The popular little Bristol 24, also called the Corsair in earlier times, is a safe and solidly built pocket cruiser from the 1960s. Hundreds were built in hand-laid fiberglass by Sailstar Boat Company and later Bristol Yachts in Rhode Island with a production run that spanned 17 years. This Paul Coble design, makes for a great little coastal cruiser, and with the right equipment can be made suitable for ocean voyaging.
As was the convention in 1960s designs, the hull is long ended, narrow, with a short waterline length. Under the waterline is a full keel with a forefoot cutaway drawing 3 feet 5 inches. With a weighty displacement of 6000 pounds she is well and truly a heavy displacement cruiser endowing her with motion comfort levels often seen in boats upwards of 28 feet in size.
Put together you can expect a boat that’s initially tender, lengthening her waterline as she heels, before stiffening dramatically at around 12 knots of wind. Although her large wetted area and lack of sail area has given her a reputation for being slower than similar boats of her vintage, namely the Pearson Ariel, Cape Dory 25, and 25D, the Bristol 24 generally sails better across a wider windspeed range. In heavy conditions she can be surprisingly quick as her the ultimate stiffness helps her hold onto canvas when other boats would be reefing.
Probably her best feature is her roominess with a five foot cockpit, two cabins, including a saloon blessed with six feet of headroom. The saloon arrangement came in two layouts. One that had a double berth to port which converted to a dinette and on the opposite side was a galley with a quarter berth further aft – this layout slept five in total. The second option had had settees either side and the galley further forward with the stove to port and sink and icebox to starboard. Both layouts had identical v-berths in the forepeak with the head located underneath. The interior trim was of satin-finished mahogany with a fiberglass headliner.
Most Bristol 24s were powered with an 8 or 9 horsepower outboard situated in a well. An inboard engine was an option, usually diesel, but some were powered with Atomic 4 gasoline engines.
Though the boat is technically trailerable, but don’t expect quick launches casual day sails as her 3′ 5″ draft does become cumbersome on the boat ramp and with a typical kitted out weight of over 8,000 pounds a sizeable towing vehicle will be required.
The Bristol 24 has its origins tied to a troubled boatbuilder located in West Warwick, Rhode Island called Sailstar. As the company entered receivership, the bank asked Clint Pearson of Pearson Yachts fame to come in and oversee operations.
Pearson had pioneered the art of production fiberglass boatbuilding by founding Pearson Yachts in his garage with his cousin in the 1950s, scaling the operation to hundreds of employees and eventually selling to Grumman Allied Industries in 1961. He was out for a new challenge in the yachting business and by 1964 he had purchased the failing Sailstar Boat Company.
At Sailstar, the Corsair, as the boat was called back then, was one of the very first boats that Pearson worked on. He called designer Paul Cable, asking for a twenty-four foot design to sleep four people. Cable tells a story of carving a half hull on the Johnstown ferry on the way to see Pearson. The boat was barely built in time for the 1964 New York Boat Show where it was a great hit. Priced originally at $4,000 dollars, 120 orders flooded in from the show.
By 1966 Pearson had changed the company name to Bristol Yachts, phasing out the Sailstar brand in favour of Bristol, and eventually relocated the company to new facilities in Bristol, Rhode Island.
The Bristol 24 remains one of the most popular models from Bristol with a production run of 726 before production ceased in 1983. Boats from 1975 onwards were sold under the Bristol brand.
Build quality varies widely between models and vintage in ways that matter.
As originally designed the Corsair had lead ballast. In a cost savings move, Sailstar changed the ballast construction to lead-shot in concrete. After the company transitioned to Bristol, in a further cost savings move, the ballast changed to iron boiler punchings in concrete (while keeping lead-shot as an option). The iron to concrete ratio varies between boats as these proportions were mixed by eye without weighing resulting in some boats being more tender than others.
Common wisdom is that you can identify the ballast material by checking the bilges – owners report lead ballasted examples have a bilge twelve inches deep while concrete ones have a bilge that is up to the sole. Be aware this is not a reliable indicator of ballast material as some models have extra lead bringing the ballast to the floorboards.
Another area to check is the bulkhead construction. The original Corsairs had mahogany marine plywood. Later boats had formica over plywood, these boats can have rotted or delaminated bulkheads which are hidden by the formica. Some of the last boats went back to teak or mahogany faced ply as an option.