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Small boats, big fun, no fuss

Whether she’s sashaying around a mooring ball, tugging on her lines at the slip or resting her quarters on a trailer, a small boat can be your best friend.

Morris M29

These pocket-size sailboats typically require little care because they don’t have complex systems to maintain. The smallest of the lot can be dry-sailed and don’t need annual applications of bottom paint. Rigs and sail controls don’t require powered winches — or winches at all. Muscles will do, and the twinge of soreness you feel after an exhilarating sail is a badge of honor.

Few activities equal the thrill and tactile sensations you get from a lively small boat. The water, gurgling and hissing, rushes by within an arm’s length of your steering position. Each shift in the wind’s strength or direction telegraphs its intention through your fingertips on the tiller or wheel. As you or the crew move around in the cockpit, a small boat reacts to the change in weight distribution.

And at the end of the day, it takes but a few minutes to secure the small boat until the next adventure. Who needs more?

In praise of small boats, we present the following collection. May the spirit of adventure be with you.

Morris M29

Sailors who tell you that a boat’s pedigree doesn’t mean anything are fibbing or in denial. The M29 perfectly illustrates the point: Morris’ exceptional build quality married to the legendary Sparkman & Stephens design firm.

Daysailers should be easy to live with from the moment you remove the sail cover, and the M29 makes good on this notion. All sail-handling lines lead to the cockpit within easy reach of the helm. The powerful mainsail has two full-length battens, two leach battens and single-line slab reefing. Her self-tacking jib sheets to a curved traveler forward of the mast and furls via a recessed drum. Multipart tackle lets you play the mainsail with one hand while manning the tiller with the other. Remember your days sailing a dinghy? You get much the same sense of control and involvement sailing the M29, but you stay dry and don’t have to think about capsizing.

Modest accommodations below (sitting headroom) include a marine head, upholstered cushions on the settees and stowage space in the forepeak.

LOA: 29 feet, 2 inches • LWL: 20 feet, 10 inches • BEAM: 7 feet, 4 inches • DRAFT: 4 feet, 6 inches; 3 feet, 8 inches (shoal keel) • DISPLACEMENT: 4,375 pounds • SAIL AREA: 395 square feet • FUEL CAPACITY: 8 gallons • ENGINE: 14-hp Yanmar diesel • PRICE: $229,300 • CONTACT: Morris Yachts, Trenton, Maine, (207) 667-2499.

Beneteau First 25 S

Beneteau First 25 S

Designed by Finot-Conq, known for its speedy racing boats, the Beneteau First 25 S is a worthy successor to the original First 25 launched about 25 years ago. Her slick underbody, defined by a steep, fine entry transitioning to buoyant midsections and a flattening run, has a long waterline for good speed. Her flattop mainsail carries the majority of the overall sail area, keeping the jib at a manageable size and allowing the boat to sail well under main alone.

Swept-back spreaders keep the mast in column and eliminate the need for a backstay, opening the cockpit aft for the traveler. The result: more usable space in the cockpit. The hull carries much of its maximum beam to the transom, mimicking offshore raceboats, but twin kick-up rudders provide precise control at the maximum angle of heel.

Below, a compact galley on the port side of the companionway has a sink with a manual water pump, an icebox and a single-burner gimbaled cooktop (optional). Twin settees separated by a drop-leaf table fill the area amidships. Headroom at the companionway is

5 feet, 10 inches. A small enclosed head with a sink nestles in the space between the saloon and the cabin. Headroom forward is about 5 feet. Facing aft on the starboard side is a dedicated nav desk, which uses the end of the settee as a seat.

LOA: 25 feet, 11 inches • LWL: 24 feet, 1 inch • BEAM: 7 feet, 9 inches • DRAFT: 4 feet, 9 inches (fixed keel), 2 feet, 9 inches (optional retractable keel up), 6 feet, 1 inch (down) • DISPLACEMENT: 4,740 pounds • TANKAGE: 11 gallons water, 8 gallons fuel • SAIL AREA: 414 square feet (100% jib) • PRICE: $72,000 • CONTACT: Beneteau America, Annapolis, Maryland, (410) 990-0270.

Wayfarer 16

British designer Ian Proctor drew the Wayfarer in 1957. He meant this 16-footer to be a stable and spirited daysailer for cruising and one-design racing. Cruising? In addition to racing, the United Kingdom has a long tradition of cruising in small boats and is the home base of the Dinghy Cruising Association.

