So many of the mid-20th-century boatyards started with two guys in a garage (backyard, abandoned warehouse) who loved to sail. And Clinton Pearson and his cousin, Everett, were no different. They started out building fiberglass dinghies in Seekonk, Mass., in 1955, and began what some New Englanders referred to as the Pearson Era, where fiberglass replaced wood in the production of seafaring vessels. Within six years Pearson Yachts had more than 100 employees.
In 1964, Clint Pearson struck out on his own and purchased Sailstar, a builder in West Warwick. He relocated Sailstar’s boatyard to Bristol, Rhode Island, and changed the name to Bristol Yachts. Between 1964 and 1997, Bristol Yachts produced more than 4,400 sailboats ranging from 19 to 51 feet. Among the top designers who created the straightforward, sensible look of Bristol’s sailboats were Carl Alberg, John Alden, Paul Coble, Dieter Empacher, Halsey Herreshoff and Ted Hood.
Bristol Yachts’ first generation of sailboats (19 Corinthian, 22 Caravel, 26 Courier, 28, 29, 30, 33 and 34) was classically styled to appeal to the 1960’s mass marketplace. Some models were small enough to trailer; all were safe, stable and easy to handle. But most important, they were affordable. The only model Bristol had in 1964 was the 19-foot Corinthian. Then, in the spring of 1965, Carl Alberg designed the Bristol 27. It was this rugged sailboat that put Bristol Yachts on the map. Within three years, the company had built and sold three hundred 27s.
Features of Bristol models built from 1965 to 1977
- Full encapsulated lead keel for enhanced performance, zero seepage
- Keel-hung rudders for added support
- Cockpits with seats large enough to sleep on
- Big galleys
- Comfortable interiors with white formica and mahogany trim
- Smooth motion while under sail
- Reasonably priced
By the mid-‘70s, a new generation of wannabe sailors and cruisers had arrived. They wanted more modern styling and larger, more luxurious accommodations. To launch the brand’s second line of sailboats, Bristol hired Ted Hood, an America’s Cup designer, whose shoal keel centerboard designs gave the region’s semi-custom builders a run for their money. The new models (27.7, 29.9, 31.1, 33.3, 35.5, 38.8, 41.1, 43.3, 45.5, 47.7, 51.1) generally all followed Hood’s original design concept. To distinguish second generation models from the first, Bristol added a decimal point and repeated the second model number. Bristol Yachts were “heavily built” –– one of Hood’s trademarks –– which may explain why so many are still sailing the deep blue seas today.
Features of Bristol models built from 1977 to 1988
- Full encapsulated keel ballast for improved stability, durability, performance
- Keel-stepped mast for more evenly distributed compression load
- Skeg-hung rudders for extra support and strength
- Longer lasting, rust-resistant bronze seacocks and ball valves
- Finer fit and finish for a more modern look
- Improved interior space
- Cabinetry bonded to the hull
- Heavy fiberglass layups
By the early ‘90s the demand for new mass-produced sailboats was winding down, mainly because the market was awash in well-built used sailboats. Once again, Bristol Yachts had to reinvent itself. For the next seven years, the company turned out semi-custom yachts that catered to clients who wanted their boat to match their individual style and taste. The company closed its doors due to bankruptcy in 1997, however there are still many Bristol sailboats out on the water today.
- Founder: Clinton Pearson
- Ceased production: 1997
- Size: 19 to 51 feet
- Type: Blue-water sailboats
- Models: Bristol 19 (Corinthian), Bristol 22 (Caravel), 24, 26, 27, 27.7, 28, 29.9, 29/30, 31.1, 32, 33, 33.3, 34, 35, 35.5, 38.8, 39/40, 41.1, 43.3, 45.5, 47.7, 51.1
- Construction: Solid fiberglass hulls hand-laminated with Vinylester resin; hand-laminated fiberglass decks with half-inch balsa core
Looking for a no-nonsense, classically styled, used sailboat with a storied history for being built tough, easy to handle and not too pricey? Then you might want to check out the Bristol Yachts we have for sale. Scroll down to search our boats for sale database for all sailboats listed for Bristol Yachts today!
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