Small-boat Dreams and Carl Alberg’s Classic Daysailers

In Search of the Perfect Daysailor

34

Taste is as fickle as doldrum winds, and taste in sailboats are no exception. Ten years ago we explored the world of luxury daysailors, which were (and still are) cropping up everywhere. These were beautiful day-boats, mostly gold-platers with prices beyond the reach of ordinary sailors. As such, the report was more on of an exorcism, a final attempt to shed that fantasy: “If I won the lottery . . .”

Of course, it was to no avail. We’ve still not won the lottery, and although we are quite satisfied with our present fleet, we can’t help but dream about other boats. But these days—whether due to frugality or good sense—our tastes have turned back to the hulls of earlier times, the boats Carl Alberg, especially.

Fans of “classic plastics” wouldn’t be wrong to suggest that many of the current crop of high-end daysailers bear an uncanny resemblance to Carl Alberg’s designs of the 1960s and ’70s. These, in turn can be traced back to even earlier hull forms.

Born in Sweden in 1900, Alberg emigrated to the US in 1925 after studying naval architecture at the Chalmers Institute of Technology. Probably best known for his work for Pearson and Cape Dory, he had an eye for seakindly hull forms and the aesthetically pleasing line. It is no surprise that Alberg’s design philosophy would serve to guide, or at least partly inspire the current daysailer quest.

The used boat market is flooded with good used daysailers under the $5,000 mark, and Alberg’s designs, in part because of their loyal following, generally make for good buys. Among the most affordable daysailers in the Alberg stable is the 19-foot Typhoon, one of 10 boats he designed for Cape Dory. Another Carl Alberg design, the 22-foot Ensign, of which approximately 1,600 hulls were built by Pearson, closely rivals the Typhoon in popularity.

Moving up, there’s the salty-looking 23-foot Seasprite from builder Clarke E. Ryder. From Pearson, there’s the 26-foot Commander (pictured above), at least one of which—Zoltan Gyurko’s The Way— has ventured across the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

Alberg’s boats are no slouches, but with their full keels and attached rudders, they are a far cry from today’s daysailers in terms of performance. Reflecting Swedish Folkboat-like
proportions, they are sensible boats that can stand up to a breeze. They may be boats of a bygone era, but in our view, they are still worth every penny.

Do you have a favorite classic daysailer, or small-boat designer? Let us know in the comments or email practicalsailor@belvoir.com with your favorites, so we can include them in our next broad report on this category of beloved small boats.

Darrell Nicholson, editor of Practical Sailor, grew up boating on Miami’s Biscayne Bay on everything from prams to Morgan ketches. Two years out of Emory University, after a brief stint as a sportswriter, he set out from Miami aboard a 60-year-old wooden William Atkin ketch named Tosca. For 10 years, he and writer-photographer Theresa Gibbons explored the Caribbean, crossed the Pacific, and cruised Southeast Asia aboard Tosca, working along the way as journalists and documenting their adventures for various travel and sailing publications, including Cruising World, Sail, Sailing, Cruising Helmsman, and Sailing World. Upon his return to land life, Darrell became the associate editor, then senior editor at Cruising World magazine, where he worked for five years. Before taking on the editor’s position at Practical Sailor, Darrell was the editor of Offshore magazine, a boating-lifestyle magazine serving the New England area. Darrell has won multiple awards from Boating Writer’s International, including the Monk Farnham award for editorial excellence. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license and has worked as a harbor pilot and skippered a variety of commercial charter boats.

34 COMMENTS

  1. My first boat was a Sea Sprite and I currently have a Cape Dory 27. Absolutely wonderful boats! All were built by excellent builders as well. Perfect for the Narragansett Bay.

  2. Don’t forget the Corinthian Sailstar series which pre-dates the Cape Dory line and is the bases for the Typhoon.

  3. For classic boats there is also the Bayfield 25 and 29′ designs, with the 29′ having a cutter, two foresails, sailing rig. The nice thing about shallow draft full keels is you can almost always find a spot to anchor even if arriving late in the day to a crowded spot as the fin keelers have to stay in the deeper water or tip over as the tide goes out. I’ve seen this a few times. If the breeze gets up the full keel designs can put up there hull speed and keep up with fin keels of the same length without the tenderness to heel so dramatically in the gusts. In light airs the full keel needs some big sail area to hoist, genaker or such, in order to ghost along and cover the miles in a not altogether unpleasant way to get where the breeze takes you to when the sun gets over the yardarm towards the day’s end. We had great fun in our Bayfields as the kids grew up. Moving inland broke that bond with the salt sea.