Originally built of plywood, the Wayfarer earned its chops in the hands of Frank and Margaret Dye, who cruised their Wanderer (hull No. 48) thousands of miles in the North Sea and other waters. The boat’s broad beam, spacious cockpit (big enough for six people on a day sail) and stowage bins/buoyancy tanks enhance her cruising abilities. A low-aspect rig makes her easy to handle.

Currently built of fiberglass by Hartley in the U.K., the Mark IV Wayfarer was introduced in 2007 after a significant redesign by Phil Morrison. This latest version has a larger cockpit and is easier to right and drain after capsizing.

LOA: 16 feet • BEAM: 6 feet • WEIGHT: 368 pounds • SAIL AREA: 95 square feet (mainsail), 30 square feet (jib) • PRICE: $13,000 • CONTACT: Zim Sailing, Warren, Rhode Island, (401) 237-6117.

Sparkman & Stephens 30

Sparkman & Stephens 30

An interviewer asked the legendary Olin Stephens, very late in his life: “Of all these beautiful boats, which would you redesign?” Stephens chose Babe, design No. 97, which he conceived in 1935 as a minimal racer for the Miami-Nassau and St. Petersburg-Havana events.

The S&S 30 shares Babe’s spirit and recalls her styling, but she’s a genuinely modern boat with a shallow canoe body, deep fin keel and spade rudder. Hull No. 1, christened Nymph, was built of wood in 2008. The first fiberglass model launched in the fall of 2012 and marked Stephens’ last project.

Similar to Babe, the S&S 30 adheres to the notion that a fast and fun daysailer/weekender should be fairly simple and easy to sail, solo or with a crew. Her full-batten mainsail provides most of the drive, allowing for a 90 percent self-tacking jib on a Selden roller-furler instead of an overlapping headsail. An optional asymmetrical spinnaker lets the boat kick up her heels off the wind.

The S&S 30 is available in standard (original version) and open models, the latter sporting a substantially longer cockpit. The standard model has a pair of settees in the saloon, a small galley and an enclosed head in the passageway to the forward cabin, which is laid out with a V-berth.

LOA: 30 feet, 6 inches • LWL: 27 feet, 6 inches • BEAM: 8 feet, 3 inches DRAFT: 5 feet, 2 inches • DISPLACEMENT: 5,640 pounds • SAIL AREA: 460 square feet • TANKAGE: 13 gallons water, 12 gallons fuel ENGINE: 14-hp Yanmar diesel • BASE PRICE: $135,000 • CONTACT: Bluenose Yacht Sales, Newport, Rhode Island, (877) 695-6538.

Alerion Sport 30

Alerion Sport 30

The Alerion Sport 30 combines a traditional profile with a modern, easily handled sail plan. Designed in collaboration with Langan Design Partners in Newport, Rhode Island, she is the smaller and less luxurious sister to the Sport 33 and the first Alerion with an optional carbon-fiber bowsprit for the asymmetrical gennaker.

In keeping with the theme of easy handling, the full-roach mainsail sets on a swept-spreader Hall carbon-fiber mast and aluminum boom. The rig doesn’t need a backstay, which allows the mainsheet traveler to be mounted out of the way on the afterdeck. The self-tacking jib has a traveler forward of the mast, and the furling gear is below deck level. A Hoyt Jib Boom with light-air extender is optional.

Minimalist accommodations below reflect the sporting nature of this boat. The saloon has two long settees that conceal stowage lockers in the seat backs. Molded bulkheads, shelves and modular furniture are trimmed in varnished teak. A V-berth, with a marine head beneath, is forward of the saloon. Tucked into the passageway to the forward cabin is a small galley with a single-burner alcohol cooktop to starboard and a Corian counter with a molded sink opposite.

LOA: 30 feet, 1 inch • LWL: 24 feet, 5 inches • BEAM: 8 feet, 9 inches • DRAFT: 5 feet • DISPLACEMENT: 6,424 pounds • SAIL AREA: 465 square feet • TANKAGE: 5 gallons water, 15 gallons fuel • ENGINE: 12-hp Volvo Penta diesel • PRICE: $240,000 • CONTACT: USWatercraft, Warren, Rhode Island, (401) 247-3000.

Catalina 275 Sport

Introduced in 2013, the 275 Sport earned accolades as a handsome, lively dual-purpose boat that won’t break the bank. Catalina’s in-house designer, Gerry Douglass, drew her to appeal to newcomers and experienced sailors who no longer need a big boat.

The 275 Sport has a large mainsail and roller-furled self-tacking jib. The headsail has a dedicated traveler just forward of the mast, so the owner can sail solo. An optional asymmetrical spinnaker flies from a deck-mounted retractable bowsprit.

