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The Sea Pearl: Born Out of the Shallows

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Sea Pearl Tri-Sport boats at rest on a beach in Tarpon Springs Florida. Photo by Glenn Hayes
Sea Pearl Tri-Sport boats at rest on a beach in Tarpon Springs Florida. Photo by Glenn Hayes

On a beach overlooking St. Joseph’s Sound in Tarpon Springs, Fla., two friends studied a chart of the surrounding waters.  Depths were six inches in places at low tide with deeper spots still only two feet. They wanted to develop a boat that could sail in these waters without needing a chart in hand but also capable of adventures all over the world. The Sea Pearl name has become synonymous with easy, fun sailing and can be found in waters everywhere.

Sea Pearl founder Ron Johnson and fiberglass professional George Jeffries looked at boats with two-foot draft but knew that still wasn’t enough for their sailing grounds.  They began with a list of items their new boat should include.  The boat would beach and launch easily while avoiding getting stuck in the soft sand. The Sea Pearl needed leeboards rather than a centerboard and a kick-up rudder for the Gulf’s shallow waters. Eliminating the centerboard meant no trunk; that in turn opened the forward cockpit, making it an excellent family seating area or even a cabin for overnighting. With the optional cabin top or bimini top it also made a great place to get out of the rain. It also had to be light enough that it could be towed by anything economically (small four cylinder vehicles included). And finally, they also wanted the vessel to be light enough to be pushed along at a decent rate with a small light outboard or rowed if necessary.

The duo started with the hull of a Herreshoff designed 18 foot tender. Johnson added to the design by increasing the length, and rigging it with twin masts and what ended up as an unstayed cat-ketch rig. Many other changes came throughout the years and the end result is today’s Sea Pearl. Jim Leet, Ron’s brother-in-law, bought the business from Ron and has further improved the classic-looking performer over the past decade and a half.

Jim Leet in front of a recently rejuvenated monohull at the Marine Concepts Sea Pearl shop. Photo by Glenn Hayes
Jim Leet in front of a recently rejuvenated monohull at the Marine Concepts Sea Pearl shop. Photo by Glenn Hayes

Sea Pearls can be custom built in three different configurations; a mono-hull, the Sea Pearl Tri and the Tri-Sport. The hull is hand laid fiberglass cloth over Corecell with no wood to rot and includes a deck/liner. There are easy to fill and empty ballast tanks under the deck. The masts are easily stepped and the sails furl right on the masts for easy storing. When stepped, the masts fit easily on deck with no overhang fore or aft. These boats are easy to sail, easy to rig and easy to transport – exactly what the owners wanted.

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The simple design and low maintenance also make Sea Pearl an excellent small expedition boat. Its ruggedness and durability have been proven on some pretty adventurous world travels. Sea Pearls have sailed around Patagonia, all over the Caribbean and along the length of the Danube River and completed many adventure races. One modified Sea Pearl is on a multi year cruise now exploring the rivers and deltas of South America. A Google search of Sea Pearl reveals great stories of many of these intrepid journeys. If they can take these voyages in stride these boats should be well equipped for a day sail on the sound.

Jim says that there are now well over 500 monohull Sea Pearls on the water today with many other Tri and Tri-Sport models also out there. Used models are hard to find as most people that buy them hold on to them, but some do come back to Jim to be refurbished and brought back to new or to be converted to the Sport-Trimaran configuration. He said that six weeks is all it takes for a custom ordered boat to be completed and delivered. Prices start at $16,000 for a new monohull model, with Sport-Tri models starting at $21,600.

Today’s Sea Pearl is truly an easy boat to sail, is simple to maintain and a joy to own. You can actually sail in waters so shallow that you can hear the turtle grass running across the bottom of the hull.

Jim Leet says it best, “When people get in our boats they just keep going.”


Length Over All: 21.0’
Length At Water Line: 19.0’
Beam: 5’ 6”
Draft (board up): 6”
Draft (board down): 2’ 6”
Trailering weight: 600lbs Aprox. (1000-1500 Tri Sport and Tri)
Sail Area (standard rig): 136 sq. ft.
Aft Cockpit: 6’ 6”
Center Cockpit: 10.0’
Mast Height Above Water Line: 19’ 6”

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Glenn Hayes
Glenn Hayeshttp://www.HayesStudios.com
Glenn Hayes is a writer and photographer based out of west central Florida and has marine industry background spanning almost a quarter century. He can be reached through his web site www.HayesStudios.

So Caribbean you can almost taste the rum...

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