This review originally appeared in Sea FOR THE EASTERN BOATMAN in the March 1978 issue, starting on page 44. The format has been modified to permit the reproduction of the article (original magazine pages had turned yellow) for use on The Pearson 424 Association WEB site pearson424.org.
by Earl Hinz and Chris Caswell
In addition to the most comprehensive boat tests in the field, SEA has an additional claim to fame this month: we singlehandedly solved California's drought. It was all a result of scheduling our Pearson 424 tests until just a few days before the magazine deadline. And that, of course, brought torrential rains, gale winds and weather that we all decided was better suited for reading the Pearson brochures than for actually going sailing.
One thing we did decide after the storms abated enough to permit the sailing sessions: if we had to be out there in miserable weather and lots of wind, the Pearson 424 is the kind of boat we'd like to be aboard. It's built overly strong in every area, it has the space to stretch out and get away from the other watch, it's stiff in a breeze and it's surprisingly quick.
Pearson Yachts have been around since the inception of fiberglass yachts and, not surprisingly when you see their construction methods. Their early designs, like the Triton and the Bounty yawl, are still fit and active after decades of hard service. Suffice it to say that Pearson has been around long enough to sort out the details of how a boat should be built and how it should be designed. Pearson's "house" designer is Bill Shaw, a well-respected naval architect who also serves on several marine advisory boards which probably accounts for the fact that all equipment and installations meet or exceed industry recommended standards.
Data Table originally appeared on page 48
The Pearson 424 is an aft cockpit, aft stateroom cruising ketch introduced as a bigger sister to the Pearson 365. The boat that we tested was hull number 3 which had been shown at the Long Beach Boat Show and then was delivered to Jim McCloskey's Trans-Oceanic Yacht Sales in Newport Beach, who put it at our disposal.
Construction is fairly conventional: the hull is hand laid fiberglass with thicknesses that can only be termed husky while the deck is a fiberglass and end-cut balsa core sandwich for strength and light weight. Pearson assembles each module of the boat separately, so that the interiors are pre-assembled, wired and finished before they are dropped into the hulls. It's a good method, because it allows full access for the workmen to install the wiring looms, the engine and accessories, and to prepare the hull. Before the deck is dropped onto the finished hull assembly, all the hardware is through-bolted with backing plates on critical equipment such as cleats and stanchions.
Aesthetically, the Pearson 424 is a graceful boat from almost any direction. From astern, she's a bit "fat-assed" in a motorsailerish way, but we still liked her looks. The side decks are spacious enough for easy movement and the nonskid will prevent slips without being overly harsh.
The cockpit is a wraparound arrangement comfortable for both sailing and lolling. High seat-backs provide good support and a large coaming keeps water on deck from entering the cockpit, although you'll probably have a lake there if you're heeled over for any time on one tack. A bridge deck gives 360-degree cockpit seating while also cutting down the amount of water that would have to drain out of the foot well in heavy weather. Under the bridge deck are the engine instruments in their own housing. The cockpit has a lot of hatches: two lockers port and starboard for sails or docking gear,
a lazarette aft with more stowage, and a stove fuel locker for bottled gas (in this case LP gas) that is vented overboard for safety. The mizzenmast is stepped on the cockpit sole and provides a good handhold for going below.
It's when you venture into the cabin that you find a mild schizophrenia in the Pearson 424. It also brings up a little-mentioned controversy regarding the value of aft cabins (a cabin aft of the cockpit) versus aft staterooms (a separate area aft of the salon but forward of the cockpit). In this case, the aft stateroom is intended as the owner's living quarters but the layout seems to make it more of a thoroughfare than a private cabin.
First of all, it's the most accessible interior area to the cockpit, since the hatch is placed where most conventional boats have their main companionway. The "main" hatch is located forward on the starboard cabin housetop and it leads to the salon, but you have to leave the cockpit and climb up on the cabin house to use it. It's not very convenient at any time, and certainly not if conditions are rough or you're sailing at night. Most seamen dislike leaving the security blanket of the cockpit in bad conditions, and particularly if they want to go below. The result is that the entire crew will probably trudge through the owner's stateroom on the way to the head or the galley or just to their own bunks.
In addition, the navigation table is located in the aft stateroom, which further encourages the violation of any privacy. The man on watch is usually going to want to keep up his plotting, he may want to just check the chart, or he might want to use the electronics which will probably be installed at the table…all of which means more people in the owner's cabin.
Aside from those concerns, the aft stateroom is a nice enough place. A double berth lies to port with pullout drawers underneath and a shelf above it. A smallish hanging locker is aft, but that would probably end up as a wet locker for oilskins since it picks up engine heat (and that would be another encouragement for general use of the aft stateroom).
The navigation station is cramped at best, with the chart table tucked so far under the side deck that it's impossible to lean forward over the charts. A swing-out stool provides seating, but you'll still bang your brow on the overhead. There's plenty of chart storage under the tabletop, but our vote would be to move the entire navigation area into the main salon and put a hanging locker or bureau in the aft stateroom for more storage (and fewer people).
Just forward of the aft stateroom, to starboard, is the head compartment, which, on our test boat, had the standard Vacu-Flush toilet and holding tank. A sink and vanity share space with a deep hamper that needed a liner because you can't reach the bottom of it. Sliding plexiglas doors cover a locker that would benefit by a shelf behind the sink, but the overall head compartment is bright and airy. A fiberglass shower stall has a molded-in seat with the clever idea of a built-in soak tub with a lid. Clothing can be left awash with soap so that the boat's motion will act as a washing machine.
The main salon is warm, airy and typical of the fine quality woodwork with which Pearson has enhanced its reputation. All bare fiberglass has been covered with oiled teak and Pearson is the first honest boat builder we've encountered that admits to the "simulated" teak and holly flooring. Most claim the real thing, but this is one that looks like the original.
