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Getting a boat…

24 April 2015

So, I have fulfilled a lifelong dream and we have purchased a boat!  In truth, this is our second boat in Cayman, after an unsuccessful foray into the world of “well it just needs a bit of tender loving care” (more on that in due course); we have purchased a MacGregor 26…

The MacGregor 26 was designed for the mass market trailer boat enthusiast.  The internet reviews and opinions expressed by on-island “experts” initially put us off the MacGregor – it seems that there is a lot of vitriol for the MacGregor 26, mainly coming from “purist” sailors who seem to detest the suggestion that anyone may want to put an engine on a sailing boat and take the view that no sailor could possibly ever enjoy being on a boat that was not solely powered by the wind.

I Iove that moment in sailing when you turn the engine off and can hear the water lapping off the hull, moving at a slow jog with less noise than when I attempt to run at the same speed, so I was cautious myself.  But, at the same time:

  1. I was buying the boat with (i) a fiancée who is nervous about sailing; and (ii) a couple who’s only sailing experience was a Pico course;
  2. In truth, most of our boating experience takes place in the “North Sound”, a patch of water that is really an inland lake, barely six miles wide and with limited mooring opportunities – yes, it would be nice to sail to Jamaica or Cuba (each about 90 miles away), but see point (1.) above;
  3. Another truth, there is something exciting about having a motor on a boat that means you can get where you want to go within a finite timescale – sometimes after boating I need to be back on island to play a round of golf.

The MacGregor 26 is a range of small yachts made in America, designed for trailering, to reduce marina fees but also provide wider access to the range of coasts and inland lakes in America.  One of the joys of chartering is being able to explore different areas, so this seems like a good idea, given the limited range of a 26 foot boat for a weekend of sailing although not exactly crucial on an island where you’re rarely out of sight of the sea in one direction or another (and the trailer had rusted away anyway!).  To improve the trailerability, the MacGregors claim to have invented swing keels and water ballasts (I don’t know if that claim is true, but it makes little difference to me), significantly reducing the weight (by about 1,100 lb) of the boat for trailering, but giving less stability than a traditional heavy keel with a large lump of lead providing a righting motion.  To improve the appeal of the boat, they stuck a 50 hp engine, which they claim is enough to get the boat to 24 knots and even allow someone to waterski behind the boat.  These are all things that traditional sailors appear to abhor.

The Macgregor has been through a few evolutions, starting with a daggerboard (the MacGregor 26D from about 1986 to 1990), then a swing centreboard (the 26S, about 1990 to 1995), a larger engine (the 26X from about 1996 to 2004) and then reverting to a daggerboard with the large engine (fro 2005 to about 2014 when the MacGregors retired).  A swing centreboard and daggerboard are essential for trailering, and allow the boat to be beached when retracted, but give the boat less stability than a fixed weight at the end of a keel.  A swing centreboard would be ideal in uncertain waters, kicking up when travelling at slow speeds rather than bringing the boat to a juddering halt.  Although it was advertised with a swing centreboard

As mentioned, it may seem a bit strange to purchase a boat that is designed with trailer sailing on an island, but the MacGregor came up on E-Cay (the local version of E-Bay) and we thought it was worth exploring.

We had looked at a lot of boats as and when they came up in Cayman and even looked at the option of shipping one in.  One we almost fell for was an O’day 25 footer – which the sailing enthusiast will love.  Sadly, we took it out for a test sail on a windy day and Anna did not appreciate how much I let it heel given I was rusty and not familiar with sailing small yachts and the fact that the seller seemed to think I was simply making sure it wouldn’t capsize.  Add to that the fact that the hull was badly oxidised and would never shine up to a satisfactory condition.

On the impression front, the MacGregor is apparently “European styled” (although we had galleons before the Americans did…), with big tinted windows that allow light into the spacious cabin.  Again something that traditional sailors seem to abhor, but it makes the boat feel pleasant and provides space for the cooler box and storage of plenty of beach paraphernalia (as mentioned, it is not far to the other side of the island).

Our first boat had only a 3.5hp engine that just about got us out of the canal in which we docked, but seemed to take on so much canal water in that short trip that we were already bailing before the sails could be put up (this did contribute to our decision to “sell” the first boat), so everyone was quite taken by the suggestion that we could motor into the prevailing North-Easterly winds and then leisurely sail back to our home “port”.

These factors combined to us putting in an offer, which we drove low due to reservations and the fact that the engine failed on three test sails.

I describe it to friends now as “not a good sailing boat, not a good motor boat, but ideal for what we are doing.”  We shall see, and I look forward to forming my own view on the MacGregor.  Everything has not been plain sailing so far, so there is more to come…

Do you have any tips on MacGregor sailing or stories, good or bad related to boat ownership?

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