The Six Categories of Daysailers, and Why We Love Them
How would you describe the ideal daysailer? Or a daysailer at all for that matter? The basic concept is simplicity itself. And yet, over the years the term “daysailer” has come to include boats spanning the length and breadth of yacht design.
Is a daysailer strictly for taking a spin around the harbor on a sunny day? Should it include some basic accommodations for spending the night at a nearby anchorage? Can it be used for racing? What about a boat you can drag up onto a beach for a little sail camping?
Even the proper length of a daysailer, an aspect of small-boat design that might seem self evident, has become a subject of debate, as the “daysailer” concept has come to include boats with LOAs of 40 feet or more.
For the sake of argument, let’s say a daysailer should be easy to rig and sail, preferably single or doublehanded, in fairly close quarters—say, a small lake or a tight anchorage. It must also be easy to launch, whether at the start of the season or the start of the day. Beyond that, pretty much anything goes.
Recently, in a vain effort to impose some order on the concept, we decided to break up the universe of daysailers into six categories. Bring on the letters to the editor! We’d love to know what you think.
Traditional Under 20ft
Among the most beloved daysailers are those that hark back to an earlier age. Indeed, in some cases these are boats that have enjoyed production runs spanning generations. Chief among these would have to be the cute-as-a-button Beetle Cat, which has been in production since the 1920s in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
Another classic with an equally sterling pedigree is the Herreshoff 12 ½—which has inspired a wealth of variations, including the Chuck Paine-designed Paine 14, one of the winners in SAIL’s 2014 Best Boats contest. Yet another is the Stuart Knockabout, a speedy and gorgeous L.F. Herreshoff design.
Other more recent entries in this sub-genre include Marshall Marine’s catboat line, Com-Pac Yacht’s Picnic Cat and Sun Cat, Bauteck Marine’s Bauer line, the NorseBoat 12.5 and 17.5, and the Crabber 17, 22 and Shrimper at the small end of the Cornish Crabber line.
And let’s not forget that quirkiest of boats, the Melonseed skiff, built by the Crawford Boat Building company. Based on the “gunning skiffs” once used by duck hunters to sneak up on their prey, the boat looks like something out of the 1800s, but was in fact created in the late 1980s—a provenance that matters not a wit to the boat’s almost cult-like following.
To see a solo sailor bobbing about aboard one of these diminutive craft is to immediately get at the very heart of why people sail.
As the old saw goes, put any two sailboats within sight of one another, and you’ll inevitably have a race on your hands. However, a funny thing happened on the way to the finish line for a number of smaller designs originally conceived as racers: they also turned out to be great daysailers.
The iconic J/24, for example, in addition to helping usher in the modern “sport boat” era, has also provided countless afternoon sails between races. The result is a boat with a dual-performance “sweet spot” that is also found in the Johnstone-designed J/22 and the J/70.
Other standouts include the 23-foot full-keel Ensign, Sandy Douglass’s Thistle and Flying Scot, W.D. Schock’s Lido 14, and the S&S-designed Lightning, originally created for racing on Skaneateles Lake in upstate New York.
Interestingly, in recent years, a number of sailors have also taken to modifying the hyper-competitive Etchells for daysailer use. Open up the cockpit, add a bit more coaming and what do you have? A yare little package with performance to spare: not to mention the elegant lines of a true racing thoroughbred.
Another brand-new entry in this category is the Chinese-built FarEast 18, available in both a standard and souped-up “R” version, complete with retractable bowsprit. Then there’s the French-built Archambault 27. Some might describe this Gallic speedster as a pure raceboat, but we beg to differ, given there’s a cruising version available featuring dual rudders and a kick-up keel. Clearly this is a boat that is about a whole lot more than just doing laps around the buoys.
One of the most gratifying trends in modern yacht design has been the growing number of “modern classics” out there, with sprightly sheer lines, gorgeous overhangs, low topsides, and cutting-edge fin keels and spade rudders below the waterline.
Kicking off this trend were Maine’s Morris Yachts with it M36, Rhode Island-based Alerion and the venerable Hinckley yard’s 42-foot “daysailer.” Since then Tartan Yachts has also gotten into the game with it 26-foot Fantail; C.W. Hood has created the handsome C.W. Hood 32; Bluenose Yachts has resurrected Olin Stephens’s 1930s-era Babe sloop as the S&S 30; and the Cape Cod Shipbuilding Co. has brought back a modern version of its 23-foot Herreshoff-designed Marlin. And let’s not forget the sturdy good looks of W.D. Schock’s Harbor line, now a fixture of the West Coast sailing scene.
Meanwhile, over in Europe, a number of designers have also taken a stab at this genre, in the process adding a certain je ne sai quoi by integrating sleek modern lines, a la Monaco-based Wally. The result has been such beauties as the Tofinou 8 and the Class 2M. Word on the street is that W-Class Yachts, of Wild Horses fame, has also recently decided to build a new 22-footer. Bring on the “classics!”
