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The Nor’Sea 27 is a small but rugged pocket-cruiser with live-aboard comfort and seaworthiness at the heart of her design. Designer Lyle Hess best known for designing Lynn and Larry Pardey’s bluewater cruising yachts Seraffyn and Taleisin was approached with the challenging brief to design a heavy weather, long distance cruiser which could be legally trailerable. Unfazed, Hess came up with this tough and traditionally styled 27-foot double-ender which is transportable between oceans if not strictly trailerable.
According to Lyle Hess “any boat that points her bow out to sea should be designed so that the crew need not worry about a safe return–no matter what tricks the weather may play”. And with four circumnavigations and more than 160 Pacific and Atlantic crossings under her hull, the Nor’Sea 27 is testament to this philosophy.
Since its introduction in 1977, the little cruiser has gained a cult following. In total around 450 have been built and production continues to the present day.
One day in the 1960’s a young man named Larry Pardey bought a set of yacht plans from designer Lyle Hess. The boat design was a Renegade of Newport. Using the plans he built his own boat Seraffyn and set off cruising with his new wife Lin. Lin and Larry went on to become well known amongst the cruising fraternity through the books they wrote and in doing so introduced the wider world to Hess and of course the Renegade design.
Through the popularity of the Renegade, Hess was approached by Dean Wixom, president of Heritage Marine. At the time Wixom was making the rounds between designers looking for a cruiser that could withstand the heaviest of offshore weather while still be legally trailerable. The idea being that big-boat seaworthiness combined with ease of overland transport would open up some pretty interesting cruising grounds to sailors who had limited time on their hands. Hess was the only designer game enough to take up the challenge and the Nor’Sea 27 was the outcome.
The Nor’Sea 27 was introduced in 1977 by Heritage Marine in a makeshift plant in Southern California. It was a design Wixom loved and three years later built his own boat Chinook (hull #77) on which he lived aboard for 10 years while logging more than 30,000 miles. His company, Heritage Marine, was sold to Bob Eeg who renamed the company Nor’Sea Yachts and has continued production to this day. Over 450 boats have been built so far.
The Nor’Sea 27 is a heavily-rigged sloop with moderate displacement, a shoal draft of 3” 10’ and the 8ft beam which allows trailering without a permit. On the early boats ballast packages of standard (2500 lbs) and heavy (3000 lbs) were offered but since 1980 all boats have 3100 lbs of encapsulated lead ballast.
Hess drew inspiration from the Norwegian Spitzgatter for the traditional double-ended profile that Dean Wixom was seeking, with a wide curvy canoe stern accentuated by the upward sweep of the lapstrakes and a sweet, springy sheerline. Below the waterline any resemblance to the Spitzgatter ends with a full keel with forefoot cutaway that is fast and modern. Her lines are clean and pleasing, Wixom goes as far as claiming the hull is the most beautiful he has seen on a small cruiser.
The interesting thing about the Nor’Sea 27 and one that distinguishes her from other trailerable pocket cruisers is the standard center-cockpit layout which is generally exclusive to much larger sailboats. Although the traditional aft cockpit layout is offered, the center-cockpit has proven the more popular by a surprising 9 to 1. The small aft cabin offered in the center-cockpit layout effectively houses two quarter berths and is prized for the privacy which it offers. The cabin also offers extra protection to the cockpit which is sized modestly for bluewater but is big enough for two people to sit in comfortably. The helm consists of a long tiller that reaches over the top of the aft cabin to a large transom-hung rudder.
Nor’Sea Yachts maintain a “super heavy duty” philosophy in construction and the Nor’Sea 27 is a prime example. The hull is of solid hand-laid one piece laminate with up to 22 layers of mat and woven roving, and molded in lapstrakes which although costly and time consuming to build provide extra stiffness and strength as well as traditional looks and a drier boat. The thickness of the laminate varies from 5/16″ at the sheer to 3/4″ at the keel. Interior plywood bulkheads and a partial molded fibreglass liner provide further structural reinforcement resulting in an extremely strong hull.
The plywood-cored deck is fixed to an inward flange with adhesive sealant and stainless steel bolts spaced at 6-inch intervals. Deck fittings and hardware are oversized and through-bolted to stainless steel backing plates. This build quality gives the Nor’Sea 27 the strength of a larger boat but doesn’t come cheap.
“I am very proud of the quality we put into those boats. I did make a fatal mistake: I built a product that I had fallen in love with. We built the boats without enough regard to cost. We already had the world’s most expensive 27-footer, yet I could not bring myself to cut corners in areas seldom seen” – Dean Wixom.
The boats were sold as fully completed boats, nearly complete except for minor finishings, or as hull and deck kits. The interior joinerwork on the factory finished boats are good, however boats built from hull and deck kits are much more variable in quality.
In terms of performance the Nor’Sea27 is stiff, sea kindly and surprisingly fast thanks to Hess’ innovative underwater profile. Nor’Sea owners have been heard to boast of overtaking longer, lighter boats while cruising. She tracks well to weather, is slippery in light airs and is a easy to single-hand. Her helm though relatively light is not particularly well balanced and cannot be left untended for long.
Although ‘trailerable’ the Nor’Sea 27 is more accurately ‘transportable’ as it requires a specialised trailer and a large size tow truck to transport it. Although the deck-stepped mast has a hinged tabernacle to allow raising and lowering, rigging the boat can take an experienced owner at least 3 hours.
The biggest problem has been corrosion in the aluminium fuel tank which is buried in the keel directly under the engine. It needs to be fully glassed over to protect it, or excavated and replaced if already corroded. Similar corrosion problems have occurred with the sleeve cylinder in the early model 9hp Farymann diesel engines which also must be rebuilt or replaced but the engine is apparently easy to remove. The later Farymann model 32W has a cast iron cylinder and is not so susceptible. No other significant weakness have come to light.
The Nor’Sea 27 has held their values well and have remained highly sought after so tend not to linger long on the used boat market. In 2007 the market value on used boats ranged from $28k – $62k USD depending on age and condition. New boats are available from Nor’Sea Yachts at three levels of kit set or as fully completed boats and prices range from $39,400 USD for the most basic kit to $151,612 USD for the completed boat.
Information and advice on buying a Nor’Sea 27 can be obtained from the Nor’Sea Yachts website or from the active owner’s association on Yahoo groups.
» Nor’Sea Yachts official website
» Nor’Sea 27 Yahoo Owners group
» Sailing Magazine, Nov 2008, review of the Nor’Sea 27, by John Kretschmer (Boats & Gear)
» Sailing Magazine, Nor’Sea 27 review by Brian Fagan (Boat Test)
» Nor’Sea 27: A Trailerable Offshore Cruiser by Charles Doane, Apr 2010.
» Good Old Boat magazine The Salty Nor’Sea 27 by Karen Larson
» Old Boat magazine The Nor’Sea 27 by Ted Brewer