(Posted with the permission of the Chesapeake Bay Magazine. Copyright 2001 by Tom Dove. Do not distribute or reproduce in any form without permission from the author. Photos by Michael C. Wootton.)
by Tom Dove
its traditional, good looks and solid construction,
the Alberg 37 is a proven world traveler that
has found many loving fans on the Chesapeake.
Carl Alberg didn't know how to design an ugly boat, and the Alberg 37 is one of his prettiest. It's also strong, seaworthy and If you've always wanted something like a Bermuda 40 but can’t see a reason to spend that much money, this is a logical choice.
Kurt Hansen's Whitby Boat Works in Ontario, Canada, turned out 248 Alberg 37s from 1967 to 1988. The MK I version was built until 1971, when it was superseded by the MK II, which has a fiberglass toe rail instead of wood, a dodger splash guard in the deck, longer port lights and a fiberglass pan liner. The MK II interior was also tweaked to create a larger head and galley and longer berths. The recession in 1987 and 1988 brought about the end of the A37, as Whitby quit building this traditional vessel in the face of a declining market.
Alberg 37 owners range from enthusiastic to fanatic about their boats, and for good reason. Heavily built and nice to look at, these boats frequently pop up on the used market, and it's not inconceivable that you could, for $40,000, find yourself in a world-worthy cruiser that doubles as a safe, comfortable Bay boat.
Our test boat was Syrinx, a 1976 model owned by Bill Booker of Kennett Square, Pa. Syrinx was originally a yawl, and the mizzen step and chain plates are still in place, but she was re-rigged as a sloop some time before Booker bought her four years ago. Other than that and new upholstery, the boat appears to be almost all original. We motored through Kent Narrows with fingers crossed for some wind, but the Chester River was as flat as I've ever seen it. Window panes have more ripples than the water did that day and the weather was equally uncooperative for the rest of the week. I'll have to rely on owners for sailing reports.
Wayne Bower, skipper of Teelok (a 1977 model) has cruised extensively up the northeast coast all the way to Newfoundland. "Boat design is all a compromise, however, the A37 is a really good compromise," he says. "She does well in light air and well in heavy air. When it gets really light…. the lightweights are going to creep away. However, up until that point the A37 is still in competition."
This boat doesn't carry a lot of sail and it's quite heavy, with a displacement/length ratio more suitable for an ocean voyager than a Bay boat. But Booker likes that. "I don't think you'd ever have to reef around here," Booker says. "I was out in twenty-five knots with full sail up and probably should have reefed, but there was no danger and the boat was controllable."
I'd bet that most A37s weigh nearly a ton over their design weight as a result of owner additions and absorbed water. Expect the draft to be close to 6 feet as a result. With its narrow beam and low ballast ratio, this design is not stiff, and it's not uncommon to put the lee rail under. "They have an hourglass-shape bottom and tend to like about twenty degrees of heel," Bower says. "It's where they feel most comfortable.... They have a nice easy motion at sea and drive nicely."
While the large wetted surface limits speed in light air and the narrow hull and big keel won't let it surf downwind like newer boats, the A37 should be fun to windward. "Being narrow of beam, they point quite high," Bower says. "As long as you have a good set of sails, you won't find too many out there that will outpoint you." A typical PHRF rating is around 168.
As for performance under power, Syrinx has a Volvo MD2, and Booker feels the boat is underpowered. At 1500 rpm, the speed was just over 5 knots, but opening the throttle wide yielded better than 6.5 knots, close to the theoretical hull-speed limit, so I think there's little point in installing a bigger power plant. Bower says Teelok has a Westerbeke 108 (Perkins 108) with a 13LH9 prop, so that at about 1100 rpm, she is moving along at about 5.8 to 5.9 knots. "The Westerbeke has the power to drive it harder, but I find that she has a tendency to squat when you do and as a result tends to soot up the overhang," Bower says.
Handling in forward gear is quite good, with a turning circle of about one boat length. Reverse is another matter; the boat is reluctant to go where it's already been, although it performs in reverse better than a Bermuda 40. Besides backing, there are a few minor handling issues. The boat tends to wander at anchor; with the yawl you can sheet in the mizzen as a riding sail so the boat stays head to wind, while a small riding sail will settle down a sloop. With the slack bilges and narrow beam, the A37 tends to roll more than vessels with flatter bottoms, but the motion is slow. Most ocean voyagers prefer that to a quick, snappy roll.
I love wide side decks, as did Alberg. The boat also has a high toe rail, tall lifelines and good handrails along the cabin top, so it's nice and secure out there. It's a short step to the cabin top, and the boom is low enough that a standard size human can reach it to furl the mainsail.
In an era when boat builders often installed undersized winches to cut costs, Whitby went the other way. The genoa winches are huge, suitable for a 45-footer, and the halyards lead to two-speed winches. The other hardware is hefty, too. The factory believed in big, strong fittings, including the cleats, ports and hinges. This stuff makes what we see on new boats look like costume jewelry.
The cockpit is comfortable, if smallish, reflecting the traditional view of what an offshore boat should be. Syrinx has wheel steering (standard on the MK II) but the tiller head is still in place for an emergency tiller. The steering pedestal is well forward, which Booker only likes when it's raining and he can hide under the dodger while sailing. The 24-inch wheel does block the companionway, but its location also makes it easy for the skipper to reach the sheets when single-handing. The helm is light enough that tiller steering would be a reasonable choice for the purist.
