The bruised sky foretold thunderstorms as I shook Bill Bolin’s hand in the cockpit of the new Island Packet 360 after CW‘s Boat of the Year testing on Chesapeake Bay. Bolin, Island Packet’s V.P. of sales and marketing, turned the bow into the steep chop kicked up by the blustery 20-knot southerly wind. Only one other boat was on the move. There was no mistaking its beige hull, wide plank bowsprit, Hoyt jib boom, and swim platform: another Island Packet. The couple aboard waved from inside the canvas enclosing the cockpit.
Bolin describes the 360 as “a centerfield homerun for Island Packet” that’s designed to appeal to the broad mid-market of cruising couples. It joins the Estero as the smallest boat that the company currently builds, and the two share the same hull. The Estero, introduced in 2009, has an unusual layout, with the owners cabin aft and the main saloon in the forepeak. The stateroom forward/guest cabin aft approach on the 360 is more conventional—except for the two deluxe reclining armchairs in the main cabin. With the table folded away against the forward bulkhead, the saloon converts to a luxurious living room.
Bob Johnson, Island Packet’s designer, believes in traditional boats with traditional virtues able to shrug off common cruising mishaps—grounding on rocks, hitting a submerged log, sliding over a drift net. While the majority of production boats have undergone a gradual shift over the past three decades toward fin keels and spade rudders, he’s continued to draw boats with his signature Full Foil Keel. Performance is only part of his design equation; seaworthiness and safety matter at least as much.
Not joining the yacht-design revolution doesn’t preclude change, though. Over the years, Johnson has incorporated developments in materials and construction to increase boat strength and durability. The rudder shape and the skeg design on the 360 were introduced on an earlier IP four years ago, and this keel has a foil that’s slightly different from the models that preceded it. Johnson said, “We keep tweaking and improving without violating the basic premise for the yacht, a boat that will take care of itself with very little effort for a cruising couple.”
A lot of folks agree with that premise. To date, the company has sold more than 2,300 boats, and according to its records, more than a quarter of those owners sail aboard their second, third, or even fourth Island Packet. Hundreds—including, no doubt, the hearty couple that had just waved at us—make the annual migration south to the islands.
Down below, the 360 has been well thought out to accommodate living aboard. The V-berths in the forward and aft cabins have inserts to create comfortable double bunks, but there’s room to dress in either cabin with the insert in place and the door closed. The head can be accessed from the main saloon or the forward cabin and features a push-button electric-flush toilet, a wraparound vanity with solid acrylic countertops, and a shower compartment with a wide seat. While a bit cramped, the U-shaped galley packs in two spacious fridge/freezer compartments; deep, stainless-steel inboard sinks; solid acrylic countertops with integral fiddles; a water-purifier tap; and a microwave oven. Eleven opening ports, two dorades, and five hatches provide exceptional ventilation.
The saloon functions effectively as living room, dining room, or, with the settee pulled out into a double berth, a third bedroom. However, the reclining chairs come at the expense of a usable navigation station/computer desk and a sea berth on the starboard side of the boat. Replacing the chairs with a starboard settee is an option, one that will appeal to those who plan to make several long passages a year.
The interior finish combines practicality with luxury. At the base of the companionway, a teak grate surrounded by fiberglass extends into the galley, giving wet crew a space to towel off before moving forward onto the solid, varnished tongue-and-groove sole of sapele and oak. The 360 also boasts raised-panel doors and cedar-lined lockers, features previously reserved for the largest boats in the fleet.
On deck, this is a boat designed to keep you safe and sound. As we made our way out into Chesapeake Bay, the wind picked up into the mid-20s and the chop increased to 3 feet. The boat’s heavy displacement dampened the motion, and I felt secure moving forward down the wide side decks flanked by the high bulwarks and lifelines on one side and the tall coachroof with stainless-steel handgrips along its entire length on the other.
The cutter-rigged sail plan consists of an in-mast furling mainsail with vertical battens, a roller-furling staysail, and a roller-furling 110-percent jib. The Hoyt jib boom makes tacking with the staysail a matter of turning the helm, but it also makes it difficult to get into the anchor locker, creates a tripping hazard going onto the bowsprit, and precludes stowing a dinghy on the foredeck, leaving davits as the only option.
The 360 isn’t designed to be an upwind machine, and it didn’t come into its own until we cracked off to a close reach. Then we did an acceptable 5 knots on the 31-foot waterline with a reefed mainsail and the 110-percent jib. The standard winches on the boat were undersized for the conditions, but larger winches are an option, and the winch pads are sized to accommodate them.
The solid Island Packet construction makes these long-lived boats that hold their value well. The company stands behind its boats with impressive warranties: three-year stem to stern and 10-year hull and deck. Those who consider the Island Packet designs anachronistic will prefer the performance advantage of more modern designs. But for the many who believe in the traditional virtues, the IP 360 will fill the bill.
As we made our way back toward Annapolis, Bill Bolin squinted into the rain. “Is that one of ours?” he asked. A moment later, I made out the characteristic beige hull, cutter rig, and wide bowsprit. Yes, another Island Packet heading south.
LOA 36′ 5″ (11.10 m.)
LWL 31′ 6″ (9.58 m.)
Beam 12′ 4″ (3.76 m.)
Draft 4′ 0″ (1.22 m.)
Sail Area (100%) 831 sq. ft. (77.2 sq. m.)
Ballast 7,500 lb. (3,402 kg.)
Displacement 19,300 lb. (8,754 kg.)
Water 110 gal. (416 l.)
Fuel 55 gal. (208 l.)
Holding 30 gal. (113 l.)
Mast Height 54′ 0″ (16.46 m.)
Engine 40-hp. Yanmar
Designer Bob Johnson, N.A.
Island Packet Yachts
Two-time circumnavigator Beth A. Leonard served on the judging panel for the 2012 Boat of the Year awards.