Pacific 38 Offshore Cruiser/Racer

So said an Australian boat reviewer in the seventies and it is hard to argue with him. Perception was the first Pacific 38 designed and built by Allen Smith at Smith's Boatyard on the Whangarei River. It was, says Smith, design number 60 and arguably his most successful design, with 45 built by Smith's - the last hull completed in about 1982.

Pacific 38 Offshore Cruiser/Racer
Pacific 38 Offshore Cruiser/Racer

A P38 mould was exported to Australia and another 50 hulls were built. These were known as Compass 38s and had wheel steering instead of tiller steering as fitted to the New Zealand-built Pacific 38.

There were also seven boats built that have been loosely referred to over the years as a Mark II P38. Smith says this is something of a misnomer. These boats had 12 inches height added to the topsides at the bow and eight inches amidships, giving the boats greater internal volume. The hull, keel, rudder and fibreglass lay-up was exactly the same as the standard P38. Smith says the only real difference between the two models was that those built with increased topside height had timber decks.

The so-called Mark IIs were built like this for ease of finishing at home. By increasing the topside height, buyers could fit a flush deck thus making construction easier. In most cases buyers added a doghouse. Smith says he deliberately kept Mark II numbers to a minimum to keep tight control on quality. Fortunately, all seven boats were finished to a high standard and interestingly command slightly higher money, although there is no good reason for this.

In plan view, the first departure from the standard cruising yacht for that period can be seen in the P38's very wide beam. The entry forward is fine, but amidships the hull swells out almost excessively to an 11ft (3.35m) beam, giving an almost thickset appearance. However, this is only above the waterline where it provides great internal volume. Below the waterline the P38 cuts in fast to resume more conventional lines for those times and offers less resistance to the water flow. Towards the stern the classic shape takes over again and the quarter eases in to a modest transom, slightly convex at deck level, but cut in to what might be termed a fine exit under the counter. The underwater profile also follows the classic styling, with a moderately rounded forefoot, fully encapsulated keel and skeg. The deep rudder has a slightly reverse blade, but in effect could be called a plate rudder, and sits flush with the skeg all the way down. Draft is 6ft (1.82m) and the 3.25 tons (3302kg) of lead in the keel gives a ballast ratio of slightly less than 50 per cent. All up, displacement is 7.43 tons (7548kg).

The Pacific 38 is a big boat with a big boat feel, providing good liveability and storage options. Turn that into sailing functionality and that wide beam becomes buoyancy as the boat heels over and powers up on to the wind. Owners describe the helm as light and well balanced. It is an easily driven hull shape that, like many masthead-rigged vessels, responds well to early reefing. Construction of the Pacific 38 is in solid fibreglass in excess of Lloyd's specifications - and solid is the operative word. The hulls were completely hand laid and vary in thickness from one inch in the area encasing the lead to three quarters of an inch at the turn of the bilge and five eighths of an inch on the topsides. Bulkheads are three quarter inch ply, rebated to take the glass bonding material. Decks are three eighths of an inch glass laminate, as is the cabin top and cockpit. Smith has further strengthened the side decks with ply. If there is a compromise in weight for speed then so be it. This yacht obviously favours the survival safety side of sailing in the integrity of its construction and that is partially the enduring appeal of the Pacific 38.

Smith says the P38 has been well tested in extreme weather and says the yachts were regular competitors in the Noumea and Fiji races in the 1970s and early 1980s. A P38 also sailed through the 1994 Pacific "bomb" and arrived at its destination apparently none the worse for wear.

For internal finishings, formica was used above the toilet and galley, fibreglass moulded separately in the main cabin area, and vinyl padding above the bunks. The extra lining throughout has achieved great noise insulation so that down below hull noise is noticeably less than on many other yachts. All bulkhead entrances to various parts of the boat have mahogany-trimmed keyhole entrances that are effective and well finished. The backs of bunks are also lined with slatted mahogany battens that give the boats a woody, warm appearance and a reprieve from the fibreglass look.

A feature of the Pacific 38 is the lack of clutter inside, with working areas clear of obstructions and a functional and well thought out accommodation plan. Layout changes from boat to boat, depending on the original owner's needs, but there were two basic configurations. Forward accommodation was normally two fixed berths, but some have been fitted with a double bunk. The head was designed to house a shower at one end with standing headroom, and a vanity and bench making for a spacious layout. The main cabin allows for settee berths and pilot berths, the number and type depending on owner requirements. Six or seven berths are common and headroom under the doghouse is 6ft 6in and 6ft 2in throughout the remainder of the cabin.

The whole interior feels as spacious as one would expect, with plenty of working space at the starboard galley. The navigation station is to port and in most cases a freezer is installed under the chart table. Behind the nav station is a quarter berth that can be a single or double, depending on owner specifications. To starboard opposite is a walk-through sail locker that also provides access to the engine.

The P38 was originally designed to be powered by a 20hp Bukh marine diesel, but many have subsequently been re-powered with more powerful engines. The yacht was fitted with 60-gallon fibreglass water tanks built in under the settee berths amidships.

Designed as a fast racer-cruiser, Smith elected a high aspect masthead rig with conventional main and headsail combinations. While the Pacific 38 is a good performer it is understandably not a super-quick light displacement kind of machine. Although most are masthead sloops, one exception is the last boat out of the mould, Django, which was originally known as Topic and built by Allen Smith for his own use. Django was built as a centreboard yawl to give all-tide access to Whangarei.

While there have been some reported cases of minor osmosis in the P38, they are not known or considered as particularly susceptible to blistering. Smith says the lay-up was engineered by a composite engineer from Compass Yachts (Australia) and very resin-rich, ensuring a full and even cure throughout the entire hull.

"We were very careful about this and the boats have stood the test of time remarkably well."

When the going gets tough, the Pacific 38 would be a good place to be. There is something intrinsically seaworthy about this design with its enduring classic lines and solid rather than spectacular appearance. Most Pacific 38s have done the offshore miles they were designed to do and "Pacific" locations have all seen these boats about the place. Currently eight permanently lie in the South Pacific, two in the United States and one in England. The rest are dotted liberally about New Zealand and Australia.

Yacht brokers report strong demand from buyers and sellers alike, with good clean examples fetching between $100,000-$120,000, depending on equipment and specifications. Australian website lists just one Compass 38 with an asking price of $AU138,000. Words: Andrew Fagan


Pacific 38
Type: Pacific 38 Offshore Cruiser/Racer
Designer: Allen Smith (Whangarei)
Construction: Solid GRP (ply/grp decks)
Rig: Masthead
LOA: 11.6m/38ft
Beam: 3.35m/11ft
Ballast: 3302kg
Displacement: 7548kg
Market Value: $80,000-$120,000 plus

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