There are actually 6 different boats being possible here since we don't know which models the OP is considering.
The Bristol has standard, centerboard
and tall mast
The Cal has mark I, II & II versions. II & III have a modified rig that is faster but doesn't have as many lowers and the III has rearranged deck
BRISTOL 29.9 CB
BRISTOL 29.9 TM
For simplicity's sake I'll stick the the base models.
Over a large range of conditions the Cal will average out to be moderately faster than the Bristol, PHRF 174 vs. 195 which works out to a 7nm/d difference (at about 160nm/d) if you as expending racing
levels of effort to sail the boat. Expending cruising levels of effort the difference is about the same calculated using the Leonard-Starzinger formula (at about 120nm/d). Given the Cal's much higher SA/D ratio (18.0 vs. 14.9) it will probably do much better than the Bristol in light winds assuming both have similar sails.
The Cal is slightly narrower but is just over 3 feet longer than the Bristol. This gives the Cal a significant volume advantage.
Looking at non-ballast boat mass and compensating for length and beam the Bristol is built a little heavier which implies slightly stronger. Given that at least one Cal 34 has gone RTW both should be acceptable for offshore
cruising with some upgrades and some discretion exercised in choosing route
Jim Cate's comments regarding the stuffing box on the Bristol apply equally or worse to the Cal. The Cal has a V-drive which puts the stuffing box under the transmission
inside the fin.
Someone mentioned that the Bristol's fin is encapsulated, so is the Cal's
Most Cal's (including the 34) have a steel
beam that runs across the boat under the mast
and main bulkhead. Normally this is buried under the interior
pan. This beam is both a plus and a minus. Many or most were made of mild steel
rather than stainless so there may be a serious corrosion
problem if previous owners have not done a decent job of keeping the boat dry. However these beams do a wonderful job of resolving mast forces without distorting the hull
The Bristol may have an Atomic 4 but probably comes with a diesel
. The Cal visa versa. A gas motor
would not bother me, it is not as safe as the diesel
, but it is not dangerous per se. Of more concern to me would be the increased fuel
usage of the gas motor
. For weekending and coastal cruising I would be happy with either engine. Offshore
I would be happier with the diesel.
Because of some early construction and design changes the Cal actually sails better with a full water tank under the V-berth. I believe the boat was originally designed with the engine further forward rather than under the cockpit
, so a full bow tank puts the boat back on its intended line.
The Cal 34 has a moderate problem with weather helm
. The may be a product of the boat not normally sailing on its lines. This problem led to the redesigned rig of the Mark II & III models. Other solutions have been to reef the main a little early, use a main with a shorter foot (the Baba 30 main works a wonder) or to add a short bow sprit (which has the added benefit of improving light air performance still more with a larger headsail.)
I am prejudiced towards the Cal for various reasons. If my intended sailing area was especially shallow such as the Bahamas
, the European canals or I had cheap
moorage someplace shallow I would go for the Bristol, especially the CB model. Otherwise I would go for the Cal.