The Irwin 52 was a trend-setting boat. It was a deck-saloon cruiser before there were deck-saloon cruisers. What’s more, the Irwin 52, with more than 250 hulls launched, may be the most popular big boat, 50-foot-plus, ever built. These beamy ketch-rigged cruisers offered no apologies for their motoryacht-like interior accommodations, spacious cockpit, wide side decks and raised bulwarks. It boasts of good performance under power as well as sail. Hmm, come to think of it those features sound awfully familiar? When you take a look at many of today’s larger cruising boats, it seems that Ted Irwin was a visionary.
The Irwin 52 has plenty of freeboard and a moderate sheer accentuated by a rakish bowsprit. The raised aft deck irked purists, who still existed in the 1970s, but provided plenty of headroom for the luxurious aft cabin, and along with the wide cove stripe, became something of a 52 trademark. It does take some getting used to when navigating the big step on deck, especially in the dark with lumpy seas. The cabintrunk includes large side and forward facing ports that flood the interior with light. I remember the dire warnings we experts issued about taking “big windows” offshore. Today most sailors can’t get enough of the deck-saloon concept.
Although Irwin knew that he had to build cruising boats if he wanted to stay in business, his heart was always in performance boats. The 52 sports a generous rig with more than 1,350 square feet of working sailing area. The underbody is refined with a cutaway long keel and a partially balanced rudder. The 52 moves under sail. Indeed, with its long 44-foot waterline it reaches along at 8 knots steadily. I have logged a lot of miles delivering 52s and I am always impressed with how well they sail. Although it is not particularly close winded, the Irwin 52 is a much better performer than other big cruising designs of the period, including the clipper bow designs of Bill Garden and blunt bowed Out Island series by Charlie Morgan. Most 52s were centerboards with a board-up draft of 5 feet, 6 inches. The original air draft of 67 feet made the Intracoastal a no-fly zone, although you may well find the boat you’re considering has had the rig shortened to less than 65 feet.