Pearson Renegade

This late 70’s racer/cruiser, designed by Bill Shaw, was Pearson’s first boat with a split underbody. Though a bit small for family cruising, she sails smartly.


The cat is finally out of the bag. Few owners of the Pearson Renegade know that, if it weren’t for a band of anxious Pearson employees, designer Bill Shaw’s then-latest creation would have been called the “Rogue.” The name, they were to discover on the eve of the 1967 New York Boat Show, had already been registered by another boatbuilder, and they needed a substitute—fast—that wouldn’t involve remaking the mainsail’s logo “R.”

After the group had exhausted every other conceivable alliteration for a breakthrough design (which this boat was), they hit upon the name Renegade. That was fine with everyone at Pearson, because no one was particularly enamored with Rogue anyway. Whether it was the name, the boat’s snappy looks or its radical underbody, boat show orders, in 1967, came in like the first pizza joint to open in Hoboken. The Renegade was not only an advanced design; at $7,800, it was priced right.

Said Shaw, “Before we walked into that show, I challenged our sales department to come up with 100 orders and they came back with 135. We knew we had a winner.”

Renegade production ran from 1967 to 1970 in Pearson’s Portsmouth, Rhode Island plant, during which time 170 boats were built. And many of them—a testament to their sturdy construction—are still sailing today.

Like each model Pearson before, the Renegade was designed to fill a specific void in the marketplace. It was Pearson’s first boat to incorporate a split underbody, with a spade rudder and fin keel. The boat was beautifully balanced, nimble under sail, and extremely maneuverable under power (except in reverse; still, it was far more maneuverable when backing than full-keel designs of the time).

Before coming to Pearson, Shaw had worked for Sparkman & Stephens. At Pearson for 27 years, until the company closed in 1990, he not only was responsible for the design work, but also engineering. For 25 of those years, he also ran the company. Shaw does not claim credit for the split underbody concept, noting Bill Lapworth’s runaway success on the West Coast with a similar underbody in his Cal designs, particularly the Cal 40.

The Renegade is a masthead rig with—as was typical in its day—a fairly low-aspect mainsail with a 28′ luff and 12′ 6″ foot. The long boom, however, was a people-sweeper in a jibe, and several owners we talked to have shortened the mainsail and raised the boom not only for safety but to accommodate installation of dodgers and Biminis.

The Renegade’s hull is a solid, uncored laminate of mat and woven roving that is quite thick for a boat of this size. The deck is cored with end-grain balsa, and the cockpit coamings are teak (mahogany in later models) with molded fiberglass winch islands that double as coaming storage compartments. The deck and cockpit sole have molded-in nonskid.

The hull/deck joint is an inward-turned flange with a teak cap-rail. In several boats we inspected, a portion of the hull/deck flange had been crushed, apparently from repeated impacts with dock pilings. It would have been wise, we think, to have incorporated a sturdy rubrail.

There is a large lazarette aft (to house an outboard engine, if that, rather than inboard power, was the original owner’s choice) plus generous port and starboard sail lockers. The cockpit has a raised bridgedeck and is self-bailing with two sizable scuppers. The deck also has two large scuppers and there are two small drains forward on the cockpit seats, which, because of their limited size, often become plugged. Another complaint, voiced repeatedly by owners, is crazing of the hull’s gelcoat. Shaw noted that during the 1960’s, gelcoats were not as flexible as they are today.

Tankage includes a 20-gallon freshwater tank located under the V-berth, which requires some contortions to get to the fill spout, and, in the inboard-engine version, a 16-gallon Monel fuel tank under the cockpit with fill access via a fill pipe in the cockpit sole.

The hardware quality is good—chrome-plated brass or bronze, stainless steel and high-grade aluminum alloy. The chocks and cleats are of generous size.

There are four large fixed portlights, the same seen on other Pearsons of that era, including the Vanguard and Rhodes 41, and four small portlights—two opening, two fixed. The mast and boom are anodized aluminum. The original spreaders are spruce.

The Renegade came equipped with mainsail roller reefing, common in its day but easily converted to more efficient jiffy reefing.

The keel, molded as an integral part of the hull, houses a 2,100-lb. lead casting.

Most everything about the Renegade—mast, chainplates, standing rigging, turnbuckles and deck hardware—is, by today’s standards and for a boat its size, oversized. The forestay and backstay, for example, are a hefty 7/32″ and the shrouds (uppers plus forward and aft lowers) are 3/16″.

Shaw told us, “We designed the rig using a safety factor of three. First, we’d calculate the maximum load on a particular piece of rigging, then we’d triple that. Then we’d look for a size of wire rope that had that breaking strength. All attachments, such as the tangs on the mast and chainplates, were designed with a safety factor of four. It might sound like overkill, but we never knew the exact loads the boat would experience, so we tried to be conservative. It was also the way Rod and Olin [Stephens] designed boats, and they never had a single failure.”

The cockpit is 6′ 4″ long and averages 5′ 5″ in width, with room enough for three persons on each side and a raised bridgedeck for another. The bridgedeck is also a good safety feature, as it helps prevent water from pouring below should the cockpit be pooped.

