Tartans are made in Ohio and I'm from Ohio, so we're already off to a good start. The Tartan 37 was designed by Sparkman & Stephens, originally in two versions - a cruising sloop and a racing ketch. While they built a few of the racers (known as the Tartan 38), they weren't very popular so the rest of the boats built in this model were cruisers. There were 486 built between 1976-1988 so they're relatively older boats, but most of them are still sailing today. In his review, Mike Schrader comments on the modern lines of the Tartan 37 and the fact that the "only thing that hints at her age is the trademark plaid-upholstered interior." Our current boat has plaid upholstery so that shouldn't be a problem as we're already used to that particular sort of retro vibe.
The Tartan 37 is known for its solid, quality construction. The hull and decks have a balsa wood core, but it is tapered to solid fiberglass in the areas you might worry about such as the mast step, shroud terminals, engine bed, thru-hulls and keel sections. I get a little nervous about balsa wood, so I'm a bit reassured to know that the hull is pure fiberglass where it counts. It sounds like it is rare to find structural problems with these boats, even the older ones.
Jack Horner talks about the unconventional method by which they attached the deck to the hull. As far as I can understand, an aluminum plate is sandwiched between the hull and the deck with a toe rail on top and the whole thing is screwed together. Jack worries that the threads for the screws on the aluminum plate might get stripped due to the normal flexing of the boat which would cause deck failure. However, he does say that he hasn't heard of any major deck issues with these boats so it may not be a problem. But if you buy a Tartan 37, I guess it is something to keep an eye on.
Many of the Tartan 37s have a centerboard. This surprised me. The first boat we ever chartered in New Zealand had a centerboard but it was a teeny-tiny boat (a Davidson 20). I had assumed that larger sailboats didn't normally come with centerboards, but this sounds like a good option to have shoal draft when you need it. But a centerboard does come with downsides such as it slapping around when at anchor, the attachments breaking and potential problems with fouling.
There are two rigs you can get with the Tartan 37 - the standard one (52'0") and the tall rig (53'8"). The sail area is 625 sq ft and by all accounts the Tartan 37 tracks well under sail.
The interior of the Tartan 37 has been described as dark due to the use of lots of teak veneer and trim (its more fashionable now to use lighter woods and finishes), but the set-up meets our needs:
- Small head forward, no separate shower
- Starboard settee in main cabin can function as a sea berth
- Port settee converts to a double
- Drop-down table
- Galley to starboard
- Nav station to port at base of the companionway
- Double quarterberth aft
Things to Look Out For
Although the Tartan 37s have a reputation as a solidly built boat, a few things to look out if you’re thinking of buying one.
- Tartan 37s were built before vinylester hit the scene and use a polyester resin which might make them more vulnerable to osmotic blistering.
- The use of balsa wood coring means you need to check for possible delamination.
- As discussed above, the unusual method of attaching the deck to the hull means could cause problems with stripping the threading on the steel plates.
- The pulpit fasteners lack backing plates.
- The scuppers and bilge pump outlets don’t have any shutoffs.
- The fold-down table can be flimsy which isn’t great when you’re underway.
The Tartan 37 is a moderately priced boat and the average seems to be in the upper US$60k range for the older ones, based on the current Yachtworld listings. It is definitely at the upper end of what we want to spend on a boat, but as they are solid cruisers which have been proven offshore and are good value for money, they might be worth a closer look. Because there were less than 500 built, I don’t think there will be a lot on the market at any given time which might make it harder to find a suitable one. We’re putting her on our “maybe” list for just now.
If you're interested in other slightly eccentric posts on how to buy a sailboat when you know nothing about sailing or boats, check out this page.
Notes: For more information, check out the Tartan 37 Owner's Sailing Association, Mark Schrader's review in Cruising World, Jack Hornor's review in Boat US, Brian Coyle’s discussion of affordable cruisers in Practical Sailor and a discussion of the centerboard on Sailnet. You can find the specs here.
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