The Sailor's Book of Small Cruising Sailboats: Reviews and Comparisons of 360 Boats Under 26 Feet

The Sailor's Book of Small Cruising Sailboats: Reviews and Comparisons of 360 Boats Under 26 Feet

by Steve Henkel

ISBN: 9780071636520

Publisher International Marine/Ragged Mountain Press

Published in Calendars/Boats & Ships

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Sample Chapter

Chapter One

Guide to the Reviews


This volume covers 360 cruising sailboats from the smallest feasible size for cruising—about 14' in length on deck (LOD)—up to a nominal 25', that is, up to (but not including) 25' 6" in length. If ever we get around to the next volume, we expect it will cover boats from a nominal 26' (25' 6") through a nominal 31' LOD, and will likewise encompass approximately 360 boats. Part of the reason for this cutoff in size at 25' LOD is to limit each book to a reasonable number of pages, with about 360 boats each, one boat to a page.

Another reason for a 25' cutoff is that above that range, most boats are not conveniently trailerable without heavy commercial trailers, and below it, generally they are. Consequently, by simply eliminating less than 20 percent or so of the heaviest boats included here, this volume could have been named "300 Trailerable Cruising Sailboats."

This is because the main dimension that determines easy trailerability is not a vessel's length or beam, as many people might think; it is her weight. For example, in the 1980s many owners of Hobie 33s (33? long, 8? beam, 4,000 pounds displacement) routinely trailered their boats using ordinary large cars as tow vehicles. Today, of course, almost no ordinary cars would be up to the task, due to reengineering that made cars lighter and weaker. And although beam is a factor, with most states imposing towing restrictions on loads more than 8½' or even 8' wide, many wide-boat owners, including us, have successfully towed their wide boats (such as the J/24, an inch short of 9' in beam), on both interstate highways and back roads without ever receiving a traffic ticket.

Weight, the main practical limit on towability, seldom exceeds 5,000 pounds for boats under 25' LOD. What's magic about 5,000 pounds? Until recently, that was the limit of towing capability of the largest ordinary passenger vehicles. Today many so-called sport utility vehicles (SUVs)—often passenger bodies stuck to truck frames—can sometimes handle more weight, but the SUV owner pays a sizable price in terms of fuel mileage, first cost, and maintenance cost.

Of course, the 5,000-pound limit doesn't refer to what the boat weighs. The true limit is the weight of the towed boat plus its trailer plus its sailing extras. Out-board motor, fuel and water tanks, personal gear for the crew, food and ice, and so on. For more on this, see the section on Trailer towing weight on page 10.


No price ranges are given here. There are several reasons for this.

First and foremost, there's often a wide range of advertised prices for a given make and model, depending on the boat's age, her condition, and what gear goes with her. Note too that pricing for boats—new or used—is not nearly as uniform or consistent as for automobiles. Second, prices fluctuate with the economy. Recessions, for example, create a larger supply and lower demand, forcing prices down, sometimes sharply. Prices also vary considerably with season and geographic area. Any prices we were to quote here would soon be obsolete. The price for a given boat at a given place and time is best estimated by following local ads for similar boats in publications such as Soundings or Latitude 38, or in online listings (which you can access by Web search engine).

But do exercise caution because quoted prices may vary wildly. For example, actual prices for a Marshall Sanderling 18 (page 40) advertised online in mid-2009 (during an economic recession): for a new boat, $37,000 (plus $11,500 for an inboard diesel and more for other extras); for two boats built in 1981, $12,000 and $15,000; for two boats built in 1975, $10,000 and $17,000; and for a boat built in 1963, $23,000. Is it possible that the condition and gear of the 1963 model justify its seemingly high asking price? Yes, it's possible, but without examining each of the boats you'll have no idea which is the best deal.

You can also consult a free online boat price guide such as, but the prices quoted there may be unrealistically low or occasionally too high. For example, the NADA guide in mid-2009 shows the following Marshall Sanderling 18 prices (rounded to nearest thousand): for a new 2009 boat, $48,000; for a 1999 model, $13,000; for a 1989 model, $7,000; and for a 1979 model, $3,000.

In the end, of course, any boat's market value depends on how much a ready buyer is willing to spend and how little a ready seller is willing to accept. The range of market choices is often so broad that attempting to cite realistic numbers from either ads or NADA is next to useless.


The information in this book is taken from many sources, including manufacturers' brochures, sailing magazine articles, information given in books on sailboats and sailing, and interviews and correspondence with designers, builders, owners, and others familiar with the boats concerned. In some cases, information from one source is in conflict with information from another source. For example, different sources may give tabular dimensional information in conflict with what are purported to be drawings made to scale, even when the drawings are from the same source as the tabular data.

It should be obvious to the reader that we have not personally sailed or even set foot on all the vessels reported here. We have sailed in some, however, and even owned a few of them.

In many cases, the boats included here have been out of production for some years (though they continue to be bought and sold on the used-boat market), and verifying questionable information is difficult. Indeed, many of the designers and builders of the boats listed are no longer in business, so contacting them for explanations of anomalies in the data either has not been possible or has resulted in no useful information being received.

