Mythical Sword, Fiberglass Boat
The history of the Excalibur 26 is a little cloudy before Islander’s involvement in the mid 1960s. Limited information is available about Excalibur Marine, but several sources indicate that it was owned by Tom Pearson and may or may not have included the construction of boats other than the 26 foot sailboat. It is believed that about 25 Excalibur 26 boats were constructed by Excalibur Marine.
This is said to have been the first commercial design sold by Bill Crealock to the exploding community of Southern California sailboat manufacturers. I’ve read sources that site both the Columbia 22 and the Excalibur 26 as the first mass produced boats penned by Crealock but based on known timelines of both boats, it’s likely that the Excalibur came first.
To get a slightly clearer picture of the progression of this boat through the various manufacturers, it’s important to know what was happening in Orange County, California in the early 1960s. Joseph McGlasson built the Catalina Islander, a wooden 24 foot sailboat that saw modest success with coastal sailors in the late 1950s. McGlasson partnered with Glas Laminates to produce a fiberglass version of the Catalina Islander, known afterward as the Islander 24. It sold like crazy and despite the high sales numbers, McGlasson and Glas Laminates separated. McGlasson formed the Wayfarer Yacht Corporation in 1963 and Glas Laminates became Columbia Yachts.
The Excalibur Marine Corporation was purchased by Wayfarer shortly after and production of the Excalibur 26 was resumed by the new company. The Wayfarer Yacht Corporation was sold in bankruptcy to Ralph Brown and in 1965 the Wayfarer name was changed to Islander Yachts.
It was during this time that the Excalibur boats underwent a name change and became known as the Islander Excalibur 26, although many continued to be titled as a Wayfarer into 1969. Because so few early Excaliburs were built by Excalibur Marine, finding an early model that is still around is a little difficult. Wayfarer and Islander models are more common.
There is a notable difference in the cabin layout between models built until 1966 and the later models that started in 1967 in terms of berth and dinette arrangement. The early models have an abbreviated berth on each side of the cabin behind the bulkheads with a dinette and storage aft of each berth. The later models have a working counter with a sink, storage and an icebox along with a quarter berth on the starboard side and a dining table that converts into double berth on the port side. The early models also appear to have a number of storage compartments either built or molded into the cabin walls including two in the head. The later model layout is pictured below:
The most noticeable feature of the design is the very large, encapsulated keel. By the mid-1960s, a bolt-on fin keel was becoming more and more common as builders began to look for better performance out of cruising sailboats. The large keel provided good upwind sailing stability and made for reduced weather helm in heavier winds. The draft is fairly deep for a 26 foot at 4’8” and it is not appropriate for shallow bodies of water. Displacing 3770 pounds, the Excalibur is relatively light for a 26 foot cruising sailboat. Ballast accounts for approximately 1600 pounds of the overall weight.
The Excalibur is initially tender and settles into a heeled position with any winds greater than 5 mph but stiffens up considerably as the angle increases. It has a light, solid tiller feel and the rudder is very responsive at all speeds. Turns happen quickly whether tacking or gybing.
The deck aside the cabin has adequate room to move forward and natural hand holds exist in the form of a rail on the cabin top and two accessible shrouds on each side. A toe rail of about ¾” gives a small barrier for one to plant a foot while moving forward and all models I’ve seen pictures of had stanchions and lifelines in place. The fore deck is fairly open with minimal natural handholds. I can speak from experience that wrestling a head sail down onto the deck leaves one feeling vulnerable and exposed. The lifelines angle down to the deck and leave an opening big enough to tumble through in large swells or big seas.
The companionway opening to the cabin is large, making it convenient to go below, but also gives a lot space to allow for water to enter the cabin in heavy seas. The cabin itself was considered adequate in the 1960s but is small by today’s standards. Headroom is hardly over five feet tall. The dining table can seat four with a tight fit and the berth it converts into sleeps one very comfortably but is cramped for any two average sized people. The V berth in the bow is wide and reasonably long but only allows for about 20” of space from the cushion to the deck. The fore hatch allows for good ventilation through the cabin. The head is a tight fit and where most were originally equipped with a fixed bowl exhausted by a thru-hull fitting, many have been converted to a porta-potty because retrofitting a storage tank system would be costly and use up already minimal space below. There is a storage locker on the starboard side large enough for life-jackets, flares, a first aid kit, and a change of clothes or two. The starboard quarter berth allows for adequate room but most of it lies below the cockpit seating and is fine for a pre-teenager but would likely be cramped for an adult.
The cockpit is large enough for four adults – matching the practical capacity of the space below. For day sails, two or three more could be rotated onto and off the rail, but for best comfort limiting the occupants to five is best.
An outboard well exists behind the cockpit that fits a 20” long shaft motor. Owners have fitted motors as small as 4 hp and as large as 15 hp. A 10 hp 20” shaft is probably the best compromise between power and weight. I am currently running a 6 hp Tohatsu single cylinder outboard that does perform adequately and is light enough to be removed from the well after, or during, a sailing trip. A 10 hp twin would provide much better thrust and would be much smoother, but would place an additional 40 pounds in the well and would be that much more difficult to remove and install. I will provide additional information with my experience with the Tohatsu as I motored 70 miles over two days earlier this spring.
Islander continued production on the Excalibur until the early 1970s, ending after approximately 200 units had been built. Iona purchased the molds for the Excalibur from Islander and produced a limited number of Excaliburs until about 1977. It has been written that the Iona Excaliburs were built with less fiberglass. If this is the case, it may have been as an attempt to lighten the overall weight and increase the light wind performance or may have been because as the 1970s rolled on most sailboat manufacturers were building up hulls with less and less fiberglass as solid data about the strength of composites became more reliable.
The Excalibur is regarded as a fine boat with forgiving sailing characteristics, relatively fast speed, light handling, and solid construction. An internet search for comments from previous owners has provided mostly glowing recollection, although two people did mention hull to keel lateral movement that was expensive to repair. Some comments collected are below:
“…but I will tell you she is a sweet sailer. I owned one in the 70s and sailed her all over the Cheapeake Bay. I did, however, spend a lot of time on the brightwork.”
“We have a ’65 Wayfarer Excalibur 26, ‘Gefion’, she’s awesome!”
“I had for a little over a year a 69 26′ excaliber (sold it last year) , spent most of the time looking high and low for info on it but came up short…I do know the design is one of Crealock’s early works, it was/is a quick and fast little boat…We kinda wish we had kept it, awesome little boat, classic lines and a total blast to sail; I had a buddy in Dana Point 5 slips up from me who had a 68 that he has been racing for years and does really well…you gotcha a very sweet boat .”
“Damn that was a cool boat.”
“Boat was a blast to sail.”
All of the information above is based on a composite of information from a number of different sources. Some sources contradicted others and some had the same events with slightly different dates. Because this is an ongoing project, I am open to any new information that anyone can provide. Feel free to place a comment or e-mail me via the blog.