Cabo Rico 38

By Jack Hornor

Revised by BoatUS editors in October 2012

Cabo Rico 38

Photo by Mike Whitt

From its humble start in a corner of the British Leland assembly plant in San Jose, Costa Rica, Cabo Rico Boats have earned the respect of cruising sailors around the world. Introduced in 1978, the Cabo Rico 38 is one of the company's most popular models by never pretending to be anything else than what she is: a serious cruising boat for serious cruisers. There is no consensus on what defines a serious cruising boat. If you compared the designs of Steve Dashew and W.I.B. Crealock, both noted cruising boat designers, you would find boats that are radically different in appearance yet similar in areas important to all cruisers. Among common features, they have ample fuel and fresh water capacity, a strong rig with manageable sail plans, predictable sailing characteristics, good sea berths, sound construction, and last but not least, accommodations that put the safety of the crew and guests above all else. By these standards, the Cabo Rico 38, designed by Crealock, qualifies as a serious cruising boat. Cabo Rico offered both pilothouse and trunk cabin models, but because of limited space, I'll confine my comments to the trunk cabin model.

The overall length of the Cabo Rico 38 is actually 41 feet due to a 3-foot bowsprit. Waterline length is 29' 3", beam is 11' 6", draft is listed by the manufacturer at an even 5 feet and displacement is 21,500 pounds.

The Cabo Rico 38 hull is constructed of fiberglass laminates, and although some balsa core is used in the hull, it is on the inside of the hull with just one layer of glass over top as it is for thermal and sound insulation and is not for strength. Since the mid-1990s, boats have been built with vinylester resin in the first four layers of fiberglass to prevent osmotic blistering. It is not uncommon for older boats that used a polyester resin to have some osmotic blistering if remedial repairs or preventive measures have not been taken.

Caborico 28Decks and cabin structures are built with 1/2" balsa wood core between fiberglass laminates, although core materials are eliminated for through-bolted hardware. Some early Cabo Rico 38s were built with teak deck overlays. If not properly and frequently maintained, these boats can have significant underlying problems that are, at best, expensive to repair, so a closer look may be in order. If in doubt, it may be worth getting a small destructive examination, from below, to get a better idea of the condition of teak-overlaid decks.

Cabo Rico uses solid fiberglass for structural reinforcement below the waterline so that engine beds, floors and stringers are not dependent on materials that can deteriorate over time without being detected. Bulkheads are attached with fiberglass and epoxy resin on each side. Secondary bonding failures on these boats are nearly non-existent.

The decks are well laid out for cruising with two 1-1/2"-diameter scuppers along each side deck and two 2" diameter scuppers in the cockpit for good drainage. There is a sturdy stainless-steel double-rail bow pulpit and two anchor rollers. For security, there are double lifelines supported by closely spaced stainless-steel stanchions and a raised bulwark with a teak cap rail all around. There are plenty of deck hatches, opening ports and dorades for good ventilation below. The cockpit is not large - often considered a plus on cruising boats - but comfortably seats four. If there is a complaint, it may be too much exterior woodwork. Teak trim makes for a handsome appearance but adds to cost and the time spent on maintenance.

Cabo Rico offered five significant variations of the standard interior arrangement featuring a forward stateroom with large double berth followed by head and shower, a main saloon with either opposing settees or a combination dinette/settee, and an aft galley and navigation station. In 1987, the engine on some layouts was moved from beneath the companionway steps to beneath the galley counter, opening up space for the aft quarter-berth cabin and head found on newer models. Because Cabo Rico offers original owners ultimate control of the interior arrangement, there are few 38 interiors exactly alike.

Auxiliary power may be provided by Perkins, Westerbeke, Universal or Yanmar diesel engines, all of which should provide sufficient power. Somewhat unique to boats this size, engines are mounted level with a horizontal propeller shaft. This method of installation is the most efficient and locates the heavy machinery lower in the hull where it helps lower the center of gravity.

This is a boat with a full keel and high wetted surface area, and has a whopping displacement/length ratio of 375, a sail area/displacement ratio of 15.2 and rigging shroud chain plates at the deck edge. So, if you're looking for a boat that accelerates quickly out of tacks and sails efficiently at better than 45 degrees to the wind, this one's not for you. On the other hand, cruising sailors may only tack once or twice a day, try to avoid beating to weather and are seldom willing to sacrifice the storage benefits of volume for the performance benefits of light displacement. In general, Cabo Rico 38 is slightly less responsive and weatherly than lighter cruising designs such as the Pacific Seacraft 37, but considerably better than heavier Colin Archer-types such as the Ingrid 38.

About 190 Cabo Rico 38s were built as of 2010, which isn't a lot, but sufficient to ensure a fairly good supply of used models and a wide price range that will makes it affordable to a wide variety of sailors.  When all the pros and cons are considered, this is still a tough boat to beat if you're looking for a serious cruising boat.

Naval architect Jack Hornor was the principal surveyor and designer for Marine Survey & Design, Co., based in Annapolis, MD. He was on the boards of the American Boat and Yacht Council, the National Association of Marine Surveyors, and the Society of Boat and Yacht Designers. He and his wife sailed their Catalina 42, Legacy, based on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

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