Boat Reviews

C&C 33

While not strictly pure racer or pure cruiser, the C&C 33 is a good choice as an all-around boat.

When the C&C company shut down operations in 1986, it was big news in the North American boating community. Since the company’s formation in 1969, it had been a stalwart of the industry—the leading Canadian builder, by far, and one of the major brands wherever fiberglass sailboats raced or cruised.

 The company had gone through numerous changes, of course. The original two Cs, George Cuthbertson and George Cassian, have not been involved with the company in over a decade. And during the 1970s, the design and building shops were known for their “revolving doors,” as personnel worked for the company for a few years and then went out on their own. Almost all Canadian designers and builders practicing today have worked for C&C at one time or another, and we would wager that, at any given boat show in North America, 25% of the salesmen with ten or more years experience have either worked for the company or for a C&C dealership. The company always employed people who like to sail.

C&C always featured the combination sailboat— the dual purpose racer-cruiser—and always aimed at quality construction and detail, fitting a niche in the market below the outstanding luxury yacht but above the standard, midline fiberglass auxiliary. C&Cs have been known for good-looking moderate designs, a tradition started by the original partners and the company’s chief designer Rob Ball. Some models—like the early Corvettes and C&C 35s—have become classics of production sailboats, and (except for the Mega, a one-design 30-footer of the late 70s) it’s hard to think of any C&C which has been extreme or unattractive to the eye. Performance always was a hallmark of C&C. Most of their models were heavily marketed as serious racers, and old C&Cs continue to be actively raced in PHRF fleets throughout the country. Even their outand- out cruising line—the Landfall series—is based on their racer-cruiser hulls. The old Landfall 38, for example, used the hull of the highly competitive C&C 38, with modified keel, deckhouse, rig, and accommodations.

The company always was known for building on the high-tech side of the spectrum. They were the first major company to commit to cored construction of hulls, and only Tillotson-Pearson can compare to C&C in terms of experience with balsa-cored laminates. They were also the first major company to commit to solid rod rigging, and they have a tradition of rigging and equipping their boats with first-class spars and fittings.

The C&C 33 is often referred to as the “new” C&C 33, to distinguish it from the totally different C&C 33 produced between 1974 and l977. While some of the specs are similar, the later 33 is an entirely new boat, not sharing any of the tooling of the old 33. The old 33 was widely regarded as one of the prettiest racers around, and 209 of them were built. They continue to be highly salable on the used boat market.

In design, the C&C 33 is distinctly modern, though it has conservative lines. C&C did not go after the “Euro” look in any of their models. Like the other new C&C models, the boat has a flat sheer, sharply reversed transom and sharply angled bow. Though most people will probably consider the older models prettier—with their saucy sheer and low deckhouses—the later 33 is good looking and recognizable as a C&C even from a distance.

The hull is modern but not radical, with a fine entry and cutaway forefoot. There’s a hard turn to the bilge about a foot below the waterline, and the very center of the hull is flat. The standard fin keel is conventionally modern, but there was both an optional shorter fin and a keel/centerboard combination available for the boat. A small skeg is fitted ahead of the spade rudder. The static waterline is somewhat shorter and the beam somewhat narrower than most other boats in her size. “Moderate” is a good term to summarize the whole concept of the boat.

The new 33 was introduced in 1984, and over 200 of them were built in the four years the boat was in production—impressive considering the company’s business problems in the middle of the run, and the heavy competition in this size from American and European companies. The success of this model indicates that there is still a hard-core clientele out there who are not interested in style fads but instead want a good moderate design that is well engineered and well built, a boat that can be both raced and cruised.


Hull construction represents a departure from traditional C&C practices, in that only the forward panels of the hull are balsa cored. The rest of the hull is a conventional hand lay-up of mat and roving, with an isophthalic gelcoat and skinning resin. The 33’s larger sisters (35, 38, 41, and 44) have balsa coring throughout their hulls, while the smaller sisters (30 and 27) have no coring at all in the hull.

