A Quartet of Mid-Priced Cruisers
By Mike O’Brien
photos by John Bildahl
Small Boat Journal #63 October/November 1988


A Chesapeake spring arrives shortly after the first daffodils and disappears too quickly in summer’s haze. It’s a most elusive season — in turn soft and promising or willfully unpredictable. We (SBJ’S editor Tom Baker and I) were fortunate, indeed, that the Bay served up two days with low humidity and 10- to 20-knot breezes — perfect for sailing our fleet of four contemporary cruisers.

Mid-range — that is to say mid-priced — production cruising sailboats present a plethora of problems to their designers and manufacturers. The builders of "price" (inexpensive) boats can explain plain finish and lack of joiner work as part of the bargain that gets sailors out on the water for the lowest initial cost. At the other end of the scale, custom yacht builders happily will search foundries for the best bronze castings and pester lumber wholesalers with demands for the mythical perfect stock. They're given ample opportunity to show their clients' good taste (or large budgets) and their own skills as builders.

But the builder in the middle must keep building and selling price in mind while providing a respectable degree of finish and performance on a par with more expensive boats. Judging by this covey of compact cruisers from both sides of the Atlantic, the problem has presented tough decisions and fostered some impressive ingenuity.

If these boats cover the same territory, they attack it with decidedly different styles. The Schock 23 blends a more or less traditional interior with innovative details, a winged keel, and truly outstanding performance under sail. The First 235 is the sports car of the fleet. Sensitive to the skipper's skill and attentiveness, this French design is quick to reward, or to punish. The Tonic 24 combines reasonable performance with incredible volume below decks. The Hunter 23 attempts to package many of the above traits and a lot of gear, in a somewhat simpler, less expensive design.

Comparison Chart

MIKE O'BRIEN, WoodenBoat magazine's Senior Editor, sailed and studied the Chesapeake for two decades.