Boat Reviews

Ranger 33

This boat would be a pretty good choice for either an entry-level club racer or a coastal cruiser.

The Ranger Yacht division of Jensen Marine was created in 1969 to build performance-oriented boats designed by Gary Mull. Jensen’s Cal division had been successful with both racer/cruisers (Cal 34 and Cal 40) and pure cruisers (Cal 46), but the Ranger line was racier, with consistent styling and appearance throughout the series.

Ranger stopped building the 33 in 1978, after 464 boats had been turned out. Many minor changes were made over the years of production, and boats built after 1974 are generally more desirable, with restyled interiors and a diesel engine option.

Bangor Punta was an early boatbuilding conglomerate, and included Cal, O’Day, and Ranger sailboats, plus several powerboat building companies. Several changes of ownership later, the three sailboat companies gradually sank in a sea of red ink, with O’Day and Cal finally succumbing in the spring of 1989, several years after Ranger bit the dust.

With a subtle but attractive sheerline, low cabin trunk, and reverse transom, the Ranger 33 was very modern in appearance in 1969. The styling looks very traditional compared to late-1980s Eurostyling, however.

Underwater, the boat has a moderate aspect ratio fin keel, flattish run without the distorted buttock lines typical of IOR boats, and a semi-balanced spade rudder. The keel would look perfectly at home on a modern racer/cruiser, since it has a vertical trailing edge and a sloping leading edge. Radical keel shapes were as common around 1970 as they are today. The Ranger 33’s fin keel, on the other hand, is conservative and reasonably efficient.

Sailing Performance

The original sales brochure produced for the Ranger 33 defines the boat as a “high performance racing design by Gary Mull,” and that’s a reasonable summary of the boat’s performance compared to her contemporaries. The 33’s PHRF (Performance Handicap Racing Fleet) rating of about 153 looks pretty sporty when you put the boat up against other boats that were in production in the early to mid 1970s: the Cal 34 rates 174; the Pearson 33, 174; the Columbia 34-2, 170.

Since the Ranger 33’s production spanned such a long period, however, there were a lot of other boats of about the same size with similar ratings by the late years of her manufacture. Mid-70s IOR-derived racer/cruisers were beamier, roomier, stiffer, and frequently faster than the Ranger 33, which was designed in the last years of the CCA (Cruising Club of America) rule. The Ranger 33 had a poor IOR (International Offshore Rule) rating, particularly compared to more modern fully-developed IOR-based production boats.

Owners report that the boat has one negative sailing characteristic: a tendency to rapidly develop weather helm as she heels. The normal, rational remedy is to reduce sail.

As a rule, relatively flat-bottom boats such as the Ranger 33 like to be sailed on their feet. Narrow beam gives the boat somewhat lower initial stability than many dual-purpose boats built today, despite the 40% ballast/displacement ratio. A modern mainsail reefing system would make it possible to reduce sail area quickly, but you’ll find old-fashioned roller reefing on most Ranger 33s.

Like most boats of this size built in the early ’70s, the Ranger 33 was originally fitted with a tiller. The tiller certainly provides adequate power to steer the boat, particularly since the rudder area is semi-balanced. In fact, the rudder may be a little too balanced. Owners report that if you put the rudder hard over, the tiller can just about knock you down as the water flow begins to act on the forward section of the rudder.

Many later boats are equipped with wheel steering, and a lot of earlier boats have no doubt been retrofitted with wheels. In any retrofit installation, you should carefully survey the workmanship. Look particularly for signs of strain, such as gelcoat crazing around the pedestal base or tabbing failure around sheave mounting blocks. Examining for cable wear and proper tensioning would be a normal part of a survey on any boat with this type of steering gear.

Check the condition of the tiller itself. One owner reported having to replace two tillers, which delaminated.

In tiller-steered boats, the helmsman’s position is somewhat awkward for shorthanded sailing, particularly on boats with end-of-boom sheeting. The helmsman sits at the forward end of the cockpit, ahead of both the jib sheet winches and the mainsheet.

One criticism several owners voiced about the rig is that the main boom is not strong enough. With endof-boom sheeting, a good vang is required to flatten the sail, but you could fold the boom in the middle with a lot of vang tension in heavy air.

The Ranger 33 is definitely a performance boat. This certainly does not preclude its use as a coastal cruiser, nor does it mean the boat is hard to sail. It’s a good, fast boat, which, if updated with modern sails and sailhandling equipment, could still be a formidable PHRF club racer.

Construction

By today’s standards, the Ranger 33 is not an extremely light-displacement boat. She was fairly light for her day—remember that most boats still had long keels and attached rudders in 1970—but not exceptionally so. Her Cal 34 stablemate, for example, was 1,000 pounds lighter on the same waterline length.