The cored laminate offered stiffness and strength combined with light weight, and was one of C&C’s keys to building tough race boats that wouldn’t flex  too much, yet which still kept the total weight down. To achieve stiffness and strength without the coring,

C&C used what they call a “spider” system: basically a structural framing bonded to the hull and integrated grated with the attachment points for the rig and keel. The hull laminate itself becomes relatively less important structurally, as the frame becomes the primary load-bearing structure of the boat.

Undoubtedly the decision to move from balsa coring to “skin and frame” construction was based partly on the economics of building and partly on the strength calculations for the engineering, and we really cannot say what proportion of each affected the decision.

The deck is one-piece molding with balsa core in the horizontal surfaces, and hardware is backed up with both aluminum and Coremat for strength in the attachment points. The textured non-skid is adequate.

The gelcoat is generally of good quality and the hull is generally fair. We examined a two-year-old boat and found that the finish had held up and that there were no signs of stress cracking anywhere, even though the boat had been raced seriously and used hard.

The hull-to-deck joint is standard practice, with an inward-turning hull flange on which the deck is set. Stainless bolts run through the joint and through an aluminum toerail which covers the joint. The whole stem fitting as well as the corner pieces for the toerail are the heavy aluminum castings that are traditional on C&C boats, but it is interesting that C&C used plastic moldings for the stanchion bases on the 33.

The rudder is fiberglass over a webbing of stainless welded to the stainless steel rudder post. The standard fin keel (6' 4" draft) is external lead, bolted to a stub on the hull. The centerboard option is unusual in that it is a fiberglass molding with some lead inside, and the board is fitted entirely inside a shallow keel (4' 4" draft) fitted to the hull.

The fiberglass board is lighter (for lifting) and quieter than a more common steel board which will tend to bang around in the centerboard trunk. The fiberglass molding also makes for a better-shaped and fairer fin for upwind work. The lifting cable is housed inside the keel, so it presents no drag and makes no noise at speed. The cable passes through the cabin, housed in a stainless steel tube which also supports the cabin table, and is led to a stopper and winch on the aft end of the cabin house.

The fin keel weighs 3,975 pounds (42% of total displacement); the keel/centerboard, at 5,258 pounds, is much heavier. Nominal displacement for the finkeel version is 9,450 pounds; for the centerboard version 10,733 pounds.


The early model that we sailed had a rig from the C&C spar shop, known in its time as a builder of sturdy high-performance rigs. The spars on the later models not from C&C but from Offshore Spars in Detroit. Though well known in the Midwest (they made the spars for the S2 7.9 and 9.1, as well as custom race rigs), the company’s rigs are not often seen on the East or West Coasts except on grand prix racers.

We examined just one spar from Offshore, and it appears that little was lost in the change. The mast and boom are fairly heavy extrusions, painted white, with integral grooves for taking bolt rope or slugs. The mast comes standard with internal halyards and lifts, as well as an internal wiring conduit and VHF cable. The boom has built-in slab reefing gear. The mast is stepped on the keel.

The standing rigging is made up of Navtec stainless rod, tangs, and turnbuckles, with 1 x 19 stainless for the adjustable babystay and for the split part of the lower backstay. Main and jib halyards are stainless with rope tails, and we were surprised to discover that the wing halyard is galvanized steel with a rope tail. The shroud chainplates, set inboard for close sheeting, are attached to the hull by stainless rods between the deck and hull anchorpoints.

The boat came standard with good quality hardware for rig control. Spinnaker winches and gear, boom vang, and backstay adjuster were options.

Engine/Mechanical Systems

The Yanmar 2GM engine is a bit tight in the engine compartment, but otherwise the installation is first rate. The engine beds are actually part of the structural “spider” beams. The engine box is insulated with sound deadener, and the engine is about as quiet as you can expect a two-cylinder diesel to be. The standard solid prop should be replaced with a folder.