  4. A Typhoon was my first boat. Great design to learn on; particularly on the ocean. Steep learning curve. Great teacher!
    A Seasprite was almost my second boat. Got a Stonehorse instead.
    S S Crocker design. Another man who knew his business. While no regrets there, like a first love, the Typhoon holds a place in my heart.
    Now have a Mason. Anybody see the logical progression?

  5. I owned a Pearson Commander for 23 years and reluctantly sold her for practically nothing when the foredeck got spongy. The guy who bought her did a full restoration. Ten years later, I would buy her back tomorrow if she were available.

    BTW, the Ensign was built by Pearson, not Cape Dory. Also, the Pearson Ariel/Commander Association is a great source of knowledge about these boats. http://www.pearsonariel.org/

  6. I have a Pearson Rhodes 41, but my fun boat is Gary Mull Santana 22,the best learning platform i could imagine

  7. Started my sailing on Lake Huron with a lovely keel /centerboard Paceship PY23 at a time when I thought “tender” referred only to steaks. Great boat, and looking back, I did some crazy things, like flying a spinnaker single handed. But the sea gods took care of me in my youth. I eventually moved on to a Northern 29 and was amazed by its performance in windy conditions on Georgian Bay. The 50% ballast ratio kept it stable and kept me safe.
    After 13 years with the Northern I downsized to a pristine Alberg 22, the most fun, most handsome boat I ever owned. I often wish I had kept it, but my wife insisted we should again go bigger.
    Today I’m back to cruising on our Ticon 30, among the most spacious,rugged, and comfortable cruisers of the mid ’80’s. The Ticon performs amazingly in winds above 15 knots, and with self tailing winches, autohelm and practice….practice,can be single handed. I’m thinking we’ll grow old together.

  8. The first keel boat I sailed was a Bristol Corinthian in Narragansett bay, 2nd was a Paul Coble design Bristol 24 Corsair, on Long Island/Block Island sounds, Currently I am on H Herreshoff designed Bristol 29.9 #17, that has taken us from New England to the Bahamas and back twice, Classic plastic from good designers and builders can’t be beat.

    Fair winds,
    Jeff B.

    • I’m looking at the 29.9 in Oxford MD next week. OCD owner. Still priced way high. I’ll prolly make an offer of 20-24k. Not sure yet. Probably going to survey her. I’ve been abord. Loved it. My wife , hopefully will agree. 😉

  9. Had an Alberg 30 for a few years raced really well in light and heavy winds..Now have an Cape dory 33 getting it ready for extended cruising and possible pond crossin! !!

  10. Don’t forget the Alberg 21(his only regression I believe, to a fin keel), the Typhoon Sr., South Coast 23,(same hull as the Kittiwake), Cape Dory 22, Cape Dory 25D, Pearson Ariel(same hull as the Commander), and the Bristol 27, all great boats.

  11. Alberg designed the South Coast 21, which he begrudgingly designed with a fin keel and spade rudder. That may be the only fin keel boat he designed. I sail a Pearson 26OD which has the overall look of a Pearson Commander, but with fin keel/spade rudder.

  12. Hi to all. I totally agree with sentiments. I had a Cape Dory Typhoon 19 that I sailed all over Galveston Bay. Then stepped up to an Albin Vega 27. Both superior sailing craft and perfect singlehanders while the girlfriend sunned and served snacks. Loved to weekend on the Vega. Then stepped up to an Offshore 33 Cat Ketch with wishbone booms and it is the best singlehander along with a Nonsuch that I have sailed in larger craft. Lived on Valhalla II on the Chesapeake, and kept her when I bought a Baba 40 to live aboard for a while in Baltimore Harbor. Great boat but even with rerig with electric winches was not an easy singlehander. After several years sold her and now refitting and furnishing Offshore 33. Retiring soon and hope the rework can get done so I can go play on the coastal waters.
    Wish you all safe and enjoyable sailing.
    David Ready
    Virginia Beach, VA
    s/v Valhalla II

