The venerable Pearson Vanguard
old dame will
by Bill Sandifer
reprinted from Good Old Boat magazine
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
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.
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
Builder: 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
32 feet 6 inches
22 feet 4 inches
9 feet 3 inches
4 feet 6 inches
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
Sail area-to-displacement ratio:
Capsize screening value:
1.7 (where below 2.0 is recommended for offshore
If you check out the Vanguard website
http://www.pearsonvanguard.org/ , 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
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.)
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
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
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
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.
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
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.