The Ranger 33 makes extensive use of modular fiberglass moldings, including a deck liner and extensive interior furniture moldings. The original interior was almost completely molded fiberglass with teak trim. Late in the production run, the interior was restyled somewhat to provide a more woody look, which was the rage by the mid 1970s.

Extensive hull and deck liners can make alterations or repairs to wiring and plumbing difficult, as these systems are frequently installed behind molded components. Some of the wiring in the Ranger 33 is inaccessible.

Several owners report that the support system for the deck-stepped mast is not strong enough. Mast compression is borne by a wood column which is attached to the main bulkhead. The main bulkhead also carries the upper shroud loads via strap-type chainplates.

This bulkhead was designed to be glassed to both hull and deck, but one owner told us that the bulkhead in his boat was only glassed to the hull—the overhead glassing had been omitted. The bulkhead had come partially adrift, allowing the boat to wrack in this heavily-loaded area.

Another owner reported measurable deck deflection around the mast step on top of the cabin. This could be the result of inadequate filling between the deck and the overhead liner in the way of the mast support column, or may mean a partially detached main bulkhead.

A deck-stepped mast requires not only good engineering, but careful quality control in construction to make sure the designer’s intentions are fulfilled. Since several owners report problems in this area on the Ranger 33, a very careful survey of the mast support structure is called for. Stress cracks around the mast step, joinerwork around the bulkhead that doesn’t quite line up properly, and inability to keep proper headstay tension are symptoms that may indicate a problem.

You should also pay attention to the aft lower chainplate anchorages, which simply bolt through the deck.

Originally, the Ranger 33 had teak toerails. Later models use a perforated aluminum toerail, which is certainly less maintenance. Some owners report small leaks along the hull-to-deck joint, as well as around the chainplates.

There are no bearings supporting the rudder stock on early boats, and this can eventually result in slop in the rudder as the rudder tube wears. One owner installed Teflon shims between the stock and rudder tube, which both eliminates play and reduces friction.

Excessive wear will show up in the form of a rudder stock that clunks around in the rudder tube. You can check this with the boat out of the water by grasping the rudder and trying to move it from side to side. In the water, the wear shows up as a spongy feel in the steering, or in extreme cases as a clunk when the boat is tacked.

Tankage for both fuel and water is minimal: 20 gallons of each. For more than weekend cruising, you’ll need to increase at least the water capacity.

A gasoline Atomic 4 was the standard engine. A 16 hp Universal diesel was optional from 1975 onward. Either engine is adequate power for the boat. Engine access for either engine is only fair, despite the fact that the engine box sticks well into the main cabin.

Be careful handling a tiller-steered Ranger 33 under power. Prop wash past the rudder can cause the tiller to crash over if you try to apply a lot of helm.

Most complaints about the Ranger 33’s construction are age-related. Serious concerns are the main bulkhead/mast support system, and rudder tube wear. Both of these problems should show up on any reasonably careful survey, and may not be cause for rejecting the boat if you feel confident in your ability to analyze the problem and make repairs. Obviously, the price of the boat should reflect the amount of work necessary to correct serious flaws.

Interior

With only 9' 7" of beam, there’s not a lot of hull volume in the Ranger 33. By comparison, the current Pearson 33—a typical more modern cruiser/racer—is 11' wide. Somehow, that extra foot and a half of beam translates into a lot more interior space.

The Ranger 33 has a decent interior layout, but the proportions seem slightly miniaturized to fit in all the pieces, particularly in the galley and nav station. At the same time, at least there is a nav station; in 1970, the navigator usually used the icebox top. The forward cabin has the usual V-berths, wide at the head and narrow at the foot. A fiberglass hatch overhead provides fair-weather ventilation, but that’s about it for fresh air. Headroom is just over 6' in the forward cabin.

A small head compartment is just aft of the forward cabin, offset to port. A dogleg in the bulkhead between the head and cabin renders the toilet a fairly tight fit. There is some storage space under the head sink, with a shelf above. Headroom is 6'.

On the port side of the main cabin is a U-shaped dinette, which can be converted to a double berth. Ranger’s advertising optimistically lists the dinette and settee opposite as seating eight people. That means squeezing five people into the dinette. We wouldn’t want to be one of them.

Realistically, three would be perfectly comfortable eating dinner, four would fit but would have little room for their plates. For more than four, you’ll need to limit your entertaining to cocktails and conversation, as the table is not expandable. If you’d like to feed more, you could devise a drop leaf for the passageway side of the table.

There’s 6' 2" of headroom on centerline in the main cabin. Headroom is fairly constant throughout the boat, as the top of the cabin is parallel to the cabin sole. In profile, the cabin top appears to slope downward further forward, but this illusion is the result of the rising sheerline forward. Gary Mull draws some very nice boats, and the 33 is one of them.

