Forgiving yet capable of crossing oceans, this traditional cruiser has built an avid following
When Canadian builder Kurt Hansen commissioned Carl Alberg to design a 30-foot sloop for his Whitby Boat Works back in 1962 few would have predicted that the boat would stay in production for more than 20 years. By the time Whitby finally closed its doors in 1988, more than 700 Alberg 30s had been built. The Alberg 30 was inspired by a handful of Folkboat sailors from Toronto. They approached Hansen to build a suitable boat for one-design racing but also capable of extended cruising. In essence they wanted a larger Folkboat. When word of the new Alberg 30 reached the Chesapeake Bay area sailing clubs, two different groups of sailors turned up on Hansen’s doorstep. They placed more than two dozen orders before retreating back across the border. Thus the Alberg 30 sprang to life in a flourish. By the end of the first year, a completed boat was rolling off the production line every three days.
While many older boats have a quiet following, nurtured by a few dedicated owners, Alberg 30 owners can be defined as a full-blown cult. They love their boats and maintain several active class associations. The Chesapeake Bay Alberg 30 Association boasts 250 boats on its registry and publishes an informative monthly newsletter, a maintenance manual and hosts well-attended seminars every February. There are other active classes, including a Great Lakes fleet based in Toronto. Every year, the Chesapeake and Great Lakes groups race, alternating host countries in this international competition. Very few significant changes were made during the long production run, and an early 1960s boat can sail boat-for-boat with an early 1980s boat, making the Alberg 30 one of the largest keelboat one-design fleets anywhere.
The Alberg 30 bears the unmistakable signature of Carl Alberg, a look evident in so many boats from this period, including the Pearson Triton, Bristol 27 and Alberg 37. The look, which was modern in its day, is now considered traditional, at least when defined in terms of fiberglass boats. The long overhangs, springy sheer, low freeboard, cutaway full keel with an attached rudder, narrow beam, stair-stepped cabintrunk and moderate sailplan are trademark Alberg.
It is safe to say that the Alberg 30 traces its roots to the Scandinavian Folkboat, as most of Alberg’s designs do, and the hull shape represents the transition that was taking place as builders switched from wood to fiberglass construction. The Alberg 30 may not be the quickest boat afloat, especially in light air, but don’t be misled by the specs. With slack bilges and just 8 feet, 9 inches of beam, the boat is initially tender. The short waterline increases as the boat heels and the Alberg 30 finds its stride when other boats are being overpowered. The boat has a seakindly motion, although it can hobbyhorse in a seaway. The Alberg 30 is a proven blue water cruiser; indeed, Yves Gelinas circumnavigated in one by way of Cape Horn in his Alberg 30 Jean de Sud.
Most Alberg 30s have held up very well over the years, a tribute to Whitby’s solid construction. There was nothing fancy about the building process, but like other early fiberglass boats, there was no shortage of material used in the 30’s hull and deck. The hull is hand-laid, solid fiberglass bonded with polyester resin. Early decks and cabintrunks were partially cored with Masonite, while those built after 1970 used more common balsa coring.
Early boats used a laminated wood beam to support the mast, while later boats were fitted with an aluminum beam encased in a fiberglass liner. Later boats also incorporated a fiberglass pan for the cabin sole and as a base for the furniture. Whitby made similar changes in its other successful Alberg design, the 37. The ballast is iron, encapsulated in the keel cavity. According to some reports, Alberg specified lead ballast and a few of the earliest boats were quite tender until extra ballast was added.
What to look for
Like any boat, there are a few items to watch for when inspecting used Alberg 30s. Unlike other boats, however, the Alberg 30’s flaws have not only been well documented by respective class associations over the years, but solutions to the problems are just as well documented. If you are looking at a pre-1970 boat, for example, be sure to check the wooden mast support beam. The beam may well be cracked after years of flexing under load, and it is not unusual to find a retrofitted aluminum plate to beef up the support. Be sure to probe around on deck to see if depressions are evident around the maststep.
Deck delamination is another problem to watch for, so carefully sound the decks, listening for the telltale creaking sounds that reveal rot in the core. Again, this seems more common in older boats, and don’t overreact to a bit of deck delamination as almost every old boat has it to some degree.
Another common problem is the attachment of the forward lower chainplates, which are not well supported belowdecks. In fact, Jean de Sud lost her mast in the Pacific when a chainplate pulled out. Naturally, be sure to inspect all the components of the standing rigging, including the chainplates themselves, which can be bent and fatigued after years of hard use.
