Taking Pacific Seacraft’s 31 for a sail was like meeting an old friend
The economics of boatbuilding favor the construction of large boats. A 45-foot boat takes up practically the same amount of room on the shop floor as a 31-foot boat, but the return on the bigger boat is, well, bigger. That goes part of the way to explain why Pacific Seacraft has, over the years, shifted its production emphasis to larger boats.
It is typical of good companies that they listen to their customers, however, especially when they are a small business and deal with their customers almost like friends rather than cash-and-carry customers at, say, a big-box retail establishment. With their larger boats selling well, the folks at Pacific Seacraft were still getting calls from people asking for smaller boats, yet with the same seakeeping qualities and solid construction that typifies their larger boats.
After three years of these calls, Pacific Seacraft decided the market existed to justify bringing out of retirement one of their most popular smaller boats, the 31-foot cutter that was already in the hands of 79 very satisfied sailors. Hull number 17 is now in the water, and there are still calls coming in, so there is hope for sailors looking for a manageable, well-built oceangoing sailboat.
We spent a day on Burt Jacoby’s 31 Simply Messing, sailing on Long Island Sound in a breeze that never gave us the need to reef, but as the boat is Burt’s home, we didn’t feel right about asking him to head for open water and stay there for a few days until we got a hatful of wind. Jacoby has owned a Bermuda 40, which he fol-lowed with a Sakonnet 23, but he thinks he has arrived at “the right boat” for his needs. Simpler and easier to maintain than the B-40 but vastly more of a liveaboard than the Sakonnet, his 31 is set up for shorthanded, comfortable cruising, with additional battery power and a full package of electrical entertainment and navigation devices, from a DVD/TV to a 12-volt holding-plate fridge and a Raymarine chartplotter, radar and autopilot. He reckons his daily electrical budget to be 50 to 75 amp/hours. With two, Group 27-size AGM batteries for “house,” he has a total capacity of 192 amp/hours, thus keeping his daily draw to less than 50 percent of capacity. So far, the batteries have cycled some 300 times and show no signs of aging.
He also optioned the cruising package, which allows for all lines to be lead aft: “It’s helpful in reefing,” says Jacoby. One of the notable aspects of the reefing arrangement is a block on the luff to ease the task of reducing sail. With the reefing lines led through a series of blocks and fairleads, any reduction in friction and effort is welcome, and the solution is cleverly thought out.
The autopilot is a Raymarine 4000 wheel-driven unit that he rinses with freshwater “daily.” This maintenance regimen has, so far, eliminated any problems with the unit being exposed to the elements. He thought carefully about purchasing a belowdecks, quadrant-drive unit, but that would have required building in a small compartment that would have intruded on the quarter berth. Space is at a premium on any boat, especially one 31 feet long, and space management often has the deciding vote on gear selection.
A walk the length of the deck reveals space management immediately. There is room to walk, or crawl on your knees, without negotiating shrouds or sail tracks. We agree that inboard headsail tracks can improve a boat’s pointing, but this is not a boat designed to pick up silver on Wednesday night. The track for the staysail is on the coachroof, and the track for the head-sail is atop the wonderfully secure-feeling, four-inch high toerail. The 30-inch stanchions are attached to the toerail, adding to their strength and eliminating any holes in the deck for the stanchions. The scuppers were adequate but were complemented with drains that exited below the gunwale, an unnecessary bit of plumbing, in our opinion.
Designer William Crealock spent a number of his formative years sailing the Pacific (chronicled in his book Cloud of Islands), and his designs reflect having learned what works and what merely looks nice at boat shows. Unlike most of his other designs for Pacific Seacraft, the 31 is not a double-ender; it is just too small a boat to give away the last three feet aft. The reverse-transom stern is the right solution for a boat of this size. Some 31s, especially the early models, came with tiller steering, which would make life easier in the cockpit while at anchor, but there is no faulting the Edson rack-and-pinion steering. It is quick—one spoke less than two turns lock-to-lock—and devoid of free play. When, after thousands of sea miles, the central teeth develop a little play, you can move the pinion two teeth over on the rack and it will feel like a new steering system.
Any lingering doubts as to the purpose of this boat are dispelled with a survey of the anchoring arrangement. Two hefty bow rollers are forward, each with a chainlocker and sharing a Lofrans Kobra windlass. Aft there is another sturdy chain roller bolted to the transom with its own hawsepipe and chainlocker. The seven-foot cockpit seats are long enough to sleep on, and the traveler is recessed into the bridgedeck. The emergency tiller fitting is between the steering pedestal and the transom, and, just as with nearly every boat, the emergency tiller would have to be placed athwartships to clear the pedestal. Without any cables, blocks or cable clamps to fail, it is hard to imagine ever needing the emergency tiller. Jacoby also installed some additional winches, four Harken 16STs on the coachroof and one on the mast complement the 40ST headsail winches mounted on the coaming.