The electrical system and plumbing are well done. Electricity includes a good 12-volt system with ample interior lighting. A 120-volt shore power system, with a 50' shore cord, was standard equipment. A three-burner propane stove with oven and safety solenoid was standard, as was hot-and-cold pressurized water. The 30-gallon water tank is adequate for typical cruising, though ocean sailors may want to convert the standard 24-gallon head holding tank to fresh water storage. Installation of all the equipment— like the electrical hot water heater, and the valving for the water system—is secure and seamanlike.

Handling Under Power

The 20 hp Yanmar is big enough to handle the boat. We were under power only in fairly flat water, with an optional Martek folding prop, and had no problems

backing or turning. The engine pushed the boat to hull speed easily. We suspect a big head sea will challenge the peak output of the engine, probably slowing the boat to four knots or so, but the amount of power is ample for all reasonable sailors in almost all conditions.

Steering is with the standard 36" destroyer wheel. Throttle and shift controls are integral to the pedestal, and visibility over the deck house is good when you are sitting on the “bubble hump” behind the wheel.

The aluminum fuel tank holds 20 US gallons which should be good for about 180 miles of powering under normal conditions. The engine control panel is in one “bay” of the T-shaped cockpit. You can’t see it easily from the steering position, but that’s a very minor inconvenience.

Access to the engine is adequate, through the removable companionway steps, through opening panels on both the port and starboard side of the engine, and through the cockpit seat locker.

Handling Under Sail

We probably wouldn’t have considered writing up the C&C 33 if we hadn’t sailed it first. The boat does look like it should be an all-around wholesome boat, but we initially thought of it as not particularly a standout in its size and price range.

Our sail convinced us otherwise, and we eventually chartered one for three races in a four-race series. We found the 33 to be a fine sailer, just about everything we would want in its size.

What did we find so appealing? Basically, it is a boat that combines good performance with comfortable sailing. To put it another way, it performs well without demanding the incessant tweaking and crew movement of so many high-performance boats. We found that a group of five (nearly) middle-aged racers could push the boat hard and make it sail well, without reverting to being collegian hot-shot Laser sailors. In short, unlike so many performance boats, the C&C 33 is not an oversized dinghy.

We sailed the centerboard version and found no particular shortcomings. With a good set of sails, the boat was at least as weatherly as any boat in her PHRF division. We tried sailing the reaches and the runs with the board up and with the board down and could not discern any difference in speed, though as charterer we deferred to the owner’s conviction that the boat was faster off the wind with the board up. (It did give the crew something to do.) The boat seemed to steer as well with the board up as with it down.

With the extra weight, we presume that the centerboard model is a little harder to push around a race course in light air, but in 15-knot winds, she had to ask no favors, and in the 22-knot wind we saw for one race, she was a pleasure to sail compared to the other boats on the race course.

Very noticeable about her behavior was that her motion was not at all the quick hobble so charactercameistic of contemporary lightweight racers. She has a heavyweight feel but still is responsive and lively.

In heavy air, she seemed to easily sail to her PHRF rating of 135, making her roughly comparable in speed to a J/30, Pearson 39, and many of the early 1970s one-tonners. For racing, the fin-keel model is supposedly three to six seconds per mile faster than the centerboard model.

Interestingly, for the fourth race of the series, we left the C&C docked and sailed on one of the boats in her class, an S2 9.1, known as a speedy boat with good accommodations. It was a striking contrast, like a big dinghy which has to be tamed and brought to submission in order to go fast. The C&C 33—with approximately equal speed through the water— seemed like a sweet kitten in contrast.

Our handicap let us win the series of races with two firsts and a second. In absolute terms, we know that there are faster boats around. Most of them, unfortunately, are a pain to handle as the wind pipes up, and we wouldn’t want to sail them on some of the long, rainy slogs that we often encounter in cruising. Shorthanded, most of the faster boats are miserable.

The C&C 33, in contrast, is an easy sailer, respectable in light winds, and a pleasure in heavy.