As designed, there is no ventilation in the main cabin, except for the main companionway. A large flat space atop the deckhouse just abaft the mast cries out for a modern, aluminum-framed deck hatch. Since there’s no molded boss for a hatch, you should build up a teak hatch coaming for mounting the hatch, rather than just bolting it to the deck. This raises the hatch slightly, perhaps keeping the interior drier, and it stiffens the deck in the way of the hatch cutout.

Main cabin storage is somewhat limited, with shelves outboard of the settee and dinette, bulk storage beneath.

The galley and nav station are at the aft end of the main cabin. The port-side galley has room for a twoor three-burner stove with oven. Unless an owner has retrofitted with propane, it will be an alcohol stove. In our opinion, pressurized alcohol stoves should be consigned to the nearest dumpster at the first opportunity.

An icebox is built in under the counter just aft of the stove. It’s a long reach to the bottom of the box for a short person, and a potentially hazardous one if the stove is fired up while you’re trying to get things out of the box. A single sink is mounted in the galley counter at its inboard end.

Aside from a locker under the sink and a shelf behind the stove, there is virtually no storage space in the galley. Instead, racks for plates and utensils are built into the shelf outboard of the dinette, forward of the partial bulkhead separating the galley from the rest of the main cabin.

If you’re only going to store plates, glassware, and flatware in these main cabin racks, they will be fairly convenient to use. If you have to get access to them while you’re cooking, it will be a nuisance, particularly if there are guests seated in the dinette. With a long stretch, you can reach over the stove to the main cabin racks, but we wouldn’t recommend it when the stove is in use.

A hand-operated fresh water pump supplies water to the sink. If you don’t want to add pressure water, replace the hand pump with a foot-operated Whale pump. You’ll be surprised at how much easier it is to rinse dishes when you can use both hands.

Opposite the galley is a nav station, which uses the head of the quarterberth as a seat. The chart table is small, but is large enough to take a chart book such as the Chart Kit. You’ll have to use your imagination to figure out how to mount navigation instruments, since there are no suitable shelves. It would be possible to attach bracket-mounted items such as a VHF radio to the underside of the deck, using stainless steel self-tappers into the plywood core. Obviously, these screws must not penetrate to the upper skin of the deck.

Sitting at the chart table is awkward. The flat of the cabin sole ends at the inboard edge of the nav station, and the side of the hull rises sharply in the footwell, making it difficult to sit facing the chart table. Instead, you’ll probably sit at an angle, with your legs canted toward the center of the boat. It’s somewhat awkward, but it could be a lot worse. The quarterberth itself is roomy and comfortable. If it hasn’t already been done, you can install an opening port in the side of the cockpit well next to the quarterberth.

The interior of the Ranger 33 is quite livable for two people, and even for four for short cruises. The primary drawbacks are mediocre ventilation and lack of usable storage space, both of which can be improved by the owner.

While the layout is good, it is somewhat cramped due to the narrow beam of the boat. The same arrangement in a boat a foot wider would seem remarkably more roomy.

Conclusions

The boats in the Ranger line were designed to be more powerful and faster than their Cal sisters. Many of these boats have been raced, and raced hard. A careful survey will be required to see if the boat is in reasonable condition.

According to our owners’ reports, the Ranger 33 has an average history of hull blistering. There are no indications of particular model years to avoid. In November, 1969, the base price of the Ranger 33 was about $18,000. This did not include some pretty basic items: lifelines and pulpits, bilge pump, stove, anodized spars. You even had to pay extra if you wanted fabric-covered cushions rather than vinyl!

You’re likely to find big variations in sailhandling equipment on Ranger 33s. On boats that are still actively raced, you may well find state-of-the-art gear: ball-bearing travelers, self-tailing winches, the whole nine yards. On a boat that was never raced, or has not been raced in years, you may well find the type of gear that was on boats 20 years ago—dreadfully old-fashioned and inefficient.

Some Ranger 33s have been cruised extensively. We know of one which made a Pacific circumnavigation. Boats that have been used for cruising may well have added amenities such as hot and cold water, shower, and gas cooking—all of which are near-necessities to move cruising beyond the camping out stage.

The rather paltry standard equipment list means that boats will be equipped very differently. This complicates a purchase decision, because you have to factor in the quality and age of retrofitted equipment, as well as competence of the installation itself.

Even if you have a lot of experience in systems maintenance, you should specifically request that your surveyor pay particular attention to creature comforts that have been added over the years.

The Ranger 33 would still be a pretty good choice for an entry-level club racer. A boat that has been raced is probably not encumbered with a lot of fancy, heavy goodies, yet it is likely to have the same rating as a “cruisier” version.

This would also be a pretty good coastal cruiser for a couple, although tankage, storage, and other amenities would need augmentation. You’ll have to do some comparison shopping, particularly in today’s market, when late-model used boats may sell for little more than tired, much older designs.

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