When it comes to liveaboard credentials, is the Island Packet the cream of the crop? Rachael Sprot went to find out...

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Island Packet 380: The best liveaboard cruiser out there?
This product is featured in: MG 335: Second-hand secret weapon.

With their ivory colour and tall, rounded coachroof, the Island Packets are nothing if not distinctive and the Island Packet 380 is a fine example of the popular marque.

Designed and built in Florida, they’re sought after across the pond for blue-water cruising but a few of them have migrated to colder climes.

I joined Jalan Jalan, an Island Packet 380, to find out how they perform in our northern waters.

The first Island Packet was built in 1979. Designed by Bob Johnson, it was a 26-footer with a cutter rig, long keel and 10ft beam!

The yard soon made a name for itself producing well-built, spacious cruising yachts. From the outset, safety and stability were front and foremost in the design.

An aerial view of an Island Packet 380 under sail

The 380’s wide beam gives her plenty of stability with a relatively low angle of heel. Credit: Richard Langdon/Ocean Images

The Island Packet 380 came along some 20 years later and was a highly successful model – 169 were built between 1998 and 2004.

My first impression of the boat was just how much boat there is – she dwarfed the Sigma 38 next-door.

The bow platform and davits mean she’s about a metre longer than her 38ft title suggests, and with a 4m beam she considerably out-girths her rivals too.

The result is a boat with a huge interior volume. Unlike other boats of these proportions though, she has the underwater profile to match.

The ‘full foil’ keel, which Johnson espoused, means there’s a lot more going on below the surface than meets the eye.

a woman wearing dark sunglasses and a pink and white jacket at the helm of a yacht

Forwards visibility is restricted due to the large sprayhood. Credit: Richard Langdon/Ocean Images

The keel-hung rudder is well-protected from encounters with floating objects and the encapsulated keel is another sound feature for blue-water cruising.

Despite her substantial size, the hull itself has a nice touch of sheer emphasised by the rubbing streak, and the stern has a wineglass shape which counterbalances the boxy coachroof.

Simple solutions

There’s seamanship in evidence in much of the design: the bow platform has twin bow rollers as standard, and the chain locker below is split in two thereby accommodating both sets of chain.

A sloping shelf beneath the hawse pipe helps the chain to self-stow and there’s easy access through the forward cabin if it doesn’t.

It’s the kind of simple, practical solution which comes from a designer who goes cruising himself.

There are five mooring cleats on each side, each one with a stainless chafe protector guarding the teak toerail beneath.

Self tacking staysail on an Island Packet 380

The self-tacking staysail makes the cutter rig easy to handle on the Island Packet 380. Credit: Richard Langdon/Ocean Images

The low-profile toerail is attractive but I’d have liked a more substantial brace on an ocean-going yacht.

The high coachroof has an excellent handrail which gives good security on the side decks though.

Four full-size dorades with storm blanks provide good ventilation below and there’s room for a liferaft or rolled up dinghy under the boom.

Safety over sportiness

The cockpit is carried all the way aft to the pushpit. It’s a big space, which is exactly what you want in the lower latitudes where you spend more time outdoors, but it feels wide when heeled.

There are two huge lockers under the cockpit seats and there’s space beneath the cockpit sole for a generator.

A split backstay and small sugar scoop makes getting on and off the transom easy.

The wheel is fairly small and because the sprayhood is necessarily wide to take in the big coachroof, forwards visibility is restricted.

A boat with a cream hull and white sails cruising in open water

The Island Packet 380 is ideal for blue-water cruising, with a keel-hung rudder and encapsulated keel. Credit: Richard Langdon/Ocean Images

We found ourselves standing with a foot on either cockpit bench in order to keep a proper lookout.

A bigger wheel would have made it easier to steer and peer around the side of the sprayhood. However, it does mean there’s good access when berthed stern-to.

Davits and solar panels are easily accommodated, and her volume means she copes well with all the cruising gear.

The companionway hatch is a heavy duty, GRP moulding which can be bolted into position to secure the washboards beneath.

It’s a reassuring feature on an ocean sailing boat – you may encounter green water before arriving at your blue-water cruising grounds.

The short traveller forward of the companionway is another feature which prioritises safety over sportiness.

A chart table with VHF and electronics in the saloon of the Island Packet 380

No back rest makes the chart table impractical at sea. Credit: Richard Langdon/Ocean Images

Island Packet pride themselves on their superior construction standards.

The hull is solid laminate, which is heavier than a cored hull, but this means damage is easily repaired.

The trademarked Polyclad 2 gelcoat system below the waterline is reported to offer better protection against osmosis, and above the waterline Durashield gives a high-gloss finish.

The hull is a single moulding, as is the deck, and they’re bolted and bonded together.

The deck is cored with Polycore, which is supposed to be impervious to rot.