Catalina 275 Sport

A large cockpit establishes her primary purpose as a daysailer. The open transom mimics those of offshore racing boats and quickly evacuates water shipped aboard in rough seas. A carbon-fiber tiller with an extension makes helming a snap.

Below, the minimal accommodations are trimmed in maple. A table splits the forward V-berth, but it lowers to form a full-size berth with the filler inserted. Zip-in/zip-out bags are mounted where you’d expect to see backrests for the settees, which reduces weight and production costs. The hull carries much of its maximum beam to the transom, which permits a 10-foot cavity on the starboard side for a quarter berth or additional stowage.

LOA: 27 feet, 6 inches • LWL: 26 feet, 7 inches • BEAM: 8 feet, 6 inches • DRAFT: 5 feet • DISPLACEMENT: 5,000 pounds • SAIL AREA: 380 square feet • ENGINE: 14-hp Yanmar diesel • PRICE: $80,000 • CONTACT: Catalina Yachts, Woodland Hills, California, (818) 884-7700.

Sakonnet 23

Designed by Joel White, this lovely canoe-stern sloop elicits the drool factor everywhere she goes. She’s a pure daysailer with a spacious cockpit, so you can take a few friends with you. Her molded cockpit liner has stowage lockers and drains. Full flotation keeps her high enough to let the crew safely bail in the event of a swamping. A 950-pound lead keel and ballasted centerboard give her stability in a blow.

Notable options include a tabernacle mast, which lets you lower the stick, instead of unstepping it, for trailering; a jib furling package and recessed drum; a 110 percent jib and 130 percent genoa; a spinnaker pole; an outboard bracket; Torqeedo’s Cruise 2.0 Pod Drive electric motor with folding prop; and a Triad trailer. If you check off all the options, you’ll be close to $100,000, but you’ll have bought a great deal of sailing pleasure.

Sakonnet 23

LOA: 23 feet, 2 inches • LWL: 18 feet, 8 inches • BEAM: 6 feet, 1 inch • DRAFT: 1 foot, 10 inches (centerboard up), 5 feet, 2 inches (down) • SAIL AREA: 193 square feet • DISPLACEMENT: 2,000 pounds • PRICE: $46,500 (FOB at the factory) • CONTACT: Marshall Marine, South Dartmouth, Massachusetts, (508) 994-0414.


The J/88 was designed to give owners an addictive sailing experience without asking much in return. She has an easily handled high-aspect rig set on a carbon-fiber mast. Instead of a conventional genoa, J/Boats offers an asymmetrical spinnaker flown from the company’s J/Sprit retractable bowsprit. The non-overlapping jib sheets to adjustable tracks hard against the trunk cabin. In-haulers let you fine-tune the jib’s angle of attack to suit a variety of conditions.

All sail-handling gear is manual, but multipurchase block systems allow you to coarse-trim or fine-tune the mainsail without needing the upper-body strength of a professional weightlifter. A multipurchase system also makes easy work of adjusting the backstay. The mainsail traveler bisects the cockpit and has a 4-to-1 purchase for one-handed adjusting.

Minimal accommodations below suit the boat’s purpose. The forepeak can be set up with cushions to form a V-berth or left empty for stowing sails, and there’s a marine head in an alcove on the port side between the forward bulkhead and the berth. The saloon contains opposing settees, a split galley and a flat area near the companionway for the navigator. A lack of wood trim, outside and inside, reduces maintenance.


LOA: 29 feet, 2 inches • LWL: 26 feet, 10 inches • BEAM: 9 feet, 6 inches • DRAFT: 6 feet, 6 inches • DISPLACEMENT: 4,990 pounds • SAIL AREA: 439 square feet • ENGINE: 14-hp diesel • PRICE: $127,500 • CONTACT: J/Boats, Newport, Rhode Island, (401) 846-8410.

Dragonfly 25

The Dragonfly 25 is the smallest folding trimaran from Danish builder Quorning Boats. A hand-operated system pulls the amas in against the main hull, reducing the beam from 19 feet to a little more than 7 feet so she can fit into a normal slip or be trailered. A clever rigging system allows one person to raise or lower the mast; two people can rig the D25 in about 30 minutes.