Although owners we talked to praised the cockpit for its openness and ease of handling the tiller, they felt the positioning of the engine controls could be improved. Mounted on the side of the cockpit footwell under the starboard seat, it’s often necessary to move the crew to get to them, and when the crew does move, it’s easy for an errant foot to kick the throttle lever.

Another bit of Monday morning quarterbacking by one owner would have placed the mainsheet traveler on the bridgedeck, rather than on the afterdeck, which would have made it more accessible to the helmsman.

Another gripe, not shared by all, concerns the cockpit coamings—high enough forward for ample back support when steering, but too low aft, especially for the helmsman with pedestal wheel steering, a common retrofit.

The original Renegade had a traditional port/starboard-settee configuration with the galley aft to port, and forward, a head and V-berth. In the boat’s second year, 1968, the interior was changed to a dinette to port (seating four, but not very comfortably) and quarter-berth and galley to starboard. Although the repositioned galley does have the advantage of providing more counter space, the trade-off was a narrower passageway when going forward. The dinette idea, said Shaw, came about when Pearson dealers, attuned to the wish-lists of prospective customers, asked for it. We prefer the dual-settee setup, not only because it makes for easier passage below, but because the width of the dinette/double bunk makes it impractical as a sea berth. One feature lacking in the settee version, however, is backrests, which many owners have installed.

The bulkheads are mahogany with varnished trim. Hull sides are painted fiberglass (vinyl-covered in 1968 and later models) and the headliner is fiberglass. The galley counter, with room for a portable stove, is Formica. In earlier, dual-settee models, the enclosed head is accessible from the main cabin; in later dinette models, the head is accessible from both the main and forward cabin.

Stowage space, as in the cockpit, is ample, with four built-in drawers under the settees and V-berth and plenty of room under the settees. Some owners have retrofitted overhead shelves for easier access to books, nav tools and other gear.

The Renegade’s commodious ice chest gets high marks from all owners. Said one, “It’s great. It keeps things cold for an extended period of time.” Said another, “With four blocks of ice, it keeps food for five days.”

The same superlatives can’t be leveled at the head, which most owners lamented as “cramped” (not surprising for a boat with a 21′ waterline). In the original (1967) version, a small swing-down wash basin was installed. Most owners have removed it to gain additional space.

Tall people will find the Renegade’s headroom inadequate. Although there’s ample overhead height for a six-footer in the aft part of the cabin, one must duck when moving forward of the main bulkhead. On the other hand, the V-berth is large enough for a tall couple. “As big as a bloody double bed,” said one owner. Most have added an insert in the V.

Auxiliary Power
The Renegade was available with an inboard or outboard engine. The outboard is mounted on an inner transom in the lazarette. The inboard version came with a 30-hp. Universal Atomic Four. Any Atomic Four that has survived since 1967-70 will have about seen its last days, so if it hasn’t been recently rebuilt—or replaced with a diesel—it soon should be.

Access to the inboard, compared with other boats of the same vintage, is good. To tend to the fuel line or carburetor, you need only open a door beneath the galley counter. To replace or tend to spark plugs, the entry ladder is removed to reveal a second access door. For major work—oil changes, ignition tuning, stuffing box maintenance—the ladder and bulkhead to which it is attached are removed.

Comments we heard from owners were unanimous in their praise for the Renegade’s performance: “Best boat my know-it-all sailing friends have ever sailed.” “Turns on a dime.” “Forgiving of mistakes, easy to maneuver.” “Keeps up with bigger boats, tack for tack.”

Bill Shaw said, “What made the Renegade such a wonderful boat was its perfect balance between cruisability and its get-up-and-go. Its fin keel and spade rudder gave it beautiful sailing balance and tremendous maneuverability, enabling it not only to turn in its own length but beat circles around long-keel boats. Its split underbody also reduced the hull’s wetted surface, which enhanced its performance in light air. And it was a big help in backing. Here, finally, was a boat that responded in reverse the way you hoped it would.”

The Renegade has a comfortable motion in a seaway, sails with a fair turn of speed on any point of sail (except downwind), goes best in 8-15 knots of wind and 15°-20° of heel, and should be reefed when the wind approaches 18-20 knots. She also tends (owing to her low freeboard) to be a wet ride when the chop is up. With her relatively narrow, hour glass hull, the Renegade is a tender boat with low initial stability that will heel in even light air. But when it blows and she rolls to 35° or more, her ultimate stability kicks in and you feel safe in knowing she’ll snap right back. It’s a secure, no-panic feeling that one owner described as “non-threatening tender, unlike the oh-no-here-we-go, rail-burying tippiness of other boats I’ve sailed.”

First boat or last, this is a boat any sailor will enjoy. She is easy to single-hand (easier yet if you lead all sail controls aft to the cockpit), forgiving, maneuverable as a dinghy, as pretty and salty-looking as you’ll find. Most owners have upgraded their boats in a variety of ways, so it will be tough to find a no-frills, unimproved edition. If you do, expect to pay $9,500-$11,000, although we have seen some as low as $3,500-$4,000 with major work needed, and as high as $14,500 for one thoroughly restored. Either way, the Renegade represents an excellent buy.

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.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here