Freedom 32

An easy-to-sail sloop with a fair turn of speed, beamy accommodations and surprising offshore capability.


The Freedom 32 appeared about midway in the evolution of Freedom Yachts. Garry Hoyt of Newport, Rhode Island, retired advertising executive and champion one-design sailor, founded the company in 1976, with the Freedom 40 cat ketch. With this boat he reintroduced the unstayed cat ketch rig whose origins date to the 19th century and boats such as the New Haven sharpies used for oystering. Similarly, the Freedom 32 can trace its ancestry to the catboats of Barnegat and Buzzards Bays.

It was Hoyt who resurrected these moribund concepts. Not that catboat builders had ceased altogether, but it was he who used modern materials, and exceptional marketing skill, to bring unstayed rigs into the mainstream.

The prototype Freedom 40 had sweeps (long oars) in place of an engine, shallow draft and a centerboard. She was fleet. Hoyt sailed her around the Caribbean, making appearances at Antigua Race Week. In 1977 he won the Cruising Class of the Rolex Cup Regatta in St. Thomas.

Freedom 32

A slightly modified version went into production, of which 62 hulls were sold, ending in 1982 and replaced by the Freedom 44, which was campaigned for a few years in long-distance ocean races. Other cat ketches in the traditional line included the 28 and 33. A change in direction began with the Ron Holland-designed Freedom 39, first offered as a schooner, later a ketch.

The first single-sail Freedoms appeared in the early 1980s—the Freedom 21 and 25. The 32 was introduced in 1983, with a round carbon fiber mast instead of the rotating wing spar that made the 25 so effective upwind, and without the wrap-around sails of the earlier ketches. In several ways, Hoyt’s explorations far from the norm taught him that the old standby sloop isn’t such a bad thing. With the 32, his own design, he added a vestigial jib to improve upwind performance. Hoyt called it a “cat sloop.”

The boat remained in production for four years, terminating in 1986 after about 90 boats had been sold.

By most standards, the Freedom 32 is a big 32-footer. For starters, it actually measures 32′ 8″ overall. With a displacement of 9,000 lbs. on a 25′ 9″ waterline, the displacement/length ratio (D/L) is 258, which is considered moderate—light enough to be fairly fast and heavy enough to carry cruising stores. (Because the D/L is directly related to the volume of the hull form, the higher the D/L, the more space for cruising gear.) Most of the 505 sq. ft. sail area is in the big roach, full batten 400 sq. ft. mainsail. The sail area/displacement ratio (SA/D) is 18.7, which is generous for what is essentially a cruising boat, and at about the maximum for an offshore boat.

Owing to its 12′ 3″ beam, there is considerable initial stability, enabling crew to carry full sail up to 20+ knots of breeze. One respondent to our Boat Owner’s Questionnaire said, “I don’t think of reefing until 25 knots if with crew, or 22 knots if alone.”

The keel is a 6′ fin with a shoal draft option at 4′ 11″. The rudder is a balanced spade that provides excellent maneuverability. Traditionalists argue that full keels with attached rudders, or at least skeg-hung rudders, are best for cruising, protecting as they do the vulnerable rudder. And there is merit in such logic. But such thinking is becoming increasingly passé. In most fin keelboats, the keel is deeper than the rudder, thereby taking the first hit in the event of a grounding. Rudderstocks of solid stainless steel or carbon fiber are exceptionally strong; it will take considerable force to bend them. And some proponents, such as author and circumnavigator Steve Dashew, argue that fin keels provided much needed maneuverability not only at docks but in severe storm conditions.

Owners describe the exterior appearance as “odd,” “different” and “beauty lies in the eye of the beholder.” What sets the Freedom 32 apart is not the topsides or sheer, but the cabin line, which extends straight from forward of the mast aft to the end of the cockpit. The line is accentuated by a wide band of colored gelcoat, generally blue, inside of which the three windows are set port and starboard.

The transom also is a bit different, with a very slight reverse angle. One expects it to either be perfectly vertical, or raked more than it is. Beam is carried fairly well aft, less so forward to give a reasonably fine entry. To reduce wetted surface area, beam at deck diminishes considerably at the waterline.

Freedom 32

As mentioned earlier, the boat’s generous beam gives it good initial stability, but detracts from its ultimate stability, that is, the boat’s ability to right itself from a knockdown or rollover. No 32s are listed in US Sailing’s “Performance Characteristic Profile of the North American IMS Fleet,” but two other Freedoms are—a 35 with a length of positive stability of 110.1 and a 44 centerboard at 107.7, both under the 120 recommended minimum for offshore work. Nevertheless, we know of a number of 32s that have made safe and successful ocean passages, including transatlantic, so there is always more to a good boat than the right numbers.

“Suspect low ratings, capsize length,” wrote the owner of a 1985 model.

