The venerable Pearson Vanguard
  This grand
old dame will
always be

by Bill Sandifer




reprinted from Good Old Boat magazine
with permission



photos by Jim Schmitt

pictures and text © Good Old Boat magazine

It might not have been love at first sight but it was close. Marcelo Gentenetta, a veterinarian, was looking at a Pearson Triton for possible purchase when he noticed a very attractive sailboat in the next slip. He asked the owner of the Triton what the neighbor boat was. When told that it was a Pearson Vanguard, his love affair with the Vanguard began. The Vanguard in the next slip was not for sale, but it started a search that finally included six other boats and 1,500 miles. At the end of this quest, he purchased his own Vanguard, Aldebaran, in Chicago.

Design and construction
The Vanguard is a product of talented designer Phil Rhodes. She was designed at the beginning of the mass-produced fiberglass boat age. Boats of this period were designed as if they were going to be built of wood but were built of fiberglass instead. The result was a boat built to the conventional wisdom and to the rating rule of the time. The Vanguard very much reflects the thinking behind the CCA Rule.
This included long overhangs, narrow beam, and (by today’s standards) comparatively small interior spaces. Since no one had a clear idea of the strength of fiberglass, the designers and builders stuck as close to wood scantlings as feasible. This resulted in a thick hull, known dimensions for a desired boat length, and a conservative approach to the entire project. This does not follow today’s trend toward wider, lighter, and shallower boats. The older boats were built heavier than today’s equivalent-length craft.

On deck
Decks are wide with good-sized toe-rails and ample foot room. Today’s trend to reduce the on-deck walkway is not to be seen on a Vanguard. It’s easy to move about on board. The boats had high-quality deck hardware, and it was all through-bolted. Cleats and chocks are appropriate for the size of lines intended for the boat.

As one might guess, accommodations are on the small size when compared with today’s boat of the same length on deck. This is not to say they are not practical, just not luxurious. The Vanguard is probably equivalent to a 25-footer of today’s vintage. The Vanguard is a good cruiser for two people, but even though there are berths for more than two people, it would be hard to know where to fit the bodies when everyone was up and about belowdecks. You could add a couple of kids, but two more full-size adult people sleeping aboard would be tight.
Belowdecks, Aldebaran looks like what she is: a 1960s vintage boat, narrow but comfortable. It is a personal choice whether to change the belowdecks décor and to modernize its look, but Marcelo likes old things (he drives a 1970s Volkswagen Beetle, for example), and he decided he liked the boat as it was laid out and decorated. The interior layout is typical for a boat this size: a V-berth forward followed by a head to port with a hanging locker opposite. The main cabin was offered in two configurations. The A-plan had settees port and starboard with pilot berths and an extension berth to port and a centerline table.
The A-plan galley runs across the back of the main saloon (shown below). The B-plan boat has a U-shaped dinette to port with a galley that runs along the starboard side for the length of the main cabin and two quarter berths. Aldebaran is an A model. The two quarterberths of the B model make access to the sides of the engine easier as there are access panels that can be opened in each quarter berth. The steps to the cockpit still need to be removed for frontal access to the engine. On the A model, side engine access is through the cockpit seat hatches.

The rig
Vanguards were available as either a sloop or a yawl rig, but most were built as sloops. The sloops have mastheadrigs with single spreaders and double lowers set forward and aft of the uppers, which are anchored athwartships i n line with the mast. The mast and hardware are unusually strong and have stood up well. The boats tend to be a little under-canvassed, which is better than having to reef whenever the wind is above 12 knots. The boats are still competitive under the PHRF rating rule and can be raced as a class if there are enough of them in an area. One area that comes to mind is Long Island Sound, New York, where there are many Pearson Vanguards.

Vital statistics

Pearson Yachts
Between 1963 and 1967 About 400 boats were built.
They range from a low of $6,000 to over $30,000 for a fully upgraded boat.
32 feet 6 inches
22 feet 4 inches
9 feet 3 inches
4 feet 6 inches
Sail area:
470 square feet with a 100 percent foretriangle
10,300 pounds when new — Vanguards are probably a bit heavier now due to age and water absorption, not to mention cruising gear
Displacement-to-length ratio:
Sail area-to-displacement ratio:
Ballast-to-displacement ratio:
Capsize screening value:
1.7 (where below 2.0 is recommended for offshore sailing)
Comfort ratio:


Under way
If you check out the Vanguard website , you will read that the boat sails like a dream, and the passionate owners who say so are correct. She has a narrow beam and long overhangs . . . not as long as in the Herreshoff tradition but long by today’s standards. A little weather helm, initial tenderness hardening up to a very firm 20 degrees of heel, and a delightful motion combine to produce as sweet a sailing boat as you will find anywhere.
You can push her to a greater degree of heel, but she will let you know that you are doing her wrong. She does not pound to weather but rather has a solid, comfortable ride. A Vanguard can easily reel off 140 miles in 24 hours and not punish her crew. In a good breeze, 150 miles a day is a possibility.

Things to check out
Vanguards were well built by Pearson Yachts and typically suffer only the deterioration of time. Some do develop hull-to-deck leaks, and some have had bulkhead bottoms rot from water, but most are in restorable condition. The engine will most likely have been or will need to be replaced.

