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Sailing on a budget

Slowing home sales, rising interest rates, sell-offs in the commodities market, high gas prices, increasing marina and insurance costs. What else does one need to paint a bleak picture for the future? That depends on whether your worldview considers the glass half empty or half full.

Slowing home sales, rising interest rates, sell-offs in the commodities market, high gas prices, increasing marina and insurance costs. What else does one need to paint a bleak picture for the future? That depends on whether your worldview considers the glass half empty or half full.

Gerry Hutchins of the Hutchins Company in Clearwater, Fla., the firm behind Com-Pac Yachts, is a supporter of the half-full theory. “We feel the time is ripe for a shift toward smaller boats,” he says. “As access to the water becomes more costly and less convenient in some areas, customers will re-evaluate where and how they spend their money.”

Hutchins and other industry veterans believe pocket cruisers will appeal to a broader market and now is the time to make a move if the next boat will be a new one. Instead of fretting about factors beyond the consumer’s control, the best antidote for recession angst could be a trip to the next boat show or visiting some dealerships. It might come as a surprise that $30,000 for a new boat isn’t a fantasy budget but enough money for boat, trailer and sails, and quite possibly some left over for a few options.

In case someone suggests that 20 to 26 feet is “awfully small” for cruising, the correct answer is that size matters less than versatility, affordability and fun. What good is a yacht, anyway, if it lives in a marina hundreds of miles from home and gets used a couple times every year when the alternative could be sailing every weekend and taking the show on the road when Jack Frost comes knocking?

Why buy new?

Emotion: Even the most devoted used-boat buyers like to kick the fenders of a new one and imagine what it’s like to sit down with the dealer and go through the list of options and gear that make a new boat a personalized dreamboat.

Fiddling vs. sailing: Leisure time is scarce, so there must be a balance for maintaining a vessel vs. using it in the intended context. On new boats things are less likely to break, which means they won’t have to be replaced or repaired, and that translates into more time on the water.

Warranty: Multiyear, transferable and non-prorated warranties on hull structure and blistering have become more common in the industry. Several manufacturers offer extended warranties for electronics, refrigeration and key engine parts, and to some shoppers that offers peace of mind and a reason to buy new.

Why buy small?

Affordability: A purchase price around or less than $30,000 is within reach for more folks and makes it easier to pay cash for or finance a boat. If the financial commitment of ownership is too much of a stretch, it’s hard to enjoy the experience, and the vessel invariably will be put on the block.

Small boat, small worries: Little things that need fixing or replacement take a smaller bite out of the boat budget, and small boats don’t need a marina berth that goes up in cost annually or might be in danger of disappearing. Their mooring is the trailer that’s parked in the back yard or in a storage lot. Dry sailing also cuts down on bottom maintenance, a costly and sometimes messy chore.

Portability: There is a big difference between going places at 5 knots in a nasty sea or at 55 mph on the highway. Being able to change sailing venues quickly and easily by taking the boat on a road trip is an invigorating aspect, and an escape by trailer sounds good for getting out of the next hurricane’s path.

Romance: Pocket cruisers also can connect owners to their sailing roots when they rediscover the joys of messing about in small boats.

Why buy now?

Buy low: Sensing economic uncertainties, the common reaction of consumers is to delay the acquisition of expensive durable goods such as houses, cars and boats. Rising inventory, as the housing market proves, brings prices down, so that can be a good time to buy.

Hunting for deals: At the fall and winter boat shows dealers offer bargains on new boats by including more extras, offering free delivery, etc. Like wine merchants, boat dealers love to get rid of their inventory to make room for the new vintage, so consider buying a new clearance model.

Sell high: Like a new car, a new boat will depreciate once it leaves the dealership. While for some that is a strike against buying new, there is a chance to lessen the impact. Manufacturers won’t crank out boats at peak capacity if the market is soft, so they throttle back production, which means cost per unit goes up and is passed on to the end user. Once the down-cycle ends and demand rises again, this will also push up the price for used boats, making it possible for sellers who timed the market right to recoup most of their investment.

With so many reasons to get into the new-boat game, there are several pocket cruisers that fit the bill. The bias of this selection is toward U.S. boats for two reasons. One is the exchange rate. In early September a Euro equaled around $1.27. The other reason is the combination of shipping cost and import duties that quickly push the price tag beyond the approximate limit of $30,000, including sails and trailer. Besides, buying domestic products in this time of outsourced manufacturing is a good way to buck a global trend and support local economies. The following is a small selection of trailerable pocket cruisers that might motivate fence-sitters to jump off and punch the ticket to some affordable sailing fun.

The broadest offering of pocket cruisers in the targeted price category comes from Catalina Yachts, with multiple renditions of the venerable Catalina 22, introduced more than 30 years ago. The Catalina 22mkII is an updated version of the 1970s original with more interior space. The boat is offered with three different keel configurations: a retractable (swing) keel and two fixed keels, one with a standard fin, and one with a wing profile and shallow draft.

Truer to the original still is the Catalina 22 Sport, a “production boat that more accurately reflects the original dimensions and weight,” according to the builder. So if you are intent on experiencing the ’70s spirit and aren’t into restoring vintage boats, there is an out. With the 22 Sport, Catalina wants to encourage one-design racing against the first-generation boats in established Catalina 22 fleets.

