Join Date: Feb 2000
Location: Annapolis, Md
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Re: Pearson Vanguard 33 reviews?
I apologize that this long and was written for a different discussion but it does represent my views on the Vanguard:
I probably come at this with a different perspective than most people. I have been sailing since 1962 and my family actually owned a Vanguard for 5 years in mid to late 1960's. I have sailed on and worked on Vanguards at various times over the period since. I know the problems that we had with the boat as a new boat and I know how the boats behave compared to more modern designs. While the boats have become venerable to some people, many of whom are just now getting into the sport or have never sailed the boat, the reality of these boats never lived up to their current reputation.
In their day Tritons and Vanguards were seen as the least expensive cruising boats that could be bought. They were seen as the Hunters of their day. I know there is no comparison between early Pearson’s and the current crop of Hunters but the point is they were built to be as cheap as they could be and were popular because they were less expensive than anything else out there at the time. Pearson fans like to claim the Triton as the first production fiberglass cruising boat. It was not by a long shot but it was the most popular of the early production boats mainly because of price and hype about Fiberglass's low maintenance.
My concerns with these boats are as follows:
Sailing ability: I keep seeing people call these boats great offshore boats. That is hogwash. These were never designed to be offshore boats. They were CCA racing rule derived race boats and coastal cruisers. By the time these boats were designed the CCA rule, promoted boats that were really not very wholesome. The CCA had very short waterlines, full bows (especially on Carl Alberg's designs), and a lot more weight and a lot less ballast than they should have. They used low aspect ratio rigs and huge genoas. These design decisions derived from the goal to beat a racing rule and not from any objective criteria based on sailing ability. The short waterlines made them slow and wet and miserable in a chop. It made for hard to drive hulls that needed a lot of force to be propelled (as compared to earlier and later designs) and so you had to carry a lot of sail even in a breeze to make head way.
To get any speed these boats were sailed heeled over at very large angles. This allowed the waterlines to lengthen a bit. It did not make them fast, just faster than they were on their feet. It made the boats wet and it meant a lot of weather helm. It meant a lot of strain on crew and gear.
Weight in and of itself does nothing good for sailing ability. Weight, in and of itself, does not add stability or strength or even comfort at sea. It only adds weight, which means more stress on every part of the boat and the need for more sail area to propel the boat. To stand up to this sail area requires a lot of stability The Vanguards were comparatively quite tender even when compared to their contemporaries. In a conversation that my father had with Phillip Rhodes shortly after buying our boat, Mr. Rhodes indicated that the Vanguard was supposed to have had 10% more ballast than it actually received. Part of that discrepancy came from the fact that the original design assumed external ballast and some moveable trim ballast, and the Vanguard received incapsulated ballast and no trim ballast.
Then there is the rig. Since headsail area was untaxed, CCA boats used huge headsails. Ours had a 180% Genoa. This was an enormous sail, and a pain in the neck to sail with, but the boat did not sail worth a darn in winds less than about 7 knots without these huge sails. Today's better sailcloths have allowed these sails to be reduced a bit in size, but they still take a lot of sail area to go.
Age: We are talking about 45 or more year old boats. They were designed to be race boats and coastal cruisers. They were never intended or engineered to be offshore boats. Forty five years of sitting and rocking, forty five years of thrashing to weather, forty five years of sun and rain and ice- and all of this takes a toll. The electrical systems of the day were simple and frankly troublesome as connections would routinely corrode and things would just stop working.
My biggest single problem with the Vanguard’s construction is the encapsulated keels. It is very difficult to proper glasswork in the sump or a keel. The leading edge of ours was damaged in a fairly mild grounding, which led to water getting into the cavity between the ballast keel and the skin. During the repairs we exposed areas of dry glass and lenses of unrienforced resins. We kept grinding larger and larger areas of the keel away trying to fix this problem and were never 100% successful. We kept getting into areas of poor glasswork. I don’t see how this problem ever could have been repaired completely.
Another issue is the use of plywood with Formica over it. Formica traps moisture and prevents one from being able to properly observe the condition of these key structural elements. Beyond that I seem to recall that much of the plywood was not marine grade.
These were some of the first boats to use balsa-cored decks. This was before the industry knew about using bonding resins or vacuum bagging. Even in the 60's we were finding small, delaminated areas in the deck.
Then there is the sail handling hardware, which was pretty advanced for its day. By today's standards the sail handling gear is simple but sorely lacking in mechanical advantage and it is hard to find replacement parts for such items as winch pawls and handles. The roller reefing main never worked properly and the reel winches were an absolute hazard to ones health. (I assume that some of this may have been upgraded on most Vanguards)
The original rudders were of wooden construction, built like a wooden boat’s rudder. These were notoriously fragile and needed more care than an all glass rudder. There was a problem with the cutlass bearings. Cutlass bearings of the era were made to have water flowing through them. When they were adapted from dead wood installations in wood to full encapsulation in glass they had a very short life span and would tend to score the shaft. We ended up installing a monel shaft and drilling a hole to provide intake water to the bearing.
Then there is the Atomic 4. I personally like Atomic 4’s but these are getting to be ancient engines with a scarcity of parts. Also the atnks were never properly installed in these boats and it resulted in problems that probably have been addressed on many examples but which is pending repair on most I heard about in the past decade.
Lastly there is the fact that the fiberglass and resins were not as good as our current materials. Shorter fiber lengths and more brittle resins meant a very flexible and at the same time fatigue prone material. It’s a myth that they did not know who strong Fiberglass actually was. They knew precisely, and these boats were intended to match the strength of wooden boats of the era. This made them heavier than comparable wooden boats, which meant greater stresses, and greater stresses meant more fatigue.
I guess I see it like this. These boats are antiques. They were designed for a purpose in a different time. We tend to loose sight of just how long ago that was and how much has happened ever since. If you compare it to automobiles, as much as I always love to see someone who has maintained and used an antique sports car, I also understand taht no one would ever suggest that an MGA or a 356 (Bathtub Porsche) would make sense as daily drivers. Each of us who comes to sailing brings with us our own set of goals and senses of pleasure. Just having a boat of any kind and getting out on the water is a luxury none of us should take for granted. If your sense of pleasure comes from boats like the Vanguard, with their feel and aesthetics of a bygone time then these would be reasonable boats to own. If you are approaching these boats as bargain basement cruisers with all the comforts, sailing abilities, and strengths of a modern ocean criuser than I think you are making a mistake. If you are used to sailing modern boats, you will be pretty miserable after a while.
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Curmudgeon at Large- and rhinestone in the rough, sailing my Farr 11.6 on the Chesapeake Bay