The galley area is nicely situated to port so that the cook is undisturbed by traffic. An extra deep double sink has hot and cold pressure water (from an 8O-gal. tank) as well as a hand-pump that picks up melted ice water from the refrigerator sump…a good idea. Against the outboard side of the galley is the icebox, which is immensely deep with a smallish opening. Pearson makes perhaps one of the best iceboxes in the industry, with the entire unit being fully surrounded by several inches of polyurethane foam for superb insulation, but this one would be hard to use for storage. It needed another shelf or two and a larger opening. The stove itself is gimbaled in an easy-to-clean fiberglass liner...another innovative touch.
Galley storage in general was acceptable, an eye-Ievel locker above the sink for plates and glasses, a locker behind the counter that needed another shelf, and utensil drawers under the counter. One very useful locker swings out to reveal the trash container, which is usually forgotten in most boats. And every cook will probably envy the large transparent aluminum-framed hatch that hinges upward for fresh air directly over the galley.
Planted amidships, around the mainmast butt, is a double leaved table with transom berths that double as settees to port and starboard. Each berth has quite a bit of storage above, behind and under it, which could be used for galley storage as well as boat gear or crew duffels. To carry their quality into every corner, Pearson lines each locker that touches the hull with a heavy fabric to combat dampness.
The forward cabin, we all decided, ought to be the owner's cabin simply because it's so comfortable. Guests or crew members are usually consigned to second-rate accommodations, but not aboard the Pearson 424. There are lots of lockers, a V-berth with a filler piece, a small seat, a vanity and washbasin, a small hanging locker and a bureau. Another of the aluminum hatches opens overhead for air and access.
On deck, a lot of care has been taken to layout an efficient boat. An anchor locker is built into the foredeck and can hold anchor and 100 feet of line and chain, and more rode is carried in the traditional forepeak. Cleats are oversized (they're actually the right size, but we're used to seeing undersized cleats) an4 mounted on the toe rail edge to keep the deck clear; the fairleads are arranged so that they won't chafe the line.
A lot of thought has been taken here. Pearson builds their own spars, and these appear to be plenty large enough for the capabilities of this yacht. Our test boat had the optional double lifelines, which creaked ominously when leaned upon, although this might have been a result of the fact that they were screwed together rather than welded. Bow and stern pulpit are standard, by the way. Getting underway, the Westerbeke 54-hp diesel is more than enough for this boat. Mounted under the cockpit and with access via a host of removable panels under the steps into the aft stateroom, it was a good installation considering the space under the deck.
Which really means that you'll have to squirm and struggle to reach some components but that's hard to solve. The driveline runs forward under the cabin floor to a Walter V-drive (very accessible) next to the galley and then aft to a three-bladed prop. The engine was insulated with a composite soundproofing material that appeared to have a lead lining in it, but the noise was still unacceptable in the aft stateroom at higher rpms. But looking at the speed curves under power, it's apparent that you don't need all that horsepower and can run at well below the engine's recommended cruise speed of 2500 rpm without losing much speed. SEA'S belief is that any noise level above 80 db (A) is unacceptable, but dropping the power back from cruise of 7.7 knots and 87 db(A) to 7 knots and 83 db(A) would be worthwhile. It appears that the propeller was losing efficiency, perhaps due to cavitation, at the higher rpms because the curve flattens out considerably. What this really means is that if you run the engine slower, you will conserve fuel, cut down on engine wear, reduce the sound level and still go nearly as fast! The 424 has excellent acceleration under power and is very smooth at all speeds above idle, where the natural vibration of a diesel tends to rattle things. It's a fast boat, with a peak of hull speed (V/H) easily reached under power.
The big prop and lots of power affected the turning radius, though, and the Pearson is a bit reluctant to port. The starboard turns were excellent in comparison to our other test sailboats, but be careful going left!
Under sail, the boat was a pleasure despite the light winds for our instrument sessions. We'd normally expect a boat with these accommodations and general design characteristics to be comfortably slow when compared to a racer-cruiser, but we were proved wrong. The 424 is deceptively quick, and, when reaching, was just as fast as the Cal 39 (SEA, July, 1977). Upwind, the ketch rig and heavier lines were at their worst in the light winds, but we all felt she'd be surprisingly close-winded in breezes above 10 knots. Speed on the polar diagram also dropped considerably going downwind simply because we had no spinnaker, mizzen staysail, or even a whisker pole for the genoa.
The Edson pedestal steering, though somewhat stiff, was sufficiently sensitive and the only criticism voiced over the sailing trials was the ineffective mizzen sheeting arrangement. The mainsail is provided with a very usable traveller, which can be trimmed to get the boat upwind, but the mizzen is saddled with a one-point sheet lead in the middle of the stern pulpit. As soon as the boat started getting close to the wind, the mizzen would backwind and so it was that we plotted our polar diagram for the smaller wind angles with the mizzen furled. We felt that a better sheet lead might have helped the performance, and a boom vang for both mizzen and main would have improved the downwind numbers considerably.
Nevertheless, the fact that the 424 reached a speed of 5 knots in a 5-knot true wind certainly hammers the point home that this is no tubby cruising boat. She needs wind to get moving, but she won't disgrace you in light airs. She's also quite stiff (see the polar diagram), and we'd expect that to hold up into higher winds as well. She tracks extremely well and could be left for long periods by herself while either reaching or pointing.
All in all, she's a fine boat. Not cheap at our test price of $81,000, but quality that you won't find in many production boats either. One of the test crew asked our technical editor if he'd take the 424 on a duplication of his recent 21- month South Seas cruise. His answer? "You bet! Let's start now!"
Data Table originally appeared on page 48 in a different format