Love her or not, the 47 Gulfstar Sailmaster is still a popular cruising motorsailer. Ask most people and they will grimace. The most usual adjective is simply “unattractive.” Despite the disparaging remarks, you will find hard core fans of her. Tom Neal the cruising world editor spend 19 years living aboard a 47 Sailmaster. He writes about Sailmaster 47’s, “We see many out here, and that’s a good sign that others agree with us.” They agree that she is a worthwhile liveaboard option. At Jordan Yachts, we have sold many Gulfstar 47’s over the years. In south Florida, there always seems to be a few of these beamy motorsailers around.
Personally, she would not be my choice. I cannot get beyond her looks, but in many ways that is my limitation. As an admirer of wooden CCA designs of the past, she crushes my safe traditionalist view of sailing. But, I can certainly understand the choice, and that why I am attempting to write a review here. Her interior space is outstanding and her shoal draft, low clearance makes accessing the Bahamas easy. The Sailmaster series fits a niche in the cruising lifestyle, and from her popularity 30 years later it is clear this niche is not going away.
Vince Lazzara, the founder of Gulfstar, was one the pioneers of fiberglass. In 1960’s, his Columbia Yachts became one of the largest boat manufacturers in the world. In 1968, he sold out and via a non complete cause went to building houseboats for 2 years. Every maker Lazzara started went on to be a grand success, so it was no wonder they put him in timeout from building sailboats. In 1970 as soon as he was free, Lazzara started Gulfstar Yachts in the Tampa Bay area. Gulfstar was much different than Columbia. Lazzara reinvented himself and moved from the wood inspired long overhang designs of Columbias to squat, beamy motorsailers. These early Gulfstars doubled as trawlers when Gulfstar put in a larger engine and cabin structure instead of a mast. The 47 Sailmaster was one of these type of designs early designs but benefits from the higher quality construction of post mid 1970 models. Produced in the late 1970’s, she was one of the first raised salon style designs and way ahead of her time.
One client wanted to see a 47 Sailmaster in Fort Lauderdale one time. I told him, “You will have an immediate reaction, and we will know what you really are looking for in a boat.”. For the dock, the cabintrunk structure jars with traditional expectations – the combings and then more structure on top of more. It is known as the “wedding cake” look. The rig is rather short at 54′ and boom as well.
The hull lines themselves have a charm. The bow is similar to the beautiful 50 Gulfstar The slight counter stern is attractive. The beaminess of the hull is not as attractive. Underneath, her keel is shoal at 5′. It is a cutaway forefoot semi-long keel with a separate skeg hung rudder. The prop is not overly long with a cutlass bearing. The hull is roundish bottom and makes for a soft motion at dock. The freeboard is above average.
Lazzara was an innovative businessman always looking for a way to trim costs and increase margin. He took shortcuts and made build mistakes. Gulfstar had shoddy layup in the early days and then was hit hard by the boat pox of the 1980’s. Even manufacturer was with oil embargo and shortage of resin. Lazzara was also a genius and way ahead of his time in quality techniques. His dedication to a high glass-to-resin ratio of 50% was unmatched in those days. These days builders know that the glass not the resin is responsible for most of the strength. The hull layup is heavy during this period of Gulfstar. Lazzara knew what he was doing after 20 years of experience building fiberglass sailboats. Gulfstar used the common inner flange hull deck joint. The deck is balsa cored throughout. The hull is solid laminate. The ballast is internal and used lead instead of the iron in the early production.
What To Look For
Gulfstar does not have the best reputation for build quality. First they had shoddy layup in the early 1970’s which resulted in delamination and blisters. Then, they were hit by the boat pox of the early 1980’s. The 47 Gulfstar produced during the late 1970’s luckily missing the more serious quality questions. But Lazzara was always taking shortcuts and pushing the edge. He had to with the oil embargo created shortage of resin and fickle economic conditions. Steve Dashew writes about the quality of the Sailmaster series, “One of my concerns would be the basic structure, keel, steering, and rig integrity. As you pointed out, these boats are typically not thought of in context of thousands of blue water miles. A good survey, and a check of the history of the boats will shed some light on this subject.”
