September 1st 2013. By Zuzana Prochazka.

Islander 36: A Cruising Sailboat for All Time

What began its sailing life as a kit boat became the classic Islander 36 cruiser.

The Islander 36 (I36) is a true classic and depending on whose numbers you believe, there were somewhere between 700 and 800 hulls built between 1973 and 1986. The company history before the development of the I36 is somewhat sketchy, but the story goes that the firm started life as the McGlasson Corporation, then sold to or turned into Wayfarer Marine in the 1960s. Smaller boats like the 27 footer came out first and at some point Islander sold a 37 foot kit boat that morphed into the 36 foot production sailboat which in turn evolved into this shapely and popular classic.

islander 36 sailboat

Cruising sailboats like the Islander 36 were popular decades ago, and remain popular today.

By the 1970s, Islander production was located in Southern California along with other classic builders like Columbia and Jensen Marine, which built Cals. In fact, it is rumored that for a while, Ericsons, Pearsons and Islanders were built in the same location. Hundreds of hulls were produced and shipped all over the US and Canada with about 25-percent of them selling into the Northern California Bay Area. In 1984-85, production was moved to Costa Rica, where the company foundered and finally closed in 1986. It wasn’t the move that did Islander in so much as skyrocketing resin prices and the introduction of the 10-percent luxury tax that shut the market down.

Design, Construction & Performance

Alan Gurney’s objective in the design of the I36 was to create a “36-foot yacht that would be a competitive machine but also could cruise a family comfortably.” Since Gurney was also responsible for go fast classics like Windward Passage, Guinevere and Great Britain II, the I36 racing pedigree was guaranteed. The I36 is easy to handle and can manage heavy air and big swells with ease. It’s a fast and stiff boat, with a 40-percent ballast to displacement ratio and even 30 years later, she will still hold her own on the race course. The I36 will do eight knots and practically steer herself in 20 to 30 knot winds without being overpowered, though it can feel a little sluggish in light air.

The model was built in four pieces with the two hull halves, the deck, and the liner – a process similar to the port and starboard construction of a Swan. It took about 700 hours to manufacture one of these modified fin keel, full skeg rudder boats. The hull is solid glass with a through-bolted plywood cored deck, topped with an alloy toe rail. Most of the models had lead ballast but some of the early boats are said to have had iron in the keel. A few of the mid-70s models reported blistering problems, but some of that had to do with whether the boat was kept in cold or warm waters and if it was a year-round vessel or if it was decommissioned for the winter as in the Great Lakes area. Since the hulls stayed mostly the same, the models differed throughout the years by the options and conveniences that were offered. For example, shoal draft keels were optional, as were interior details such as refrigeration and battery chargers.

Deck & Rigging

The I36 sail area is about 600 square feet on a double spreader, high aspect ratio rig. Those who have raced an I36 describe it as “going fast on a stiff boat with small sails” since the design really pushes the maximum power from its rig. Most of the 1970s Islanders have had mast step corrosion problems and probably require the Kenyon spar to be pulled and trimmed. Of course, any rig will need attention every 15 years or so and should be checked, regardless of whether the boat will be racing or cruising.

Layout & Accommodations

cabin in a islander 36

The V-berth is relatively large for a cruising sailboat of this size.

The layout below begins with a sizeable V-berth and a head/shower combination to port. In the salon, there are two straight settees to port and starboard separated with a table that folds up to the bulkhead to create a feeling of spaciousness. An L-shaped galley to starboard has a double sink and a three burner LPG stove. To port there’s a nav station, and the quarter berth behind it forms a seat.

There are a good number of drawers and plenty of louvered and caned lockers throughout. Islander 36s came standard with an icebox although some owners chose the Adler Barbour refrigeration that was an option, or upgraded on their own later.

steps in an islander 36

Steps – real steps – make going in and out of the cabin a pleasure.

Hands down, the best feature of the interior are the companionway steps that are truly steps as opposed to a ladder and are easy to maneuver. They also make a great seat when extra bodies are below for cocktails.

Systems & Mechanical

The original engine specified for Islander 36s was the Westerbeke L-25 although you can find some boats with the old workhorse Perkins 4-108, which will push the boat at six and a half knots at 1800 rpm with a two-blade fixed prop. There are 50 gallons of water in fiberglass and about 30 gallons of fuel in an aluminum tank. That amount of fuel is good for coastal cruising but it means that Jerry cans will be necessary for any kind of extended voyaging.

There are lots of Islanders listed nationwide on Yachtworld including the Freeport model that was modified into a raised saloon profile. They classic version has held its value: In 1975, a standard Islander sold for $29,900 and by 1978, the price for a new boat rose to $47,400. The range on Yachtworld is from $25,000 to $65,000. That’s not a bad investment as far as boats go.

Specifications: Length: 36’0” • Beam: 11’2” • Draft: 6’/4’9” • Displacement: 13,450 lbs • Sail Area: 612 sq ft • Fuel/Water: 30/50 gal



Zuzana Prochazka
Zuzana Prochazka is a writer and photographer who freelances for a dozen boating magazines and websites. A USCG 100 Ton Master, Zuzana has cruised, chartered and skippered flotillas in many parts of the world and serves as a presenter on charter destinations and topics. She is the Chair of the New Product Awards committee, judging innovative boats and gear at NMMA and NMEA shows, and currently serves as immediate past president of Boating Writers International. She contributes to Boats.com and YachtWorld.com, and also blogs regularly on her boat review site, TalkoftheDock.com.