Charley Morgan's design combines 'home-style' comforts, shoal draft, solid workmanship, and a good turn of speed.
Com-Pac Yachts is a Florida builder with a particularly interesting history. The company was formed back in 1957 by W. L. "Hutch" Hutchins, Sr., an entrepreneurial tool-and-die maker who operated a metal-stamping and fabrication shop in St. Louis. A successful inventor, his creations ranged from automobile accessories, including the "Ah-ooo- gah" horn installed on Model A Fords, to a unique folding high chair.
In 1970, Hutch converted a personal interest in sailing to a corporate endeavor when he commissioned Clark Mills to design the Com-Pac Yacht, a 16-footer capable of being shipped in a box. Mills is most famous for designing the Windmill and Optimist prams. Hutch's goal was to "build a small but highly efficient sailboat that could easily be trailered behind a compact car."
The first boat was finally constructed in 1974, and trailered by Hutch behind a Ford Pinto.
The company eventually introduced several small models ranging in size from 19 to 23 feet. Bob Johnson of Island Packet and Charley Morgan were employed as designers of three cruisers, the Com-Pac 25, 27, and 35 footers. A line of catboats was introduced in 1999.
Brothers Rich and Gerry Hutchins now run the company. Rich, 58, has worked for Com-Pac since childhood, once running the metal shop in St. Louis. He lives aboard a Com-Pac 35. At age 52, brother Gerry is a graduate engineer who began his career at Gulfstar.
"We consider the 35 to be a semi - custom boat, because we limit production to 4 to 5 boats per year, and allow owners some latitude in the accommodations," Rich says. The cruisers comprise approximately 25 percent of the annual production.
The company appears to be a combination manufacturing and assembly plant, since hulls for the larger boats are laminated off-site by JMJ Fiberglass, specialists with whom the company has a 15-year relationship.
"We're not interested in being in the glass business because it's a specialized business and requires a huge commitment for space," says Rich. "However, we dictate lamination schedules, and store and maintain the molds between production runs." (We found fiberglass and gelcoat surfaces on our test boat to be smooth, with no evidence of print-through or crazing.)
The manufacturing facility consists of three buildings housing assembly areas, and metal and wood shops.
Dealers are located in most major sailing ports. The company has delivered boats to the Great Lakes and all three coasts. Many 35s are currently cruising the waters of the Caribbean and Florida Keys.
The target market for the 35-footer is the experienced sailor stepping up from a smaller boat who wants to sail offshore.
Designed by Charley Morgan, the 35 was introduced 10 years ago as a 33-footer with a standard transom. However, when the market demanded the addition of a swim platform, the molds were retooled and the stern swept aft, adding one foot to the waterline.
She is a "traditional, beamy cruiser," Rich says, and is "typical of Charley's designs."
Morgan describes the design criteria as having four elements: "She had to have a shoal draft, be stable and sea kindly, and fast enough to give good results under PHRF rules." To that end he combined "a large sailplan with moderate displacement, a long waterline, generous beam, and a Scheel keel."
Her profile reflects a slightly sloping sheerline accented by a bowsprit that lends a traditional look while increasing the sailplan. The sprit also facilitates the use of large light-air sails, eliminating the need for a spinnaker pole and associated gear.
The 18-inch tall cabintop has a rather high profile that creates headroom below while providing light and ventilation through five ports.
A teak eyebrow, and two teak handrails running the length of the cabin top, add just enough brightwork to give her a cruisy look without making her a high-maintenance item.
Hutchins describes the shoal draft Scheel keel as "the perfect keel for a cruising boat, compared to a full keel." The stubby keel design incorporates a wide trunk that runs to a significantly wider foot filled with lead ingots. "The design provides excellent lift, allows the boat to turn in her length, and to access shallow anchorages."
She displaces 12,500 pounds, of which 5,700 pounds is ballast. The SA/DSPL ratio is 17.2, typical of the breed, and the DSPL/L is 232.5—a moderately light ratio. We expect her to outperform many similarly sized "performance cruisers."
The primary components of this boat are the hull, a pan that provides housing for cabinetry and the motor mount, a headliner, and the deck.
The hull construction begins with the application of a coat of Neste gelcoat. The skin coat is a layer of 1.5 ounce mat bonded with Riechold Hydrex vinylester resin to prevent osmotic blistering.
The layup at the keel consists of six layers of 17-ounce knitted fabric that produce a 1/2" thickness of solid fiberglass. Outboard of the keel the layup consists of layers of 34- oz. mat. Additional layers of 17-oz. fabric are laid up at the chainplate attachment points. Chainplates are stainless steel straps attached outside the hull, and bolted through backing plates on the inner surface. One layer of 34-oz. mat is laid up around the sheer line to provide additional stiffening.
