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soulsail737 01-06-2013 05:40 PM

Pearson Vanguard 33 reviews?
I am seriously looking at downshifting from my Santana 20 racing boat to a 1966 Pearson Vanguard 33, that my neighbor is offering in becoming a half-owner with him. I love the look and performance of my 2002 Tuna 20, but it is not comfortable at all for my wife and 6-yr old daughter. I bought the Santana 20 before I met my wife (who is not a sailor), and was looking for a fun OD racing experience. With a family now, I'm having hardly any time to race, and I really want sailing to be a fun family experience and lifestyle. My wife wants something with an enclosed head, and something that will make her feel safe when out on the ocean. My daughter wants something that she can get out of the cockpit (without being duck-taped to me) and something that isn't so "tippy".

Our neighbors (who are wonderful people), are half-owners and the other half-owner is in his mid-80's and suffering from health issues. We have sailed on the boat, but it was a light/no air day and we spent most of our time motoring. I realize that I will be giving up quite a lot in performance, and a bigger boat means more maintenance issues (even with being able to split it down the middle). However, having the family out with me means more than performance issues. The boat is in relatively good shape: rebuilt mast, new standing rigging, new bottom paint 2011, Atomic 4 engine still very strong - the bones are all great. Negatives would be the sails need updating, as does the interior, and the general cosmetic condition of the boat. The buy-in to be a half-owner is $5000. I do love the classic look of the boat. We are located in SoCal.

Can anybody comment on the overall ownership experience of the boat? Also, the culture shock of going from a racing machine to a 47-year-old cruising machine? Any thoughts or advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks very much!

JimPendoley 01-07-2013 08:57 AM

Re: Pearson Vanguard 33 reviews?
I have owned a 32' Pearson Vanguard for 15 years or so and can testify to the qualities and drawbacks. I raised a family of four cruising the coast of Maine aboard her and she always kept us safe and comfortable. The kids and the wife at the time, loved her. The boat is great in any conditions, will not point high though and will slow way down when beating too high into a stiff chop. In that case, stop pinching, fall off five points and the boat will sail quite well into a head sea. Initially tender by design (heeling on a CCA era boat equals an increased waterline), they firm up at 15 degress and stay there. One reef point at 15 knots of wind and the helm becomes well balanced.

Many have done long voyages, though they are certainly minimally configured for long distance cruising-the primary drawback being tankage-they only carry forty gallons of water in the original monel tanks. The atomic four is fine as long as you are sensible about fuel safety. Much is made of the risk of gas aboard-but most cruisers have propane tanks aboard for cooking (and sometimes heat) and think nothing of it. The old alcohol stove is a nuisance and best replaced with propane if you will be cooking aboard. A good sniffer and common sense will eliminate the risk of explosion for either propane or the A4. A diesel would be nice and I want one eventually, but the engine is apt to be worth more than the boat so the upgrade must be well deserved.

The interior can be upgraded pretty inexpensively. The hull deck joint will leak if not resealed, but that is not a difficult job. Watch for soft decks-mine need work, but that in no way stops me from using the boat-its just a project somewhere off in the future.

Boat heaves to perfectly, which is great when a kid needs attention or you just want to wait out some weather or even for meal preparation underway. Turns on a dime, but backs up like a drunken elephant. She will handle the big stuff with grace and sails fine in light airs as long as you don't pinch. Lots of room for upgrades like a furler and self tailers-all of which are not necessary, but fun and useful to add over time. If the one you are considering is in good shape, $5K for a bullet proof classic designed by one of the worlds most famous naval architects is a fair price. You can do the upgrades if and when you want over time-its a low cost entry point for a minimal safe cruiser that you can upgrade to whatever level you like or need over time. There is a great users group on yahoo that has 400 members who share all kinds of information about thier ships. Search yahoo groups and request membership-you'll be able to see photo albums of dozens of boats and all of the upgrades they have made over time. The group is very well moderated. Best of luck.

soulsail737 01-07-2013 04:05 PM

Re: Pearson Vanguard 33 reviews?
Thank Jim, this is a big help. Appreciate you taking the time to respond with all of your observations. She does have the monel tanks and a roller-furling system. Hoping to get back aboard her soon so I can really start looking at her from a buyers standpoint, rather than just as a passenger (as I was before the offer was made).