If there’s a downside to these boats it is that they tend to be pricey, especially those including lavish amounts of teak and varnished mahogany topsides. Still, there’s no getting around how well those low narrow hulls, tall, powerful sailplans and deep high-aspect underwater appendages perform out on the water. While these boats may not be cheap, they are also a lot more than just another pretty face.
Since the dawn of “yachting” as a pastime, there have been sailors who take an almost perverse delight in building tiny boats that not only sail well, but also have a place to bunk out—a daysailing sub-genre that is as active today as ever.
The 1970s, in particular, were a kind of Golden Age for small trailerable cruisers, as both the Catalina 22 and Hunter 22 opened an entire generation’s eyes to a new sort of experience afloat. Other “pocket cruiser” standouts include everything from the West Wight Potter and Dana 24 to the Tanzer 22, Hake Yachts’ Seaward 26 RK, the Cornish Crabber line, the Sage 17 and the recently re-released Beneteau First 20 and First 25 S.
Of course, this is an area in which it can be difficult to draw any kind of hard and fast boundary. Back in the day, it wasn’t at all unusual for at least part of the crew to sleep aboard for the entirety of a weekend-long J/24 regatta. Similarly, the needle-like Dragon was originally designed with two berths for the express purpose of cruising its home waters on the Norwegian coast.
And what do we do about those “daysailers” that insist on doing things like crossing oceans? The diminutive Wayfarer 16 centerboarder, for example, is renowned for a number of epic bluewater passages to places like Norway and Iceland. Similarly, the Dana 24 is one of a number of small keelboats with untold bluewater miles to its credit. Other standouts include the Bill Lapworth-designed Cal 20, the Merlin 26, the 25-foot Folkboat, the Zen 24 and the Flicka 20. Then, of course, there’s the Norseboat 17.5, which has transited the Northwest Passage, and the 18-foot Drascombe Lugger in which Webb Chiles crossed the Pacific.
Do some of these heavier designs push your personal definition of a daysailer? So be it. Kudos to these boats and their designers for making sailors, and our readers in particular, stretch their minds a little.
And now for something completely different.
Multihulls have traditionally been difficult to pigeonhole, and that remains true when considering them as daysailers. Is the Hobie 16 beach cat a daysailer? Why not? Too wet? Not serious enough? Fine, then let’s just go ahead and call it a pocket cruiser—there are certainly plenty of sailors out their using their boats in just that way.
Not convinced? In that case, we’ll see your skepticism and raise it one Hobie Mirage trimaran, complete with paddles, peddle power and a sailing rig. If sitting back in one of the Mirage’s comfy seats isn’t the epitome of daysailing, we don’t know what is.
Other diminutive multihulls that are perfect for a day out on the water include the 14-foot Weta, the Searail 19 and the WindRider 16 and 17—all trimarans. Granted, for some these lightweight craft may be a little too dinghy-like for a full day on the water. But then again, if the wind dies there’s nothing like having a nice stable platform to stretch out on and catch some rays. Sounds like daysailing to us!
Moving up the tonnage spectrum there’s the Corsair line, which includes the 24-foot Dash 750 MKII, and Farrier Marine’s F-22. Not only do these boats serve up blistering speeds for a jaunt around the harbor, they can also double as pocket cruisers, like the West Wight Potter. (How often do you get a chance to mention these three boats in the same sentence?)
No matter what the specific design, it would be hard to find a better class of boats for a day of sailing.
Family boats and trainers are perhaps the toughest to categorize, given all the different shapes and sizes they come in. Nonetheless, we all know them when we sail them: boats that are both forgiving and have enough cockpit space to accommodate at least one or two passengers. They also tend to carry clutter-free rigs that are easy to use, with nice high booms to minimize the risk of bruised heads, and clear decks to avoid stubbed toes.
Many of the boats already mentioned can fit in this category as well—the J/22, Flying Scot, Lido 14 and Ensign have all introduced untold newbies to the art of sailing, and the gorgeous Tartan Fantail is also available in a dedicated trainer version. Similarly, many “trainers” do well racing around the buoys.
Among those boats created for the express purpose of training new sailors, the Colgate 26, created by Steve Colgate and naval architect Jim Taylor, is probably the most noteworthy. The Sonar, designed by Bruce Kirby of Laser fame, is another boat that is perfect for learning the ropes. In both boats, the large, deep cockpits are the perfect place for a newcomer to get their feet wet, so to speak. They also both sail very well.
Other great trainers include American Sail Inc.’s American 18 and 14.6, Cape Cod Shipbuilding Co.’s Bull’s Eye, Mercury, Rhodes 19 and Uffa Fox-designed DaySailer, and the various boats at the smaller ends of the Catalina and Hunter lines, including the Catalina Expo 16.5 and the Hunter 15. The list goes on and on.
In many ways, these small to midsize trainers are the boats that first come to mind when many people think of daysailers, and for good reason. They might not be the sexiest boats on the water, but they’re pretty and a lot of fun to sail. They not only get people out on the water, they keep them coming back for more—and who could really ask for more than that?