  13. Since others have branched out beyond Alberg, I’ll add the Ted Brewer Quickstep 24. Modified full keel, with the sump set well back from the forefoot and the “Brewer bite” out of the after section before the attached rudder, so she never misses stays, and is a little quicker, but still only draws 3.5 ft. Also a little more tender, probably, but she heels over on her shoulder and stops there. Canoe stern sacrifices some of the hull speed increase the heeling would normally bring, I suspect. My Quickstep likes a reef when the wind gets much over 15, and when trying to tack down the Intracoastal with sandbars on either side I sometimes wish I had a fractional jib, rather than the masthead genoa she came with. Functional cabin and comfortable cockpit, and a pretty boat.

  14. Also branching out surprised no one in the comments mentioned the Folkboat. First sailboat I ever sailed. Owner brought her in to the dock under sail and said here, I’ll get the docklines, you bring her in. It was such a sweet sailing boat I was almost hooked on them. But years past in other pursuits. Then I started working on much larger and older boats and really learned to sail on the 1891 Hay Scow Alma (2 masted schooner) who is part of San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park before getting my own boats.

  15. Hi, Just finished a wonderful three day cruise on the Neuse River near Oriental N.C. My new old boat (1973 Cape Dory Typhoon) is a dream come true. It blew 18 plus knots all three days and never had to reef! After cruising for the last twenty years aboard a 40 foot sail boat my wife wanted to toss out the anchor so with my own health issue I down sized to the Typhoon and have never looked back. She is a dream to sail though a bit wet at times. Everyone makes comments on what great lines she has etc! If your looking for a great boat at a good price you can’t go wrong with a Typhoon. Happy sailing

  16. Have had quite a few boats in my 66 years. However the Pearson Commander was an awesome day sailor. Even took short cruises on her. Great boat. Now I have a trawler however I believe a day sailor is in my future to just sail around the bay on a beautiful day.

  17. The Ensign is a Pearson, originally called the Electra Daysailer. We have 27 of them at the Austin Yacht Club on Lake Travis. I think that they are still being built in Florida.

  18. I had a Rhodes Pearson Vanguard 32′ for 21 years, and I now have one that is like that only more so, the Alberg designed Cape Dory 33′–a real gem that I have had for 19 years. Into classic designs–full keels, heavy etc. At 81 in Maine there is the simple joy of just being out there amongst other boaters. The CD 33′ has carried me far.

  19. The 22’6″Carl Alberg full-keel Pearson Ensign is the day sailor version of the Pearson Electra four berth MORC pocket cruiser with beautiful lines, a 16 ft waterline, reverse transom, storage cuddy cabin, 7/8 rig, 7′ beam, and a 3′ draft, weighing 3,000 lbs. From a distance she looks like a miniature 12-meter. She can easily seat six adults in an extremely spacious deep cockpit, but the cockpit is not self-bailing. She is a sweet sailor, normally raced with a crew of four, and can be raced using dinghy tactics, as she has no lifelines. Modern sensibilities would require a porta-potty stashed in the cuddy with questionable headroom, but it could be done. There is an active class association-largest one-design full-keel class in North America, and new Ensigns are being manufactured in Marquette, Mich., by Ensign Spars, Inc. using the original molds purchased from Pearson. Class rules require all-Dacron sails (except spinnaker) to keep costs down. I’m glad to see this, as I sailed an Ensign on Sarasota Bay in 1967 and I love this beautiful plastic classic. Older boats are very competitive, winning the last two Class Championships-of course all official racing this coming summer is cancelled or postponed.

  20. Bristol 27 here, oldie but goodie. I am rigging new boats today, and they are sooooooo big, I am happy with my 27. I cannot imagine how some of these older (mostly) couples would deal with the massive sails if all their self furling shit fails? Which it prob will at some point.

  21. I had an Alberg 35. 1962. Among the first true voyage designed fiberglass boats. Built in RI. Cruised and lived aboard it for 10 yrs. lost it to (class 5) hurricane Andrew in Miami. A 130’ steel barge went sideways through the marina and pulverized boats. Bow over there, port stern over there, cabin top not to far away etc. But not the Alberg! Although trounced into the bottom and run over, she was completely whole. Totaled only by the decay of the wood interior soaking in diesel soaked sea water for 3 weeks. But when we floated her she was completely whole!

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