Buying an Express

“Here is the IMS certificate of a sister ship that was measured in San Francisco early on.  It has target boat speeds from which you could plot into charts.  When I actively raced and campaigned it I had the target boat speeds listed right below the knot meter for all the wind speeds and if we stuck to them it was easy to sail to the ratings and we won a lot of races.  The boat likes some mast rake and lots of mast bend in a breeze to keep everything really flat and and keep some helm.  We mostly cruise the boat now with only occasional racing but we fly the spinnaker all the time double handed up to about 25 its after that just to much of a fire drill if something goes wrong.  We have had the boat surf at over 13 its in big seas with the chute but there is not room for error as we have broached and filled the cockpit many times.  The boat has aged rather well with a few soft spots in the deck that i need to deal with this summer.  We where going to race it to Hawaii at one point but I got asked to helm a bigger boat for a couple of years so we never put it in the race.  I have not really had issues with the winches and all my backing plates look new still.  Good luck on your rebuilds and feel free to contact me at any time.  Also you can post these plots to the website if you want. There are three pages attached.  In looking for these I found a set of drawings that Carl Shumacker gave me of an Express 44 that he designed for Alsberg Bros just before they went bankrupt.  I wish I had one of those.”

“I worked for Alsberg in Santa Cruz in ”83. I built the plug and mold for the 37, and was there for the first few that went out the door and I can tell you it really is a great boat. We went to great lengths to make the hull as fair as possible. If you look at the hull with the light glancing off it just so, you will see no ripples or high/low spots, as in many other “lesser craft”. It is a well built ultra-light that will most definitely give you some thrills in heavy air. If you are a good sailor you won”t be disappointed.”  via Sailnet.com

“I worked at Alsberg Bros and helped tool the Express 34. I also delivered the first 34 to the boat show in Bridgeport CT.
Only a handful were built as far as I know but they are solid boats of Schumaker design. Had the luxury tax of the 80’s not finished off the builders of Santa Cruz, I am sure that there would be many more to choose from.” via Sailnet.com

“I currently own an Express 34, which I have had for 15 years. I may be selling to get a more family friendly/cruising catamaran. Have to say they have been 15 great years. Thoroughly enjoyed the boat, and part of me will be very sad to say goodbye (although looking forward to new memories in new boat). I have raced on the boat and cruised coastal New England (Sag Harbor, LI to Nantucket, MA and many points in between). The boat is excellent in light to medium air. Not best choice for heavy winds – though handled some gale force squalls I encountered sailing it up from Annapolis to Sag Harbor very nicely.” via Sailnet.com

Excerpts from the Practical Sailor Article

Express 34, Hobie 33, Olson 34

Three of the ‘best from the west,’ these performance sloops have been out of production for 15 years but are still hot because they’re not only fast, but built well enough for blue-water sailing.

Nearly everyone involved in the boating industry during the prosperity of the 1970s also has a vivid recollection of the 1980s, when the industry stood on the brink of implosion. Old-line builders like O’Day, Cal, Ericson and Pearson went the way of T-Rex; others endured losses for several years before returning to profitability in the mid-1990s. A sad by-product of that debacle is that molds for three of the finest boats produced on the West Coast are gathering dust in a boatyard in Port Townsend, a storage shed in the San Francisco Bay area, and a warehouse in southern California.

A Schumacher-designed Express 34 reach-
ing along the California coast.

Compared to conventional productions boats of the mid-1980s, the Express 34 and Olson 34 were lighter and faster, but still suitable for distance cruising. Nearly 20 years after their short-lived production runs, the three are still so popular that finding a used one can be a challenge.

The Designs
The Express 34 was the third Carl Schumacher design produced by Alsberg Brothers Boatworks in Santa Cruz. Schumacher designs have been afloat since the 1970s, ranging in size from 10 to 70 feet. Among Schumacher’s early designs, his quarter-tonner Summertime Dream won the North American Championships in 1979 and 1980. A current design, the Alerion Express, is one of the sweetest sailing, smartest looking boats we’ve seen in the last 10 years.

Terry Alsberg, who managed the company, was a graduate of Ron Moore’s boatbuilding shop, adherents to Bill Lee’s “fast is fun” slogan. The company made its first splash in 1984 with the introduction of the Express 27, a pocket racer that enjoyed great success in one-design and MORC competition. Many of the117 produced are still racing.

The Express 37, a true performance cruiser, was launched in 1984, and 65 were built.

Profits from the sale of the 37 were used to fund the tooling for the Express 34, which was launched in 1986. Though it received Sailing World’s Boat of the Year Award, its cost led to the eventual demise of the company.

“Brokers told us that we needed to have more accommodations belowdecks than the 37 — cruiser add- ons that increased the price,” remembers Schumacher. “We ended up with a lot of Express 37 features in a 34-foot boat.”

Since it was easy to use the same raw materials as were used on the Express 37, the laminates became heavier, and more expensive. “The final boat was about 1,000 pounds heavier than my design,” Schumacher adds. Boat were priced at $80,000, only $15,000 less than the 37.

Eventually, faced with high production costs, a softening market, and poor financial planning, the company closed its doors in 1988.

The Olson and Express have legitimate cruising interiors, though the Express exudes a racing pedigree. Freeboard on the Olson is 1’ greater than the Express, which creates more interior volume. Headroom is 6’4″, compared to 6’1 in the Express.