Step below and the small galley is to port, facing the nav station to starboard. The chart table doubles as the refrigerator hatch, and charts can be stowed in a clever tip-out drawer sized perfectly for chartbooks. It is a stand-up chart table, and our experience with this arrangement on a previous boat we owned made us a convert. When space is at a premium a stand-up chart table is the right solution.
The galley has a deep double sink and a two-burner gimbaled Force 10 propane stove. The sinks are as far amidships as possible with tailored dish racks along the hull, and we are pleased to see square sinks. After fully exploring, on other boats, the comic possibilities of round sinks and round dishes, square galley sinks are another item on our sensible list.
Two straight settees occupy the saloon, perfect sea berths, and seven feet long. You have to sleep with your head aft, as nearly two feet of that length tucks under the V-berth. It makes for a good place to store a pillow and a sleeping bag.
The saloon table slides out from under the V-berth and latches to the compression post, another clever solution to the problems inherent in a boat just slightly more than 24 feet on the waterline. Handholds are properly done, with two sturdy teak rails running the length of the deckhead and with headroom of just over six feet, they are within reach of nearly anyone.
Under power, the 27-horsepower Yanmar produced 4.5 knots at 2,000 rpm and 5.2 knots at 2,500 rpm. Flat-out the little engine roared along at 3,500 rpm, pro-ducing 6.2 knots. With the stern wave perched at the transom water came into the cockpit through the drains, but the reality is that you wouldn’t push the boat that hard under power for any length of time.
The fixed-blade prop (we had the optional three-blade version) has a lot of bite. A crash stop from nearly hull speed took slightly more than 1.5 boat lengths. With the engine at 2,500 rpm we made 2.5 knots astern, with slight “walk” to port.
The long keel and skeg-hung rudder contribute to the boat’s ability to track, and we wondered how maneuverable the boat would be under power. The answer is “very.” At 5.2 knots, the tactical diameter to port was 1.5 boat lengths and to starboard slightly less. The turning circle was slightly less.
We set the high-cut 100 percent headsail, the stay-sail and main to take advantage of the Force 3 conditions. With wind of 8.2 knots true at 40 degrees apparent, the GPS gave us 4.2 knots SOG, dropping to 3.8 knots when we tightened up to 35 degrees. At 7.8 knots of true wind at 60 degrees apparent we made 4.6 knot SOG. We fell off to put the wind at 120 degrees, 6.5 knots true wind, and made 3.1 knots SOG.
Heaving-to is an operation that should work very well with the 31’s keel. Our boat had the optional shoal-draft Scheel keel, drawing an even four feet. The deep keel draws four feet, 11 inches. The ballast, 4,400 pounds of lead, is the same with either keel, and is secured with 12, 3/4-inch stainless steel bolts for a ballast ratio of 40 percent. We found that at an apparent wind angle of 35 to 50 degrees the boat forereached very slowly at less than half a knot and was absolutely stable. We rolled up the headsail, backed the staysail and sheeted the main amidships, with the wheel locked a few spokes to windward.
This is a sturdy, well made boat, built of hand-laid fiberglass with the first hull laminate of vinylester resin. It has a double-flanged deck/hull joint that is sealed with polyurethane sealant and 1/4-inch stainless steel bolts. The external chainplates are through-bolted with 1/2-inch stainless bolts to a backing plate that runs the length of the chainplate. Both sides are thoroughly bedded, and we have not heard of any problems with this arrangement, which is what we would expect of an arrangement so reassuringly overbuilt.
There is storage everywhere. Although the sole boards do not open to reveal a cavernous bilge, there is still room for things such as canned goods. Tucked in everywhere are small cabinets, drawers and compartments. The head has a proper wet locker in a proper place, easy to reach while at the base of the companionway. The engine is as easy to access as possible, given, again, that it is a 31-foot boat. If you have to put a turn on the stuffing box, it is easy to reach.
The tanks, two for water and one for fuel, can be removed without resort to destructive disassembly, yet another plus on a boat designed for the long haul. We took note, for example of the base that supports the seacocks. They are bedded in polyurethane and through-bolted, with the base providing protection against sliding cargo. Main, structural bulkheads are tabbed and bolted. Ventilation, with two large Dorades and 10 opening ports, is everything one could hope for in a boat of this size.
We have always liked the boats of William Crealock, especially as built by Pacific Seacraft. They are not built to squeak under some calculated price point; rather, they are built as needed to provide an owner with a solid, seagoing boat that will take them there in safety and comfort and get them back without undue drama. The reintroduction of their 31-footer will provide sailors interested in a compact cruiser everything they will need in a boat that requires an absolute minimum of after-purchase work.
LOA 31’ 10”
LOD 30’ 6”
LWL 24’ 2”
Beam 9’ 10”
Draft 4’ 0” (Scheel keel)
4’ 11” (standard)
Displacement 11,000 lbs.
Ballast 4,400 lbs.
Sail area 485 sq. ft.
Air draft 44’
Fuel 23 gals.
Water (two tanks) 65 gals.
Ballast ratio 40%
Lbs./in. immersion 849
Base price $139,000
Designer William Crealock
1301 E. Orangethorpe Avenue
Fullerton, CA 92831