It’s bigger on the inside

“Cutter” rig – two staysails forward of mast

Our offer was accepted on a 1977 Ericson 36c “Cruising” cutter “Alta”. After over a year of searching, this boat is the smallest, oldest, and least expensive. Unexpectedly, Marcia and I like Alta the most. For the length – 36′ – we find her to be roomier than many of the 39′-45′ boats we’ve seen. It really does seem like she’s Bigger On The Inside. We are also purchasing her from the original owners, who have loved and cared for her over the past 38 years.

We’ve read and have been told many times that buying a boat is all about compromise. We have found this to be true, but the compromises on Alta are few:

  1. The stateroom bunk is narrow
  2. The galley is a bit small
  3. She needs some TLC*

*TLC includes such items as brightwork (wood) refinishing, polishing, new lighting throughout (We’re keeping the oil lamps, though!), possibly new standing rigging, possible engine work, and new canvas within the next few years.

She’s a cutter – which means she has two staysails forward of the mast, instead of just one. This gives us more sailing alta_31options, which can be important in heavy weather. She also has a “flush deck” – the deck is the full width of the boat, with no raised cockpit interrupting the surface area. This adds freeboard – the distance from the waterline to the deck – and opens up the cabin area quite a bit. The forward hatch in the image to the right is over the V-birth, and the closer one is a butterfly hatch over the salon.


Large, roomy cockpit
Cockpit, looking forward to companionway

She has the largest, most comfortable cockpit we’ve seen – with a high backs on the seats and an ice chest in the center that, surprisingly, doesn’t get in the way. The reverse-mounted wheel is a bit strange, but either sitting behind it or off to either side is actually very comfortable.


Salan, looking forward
Salon, looking forward

The salon is cozy. Not much wasted space here (the image to the left is a wide-angle, and a bit misleading; the mast isn’t quite as far into the salon as it appears, and the salon isn’t quite as wide as it appears, either). We had planned on replacing the salon cushions in any boat we purchased, but these are actually in pretty good shape, and we may hold off on that decision for a bit.

Aft stateroom bunk
Aft stateroom, facing starboard (right)
Aft stateroom, to port

The aft stateroom is small, and the bunk is a bit narrower than a double, but we’ve made our peace with a small bunk long ago. There’s a bit of a knee room issue as well. The lights pictured here, as many of the lights on this ship, will be replaced with smaller LED fixtures. Also, we will probably move the refrigerator motor and compressor, which are on the shelf to starboard.

 What’s next?

Before we close, we will be taking her out on a “Sea trial” – where we go out on her with the current owners and check that everything works. “Kick the tires”, so to speak. If all goes well, we have a Marine Surveyor check her out – which are akin to both a home inspector and appraiser. The survey will tell us if there are any issues with the ship, from rigging to keel. After the Survey, we will have the option to move forward, cancel, ask for a price adjustment, or ask the sellers to fix some of the issues. The escrow terms are 25 days or sooner – and we expect much sooner. We’re shooting for more like 14 days.

Please leave a comment – we’d love to hear from you!

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Doug is currently a Lead Developer for IDEA Health & Fitness. His life is currently in transition from his spacious house in Temecula, CA to a 39' sailboat.

6 thoughts on “It’s bigger on the inside”

  1. We are so proud of you both for moving forward in your lives. Going after a dream, and making that dream come true, must have been a difficult decision, for everyone. We wish you nothing but the best in the next chapter of your lives. Happy sailing!!!

    We love you both, very much …
    Mom and Michael

    1. Thank you. Your support really means a lot to me, Margaret. Can’t speak for Marcia – you know how contrary she can be!

  2. She looks like a great boat Doug. Congratulations on your dramatic lifestyle change. I am a couple weeks behind you on the purchase of a 36C on Lake Michigan.

    This is my first boat, but I really do think it will be all the boat that I’ll ever need or want. I’ve sailed on and off most of my life, but I’ve never purchased a large cruising boat. We’ve agreed to a price and now I begin on the process of survey, sailmaker checking over the sails, transport, etc…

    Any tips that you would be willing to pass along? My e-mail is in my profile if you’d rather respond that way.

    Fair winds and following seas,
    – Bill

    1. Thanks, and good luck on the purchase, Bill. I’m a bit behind on posting a blog entry because we’ve been so busy after closing last week. At this point, I think the only advice I’m qualified to give is be sure to have the right mindset. Literally every day so far something else has broken or gone wrong – but when you purchase a 39 year old boat, fixing things is part of the deal. We just smile and add things to our ever growing todo list.

      1. Ah, yes. Who was it who said the two best days in a sailors life are when he buys his boat and when he sells it. :)

        I hope that it wasn’t extensive. I expect that I may have a little less (knock on wood) in the way of repairs because this boat has always been in fresh water. There certainly is brightwork on deck that needs some TLC as well as possibly a coat of bottom paint and some updated electronics (hopefully only a GPS).

        I’ll send some photos once I get some better light (Equis is currently shrink-wrapped). The images that you have posted are quite nice.

        I’m looking forward to following your adventures. My short-term goals are much less ambitious, I only expect to sail Lake Erie and maybe up into Huron for the next 5 years, or so. After that, I’d like to take her up the St Lawrence Seaway and possibly beyond.

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