I have spent a lot of time over the last few years working on or about Aquappella, our ’81 US 25.
When we purchased her she was on the hard, in the yard of a man who thought he was clever at covering over her faults. He had repaired water damage to the sole and lower bulkheads by tacking up hardboard panneling with brass brads, and laying down linoleum with copious quantities of tile cement. Fortunately he lost interest before he did too much damage and offered the boat for sale at a fairly attractive price. Not a steal, but she was worth the asking price.
Since then, I have attempted to restore her to glory, finding as always that every job completed reveals two more that need to be addressed.
Always, as I worked my mind wandered to musings of what I have accomplished, and what it all means to me.
As such, I have developed some opinions on US Yachts, as they were, and as they are now.
I consider them to be very nearly the perfect DIY boating restoration project because:
1. The association with Bayliner and the often slighted Buccaneers dictates that they can usually be acquired at a good price. Some of them are going for a song. Obviously this is a good starting point unless one is deluded into thinking that there is no more to spend.
2. They were designed well. Bayliner Corp. management learned enough through the Buccaneers to realise that their power boat expertise was not going to help them design a good sailboat, and they were shrewd enough to know that contracting a big name marine architect would pay off in the long run, so they hired Doug Peterson who already had an America’s cup boat to his credit, Gary Mull, and Stan Huntingford to design a fleet of boats. The timing was a little poor, just before the Fastnet disaster of 1979 began a change in Yacht design. The boats all had the IOR influenced look, with heavily raked bows, fine entries, maximum beam aft of center, and tiny raked transoms. They did not however carry these things to exteme, and fortunately bypassed the silly bustle at the aft waterline that many IOR racing boats carried. In short, given the style of the time, the designs were good, and leaned towards a boat that would be better to windward.
3. Baylinner had a lot of experience building reasonably priced fiberglass boats. They knew layup, and included things like hand layup and a dark UV block gelcoat layer between gelcoat and layup on the decks. They used best quality materials for the layup. They were, and still are a huge producer of fiberglass boats and had enormous purchasing power for raw materials. The hulls are well layed up in a time when many manufacturers were playing with chopper gun layup to cut costs. You may never find a US Yacht with blisters. Many higher priced boats were plagued with them.
4. Baylinner cut costs, there is no question about it, but the places they scrimped on are the exact places that any boat of that age will need attention. The bulkheads were not tabbed to the hull throughout, on some models they were merely bolted to shorter pannels which were tabbed into the hull. If a boat of that age has seen standing water, and most have, much of the interior joinery will have suffered rot damage and will need to be replaced. Now is the time to tab the bulkheads in properly. The vinyl liner on the hull and deckhead was installed using a contact adhesive before the deck was installed. Unfortunately much of this adhesive has degraded over time and most of these liners have sagged and peeled. Another opportunity to upgrade, since very fine marine vinyl is readily available and modern contact adhesives are close at hand. None of the piercings of the skin were sealed. Wherever there is a hole drilled or cut through the deck or hull the edges of the core were not sealed with thickened epoxy as you would find on a custom Yacht. This is a rot cause if ever there was one, but these boats are far from the only ones with this fault, and their age dictates that every single piece of hardware will need to be resealed. Now is the chance to do things right.
5. They sail well. Every owner I have spoken with claims they were pleasantly surprised by the performance of their US Yacht. They were designed with high aspect ratio, masthead rigs, which get the majority of their power from the head sails. They use a tall thin main and large genoa which is a configuration that is particularily effective upwind. With a decent set of sails they will beat at better than 45 degrees to the true wind, and will really motor on a close reach. The relatively small main reefs well and coupled with a smaller jib will handle a good blow as well as any sloop rig. The masthead rig, while not in vogue at present is a simple rig to tune and maintain, and a less expensive rig to replace should need arise. It is however an inefficient rig with blown out sails that will not flatten out if the breeze picks up.
I keep hearing reports of US Yachts keeping up with J/boats, a boat that is much lighter.
In summary then, US Yachts can often be had at a good price, and the things that made them less than perfect are the very things that will be changed or repaired in the process of a rebuild. The design was good, by good designers, and the execution is something that can be done right in the process of a rebuild. After a good rebuild, the faults are minor, and usually things that were designed in as a compromise to achieve something else. Things like a small cockpit to obtain maximum cabin space. Low headroom to keep the topsides within reason. A small foredeck to keep the entry fine to handle beating into a chop more comfortably.
They are not Hinkleys, nor Spirit Yachts, but any work to improve them will be worth the while, and considering the alternative of having somewhere between 4 and 12 tons of non-biodegradables in the landfill while a bunch more toxic chemicals and rare woods are turned into a new Yacht. A new yacht will cost many times more and will bring no more pleasure to its owner. It may bring a false sense of superiority but little else.
Finnally, there is little on the market that does what the US yachts will do, as well as they will do it.
If you have the desire, and the hand skills, what a fine way to enjoy your time, by making something old and neglected into something fine and cared for. It really doesn’t get much better than that. Talk about pride of ownership.