review:the Down Easter '38

SailBoat builders

Manufacturing & Design

Traditional Lines and a cutter rig design

A cutting from The Cruising World from Sep, 2003

Bob Poole, who conceived the DownEaster 38 and its sis- ters, the DownEaster 32 and 45, was a transplant to California from Maine, and nostalgia for traditional Down East lines influenced his brief to the designer, Henry Morschladt, whom he com- missioned to create a sturdy, seaworthy cruising vessel.

During its existence from 1974 to 1983, Down East Yachts built just over 400 boats; 251 were DE 38s. Al- though also offered with a ketch or schooner rig, most were built as cutters, with a furling headsail and a heavy- air staysail on a club boom. Under sail, the DE 38 is stiff, forgiving, and willing to take punishment. In 15- to 25- knot winds, the modified full keel provides superb balance and 6- to 7-knot cruising speeds, but the boat is unim- pressed by light wind.

The standard engine was a Farymann 24-horsepower diesel with a useful handcrank capability and a thrifty appetite for fuel. Many owners, when the time comes to replace it, fit a more powerful engine, though that entails enlarging the aperture in the deadwood to fit a bigger prop. Getting around the engine requires much contortion in a space that looks bigger than it is. Access to the bilge, too, is limited, consisting only of two tiny hatches in the fiberglass liner pan forward and a little Lucite window in the drip pan under the engine.

The DownEaster's cockpit drains well and provides for easy sheet handling, but with no coamings, it can be hard on the back. Owners have made many ergonomic and aesthetic modifications, including the addition of big cushions, also essential for lounging on the deck's "true grit" sand-in-polyurethane nonskid. Osmosis in the solid-laminate hull isn't widely reported by either saltwater or freshwater DE owners, but some have encountered deck delamination caused by leaks through cracked, 25-year-old sealant around chainplates and under the caprail. Moving the chainplates outboard is a fairly common modification. The few reported bowsprit problems are also attributed to poor maintenance. Because the builder offered many options, including a pilothouse model and an alternate aft-cabin plan, each DE 38 has its own personality. Lavish use of hand-joined Burmese teak sets off the interior, and original 1970s touches included spindles, a fauxleather cabin ceiling, and, yes, green shag carpet. A clever fold-up table attached to the bulkhead accommodates two dining couples comfortably. Six-foot-9-inch headroom adds to the feeling of spaciousness, as do the large saloon windows, though these need storm covers for offshore work. Many owners who cruise in tropical climates have installed opening ports, and northern sailors have found adequate room to add heating. The DE 38 was designed for couples but, with up to three saloon bunks and a quarterberth aft to starboard, will sleep six. Two doors close off the V-berth and adjacent head from traffic in the main saloon. The U-shaped galley is fitted with a three-burner gimbaled stove and oven and a stainless-steel double sink. Two iceboxes were standard, and the majority of DE owners have added refrigeration. DE 38s were originally fitted with Barient winches and much forged - or cast-bronze hardware. Early reviews called the DownEaster boats "overbuilt." Loyal owners, who appreciate quality workmanship and happily put in the hours of maintenance required to keep a classic vessel sailing into her 30th year, would agree. The median price for a DE 38 in seaworthy condition is $64,000, and peer support is found at the Downeaster Yachts website (, which lists 129 boats. One owner, Tony Strong, in 1988 rented the DE 38 mold and had two workers lay up the hull for him. He subsequently sailed the boat to Hawaii, Samoa, and Tonga.