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Easy cruising at 65 mph

You can cover a lot of miles with a trailerable trawler

Story and photos by George Sass Sr.

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Until recently, most of my cruising has been done on trawler-style boats designed for crossing oceans or at least capable of serious coastal cruising. Crossing over to the “dark side” of powerboats after years of sailing, I became a devout convert to trawlers, espousing the many virtues of such brands as Nordhavn, Grand Banks, Fleming and Great Harbour.

Thanks to my previous marine marketing career and now as a boating journalist, I have had the opportunity to cruise thousands of miles on these fine vessels. And during this time, my custom Down East-style Thomas Point 43, Sawdust, became my personal interpretation of what an ideal coastal cruising yacht should be.

While these and other yachts of similar size and quality offer superb comfort and safety while covering long distances, they require significant investment of both time and money. Unless you have enough time for extended cruising as well as the time and/or money to move your yacht between your favorite cruising grounds, you won’t be benefiting from all it has to offer. Also, yachts from 40 to 65 feet or so cost more than most homes, and their operating and maintenance costs often put them out of reach of those with modest or average means.

There is an alternative way to enjoy the cruising lifestyle, however, which is appealing more and more to those concerned with these challenging economic times. Small, trailerable “trawlers” are selling well because they have become popular with a wide variety of boaters, including first-time owners, sailors switching to power and those, like me, who have decided to downsize from larger yachts.

In the December 2011 issue of Soundings, I wrote about choosing a C-Dory TomCat 255 catamaran and having it towed to Lake Champlain for my summer vacation cruise. The success of that experience led me to having it towed to the Florida Keys this winter, where I met a number of owners of other trailerable cruisers, including Ranger Tugs, Rosboroughs and other C-Dories. Most of these folks had towed their boats to the Keys to escape the icy winters of their home states, often traveling 1,000 miles or more in two or three days. Indeed, when I asked a 25-foot Rosborough owner — a longtime sailor — what speed he now cruised at, he jokingly answered, “About 65 mph.”

So what’s the big attraction of these smaller boats? For one, boaters living in the northern latitudes can now use their boats year-round. When their hometown forecasts are for icy temperatures and snow, these folks can hitch their boat to their tow vehicle and head south. And when they tire of their surroundings, they can simply haul the boat and move to another cruising area. A Rosborough owner I met in Islamorada, Fla., pointed out, “We’re going to haul our boat in the morning and drive up to Charlotte Harbor, where we’ll cruise for a week or two. Then we’ll tow her to the east coast [of Florida], which will take us about three hours. From there we plan to explore Florida’s St. Johns River before heading home to Wisconsin.”

The Wisconsin owners of this Rosborough 246 Sedan Cruiser towed it to different spots in Florida and cruised.

The owners of a C-Dory 25, powered by a single Honda 130-hp outboard, had downsized from a more traditional 34-foot trawler. They had run their boat on its own bottom 1,800 miles from Iowa to the Keys, where they would stay until spring, towing it north to explore the Cumberland River in Kentucky and Tennessee before returning to their home in South Dakota. They were also planning a summer cruise on Utah’s Lake Powell.

The owner of a brand-new Ranger Tug 27 explained the appeal of trailering: “We live inland 90 miles from Jacksonville [Fla.] and 90 miles from Steinhatchee, so being able to keep our Ranger Tug on a trailer at home is a big plus for us. Trailering gives us a lot of options we wouldn’t have with a larger boat.” His Ranger Tug was his first real boat, other than kayaks and canoes.

The owner of this Ranger Tiug 27 enjoys trailering because he lives 90 miles inland from Jacksonville, Fla., and the same distance from Steinhatchee on the west coast of the state.

Many marinas provide free trailer storage to those renting slips. If not, it’s usually easy to find somewhere to store it for a small fee. Having one’s own tow vehicle available while cruising also makes shopping for groceries and supplies convenient, and local sightseeing trips are more likely to be undertaken. On average, most owners report getting about 9 to 10 mpg when towing, whether gas or diesel. Everyone stresses the importance of having a vehicle and trailer that are up to the task.

Of course, one of the biggest attractions of smaller boats is the lower cost of operating and maintaining them. A slip for my 26-foot TomCat costs 40 percent less than a slip for my 43-footer. When running 20 to 25 knots with my twin Suzuki 150-hp 4-strokes, I get twice the fuel efficiency — 2 nmpg — as Sawdust, with its single diesel, running at 16 knots. My insurance cost is roughly a third of what I was paying before, and by keeping things simple, I’ve had virtually no expenses for repairs. Also, everything from anchors, dock lines, dinghies, fenders and more are smaller and less expensive. Lastly, while these challenging economic times persist, it seems wise to have a lot less money tied up in a “floating asset.”

Having enough space and being comfortable is a relative issue, and like many owners of trailerable cruisers, we’ve done a lot of camping. So for the two of us, the amenities on our 26-foot TomCat are more than sufficient for weeks at a time. We heard the same from owners of C-Dories, Ranger Tugs and Rosboroughs, although no one was cruising with children or friends for more than a night or two. These are great boats for a couple, or maybe a young couple with a small child.

So what are the downsides to these smaller boats? Very simply, you’ll need to watch the weather more carefully and be prepared to stay put in the harbor when heavy seas are forecast. The 43-footer can handle conditions that our TomCat can’t. When it gets rough out there, nothing beats a hefty displacement or a long waterline, and these small trailerable boats have neither. But the fact that most of these pocket cruisers can run 16 knots or more in a moderate chop can compensate for those days spent waiting for conditions to improve.

Having his C-Dory TomCat 255 catamaran trailered to Lake Champlain worked so well that the author had the boat towed to the Florida Keys this past winter.

Trailerable trawlers have become an attractive alternative to their much larger and more expensive siblings. As I discovered in the Florida Keys, their small size and modest accommodations are not discouraging owners from exploring America’s waterways. In fact, compared to so many large yachts sitting idle in the marinas, it is the smaller boat, capable of being transported across the country at 65 mph, that is seeing most of the action.

See related articles:

- A new adventure every day

- Trawler talk

- Soundings on board

- Checklist for your cruising destination

- About this month's cover shot

This article originally appeared in the June 2012 issue.