On Decks

The deck layout on the C&C 33 is conventional. The double lifelines with port and starboard lifeline gates, pulpit, and pushpit are sturdy, well made, and come as standard equipment. The pushpit has a gate which can be fitted with stern ladder—a good idea for both the racer and cruiser.

Like most modern boats, the foredeck is quite narrow, so anchoring and sail handling can be difficult. The walkways leading aft are wide because of the inboard shrouds and easy to move along either heeled or upright because of the moderate deck camber.

Because of the sculpting and window shape, the cabin house looks low, but it is actually quite high—a difficult step up from the walkways or cockpit. Fortunately, because all the lines lead aft to the back edge of the cabin, there’s not much occasion to walk on the cabin top abaft the mast. Forward of the mast, the cabin slopes gradually into the deck, and movement is easy. However, the skylight over the head and the forward hatch are slippery stumble-makers and need to have non-skid tape put on them.

We haven’t seen a dodger for the 33 yet, and the sculpting of the cabin house may make it difficult to design a wide one. A narrow dodger, fitting just over the companionway, would work well.

The cockpit is a conventional T-shape with a bridgedeck on which the traveler is mounted. An optional cabin-top traveler is available, but there seems to be little to recommend it. The cockpit seats are comfortable for sitting but too short to lie down on. The forward part of the coaming is okay for sitting, but you’ll be inclined only to stand on the cockpit sole, aft of the bench seats. The cockpit is definitely skewed a little toward the racing side of this boat’s dual purposes, and it will be a much better cockpit underway than dockside.

Hardware is good quality and well arranged. The standard winches are of adequate size, though the boat is stiff enough to carry a heavy 150% genoa in 20 knots of wind, and that’s a handful for the #24 primaries unless the racing crew is on board.

As is the case in most modern boats, there’s not too much abovedecks storage room. An anchor well forward will stow a Danforth, but everything else will have to go into the one aft locker under the starboard cockpit seat. It’s a cavernous locker, but the serious cruiser will have to devise a way to subdivide it to make it more usable. Behind the helmsman are a small locker for propane bottles and a small stowage spot for winch handles or beer cans.


The arrangements belowdecks are conventional: V-berth forward, head with shower opposite a hanging locker; port and starboard settees outboard of a saloon table; L-shaped galley; nav station at the head of a double quarterberth (well, maybe one-and-threequarter quarterberth). From the center bulkhead aft, the boat is wide open, which seems to us like a more sensible arrangement than the “Euro” compartmentalizing of the aft cabin and aft head, at least in a boat this size.

Here’s a couple of good details. A decent built-in bureau in the forward cabin is a nice touch. The head compartment is a single fiberglass molding, includingeven the wash basin—all compact and well designed. The galley is quite serviceable, with a good stove and a stainless bash bar to keep you from crashing into it.

The teak ceiling and bulkhead veneer contrast with the off-white hull liner. The liner is well done, with removable panels for servicing hardware fittings, wiring, and so on.

For some reason, the covers for the instrument “pods” on the aft bulkhead were a chintzy teak plywood, poorly cut. But otherwise, all the detail below was plain but well thought out—pretty characteristic of C&C cabins.

Overall, the cabin is comfortable. We’ve often heard older C&C’s rapped as “leaky” boats, with drips around windows and under heavily-loaded deck hardware, but the boat we sailed had several seasons of serious racing and cruising and was completely dry.


If we were entirely devoted to racing, we’d probably look at something different—maybe a Frers 33 or perhaps the J/33 or possibly even a J/35. If we were entirely into cruising, we’d also look at different boats—maybe something more like a Nonsuch or a Mason 33.

But if we wanted to continue the kind of sailing we enjoy most—with a good share of racing contrasted with some serious weekending and at least one long cruise a season, sailed shorthanded—the C&C 33 would be among the boats we’d buy. Though in some ways she seems plain and undistinctive, she is admirably suited to be both a racer and a cruiser—a tough combination to find in the modern market. It’s a boat for sailors who truly want a racer-cruiser and know what they’re looking for.

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