We sail a San Juan 21 and love it. There are two versions of the boat: doghouse coach roof (MK1), and flush decked (MK2 and MK3). The Mark 1 has a huge cockpit, great for social sailing (five at a pinch), but the cabin below is like a two-man tent. Still, we slept in it for nine straight nights and didn't kill each other, so it you are a backpacker sort, it may suffice. The cabin on the flush deck boats is roomier, but not all that much: quarter berths remain claustrophobic, V-berth still has that damn Chastity Winch dividing the occupants, and there is no galley or good place to put the potty. Sitting headroom, barely. Keel trunk very much in the way. It's far less civilized below than a Catalina 22 -- but then, civilization is largely overrated.
Build quality ... enh. The 21 was the runt of the Clark litter and built to a price point. The hull is solid GRP and laid mat/roving, with some minor oilcanning but nothing awful. Hull-to deck joint is typical of the era -- riveted shoe-box, molds improperly fit at the transom. The joint doesn't leak often, tho. Swing keel contains 420 lbs of lead bars and fully retracts into the hull; simple to launch & no keel pendant dragging and humming in the water, but you pay for that with the winch placement and the keel trunk eating up space. Keel is a nice foil shape.
The #1 problem on these boats is poorly-executed balsa coring in the decks and transom. Nearly every SJ21 has wet decks -- not instantly fatal, but something you may need to address someday. Catamount's great Quasar
site gives you some notion what goes into a re-core job. The port 2/3rds of the transom is also balsa cored, and like the decks, Clark really skimped on isolating the core from hardware penetrations; years of ownership neglect (or pure age) leads inevitably to soggy balsa. Other issues are poor stock rudder construction, cheap turnbuckles, and leaky portlights -- a short list, really.
The boat singlehands well. One person can easily step the mast. It weighs less than 2500 on the trailer, so even my 4 cyl. minivan easily tows and launches it. Unless it has been owned by a racing fanatic, controls are simple and few. Hull is bluff-bowed and flat-bottomed: it will pound a bit in chop, but it will also plane some in good winds. Sailplan is very well balanced, with 86 sqft fractional jib and 104 sqft mainsail. Some people use a genoa in light air places, but it can overpower the boat in gusts. It sails poorly on jib only (except DDW) but excels on reefed main alone: we've happily cruised in 40 kts that way. Jiffy reefing strongly advised for inland lake sailing! The boat does not heave-to well in high winds; be prepared to sail actively during storms. It will round up if overdriven, so it is quite forgiving to learn on.
I've written on another forum that the reason to buy a SJ21 -- the ONLY reason to own this cheap, cramped, outmoded boat of mediocre quality -- is because it is a joy to sail. Honestly, it is. It has no bad habits and does most things you ask it to with gusto. Sailing it is like having a polo pony between your knees. It's not the fastest horse around a racetrack, it can't plow a field or lug heavy loads over a mountain, it won't win at dressage or show jumping or beauty contests. But by God, it loves to wheel around the field and chase that little ball.
It's a dinghy, it's a keelboat, it'll scare the hell out of you and bring you home safe.
We got caught out last Thursday on Lake Granby, when a small but intense storm came down the mountains with sustained winds of 50 kts. I was on the foredeck when it hit, halfway thru reefing.
For a few minutes, I thought we were goners: the boat heeled beyond 45 degrees, the jib was hammering, and we slid helplessly toward a rocky shore. But once we got the sails sorted and put the boat on the heading it wanted, it squatted down and breasted the chop like a trouper. I wouldn't take one much past Catalina Island, but if you respect its limitations, it will take care of you and forgive your mistakes. And you'll learn a whole bunch about sailing before you tire of this boat. Cheers, and let us know how things turn out!
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