Boat Reviews

Ericson 27

With over 1,300 built, there should be plenty to choose from--but be sure to check out the later boats first.

In the sailboat industry Ericson Yachts was somewhat of the archetypal production boatbuilder: trendy, performance oriented, colorfully advertised, and, for the most part, successful. The Ericson line started in 1965 with the enduring 32 and 35, simple and stylized boats that sold mostly to West Coast buyers. The model line then grew, aimed largely at racing sailors, but with models successively introduced to fill in the line and keep Ericson buyers in that builder’s boats, eventually reaching a high degree of acceptance throughout the country.

In the intervening years Ericson Yachts sold a lot of boats, and with them the firm developed a reputation for good quality and finish. The accolade is but partly deserved, at least in terms of other production builders such as Pearson Yachts and Cal Boats with whom Ericson can be compared.

The longtime designer of Ericson boats is California designer Bruce King with a brief Ericson foray into the racy designs of Ron Holland. When Ericson stayed with the contemporary style, the builder prospered. Two ersatz traditional designs, the Independence (nee Classic) 31 and 36 were busts as were the Holland race boats.

A Close Look at the Boat

In a number of ways the Ericson 27 can be considered an excellent representative of the Ericson line throughout the 1970s. Introduced in 1971, the 27 remained in production for nine years. In all, 1302 were built, making the 27 among the leaders in number of production boats built.

Initially the 27 was, per the fashion of the early ’70s, marketed to a price as a stripped boat, simple and plain with an outboard engine as standard and virtually all gear but the essentials available only as options.

Typically the 27 was sold with tiller steering and a conventional interior layout as a boat purportedly competitive under the then-young IOR but more popular with buyers looking for reasonable performance and comfort in a small cruising boat.

Auxiliary power was an outboard mounted in a cut-out on the centerline of the transom at the end of a longish straight cockpit. The interior decor was primarily mahogany plywood and boasted an enclosed head and reasonable headroom, two highly attractive features for early 1970s buyers finding many boats of comparable size more cramped.

In late 1974 Ericson began an upgrade of its entire line, changing to an interior teak finish, making much of the gear that had been optional standard, and appealing to a higher priced buyer. In that upgrade the 27 received a redesigned deck and cockpit with a ventilation hatch amidships, a Tshaped helmsman’s station with pedestal steering aft. The transom cutout was eliminated and the mainsheet traveler moved from over the companionway to the cockpit.

At 27' and well over 6,000 pounds of displacement, the 27 begged for inboard auxiliary power, and in all about 80% of those built were delivered with an inboard. For most of that run the engine was the Atomic Four, although on occasion other engines such as the Bukh/Westerbeke Pilot 10 and Volvo MD6A were installed per buyers’ desires. In the last year of production the standard engine was the Yanmar 8D diesel.

The Ericson 27, for all of her other possible virtues, does not boast much performance. Heavy (with inboard, a displacement to length ratio of 363), short rigged (sail area to displacement 14.1) and a bit squirrely in sloppy conditions with her spade rudder, the 27 has much to overcome. Under PHRF her rating is 225-230 putting her on a boat-for-boat basis with such smaller rivals as the O’Day 25, Catalina 25, and so-so performance boats as the Cape Dory 27 and Tartan 27. Ratings for 27s without inboard power are about the same, in part because of the similar displacement of the two versions (the outboard boats have 275 pounds of inside ballast to offset engine weight).

A handful of 27s were delivered with tall rigs, about 2' higher than standard, but the boat does not have the inherent stability to reap much benefit from the greater sail area.

As a cruiser the 27 is comfortable for a couple, cramped for more despite its five berths. The forward cabin is pointy, the quarterberth is a “cave,” and the settee berths are a tad narrow. Ventilation is wretched, although better on later 27s with the midships hatch, and over the years many owners have retrofitted improvements.

Clearly the upgraded cockpit with wheel steering is also an improvement over the original. Ordinarily wheel steering in a 27-footer is a goodie, not a necessity. The Ericson 27 is an exception.

The 27 is not much fun to steer under power with wheel or tiller. The combination of the spade rudder and off center prop shaft keeps one’s attention at the helm. With a tiller this means constant offsetting pressure. A wheel makes it easier although the infernal backstay prevents standing upright aft of the wheel. Worse still is that the 27 can develop considerable weather helm if pressed in a breeze. A number of owners report making rudder modifications (making the post vertical and/or increasing size) to improve handling.

What to Look For

There seems to be no question that the Ericson 27 was adequately built. Problems with even the earliest hulls are more apt to be cosmetic than structural, according to 27 owners.

The problems that do occur tend to be those typical of boats of similar vintage: leaky ports, gate valves in need of replacement, spar corrosion, etc. that a professional survey should turn up. Check the engine; a faulty exhaust fitting (replaced by Ericson on recall) resulted in water backing into some engines.

Buyers should give thought to which version of the 27 is most worth shopping for. We would look hardest for a post-1974 model, with its improved finish, redesigned cockpit, and more commonly found inboard auxiliary engine, paying particular attention to the condition of the engine.

Clearly the 27 can benefit from upgrading original equipment including winches, traveler, reefing gear, galley stove and icebox, increasing water tankage, etc. Retrofitting wheel steering is difficult and of dubious recoverable expense.

Generally condition, not age per se, is the most valid determinant of the value of a production boat over 6 to 8 years old. Not so with the Ericson 27. To our minds the improvements in the latter half of the production run—wheel steering (standard beginning with hull #754), the dressier and more heavily constructed interior, more standard equipment, etc.—are well worth what we find is the typical difference in selling prices between older and younger Ericson 27s.

Given the steady changes in the 27, especially the deck/cockpit redesign, there should be a much more notable difference in price, perhaps as much as several thousand dollars. Certainly it would behoove any prospective buyer to check the later 27s before committing to an earlier boat, unless the price of the older is much lower.

Conclusions

There seems no question that the Ericson 27 has some drawbacks that are crucial concerns to prospective buyers: sluggish performance, steering effort, too many berths, etc. Still, it can be a most attractive boat to buyers wanting reasonable cruising amenities in a moderate size boat for a modest price. The 27 is truly a small cruising boat with more to offer (at least in later models) than such boats of comparable vintage as the Catalina 27 or the Hunter 27, albeit typically at somewhat higher prices.

To the advantage of the potential buyer, there are a lot of 27s on the market from which to choose, more so in the West than the East. The key is to spend some time looking for the best deal in a later model with the desired features, especially inboard power and wheel steering. Then the conservative styling of the 27 and its basic ruggedness should work to preserve the boat’s value, especially if the engine is maintained, the boat kept spiffy (and refinished when needed), and sails periodically replaced.

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