She is rarely the belle of the ball.
In fact, some hotshots have even been
known to call Ensigns 'tubby' as they
go zipping by in their dripping-wet
performance dinghies. But a funny thing
tends to happen when sailors stop to
take a closer look at this long lived
one-design racer and family daysailer.
They notice the old girl is more attractive
than they thought. In fact, sheís
got some pretty nice curves. Before
they know it theyíre in love.
by Carl Alberg in 1962 as an upgraded
version of a boat called the Pearson
Electra, the 22-foot, 6-inch Ensign
immediately found a niche among sailors
and has been going strong ever since.
Between 1962 and 1983 1,775 Ensigns
were built by Pearson Yachts, making
it the largest full-keel one-design
class in the United States. Today there
are over 40 active fleets scattered
throughout the Northeast, the Great
Lakes, Louisiana, Texas and Florida.
In 2001 the Ensign Spars company of
Dunedin, Florida, began building brand-new
Ensigns again after a nearly 20-year
The key to the Ensignís success
has been its moderation, the fact that
while it has a shapely, easily driven
hull, Alberg wasnít afraid to
give the boat enough displacement so
that it would be a joy to daysail on
a sunny, breezy afternoon. Although
the boat races with a crew of three
or four, the huge cockpit has room for
six or even seven. And itís deep
enough and the boom is high enough that
you donít have to worry about
banging your head at every tack.
In addition, the 1,200 pounds of ballast
in that big keel mean you don't have
to worry about capsizing. And even if
the boat does fill with water, its generous
buoyancy tanks ensure positive flotation.
The boat's relatively heavy displacement
has yet another benefit in that it provides
a seakindliness that is absent in most
faster and lighter boats. The Ensign
revels in a stiff breeze and steep seas,
which may explain its popularity in
the often choppy Great Lakes, especially
In the end, the boatís forgiving
sailing qualities and its active racing
scene have resulted in an appeal the
resonates with sailors of all backgrounds
and of every age. Indeed, within some
families, generations of sailors have
been introduced to the sport aboard
the sturdy Ensign, and then stayed loyal
to the boat even when other sailors
might have moved on.
The class association has gone to great
lengths to ensure that the class not
only remains uniform, but that it doesn't
cost an arm and a leg to be competitive.
Changes come slowly; if you want geared
winches, internal halyards, barber haulers
or other go-fast items, you'll have
to look elsewhere. But if all you want
is top-notch competitive sailing, then
youíd be hard pressed to find
any better boat.
"Back in 1962 when I first got
going on the national level
I had a young family, and it's a great
family boat with a deep cockpit,"
said Merle Hallet, president of Handy
Boat Service in Falmouth Maine, who
sold Ensign No. 1. "Now, as an
old man, I sail them because they're
Stable, comfortable, maybe a bit plain,
the Ensign nonetheless has a deep-seated
quality that inevitably shines through.
No doubt the boat will be taking families
and racers sailing for generations to
- Adam Cort, SAILING