A island packet 380 with its main sail raised sailing into harbour

The davits, solar panels and sprayhood add windage. Credit: Richard Langdon/Ocean Images

The chain plates are another example of robust design: the single spreader rig is stayed with forward and aft lowers and together with the cap shrouds are terminated to three separate chain plates.

The separate chain plates are welded and braced together with a framework that locks into the hull to deck joint before being glassed to the hull – very much a belts and braces solution.

It’s below decks that the Island Packet 380 wins her admirers, though.

The high coachroof gives an unparalleled sense of space, feeling more like a 42-footer. The saloon is bright and comfortable with lots of natural light.

There’s a mixture of solid teak joinery and GRP mouldings which gives a feeling of excellent quality without making them prohibitively expensive.

Sturdy structure

There’s a structural ‘pan’ which forms the sole, and the bulkheads, structural webbings and many of the bunks and seats are bonded to the hull to give more rigidity.

It’s a more labour-intensive process than the ‘tray’ style construction of many production boats, but the result is a much stronger structure.

The headlining is a single moulding, which is durable and easy to maintain. It also means the underside of the deck is well insulated and during the cold March nights I spent on board the only condensation was on the hatches and portlights.

The portlights themselves are a window into Island Packet’s philosophy.

Bow rollers on a boat

Twin bow rollers point to the Island Packet 380’s seaworthiness. Credit: Richard Langdon/Ocean Images

The stainless steel frame has two threaded lock nuts to clamp them shut, in the moulding above there’s a perfectly positioned hook to hold them open.

They’re simple, tough and functional, with no friction hinges or plastic catches to wear out.

The fold-up table is versatile, creating lots of floor space when you need to get the tools out or for morning yoga sessions, although it’s a shame it doesn’t have a fiddle.

A small, aft-facing chart table utilises the end of the starboard saloon berth, maximising the seating in the saloon, but making it impractical at sea: there’s no back rest and nothing to stop the charts from sliding off the top.

It’s a strange oversight on what is otherwise a well-thought-out interior.

The deck of a boat with handholds, a mast, sails and lines

The deck of the Island Packet 380 feels secure, with plenty of hand holds. Credit: Richard Langdon/Ocean Images

For many though, the vast U-shaped galley makes up for any shortcomings.

It’s a fantastic area with a double sink, lots of locker space and plenty of surface area for food prep.

The top-loading fridge and freezer are bigger than most boats’ cockpit lockers.

There’s a roomy master cabin in the forepeak with an island bed which allows you to get up in the middle of the night without disturbing the other person – a nice feature for a liveaboard.

The heads is also vast with two access doors, one to the forward cabin and one to the saloon.

A cream coloured Island Packet 380 yacht sailing

Access on and off the Island Packet 380 is easy with a split backstay and small sugar scoop. Credit: Richard Langdon/Ocean Images

It would be nice to see some sort of wet-locker arrangement or hanging rail though, especially in our colder, wetter climes.

The aft cabin is also a generous double which runs athwartships. Beneath it there’s excellent access to the gearbox, stern gland and back of the engine.

The front and sides of the engine box have access panels too.

However, it looked like removing the engine entirely would involve dismantling some of the joinery.

Spotless condition

Despite Jalan Jalan’s fairly high mileage, there wasn’t so much as a scuff in the gelcoat or joinery.

They’re the kind of boats that attract conscientious owners and many of the examples on the market have been well looked after.

The accommodation on offer is as much about what you don’t see as what you do see.

The deep bilges are cleverly compartmentalised and the storage space extends well below the waterline.

The saloon of the Island Packet 380

The high coachroof makes the saloon feel roomy. Credit: Richard Langdon/Ocean Images

I managed to extract a cruising chute, spinnaker sheets and storm jib from underneath one corner of the port seating!

The Packet boats of the 18th and 19th centuries were originally designed to take cargo, passengers and mail up and down the coast, and the Island Packet 380 pays more than a nod to this heritage.

The flip side to this is the windage.

Jalan Jalan’s sprayhood doesn’t fold down easily, and once you’ve added in davits and solar panels she’s challenging in confined spaces.

The long keel helps to stabilise her, so she doesn’t skate around as much as a fin-keeled yacht, but she’s hard to turn in strong winds.

The 56hp Yanmar is hefty for a boat of this displacement, but with the large wetted surface area and drag from the superstructure, she needed 2,500rpm to achieve 6 knots in calm conditions, which doesn’t leave a lot of headroom for when it’s windy.

With a little help from the bow-thruster she did follow her rudder in astern, although she was slow to respond to helm inputs.

A bed with a blue and white duvet cover on the Island Packet 380 yacht

A 4 metre beam means there is plenty of space in the master cabin. Credit: Richard Langdon/Ocean Images

As with most long-keeled boats, steerage in reverse is a privilege and not a right, and it’s one which may be withdrawn at short notice.

