If you’ve seen both Pirates of the Caribbean films and loved them, rented Captain Ron on more than one occasion, and like parrots, you are likely to be just the sort of person who will appreciate the Vagabond 47. This is undoubtedly one of the saltiest examples of a sailing yacht of this size. Despite her drawbacks, and there are many, this is an affordable “big” cruising boat that continues to enjoy a great deal of popularity among long-term cruisers on tight budgets.
The Vagabond 47 was designed by William Garden, master of the raised quarter deck, which gives this design her salty appearance. In addition to being a very accomplished naval architect, Mr. Garden is a meticulous draftsman, and I could never hope to do justice to his art. Rather than attempt to draw a sail plan, I have included a reproduction of Garden’s drawing that originally appeared in advertising literature. Unfortunately, reduced to such a scale, much of the beautiful detail is lost. For those interested in his work, you may want to look for a copy of Garden’s Yacht Designs.
The Vagabond 47 was first introduced in 1971 built by Bluewater Yacht Builders LTD of Taipei, Taiwan. Over the years, the model has been in and out of production, and since 1985 has been offered by Contemporary Yachts LTD of Annapolis. The majority of Vagabond 47s were built between 1978 and 1985; although some newer and older models were built.
Hulls are built of solid fiberglass and resin with a full keel and attached rudder. From what I have been able to observe, layup is mostly chopped strand mat and about as far as you can get away from high tech. But, it’s thick and relatively strong. Hardwood longitudinal and transverse stringers and plywood structural bulkheads are attached with chopped strand mat and polyester resin and, if the structural components have not been damaged by deck leaks and water saturation, the hulls are stiff and strong.
One of several major areas of concern with aging Vagabond 47s is the condition of the decks and superstructure—nearly all of which were built with teak overlay on the weather decks, quarter deck, and cockpit. Deck boxes and hatch covers are teak-overlaid plywood. The condition of the decks and superstructure will depend on how well the boat has been maintained. However, even the best maintained boats are likely to have suffered due to leaks at deck fastenings, windows, and hardware attachments, which were often poorly done when boats were built. In the best case, damage is cosmetic, but the worst case is deteriorated structure. Another notable area of concern is the quality of original stainless steel hardware, tanks, and rigging chain plates. Poor quality materials and welding have led to a number of premature failures. Last but not least, the Vagabond 47 was offered with either wood or aluminum mast. Wood masts were generally painted rather than varnished, because it is easier and less expensive. Spotting potential problems can be very difficult even for very experienced surveyors and riggers. Boats with wood masts are generally less expensive than those with aluminum, but the savings aren’t worth it if the masts are in poor condition.
On deck the Vagabond 47 has a small center cockpit, raised aft quarter deck, wide side decks, and deep bulwarks—some of the features that account for her popularity as an offshore cruiser. For comfort in harbor there are seats on the quarter deck that serve as deck lockers, and additional deck lockers at the main mast.
There have been several variations on arrangement plans below deck, and it seems no two are exactly alike. Typically there is a stateroom forward with double or upper and lower bunk berths followed by a head and a main salon. The engine room is centered below the cockpit; the galley is along the port side, and passage through to the aft cabin is to starboard. The aft cabin/master stateroom is below the quarter deck aft and features a large double berth with separate head and shower. Tanks are below decks, and there is an incredible amount of storage throughout.
Auxiliary power was typically provided by an 80-hp Perkins marine diesel. This is sufficient power for most situations, but if I were considering a repower, I would want something in the 100 to 120 horsepower range for a little better reserve power when needed.
Trying to compare the sailing performance of a boat like the Vagabond 47 to a typical cruiser is a bit unfair, because this is a boat built for comfort, not speed and performance. Even at the designed displacement of 40,000 lbs the displacement/length ratio is 383, and the sail area/displacement ratio is 15. At a more likely cruising weight of 44,000 pounds, these numbers are 421 and 14.1 respectively—not very much power. That said, the comfort ratio is over 50, when a more modern 47’ cruiser would likely have a comfort ratio in the range of 30 to 35. Newton’s first and second laws of motion remind us that once you get this much mass moving, it’s not easily stopped, and once the Vagabond 47 has some way on, she will continue to sail quite nicely even in light to moderate winds.
When I checked www.yachtworld.com in early July, 20 Vagabond 47s were offered for sale—literally all over the world. Just shopping for one could take you on an around-the-world adventure. Start in Annapolis, then on to Spain, Italy, Turkey, the Philippines, Mexico, and the Caribbean before heading home. Asking prices ranged from $97,000 for a 1984 boat in the Caribbean to $249,000 for a 1985 model in Annapolis. Recent U.S. sales have been reported to range from $40,000 to $285,000.
The Vagabond 47 is a lot of boat for the money and a very livable and comfortable extended cruiser, but keep in mind that the cost of restoration, repair, and ongoing maintenance of these boats can be high. At best, it will be time consuming.
Reviewed in the August 2006 issue of SpinSheet by Jack Hornor