This has proven very frustrating for us, since an important objective of this project has been to produce a reference tool with the most accurate data possible. In the end, we used our best judgment in reporting dimensions and other particulars, even when these are in conflict with one or another "official" source. As a consequence, though we hope that errors have been minimized by this approach, some wrong data have almost certainly crept in. Readers are invited to report any errors found, together with suggestions for correction and citation of sources of their information, by writing to the publisher. By this means, correction in a later edition of the book may be possible.

To cite an example: one of the most troublesome dimensions to be dealt with is a sailboat's length. By popular definition, a boat's Length Overall (LOA) is her total length including all projections, such as pulpits, pushpits, overhanging booms, boom-kins, bowsprits, anchor pulpits, and so on. But this dimension is seldom used by builders, marketers, and sailing publications.

Instead—and despite the fact that their own brochures often inaccurately call it LOA—these folks usually follow the time-honored sailing-industry practice of using Length On Deck (LOD) as the fairest measure of a boat's nominal length (i.e., the length by which she is called, such as "Gloucester 19" or "Pearson 22"). This is usually the length from one end of the hull to the other, omitting all projections including pulpits, pushpits, booms, boom-kins, bowsprits, anchor pulpits, and so on. In the case of reverse transoms, the extensions beyond the after end of the deck are technically not included in LOD (though some marketers may sneak them in anyway, and either call the dimension "hull length" instead of "LOD," or revert to the above LOA definition to get credit for the extra length).

Current industry practice is to round LOD to the nearest whole foot when discussing nominal LOD. Consequently, if a boat is greater than 20.49 feet in length but less than 21.50, most industry folks deem it to be nominally a "21- footer," whereas a boat 21.50 feet LOD is a "22-footer," and a boat 20.49 feet LOD is a "20-footer."

Some builders and marketers, particularly in the early days of fiberglass, didn't seem to be fully aware of this practice (which probably developed in the 1960s). For example, the Pearson Electra and Pearson Ensign, both with reverse transoms and hull lengths of 22' 6", were sometimes referred to in ads as 22s and sometimes as 23s (though their LOD actually is 22' 3"). In line with the usual industry practice, in this guide they are both called 22s. Similarly, we record the Cape Dory Typhoon 18 as really 19, and the J/22 and the Capri 22 as really 23s.

This lack of uniform industry practice opens up an area for unscrupulous marketers to stretch their boats in words without adding anything to actual length—sometimes resulting in owners thinking they have bought a bigger boat than they actually have.

That is, while most designers, builders, and marketers use LOD as the proper measure of length, not all do. And to make matters worse, these days the boating magazines often use the term LOA (Length Overall) in their descriptions of boats when what they really mean is LOD. Unfortunately, this gives a loophole to the few builders, marketers, and others who are not averse to a little "innocent" misrepresentation to ignore industry practice and include bowsprits, boom overhangs, and everything else but the kitchen sink in their "LOD" length.

For example, the Sovereign 18 is 17' 0" LOD, though the LOA (with a stubby bowsprit) is 18' 0". For another example, the Herreshoff Eagle 22 is really an "18," having started with the same basic hull as the Herreshoff America 18 catboat. The Eagle folks simply added a sloop rig with a long bowsprit to the 18? hull, and called her a "22."

This guide adds the true size in parentheses after the name to set the record straight. To keep such marketing practices from confusing readers, both the LOA and LOD of every boat are reported here, and each boat name is followed by its nominal length on deck—even when the builder or marketer has intimated that the boat is longer (or, in a few cases, shorter).

Thus the Sovereign 18 (which in one of its permutations was called the Sovereign 5.0) is reported as the Sovereign 5.0/18 (17), and the Herreshoff Eagle 22 is reported as the Herreshoff Eagle 22 (18). Caveat emptor.

At the other end of the spectrum, some builders tend to underplay the issue of length. For example, the Morgan 24/25 measures 24' 11¾" on deck (LOD), so by rights should be called a Morgan 25. But for years Charlie Morgan sold her as a Morgan 24. When I asked Charlie for an explanation of this strange naming practice, he told me that the design was conceived as a 24-footer but gradually grew in length as he fine tuned her. He said he simply never got around to correcting the sales literature. After he sold the company, the new owners promptly began selling her as a Morgan 25, without changing her hull length at all.

Sometimes a boat's length is misrep-resented as larger than she is through no fault of the marketer. For example, Pacific Seacraft, an outfit with a well-deserved reputation for good quality, built a boat known as the Pacific Seacraft Flicka 20, with an LOD of 20 feet. However, with her outboard rudder, bowsprit, and bow pulpit, she measures 24 feet LOA. In this guide, she is grouped with other 20-footers. But over the years, many annual issues of sailing magazines have mistakenly stuck the Flicka in with the 24-footers, making her harder to find in catalogs, and making comparisons with truly similar boats more difficult.

Sometimes different sources give different data for the same boat, or the data within a single source are inconsistent. For example, the Elite 25 sales brochure gives the total sail area as 241 square feet, but the E, J, P, and I dimensions (Figure One) are also given, and these result in a total sail area of 252 square feet. Furthermore, a scale drawing is shown in the boat's sales brochure, but the LOA and LWL dimensions printed in the sales brochure do not match the LOA (or the LOD) and LWL on the drawing. A sailboat annual catalog gives totally different numbers that don't match either, but gives the same scale drawings. Go figure!


