Irwin 28 Sailboat Review
Construction was typical for a production coastal cruiser in the 1970’s. The hull is a one piece molded fiberglass unit using alternate layers of hand-laid mat and 24 oz. woven roving. Although built to a price point, chopper guns and blown glass were not used in the hulls. Additional laminate was used in high stress areas. Floor timbers were hand glassed into all keel models. The deck is a one piece molded fiberglass unit with a plywood core for stiffening and insulation. The ballast of the fin keel version is pre-cast lead through-bolted with stainless steel bolts torqued to a reinforced keel boss. The rudder is supported on a partial skeg. Though not fully protected by the skeg, I prefer a skeg-hung rudder over a spade rudder because it can add extra strength if constructed properly.
The mast and boom are anodized aluminum. Standard standing rigging is 1x19 stainless steel wire with single upper and lower shrouds. The single lower shroud arrangement is less common than double lowers, but is no less sturdy. The shroud chainplates are mounted midway between the coachhouse wall and the toerail. These chainplates are one of the strong points of the Irwin 28, as they are relatively large (for a 28-footer) heavy-duty steel strips extending through the deck and are bolted solidly to the hull grid down low. This setup, while prone to deck leaks, is more substantial than the common method of attaching chain plates to a knee brace or interior bulkhead as seen on many small coastal cruisers.
Deck hardware is generally of good quality. Much of the hardware is sourced from larger boats in the Irwin line. The bow and stern cleats are nicely oversized for a 28-footer. Unfortunately, there is no midships cleat. However, one of the biggest drawbacks for the I28 as a cruiser is the lack of an anchoring platform or even an anchor roller. Oddly, there’s a rope/chain locker in the bow, but the only access is through the v-berth, not the deck. I added a chain pipe on the deck of my boat, but I still haven’t come up with a good option for an anchoring platform or roller given the obstructions that the toerail and custom stemhead fitting present.
The aforementioned perforated aluminum toerail runs the length of the deck and can be used to provide almost limitless jib sheet angles with snatch blocks and provides attachment points for fenders and spring lines. Several I28 owners (including myself) have noted leaks in the deck-to-hull joint. While this is mostly only a concern for rainwater, the proper remedy would be removing and resealing the toerail along its’ entire length. There are also very small jib lead tracks on the cockpit gunwales that are more convenient than using snatch blocks on the toerail, but they limit car/block positioning. The mainsheet traveler is mounted on the companionway threshold. This arrangement has pluses and negatives. First, having the mainsheet traveler in the cockpit can be a bit awkward and get in the way of entering the cabin in certain positions. However, control of the sheet and traveler is easy and always close at hand.
The Irwin 28 was offered with both tiller and pedestal wheel steering. My personal boat has the tiller, so my review is based only on that perspective. I personally love the direct feel and sensitivity of a tiller. The simplicity of the setup is also reassuring. The boat tracks well enough, but needs precise sail trim to balance the tiller. You can’t take your hand off the tiller and not expect the boat to wander a bit. However, weather helm is easily controllable by adjusting the mainsheet traveler. A tiller pilot (autopilot) doesn’t need to work overly hard to keep the boat on course in mild to moderate conditions. Backing up with the Irwin 28 is something the boat does not do well. When in reverse, she prop walks badly to starboard and renders steering almost totally ineffective.
The boat handles moderate seas and wind quite nicely. She’s controlled and manageable in winds up to about 25 knots and Lake Michigan seas to 5 or 6 feet, as long as you reef and keep the waves off the beam (quartering and headseas are fine). However, you’ll find yourself motoring a fair amount in light air, unless you’ve got spinnaker gear. My boat came fitted with the factory spinnaker package and is complete with secondary cockpit winches, downhaul block and track on the deck, spinnaker pole, pole topping lift and off-set masthead spinnaker halyard. The favorite point of sail is close hauled. She’ll also reach and run nicely, but definately feels in the groove when close hauled. She doesn’t point any better than most other similar sailboats, but really bites in just off the wind. Her 41% ballast ratio (see below) makes her relatively stiff and inspires confidence.
Warning: The following paragraphs are not for those who don’t like numbers and math! It’s time to look at specifications and ratings.
The Irwin 28 measures 28.5’ LOA with a waterline length of 23’. She carries a 9’ beam. Dry weight displacement is 7,800 lbs with 3,200 lbs of ballast. Her sail area to displacement ratio (SA/D) is 15.36. The fin keel version draws 4’6” of water. The length to displacement ratio for the Irwin 28 is 286.2, putting it squarely in the “average cruising” category, as shown below.
Light racing multihull 40-50
Ultra light ocean racer 60-100
Very light ocean racer 100-150
Light cruiser/racer 150-200
Light cruising auxiliary 200-250
Average cruising auxiliary 250-300
Heavy cruising auxiliary 300-350
Very heavy cruising auxiliary 350-400
The boat has a motion comfort rating of 26. This rating estimates the overall comfort of a boat when it is underway. The formula predicts the speed of the upward and downward motion of the boat as it encounters waves and swells. The faster the motion, the more uncomfortable the passengers will be. The higher the number, the more resistant a boat is to movement, which typically means a more comfortable ride. This rating was created by famed boat designer, Ted Brewer. Comfort ratings will vary from 5.0 for a light daysailer to the high 60s for a super heavy vessel, such as a Colin Archer ketch. Moderate and successful ocean cruisers, such as the Valiant 40 and Whitby 42, will fall into the low-middle 30s range. The I28's rating of 26 means she's rides more comfortably than you might expect in this class [Note: See ratings below of other similar sized common sailboats - Most are lower and presumably less comfortable].
The capsize ratio for the I28 is 1.82. According to Ted Brewer, a boat is acceptable if the capsize ratio is 2.0 or less but, of course, the lower the better. For example, a 12 meter yacht of 60,000 lbs displacement and 12 foot beam will have a capsize ratio of 1.23, and so would be considered very safe from capsize. A contemporary light displacement yacht, such as a Beneteau 311 (7716 lbs, 10'7" beam) has a capsize ratio of 2.14. Based on the formula, while a fine coastal cruiser, such a yacht may not be the best choice for ocean passages. The Irwin 28 sneaks below the 2.0 mark and represents a design that is relatively safe from capsizing in coastal conditions.
So what’s the take home message with all of these ratings, ratios and numbers? The Irwin 28 isn’t going to be the fastest sled for Wednesday night races (PHRF handicap rating of 213), but she’s likely a bit more comfortable and stable than other popular high volume production models from the same era. For example, the very popular Catalina 27 (std. rig) has a motion comfort rating of about 23.5 and a capsize ratio of 1.87. The O’day 28 has a motion comfort rating of 20.57 and a capsize ratio of 2.11. None of these boats are suitable as bluewater passagemakers, but they all make good coastal cruiser. Of the three, the Irwin may well be the most stable and comfortable while the O’day (PHRF handicap rating 204) would be a better choice if speed is a priority for your coastal cruise. The Catalina splits the difference (PHRF handicap rating 210).
In summary, the Irwin 28 is a fine coastal cruiser for those on a modest budget. She’s the perfect balance between the cramped accommodations of the 25-26 footers and the higher expenses of the ~30 footers of similar vintage. The slight spring in her sheerline coupled with a bit of teak on deck (handrails, forward hatch) and the modest stern overhang provide noticeable character. If you’re looking for an alternative to the similarly priced but more common 27-29 foot boats (Catalina 27, Hunter 27, O’day 28) of this age and price, check out an Irwin 28. She’s not a racer but she does offer good performance and accommodations for a small family looking for a friendly cruiser.
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