The million-dollar question though, is how does she sail? The answer is: better than you think.

She doesn’t want for sail area: there’s a 16 per cent sail area/displacement ratio just taking the mainsail and fore triangle into account.

Continues below…

If you add in an overlapping genoa and the staysail, it pushes up to 18 per cent.

The headsail track is on the toerail and with her 1.4m draught, it is an early indicator that she isn’t designed to be close-winded.

A white toilet and basin on the Island Packet 380 boat

The heads can be accessed from the saloon and forward cabin. Credit: Richard Langdon/Ocean Images

She likes to be sailed ‘full and by’ according to the manual.

Apparent wind angles of 50-55° were optimum where she made a comfortable 5.5-6 knots upwind in a Force 4 and above.

A slab reefing main instead of in-mast furling, and some crisp new sails would have given better performance.

Impressive in light airs

The self-tacking staysail sheets are closer to the centreline, so in stronger winds you’d achieve better tacking angles from this.

Off the wind we reached along at 6.5-7 knots in blustery Force 6, but there was a law of diminishing returns above that.

In light airs she was impressive though, managing 3.5-4 knots in 6-8 knots breeze, which is valuable on long passages where you don’t want to reach for the throttle every time the wind drops.

Aerial view of an Island PAcket 380 sailing, with white sails

The Polycore deck should last, and it is reported to be impervious to rot. Credit: Richard Langdon/Ocean Images

Thanks to her beam she has plenty of form stability, keeping the angle of heel relatively low. She’s also well ballasted and forgiving in gusty conditions.

The large rudder gripped the water even when a 30-knot squall hit, never threatening to round up.

With in-mast furling it was easy to balance the sail plan to minimise weather helm.

She’s never going to point like a Sigma 38, and she needs to be sailed accordingly, giving lee shores a wider margin, but blue-water sailing is best done by tortoises, not hares.

The Island Packet 380 is superbly well adapted for tradewind sailing, exploring shallow atolls and spending long periods of time afloat.

The galley of the Island Packet 380 yacht

The galley has plenty of stowage and has decent fridge and freezer space. Credit: Richard Langdon/Ocean Images

There’s a trend these days to pair high volume interiors with a flat, racy bottom and deep fin keel.

Comfort and performance: it’s a seductive mixture, but like all good cocktails the innocuous first impression could leave you with a headache offshore.

Not this boat – it is unapologetically safe, sensible and seaworthy.

The Island Packet 380 is a Marmite kind of a boat, but like it or loathe it, there’s a lot to admire in the design, not least that it isn’t trying to be something it’s not.

Expert opinion on the Island Packet 380

Ben Sutcliffe-Davies, Marine Surveyor and full member of the Yacht Brokers Designers & Surveyors Association (YDSA) www.bensutcliffemarine.co.uk

Over the years I’ve surveyed several of these for both pre-purchase and insurance claims.


Ben Sutcliffe- Davies has been in the marine industry for over 40 years as a long- time boat builder, has been surveying craft for over 20 years and is a Full Member of the YDSA.

These vessels have a distinctive off-white/cream hull moulding colour; while attractive, it can be a headache for yards to colour match when damaged.

When viewing, look carefully for areas of repair. The strength of the hull is unquestionably reliable.

I’ve surveyed several which have been bounced on the bottom, against rocks or quay sides, and the boat has upheld the stresses surprisingly well.

I am not keen on the method of laying the ballast into the keel moulding.

During hammer testing the keel moulding arrangements, I have had a couple where the ballast is not very tight within the moulding.

Surveying two Island Packet 380s after groundings, I have found water was able to easily ingress into the keel void and soften the lean mix of sand and cement used around the lead ingots.

The Island Packet 380 is ideal for living aboard long term and tradewind sailing. Credit: Richard Langdon/Ocean Images

The Island Packet 380 is ideal for living aboard long term and tradewind sailing. Credit: Richard Langdon/Ocean Images

This has been a very hard job to sort and in both cases quite expensive to deal with.

Protect the boat’s teak cappings before liftout as they can be damaged.

Have some carpeted blocks made and place below the strakes to stop the strops lifting the cappings off under load.

Lastly, be aware of the skeg fitting fastenings that can weep into the keel void, the security of her deck fittings and, most importantly, moisture in the deck core around fittings, especially around winches and the portlights.

Alternatives to the Island Packet 380

Moody 38 Mk1

A Moody 38 boat sailing

All controls on the Moody 38 lead aft. Credit: David Harding

Moody was to the British what Island Packet was to the Americans: reliable, solidly built cruising boats.

They had a prodigious output, over 160 Mk 1 Moody 38s came out of the mould in the 1990s, and a further 37 of the Mk 2 version in the 2000s.

