Cape Dory 28

By Jack Hornor

Revised by BoatUS editors in October 2012
Cape Dory 28

Photo by Richard Costner

Sailors in the market for a traditionally styled, sturdily built cruising boat under 30 feet in length have two options. They can spend $150,000 or more for a custom or semi-custom built boat from one of several manufacturers, or they spend a lot less for a good used boat from one of several production boatbuilders who used to build such models. The Cape Dory 28, offered by Cape Dory Yachts from 1975 to 1988, is the latter.This model was designed by Carl Alberg whose conservative design style seldom wavered regardless of size. I suspect he didn't like tinkering much with a proven formula. The Cape Dory 28 features a full-length keel with attached rudder, relatively low freeboard, a very handsome sheer and a well proportioned traditional trunk cabin. The bow and stern are nicely balanced and overhangs are a bit shorter, relative to the overall length, than Alberg's earlier designs. The overall length of this model is 28' 1-1/4".

Hulls are constructed of a solid fiberglass laminate and are most often trouble-free, with the possible exception of some osmotic blistering below the waterline. Blistering is usually not severe and I have yet to see a case that I felt seriously compromised the safety of the boat. Decks, on the other hand, are constructed with a center core of plywood or balsa. Stress cracking is common and if left unattended allows water into the core and eventually weakens the structure. If this happens where chain plates and other deck hardware is attached, it can result in a serious problem.

Another area that should be checked out on Cape Dory 28 models are the fuel tanks. Cylindrical steel tanks used on some models may be badly rusted and the welded aluminum tanks used on most models are mounted on a plywood base and held in place by wood cleats around the bottom of the tank. When wood comes in direct contact with aluminum it caused pitting and eventual failure. The good news is that these tanks are easily accessed through the port seat locker and replacement, if necessary, is not a difficult task.

The deck arrangement is well balanced. The foredeck is large enough for sail handling and ground tackle, side decks wide enough for safe passage and the cockpit is large enough to accommodate four adults. Most 28s have tiller steering that is easily put out of the way at anchor and the mainsheet that attaches aft of the cockpit so as to not interfere with passengers.

Cape Dory 28

Photo by John Ring

The interior features a V-berth forward followed by a port head and starboard hanging locker. Originally the main saloon had a small pilot berth behind the port settee and a starboard settee separated by a drop leaf table. After the first year or so of production, the port pilot berth was eliminated in favor of a larger settee that slides towards the centerline to make what was promoted as a double berth. However, the berth is a bit narrow for two adults. The galley is aft with an alcohol stove to port, and sink and ice box to starboard.

There are two opening deck hatches and eight opening bronze ports for the best ventilation to be found on a boat of this size.

Most Cape Dory 28s were powered by two-cylinder, 15-hp Volvo diesels which are loud and will shake your fillings loose, but when properly maintained they are very long-lived. I have seen at least one 28 powered by a 10-hp Farymann diesel and in the latter years of production they were offered with lighter and quieter 14-hp Universal diesels. This boat is very underpowered with a Farymann 10-hp engine but both Volvo and Universal engines provide acceptable power. The engine is reasonably accessible for service from the cabin and cockpit lockers, although the shaft packing gland is nearly impossible for normal-sized person to reach for service.

Cape Dory 28s were originally rigged as sloops with a self-tending club-footed jib and anyone who has ever beat up a narrow channel in a stiff breeze will appreciate the benefits of this sail arrangement. However, some owners have opted for a roller furling genoa and forgone the club-footed jib. I have seen others opt for a cutter-type arrangement leaving the small jib and adding a genoa. This is a good arrangement for some sailors, but tacking the genoa will require going forward to pull the sail through the slot or furling the genoa and unfurling it on the new tack. The displacement length ratio of the Cape Dory 28 is 369 and the sail area to displacement ratio is only 14.9, with the club-footed jib, so a 150% genoa is a must have sail for sailing in winds under 10 knots apparent.

Nearly 500 Cape Dory 28s were built over the years and so finding used models should not be difficult.

If you're looking for a small cruiser with offshore cruising potential, classic style, and if you don't mind doing without the interior elbow room offered by more contemporary 28 footers, than the Cape Dory 28 may just be your ticket to sailing happiness.

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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