The Freedom 32, like other early Freedoms, was built by Tillotson-Pearson Industries (now TPI), headed by Everett Pearson. TPI was and remains a strong proponent of balsa-core construction. At the risk of beating a dead horse, the pros and cons of balsa are: Extremely stiff and light sandwich construction, but at the risk of moisture/water soaking the core and causing delamination. With proper building techniques, the risk are minimized, and TPI has certainly been one of the best builders of balsa-cored structures.

For owners, the key is proper bedding of through-hulls and deck hardware. If adding new through-hulls, the wrong way is to simply take a hole saw, cut to the dimension of the through-hull or transducer, stick in the through-hull with some bedding and tighten the inside nut. The right way is to drill the hole slightly oversize from the inside, but not all the way through the outer skin. Stop there, with just the drill bit penetrating the outer skin. Remove the inner skin and balsa. Fill the hole with epoxy mixed with microballoons or other suitable filler. (You’ll have to tape stiff cellophane against the hull to keep the mixture from sagging.) Then, using the pilot hole in the outer skin as a guide, drill the correct size hole from the outside. This method leaves, say, a 1/2″ ring of solid epoxy around the through-hull, thus preventing any possibility of water from entering the core.

Deck hardware bedding inevitably grows old and with loads on cleats and stanchions, eventually cracks, always out of sight where you can’t see them. You might not even notice water drips or discoloration inside on the headliner, but that doesn’t mean water hasn’t entered the core surrounding the bolt hole. A good preventive job on older boats—and these Freedom 32s are coming up on 20 years—is to remove deck hardware and rebed. Few jobs go further in extending the life of your boat. And from a financial perspective, a boat with a spongy, delaminated deck isn’t worth as much as one with a sound deck.

The Freedom 32 was built before TPI started using its SCRIMP method. But TPI was perhaps the first production builder to use vinylester resin on the outer lamination to help minimize the chance of osmotic blistering. The glass used was mostly conventional E-glass mat and unidirectional fabrics.

The mast is carbon fiber and was warranted for lifetime to the original buyer. Hoyt and TPI went through some growing pains developing their unstayed spars, but ended up with good, strong spars wound over a mandrel.

Ballast is lead and sufficiently low to permit a fairly deep sump for collection of bilge water. Few things bug us more than shallow sumps that allow water to slosh out when the boat is heeled.

Standard tankage includes 30 gallons of fuel under the forward dinette seat, nearly on centerline, and a 55-gallon water tank under the starboard settee. An additional 50-gallon water tank under the V-berth was an option. If selected, 105-gallon capacity would be a lot for a boat this size—a real plus for cruisers. One owner, however, cautioned against the optional V-berth tank, suggesting instead to locate a second tank under the port dinette to “keep 350 pounds out of the forward end of the boat. A full forward water tank lifts the toilet intake clear out of the water! And a full starboard tank creates a 3-degree list—most dismaying.” Another owner had the factory relocated the toilet intake.

The Freedom 32 was a bit unusual for its time in that it provided two separate sleeping cabins—the V-berth forward (about 6-1/2′), with optional head and sink, and an aft cabin with double berth under the cockpit (also about 6-1/2′). To port of the companionway ladder (with tool chest under two of the steps) is a hanging locker and some drawers with the L-shaped galley forward of it. To starboard is the head with shower and wet locker. Just forward of it is a sit-down nav station with batteries underneath.

Freedom 32

Amidships is a U-shaped dinette to port with a table that folds out to serve persons sitting on the starboard settee, or drops down to make a double berth. These berths are about 6′.

Owners rated interior joinerwork as very good. “The woodwork is superb,” wrote the owner of a 1984 model. “Beautiful wood finishing by New England craftsmen,” said another.

The bulkheads and berth faces are teak-faced plywood and the hull behind the settees and forward is covered with an ash ceiling. The cabin sole is teak and holly.

Headroom is just over 6′.

For sea berths, one will want to rig a lee cloth on the starboard settee and some sort of dividing board down the middle of the double berth aft.

For extended cruising, any boat with a 25 waterline and moderate D/L is going to be a bit short on stowage and the Freedom 32 is no exception. But there are places to put things under the berths and there are shelves behind the dinette and settee. It will take some creativity and tough decision-making, but adequate equipment, spare parts and provisions can be carried for a couple or small family.

The cockpit is large and comfortable, with fairly high seatbacks that are contoured forward and aft. The bridge is the same level as the seats, which provides security from green water in the cockpit and creates more space below.

The helmsman’s seat is an elevated half-circle and there is a folding table attached to the steering pedestal. The coamings are wide enough to sit on and there are cubbies in them port and starboard. Also to port is a propane locker. To starboard is a generous seat locker.

A dodger can be fitted over the companionway from which all sail controls can be reached. This means that if sailing with an autopilot or steering vane, one could operate the boat from the protection of the dodger and companionway.