While some readers may find the information in the boat reviews presented in the following pages to be self-evident, others may require some guidance in interpreting them. Those who want details are invited to examine the comments below, which refer to specific items on the data sheets.

Arrangement of the Reviews

Chapters are grouped by boat size, as measured by length on deck (LOD), and within each chapter the boats are arranged alphabetically, one boat to a page. There are between 51 and 71 boats in each chapter. For example, Chapter 2 covers 63 boats from 14' to 19' LOD, Chapter 3 covers 71 boats measuring 20' and 21' LOD, Chapter 4 covers 65 boats measuring 22' LOD, and so on.

Boat Name

A few boats are virtually identical to one another except for their names, usually bestowed on identical hulls at different times by different builders or marketers. For example, the Aquarius 23, the Aquarius 7.0, and the Balboa 23 are all different names for virtually the same design, built by successive builders. The same is true of the Gloucester 16 and the Newport 16, the North Star 22 and the Hughes 22, the Starwind 19 and Spindrift 19, and others. Also, sometimes a boat is named for her designer (e.g., the Alberg 22), sometimes for her builder (Pearson 22), and sometimes for some other entity that appeals to the marketer (Sea Sprite 22). Sometimes this free-form naming game can make it difficult to determine exactly which boat is which. To help sort out any confusion, the list at the start of each chapter and the index at the back of this book include all known names for each included boat.


As already explained, the LOD is the hull's length on deck, bow to stern with all overhangs omitted. The LOA, as used in this guide, is the overall length of a hull, from outboard tip of bowsprit or other bow overhang to outboard tip of any overhanging boom, boomkin, outboard rudder, or other stern overhang. These definitions of LOA and LOD are not always honored, whether in periodical literature, in compendiums similar to this one, in sales brochures, or even by marketers in naming the boat.

The LOD and the LWL (explained below) are better indicators than the LOA of how much stowage space and elbow-room may be available on board. The LOA, however, is not totally useless, as it is usually employed by boatyards and marinas to figure storage charges and slip fees, and by owners of small trailerable boats to decide if their boats will fit in their garages.


The LWL is the "load" or "length" (depending on who is doing the defining) of a hull's waterline bow to stern, with the boat upright and equipped for sailing, including crew. It is important to know for several reasons. For one, it is an indicator of speed—the longer the LWL, the greater the maximum theoretical speed. (See Maximum Speed, page 14.) However, it's interesting to observe that the waterline will often become longer when the boat is heeled and when more crew and gear are added. And the water-line is almost always longer in fresh water than in salt water, and the draft is always deeper, since a hull displaces its own weight in water, and fresh water is lighter than salt water (62.4 pounds per cubic foot versus 64 pounds for salt water). In any case, most if not all of the LWLs listed for boats in this guide are calculated assuming the boat is used in salt water.

Draft, Minimum and Maximum

Draft can vary from very shallow to very deep, as defined in Table One below. Shallow draft is important for exploring "gunk-holes" or for cruising shoal waters such as some of the estuaries along Long Island Sound or the Gulf of Mexico. Also, the shallower the draft, the easier it is to launch and retrieve a trailerable boat at a ramp, and the less top-heavy the load will be while trailering on a highway. Conversely, deep draft is important for efficient sailing close-hauled (with or without centerboard) and (if keel is weighted with ballast) for stability while sailing and comfort in a seaway.

Bridge Clearance

Bridge clearance is the distance from the top of the masthead (or "truck") to the waterline (or from the peak of the gaff in a gaff-rigged boat). It is given with standard rig, and with alternative rigs if known. The number should be taken as approximate, since in some cases we have scaled it from drawings when it is not reported by the builder in sales brochures or other readily accessible form—and even builders get it wrong sometimes. Moreover, "mast length," when quoted in sales brochures, sometimes refers to the length of the mast from its truck to its heel (or base), rather than truck to waterline, especially when the mast is stepped on deck. Consequently, "mast length" should be checked in each instance to determine whether it is the length from deck to truck, step to truck (when stepped below), or waterline to truck, since "mast length" cannot be relied on to be synonymous with "bridge clearance."

Ballast/Displacement (B/D) Ratio

This is simply the boat's ballast (see page 12), in pounds, divided by the boat's total displacement in pounds. On a given hull design with a given total displacement, increasing the B/D ratio (i.e., increasing ballast while decreasing other weight in the boat) will improve sail-carrying ability, but at the expense of amenities, load-carrying ability, and in the extreme case, even at the expense of hull strength. This is true since, for every pound of ballast added, a pound of utilitarian features must be eliminated, whether it be decorative wood trim or cabinetry, tankage capacity, permissible passenger weight, or stiffening of the hull structure.


Excerpted from "The Sailor's Book of Small Cruising Sailboats: Reviews and Comparisons of 360 Boats Under 26 Feet" by Steve Henkel. Copyright © 0 by Steve Henkel. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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