- NOTE: There have been several changes to the Sea Pearl 21 production boats since this review was written more than 25 years ago. Still, we thought you might like to read at least one appraisal of the Sea Pearl's performance characteristics and potential.
Design or construction changes since this review:
- Water Ballast Tanks added for increased stability in rough, or gusty conditions
- Modern Marconi rig with rotating masts and reefing goosenecks so that you need not disconnect the boom to reef. The lug rig is no longer available, nor is the "wishbone rig." A vertical battened rig IS available for even more sail area.
- Redesigned deck to increase headroom in aft cockpit for "bimini room."
- Some of the hardware (or lack of it) described here have been modified or added.
- As you can see, the original design of the boat has not changed significantly. It has only been further refined into the ideal beach cruiser.
- Sea Pearl is built by George Jefferies and Ron Johnson, the two-man team who make up Marine Concepts of Tarpon Springs, Florida. The boat went through several evolutions before the builders settled on the current deck configuration, cat ketch rigs, leeboards, and tombstone transom.
Nearly double-ended, with a relatively narrow 5'6" beam on 21 feet overall, and flared, rounded topsides, Sea Pearl gives the impression of a miniature whaleboat, but in fact has the flat narrow bottom of a dory. She is a scaled up model of L. Francis Herreshoff's 18 foot Carpenter dory/whaleboat/tender designed in 1929. The flat bottom makes her easy to beach - something you'd want to do often in this handy boat - and gives her an unloaded draft of about five inches.
Sea Pearl is not a large boat despite her 21 foot length. Being narrow on the bottom and light, she feels tender at first and is sensitive to crew weight in light air - both fore and aft, and athwartships. She sails best when well heeled, and heels easily. On the other had, she stiffens up considerably with her lee rail about four inches clear of the water, and it's difficult to get her to heel any farther. We were, admittedly, skeptical of this characteristic, as you may be; and when Ron Johnson boasted of it while we sailed an unloaded Sea Pearl in a 15 knot breeze, what could we do but slide down to leeward (one at a time) to check? Sure enough, with four of us on the lee deck, we never got the rail under, and the boat just hummed along like the proverbial freight train. With the sheets started, a good breeze, and heeled to her lines, the bow wave laps up under the sheer rail and feels as though it will lift her up on plane - although it never did. The hull shape also seems to give Sea Pearl some lift to windward; boards up, we were able to sail up to a beam reach with little slippage to leeward.
The dory-whaleboat combination gives the boat considerable load-carrying ability. We sailed one Sea Pearl to windward in a 15 knot breeze and 1 to 2 foot chop with three people, a full sized fully loaded cooler, a three man tent, four sleeping bags, a couple of charcoal grills and charcoal, a two burner Coleman stove, assorted personal duffle, and a load of firewood - all in a 650 pound boat! Despite the load, she felt buoyant and responsive, steering quickly and positively. She threw some spray, however, and with little flare in the bow and low freeboard, she is not a dry boat in a chop. The spray does stay well forward though, and she shoulders through easily, with a rather sinuous feel. It would be great fun to snake her through a bit of sea.
If a wave top slopped over the six inch bulwark that surrounds the boat, there would be no trouble. Sea Pearl is three-quarter decked, the exception being an open hold amidships between the masts. Her cockpit, a footwell molded into the deck aft of the mizzen, drains through a removable plug in the transom just above the waterline. This footwell is tee-shaped, allowing space against the transom for standard outboard fuel tanks. They're out of the way there and out of the inside of the boat.
The cockpit is the best place to be when Sea Pearl is sailing. You get a fine feel for the length and shape of her, and for the grace of her motion through the water from back there. All the fittings are good-sized, and there's wisdom in their choice and placement. The mainsheet, for instance, is a single, heavy line, leading through an eye just forward of, and in line with, the mizzen mast, and belaying on a bronze cleat to starboard. At first this seems a petty irritation; you're always reaching around the spar to find the sheet, and the sheet being single-part, you always have to take a turn around the cleat to take some strain off (this has been changed on newer models .. ed). Then you find yourself using the mast as a bollard to take the strain, and it takes just enough off so you can simply step on the sheet to keep it from running out. You're never even tempted to belay it anymore - yet you still have a feel for the tension in the sheet. Similarly, the leeboard pendants have wooden handles knotted in the ends and belay in Clam Cleats angled just right for a person sitting on the opposite side of the cockpit. It's easy to get the rhythm of tacking: helm down, cross the cockpit as you let one board drop, haul up the other as you settle into your new seat. The mizzen sheet, too, is right at hand. It leads through a stainless bail on the rudderhead and belays in a Clam Cleat on the tiller. The pendant for the kick-up rudder also belays on the tiller.
But if the cockpit is the control center, the midships hold is the key to Sea Pearl's versatility. It is the social center, the stowage center, and tented in the the acrylic pram hood ( optional ), it becomes the cabin and stateroom. The hold is just deep enough and the coaming around it just low enough to make sitting on the side deck with your feet on the bottom truly comfortable. Stowage is arranged under the side decks behind teak battens screwed into the deck supports. But the entire inside of the boat is open from the hold, and long gear like oars and boat hooks stow best aft, under the cockpit seats. The pram hood stows up under the foredeck, zipped up in a protective cover to keep it from snagging things when it isn't in use. An acrylic tonneau cover is supplied to cover the hold in bad weather or for trailering.
There's 3 1/2 feet of headroom in the hold with the pram hood up, enough to sit upright. You sleep on vinyl-covered, 2 inch PVC foam cushions (optional), laid over the carpeted bottom. This berth is large and comfortable for one person, but it was uncomfortably narrow for two. We suggest carrying a tent and sleeping ashore if the skipper and crew are not extremely friendly, although the cockpit sole is 6.5 feet long, and one could sleep there - with an eye on the weather (or an optional boom tent - ed.). In order to ensure a tight fit of both the hood and the tonneau, the builders keep a mock up of the hold coaming at the canvas shop.
As troublesome as it may seem at first, the split rig is wonderful for these boats, allowing some really easy handling, Under it, Sea Pearl will sail herself from a beam reach on up to a beat with the main sheeted a bit flatter than the mizzen. The helm doesn't even need to be lashed. She can also be steered somewhat with the mizzen sheet; just take it forward with you when you need to find some duffle or get the anchor ready. The boats heave to easily by sheeting the mizzen flat and letting the main luff, though they sail backwards that way at a knot or two. Of course, you can really show off in a boat that sails well backward, as Sea Pearl does; it's nice to have reverse! You also leave the mizzen up when sleeping aboard at anchor. With crew weight forward holding her flat bottom underwater and the mizzen keeping her weathervaned into the wind, she makes a fine quiet cradle. Unfortunately, the split rig on a boat this light can also make her slow in stays, and sometimes you have to slack the mizzen or back the main to come around really smartly. It seems a reasonable price to pay.
When there's not enough wind to sail, you clamp a small outboard on the transom in place of the rudder or break out the oars. (The newer boats have rudder or side mounted motor brackets that do not require the removal of the rudder - Ed.) The Sea Pearl is not a difficult boat to row once you get her moving.
Marine Concepts Sailboats
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More history and stories of the SeaPearl 21