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Off Watch: My Bleacher Seats

“On Facebook Marketplace, a local friend who’s a stellar sailor posted a listing for a sweet Pearson Ensign. For a price that, frankly, didn’t seem to add up.”

September 30, 2020
Pearson Ensign
A harbor tour on a Pearson Ensign is every bit as enjoyable as a Red Sox game in the cheap seats with a cold beer. Paul Todd/Outside Images

Funny, but I didn’t realize that what I was looking for was a simple, straightforward, good old Pearson Ensign. Right up until the moment I signed the check and bought one. But, as usual, I’m getting ahead of the story.

Let’s put it this way: Basically, I needed a boat. Sort of quickly. As I’ve mentioned previously in this space, it’s a condition of maintaining my city mooring here in Newport, Rhode Island (a mooring I waited over a decade for and hope not to lose anytime in the immediate future). I’d given away my previous little sailboat—a Pearson 26 that was in need of much tender loving care—to a high school senior looking for a school project. I’d kicked a few figurative tires, but suddenly time was of the essence. The summer wasn’t getting any longer.

I’ll blame my boss, CW ­editor Mark Pillsbury, for getting me thinking that less could be more. My search had been centered on smallish cruiser/racers with a proper auxiliary and galley, and decent if modest accommodations: a J/30 (I’d owned one previously), an older C&C in a similar-size range (ditto), a Cal 2-27, or perhaps a 30-foot Catalina or Pearson. But then Mark bought himself an O’Day Daysailer, and I thought: Eureka! Cheap, fun and trailerable, something of a placeholder for the time being. I almost immediately found one online about an hour’s drive away and made an appointment to see it that weekend.

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Which was when fate intervened.

On Facebook Marketplace, a local friend who’s a stellar sailor posted a listing for a sweet Pearson Ensign. For a price that, frankly, didn’t seem to add up: much too inexpensive. I pinged him and got an almost immediate response; it wasn’t his boat, he was merely advertising it for a friend, for whom he passed along the contact information.

This is the point in the story where we disclose that anyone who’s been kicking around in boats on Narragansett Bay for the past few decades (guilty!) knows a thing or two about Pearson Ensigns. Nearly 1,800 of the Carl Alberg-designed 22-foot, 6-inch daysailers were built just up the road for a couple of decades starting in 1962. Ensigns were, and perhaps still are, the largest full-keel one-design class of racing boats ever, and inspired dozens of dedicated fleets across the country—including one here in Newport when I was just getting into sailing. I actually did some crewing for the great Dr. Charlie Shoemaker back in the day, who kicked some serious Ensign tail in these parts.

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So I made another appointment, to check out the Ensign, on my way to the O’Day. And I was stunned. The owner had purchased it several years earlier from a sailor in Maine who I actually knew (once again proving my long-standing theory that there is but one degree of separation in the sailing world). It had been parked on stands in his driveway ever since, never launched. It came with a small chandlery of extras: a sweet, almost-new 6 hp outboard; six sails, including a very crisp main and genoa; cushions, fenders, dock lines, hardware, safety gear, boom cover, and even a small inflatable and the stands themselves.

What?!

Long story short: He was retiring and relocating, and selling his business, and everything else, including his house and boat. He asked me what I thought and to name a price. I named the one in the ad, and registered his immediate, visible shock. Apparently, he’d asked his friend to move the boat for him, but perhaps not so aggressively. He’d honor the figure in the ad, but not a penny less.

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Sold.

I went ahead and looked at the O’Day, whose owner was a local Rhode Island politician (insert your own joke here) who happened to be a very red Republican, which is a rarity in our very blue state. He was hilarious and I enjoyed meeting him. If not for the Ensign, he might’ve sold me his little boat.

But I’d already recalled my fun with “Doc Shoe” and other buddies over the years, with whom I’d enjoyed a spin around the harbor on their Ensigns, the primary feature of which are their long bench seats. You sit in an Ensign, not on one. Sailing one is like taking in a Red Sox game from the Fenway bleachers, beer in hand. Just plain fun.

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I’ve come to think I didn’t actually find this little gem. Nope. She found me.

Herb McCormick is CW’s executive editor.

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