Those looking for a small family cruiser should take a hard look at the Sea Sprite 34. Built in Rhode Island in the early 1980s, the Sea Sprite sports a full keel, generous interior space and an excellent cockpit for a boat of this size.
I recently had the opportunity to help a friend deliver his 1983 Sea Sprite back to Annapolis from Rock Hall and I found the boat to be a delight. She had been repowered since new with a smooth running Yanmar and cruised easily in the low 6s under power. With a light to moderate breeze right on the nose, we motored until we cleared the Bay Bridge while cleaning up the boat from its winter slumbers and bending on the jib. The solidity of the Sea Sprite’s construction is radiated by every experience with the boat – from the solid foot falls on the thick cabin sole to the visual impression left by the beefy bronze portholes. They look solid and over-built enough to have been brought up from the depths of a hundred year-old wreck site – and I say that in the most flattering context. No one builds boats like this any more.
Once we cleared the bridge we bent on the main, rolled out the jib and bore off to do some close-hauled sailing before reaching down toward Annapolis. Since the owner of this example had already shared with me his criteria for buying the boat, I pretty much knew what to expect as I got a feel for her helm under sail. He planned to do only local day sailing and weekend cruises on the Chesapeake, so he was much more concerned with how pleasant the boat was to sail (what I call sailing dynamics) than how fast it covered sailing miles (what I refer to as performance). For those with similar criteria, the Sea Sprite is an excellent choice. An ear-to-ear grin formed on my face the instant the diesel was shut down and she settled into her grove. True to prediction, a comparatively heavy full-keel boat won’t be a speedster but she had more than enough pace to entertain while sailing upwind in 15 knots of apparent wind and her dynamics were delightful.
One of the things I really love about boats with comparatively “deep V” shaped hulls (hulls with lots of deadrise) is (ironically) their comparative lack of form stability. Less form stability means these boats are more tender than today’s flat-bottomed production cruisers, but in trade they feel more responsive and entertaining in puffy conditions. Better still, their responses are more productive: instead of simply trying to round up into the breeze the way a canoe-shaped hull form will want to do (especially the more beamy boats), deep-V style hulls will heel over but then accelerate, with little or no tendency to want to round up. It’s a much more entertaining handling dynamic that makes sailing in brisk conditions more fun and more confidence-inspiring. I quickly came to appreciate another notable dynamic of the Sea Sprite’s design: the rudder is affixed directly to the trailing edge of the keel, which means that it is necessarily unbalanced. Although the steering loads are higher with this arrangement, the helmsman also enjoys much more feedback from the wheel which is a lot more fun on day sails or short passages. On longer passages the higher helm loads may do more to tire those on the wheel watch (or the batteries powering an autopilot) but the long chord length of the keel may help to offset those negatives. For this owner’s use case the tradeoff is more than worth it.
Naturally, all boats are tradeoffs and the Sea Sprite is no exception. As with any boat of this generation, buyers can expect the need for hands-on upgrades of aging electrical equipment, plumbing and engines. Looking for a repowered example like this one would be an excellent start, but buyers should also carefully inspect the quality of any restoration work done on the boat by prior owners. As we’ve learned from our Sabre 42, shoddy repairs and ‘upgrades’ can prove to be far worse than no work having been done at all on some systems. Also, were I a buyer of one of these boats, I’d soon be shopping for new winches. I’m probably spoiled by our racer-cruiser Sabre and other boats I sail on regularly, but the winches on the Sea Sprite felt under-sized and mis-geared for their assignments. That’s a comparatively minor gripe and is easily remedied, however.
On the whole I was very glad to be invited aboard such a fun little boat and would heartily recommend the model for buyers looking for a modestly priced, safe, roomy and fun family cruiser. I can’t wait to bum another ride on this one.