When Downeast boats were introduced a couple of years ago, my first reaction was a double take. A boat company in Southern California called Down East? Doesn’t that sound like something in Maine? Do people in Southern California even know what Down East means? I was soon to discover that the answer to all of these questions was an emphatic yes!
President Bob Poole, who has been building boats since the 1960’s in Southern California, wanted to build a line of strong, dependable sailboats with traditional lines – so what better than “Down East” to represent the concept? And, he wanted to build these boats in Southern California. Why not? The company was founded in 1974, and there are now three boats in the Down East line ranging from their 32-footer to a 45-footer, which was recently launched. The proof that it was all a good idea is that the boats have become popular and are now distributed nationwide. Some have even gotten Down East.
The Downeasters all have a strong family resemblance – traditional, long keel with a keel-hung rudder, clipper bow, bowsprit, trailboards, simulated planking lines moulded into the hull, slight tumble home in the stern quarters, and a traditional wineglass-shaped transom. The Downeaster 32, subject to this report, carries out the sense of tradition established in the hull both topside and below.
What impressed me most of a all about the DE 32 is not her traditional look, but the good technological thinking that has gone into a number of aspects of her construction. First, I like the way the hull is joined with the deck. The three inch hull flange is sanded (as is the rim of the deck), and the deck is chemically bonded to the hull with an aircraft epoxy, the same type that is used on helicopter propeller blades. The deck is then through bolted with ½-inch stainless steel bolts on 12 centres. This joint is strong and watertight. Sea cocks are used on all through hulls, and steel-reinforced rubber aircraft-type tubing is used on all fuel lines, including the propane. Possibly the most innovative element of all is the use of the core material Conolite in the deck. Conolite is a closed cell foam with strands of glass fibre running through it. It was introduced about three years ago as an alternative to other core material such as balsa, Airex and plywood. Conolite is exceptionally strong in sheer, waterproof and impervious to heat in normal use.
Another important construction detail is that all the bulkheads are properly bonded to the hull on both sides, not only on the hull, but on the overhead as well. And not just one or two strips of fibreglass tape is used – the method is right out of Gibbs & Cox (the company that designed the liner United States) fibreglass building manual. This attention to detail is the kind of thing that gives one confidence in the builder. Down East must believe in the product because it offers a four-year limited warranty on parts and labour involving everything it manufactures.
But how does she sail? I took the 32 out of Newport Harbour last winter on a day when the breeze did not blow stronger than six or seven knots true; sea conditions were smooth. The first thing we did was put the boat through some powering manoeuvres. The boat was propelled by a Farymann 12-hp diesel (a 24-hp Farymann is now standard) swinging a two bladed 15×12 bronze prop. Since Farymann are known for being stingy with fuel, that factor along with her 72-gallon tank should provide more than adequate powering range for most costal sailors. Under power the boat steers easily, turns in one-and-a-half times her own length and backs beautifully. The tiller was a shade on the stiff side. Under full cruising throttle we powered over a measured mile at 6.24 knots.
Unfortunately the rig was not set up as well as it might have been, so the boat’s performance under sail suffered slightly. There were about ten inches of sag in the headstay and twelve inches of sag in the forestay; the mainsail was cut far too deep and the foot was a bit long. But despite all of this, our tacking angles were consistently between 80 and 90 degrees in nine knots of apparent wind. That’s very good. Going to windward in the same apparent wind we were heeling about 20 degrees. If we could have flattened the main, it would undoubtedly have been less.
We kept the sails strapped in and drove the boat off to see if we could put the rail under-we could not, even when heeling the boat 32 degrees. The reason for this was, of course, her high freeboard and her six inch bulwarks, which I personally like. This means that even if you are sailing with a little too much canvas, the rail won’t be awash.
The boat balances and tracks fairly well, but like any boat, you will have to tune the rig for hands-off sailing. Rudder response was positive and fast, thanks to a very deep rudder that assures a good bite on the water at all times. Tacking in the light Newport Beach breeze was quick and positive, no need to back the jib to haul the bow around.
