Im in the market for a cruising sailboat for the Chesapeake Bay. I have looked at 3 very different designs and would like others'' opinions of each. They include the Columbia 8.7, Irwin 30 and Vancouver 27.
Having sailed on the Chesapeake for the past 18 or so years I would say that none of the three are ideal for the Chesapeake but that of the three only the Irwin makes any sense at all. The Chesapeake is a predominantly light to moderate sailing venue. It puts a premium on light weight boats that can beat and run well. The predominant winds run up and down the Bay. It also puts a premium on boats that are good in a chop.
The Columbia 8.7 was a very mediocre design in my opinion. This was part of Columbia''s "Wide Body" series. That whole series were not very good boats from a sailing ability standpoint and were particularly poor in a chop.
The Vancouver 27 has very much become a cult boat with a strong following for distance cruisers and wannabe distance cruisers. They are charismatic little boats but are miserable in the kind of light air and chop that is so dominant on the Bay. I am afraid that like so many heavy cruisers, the Vancouver would end up being a trawler with a steadying sail rather than a sailboat more often than you might like.
There were quite a few Irwin 30 models. The early Irwin 30s were pretty fair sailors for their day. They were centerboarders with shallow draft which is nice if you are into gunkholing. Later versions included some nice sailing competition models and some strange cruiser/racer models as well. Irwins are not the best light air boats but are certainly better than the other two. Irwins had a reputation for being rather poorly built but I think that varied from model to model. Still they had a reputation that fell somewhere at (and sometimes below) the Hunters of thier era and that, at the very least, can affect resale. (Other choices of this ilk might include Catalina 30''s, Oday 30''s, Ranger 28''s and 30''s, Newport 30''s and Hunter 30''s)
One great thing about the Chesapeake Bay is that its seems like somewhere on the Bay you cna find an example of almost every type of boat that has been built in modern times. Over the course of the year, the used boat market is quite broad and you should be able to find just the right boat for your needs and budget.
A lot of this depends on what you want to do with the boat. I personally think that the Chesapeake favors lighter, performance type boats. (In the size range that you are considering I would suggest that means a PHRF rating somewhat smaller than 144 or so) If that appeals to boats like the S2 9.1, Laser 28,or to a lesser extent something like a J-30 are good options. The thing about the Chesapeake is that for every couple miles of additional range that is comfortable to sail in a day, there are maybe a half dozen or more additional neat anchorages that you can poke into for the night. On the Bay range really means something.
Good sailing ability also means a lot more time sailing and a lot less time motoring. The difference can mean a nice sail or no sail much of the time. For example, last summer I sailed a light air ''beer can'' series and in several of the ''light air'' races we had a nice sail never dipping below a couple knots. In these short races (less than 3 miles) I finished as much as an hour ahead of boats my own size who were really unable to keep moving in the light conditions that are so typical of a summer evening on the Bay.
Beyond higher performance boats there are older cruiser-racers which may represent a less expensive and more traditional middle ground. My favorite of these in your size range is a the 1970''s era Tartan 30. Another popular option might be the Pearson 30 of the same era.
There are a lot of good choices out there and it may make sense to look at a variety of boats, as you are doing, before narrowing in on any one in particular. Please feel free to email me or post here if you want to kick around any single option.