Classic Plastic Article

Classic Plastic

“Go anywhere” bluewater

cruiser inspires loyalty, adaption

Scott & Cyndi Perkins

For Cruising World

Any Downeaster owner who has spent any amount of time berthed in a public marina has answered two questions many times: “How big is that?” and “Is that a wood boat”? A generous bowspirit, hefty beam, wineglass transom and the hull’s simulated planking lines are responsible for the general impression that these beauties are bigger and older than they are. The gold-washed navy blue or forest green clipper laminate on the bow is a further contribution to the salty image of this classic ‘70s sailboat.

Created in California with a Maine sailor’s sensibilities in mind, the Santa Ana-built Downeasters evoked nostalgia and tradition when introduced in the 1970s. That’s even more the case these days.

There are three sizes in the DownEast Yacht line, 32-foot, 38 and 45. The vessel was conceived by Bob Poole, a California transplant from the East Coast. The boat’s designer is Henry Morschladt of Newport Beach, California. A well-known naval architect, he incorporated military marine and Loyd’s of London specifications into his exacting craft. A sturdy, seaworthy cruising vessel in which no bond or seacock was compromised is the result. The DownEaster Yachts Inc. company operated from 1975-81, officially ceasing to exist in 1983. Available statistics indicate 412 models were produced, with 125 still currently registered by hull number. One hundred and thirty-four were DE 32s, and 27 were DE 45s. DE 38s led the pack, with 251, 11 of which are erroneously listed as “41s,” again attesting to the “big” image this classic sailboat engenders.

Downeaster Yacht models featuring cutter, ketch and schooner rigs were offered, along with an amazing array of options above and belowdecks that contributed to the uniquely individual personality of each boat, including a few pilothouse models. A tiller was standard on the 32-foot in 1977 and an emergency tiller system was available on all models.

A Farymann 24hp diesel was standard issue by the late 1970s. Underpowered? It’s considered a legitimate question and many a Downeaster owner has upgraded, most commonly to a Yanmar 27hp. But no one argues with the original engine’s chief advantages, a thrifty appetite for fuel and an ability to be hand-cranked. With an approximately 900-mile cruising range and a viable way to get the engine going if the starter poops out, it’s no wonder the Downeaster is known as a “go anywhere” boat. The engine room, however, is far from ideal. As with the rest of the vessel, it appears to be bigger than it is but requires a variety of contortions to gain access. Another drawback is the bilge. Unlike Lin and Larry Pardey, we won’t be storing wine down there. The access is comprised of two tiny hatches forward and a little Lucite window in the drip pan under the engine.

Novices on the water find the Downeaster forgiving and even willing to take punishment, while veteran sailors have learned to make the most of her sail plan. The California-built sailboat has migrated all over the world, including at least three global circumnavigations.  Boasts of 9-12 knot top speeds aside, a 6-7 knot cruising speed provides a pleasant ride without undue heel. These boats weren’t built to race and are impervious to light wind, which can provide many opportunities to experiment with the furling headsail or throw a spinnaker up, an enjoyable anomaly in this class of vessel. In 15-25 knot winds the modified full keel, with keel-hung rudder, provides superb balance, even in rough seas, under sail or motor-sailing. Heeling a Downeaster under the rail takes extra effort by an advancing storm front or the adventurous sailor looking for a thrill. The same care given to the boat’s core infrastructure is apparent in the strong rigging and good-quality winches.

The Downeaster cockpit is decidedly unique, with no coamings from hatchway to rail. It drains well, but can be hard on the back. Ergonomic and aesthetic modifications abound. The wide-open cockpit also provides for easy sheet handling. A full dodger was an available option on the original models and many Downeast sailboats sport an “Arabian Sultan” awning and big cockpit cushions first mentioned when the boat was reviewed by Motor Boat & Sailing in May 1977.

Bigger is also definitely better when it comes to the Downeaster’s cabin plan, which encompasses lavish use of teak, 70s-style spindles and cabinetry, a faux leather cabin ceiling and a clever fold-up table that accommodates two dining couples comfortably. Funky 1970’s touches notwithstanding, the 6’9” headroom defines the feel of the Downeast interior, adding light and spaciousness.

The 32-foot Downeast theoretically sleeps six, with up to three salon bunks and a quarterberth aft starboard. Because the vessel allows for singlehanding, many owners feel confident and cozier with appropriate modifications for couples or solo sailing. The original models have two doors closing off the V-Berth and adjacent head from traffic in the main salon. The U-shaped galley with beveled stove, refrigerator/freezer and icebox, and double sink is practical and efficient. Storage includes two well-ventilated hanging lockers and numerous cubbies.

Early reviews of the Downeaster line said the boats were probably “overbuilt.” In this day and age, that’s a compliment. The Downeast is a boat for sailors who appreciate  quality workmanship with attention to detail.

No review of this impeccably crafted line would be complete without comments from “The Group,” my nickname for the Downeast sailors who enthusiastically and coherently share information on a regular basis on the “unofficial” Downeast website. The site was established five years ago and has weathered the perils of the latest developments in electronic technology. The site, at is a common-sense resource that is as user-friendly as the boat it celebrates. There are 28 registered members on the site, with many more participating, including Todd Iorio, who provides hosting services for the site, Gerry O’Donoghue, website administrator, U.S. Rep Jim Saxton, of New Jersey, and Tony Strong, all DE38 owners. Strong actually “built” his 38 after securing a bare hull in 1988. In 1997 her sailed her to Hawaii and also cruising to Samoa and Tonga. At least three Downeasts have completed circumnavigations in recent years, again attesting to the “go anywhere” legend.


Anyone with questions about Downeasters should feel free to log on to the website and join the conversation.

Downeaster 32

LOA: 37’ 4” CK
LOD: 32’
LWL: 25’ 10”
Beam: 11’
Draft: 4’9”
Ballast/displacement: 5,500 lbs. (lead)
Disp/length: 17,000 lbs.
Fuel capacity: variable, from 75-50 gallons, aluminum tank

Water: variable, from 50-100 gallons, stainless steel tank(s)

Downeaster 38

LOA: 41’ CK
LOD: 38’
LWL: 29’ 8.84m (CONVERT TO FEET)
Beam: 11’10”
Draft: 4’11” CK
Ballast/displacement: 8,000 lbs. (lead)
Disp/length: 19,500 lbs.
Fuel capacity: variable, from 75-90 gallons, aluminum tank
Water capacity: variable, from 50-100 gallons, stainless steel water tank(s)

Print Friendly