Sails probably are not the original set. And the interior, if original, will benefit from a makeover. Her systems and wiring do not meet today’s codes and will need to be redone. A good survey is an invaluable aid to determining the value and needs of the older Vanguards.
Give careful consideration to the condition of the decks, watching for soft spots that indicate deck core rot. This is a very expensive and/or labor-intensive repair and may make the boat too expensive unless you can do it yourself. See Good Old Boat, November 1998, to learn what’s involved. (Note: Sold-out 1998-99 issues of Good Old Boat are available once again in pdf format on CD. –Ed.)

The engine
All Vanguards were originally built with Atomic 4 engines. The former owner of Aldebaran stated that the engine worked when he brought the boat to the Chicago yard prior to Marcelo’s purchase. Since the boat was out of the water, there was no convenient way of checking out the engine, so Marcelo believed the seller. But once he had the boat transported to its new home, he learned that the engine rotated but had no compression.
A call to Don Moyer of Moyer Marine determined that all was not lost. The engine was pulled and shipped to Don for a total rebuild including the addition of freshwater cooling. Marcelo wanted to keep his Vanguard as original as possible, so rather than replace the Atomic 4 with a diesel, he had the Atomic 4 rebuilt. The engine space, however, is adequate for a diesel engine, and many owners have made this modification over the years. While the engine was out, Aldebaran’s engine compartment received a thorough cleaning. The remaining interior of the boat was original and in good condition, so Marcelo concentrated his efforts on the exterior.
An interesting note is that the original 13 x 8 two-bladed propeller would only allow the engine to reach 1,300 rpm. Indigo Electronics came to the rescue with a specifically designed propeller for the Atomic 4 with three blades. The engine now hits 2,000 rpm, and backing has been improved. The boat has the power to push against adverse wind and tide that it did not have previously.


The refit
The hull was badly crazed, so a complete exterior refit was in order. This included removing, re-chroming, and replacing all of the exterior hardware. The original South Coast bronze winches were sent back to South Coast for rebuilding. Even the portlights and fixed windows were removed and re-chromed. The original mahogany rudder was faired, and the hull was sealed with an underwater epoxy barrier coat. The exterior was painted with Awlgrip: white with a creamy yellow deck that gives the boat a very spiffed-up new look. When the engine returned, the boat was rewired, a tricolor light was added to the masthead, additional winches were added, and new instruments were installed.
Marcelo replaced the original VDO speed indicator with a new unit and a new depth sounder. Other work included replacing the old wooden spreaders with aluminum ones as the wooden ones had broken on an earlier sail, jeopardizing the mast. The mast was the original aluminum one with a roller-reefing wooden boom. A jiffy-reefing system was added to replace the old rotating boom reefing system. A new bail at the end of the boom for attachment of the main sheet was also added. The old bail had had a groove worn into it from many miles of cruising.

The first time I saw Aldebaran at the dock in Long Beach, Mississippi, I recognized her as a Pearson Vanguard but thought she might be a new boat from an old mold. The boat looked that good. Upon closer inspection, I realized that it was an old boat that had undergone a complete and very successful restoration. She looks great. The re-chromed hardware and window frames certainly helped, and the Awlgrip on the hull and decks was just right.



Sail wardrobe
The sails that came with the boat are not original, but they are works of art. Marcelo gets excited talking about the beautiful hand-stitching and quality of workmanship in these Ratsey & Lapthorn sails. He fears it will be hard to duplicate them when he looks for new sails. Since Ratsey & Lapthorn are still in business on the Isle of Wight in England, these fears may be unfounded. The standing rigging is original and in good shape.

In general
Once launched, Aldebaran proved to be all that Marcelo had hoped. The boat provides a soft ride, does not pound, heels to a point, and then stays there. She is tender initially but with a capsize screening ratio of 1.6, she is ultimately very stable. Marcelo jokes about an Atlantic crossing in the future, but there is no question that the Vanguard is ready and able for just such a cruise.
The problem areas of these boats are the decks. Open holes, worn out caulking, and badly re-bedded fittings can lead to water intrusion into the deck core. This, in turn, leads to delamination along with rotting of the core and all of its associated problems.
A used Vanguard can be a very affordable boat for a family starting out sailing. The Phil Rhodes design provides a great pedigree. The construction by Pearson assures a quality job to start with and, even if neglected, a project boat can be brought back to excellent condition as Aldebaran has been. It only takes time or money or a combination thereof. There is an active owner’s association, so lots of advice is readily available on the web.

Summing up
The Vanguard is a safe, stable, wonderful sailing boat. It has a sheer that will make you smile and be proud every time you step away or row away from the boat. All said, this is one sweet boat to look at and sail. It is not a floating condo but a true sailboat. In the words of a cliché, it will drink six, feed four, and sleep two in comfort. There is not much more that could be asked of a good old boat.

Moyer Marine
717-625-3891 (parts)
410-810-8920 (technical services)
Indigo Electronics
Ratsey & Lapthorn Sailmakers
Pearson Vanguard website
The Vanguardian newsletter
Conrad Hoover
2600 W. 17th Street
Wilmington, DE 19806-1109