The deck is a particular problem. The balsa core around the windlass the forepeak is known to get wet. The basic problems was that many manufacturers of this vintage were slack about glassing solid radiuses around fixtures. At any stanchion base or rail, the balsa core is vulnerable to getting saturated by a fixtures in the deck. The doghouse windows likely need to be replaced or refinished after 30 years of sun. Four of the 47’s were extended to be 51′ Gulfstar Sailmasters. This extension is an odd bathtub at the aft end of the boat. “Great to fish from,” says one broker. This broker tells a story of how he and the owner filled up the extension as a Jacuzzi. “We had the watermaker going, and it makes what 80 gallons per hour. We had this running through the hot water heater, and it was great. We partied all day.”
On Deck and Down Below
These come in ketch and sloop rigs with mostly sloops. The center cockpit is way up high and dry. Openings in the combings let you step into the cockpit. The 47 is a great boat for entertaining with seating for 12. It is high and dry with great view. The doghouse windows are large and way ahead of their time, nearing the style of today. There is great space on the foredeck and some aft with wide side decks.
The 47 has amazing accommodation below. I once had a client who was 6’7″, and I was scratching my head to come up with a sailboat with enough headroom. I finally brought him and his friends over to see a local 47 Sailmaster. He stepped down and in the raised saloon his head barely brushed the liner. When he stepped down forward or aft, he had a good 3″ of clearance. For tall clients, Sailmasters are a excellent possibility. Not many yachts have this much headroom.
The aft stateroom is large. It has a queen tucked in between cabinetry and lockers. There is private access to a fully separate head and shower. Forward is a large galley and guest stateroom. The galley is U-shaped with nice space. In the raised saloon are settees port and starboard with a quiet worktable starboardside aft. The dinette too small on the portside U-shaped galley. There should be a foldout to reach the settee opposite for 360 degree seating. While early Gulfstars had Formica interiors, past the mid 1970’s Gulfstar used teak veneer. Sales reps tout that they would put up the workmanship against any other manufacturer in the world. The corners are nicely radiused. They used a patented plywood laminate.
Tom Neal, the former editor of Cruising World wrote a book, All in the same boat: living aboard and cruising, about his 19 years of living with his family on a Gulfstar 47 Sailmaster. He then moved up to a 53 Gulfstar. He writes about engine access:
On the 47, the engine space was below the saloon floor, and you had to open a huge hatch in the middle of the “living/dining room” every time you wanted to check the engine, generator, or other equipment in that space. I check the engine and/or generator every hour or two when it’s in use. I also service both of these every day we’re using them. This meant a lot of disruption for the rest of the family. I also began to want even more space around the equipment, even though access on the 47 was excellent for a sailboat.
Because the engine is so deep down below the raised saloon, access becomes tight. There is an incredible amount of space, but that space is deep into the bilge. In essence, the compartment does not allow side access only top access. The common engine is a 130 HP Perkins 6-354. This one gigantic engine for a sailboat and typifies the Sailmaster series. For motorsailers, these are more like powerboats than sailboats.
I stumbled across a nice explanation of how the 47 performs by Steve Dashew. On his setsail blog, a reader asks about his opinion of the 47 Sailmaster in heavy weather. Steve responds:
There’s a lot of boat up high and not a huge amount of draft or ballast to offset it…On the performance front, the boat will be slow to weather, and sluggish in light airs. But that definition fits a lot of cruising boats. So it’s a question of if you want to trade the space for the performance. For local sailing, maybe doing the East Coast, and working your way down island this is not going to be a huge problem…Of course you can motor in the light winds and to weather…To get the same interior space and good heavy weather ability plus boat speed you would need to go longer. So there are some benefits to the configuration. It is just a question to how you weigh the pros and cons.
A local 47 Sailmaster for sale is beyond the 55′ fixed I-95 bridge. Usually large sailboats have to unstep their mast to go under, and I was surprised to see the 47 Sailmaster over this way. I asked the broker how they do it. He said, “They go out all the time. She fits under easily if you know what you are doing.” Under the I-95 bridge, there are draft limitations if you go at low tide for clearance. The 47 Sailmaster is one special design with 5′ draft along with the short rig. This example illustrates both the benefits and faults of the 47. The low clearance and shoal draft allow you unexpected access but affect the performance when you reach the ocean.
When you get beyond the look and what people say about the 47 Sailmaster, you realize what extraordinary design she is. Her accommodations have a great deal to be said for along with her strong layup and go anywhere rig and draft. I hope you will see this review as a very honest portrayal of the good and bad of this yacht. Looking at the current market, there is a Sailmaster in Stuart and another in Fort Lauderdale both asking under $150,000.