower, and a meal ashore).
Space in the bow is occupied by a V-berth that provides a 6'2" sleeping area and two dressers. The toilet was originally a self-contained "Handihead" with four-gallon capacity and waste discharge. One owner who replaced the original told us that the space is large enough for a more modern appliance.
Mull's concept of light camping accommodations stands in contrast to Bill Crealock's vision for the Dana 24 (PS December 2001), a beamier, significantly heavier, more crewfriendly yacht with an enclosed head that Crealock envisioned as carrying a crew of two around the world in "safety and comfort."
The idea of extended cruising in a boat less than about 30 feet isn't appealing to some sailors, but it can be great fun, as long as everyone gets along and there are good routines in place for how to move around the boat and do things in harmony.
This Ranger is spacious enough for sailing and sleeping with, say, a couple and two kids on short cruises, notwithstanding the lack of privacy.
The hull and deck were designed using what were then considered state-of-the-art methods. Mull said that his initial agreement with Jensen included wide latitude in stipulating construction materials and methods, and that Ranger Yachts would provide quality production. In this case, the West Coast designer-builder combination works to the advantage of owners, since boats were expected to withstand higher stresses encountered on the Pacific near San Francisco than those in Southern California or the Chesapeake, for instance.
Interestingly, the most common shortcomings in the construction of the boats are caused by adhesives used to bond major components. Though the best available at the time, they pale by today's standards.
Built during the adolescence of the fiberglass era, the hull and deck were constructed using Lloyd's Provisional Rules for GRP vessels. Lloyd's formula specified use of an all chopped mat structure; Ranger laid up alternating layers of mat and woven roving in the hull.
The deck was a sandwiched balsa core laminate employing a honeycomb method developed by Hexcel Corporation. At the time, Hexcel was cutting a wide swath in the Alpine skiing community with a similar laminate that produced lighter, stronger skis. Today's boats are constructed with lighter, unidirectional fabrics; nonetheless, Ranger's methods produced sturdy sections. Bulkheads were bonded to the hull, and the interior is a fiberglass pan.
An annual inspection by owners or thorough survey by potential buyers should be made of the mast step, hull-deck joint, keel bolts, and chainplates, as Mull noted.
A by-product of the attempt to produce creature comforts is that the mast step "is probably the biggest source of grief," Mull wrote. That's not a desirable trait in a boat advertised as being fit for offshore work, though not a fatal flaw.
The mast step is a 6061-T6 aluminum fabrication with fasteners connected to the deck structure intended to be bedded in flexible waterproof bedding compound. "Unfortunately," said Mull, "the bedding compound on many boats has become dry and brittle and water can find its way through the bolt hole in the deck core." A by-product might be soggy balsa or, in the worst case, rot.
In extreme cases, the fix involves removing the mast step columns and affected areas and replacing deck core with a new beam and laminate. Though more than a minor inconvenience, the problem would not prevent us from considering the purchase of a boat with this ailment.
Failures of adhesives and the large number of bolts installed through the toerail at the hull-deck joint also may produce leaks. In a worst-case scenario it would be necessary to remove the toerail and stanchions, elevate the deck from the hull, remove the old adhesive, and replace it with today's materials. No small chore.
Similar problems may occur with chainplates that have been neglected for extended periods of time. Many owners report the need to rebed chainplates every couple of years. Not surprisingly, that predicament is still encountered by the owners of many newer, production boats.
Finally, leaks through ballast bolts have been reported by some owners. Mull's recommended fix was a re-bed of keel and bolts with an elastic bedding compound to alleviate stress created by movement at the hull-keel joint.
Since her deck layout is as simple as the boat is small, she's easy to sail single- or doublehanded, and race with a crew of three.
Standard gear included external mainsail and jib halyards, Barient winches on the mast and in the cockpit, and Schaefer sail track, blocks, and cleats. Retrofitting additional halyards is as simple as adding external blocks at the masthead or, for the more sophisticated, adding sheaves and running halyards inside the mast. Safety gear includes bow and stern pulpits and 24" tall stanchions fitted with a single lifeline.
A split backstay and racing package with spinnaker gear were the only options offered initially.
Computer-generated polar predictions indicate that the 23 stacks up well against similar-sized boats through a range of wind angles and wind speeds. As for top-end jets, as Mull said, "There's no such thing as maximum hull speed," except a theoretical rule of thumb that may apply to powering on flat water. In that environment, he predicted a boatspeed of 5.5 knots. In 10 knots of breeze under the same conditions, speed would fall in a range of 4 to 6 knots. Once the boat gets out in more wind or bigger waves, the hull begins to plane and surf; at that point the boat can cover a lot of distance between breakfast and suppertime—and it makes the racing exciting.
It would be nice to see Ranger 23s organized again into one-design fleets all over the land, but in any case it's good to know they're out there racing PHRF, and that, like greyhounds retired from the rabbit-chase at the racetrack, they do well as family friends.
The R-23 can be considered a legitimate cruising boat, within the obvious physical limits of a short waterline and small quarters. To expand a bit on what was said earlier, small, simple boats like this can be ideal "express campers" for young families and couples. They can be bought for little money, fixed up as much or as little as wallet and skills allow, and don't cost much to keep around.
Despite the Ranger's age, it benefits from being designed on the cusp of an era when traditional, full-keeled cruisers were being replaced by sloops with more modern underbodies and appendages that produced significant improvements in performance. The hull and major structures are sound, aside from the aforementioned problems associated with adhesives that have deteriorated.
These Rangers were built before the day when vinylester resin was used in hull laminates, and some owners report the presence of dime-sized blisters that require inspection or repair. The boat does not have a reputation of suffering from chronic deficiencies that demand total bottom replacements.
Given a thorough survey, we think the R-23 would be a great candidate for a couple or family who might be new to the sport, or who are stepping up from a dinghy or daysailor. The boat was offered for $5,450 in 1971. Expect to pay $3,500 up to as much as $10,000 for a used boat, depending upon condition—if you can find one.
Arvel Gentry, the Boeing engineer who rocked the world of sailing decades ago with the facts about foils, lift, fluid circulation, and what makes sailboats go, maintains the Ranger 23 Owners and Class Association at www.ranger23.com.