Sail-handling chores were accomplished effortlessly with one exception-it was a bit of a nuisance honking down on the staysail halyard without a winch. This winch is optional and I’d buy it. It’s a necessity in a breeze when you want the luff of your staysail to be tight. All halyard winches are the conventional type (no reel winches, thankfully), and once sails are hoisted there are three or four wraps of wire around the winch.
Most true cruising boats these days have a club-footed staysail and the DE 32 is no exception. It makes short-handed sailing a dream and is the only way to go in my book.
Now, if you are used to the contemporary stock American sailboats, you might find the cockpit a bit foreign at first. But don’t let it throw you. On the DE 32 there are no conventional cockpit coamings. The deck abaft the trunk cabin is flush from rail to rail, save for a small cockpit well. This is just the kind of deign that you’ll see on many custom offshore racers all the way from 24- to 64- footers. The advantages of this arrangement are numerous. There’s minimum cockpit volume (the DE 32 cockpit drains fast); there’s nothing to stumble over; it makes leading sheets easy, etc. With large cushions and an awning you’ll feel like an Arabian sultan when you’re anchored on a steamy afternoon. The drawback is that there is no coaming to lean against. Down East will fit a backrest if you request it.
The deck layout is simple and uncluttered. Nothing to break your toe on. There is no deck moulded-in nonskid. Instead, a fine grit sand has been mixed with the buff-coloured (low-glare) two-part polyurethane adhesive painted on the deck. This provides a fine nonskid surface, again, similar to ocean racers where no expense is spared.
Belowdecks Down east has not missed a chance to carry out the traditional look. There’s plenty of teak, as well as teak and holly veneer soles. The layout is conventional with pull-out double berths, u-shaped galley, 6’6” headroom in the main cabin, and a quarter berth with a 27”x27” navigation table. Nothing unusual, and that means no bright ideas that may not work in practice. A few notables; a very strong and solid bulkhead-mounted table, plastic overhead liner, a deep galley sink near the centreline, two doors on the head to make the forward cabin private, grab rails in the head, four-inch cushions throughout, and all corners rounded.
Drinking water is carried through rigid PVC pipe running from a 45-gallon stainless tank, all other pluming is through heavy rubber hose. Engine access is good. To get the rest of the engine room you must climb over the engine, which is not too difficult since the engine is small and low. There is a flexible rubber coupling on the drive shaft. Good idea. The engine can be started with a hand crank and there is sufficient clearance to use it. Three bronze bearings hold the rudder stock. Rigging is strong and the turnbuckles are the open kind – the kind I prefer. Stanchions are through-bolted and backed with a piece of stainless.
Quibbles? Sure. I like easy and abundant access to the bilge. I guess my preference stems from an old wooden boat I owned I once owned that leaked profusely. Access to the bilge in the 32 is a bit restricted because both the fuel and water tanks are under the cockpit sole on the centreline above the bilge. The good thing about this arrangement is that it adds effective ballast to the boat. The down side is that it means that the only way to get to the bilge is through two small hatches forward and a small Lucite window in the drip pan under the engine. The hose/through hull connections have only one hose clamp. I’d like to see two. The joints are sealed with Permatex adhesive, which is good, and the builder Poole contends that two clamps can, in fact, cause a problem. There is no hand holds around the companionway, but they will be added to future boats.
Nothing about the DE 32 is rinkydink. The hull laminate is extremely thick. In fact, the boat might even be a bit overbuilt, but think that’s the way most of us would prefer it. The rigging is strong and equipment is all of good quality. The boat is rugged and built to be punished, easy to sail and practical. Her performance seemed good in the conditions we encountered, and although we had no seas to contend with, her very traditional underwater profile should make her a comfortable boat offshore. Most important, Down east has tried hard to build a good, seaworthy boat and they have succeeded. -J.H.