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Eight Bells for Clinton Pearson

Boatbuilder Clinton Pearson passed away on April 4. He was 91.

Fred Heald and cousins Everett Pearson and Clinton Pearson
Left to right: Fred Heald and cousins Everett Pearson and Clinton Pearson founded Pearson Yachts in 1956.
© 2020 Dan Spurr / Heart of Glass

Clint and his cousin Everett, both Brown University alumni and Navy veterans, started experimenting with fiberglass construction in the family garage in Rhode Island in the mid-1950s. The two went on to found Pearson Yachts a few years later, and by 1959 produced their first ‘big’ boat, the Carl Alberg-designed 28-ft Triton. After it debuted at the New York Boat Show that year, they got deposits for 17 of them. In its nine-year production run, 712 Tritons were built — and many are still sailing today.

Triton plug under construction
Pearson Yachts lofted the wooden plug for the 28.5-ft Pearson Triton in their first facility, an old textile plant on the Bristol, Rhode Island, waterfront.
© 2020 Dan Spurr / Heart of Glass
Triton start
Tritons, most of them beautifully restored, have the largest one-design fleet in Bay View Boat Club’s Plastic Classic. This photo is from the start of the 2018 race on San Francisco Bay south of the Bay Bridge.
© 2020 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Chris

When Grumman bought controlling interest in the company in the early ’60s, Clinton struck out on his own. He bought out a troubled boatbuilder named Sailstar, and, a couple of years later, renamed the firm Bristol Yachts. The first production boat to wear the name was the Bristol 27, another Alberg design that is almost indistinguishable from the Triton except for the sail logo. Halsey Herreshoff — son of L. Francis, grandson of Nathaniel — designed the next one, the Bristol 29, as well as a slew of additional models. Ted Hood’s design shop did most of the later design work for the ‘decimal models’ (29.9, 31.1, 35.5, etc.). By the time Bristol Yachts closed its doors in 1997, more than 4,400 boats ranging from 22 to 72 feet had rolled out the doors. All told, Clinton Pearson is said to have been involved in the building of some 20,000 yachts.

Clinton’s spirit of sportsmanship and the value of hard work lives on in two-time Volvo Ocean Race skipper Charlie Enright, his grandson. In a 2015 Cruising World piece, Charlie remembers one of his first exposures to sailing was at age 3 when Grampa Clint put him in a little boat, pushed him out and ‘steered’ with lines from shore.

7 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Richard Leeds 1 year ago

    My Pearson 30 enjoyed a 40th birthday party last September. In typical Pearson fashion, she was built well with solid materials and craftsmanship and still looks great. (I am the original owner.) The Pearson cousins should be proud of themselves.

  2. Avatar
    Dennis O'Hanlon 1 year ago

    My 1978 Bristol 40 has been one of the best experiences of my life. I’ve been a liveaboard now for five and a half years. She is a quality boat, built tough, yet elegant in her design. She is easy to sail, cuts through waves, and can take inclement weather. I’ve sailed her from Southern California up past Drakes Bay and I’ve always felt safe. Right now I’m outfitting her and plan to travel internationally when I retire. Clinton Pierson produced a great product. May he Rest In Peace!

  3. Avatar
    Jim Foley 1 year ago

    R.I.P. Clint Pearson. I was fortunate to own three of his company’s boats: a Triton, a Pearson 30, and a Bristol 35.5 (once his personal boat).

  4. Avatar
    Noel 1 year ago

    My wife and I are restoring Bristol 27 hull #2. Yes, the second Bristol 27 built. She will be in the wet again this year. You can see her progress on the Bristol 27 website.

    • Christine Weaver
      Christine Weaver 1 year ago

      Hi Noel, thanks for your note. Can you provide us with a link to the Bristol 27 website?

  5. Avatar
    Jeff Brownell 1 year ago

    Clint was a pioneer. I have had the privilege of owning two of his beautiful boats, a 1966 Bristol 29 and a 1983 38.8.
    It was an honor to meet him a few years ago.
    RIP Mr. Pearson

  6. Avatar
    Robert Temple 1 year ago

    I love sailing my restored Pearson Ariel, made in 1963. It’s a great boat for San Francisco Bay and our coastal waters. Rest In Peace Mr. Pearson.

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