Some previous posts on other threads - one author in particular who had also owned a PV33 - bashed the boat pretty heavily for poor construction and sailing qualities. Have you had those issues at any time?

Also, can you tell me what kind of tacking angles you might have while going upwind in a 10-15 kt breeze? Do you have a traveler or the original mainsail trim system?

Thanks again - this website (and those that respond) have been fantastic!

Most sincerely,


JimPendoley 01-07-2013 08:51 PM

Re: Pearson Vanguard 33 reviews?
I have the original, inefficient mainsheet setup. The boat benefits from a real traveller to help control twist and many have installed them. I have not because the aft deck is soft and needs to be repaired first. I don't think that represents shoddy construction, just construction typical of a 1960's era boat. None of the thru deck fittings were likely properly sealed off from the core and some have allowed water intrusion with the subsequent problems that entails.

I've upgraded the portlights with bigger New Found Metal ports as the original opening ports were aluminum and in poor condition. The hull deck joint leaked, but removing the half round rail and reefing out the old filler and pumping full of 5200 pretty much eliminated that problem. A one day job and not a big job as boat jobs go. The deck is thoroughly bolted onto the hull flange with 5/16" bronze bolts-its not going anywhere. I think the biggest headache would be the decks as they almost certainly have some rotten core. It's not likely to be enough to stop you from doing anything with the boat-just something to consider if you want to have it perfect "someday".

I will say this, I've cruised mine extensively along the New England coast-its easy to singlehand and I did it with toddlers aboard. A dodger adds a world of living space and keeps you a lot drier going to windward, though I never found mine to be a submarine by any stretch. When the wind picks up beyond 20, one reef keeps her on her feet and handling very easily. You will fight the helm in 15 mph winds until you put in a reef and then you will love the ride. A traveller would help with the initial weather helm.

As for pointing, I cruise and figure 50 degrees for a tacking angle. Bear in mind I'm a cruiser, don't have a traveller to speak of and I'm flying a 130 on a profurl. Other vanguardians may do much better-I can't say.

I personally know of three young guys who circumnavigated, know of several that crossed the pond multiple times and one was just sold after eleven years cruising in asia after departing Maine. Spoke or corresponded with all of them and they expressed complete confidence in the ship. Two of them are active captains.

For the price, its a lot of boat with a lot of upgrade potential. They have all the usual problems of boats of that era, soft decks, wide tacking angles, large mains and less room below. The hulls are very stout and not prone to blisters. In exchange, they offer security, simplicity, a sweet sheer and an easy entry price to cruising.

appick 01-20-2014 02:42 PM

Re: Pearson Vanguard 33 reviews?
Just out of curiosity, I too happen to be looking at moving into a Pearson Vanguard and am curious as to the bunk/ berth lengths? Would you happen to know Jim? How tall are you? I'm 6'2" and one of the reasons I'm getting rid of my 1961 Columbia 29 is that I need just a few more inches in the vberth.

JimPendoley 01-20-2014 03:39 PM

Re: Pearson Vanguard 33 reviews?
Just visited my Vanguard under her winter cover. Bunks are all long-I'm 6'1" and feel the bunks are generous in terms of space. there were two layouts produced, a standard layout with an aft galley and a dinette with a starboard galley. I have the dinette layout which I really like. The cooking space is pretty extensive. I have two roomy quarterberths, salon table drops to make a really roomy double and the vberth has the standard port and starboard berths. Many make the vberth into one large bunk for two with a filler cushion.
Happy to answer any questions at all-have had the boat for 18 years and love it.

Jeff_H 01-20-2014 04:24 PM

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.