Hoyt claimed that the Freedom 32 was as fast or faster than any similarly sized cruising boat. PHRF ratings are all over the place but typical numbers for the shoal keel range between 180 and 190 seconds per mile. The deep keel has ratings between 165 and 183. The Hunter 32 Vision, Islander 32-3 and Pearson 323 have similar numbers. To put these numbers in perspective, the fleet J/32 rates between 114 and 130, while a heavier Island Packet 32 comes in at 213.

What the Freedom 32 is really about, however, is easy sail handling. It derives most of its power from the large, full batten mainsail, made possible by the absence of a backstay (indeed, there are no stays altogether). She was designed to be sailed under main alone, like a catboat. But to improve upwind ability by means of creating a slot effect, the small 105 sq. ft. jib was added. It is self-tending and has a CamberSpar (a flexible batten that tensions the clew and inverts itself on each tack) so that efficient headsail shape is maintained even off the wind. Imagine sailing upwind and not having to touch any sheet or winch when tacking—just turn the wheel! That’s what Garry Hoyt was after, believing that the work of handling sheets and grinding winches was putting too many people off sailing.

A more remarkable innovation was his patented Hoyt Gun Mount that enables crew to hoist, trim and douse a spinnaker from the safety of the cockpit. It starts with a very strong bow pulpit to which is fitted a swiveling tube. Instead of a pole, a “yard” is extended and retracted through the tube by means of lines led aft. The clews of the spinnaker are attached to each end of the yard so that you can’t possibly make too much of a mess of it. We’ve seen Hoyt sail this rig in 360s and even backwards, with nary a wrap.

This system solves the problem of people loafing downwind because they feel it’s too much trouble to set a spinnaker or even pole out the genoa wing and wing.

When we first sailed with the Hoyt Gun Mount, we felt sure that other companies would buy it, but alas, it appears to have not caught on. Indeed, even Freedom, now under different ownership, foregoes this clever system.

“The Hoyt Gun Mount,” wrote the owner of a 1984 boat, “works pretty much as described. I can hoist the spinnaker single-handed from the cockpit without dousing the jib.”

Owners also report that the boat is very maneuverable—“Turns on a nickel, not a dime,” said one. The downside is that the boat requires a lot of attention to the helm in most conditions. The exception is in moderate breezes upwind, when the helm may be sufficiently neutral to simply lock the wheel and correctly trim the sails. The rest of the time, however, the large mainsail, fin keel and spade rudder make her a bit nervous and she’ll want to be hand steered. Tracking isn’t its strong suit.

But not all owners sum it up this way, describing balance as “superb” and “perfect.”

The boat’s wide beam relative to its length makes it fairly stiff. “Goes to 12 degrees quickly, then stops,” said one owner.

The 32 is equally maneuverable under power with its three-cylinder, freshwater-cooled Yanmar 22-hp. diesel, located under the aft dinette seat.

The Freedom 32, like its smaller sisterships, the 21 and 25, is easy to sail, quick and best of all, fun. The self-tending jib and Hoyt Gun Mount take the grunt work out of upwind and downwind sailing. What’s not to like about that?

Construction is above average, both in terms of the structural laminate and interior joinerwork. The only exterior teak is in the handrails and companionway channels, so you won’t be spending a lot of time cleaning and oiling/varnishing brightwork.

For coastal cruising, the boat would seem ideal. Surprisingly, a number of owners have made ocean passages, reeling off 140-mile days. But there are reasons to think twice about selecting this boat for such use—ultimate stability, attention required to the helm, and the fact she doesn’t heave to well. One experienced passagemaker, reporting in Bluewater Sailing, said that in high winds he goes with either just the jib or jib and triple-reefed main.

Base price new was $67,500, and with options such as electronics they were going out the door between $75,000 and $85,000. Today they sell used in the mid- to high $40s.

Darrell Nicholson
Practical Sailor has been independently testing and reporting on sailboats and sailing gear for more than 50 years. Supported entirely by subscribers, Practical Sailor accepts no advertising. Its independent tests are carried out by experienced sailors and marine industry professionals dedicated to providing objective evaluation and reporting about boats, gear, and the skills required to cross oceans. Practical Sailor is edited by Darrell Nicholson, a long-time liveaboard sailor and trans-Pacific cruiser who has been director of Belvoir Media Group's marine division since 2005. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license, has logged tens of thousands of miles in three oceans, and has skippered everything from pilot boats to day charter cats. His weekly blog Inside Practical Sailor offers an inside look at current research and gear tests at Practical Sailor, while his award-winning column,"Rhumb Lines," tracks boating trends and reflects upon the sailing life. He sails a Sparkman & Stephens-designed Yankee 30 out of St. Petersburg, Florida. You can reach him at