The Panda 38, introduced in 1982, comes from a whole family of Scandinavian styled cruisers developed by Bob Berg in the mid-1970s through to the mid-1980s which included the popular Baba 30, 35 and 40 designs from Bob Perry. The boat was originally conceived as a smaller and lighter alternative to the Panda 40 (aka Baba 40). Like other boats from Berg, the Panda 38 was built by Ta Shing which has been generally considered the best boatyard in Taiwan, and the stunning interiors reflect this.
The Panda 38 has a reputation for sea-kindly motion, easy handling, and brisk performance. Since its introduction, only 29 have been built so they are quite rare to find on the market, and like all boats from the Bob Berg / Ta Shing duo, they have enjoyed an avid fan base.
Delving into the history of the Panda 38 we need to step back to 1976, the year that brought the world the Baba 30. The little boat was the brainchild of Berg who knitted together the design talents of Bob Perry with his new discovery, a small boatyard called Shing Sheng. The Baba 30 reinforced to the American public the kind of boat that could be built in Taiwan. It was a salty full keeled cruiser that packed an incredibly livable interior into 30 feet. Brimming with quality, the boat helped the yard (now operating out of purpose-built facilities under the name Ta Shing) in the direction of becoming Taiwan’s premier boatyard.
The Baba 30 led to the 35, and culminated in the fast and luxurious full-keeled Baba 40, a boat that had its lines derived from the now legendary Valiant 40. After a naming rights kerfuffle the Baba 40 became the Panda 40. Roughly the same time, in 1981, Bob Berg was looking for a smaller and lighter alternative. As Berg puts it:
“…the market demanded a smaller and lighter weight boat with a different stern than the Baba 40. I envisioned a stern similar to the James W. Hart, a catboat that Bill Garden designed with an old-time extended counter stern. This type of stern allowed for a larger cockpit.”
For the design he commissioned Gary Grant who had prior experience with this style of boat having worked in the Perry design office. It was to be his first commission as an independent designer. He set about tweaking the design formula to maximize waterline length, reducing wetted surface area and reducing displacement.
The boat was of course built by Ta Shing and was introduced in the latter part of 1982. Though most of the records were shredded in 1992, Berg says the records indicate at least 29 boats were built. Most were sold into the Pacific North West. Interestingly, the first Panda 38 off the production line was White Bear, Berg’s own boat, the name being the literal Chinese translation of Panda Bear.
The Panda 38 is a Scandinavian style cruiser like Berg’s previous boats, there’s a cutter rig (though many owners like to sail their boat as sloops with a removable inner stay), a three foot bowsprit, and a flat bottomed full keel. And like the prior boats that were designed by Perry (Baba 30, 35, 40) , Grant follows the same formula by cutting away the keel’s forefoot and firming up the turn of the bilge to reduce drag. The hull’s canoe underbody remains flat well aft to improve downwind performance. To make the boat easy to short hand, Grant reduced the sail area which led to a significant reduction in displacement. The Panda 38 weighs in at a full 10,000 lbs less than the Panda 40.
Visually, perhaps the most striking difference from prior boats has been the departure from the canoe stern in favor of a transom. Berg says “I decided to come out with a boat with a different stern design because I felt that not every sailor wanted a double-ender“. Regardless, the transom usefully increases the usable deck space and aids the waterline length slightly.
The bathtub-like cockpit is suitably small for bluewater passage-making, but seats only four to six people comfortably at anchor.
Below deck, some of the true quality of the boat comes to light. The sheer quantity and quality of the teak joinery work is striking and utilization of space is impeccable. Berg was well known to work over every fine detail at the Ta Shing factory, looking for clever ways to use every nook and cranny.
There’s a huge well designed galley with generous dry storage areas. The boats came with the option of the galley port or starboard. With the port located galley, to starboard was placed the navigation station with the navigator’s seat formed by part of the seagoing quarter berth which runs further aft. In the starboard located galley, to port was placed a generous wet-locker space with a reverse facing navigation station further forward utilizing the port settee as a seat.
The sole below the companionway is sensibly made from teak grating to allow drainage while changing out of wet weather gear. Access to the engine behind the companionway stairs is excellent.
In the main salon are settee berths port and starboard, there’s plenty of space for living and entertaining around a U-shaped dinette seating four in comfort. Above is an elegant teak butterfly hatch offering good ventilation. Further forward to starboard is the head with separate shower. At the very front, most boats have a stateroom consisting of a queen sized berth though a few boats were optionally fitted with V-berths.
The Panda 38’s hull is constructed in hand laid fiberglass, while the decks share similar treatment with a coring of end grain balsa broken into two inch squares with resin barriers to limit potential for rot damage from leaks. Ballast consists of 6,600 pounds of iron cast in a single piece and sealed and glassed over.
The bulkheads consist of vertical teak staving, while overhead, between the laminated beams are removable sheet laminate or spruce staving. In efforts to reduce condensation, the hull’s interior is lined with polyurethane foam in the living areas.
The Panda 38 is a good performer under sail, she is sea-kindly and is known to excel to weather regardless of light air. In fact owners report 150 mile days with only ten knots of wind in a close reach, more wind is required when downwind in any significant sea state. We hear the overall boat speed of the Panda 38 is close to that of the impressive Baba 40.
In terms of balance, the boat exhibits a slight weather helm with a particularly good rudder response (aiding close quarter manoeuvring).
Overall the Panda 38 has proven to be strong and solid. Other than the original v-drive transmission leaking often, few weaknesses have been identified through the years.
It’s recommended prospective buyers contact the active community of owners on the Baba/Panda/Tashiba Yahoo Group for further research. They’re rare to find on the market and as of 2010 given the few boats that have been listed, it is estimated the asking price for Panda 38s is in the range of $100k – $160k USD.
» Baba, Panda, Tashiba sailboat Yahoo Group, information and owner discussions.
» Sea Magazine, Mar 1984 (p52-p55), Panda 38 Sea Trial by Bob Vollmer
» Cruising World Magazine, Mar 2004, Panda 38: Passagemaking Princess by Mary Brandon Fox
For their assistance in the research of this article, thanks goes out to Bob Berg, Tim Ellis (who managed boat production at Ta Shing) as well as owners from the Baba, Panda, Tashiba group, particularly Michael McConnell, Bruce Pappas, and Hal & Patsy Cook.