I bought a 1985 303 in August
, and have been very pleased with the boat.
There is no doubt Shaw's emphasis in the design was the cabin. Hence the beam and freeboard. The boat is mostly cabin. It is a very nice one, and the biggest I remember seeing in a 30 footer of its era.
When I was nibbling at it prior to purchase, I was concerned that the boat would not have all that pleasant sailing characteristics, and that would have been a show stopper. No point in having a sailboat that doesn't sail well. But I was very pleasantly surprised. This particular example pointed fairly well, and accelerated much better than I expected as well. Off the wind, the boat is as well mannered as can be.
And since this boat is in Galveston Bay, where water depths are scarily shallow, I really appreciate the shoal draft.
I really like sailing this boat. Also, as I singlehand fairly often, its docile characteristics are what I wanted anyway.
Is it going to crawl all over a J boat? Of course not. However, if I want to go sling my wet butt on a gun'l while getting the full zen of "beating to weather"...instead of enjoying a cold beer watching that kind of effort from the comfortable cockpit (which I very much would prefer deeper alcoves to stow stuff in) of my 303...then I'll go bum a ride on one.
As mentioned, the cabin is extremely spacious for the size of the boat,and laid out in the traditional bench settee salon, enclosed head, v berth forward, vestigal quarter berth, and little L shaped galley. 6'3 headroom is no lie, and even my paunchy carapace has no trouble below...Except at the chart table, which was apparently a later addition to the original design, and obviously meant for skinny people. The hanging locker is shallow at the base so don't expect to use it for hanging much, and I would have much preferred closed cabinets up to the bottom of the overhead at the vcabin top instead of those open shelves (may do that one day if I can limber up the money).
Construction of the Pearsons was very good for the day. Seacocks on all below water thru hulls (one gate valve on the shower pump drain above the waterline still left though). Some issues I've encountered are a leaky cabin top around fittings -which is a Pearson trait I guess and which will be an enduring project. Some things are not up to current ABYC like no covers on the back of the 110 outlets, and general aging of the systems. One pesky surprise I've found is the presence of pinhole leaks in the bottom of the aluminum fuel tank. Good news is, it can be removed from the lazarette side.
The mast step and base of the mast are corroded, and will have to get addressed. Along with that, a sister boat had a chainplate break from crevice corrosion and dismast. Mine are corroded, and when I get the mast done, will pull them and dye penetrant inspect the welds on them. The genoa t tracks are corroded, and is my next project after a haulout. Good news is that I havent found any deck core issues of note.
I wish she had an anchor roller! Its high on the list.
Systems. These boats were tricked out with them. Pressure water, water heater, reefer, airconditioner, 1st generation holding tank, round dial datamarine instruments, stereo with cabin and cockpit speakers, propane stove, shower...This is where you can expect to spend some money. If anything is original, expect to have to repair/replace if you buy a mid 80s 303 and keep it for any length of time.
I'm nearing the end of a big (ill-planned) electrical rewire, fixing past transgressions of previous owners and general aging issues. The flexible holding tank (1993 date stamped) and lines are in the top five of my Next List, as is the mighty rusty Raritan water heater. A Webasto FCF is sitting in my living room waiting on the completion of the rewire, as the vintage Cruisaire was doing little other than making noise and water (ac installation under the v berth).
Which gets back to construction. This boat was of the age when liners were coming into widespread use. While its not total as in some some boats, the liner does restrict access in some very important areas around the head, the refrigerator, and under the chart table.
All in all the 303 is an excellent coastal cruiser/weekender. That big cabin is great in the slip and at anchor (not made for a rough blue water passage though!!), and for a few turns around the bay, anchoring up to romance "The Admiral", or a coastal passage in benign weather, she is a fine fine boat.