Having your cake and eating it too.

Dickerson Sailboat

A customized stock 41-footer for extended voyaging shows what a versatile small builder can do.

By Tony Gibbs

Dickerson 41 under sailIN THE EAST COAST cruising spectrum, the Ernest Tucker – designed Dickerson ketches have long held an honorable if not terribly glamorous place as honestly-built boats that are excellent value for money. Originally built wholly in wood, and more recently of composite wood and fiberglass construction, the boats are traditional in appearance and rig, distinguished chiefly by relatively shoal draft, as befits a vessel built on the Chesapeake Bay’s Eastern Shore.

A small builder like Dickerson can, however, have some advantages denied to larger operations, especially flexibility in accommodating a customer’s special requirements. This attribute is magnified by the fact that each interior is largely hand-built, and the company is prepared to make changes in their accommodation for relatively nominal extra charges.

Obviously, this kind of adaptability can have an intoxicating effect on some owners, and there clearly is an upper limit to the changes that one can inflict on even an easy-going, full-keel ketch. But an informed and sophisticated customer can indeed have his stock boat and customize it too, without breaking the bank.

The Dickerson 41 built for Ted and Carla Reed is a good case in point. Ted is a very experienced cruising sailor who recently made a Pacific Ocean crossing in a sistership, and had ordered his own yacht for extended family voyaging. I had the opportunity a few months ago to get aboard Ted and Carla’s Papillon and see her go through her paces on a savagely gray and gusty day with the Chesapeake kicking up a short, steep chop.

Ted chose to put the yacht’under jib and mizzen as she worked her way out of Annapolis toward the Bay Bridge. I’ve always found my own ketches more responsive under jib and main, but clearly Papillon responded well to carrying her sail at the ends of the boat, tacking easily and shouldering the seas aside with no problem at all, and at little angle of heel.

The clipper-bowed 41 is 31’6″ on the waterline, with a 12’6′ beam and a draft of only 4’6′. Displacement is a moderate 23,000 lb., and she carries 753 sq. ft. of sail with main mizzen and 100% foretriangle.

When we had had our fill of the cold, raw day, we headed back to the slip to have a closer look at the yacht. The standard arrangement for the 41 shows an Orthodox, two-stateroom layout with a center cockpit and private heads for each of the two cabins. Two or three more berths are possible in the saloon-a settee and facing L-shaped dinette that converts to a double if desired. There is a large, U-shaped galley across from a chart table, and aft of the latter a passage with work flat outboard, leading to the after stateroom. Tankage is located beneath the work surface.

The compartment housing the Westerbeke 40 is completely accessible from this passageway, making work on the engine or the rest of the mechanical gear quite simple.

For their own requirements, Ted and Carla had made several changes, all of which seemed very sensible to me in view of the boat’s intended use. They had abolished the head for the aft stateroom in favor of a huge chart table facing forward; an opening port allowed the navigator to communicate directly with the person at the helm. The standard engine was replaced with a larger one, a Perkins 4.154 that still allowed acres of working room around it.

D41 Nav StationThe former chart table had been converted to a large ice chest, and the galley icebox became a food locker.Because neither Ted nor Carla is above middle height, they had the cabin sole raised a couple of inches to allow for extra ‘Stowage beneath it.

One of the most attractive changes to my mind was the pair of armchairs, secured to the sole, that replaced the settee berth on the port side of the saloon. As someone who reads for pleasure as well as in the line of duty, I’ve always deplored the inadequate reading comfort in nearly all auxiliaries: Unless you are one of the fortunate few who really enjoys reading while flat on his back, there really isn’t anyplace on most boats just to sit down with a book.

As the photos show, the decor of the Dickersons is classical, with bright-finished bulkheads and white cabinsides and overhead, picked out with wood trim. This makes for an exceptionally bright and cheerful cabin, even on a rainy day, as well as a place that’s easy to decorate and keep clean. One choice a number of Dickerson owners make is in favor of ash trim, somewhat lighter than mahogany.

