A General Cal 20 History

 When the Cal 20 first appeared on the cusp of the fiberglass era few realised that it would be involved in revolutionizing the way yachts were raced and marketed.  In 1961, William (Bill) Lapworth pioneered the concept of a spacious, seaworthy, low maintenance, low cost yacht that a man and wife could sail easily. For its size the 6.1 meter (20ft) flush deck, 2.1 meter beam, and large self bailing cockpit provided room for four people comfortably.  Earlier boats had only one locker but another was added in later boats.  The railings, which made sitting more comfortable, were also an after thought. The open–well problems, especially surging during a following sea have been solved by various kinds of plugs. It is more common now for outboard engine of various sizes (2 to 6 hp) to be mounted on the transom.  The 900 lb iron bulb keel and small working sail area of 196 sq ft made the stiff little sloop seaworthy in winds up to 40 knots. This was required in racing areas around the California coast. Drawing only three and half feet skippers are encouraged to sometimes throw caution to the wind to get tactical advantage in shallow water. The first Cal 20’s were trucked out of the factory in Cosa Mesa in California. All told 1,960 Cal 20’s were made between 1961 and 1974. There could have been a lot more Lapworth said later.

A frequent topic of discussion in 2010 as people contemplate maintenance issues is how the Cal20 was built originally.  Construction of the Cal 20 was straight forward - a single unit of hand laid laminate  of mat, cloth and woven roving (no core). The deck, reinforced with a plywood core, and the cockpit are a single unit bonded to the hull with an external double flange (hat  joint) pop riveted, glued and the seam glassed over especially around the winches. Delaminating of the deck in some boats may be due to leakage around the winches. Blistering is not as common as it is in some other models of boats.

The standard rig is a fractional 26’ 3” anodized aluminum spar designed by Lapworth for Jensen. The earlier spars were tapered. The standing rigging is 1/8inch. The weakest part of the rig has been the spreader brackets which can crack. Corrosion results where the aluminum and steel meet, but the addition of plastic bushings can reduce this problem.  Problems with the head stay and the after lowers have been solved by using beefed up chain plates. 


Starting around the mid 1980’s racers began to go about “turbocharging” their boats first by fairing out the fin portion of the keel to a maximum of 1.5inches. Later jib tracks were moved inboard and purchase was put on the jib sheets in the form of barber haulers. None of these innovations replaced good racing tactics.  Pitting and rusting of the iron keel can be corrected by using a rust prevention paint. Some have referred  to the Cal 20 as a forerunner to the J 24, except that the Cal 20 can be raced with just two or three.  Those who wish to cruise in it have been able to turn a painted fibreglass shell into something fairly comfortable and safe. With sails they cost then around $3500. These beginnings justified the Cal 20 being looked upon as the VW Beetle-of- the-sea status as “everyman’s boat” in ports as far flung as Honolulu, Los Angeles, Detroit, Vancouver and Victoria. One of the few not still afloat achieved stardom as a silvered exhibit on Vancouver’s Expo86 “transportation highway”. (These comments are modified from “Practical Sailor” on the Cal 20’s  30th birthday in May 1991).

Alastair Naime whilst visiting California from North Vancouver happened to see a Cal20 and was so impressed the he ferreted out the builder and when he got home incorporated Calgan Marine to build them under license from Jensen Marine. They rapidly caught on with local sailors looking for a low cost low maintenance boat. Until Calgan closed in 1979 single, couples and families kept workers busy bonding resin and matting for almost 200 Cal20s, although ten times as many were built in California. Bill Vogel was the first sailor from Victoria to own one. He bought it second hand in May 1963 and it was called Murrelet, Sail number 165. A boat with sail number 166 was obtained later in 1972 by Mike Smith from Alf Russell in Vancouver. It was called Kittiwake. This boat was purchased in the fall of 1976 by Dr. Peter Coy, more about this boat later (but see picture).

During delays in getting tooling for a boat in the 30ft range Lapworth switched work with Jack Jensen to a smaller boat, the Cal 20 (originally the California 20). It was primarily an entry boat and also targeted people who had been sailing open boats. It was expected to perform double duty as a small cruiser and as a racer.  The bulbed keel helped meet this two uses. The performance of this new midget racer was quickly noticed when hull #3 alone in a bigger boat fleet in a San Francisco Bay race was able to keep it’s spinnaker flying after everyone else had shortened sail. In the 1980’s primarily in California there quite large fleets all the way down the California Coast.  In Alamitos Bay harbour there were at least 100 Cal 20’s at anchor or dry sailed. Older IOR and PHRF guys were looking for a smaller keel boat to have fun in. In many cases new owners were investing upwards of $10,000 to up grade their 20 year old boat. In retrospect many have said the boat has never been duplicated.

The Cal 20 Class Championships were held in Victoria in 1987 for the first time outside the United States in its 26 year history. Although the weather conditions varied radically the race results recorded such a resounding victory for Bob Pistay of Seattle that “Poquito” sat out the last race and watched the action. Conditions changed from rain to sun and calm to 30knot gusts. Racers attended from Canada, Washingon, Hawaii, Northern and Southern California. The largest out of town group hailed from Cabriollo Beach Yacht Culb in San Pedro California. The three boats trailered to Victoria insisted that they all had a great time even though amongst them three suffered broken bones, another had a broken mast, whilst others had a flat tire with no spare, another a runaway trailer. Tom Hawker was the Regatta Chair. La Galatea was sailed by a visitor.  Trevor Hayward, representing the RVYC as Commodore, presented the awards. At the Annual  Meeting of the Class Association a committee was set up to discuss hull stiffening. bow tang installation, after lowers, reinforcing the hatchway, reinforcing rudder fastening and hull stringers.

It was reported at that time (1987) the membership in the Class Association was about 450 compared with a high of 501 in 1982. The Newsletter at that time reported that a Cal 20 called “For Winds”, hull number 1008 sail number 47004 purchased in 1968 (that’s nearly 20 years earlier) had raced in over 400 races including four class championships. The boat had been trailored over 6000 miles through 16 states and to Canada. From sea level to 12,000 feet!!!!  

More stories to come, in the meantime send us your comments to Peter Coy  [email protected]   

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