Boats

Island Packet Estero

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Using a bow thruster to get a 36-foot boat off the dock was new to me, but fair to say, the folks at Island Packet know what they're doing. Without the thruster we would have required a heap of pulpit shoving and gear shifting to escape that narrow corner of the marina, so our easy exit to San Francisco Bay provided the perfect introduction to the Estero, the latest offering from a company where ease of use is a mantra.


DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION

Island Packet founder and in-house designer Bob Johnson earned his education at MIT. You should be impressed by that, the more so because his career touchpoints included rocket design and surfboard engineering before he got down to his true calling, building full-keeled cruisers for true believers. The Estero, named for an island off Florida, follows Island Packet tradition while exploring new ways to mix the elements.

In a sea of deep fin keels and spade rudders, the Estero is eye-catching with its moderate draft and long keel that shelters the rudder and propeller. The sturdy hull and keel are single-piece, with the lead ballast fully encapsulated. A base interior molding is bonded to the hull and bulkheads, the chainplates are bonded to the hull and the flanged deck is bolted and also glued to the hull.

I don't think Johnson designed the Estero for sailing around the world, but he doesn't build boats that can't go long distances. He worked through the on-deck priorities and reconsidered the inevitable below-deck compromises. You can argue with the outcome, but only if what you want is a different boat. This layout works very well for weekend sailing and entertaining. In fact, it won our Best Boats award for accommodations design.


DECK AND COCKPIT

Two things that turn me against a boat in a hurry are cockpit seats too short for stretching out and a cabinhouse you can't lean against comfortably. No problem here. Life is good in the Estero's cockpit, with 7-foot bench seating and a layout to minimize the number of times you will have to leave the cockpit to work forward. The jib self-tacks on its Hoyt jib boom, the main furls in-mast, and sailing doesn't get much simpler than that. The boom is high overhead, so even an NBA player should survive a gybe unscathed.

One small criticism that's easily remedied: I found the cleats for the traveler at the wrong angle. Traveler adjustments required an extra reach and an awkward tug.

I felt secure on the deck but you need to watch out for the jib boom that makes the foredeck smaller while making the sailing easier. Our test boat had the optional swim step, and I imagine most buyers will want it.


ACCOMMODATIONS

Belowdecks the Estero reveals a different kind of interior. Rather than the usual saloon interrupted by a bulkhead, with a sleeping cabin forward, the visual space flows freely from the companionway steps to a wraparound dinette that banks up to the anchor locker. The space feels big, but it's all about reallocating resources. The private sleeping area has moved aft, to a snug owners' cabin on the port side. To starboard is a quarterberth that doubles as a navigator's seat (and will probably see duty as storage space).

If a two-couple boat means one couple plus occasional guests, this is a workable arrangement. A pocket door closes off the quarterberth for privacy when guests are aboard. Otherwise it functions with the main cabin. I checked out the bunks and found ample room in both for a six-footer. I would be able to rest comfortably against either wall of the owner's cabin (on either tack). Over in the guest quarter berth, however, heeling on starboard tack would roll me up against a shelf that is fixed only 13 inches above cushion height.

With a minimum of 6ft of headroom throughout—and a maximum of 6ft 5in with 10 high-quality opening ports, 5 hatches and 2 Dorade vents—this is an airy production. The U-shaped galley should be easy to work in, with sinks near centerline for good drainage, double iceboxes and many small necessaries (pan storage, dish racks) already worked out.

The look is stylish, and the dinette will accommodate six adults without a squeeze. The table leaves drop to maximize space and the table top rotates. I picture pleasurable in-port entertaining accented with the boat's dimmable lighting. The dual settees also qualify as single berths. Optional filler cushions convert the package to twin doubles for those into serious pajama parties.

With the head and shower amidships, not crammed into a narrow end, this often-neglected space becomes almost luxurious.

Next: VITAL STATISTICS

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