The day after our Chesapeake excursion, I had the chance to visit the Dickerson plant, at the invitation of January White, who runs it. A large young man who combines blunt speech and a quiet manner, he has been introducing a few new approaches to the company’s production and marketing operations. But the plant itself, buried in the Eastern Shore community of Trappe, remains staunchly traditional.

Most of the craftsmen address Jan White as “son,” which bothers him not at all, and don’t mind a little innovation, as long as it doesn’t mean abolishing the dirt floors. Compared to one of the big California or Florida builders, with their orderly and immaculate production lines, the Dickerson shop is apparently archaic, but it works.

The hulls are molded by a supplier, of hand-laid fiberglass mat and roving. The Dickerson people put in the bulkheads, of marine A-A grade plywood taped and bonded to the hull. The ballast is 8,500 lb. of lead ingots, fiberglassed into the keel recess. The deck is fiberglass-covered A-A marine fir plywood on 2×2 vertical-grain fir deck stringers bolted to an integral hull flange.

The masts are deck-stepped on a compression strut: Jan White feels that for cruisers it makes more sense to have a mast go cleanly, if disaster strikes, than to wrench the deck or cabin top as well. This is certainly one way of looking at the matter, although it doesn’t happen to be my own: I recall only too clearly having the backstay of a boat I owned part in relatively light air because of a mechanical failure. With a keel-stepped mast, the stick stayed in the boat.

The rigging of the 41 does, however, appear to be very sturdy, and the two masts are independently stayed, so that if one should go-or, more likely, have to be pulled for work-the other remains as strongly stepped as before. With the Y-shaped main backstay, it would be possible, although difficult, to set a main backstaysail, and having such a tall mizzen would give that somewhat specialized sail a good deal of size.

Another Dickerson hallmark are the samson posts one at the bow and one each at the quarters-instead of mooring cleats. The samson posts strike me as quite a different matter from deck-stepped masts, being very hard to argue with indeed for a cruising yacht, and far more sturdy than conventional cleats. Since there is the possibility for alteration nearly anywhere inside a Dickerson, very few boats leave the factory without some kind of personal touch in the arrangement. The trick, obviously, is knowing when to stop.

The Dickerson 41 comes with an exceptionally complete inventory, including pedestal steering, Enkes #22 primary and #8 halyard winches, pressure water throughout and water-cooled exhaust. Base price at this writing was $79,900. Among the more important options were complete genoa gear- track, blocks and a pair of #43 Lewmars-for $1,450; a Westerbeke 60 with 1.5:1 reduction instead of the standard 40, $1,250; and teak decks instead of fiberglass- covered plywood, for $3,900.

Besides a feeling of homelike comfort, the 41 transmits a sense of great size: Although her beam is no greater than racing yachts of this length, the 41 carries it well aft, which accounts for the relatively vast amount of space in the owner’s stateroom, usually a rather constricted area. Of course, by removing the bulkheading around what would normally be the second head compartment, the feeling of below-decks spaciousness is enhanced.

My own feeling is that the federally-mandated iron-mongery associated with heads has now become expensive and space-consuming to the point that a second head in a cruiser is more trouble than it may be worth. The chart table set-up that Ted Reed substituted seems to me a splendid arrangement, allowing the navigator a huge expanse for the charts themselves, an eye-level view outboard, and direct communication with the helm, not to mention a couple of acres of stowage space.

In a boat of this type, the connecting passage between aft and main cabins is always going to be a spatial step-child but with the width at deck level available aboard the 4l, there is at least room to use the work flat, which in Papillon is laid out to incorporate a huge tool stowage area beneath, where everything can he laid out ready for selection.

It is a little misleading to apply ratios to ketches, but for the record, the 41 has a respectable 14.9 sail area/displacement, and a more revealing displacement/length ratio of 328, making her moderately heavy for her waterline.

With a hefty, long-keeled boat like this, one is not going to get the kind of performance available in, say, a C&C. On the other hand, if one delights in a traditional appearance and really fine woodworking detail in the accommodation, the Dickerson 41 and her sistership 36 have a great deal to offer.

Reprinted from Yachting Magazine Sept. 1978

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