The configuration of the Express is similar, though owners say a mast concealed in the head is a plus.Sleeping quarters for six are in berths measuring 6’6′ in bow and stern, and settees amidships measuring 6’4″. Schumacher discovered on an ocean passage that the middle berths are two inches shorter than his design.“As with the 37, the foundation for the V-berth is a fiberglass molding with non-skid so that, with the cushions out, it makes it possible to help the foredeck crew handle sails from down below,” he says.Aft of the V-berth is a hanging locker to port, and head with a shower to starboard. The saloon is furnished with a table that folds off the main bulkhead. The chart table/nav station is to port, the galley to starboard. A second double berth is located in the port quarter.

Deck Layout
Though original deck layouts may have undergone modifications, all three boats were originally rigged for racing. Deck hardware was provided by name-brand manufacturers like Lewmar and Harken, the exception being custom fittings designed and constructed by Hobie. The Express 34 mast is 38’6″ tall. Wire rigging was the standard on all three boats. Many owners report that the original equipment has not lost its integrity; others have replaced wire with rod rigging. The Olson and Express were equipped with hydraulic backstay adjusters. Cockpits in the Express and Olson are larger and more user-friendly than the Hobie, especially with a crew of 6 to 8 in racing trim.

Except for Schumacher’s meticulous records, exact details of construction schedules have disappeared. Though all of the boats were designed with speed and the PHRF handicap rule in mind, they also were built to sail in stiff breezes and ocean conditions common to the West Coast. Consequently, owners say, hulls, decks, and rigs of 15- to 20-year-old boats have the same structural integrity as when they rolled off the production line.According to Schumacher, the Express 34’s “outer laminate consists of 3/4-ounce mat, two layers of 18-ounce co-fab, and 3/4-ounce mat bonded to 3/4-inch thick end-grain balsa, with 18-ounce co-fab on the inside. The deck is similar, except that 3/4-inch balsa core was in the lamination, and unidirectional reinforcements were on the house top and foredeck.”The interior consists of a structural grid with bulkheads bonded into the structure with 18-ounce roving.Owners of Express and Hobie yachts report few blistering problems. One owner said his blistering required “a few bucks and a weekend of sanding and filling.”

All three boats receive high marks from owners who sail them in the ocean, on both coasts, around the buoys, and on lakes. Since they share a common handicap in many areas, the trio frequently goes head to head on the race course. “The Express is faster on all points of sail in more than 20 knots of wind,” one Olson owner says. However, when sailing to weather the Express must be kept on her feet with bodies on the windward rail, or reduced sail. “It takes a good main trimmer to balance the boat, or the helm will load up,” says one owner, a former 505 dinghy racer. “She’s stable off the breeze, as well, and shows good motion in heavy seas, partially because of her large rudder,” adds a racer from San Francisco. Express and Olson owners agree that off the wind in a blow the Hobie will leave them in her wake.

The common denominators of these three boats are curb appeal, performance, strong hulls, good rigging and good deck gear. The Olson and Express have an advantage sailing to weather, and more comfortable accommodations.The Olson and Express sell for 85% to 90% of their original price; the Olson in the mid-$50,000 range, the Express from $60,000-$80,000. It’s too bad more of these all-around performers weren’t built.

Re: Looks vs. interior volume

It’s a return also to the idea that a boat’s looks can be as tangibly important as its interior volume. During the 1980s this particular idea mix was more or less forgotten. Elements of the mix appeared once in a while, like Carl Schumacher’s Express 34, which stemmed the rising tide of plush, C-shaped settees with a spare interior trimmed nicely in light wood…

From the J/105 website 

Re: Top 10 Sailboats Easiest & Best to Single Hand

I would suggest something like a J-34c, Express 34, or a Farr 1020 (I routinely single-hand the 38 foot version of this boat). All are pretty handy to sail since they are easily driven hulls and can sail with minimally overlapping headsails, without giving up sailing ability.

From Sailnet.com

Re: Barry Carroll on Alsberg Brothers Construction

Regarding the Frers 33…I met Barry Carroll back in 1986 at the Annapolis Boat Show.  He was quite new in the game at that time–much less well known then currently. I was a big fan (still am) of the Alsberg Brothers, the folks in California who built the Express 34 and 37.  Barry said that he wanted to build boats the quality of the Alsberg Brothers. Good enough for me..

From the Google Boats Forum

Re: This Capable Boat: Recommendations?

“…Farr 1020, Frers 33, Alsberg Express 34, Olson 34, Olson 911s or 911se. All are excellent racer/cruisers that would fit your bill…”

From Sailnet.com

Express 34 – PHRF 102 – Saw one listed while searching for 37. One owner says it is tender in heavy air…not sure. Relatively low price but again…if clean, could work and cheap can be good. Do not know much more.

From Sailing Anarchy

“… The express 34 cleans up in the Great Lakes, fast and easy to sail but rates around 96…”

From Sailing Anarchy

We have a ‘big sister’, an Express 34. The habits and handling are similar, and the Alsberg Bros (Express) and PBW (Olson) glasswork and build quality are excellent. That said, it’s fairly likely you’ll find some bad deck core at this point in history given their age and general hard use by their owners over the years. Check chainplates, deck hardware areas, etc..

From Sailnet.com 


One thought on “Opinions

  1. Pingback: What do you get when you buy an Express 34? | Alsberg Express 34

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