One for the Road
I don’t understand all the fuss about sailboats attempting to break the 50-knot speed barrier. I know a number of skippers who regularly cruise at well over 50 knots, and a few who go even faster. Of course, when they do they’re tempting a chat with a state trooper.
Trailerable sailboats, when they are tucked behind the family car and whizzing down the Interstate, can be sailing in just hours—and on waterways that would take a conventional sailboat weeks to reach. They’re reasonably priced, easy to maintain and you’ll never have to worry about monthly slip fees with your boat safely “moored” on its trailer in your backyard.
The essence of these modern mini-cruisers is that they can provide you with a fun day of sailing, a hot meal in the evening and a comfy place to sleep. Nonetheless, though you may have the nautical credentials of Horatio Hornblower, buying a trailer-sailer is different from buying a conventional sailboat in many ways. Here are a few things to consider.
Before you do anything else, define what’s important to you. Are you primarily interested in daysailing or overnighting? If it’s daysailing, you’ll probably want a larger cockpit and smaller cabin. If it’s weekend cruising, you will probably want the reverse. Next, think about how many people you will have aboard. If they can’t all fit in the cockpit at the same time, somebody is going to be unhappy. When it comes to overnighting, draw the line at four adults, even if you have more berths. Trust me on this one.
Where you plan on using your trailer-sailer is another important consideration. Coastal waters or large lakes require a more seaworthy boat. If you are sailing in an area that is known for heavy winds, you probably should have a smaller sailplan, or one that can be easily reefed. If you want to explore shallower waters or perhaps even beach the boat, you’ll want to have a centerboard or a swing keel rather than a deeper fixed keel.
If you expect to put the boat on a trailer every time you use it, make sure the mast can be stepped easily. You don’t want to spend an hour rigging the boat every time you head out for a short afternoon sail.
Most builders have some form of gin pole device to help raise and lower the mast. Check to see if one person can work it without any help. If you want to singlehand your boat and the rig is too big for you to handle on your own, you’re out of luck.
Because one major benefit of a trailerable sailboat is the freedom from slip fees and annual haul-outs, you must know where you are going to store your boat. Often that space will be your driveway or backyard. However, having a 23-foot boat in a 20-foot driveway might not make everyone happy. Before you sign on the dotted line, check the local laws and neighborhood regulations to be sure you know where you can (and can’t) park your boat.
The size of your tow car may also limit the weight of the trailerable sailboat you can handle. A new large or heavy trailer-sailer could mean you need a more powerful tow vehicle as well. While a full-size car can handle many trailerables, you should consider a sport utility vehicle or perhaps a pickup truck if the launching ramps you plan to use are especially steep or you plan to take the boat through the mountains. Your car dealer can tell you how much weight your car can tow, but be careful. Many sailboat brochures specify the weight for a dry, empty boat. The reality may be very different.
When you are calculating towing weight, always be sure you include not just the weight of the boat and trailer, but also the weight of all the gear you’re going to have aboard, like clothes, fuel, water, outboard and, of course, refreshments. Keep in mind that front-wheel-drive cars are not as effective pulling a trailer up a launching ramp, because front wheel traction is reduced by the weight of the boat and trailer in the rear.