Gulfstar 43 Trawler-style Yacht
by David Pascoe
Okay, okay! Here's one for you trawler folks, an oldie but goodie. And speaking of trawler styles, this really is one with that round bilge hull. We put up a nice stern view here so's you can get a good look at it. The draft is only 40" so there's no excuse for running aground. This a 1976 model, with a pair of 130 HP Perkins, that was only a two owner boat and very well maintained. This one had a 7.5 Kw Onan (yeah, it still worked) and airconditioning, plus custom refrigeration and freezer. Otherwise equipage was about average. The one thing that really stood out about this boat is the well above average maintenance.
And, strangest of coincidences, docked right next to our haul out slip was another one that had not been so well maintained. It still looked good on the exterior, but the engine room was a wreck, and the interior not so hot either. See the part about window leaks below.
Actually, our attitude toward Gulfstar has always been somewhat on the negative side, and that has mainly been due to a serious lack of consistency in their product line by this now nonexistant builder. They built some very nice boats, and some rather lousy boats, particularly the early motor sailors that developed humongous blistering problems, among other things. In fact, a Gulfstar 44 was one of only three boat hulls we've ever seen permanently damaged by blisters. And as near as we can tell, the Gulfstar 44 Motorsailor is basically the same boat with a mast and ballasted keel, although with a slightly wider beam.
And guess what? Yep, this one had blisters too, but they'd all been spot repaired some time ago and the repairs, appearing to be rather poorly done, seemed to be holding.
This is usually what happens when an owner tries to repair blisters himself without knowing what he's doing. The material used to patch the original blister also absorbed water, expanded, cracked and itself blistered.
While not huge, the salon is livable with a decent lower helm that takes up very little space. The galley/dinette area below is disproportionately large.
As to hull construction, we were rather surprised to find no significant design errors and no defects. There are lots of bulkheads of good quality plywood - you know, the kind without knots, voids, splinters and looking like it was purchased at a discount store. We bashed around on the bottom and sides for a while and this one feels amazingly solid. Folks tend to have the mistaken notion that hulls were built a lot thicker back in the "good ole days." Whenever that was, because it just aint so. We'd like to show you some old Chris Crafts and Bertrams that would put that notion to rest in a hurry. In any case, the thickness of the hull surprised us. It surprised us even more that the advertised weight is only 22,000 lbs. when you'd expect it to be up around 30,000.
With balsa cored decks, we went over this one with a fine tooth comb, looking for any sign of water ingress into the core. Not a trace. A two-owner boat, no one had ever drilled any holes to let the water in. We were also surprised at the wide base hand rail stanchions that were still as tight as the day they were put on. Yep, we check the bottom sides and not a one of 'em had been repaired or replaced: all original. That's why we love balsa. The damn stuff works. 22 years and still in perfect condition and the decks are as solid as can be.
Here's yet another reason why shopping price can mean that you pay less on the front end but more on the back end. This owner had a very large custom refrigeration/freezer installed. Only problem is that the installer did not insulated it adequately and the condensation has rotted out his cabin sole, one bulkhead and the drawer cabinets below it The cost to repair this will be in the thousands and, of course, it will never be done. Any refrigeration installer who knows his business would not have made this mistake.
View from the aft engine room door. Although it only allows access to one engine and the generator, this is a whole lot better than what you get with most boats. Its this kind of thoughtfulness that can take some of the sting out of maintenance.
On the down side, there were hundreds of gel coat voids all over the decks and bridge. This pretty well tells the story of why Gulfstars blister so bad: shoddy layup. Some of these voids were on the magnitude of several inches and were broken and exposed. Also shown in nearby photo is the amazing porosity of the gelcoat. Nothing like exposure to sunlight for several decades to show up bad spray jobs. When its too late to notice.
In addition to the strength of the hull, the deck is glassed in place rather than being screwed. Thus, the owners didn't get screwed either with lots of water leaks. There were no leaks around any of the aluminum window frames, although all the finish was gone off those frames and looked kinda shabby. On the other hand, they did use some bad plastic port holes up forward and aft that leak and wreck the teak/plywood paneling. All of the ports in this one had been replaced, as well as the paneling.
The engine room is kinda tight because the placement of the fuel tank gets in the way of the forward entry. There is a small pit between the engines where you can almost stand up, the keel is so deep, so once you get in there, its not so bad. It is possible to crawl all the way around the engines. There is no decking so you have crawl over the frames and stringers, but at least you can get at stuff there. As you can see from the photo, this engine room was very well maintained. With a rear entrance on the starboard side, overall access is pretty good. Another plus is that its got a fiberglass fuel tank that you don't have to worry about having to replace.
We found both the struts and propeller shafts are too small and you can bend both just by pushing on them. That makes for fast bearing wear and damages engine mounts, and both are problems existing on this on. You can get by with this set up with these low power engines, but if you find one with Caterpillar 3208's, you had better check this carefully.
The hardware, from on-deck to down in the bilges is all good quality stuff, with the main exceptions of the window frames and portholes. Pull them out and have them reanodized and they'll do just fine. There's a gang of teak on the exterior for you teak haters, from the pulpit and rails on back to the swim platform. But there's no plywood junk to rot and fall apart.
A good sized bridge area and dual controls are a real plus, along with an adequately sized aft deck which is covered with a sunshade but not enclosed. Enclosed decks are just sweat boxes in the south anyways. Its not hard to see why this boat has always been popular with Bahamas cruisin crowd, as it is quite easy to get around on. The lone exception is that you do have to go out the side doors, yet it is the lack of the rear salon door that makes the fairly small salon so much more useable. And its got a huge dinette (too big, really) in a very good sized galley down arrangement. Overall, we find very little to criticize about the layout.
Getting into the aft cabin is a bit awkward through a traditional fiddly with steep steps, but that's a small trade-off for the rather large double berth stateroom with a quite small head but good-sized stall shower. We'll take those trade-offs too, although maybe mama might carp a bit. Heck, you're supposed to sleep back there, right? Forget those boat ads with actors wearing tuxedos; making up for the fancy dress ball should be done at home. And if you live on a boat, you probably aren't going to many balls anyway.
Performance? Well, we did get her out into the ocean but the wind was blowing from the west (offshore) for a week and it was almost dead calm. With those round bilges she's going to roll a bit, but that big keel dampens it out pretty good. Just don't expect the same as you would from a hard chine boat. With those tiny engines we'd have to say that she moves pretty good, topping out at around 14 knots via GPS measurements if we can believe that. In any case, she'll leave the wake behind up on a full plane with no problem. With those engines and only a 300 gallon tank, it certainly doesn't use much fuel.
Price wise, we thought this boat was a steal at $85K. I mean, where can you get a big 43 footer like this for that kind of money? For a lot of years us surveyors made fun of Gulfstars, but if this boat is kept up as well as she has been, she's easily good for another 20 years. For someone looking for a project boat, we'd say this is a very good choice, and at this age you can certainly find some clunkers out there. If you can find a good one like this, so much the better. Its definitely a solid boat worthy of consideration, no matter how many other crummy boats Gulfstar built.
Now I'm going to shock myself and give this a full four stars! You get an awful lot for your money with this one.