To each his own

Though much-maligned, the 26M has a large and loyal following. Photo by Ahunt/Wikipedia

This summer a commercial airline pilot friend of mine, Travis, spent a lot of time researching sailboats. He did so because: 1) He’s interested in upgrading his current platform, a MacGregor 24 trailer sailer he inherited from his father-in-law; and 2) he’s vaguely interested in living aboard a boat once he retires. Not being that well-versed in boats, but definitely enthusiastic – sailboats and jets both use foils, after all, and employ the principles of fluid dynamics – Travis had many questions. “What about this boat?” he’d ask. “Only $17k with a nearly new diesel and just look at all the work the owner did!”

This was a long and enjoyable text stream. Until that one day. The day Travis asked The Question: “What about the MacGregor 26M?” he wrote. It was accompanied by a link to one of the boat’s promotional videos, which supposedly shows the vessel sailing in 50 knots of breeze off the California coast, and also features a guy waterskiing behind one.

Oh, no. “Not that one,” I groaned. “The sailboat built for a 60 h.p. outboard?” I did know the boat, and had already seen the video. Many times. Needless to say, it was a firm “No” from me, on the basis that the 26M was theoretically designed to be both a powerboat and a sailboat, but somehow was neither.

Travis was undeterred. He listed some of the boat’s attributes: Twin rudders, water ballast, easy trailerability, six feet of headroom on a 26-footer, and the ability to actually get where you’re going . . . in a hurry. He also pointed out that, as a trailer sailer, the 26M resale values stayed high.

Still a hard “No.”

“I’m sorry,” he finally said. “What, exactly, is the problem?”

To be clear here, Travis wasn’t considering the 26M as a liveaboard. This was purely as an upgrade of what he had, and he was already used to trailering his 24-footer to ramps and rigging it there in the parking lot.

“Well . . . it’s . . . it’s . . .” I struggled to find the right words. “It’s ugly!”

A pregnant pause. “Who cares?” he said.

I thought about that a bit. He was right, of course. Who cares? Isn’t the most important thing that the boat gets people out on the water? I’d researched the 26M quite a bit at this point, and was aware that roughly 3,000 of them had been sold by the time their production run ended in 2013. This makes the MacGregor 26M one of the most popular cruising sailboats ever. By comparison, the worldwide number of J/24s – one of the most ubiquitous “bigger” boats ever made, though not a “cruising” boat – is around 5,500.

A common theme in our industry is that sailing, in the face of so many modern distractions and escalating costs, is slowly dying. If the sport is too expensive, then this reasonably priced and relatively comfortable trailer sailer might be part of the solution.

But, oh-boy, the online comments. “Nasty little boat that should not be allowed anywhere near water,” says one gentleman. “It’s not a boat, it’s a floating RV,” says another. “Unsafe in any mode,” chirps a third. This goes on ad infinitum, each descriptor more colorful, and usually from folks who’ve never been aboard a 26M. Dig a little deeper through the detractors, though, and you’ll find rousing testimonials. One Canadian sailor describes dragging his 26M the length of his country several times, happily motoring and sailing in suitable waters along the way. A sailor in Britain wrote that he routinely sails his 26M in the English Channel and the Med, but also spends time in skinny water tributaries where he’s able to easily lower the mast to creep under bridges. The same individual says that, should he want to do any real bluewater cruising, he’d switch to a proper keelboat. But, until then, he’ll stick with what he’s got.

I told Travis about a local 26M in someone’s yard that hasn’t moved in five years. Travis went and knocked on the guy’s door. The owner wasn’t quite ready to sell – medical problems had kept him off the water as of late – but said, in general, he loved the boat. Travis and the owner exchanged numbers.

Too ugly? Not a proper boat?

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

And anything that gets us out there doing, versus just dreaming, can’t be all that bad.