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View Poll Results: Which boat would you choose to liveaboard and cruise
Cal 36 5 29.41%
Islander 36 6 35.29%
Pearson 365 6 35.29%
Voters: 17. You may not vote on this poll

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Old 24-01-2012, 14:41   #1
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Cal 36 vs Pearson 365 vs Islander 36

Hello all,
I'm shopping for a cruising sailboat. I know I really should start with something smaller, lighter, cheaper, easier, because I don't have any experience, but sudden life changes and the need for a soul-soothing back porch are steering me toward a live-aboard. It seems like 36-footers are the sweet spot for my needs, namely short-term housing and long-term potential for adventure. Finding a new roof over my head, notwithstanding, I love boats. I've have built several wooden boats, owned and restored five different fishing boats, owned and sailed a Nacra 5.2 catamaran, I have windsurfed, kayaked, and whitewater guided for over 25 years. I've done some crewing on a 33-foot Ranger. About the only kind of boat I haven't owned is a bigger-than-twenty-foot sailboat. That said, I've successfully mounted many self-supported whitewater and land-based Baja expeditions, so I'm no stranger to roughing it, rigging for a flip, and McGivering my way out of rising tides. I'm a diver, surfer, fisherman, so I just feel at home on the water. Add to that I live next to the San Francisco Bay and this just seems like a natural fit for me. I know it's not for everyone.

I don't expect to do any distance cruising right now. I'm chained to a paycheck and I have tween and teen kids to keep an eye on. Also not sure I'll ever get serious about racing. However, I can definitely see myself spending leisurely weekends cruising the Bay, and maybe working my way up to exploring the Delta or venturing down to Santa Cruz or Monterey or even up to Bodega Bay. A few years down the line, when more of my paycheck has my own name on it, or when I just can't take it any more, I see myself pointing my bow South-and-Somewhere or maybe North and West, whichever way the wind blows. For that, I'd like a cruiser.

My budget, today, is in the mid $20k's. I know I can add cruising gear and elbow grease over time, so I believe my best approach is to find a good clean hull with a solid motor and serviceable rigging. My search keeps steering me toward three boats: The Cal 36, The Pearson 365 and the Islander 36. Of the three, the Islander is by far the most widely available and it seems to have a reputation for circumnavigation (heck if a strapping teenage kid can do it, so can a middle-aged, overweight office jockey, right?). The Islander just looks fast and fun to me. The Cal 36 looks kind of similar to my eye to the Islander, but it is hard to find. There is one that looks well kitted and has about 800 hours on the Westerbeke diesel, but it's on the the far high end of my rations. Finally, a couple of Pearsons have cropped up that are also barely in my range. One of them is definitely under-equipped for cruising, yet she's in very clean shape. The motor starts right up and sounds good, the mast step is clean, and I like the idea of a shallow draft since I live in the South Bay and I like venturing into the Delta. She's much heavier than the other boats, but I don't know how that skews the equation.

What opinions do you all have about the relative charms of these boats? Am I a fool for getting into such a big, heavy, expensive (and aged) vessel being a big-boat virgin? How hard will it be for me to learn to sail one single handed? What about their merits or shortcomings as liveaboards? Which one would be best for a cruise to the Sea of Cortez or Hawaii or Chile six or seven years down the line? What if I'm accompanied by a couple of moody teenagers?


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Old 24-01-2012, 15:23   #2
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Location: Wandering the US Gulf Coast
Boat: 78 Pearson323 Four Winds
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Re: Cal 36 vs Pearson 365 vs Islander 36

With the Nacra experience you already know how to sail, no?

I had similar needs and budget. And experience on my Hobie18.

Your an active type, I think you can jump right on a bigger boat and be good to go. No need for a smaller boat first, right on to a live aboard size and set it up for single sailor as needed. It will be intimidating at first, then a great sense of satisfaction as you learn more each time, even before leaving the dock.

I spent two years researching and bought a Pearson323. Big enough for me and as big as I think I can handle single and mid 50's.

You have listed some popular boats and should get some good feedback. If it turn out the rations are tighter than expected then consider a 323. Good solid boat in my opinion, and mine was less than 20k, still is counted upgrades and repairs, all done be me.

BTW, an "old salt" across the dock from me in St. Pete befriended me early on and we sailed together dozens of times on our boats for ten months before I moved up the coast towards home. You should be so lucky after your purchase.

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Old 24-01-2012, 15:30   #3
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Re: Cal 36 vs Pearson 365 vs Islander 36

The Pearson 365 is the most cruising oriented of the bunch--definitely up to going just about anywhere if it is in decent shape and well equipped. Pearson made plenty strong boats. I would guess that the 365 would also be the roomiest of the lot. Both the Cal and the Islander would be better sailors I would think, and I suspect they are much lighter. Frankly, I would be very surprised if you could find a 365 in the mid $20s that didn't have some major problems. Here on the East Coast those boats still go for upwards of $50K.
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Old 06-02-2012, 18:20   #4
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Re: Cal 36 vs Pearson 365 vs Islander 36

Pearson 365
PEARSON 365 sailboat on
PHRF-204. Keel stepped mast.
Advantages: Full skeg, ignoring ballast and scaling for length and beam, it has the most weight of the 3 boats dedicated to structure, implying it is the strongest. Ketch rig divides sails up more meaning fewer need to be carried and the ones on the boat are smaller needing less effort to handle on an individual basis. Shallow draft which would come in handy in parts of the Carribean and in the canals of Europe. Good interior layout for cruising.

Disadvantages: In the lightship condition the boat is a bit under canvassed, this will only get worse as cruising gear is put aboard. Full liner detracts from access to overhead for maintenance and from the topsides in the event of a collision and you are looking for a leak. Ketch rig means a lot more to maintain and it looks like the mizzen has running backstays that will need to be tended during every gybe. Liner also detracts from the structural weight advantage this boat has over the other 2, the overhead liner is not going to be adding much to the strength of the boat, and it is arguable if the topsides liner adds much either.

Islander 36
ISLANDER 36 sailboat on
PHRF-153-144 depending on particular rig. Built about as well as the Cal. Keel stepped mast.
Advantages: Lots of them built so all their foibles are known and fixes should be available thru the owner's association. Well laid out for living aboard.

Disadvantages: Deepest draft of the 3, but not really very bad, even for the Carribean. The canals of Europe would be out of bounds mostly.

Cal 36
CAL 36 sailboat on
PHRF-150, Built about as well as the Islander. Deck stepped mast.
Advantages: Interior laid out from cruising. Probably faster than the Islander downwind. Wonderfully wide side decks, good for being on deck in heavy weather.

Disadvantages: Not such a great layout for living aboard. Spade rudder. A bit narrower and shorter than the others so a bit less living area.

I see 2 main choices here:

If you are mostly going to liveaboard then the Islander would have the advantage generally.

If you expect to cruise in the near future then the I would put up will the less convenient layout for living aboard and pick one of the other 2 boats.

Then the question becomes is the heavier hull and skeg a big enough tradeoff vs better access for maintenance and emergencies and significantly increased speed.

Based on what you've said about your short and medium term plans, it sounds like the Islander is the way to go. If you wind up cruising in the future, the boat has a history of doing fine offshore, but at the cost of some comfort there.
A house is but a boat so poorly built and so firmly run aground no one would think to try and refloat it.
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cal, pearson, pearson 365

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