Bower has designed and built a beautiful hard dodger of fiberglass for Teelok, in keeping with his preference for cruising rough northern waters. It looks like factory equipment and would be a good addition for any serious cruiser to install. Several companies that advertise in many of the magazines can build hard dodgers for $1,500 to $2,000.
The short waterline, narrow beam and wide side decks cut into the A37's interior space, which is roughly comparable to a modern 29-footer. It does have a lot more storage than the new boat will, but the living accommodations are best suited to a couple, perhaps with one child. This is a totally conventional interior. A V-berth occupies the forward cabin, the head is next aft, to port opposite a hanging locker. There are twin settees and a fold-down table in the saloon, an L-shaped galley to starboard, and a nav station to port. It's ordinary and totally functional.
Lockers are everywhere. Syrinx has the "deluxe" interior, with additional bookshelves and a pretty starboard-side locker for glassware. As heavy as this hull is, you won't notice much performance change when you add 1,000 pounds of supplies for a long cruise. The tanks are where they belong beneath the cabin sole, where their weight can serve as ballast. The deep keel makes that possible, indirectly freeing up more stowage space in the cabin. There's lots of teak plywood inside, so the cabin is somewhat dark. Photophiles might want to paint a bulkhead or two white and varnish the wood, instead of oiling it, for more reflectivity.
The electrical system isn't much. Either rewire the boat or read Thoreau.
Hull and Engine
The solid fiberglass hull appears to be carefully laminated, and the interior finish of the glass work has no rough edges. A few owners have reported breaks in the tabbing between the bulkheads and the hull; that should be on the checklist if you're shopping.
The hull-to-deck joint I saw was riveted near the bow but bolted at 4-inch intervals farther aft, an unusual combination. An inward-turning lip on the hull supports the deck, and adhesive is in between. Whatever the details, owners report no problems. Don't be alarmed by the light shining through the hull in hidden areas; it's more than thick enough. If it bothers you, paint the interior surface. One A37 rode out the famous Fastnet storm, several have circumnavigated, and one pounded on a coral atoll in the Pacific for three days and still held together. There's no problem with durability of the basic structure. The deck is cored with wood. As with any such construction, keep an eye out for water intrusion and subsequent rot and delamination. Check the stanchion bases first; that's where a lot of stress occurs.
Syrinx still has her original gelcoat finish and it looks good. That speaks well of the original construction quality as well as owner care. The ports on Syrinx are of cast metal (not bronze). The exact port model varied a bit throughout the production run, and owners say most boats require recaulking the ports to stop leaks. That's normal for a vessel this age.
A modern diesel running at higher speed would be somewhat smoother than the massive two-cylinder Volvo in Syrinx, but that old two-banger will last forever. Other power plants offered were a 28-hp, 3-cylinder Volvo or a Westerbeke 4-108, like the one in Teelok. All are reliable engines.
The prop is tucked into an aperture in the keel, so there's a limit to its diameter; you probably can't fit a propeller that can convert all the power of a 4-108. Syrinx now has a feathering prop to reduce drag under sail. That's a good, if expensive, idea. A, folding prop will not fit in the aperture, and considering the poor backing behavior of this boat, it would only complicate life around the marina anyway.
Engine access is good, once you remove the steps and part of the galley countertop. Syrinx has an access port for the shaft in the cockpit, apparently the result of an earlier owner encountering difficulty with reaching the stuffing box. It is hard to get at from the cabin; you flop over the engine and reach way back to touch it. This seems to be the only drive train issue that owners mention regularly.
One of the great benefits of an older boat like the Alberg 37 is that the boat's owners are an avid lot who enjoy sharing stories, advice and know-how from the boat repair school of hard knocks. The place to start on the internet is http://www.alberg37.org/. Links from there will take you just about anywhere you might want to go for more information. On the Bay, you can contact the Alberg 37 International Owners Association through Tom and Kaye Assenmacher at Box 32, Kinsale, Va., 22488; e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org .
There are usually several Alberg 37s on the market. The MK I models seem to start about $34,000 and go into the mid $50,000s, while the listings for MK Il versions range from the mid $40,000s to the mid $70,000s. You could put $25,000 into even the scruffiest one and end up with a fine specimen.
Teelok's owner sums it up well: "I look around for other vessels to see what comes close to the A37 and I haven't found many certainly nothing I can afford. The fleet is starting to get some age on it, but the boat is basically a good solid foundation. If someone didn't mind spending a few dollars for cosmetics and upgrades, they wouldn't be disappointed. The A37 is quite a boat."
The ALBERG 37
Manufacturer: Whitby Boat Works Ontario, Canada
Designer: Carl Alberg
Displacement: 16800 lb.
Sail Area: 646 (sloop) or 686 (yawl) sq ft
Water: 60 gal
Fuel: 35 gal
Displacement/Length: 403 (heavy);
Sail Area/ Displacement: 15.3 (low)
Ballast/Displacement: 0.39 (low);
US Sailing Screening Value: 1.6 (below 2.0 recommended for offshore sailing)
Comfort Value: 40 (high)
(This article was published in the August 2001 issue of the Chesapeake Bay Magazine.)