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  • 1 Post By Bruce Caldwell
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Old 07-22-2004
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Trailering? Pick a Boat


Even if a boat doesn't come with a trailer, one can usually be found or made for it.

The boat comes first. Even if the idea of trailering is firmly planted in a sailboat buyer's mind, the purchase will be made because of the boat, not the trailer.

Fortunately, trailers come in many shapes and sizes and are adaptable. Chances are that if the boat doesn't come with a trailer, a trailer can be found or made for it. In this second of a series of articles on trailer sailing, the focus is on the wide variety of choices among sailing craft that are available for easy transportation to and from the water.

In my own boat-buying experiences, the two big boats came with trailers, which primarily served as winter storage stands because the boats (first a Mystic 20 catboat named Kirsten and now a Stone Horse called Patience) were not designed for quick and easy launch and retrieval with a trailer. The three small boats were another matter.

The 14-foot sea kayak was light enough to heave onto the roof rack of my minivan and lash it down. Pokey, a 10-foot sailing dinghy, would have needed a beefed-up roof rack to handle its weight and width. Instead of buying or building a better roof rack, I found that when the spare tire was moved out of the way, most of Pokey fit snugly into the back of the minivan, tailgate open. Then it was a matter of quickly driving to the launch ramp with all the windows down in the hopes of arriving before the carbon monoxide did me in. A two-wheeled dolly helped with the last leg of the trip over the sand and mud to the beach.


Of course not all boats are designed for quick and easy launch and retrieval with a trailer.

Then there is the iceboat. By their very nature, iceboats are always "dry sailed," or kept on land between outings. Or, at least on good thick ice. When iceboaters gather for a weekend of regattas or just plain fun, iceboats can be secured to the ice with a stick in a hole that will freeze over during the night and can be dug out the next morning. Because ice is not predictable, iceboaters will travel half a day or more to get to a good spot. Iceboats have to be easily transported if any sailing is to be done with them.

Most iceboats are small enough to take apart and pack away inside and on top of a station wagon or van, although there are some monsters that require trailers. Carrying the pieces across a plank that bridges the gap between shore and firm ice, fastening the blades and cross piece, then setting up the mast and rigging can generally be accomplished in half an hour. Help is usually needed to get the fuselage—the "hull" of an iceboat—from the vehicle to the ice, and help is usually there, ready and willing, among the other iceboaters.

I bought a used, homemade iceboat that serves well enough, but is far from being competitive. The fuselage and crosspiece (which fastens to the stern of the fuselage and extends outwards at right angles to end in fixed blades) could be laid crosswise inside my minivan, tickling my ear a bit and making it impossible to take a passenger.

The iceboat is about speed, as are many easily transported sailing craft. Catamarans and even trimarans can be broken down or folded to fit on a trailer. Sailboards easily fit inside a van or on a roof rack. Sailing kites—a short board, rigging and a parabolic kite—can be packed into a trunk. Canoes and even kayaks can be outfitted with sails. Scows, the popular Sunfish, and many similar racing boats and daysailers can all be trailered. These craft plane across the surface of the water and can reach speeds well beyond the range of most displacement hull sailboats. In addition to speed and ease of transportation, these craft are also generally cheaper than many other sailboats. They're simple boats, with few parts and little to break or maintain, and are easily mass-produced. Sunfish and Hobie cats and the like are often available at seaside resorts for rent, and the supply of used ones on the market is usually good.

What almost all of these craft lack, of course, are the comforts of a cockpit and cabin. Some trailerable catamarans and trimarans offer those comforts, and many open daysailers with or without displacement hulls can be outfitted with at least a canvas awning or cover for shelter.

The absence of cockpits and cabins won't bother anyone looking for a few hours or even a day of blasting across the ice or waves. But even if speed is not the primary consideration, these craft deserve close consideration by sailors who know their opportunities for overnighters or extended cruises are very limited.

But privacy and a porta-potti are often significant factors in boat purchases if extended outings are to be comfortable for everyone in a family.


A trailered Herreshof America is a good example of a boat that in order to provide room inside the cabin has about two feet of draft.

Trailerable sailboats with a cabin are in a different class from the variety of speedy craft above. In order to provide room inside the cabin, most of these boats have about two feet of draft or more, with another foot or two of cabin above the deck. These boats have displacement hulls, as opposed to planing hulls. If the boat has a combination of light weight, a fairly flat or rounded bottom, a swing keel, centerboard or dagger board, plus a large sail area, it is possible for it to plane in a fresh breeze and following sea for some excitement. But most will be limited by hull speed, the almost immutable law that says a boat can't go faster than the wave it creates in pushing through the water.