JimPendoley 01-20-2014 06:28 PM

Re: Pearson Vanguard 33 reviews?
Jeff really dislikes Vanguards and he knows much more about sailing and naval architecture than I ever will-so think of this as more as a series of observations than rebuttal. I've lived aboard my Vanguard for 9 years so I am familiar with her shortcomings. I have also spent time and money upgrading her over the years. I've said before, these boats are dirt simple and the interiors should be thought of as more of a blank canvas than a finished design. Upgrades I have made include a rebuilt A4, refrigeration (reinsulated the box, a new propane stove and new formica countertop, new LED lighting, solar and upgraded batteries. But those are upgrades any older boat will likely need.

Phil Rhodes was a pretty well regarded naval architect at the time he designed the Vanguard. Boats of that era were designed to carry their crew from point A to point B in safety and comfort. Boat design is a blend of many compromises. Vanguards are slow by todays standards, but if you work with the design attributes they sail well. For example, they don't need to sail at a heel beyond fifteen degrees, nor were they ever intended to.

If you heel over to twenty, put a reef in and she will sit right up. She will not go beyond twenty easily. A FARR or J won't heel at all when a Vanguard must, but that was by design not accident. I sail all over New England and never felt the need for anything larger than a 135 on a furler. I sail on the open Atlantic, not the Chessie where air does tend to be lighter, but I regularly do 6 knots continuously off the wind and average 5-5.5 into the wind if I don't pinch. That is with four crewmembers and provisions for a week of cruising. With one reef in, the helm is almost neutral and you do need to reef at 15 knots. The second reef goes in at 30 and you will switching to a storm jib. I sail often when nobody else will go out.

The rig came with a roller furling boom-switch to slab reefing at a cost of $50 and you won't regret it.

The mainsheet benefits from a traveler upgrade to help shape the main and dump a little wind up top when the breeze picks up. Cost about $250. The decks are wide, simple and clean. There is a real 2" toe rail to keep you aboard, not a half inch square of teak or an aluminum extrusion. The side decks are unobstructed by inboard shrouds, so she may not point as high, but deck work is easier, safer and more secure.

That large underwater hull profile translates into more living space below. I have 6'2" of headroom. I've cruised extensively with my wife and kids and we always felt safe and comfortable, if a little cramped as they got larger. The bunks are roomy. The boat does not pound or sound like a resonating drum as it beats to windward. Flex in a Vanguard hull is unheard off. The deep vhull and mass combine to yield a much quieter and more comfortable ride. The boat tracks well, is not squirrely at all downwind or running in a sea. She heaves to easily, forereaching only slightly under backed jib and centered main. Speaking of the underwater profile, we have bazillions of lobster pots up here-folks won't even attempt a night passage in some parts due to all the lines. The attached rudder has a very well protected prop in an aperture which has never tangled in twenty years of cruising through thousands of pots.

The A4 is a fine and elegantly simple engine. I rebuilt mine a few years back for $1500 and expect it to last another forty years. I can order you a block, a crank ,a cam-virtually any part you would conceivably need in fifteen minutes or less from multiple sources on the web. Would I like a diesel? Sure, but for $8000 I'll save my money for now. For long distance cruising, the A4 is limited in power and range given the inefficient power curve and the limited tankage. For coastal cruising, it's smooth, quiet and has adequate power. Mine pushes me upriver regularly against the outgoing tide of the Merrimac River which ebbs at 1.5 knots. A Beta diesel upgrade would give a cruising range under power of a couple hundred miles-which for a small boat is not terrible. Many Vanguards have already had a diesel upgrade.

It is true, I guess, that you can cross oceans in just about anything, but it is extraordinary how many long voyages have been made in Vanguards. Three college grads circumnavigated on a Vanguard after graduating college. A couple from Maine went as far as Indonesia-I know several who have crossed the pond multiple times and I know one that races in the PACCup which is 2070 miles. I've spoken or corresponded with most of them and they all tell me the boat was safe, dependable and easy to handle in a seaway. We see them all over the coast of Maine where they are very well regarded. There is a very active users group on yahoo where you can correspond with hundreds of happy Vanguard owners and learn of virtually any upgrade you can imagine.