The best part of owning a Dragonfly is the sailing. The 25 is available in Touring and Sport versions, the former meant for cruising and the latter for racing. Both have an aluminum rotating cruising mast (manufactured by Quorning), which reduces the turbulence of the airflow reaching the mainsail. Like most trimarans, most of the power upwind comes from the mainsail, so the D25 needs only a small self-tacking jib. An asymmetrical spinnaker, called a “screecher” by multihull devotees, drives her beyond wind speed as you jibe downwind.

Quorning has offset the centerboard slightly to port, which allows the trunk to hide under a settee to save space in the main hull’s interior. All of the furniture components are modular and can be removed for racing or a thorough cleaning. An easily erected tent and movable saloon table turn the cockpit into a sheltered dining area.

Dragonfly 25

LOA: 25 feet, 1 inch • LWL: 25 feet, 1 inch • BEAM: 19 feet (7 feet, 7 inches folded) • DRAFT: 4 feet, 11 inches (centerboard down), 13 inches (up) • DISPLACEMENT: 2,314 pounds • SAIL AREA: 366 square feet • ENGINE: 6-hp Tohatsu outboard • PRICE: $76,000 • Dragonfly Sailboats Co. (U.S. distributor), Garwood, New Jersey, (908) 656-4342.

Marblehead 22

Doug Zurn designed the Marblehead 22 to be the ultimate in easy sailing. He refers to this approach as “easibility”: one sail, fewer strings to pull. The sail-control lines lead to the middle of the cockpit, allowing the helmsman to adjust the mainsheet, Cunningham or outhaul (“snotter” to wishbone boom traditionalists). Tacking and jibing are as easy as can be, and loads on the mainsheet are minimal. The carbon fiber unstayed rig works in unison with the sail to provide power in light air but bends off to open the leach and reduce power in gusts. This keeps the boat on her feet.

Zurn has a good eye for style, and he’s given the 22 a nearly plumb stem, springy sheer line and counter stern. Below the waterline, her fine entry transitions to a powerful midsection that finishes with just enough rocker to bring the sea peacefully back together. Windward performance comes from a low center of gravity, efficient lift from the bulb keel and a balanced spade rudder. Lockers aft and a small cuddy forward provide stowage for your daysailing gear.

LOA: 22 feet, 9 inches • LWL: 18 feet, 8 inches • BEAM: 6 feet, 10 inches • DRAFT: 3 feet, 5½ inches • DISPLACEMENT: 2,300 pounds • SAIL AREA: 271 square feet • PRICE: 84,500 • CONTACT: Samoset Boatworks, Boothbay, Maine, (207) 633-8350.

Marblehead 22

Pisces 21

Inspired by the Herreshoff Fish Class daysailer and designed by Chuck Paine, the Pisces 21 seduces all who see her. Even a short time sailing this classic is enough to hook you for a lifetime.

A spacious, deep cockpit can accommodate six adults on 6½-foot seats. The benches are angled to line up with the cockpit coaming and comfortably support your back. Shelves between the seats and hull provide stowage for gear, drinks, lunch or a VHF.

A hanked-on jib, with club and traveler, is standard and tends itself, so tacking and jibing require little more than steering input. The keel-stepped carbon fiber mast has a single set of spreaders, two topping lifts (main and jib) and two internal halyards. A jiffy-reefing setup is standard, and the reef and sail-control lines are within easy reach of the helm.

The Pisces is big enough to have a useful cuddy, which features two outboard shelves with fiddles and hooks for hanging lines and foul-weather gear. This area has space for an optional portable head and a cooler.

Pisces 21

Positive flotation in watertight compartments with inspection hatches — one forward of the mast and one under the stern — takes the fear out of being swamped. Classic Boat Shop builds each Pisces to order in fiberglass or cold-molded wood.

LOA: 20 feet, 9 inches • LWL: 16 feet, 4 inches • BEAM: 7 feet, 2 inches • DRAFT: 2 feet, 11 inches • SAIL AREA: 260 square feet • DISPLACEMENT: 3,250 pounds • PRICE: $75,730 (basic package), $93,375 (auxiliary engine package), $107,480 (Heritage package) • CONTACT: Classic Boat Shop, Bernard, Maine, (207) 244-3374.

Rustler 24

The Rustler 24 is based on a Six-Meter racing yacht designed in the 1960s by Scotsman David Boyd. Typical of the breed, she has a full keel with the rudder hung on the after end and tracks well on all points of sail. Fine ends and slack bilges let her slip through the water making very little fuss — that is, until she reaches hull speed. That’s when her bow and stern waves rise in protest and dig a hole in the water amidships. She’ll remain well behaved, as her displacement and shape below the waterline smooth her progress.