The hull speed formula is 1.34 times the square root of a boat's waterline length in feet. The longer the waterline, the faster the boat. A boat that has a 20-foot length on the waterline (LWL) can theoretically go six knots. A shorter boat, say 15-foot LWL, can do 5.2 knots. A 25-foot LWL boat can do 6.7 knots. There isn't a huge difference in speed to be gained by paying for five extra feet or more.

Speed in even these small increments, however, can be important for racing or for safety, as in making it to a sheltered harbor before a storm hits, or for getting to an air conditioned bar before suffering heat stroke.

Another formula to bear in mind when thinking of a boat's length is that every foot of length expands the cabin and cockpit. The difference between the cabin of an 18-footer and a 20-footer can seem incredible because of the three dimensions of space that are gained with each foot of length.

"Since you aren't paying for dockage and winter storage by the foot, why not buy as much boat as you can trailer?"
And since you aren't paying for dockage and winter storage by the foot, why not buy as much boat as you can trailer and can feel comfortable about launching and recovering? While 90 percent of all recreational boats are trailerable, there are still some limitations dictated by physical and budgetary laws. Large, heavy boats generally have large, heavy masts, substantial rigging, a deep keel and fixed rudder, all of which can make it difficult and time consuming and/or expensive to launch and retrieve. An extremely beamy boat, more than eight feet wide, will take up too much room on the road. For a dedicated sailboat racer, these factors may mean nothing aslong as the boat can be hauled to the racing venue. But these are critical issues for someone who just wants to spend a few hours under sail now and then.

The keel shouldn't be a problem if the boat has a centerboard, dagger board, or swing keel. Advantages of centerboards and daggerboards include the ability to sail in thin water and even pull the boat up to a beach. An advantage with swing keels and fixed keels is that they don't take up cockpit or cabin space like a centerboard trunk, and some can handle coastal cruising. But fixed keels require good planking or rollers to ease them on and off the trailer, the ability to immerse the trailer until the boat is floating, or a crane that can lift the boat off the trailer and lower it to the water. A small crew of three or four people, for example, can manually crank up a racing boat like the Etchells—with its 2,100 pounds of ballast, fin keel and spade rudder—and rotate the crane over the water to launch the boat.


Heavy masts can be hinged and  fitted with a tabernacle just above the boom to make raising and lowering the mast a much simpler operation.

Some masts are light enough to manually step or unstep, while heavier ones will need mechanical aids for leverage and usually a second person to help. Heavy masts can be hinged, fitted with a tabernacle just above the boom, to make raising and lowering the mast a much simpler operation.

A few other points. Kick-up rudders or transom-mounted rudders work well with trailers. Spade rudders will pose as much of a problem as a fin keel for trailering. Most trailerables have outboard engines, either fixed to a transom mount or inside a well. Inboard engines may have propellors and shafts that will need careful handling when the boat is launched if the prop isn't in a cutout of the rudder, and the extra weight of an inboard may require a sturdier trailer.

There's no need to feel limited by the design configurations best suited for trailering. Because trailering eliminates the costs of a marina and opens up sailing to a broad market, a large variety of trailerable designs are mass-produced. The trailerable boat can be a wet and crazy fast catamaran, a good old boat for gunkholing, a sleek racer, a character boat, a simple daysailer, or even a comfortable cruiser.

Some of the most popular and widely available trailerable boats in the cabin and cockpit category include sloops by Com-Pac, Hunter, Macgregor, O'Day, Tanzer and West Wight Potter. Catboats, which often have a freestanding mast with no shrouds at all, can make for fast launches and retrievals if the mast is hinged or light enough to handle easily, and because of their beaminess, provide more than the usual cockpit and cabin space.

First comes the boat. Once the right boat is found, the skills and the means to get the boat to and from the water will come quickly.

The Ideal Boat for Trailering

Ideal characteristics to look for in a sailing craft that can be quickly and easily transported to and from the water and launched and retrieved with minimal fuss include the following:

  • Shoal draft
  • Kick-up or transom-mounted rudder
  • Centerboard, dagger board or swing keel
  • Light weight, easily handled mast or a hinged mast
  • Simple rigging
  • Beam less than eight feet
  • Outboard engine or inboard with protected shaft and propellor
      Types of boats to consider:
      • Sailboards, sail kites, sailing kayaks and canoes
      • Non-displacement hulls such as Sunfish, multi-hulls and scows
      • Open daysailers and sailing dinghies
      • Displacement hulls with cockpit and cabin



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