Topsides are cored with a thin layer of Coremat.
The bottom of the hull also is coated with a coat of epoxy. With vinylester resins in the layup, and the additional barrier coat, this method should prevent blistering.
"The headliner is a solid fiberglass section that is part of the hull-deck structure," Gerry says. "It's constructed of two layers of 1.5-oz. mat and 24-oz. woven roving, bonded to the hull with knitted fiberglass."
The deck is hand-laid with a skin coat of 1.5-oz. mat reinforced in high load areas with 17-oz. knitted fabric. It's cored with 3/8" Klegecell, over which are laid layers of 1.5-oz. mat and 24-oz.roving.
The hull-deck joint is fairly conventional, and should not leak. It consists of an outward flange on the hull onto which the deck is laid. The joint is secured with Bostitch 920 urethane sealant and #10 machine screws and nuts on 4" centers. This joint is also bonded on the inside of the hull with knitted fabric.
Most deck hardware is mounted in drilled and tapped holes, and secured with backing plates, a good method. Winches are attached to plywood backing built into the coaming.
Sailhandling arrangements feature internal halyards, a mast free of winches, and sail controls led aft to rope clutches. The single spreader spar is supplied by Charleston Spars; standing rigging is wire.
Halyards are led through Harken turning blocks installed at the base of the mast to Spinlock XT rope clutches. The main traveler sits on a heavy stainless steel bracket attached to a 6" inch-tall molded fiberglass pod at the front of the companionway. The traveler is 14 inches above the cabintop, so avoids chafing the gelcoat.
Winches on the coachroof are Harken two-speed 32s; primary winches are Harken two-speed 40s. Track for headsails is located on the rail. Its length, 68 inches, will produce proper sheet lead options for an oversized genoa or a blade.
Standard equipment includes a Hood furler, though our test boat was equipped with an optional Profurl. "Hood has done a respectable job of improving their product in recent years," says Rich, "and we're satisfied with it.”
The 34" long bowsprit supports a beefy stainless steel plate 24" long and 12" wide, fitted with double anchor rollers. It looks sturdy enough to support the loads of two anchors.
There's room between the stem and the forward end of the cabin trunk for a dinghy on deck, or for lazing.
Stanchions are only 25 inches high, too short for our taste, especially since the toe rail is only an inch tall. The decks on our test boat were covered with a heavy dew, so we appreciated the very aggressive nonskid on decks, cabintops, seats, and coaming.
The boat is well-ventilated. Two 20 x 14" hatches are located on the bow, and pairs are mounted under the boom and at the aft end of the cabintop. Add a companionway measuring 38" long when open and dorade boxes near the front of the companionway, and fresh air moves easily into spaces belowdecks.
The T-shaped cockpit is well laid out and comfortable. It measures 44" from wheel to companionway, and 25" between seats. The well is 15" deep. Seats are only 50" long, adequate for seating two adults, but too short for stretching out for a nap.
Aquatronics stereo speakers are built into a recessed cubby in the coaming where they are safely out of the way; a second cubby with fiddles provides storage for winch handles and suntan lotion.
The helmsman is elevated by a slightly arched seat aft of a 36" destroyer-style stainless wheel. There's good visibility over the top of the wheel. Like many builders, Com-Pac installs oval shaped teak seats on the stern corners.
Standard equipment in the galley is an alcohol stove, which Hutchins says meets the needs of most owners and satisfies those with a concern about the volatility of LPG. As a consequence, the optional propane tank is located in the open beneath the helmsman's seat. Leaking gas will drain into a scupper below the seat. We'd like to see more protection for the tank and gauge.
The starboard lazarette is cavernous. It provides storage for sails or an inflatable dinghy, and access to the steering unit and through-hulls. A 30-gallon aluminum fuel tank is located aft of the engine, leaving space for a heater or generator.
We think that working on the engine will be a challenge, since it fits very snugly in the soundproofed compartment. Hutchins disagrees. (A three-cylinder Westerbeke 27-hp. diesel is standard.)
One owner told us that while checking the oil level is easy, changing it is more difficult, and checking the water pump impeller a chore.
In order to create space in the aft cabin below, the port lazarette is only 8" deep. However, it's 30" long and 17" inches wide, and provides good stowage for fenders, lines, and other oft-used items. This is actually a better arrangement than having to invert one's self digging for something that has migrated to the deepest part of a voluminous locker.
Considering the extensive list of standard gear, our overall impression is that the boat is well-equipped. The sailor interested in improving performance will add a vang, an inboard track for a small headsail, an adjustable backstay, and perhaps spinnaker gear.
The Com-Pac is spacious, well-arranged, and nicely finished belowdecks. Standing headroom is 6'4". Access, however, is down a steep ladder designed to reduce the intrusion of the engine cover into living quarters.
