I regularly receive emails from prospective Ericson 32 buyers who ask, "what problems should I look out for in this boat?" My response is that Ericsons will suffer the ills of any 15 to 30 year old sailboat, and the desirability of any particular hull depends entirely on how much maintenance previous owners have done over the years.
Definitely hire a professional yacht surveyor to carefully inspect the hull, engine, and rigging before you sign a contract, or make the terms of the closing conditional on a satisfactory survey. It's the best $7.50-10.00 a foot you can spend on any boat over 25 feet or $5k, especially if the surveyor finds problems so significant you don't end up buying it. Your insurance company will probably require a survey anyway, so it's best to get it done when you still have the opportunity to walk away from the boat. Boat/US has a surveyor recommendation service on its website, or look in the Yellow Pages.
I offer the following advice from a design and buying-process standpoint and would like to add suggestions from other owners as well.
First, the bad news:
- Leaks and delamination. Like most boats, Ericsons are balsa cored, with fiberglass above the balsa forming the deck, and below forming the overhead. If freshwater leaks around windows and hardware are allowed to persist, the balsa core gets wet, rots, and pulls away from the fiberglass. The deck becomes crunchy, springy, cracked, weak, and eventually hollow. There are a variety of ways to fix this depending on where in the boat it occurs, but if the problem is really bad it can cost the value of the boat to properly repair. This kind of damage is likely if you feel flexing or "spongy" decks and hear a "crackling" noise as you walk across them. Any competent surveyor will check for this in the first fifteen minutes.
- Deck-stepped masts may require reinforcement at the deck, as evidenced by cracking in the cabin overhead between the head and the main salon. Ericson published a one-pager on what needs to be done to reinforce this area, provided here by Meticulous Recordkeeper Paul Russotto. It's a repair probably best left to a yard, but it's not particularly difficult with the proper tools.
- Some E32s do not have backing plates underneath the stanchions.Every boat needs these, because stanchions and other deck hardware held in place with bolts and washers will flex the deck, encourage leaks, and may not be strong enough.
- Even though there should not be much tension on the aft lower shrouds, their backing plates as provided by the factory may not be large enough. They should be at least the size of a playing card and perhaps as large as a CD jewel case.
- Internally ballasted keels may accumulate water if the boat has been run hard aground and not properly fixed. That's not to say the water ends up in the bilge or in the cabin--generally it stays in the keel and drips out when the boat is hauled. If it freezes, however, it can cause structural damage. A proper repair is probably easier than replacing the keelbolts on a more modern boat.
- Blistering, the bane of many brands of boats built between 1975 and 1987, is not generally a severe problem for Ericsons.
- Replacement parts--rubrails, rudders, spreaders, tanks, etc.--are still available, in many cases from Ericson's original suppliers. Meticulous Recordkeeper Jeff Lennox has forwarded his Ericson Parts List in Word format, as published in the Northeast Ericson Owner's Association newsletter.
- A properly maintained Atomic Four engine, in my opinion, is not a drawback unless you plan to do bluewater cruising and need the range of a diesel. They are very reliable, quiet, smooth running, easy to maintain, and rebuildable for less than a third the cost of a new diesel installation.
- Performancewise, I think most other owners would agree that the Ericson 32 performs like any medium-displacement fin-keeled, spade-ruddered sailboat, which is to say that it's nimble and reasonably fast given the interior space and accommodations. Properly trimmed you'll easily motor at 5.5 knots and pull 6.5 or 7 knots on a beam reach in a good breeze with flat seas, maybe a little better with a spinnaker up if well-sailed. With a decent set of sails the boat will point very well. Boat for boat the Ericson 32 is approximately as fast as a Catalina 30, Pearson 323, or Columbia 32 but you will not find a single example of those other boats which looks as nice down below. The E32 is in a different performance league altogether than the Ericson 27. For PHRF handicap racing (see base handicap lists here and here) the 32 is fairly rated nowadays but it is not a "rulebeater."
Practical Sailor did a "Used Boat Survey" review of the Ericson 32 in its July 1, 2000 edition. Copyright restrictions preclude me from placing the review on the website or emailing individual copies. But Practical Sailor will fax you a copy of the review for about $30, and their website says they will eventually be selling their reviews online. For now, fax them a request for the Ericson 32 evaluation along with your name, address, fax number, and credit card number including expiration date (Amex, Visa, or MasterCard) and PS will fax back the report. The cost is $5.25 per page. Requests received before noon Eastern Time will be faxed the same day. Requests received after noon will be fulfilled the following business day. Their fax number is (203) 661-4802.
Note, this is not an endorsement of Practical Sailor. I think they're off about the 32-II's PHRF rating and its "average" performance given its vintage. But I believe the piece is directionally accurate.