Classic Plastic: Chesapeake 32

Robert Perry was a high-school sophomore taking mechanical drawing when he spotted a sailboat on the cover of Popular Boating magazine. It was a Chesapeake 32, designed by Philip Rhodes. “I had never seen anything quite so beautiful designed by man,” he would later write. “To my eye there was not an ugly line on that boat. This design is the specific design that made me determine to become a yacht designer. I wanted to design things that beautiful. Still trying.”

Perry, a celebrated yacht designer in his own right, still speaks with awe at the memory of Rhodes’ pinup. Like a model with all the right curves, the Chesapeake 32 reportedly has been used in ads to sell Top-Sider shoes, Rolls-Royces and Hawaii’s Crazy Shirts, and has even graced the cover of Vermont Life.

In fact, when you ask owners why they own one, the word beauty is usually in their first sentence. They often mention how proud they are rowing away from a mooring. “Beauty of proportion,” is Perry’s technical explanation. Only later do owners admit to limitations, and high among them is maintaining that beauty.

Rhodes designed the boat for George Walton, a Maryland yacht broker, and 95 boats were produced between 1960 and 1965 by two Danish yards, Danboats and Sanderson. The boat combined the classic Rhodes sheer lines — a spoon bow, a traditional low cabin house, a dip amidships rising gently to long overhanging stern — in a fiberglass production boat that retained the old-time look of a wood yacht.

The boat was laid up with heavy, thick fiberglass, encasing a short lead keel and, in the practice of the time, embedding the chainplates. With an 8-foot-9-inch beam, a 4-foot-9-inch draft and 3,750 pounds of ballast, the Chesapeake 32 displaced 11,500 pounds.


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It sold under a number of names, including the Rhodes 31, the Danboat 33, the ISL 33 and the Cabrillo 32. The price in the 1960s was a substantial $14,900 ($108,000 in today’s money), but that included dishes and glassware for six!

While Newport, Rhode Island, is chockablock with beautiful boats, a 1961 Chesapeake 32 stood out when Morgan Everson went looking for a coastal cruiser. “I bought it from a guy who had spent 20 years refitting it to a T. I fell in love with the lines, and the owner wanted to see it go to someone who would take care of it. I completely understand now, and I wouldn’t let this boat go to anyone who wasn’t going to keep her in Bristol condition,” she said.

“The brightwork is rewarding, but there is a lot of it,” said Everson’s husband, Jay. “If you don’t keep it up every spring, it doesn’t look good.” The couple, who work in the Newport marine industry, charter Hypatia, their Chesapeake 32, for wedding photo shoots.

Sailing, the 32 balances well but doesn’t like to go close upwind in a short chop. “If you crack off 10 to 15 degrees on a reach, she’ll do it happily,” Jay said. It can be wet, with some weather helm on some points of sail, and slow in light air, according to owners’ comments on SailNet.

Most of the original boats have been modified and upgraded with added hatches, stoves, refrigerators, electronics, wheels instead of tillers and small diesel engines in place of the original gasoline engines.

The Eversons have pretty much left the interior as it was when they bought it. Inside, “you can tell it was designed to look good first, and the creature comforts were secondary,” Morgan said. Storage is limited, except in the cockpit lockers, and access to the engine is a challenge.

“We have to be efficient with our stuff,” she said. “In reality, it is perfect for weekending. It’s simple, but perfect for two people and two dogs, which is what we are.”

In recent years, boats have been advertised from $8,500 for an engineless project to as high as the $40,000s. As of this writing, yachtworld.com lists a couple of them for sale around $30,000.

Jim Carrier is a CW ­contributing editor.

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