TRAILBLAZER - BENETEAU 21.7 LONG-TERM TEST
In next month’s issue of Trade-a-Boat our yacht tester, Allan Whiting, explains why he opted for a trailerable yacht instead of a boat with a fixed keel. He has owned both types and has a pretty good idea of their strengths and weaknesses. Here are some trailer versus keel yacht tips.
I’m no stranger to keel or trailer yachts, having started racing VJs back in the 1950s, before moving briefly into NS14s and then keel yachts.
The decision between keel and trail needs to be made only if you’re interested in a smallish yacht: anything more than 2.5m wide and seven metres long is a handful to tow and launch, and may need a special road permit.
If you’re a nomad, the decision is heavily in favour of a trailer yacht because it can double as a (cramped) caravan during your wanderings. It can be launched wherever you like around the coast and in the inland waterways of this wide, brown land.
For nomads whose main interest is cruising, not racing, the Macgregor- or Hunter-style boats, with their ease of entry and exit on their trailers, and their large outboards, are the obvious choice. Because these boats are designed for quick launch and retrieval, plus easy, rapid rigging, they have more emphasis on power than sail. You can race them, but you’ll get hammered by keel boats of less waterline length.
If racing is your main priority, you’ll head for a more sporty boat, but be prepared for access compromises when it’s on its trailer, along with a higher degree of difficulty in raising and lowering what is usually a taller mast.
In addition to the out-of-the-mould trailer yachts is a stack of more traditional designs that can often be DIY propositions. They usually sacrifice some sailing performance for ease of launching and many have ‘old fashioned’ lug and gaff-type sails that can be set off short, light masts and spars.
Any type of trailer yacht has the portability edge over a small keel boat, making it possible to sail anywhere you like, without the concerns that inevitably occur with making a coastal passage in a small boat.
The plus side of a small keelboat is usually performance, although some of the trailerable sportsboats can show a clean wake to many larger yachts. However, a sportsboat requires a largish crew to perform at its best and that’s not part of most people’s yacht choice brief.
Small keelboats used to be very popular, but yacht sizes have increased noticeably in the past 30 years. I can remember sailing regularly on an Endeavour 24 and longing for the wherewithal to move up to a 30, which was a biggish boat for the era. We used to race in JOG (Junior Offshore Group) boats that were tiny by comparison with today’s ocean-racing fleets. However, in these straitened economic times, many people are re-examining the smaller yacht.
One of the great advantages of trailerable and small keelboats is the size of the gear and the ease of handling everything. When manoeuvring in a tight marina or mooring area you don’t need much swing room and it’s easy to wash off unwanted ‘way’ quickly. Coming into a dock is child’s play, literally, because a kid on the wharf can safely grab and slow the boat.
Two people can race a small boat with ease, handing small sails without the risk of everything going pear-shaped. Poling out a headsail or flying an asymmetric kite is an easy job for a small for’ard hand — no gorilla traits are needed.
My better half and I can race our 6.7-metre trailerable yacht competitively, without assistance. Sometimes, smaller is better. Read all bout my long-term test Beneteau 21.7 in an upcoming issue of Trade-a-Boat. Bon voyage – Allan Whiting.
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