The mainsail sheets in a 4-to-1 block-and-tackle to a bollard immediately forward of the helm. Headsail sheets run through a snatch block and enter the cockpit through the teak coaming — a fair distance from the helm but still within reach of an agile skipper.

Although a lot of sailors don’t like going to windward, driving a boat such as this hard upwind is one of life’s great pleasures. The tiller tugs on your fingertips, the wind whistles past your ears, and the boat points higher than you can believe.

Rustler 24

LOA: 24 feet • LWL: 17 feet, 8 inches • DRAFT: 3 feet, 5 inches • BEAM: 6 feet, 3 inches • DISPLACEMENT: 3,615 pounds • SAIL AREA: 279 square feet • ENGINE: side-mounted outboard, 10-hp Nanni diesel • PRICE: $69,445 • CONTACT: Berthon USA, Newport, Rhode Island, (401) 846-8404.,

CW Hood 32

The CW Hood 32 is as pure a daysailer as you’ll find. She doesn’t have a head, a V-berth or a galley; she’s simply meant to be sailed. The mainsail has full-length battens and a significant roach. Lazy jacks keep it tamed as you lower it. A 100 percent self-tacking jib, with a curved traveler, takes the effort out of tacking and jibing. All sail controls lead to a console just forward of the tiller.

She has a high-aspect fin keel crowned by a hydrodynamic ballast bulb to help her point close to the wind, plus an efficient spade rudder for accurate steering. A fine entry transitions to fairly flat sections amidships, reducing wave-making resistance and increasing speed. Chris Hood’s uncle, legendary designer Ted Hood, would be proud.

You can easily single-hand the 32, but the cockpit has seating for five mates on ergonomically correct benches. A cooler and stowage in the cockpit lazarette ensure that you won’t starve, die of thirst or suffer through a sudden rainfall. The biggest drawback: You won’t be able to stop looking at her as you row the dinghy to shore.

LOA: 32 feet, 5 inches • LWL: 21 feet • BEAM: 6 feet, 11 inches • DRAFT: 4 feet • DISPLACEMENT: 2,825 pounds • SAIL AREA: 285 square feet • ENGINE: Mastervolt electric saildrive • PRICE: $113,000 • CONTACT: CW Hood Yachts, Marblehead, Massachusetts, (781) 631-0192.

CW Hood 32

Marlin Heritage 23

Cape Cod Shipbuilding has maintained the Herreshoff legacy for many years and continues the tradition with the Marlin Heritage 23. She’s a modern version of the Marlin that Nathanael Herreshoff designed about a century ago. In the Herreshoff tradition of small-boat designs, the Heritage has a lovely spoon bow, moderately slack bilges and a full keel with the rudder hung on the back.

This new Heritage has a slightly taller mast than the original Marlin, a self-tacking jib and a larger trunk cabin. The saloon has a pair of 7-foot settees but no standing headroom. It does, however, have space for a 2.6-gallon portable head, just forward of the mast, and a dinette table that you can move to the cockpit. A 36-quart cooler doubles as a companionway step.

LOA: 23 feet • LWL: 16 feet, 11 inches • BEAM: 7 feet, 7 inches • DRAFT: 3 feet, 8 inches • DISPLACEMENT: 3,845 pounds • SAIL AREA: 270 square feet • ENGINE: 14-hp Yanmar diesel • PRICE: $106,400 • CONTACT: Cape Cod Shipbuilding, Wareham, Massachusetts, (508) 295-3550.

Tartan Fantail 26

Designer Tim Jackett nicely combined traditional styling themes with a modern rig and hull in the Fantail 26. The boat has a fine entry, tall rig, deep fin keel, retracting carbon bowsprit and high-aspect spade rudder.

Tartan offers the Fantail in daysailer, weekender and sail trainer models. The DS has minimal accommodations (a cooler and portable head), a self-tacking jib and lots of teak trim topside. The ST version eliminates the teak trim and self-tacking jib. The WE has a relatively large trunk cabin, more headroom, a simple galley and a marine head with a holding tank.

Tartan Fantail 26

LOA: 26 feet • LWL: 22 feet, 2 inches • BEAM: 8 feet, 5 inches • DRAFT: 4 feet, 6 inches • DISPLACEMENT: 3,050 pounds • SAIL AREA: 352 square feet • ENGINE: 6-hp Torqeedo outboard • PRICE: $62,225 (daysailer), $69,575 (weekender) • CONTACT: Tartan Yachts, Fairport Harbor, Ohio, (440) 510-3042.

This article originally appeared in the April 2017 issue.