Catalina’s third 22-footer is the Capri 22, which also went through an upgrade and the company calls a typical daysailer, “something that people would have near their weekend house.” This model is offered with an enclosable head compartment, a racing package that includes asymmetrical spinnaker and backstay tension adjuster, a standard or a tall rig, and corresponding sail areas.

If you like your small sailboat bigger, there’s the Catalina 250, a boat that’s been around since the mid-1990s. The cabin has three distinctly separate areas: the V-berth, the saloon with galley, and the aft double berth under the cockpit. Features such as a removable cockpit table, ventilated and enclosed head compartment, galley with sink, stove and manual fresh-water system, a 12-volt DC electrical system, and an optional inboard diesel with Saildrive transmission set the 250 apart from its smaller siblings. The boat is offered with either a wing keel or a centerboard/water ballast combination.

Even without water ballast, the Com-Pac Eclipse promises easy trailering and fun in shallow-water venues. A draft of only 1 foot, 6 inches with retracted centerboard and 5 feet, 2 inches with board down makes this boat beachable. The plumb bow cuts through choppy waters, and the hull’s soft chines add stability when sailing to weather, along with 700 pounds of internal ballast.

The mainsail is sheeted on a stainless-steel arch, which keeps the cockpit clear. The cabin trunk is reminiscent of a catboat, except that the Eclipse is a sloop with an overlapping headsail and a short bowsprit. An auxiliary outboard on the open transom provides enough push to get you home when the breeze quits. The Eclipse interior benefits from space-saving features like a foldout galley, which makes this boat a viable weekender for two adults and one or two young children.

At 3,000 pounds displacement the Com-Pac 23/IV is a more substantial rendering of the trailer boat concept. It is the fourth edition of this 23-footer, with a traditional closed stern, dual-cabin interior and a masthead rig. The 23/IV uses no centerboard, but rather a shallow 2-foot, 3-inch keel with wing sections, which saves cabin space at the expense of some pointing ability. Six opening bronze ports, lifelines, stainless-steel bow and stern pulpits, anchor roller and chain locker, electrical package with interior and navigation lights, more storage and wood trim underscore the salty character of this little cruiser.

The look of the Hunter 25 is reminiscent of its predecessors, but with smoother deck lines, better ergonomics and upgraded accommodations. The sail plan on a fractional single-spreader aluminum mast includes a roller furled jib and a conventional main with jiffy reefing system. The hull with fiberglass-encased keel is an asset for shallow-water sailing. The family-size cockpit has a walkthrough transom and a stern-hung rudder with a lever system to raise and lower the blade.

The teak-trimmed interior is large for a boat this size because the cabin top extends to the gunwales. The V-berth and the double berth under the cockpit can accommodate four adults. There’s an enclosed head with a portable head; a marine head with holding tank is optional. Other standard features include a teak dining table, galley sink with manual water pump, portable stove and ice chest. A galvanized dual-axle trailer also is standard, but a listed towing weight of 4,650 pounds requires some muscle to move.

On the light end of the spectrum of trailerable pocket cruisers is the MacGregor 26M, an updated version of the 26X, a hybrid sail and powerboat that has defied traditions since its inception in the 1980s. With more than 6,000 sold to date (all versions), the boat has found a market niche with customers who don’t consider themselves sailing purists.

As a sailer the MacGregor 26M collects points with a rotating wing mast for more efficient airflow along the mainsail, 1,150 pounds of water ballast in the bilge that can be filled and discharged while under way, a removable high-aspect ratio daggerboard, twin rudders that tilt up, and a large open-transom cockpit suited for both powerboating and sailing. The 26M also has 300 pounds of internal lead ballast, which makes her heavier on the road but improves upwind sailing. Draft with the board down is 5 feet, 9 inches and shrinks to a foot when the board is removed for sailing up to the beach.

The interior is open, and clever use of a mirror makes it look bigger than it is. The 26M also has an enclosed head with a Porta-Potti or an optional marine head. There are two double berths for four adults, one in the bow and one under the cockpit. The dinette to starboard converts to an additional berth, and the galley to port slides out of the way when not in use.

The 26M can take midsize outboards that make it possible to get on plane and tow a water skier. MacGregor says the boat will manage 22 mph with a 50-hp engine, but some owners reportedly go with a 70-hp engine or larger. The conversion from sailing pocket cruiser to powerboat is a matter of dousing the sails, raising the rudders, and dumping the water ballast, opening the doors to a different brand of fun without having to switch boats. Tradition be damned.

Beyond these models, there are several other U.S.-built trailerable sailboats of similar size, such as the Santana 22, a classic racer/cruiser of the 1960s designed by Gary Mull and updated by W.D. Schock in 2001 ( ), or the perennial cruising favorite Rhodes 22, which still is being produced, with many refinements ( ).

Designed in 1965 by Mull and Tom Schock, the Santana 22 became one of the quintessential trailerable pocket racer/cruisers. Durability, sailing qualities, one-design class culture and weekend cruising ability made the boat an instant success. In 2001 Schock decided to update the boat while still honoring the one-design rules of the existing class. Improvements include deck hardware, molded-in toerail on the foredeck, stronger hull/deck joint and internal components, a larger stern cutout for modern 4-stroke outboards and a sturdier boom. On venues like San Francisco Bay, the Santana 22 still is going strong.

Dieter Loibner is a frequent Soundings contributor and the editor of the third edition of “Sailing Big on a Small Sailboat,” to be published by Sheridan House in spring 2007.