Classics for the open ocean

The one thing you need to know about Bristols is that they are tough sailboats.

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Adena, a 1989 Bristol 35.5 owned by Marilyn Kinsey. Photo/Paul Arno Rose

These aren’t boats designed to race around buoys on a placid lake or serve as dockside condos so you can entertain friends at the yacht club.

Bristols are bluewater sailboats designed by the likes of Ted Hood, Carl Alberg, John Alden, Halsey Herreshoff, Paul Coble and Dieter Empacher from the 1960s through the 1990s. Heavily built and strong, they have sleek hulls designed to slice through waves with an easy motion.

Bristol Yachts built about 4,400 sailboats before ending production in the 1990s.

The older ones have full keels with attached rudders. The newer ones have long fin keels with stout skegs to protect their rudders. Their masts are hefty, their hulls thick and their bulkheads strong. For cruising sailboats, their performance is solid.

Even the little Bristol 22 has crossed oceans. Larger Bristols — up to 53 feet — have been sailing the Atlantic and Pacific, cruising the Caribbean, wandering the coasts and taking thousands of shorter cruises for nearly 50 years.

What’s new
Bristol reunion race
Removing a centerboard
How Bristols were built
Book on Bristol cruising
Small boat refrigeration

While some newer, gleaming Bristols sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars, others are not expensive, particularly the older models. You can buy a small Bristol in need of love for a couple of thousand dollars or a world cruiser for $30,000 to $100,000..

There are two reasons why: Age, and their designs are out of style in some quarters.

Old isn’t necessarily a problem, as long as the previous owners maintained the boat properly – or you are willing to commit money and time to bringing a classic Bristol back to life.

The design issue arises, ironically, because Bristol’s designers chose to emphasize seaworthiness over expansive cabins and fair-weather speed.

Giving a sailboat plenty of weight, narrower beams, lower freeboard and lots of bulkheads means an easy and safe ride — but a slower time around the race course and less room down below.

This web site is dedicated to keeping interest alive in these classic sailboats. Browse around and read all about them.