The type of engine may influence your buying decision since the need to repower the boat will certainly skew your budget. In fact, adding a new diesel can cost almost as much as the boat itself when you include the cost of installation. The earliest boats were fitted with 22-horsepower Gray Marine gas engines. Most Alberg 30s, however, came standard with a 30-horsepower Universal Atomic 4 gas engine, the workhorse of the industry for many years. Some of the later boats came with diesels, either a single cylinder Bukh or a two-cylinder Volvo.
The Alberg 30’s cockpit is fairly large and the seats are long enough to stretch out on. There is good leg support on either tack, but the mahogany coaming board does get you in the small of the back after a while. Tiller steering was standard, and while there must be some wheel-steered 30s, I haven’t seen one. There is a stout bridgedeck, typical of all Alberg designs. Circumnavigator Gelinas notes that he can fit two folding bikes in the cockpit lockers. There is also a lazarette astern. The boat can be wet when sailing upwind and a spray dodger is a useful addition.
Like many CCA-influenced designs, the Alberg 30 has a long boom and the mainsheet features end-boom sheeting, usually led to a traveler aft of the cockpit. It’s likely the sheet winches have been upgraded, although it isn’t necessary as the headsail loads are not overly heavy. The 30 is not a close-winded boat and the headsail tracks are on the rail to clear the shrouds. The single-spreader sloop rig carries 410 square feet of sail, with more than half of that area in the mainsail. The lifelines and low stanchions are not designed to keep an adult from going overboard, but there are teak handrails on the raised portion of the cabintrunk. The nonskid may be worn, and if the decks have been painted they may be slick when wet. The mooring hardware is more than adequate.
The Alberg 30’s interior seems incredibly small by modern standards—it isn’t much of a stretch to say that there is more room in a new Hunter 260, heck maybe even the 240. But then of course, the comparison is absurd, since the Alberg 30 is a completely different animal. The interior arrangement is straightforward, and nobody will ever accuse Alberg of resorting to gimmicks. There is a V-berth forward with an enclosed head aft to port with a hanging locker opposite. The saloon has settees port and starboard and a clever portable dining table mounted on an aluminum Z-shaped leg. When not in use, the table stows over the V-berth. A small galley is to starboard, usually with a single sink facing aft and a two-burner stove next to it. A good-sized icebox is located to port and early boats had an access hatch from the cockpit.
The interior may be small, but the workmanship is good, and it has a snug feeling to it. The large saloon ports keep it well lit although the ventilation usually consists of only the forward-opening deck hatch, which of course is usually secured when under way. There is a lot of storage, with drawers and lockers throughout.
As mentioned earlier, the first boats were equipped with a 22-horsepower Gray Marine gas engines (the infamous Sea Scout). Early on, however, the standard engine became the Universal Atomic 4, which can still be found in many boats. Bukh and Volvo diesels were used late in the production run. Efficient motoring and engine access were not priorities in most Alberg designs, and the 30 is no exception. The engine is accessible from behind the companionway, although not particularly friendly to work on. The stuffing box, on the other hand, takes a contortionist and a special set of wrenches to change the packing, making the 30 a prime candidate for a dripless stuffing box. I would push a boat with a newer, refit diesel to the top of my list when searching for a used Alberg 30.
Older boats that maintain loyal and active followings invariably share one key trait—they sail well. The Alberg 30 is easy to handle, will stand up to a blow and has a nice motion. The boat balances well with the main and working jib, although weather helm can be an issue when flying a genoa. All owners agree that the 30 sails best when the main is reefed early because of the initial tenderness. A rule of thumb is change or furl the headsail to keep the decks clear of water and then hold on for the ride. The Alberg 30 is designed to sail on its ear, yet the boat feels incredibly solid in the water. The old line about sailing on rails is most apropos.
Gelinas, who by the way is the manufacturer of the well-respected Cape Horn self-steering vane, has owned Jean du Sud for 27 years and has logged some 50,000 miles. He notes that the boat’s hull shape has a great motion at sea, although he too suggests that you reef the main early. Gelinas dispensed with his Atomic 4 engine to free up storage space, and even today only uses an outboard perched on the stern for the rare times he finds powering necessary.
With prices ranging from just over $10,000 to around $25,000, it’s easy to see why the Alberg 30 is an enduring favorite. It’s an ideal boat for families wanting to test the waters of sailing, or for singlehanders and couples looking for an inexpensive but capable boat for cruising. Another alluring feature of the Alberg 30 is that with the right trailer and SUV it can be hauled by road to out-of-the-way cruising grounds. “To me the Alberg 30 is very close to the ideal boat: solid enough to sail around Cape Horn but small enough to carried on the road to the cruising ground of my choice,” Gelinas said.