Having said all of the above, I will share that I am looking for a new boat. My girlfriend wants more room. She's new to sailing and does not yet realize the exponential difference in cost between maintaining a 32 footer and a 38 footer. Those cavernous interiors of newer designs, with aft cabins and large galleys look so appealing-but she has not had to brace herself in rough conditions. If I do relent, we'll postpone our cruising a couple of years (at least) in order to fill the kitty after outfitting a newer design. The thing is, every newer design I look at does not look 1/2 as pretty as my Vanguard in profile. Every time I row away from her, I take one more look to take her in-I am having a really hard time imagining letting her go.

appick 01-21-2014 12:30 PM

Re: Pearson Vanguard 33 reviews?
Thanks for all the great info and reviews. Both good and bad :) . Actually getting a mid 1965 boat for me would be a move up in years. I wont directly disagree about the fiberglass as i know there have been many advances in the last 50 years. However, I'll say the glass in the early 60's is a far cry better than the 70's osmosis bs.

I actually have what may be one of the first or second (I seem to recall finding and earlier boat) fiberglass production boats. It's a 1961 Columbia 29 Hull#64, they were a S&S design but... guess where Phil Rhodes was working before he went out on his own... So he drew the lines for the Columbia 29 while working at S&S. I know the design was commissioned in 1958/59, and production started in 1960.

I also agree no naval architect or engineer would design and build with something they didn't have good data on.

I've raced on a Farr 37 for years. I've gone fast and wet. Pounded through the waves and done 12knts on the downwind almost planning the thing! That was a scary day! I've also sailed my old modified full keel C-29 for 1000 cruising miles here on the great lakes in 10-13' seas that are always close packed here and in 30-60knts of wind. I'd rather be in the C-29 for ride comfort than the Farr 37. I know the Vanguard won't point as high or go as fast but from where I'm standing on my C-29 it'll go faster and be roomier, for the wife currently and the kids in the near future.

As to the A4 I have one currently, but the prospective boat has a Universal diesel. It's a great little engine as you say smooth quiet and reliable. The model I have actually has a production date of 1959, and was rebuilt in 2004. I haven't found anything that has been beyond my abilities. The best improvement was putting on a PCV kit from Indigo electronics made a world of difference. I've been able to achive some really gph with it but the diesel will be nice. Apparently the boat was repowered sometime in the 90's. Currently no info on engine model or cylinders. The broker yard guy just wants it gone doesn't want to do any extra work filling in details ect.
He said I'm more than welcome to come crawl through it to my hearts delight. He said if I want or need to stay on it to feel free as most of the hotels in the area close for the winter... Otherwise it's a 2 hour drive to the next bigger town.

Thanks so much for confirming the bunk length, that has been a burning question as right now I'm a good 2" longer than my bunk... :mad: . You'd be surprised how hard it is to find that info. I didn't want to drive the 9hrs to take a look only to find the same problem. The boat I'm looking at has been stored indoors in winter for the last 30years, and has been inside unlaunched for the last 11yrs. The wood looks great, it has a traverler already installed along with many upgrades. It's a dinnette version but the port quarterberth has been turned into storage/ chart table. The boat is owned by the yard and has been for sale for over 8 years so it sounds like they are ready to deal on price! Wish me luck, I'm planning on a visit in a few weeks. Anything particular other than soft decks/ mast step to watch out for that hasn't already been mentioned?

appick 01-21-2014 01:07 PM

Re: Pearson Vanguard 33 reviews?
I just realized I made it sound like the boat was abandoned. The former owner was elderly and eventually fell ill and then later died. While he was ill the family made the decision to sign over the boat in leu of yard/ storage fees ect. It definetly isn't a boatyard queen that's left to rot.

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