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The Pearson Triton’s launch at the 1959 National Boat Show in New York heralded the birth of the inexpensive ‘Plastic Classic’. Her designer Carl Alberg was at the forefront of the pioneering move from wood to fiberglass production and the 28ft Triton was one of the earliest fiberglass cruising yachts. She was an instant hit, with 17 orders taken by the end of the show, and her popularity never waned, with more than 700 boats built before production ceased in 1968.
The Triton is a handsome boat with classic cruiser looks inspired by the well-loved Scandinavian Folkboat. She carries a narrow beam, long overhangs and low freeboard of the Cruising Club of America (CCA) racing rule boats of the time. Although her interior volume and storage capacity are scanty for a bluewater boat the Triton has successfully double circumnavigated and completed many trans-oceanic passages. Today she remains probably the most affordable of the small, seaworthy, go-anywhere family cruisers.
Carl Alberg, a Swedish-born Naval Architect, was unknown as a yacht designer in 1959 and the Pearson Triton was to provide the flying start to his career. Alberg’s brief for the Triton, cooked up in casual conversation with Tom Potter (a lifelong yacht broker with an eye for the future of family cruising) was to design a 28 foot racer/cruiser with full headroom that could sleep a family of four and that could be built for under 10,000 dollars. In using fiberglass Alberg was able to come up with a boat that was unique at the time in offering more interior space than its wooden counterparts and at a much lower cost. Her original bare boat price was only 9,700 US dollars.
Alberg and Potter took the design to Pearson Corporation, a small fiberglass sailboat manufacturer, founded three years earlier by cousins Clint and Everett Pearson, who agreed to put it into production. The cousins had to borrow the money required to transport their Pearson Triton to the National Boat Show in New York but by the end of the show they had 17 orders and went on to build over 700 boats at their yard in Portsmouth, Rhode Island until production ceased in 1968.
These boats built by the Pearson Corporation are known as ‘East Coast’ Tritons but a number of boats, thought to be around 125, were also built on the West Coast by Aeromarine Plastics in Sausalito, California. There are some important construction differences between the ‘East Coast’ and ‘West Coast’ boats but consistent differences are hard to pin down due to many changes throughout the construction run of both boats. The most visible difference between the boats is that the ‘East Coast’ boats were built with wood trim and coamings, while those from the ‘West Coast’ are all fiberglass.
Alberg’s design also made it to Europe and at least three Tritons were built by Jouet in France with alterations to the bridge plan and interior layout. The Jouet Tritons have a distinctive long forward portlight on the cabin similar to that of the Jouet Tiburon.
Both sloop and yawl configurations were available and the majority of Tritons had a distinctive fractional rig which helps her to stand out in a crowd. Below the waterline, her full keel is cutaway slightly fore and aft with a wooden rudder attached. The hull has a wide flare forward to keep the boat drier and allow easier working on deck. The deck itself varies, with one owner recording at least four different deck styles with a number of additional minor variations. She has a stepped cabin top which is slightly incongruous with her sleek sheer lines but provides extra headroom below.
The cockpit is large and low and can be wet in rough seas but won’t hold enough water to cause problems when pooped. The bridge deck helps to keep her dry below. Inside accommodation is fairly cramped and typical of boats of this style but the lack of interior fiberglass liners make internal modifications and repairs easier.
Although it was a production boat, individual Tritons appear to vary widely in terms of construction. In general they have the thicker, tougher and less sophisticated hulls of the earlier fiberglass production boats. Many of the East coast boats have balsa cored decks where the majority of the West coast boats have decks of solid fiberglass but this isn’t definitive. Ballast in the early days was iron encapsulated in the keel but switched to encapsulated lead in later years.
The Triton sails as gracefully as she looks. She’s forgiving and nimble, though she does tend to exhibit weather helm. To counter this tendency some owners have fashioned small bowsprits to open up the fore-triangle area, while others recut their mainsail with less canvas at the sacrifice of overall sail area. Although a fast boat for her waterline length she’s slow by today’s standards and she doesn’t point very high.
Her short waterline means her light air performance is respectable, and as the wind picks up she heels quickly which increases her LWL and therefore hull speed. The boat is relatively tender up to 15 degrees before she stiffens. West Coast boats, being heavier built, are generally stiffer while East coast boats tend to heel earlier but are more responsive.
For boats that are now more than 40 years old Tritons have endured remarkably well despite many of them being sailed extensively. Like any older boat, they may require extensive refit if they’ve been neglected. Suspect areas are balsa-cored rot-prone decks (mainly East coast), rotten wooden rudders, corroded masts, undersized chainplates, cranky gasoline inboard engines and electrical systems that require replacement. Compression around the deck stepped mast can be an issue and the supports may require strengthening but many owners will already have done so. James Baldwin, who circumnavigated twice in his East Coast Triton ‘Atom’, reports that the original East Coast fractional rig is lightly stayed and requires reinforcement for offshore voyaging. Boats with recently upgraded systems, sails, rigging etc. as always are preferable and worth paying more for.
Triton’s are most plentiful on the East coast of the US. For prospective buyers, support and information is available from the very active National Triton Association, contactable through their website. The Plastic Classic forum has a page specifically for the Pearson Triton that can provide help and advice and there is also a Yahoo owners group. A search of the used boat market reveals current asking prices of 4,500 US dollars to 17,000 US dollars for a Pearson Triton depending on age and condition.
» Twenty Small Sailboats to Take You Anywhere by John Vigor, (Ch18, p77-82) an in depth look at the Pearson Trition 28. ISBN:978-0939837328
» Used Boat Notebook by John Kretschmer, a review of the Pearson Triton (p28-31)
» Wikipedia’s entry on the Pearson Triton
» National Triton Association, links and information.
» Pearson Triton Yahoo Group
» French Jouet Triton webpage
» Circumnavigation on a by James Baldwin on sailboat ‘Atom’