Owing to the centre cockpit, the master cabin is aft rather than forwards.

Described by the original Yachting Monthly review in 1992 as ‘truly splendid’, it’s still impressive today with lots of stowage and a portlight in the transom.

Like many centre-cockpit boats the cockpit lockers are sacrificed, with two deep but narrow lazarettes in each quarter instead.

Another compromise is that the companionway steps descend quite steeply.

Forwards there’s a generous V berth and second heads – useful if you’re cruising as more than a couple.

There’s a proper, forward-facing chart table to keep the fuddy-duddies (like me) happy too.

A yacht with a white hull and white sails cruising along blue water

The 38 came with a masthead rig with double spreaders and fixed backstay as standard. Credit: David Harding

Below the waterline there’s a stout fin keel and semi-balanced rudder on a partial skeg. The masthead rig has the least sail area of all the boats in this selection.

The small mainsail area is partly because they came with in-mast furling as standard and they were also designed to have a generous genoa.

Once you add an overlapping headsail into the equation she has a better sail/area:displacement ratio. The smaller main will also make her easier to handle in a blow.

The modest draught will slightly limit upwind performance, but most cruisers aren’t concerned about losing a few degrees of pointing and it gives better access to tidal harbours.

The hull is solid laminate but the deck is balsa-cored, so you’ll need to watch out for moisture ingress.

The Plymouth-built hulls met Lloyd’s construction standards so should stand the test of time.

Although Moody didn’t splurge out on the joinery, they didn’t skimp on it either: the fit-out is good.

If you’re looking for an affordable fin-keeler with plenty of space but that’s easy to handle under power and sail, this is a great option.

Nauticat 39

A Nauticat 38 sailing along the coast

A deep forefoot means the Nauticat 39 handles well in heavy weather. Credit: David Harding

Nauticat is not a name you normally associate with handsome sailing yachts.

They’re better known for their quirky motor sailors but in the 1980s and 1990s a touch of thoroughbred was introduced to the stables of the Finnish design team.

A series of much more athletic boats appeared, including the Nauticat 39.

With a narrow beam, relatively light displacement and large sail area she’ll likely outsail her contemporaries, especially upwind.

The deep forefoot makes her sea-kindly in heavy weather and the bulbed fin keel is substantial, giving better than average directional stability.

The joinery below decks is of Scandinavian quality with all teak sourced from the same trunk so that the colour and grain matches.

The master aft cabin has an en suite heads, with a second heads forward to serve the V berth and single cabin down the port side.

The major selling point of the boat is the wheelhouse, where you can sip a gin and tonic, enjoying the sunset in whichever beauty spot you’ve arrived in.

It’s quite ambitious to fit one of these on a boat under 40ft, so the seating area of the raised saloon is smaller than that of a conventional saloon.

It also means that the galley is buried in the belly of the boat which, whilst snug in heavy weather, is a bit lonely when the rest of the crew are enjoying sundowners on deck.

The interior helm station will appeal to anyone missing those working-from-home pyjama days – with a throttle control and hydraulic steering link you can wear your slippers on watch.

With her performance credentials, though, she’ll reward those who want to play on deck too.

Hunter Legend 41

The Legend 41 was designed for easy handling shorthanded. Credit: Graham Snook

The Legend 41 was designed for easy handling shorthanded. Credit: Graham Snook

Another American cruiser which has been popular in Europe is the Hunter Legend 41.

Like the Island Packet 380, it’s broad-shouldered and beamy with high topsides. The interior is voluminous.

The B&R rig is a trademark feature of the Hunter brand.

Originally designed by Swedish engineers Lars Bergstrom and Sven Ridder, it removes the need for a backstay by substituting aggressively swept back spreaders and a web of reverse diagonals.

The result is a sail plan that’s heavily weighted in favour of the mainsail, thanks to a big roach and small foretriangle.

It’s intended to make sail handling easier because there’s no large headsail to sheet in.

However, careful mainsail management may be required in order to reduce weather helm close-hauled.

The stainless-steel cockpit arch keeps the mainsheet clear of the crew yet still within reach of the helm.

Innovative rig design aside, the deck layout is fairly standard for this type of cruising yacht.

Accommodation-wise there’s little to fault.

The L-shaped galley has acres of work-space and a full-height storage locker. The saloon seating wraps around the table and could easily accommodate eight.

Big overhead windows let in lots of natural light. There are two big double cabins, one forward, one aft, both with an en suite heads.

A deck saloon version gives 7ft of headroom in the saloon! The shoal draught version comes with a bulb keel, whilst the full-fin keel will give better upwind performance.

She’s flighty for tricky offshore sailing, but would make a comfortable island-hopping liveaboard.

Enjoyed reading Island Packet 380: The best liveaboard cruiser out there?

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