The head is to starboard at the foot of the companionway, the nav station forward; also to starboard are two heavily upholstered swivel chairs surrounding an entertainment center. One chair swivels to provide a seat for the navigator, who sits opposite the L-shaped galley located to port.
The entertainment center houses a cocktail table, TV/VCR combination, AM-FM radio, and CD player, all standard equipment. Two halogen reading lights to starboard and three to port provide excellent lighting.
Sleeping cabins are to port in the stern, and in the bow.
The centerpiece of the main saloon is an L-shaped settee and dining table hinged to the forward bulkhead. The table is 38" long and 24" wide, large enough for four adults. When out of service it swings up to enclose a large cabinet mounted on the bulkhead that significantly increases the space available for storage of plates and cutlery. The cabinet, 10" deep and 20" wide, with six compartments, is one of the best we've seen.
With the tabletop stowed, the space converts to a 6'x8' conversation pit. The settee also folds out to make a 47" x72" long berth.
The galley has some interesting wrinkles. A hinged board on the aft bulkhead drops to cover the stove, producing a 24"x 42" countertop adjacent to the reefer/dry locker. Double stainless sinks are standard, as is a microwave. Another unique feature is a hinged shelf at the inboard end of the counter that rotates downward to provide a drink tray for the galley slave.
Storage for pots and pans is below a stove which, on our test boat, was a two-burner Hillerange stove- oven combination, a $1,360 option.
The head is 61" long, 42" wide, and has excellent headroom. The shower is separated from the main area by a half-height plexiglass partition. A bather would need to sit on the grated bench and spray carefully to avoid soaking the main head compartment. A curtain would help.
The port stateroom aft is rather spartan, consisting of a double berth and hanging locker; it's ventilated by hatches overhead and in the cockpit. Clearance between the top of the berth and the bottom of the cockpit is 21".
The forward stateroom is enclosed by a door with an arched top, a nice touch. Furnishings include a small seat to starboard, hanging locker large enough for four sets of foulies, and storage shelves running the length of the compartment.
The berth measures 84" at the head and 76"on centerline.
On balance, we think Morgan did an excellent job of apportioning space, since two-thirds of the boat's living spaces are in the cockpit and saloon. The cockpit seats six comfortably; space for 4-6 diners is adequate, and sleeping quarters are large enough for nights on the hook, or an extended cruise.
The swivel-chairs and L-shaped settees are a poor choice for offshore passagemaking; they're better suited for sailing from port to port alongshore. This isn't necessarily a criticism; Morgan and Com-Pac were uncompromising in their direction here.
With assistance from Max Heller of SeaCraft Yachts in Seattle, we tested the boat on Lake Union on relatively flat water. She motored easily, and quietly, at 5 knots; company literature indicates that she’ll do 8 knots at top speed with the standard Westerbeke. While leaving the dock with a light breeze on the beam she easily backed up in straight line. A three-blade propeller stops her quickly, and she spins 360 degrees in one boatlength.
We sailed under full main and a 135- percent genoa on the furler. However, the rig on our test boat was newly installed and not properly tuned, so there was some sag in the headstay.
In 6-8 knots of wind she sailed easily at 5-5.5 knots, and buried her shoulder and squirted forward in the occasional puff. She was surprisingly nimble considering her design and displacement, sails well to weather, and tacks quickly. The Scheel keel produced a stiff ride, a surprise on a shallow draft cruising boat.
One owner told us he cannot beat inside 100°, but we matched that number easily, and think a properly tuned rig and well-cut sails will produce 90-95° tacking angles.
Since we saw 5-plus knots of boatspeed in light air we suspect performance in heavier winds will be excellent. Morgan described a downwind sail under spinnaker in heavy seas on the Gulf of Mexico during which the boat recorded bursts of 11- knot speed. That's well outside the average curve for a 35-foot, moderate-displacement cruiser.
The boat's speed and maneuverability in light air was impressive. In this case the Scheel keel provides shoal draft at little or no apparent cost to performance: she certainly points as high and goes as fast as other boats in her class, which we might call "moderate-performance cruisers."
The deck layout is typical of her contemporaries, and it's easy to move about handling sails. Accommodations belowdecks are spacious, and reflect the builder's attention to detail. She's outfitted with an extensive list of standard gear that includes sails and furler, deck gear, well-equipped galley, television/stereo/CD players and speakers. Add a downwind sail, electronics package, and autopilot, and she’s ready for extended cruising.
The boat is priced at $146,995, FOB the factory.
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Contact- Com-Pac Yachts, 1195 Kapp Drive, Clearwater, FL, 33765. 727/443-4408, www.boatshow.com/Com-Pac.html.