Bossa Nova: Travels Of A Trailer Yacht

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If you're a "yachtsman" you may take umbrage at my referring to my 26-foot trailer-sailer as a "trailer yacht".  Please feel free to do so.  Your spleen will probably be made healthier by a good venting.  As for my feelings - I used to get insulted by flamers, now I just get amused. 

Bossa Nova sailing in the Chesapeake Bay

Actually, I am aware that "trailer yacht" is as oxymoronic as "government organization" or "military intelligence."  I believe I'm qualified to name those as oxymorons, after 36 years working in a government organization involved with military intelligence.  But thank you, I would like to leave that past behind me!  (And "They" would prefer that I do so, too!)


So let's talk about Bossa Nova, my "trailer yacht."


Bossa Nova is a MacGregor 26X motor-sailer.  She was designed and built by the MacGregor Yacht Corporation, of Costa Mesa, California - a high-volume builder that has specialized since the 1960s in building small, easy-to-sail boats that you can tow with a car.  They've sold about 40,000 or more, first under the "Venture" name, later as "MacGregors".  These boats are to "a proper yacht" as a VW is to a Rolls-Royce - but they're simple, sturdy enough for waters like the Chesapeake or San Francisco Bay, and very affordable.  And very portable.


The MacGregor 26X, and its 2003 successor the 26M, are enough boat for one to be comfortable belowdecks.  She has stand-up headroom in the galley area; a comfortable (if short-ish) V-berth in the bow, followed by a table and settees to starboard and a settee and galley to port; a head compartment big enough for me at least to be able to pull up my pants without stepping out into the cabin proper; and quarter berths below the cockpit that equal a queen-size bed.  Not bad in a boat that can be towed behind a mid-sized sedan!  (MacGregor's brochure shows it being pulled by a Ford Taurus.  I prefer my Toyota 4Runner.)

Bossa Nova with her tow vehicle, Easton, MD

"Yacht Style?"

The traditional view of a yacht includes acres of varnished teak-wood, elegant cabinetry, plush ornate upholstery, and all the luxury details the architect could devise ... something like a floating limousine.  But all that teak, all that fitted cabinetry, all those luxury details come at a price - at buying time, when you pay for all the woodwork, and forever after, while you're varnishing and primping that "Teak Goddess". 


The MacGregor is more like a floating Chevy van inside, all gleaming fiberglass plastic with strictly utilitarian fittings.  Definitely a low-maintenance boat!  Her outboard engine hangs off the stern, where a couple of husky guys can remove and replace it in minutes.  Her plumbing is limited to a hand-pumped faucet and a five-gallon "jerry can" for the sink, a Porta-Pottie for the head.  Her galley consists of a raised counter with a small sink, room for a Coleman stove beside it, and a cabinet below where you can stow your teakettle, cookpot and frying pan.  There's a 48-quart Coleman cooler under one of the dinette's seats, for cold storage. 


Okay, the MacGregors are not impressive.  So what if I don't wake up feeling like I slept in a jewel box!  She's still comfy, she sails decently, and she cost maybe one-tenth as much as the Teak Goddess.  Plus - the owner of the Teak Goddess is varnishing its woodwork, while I'm out sailing.

How much sailboat do you REALLY need to have fun?
My friends Charlie, Michael and Theresa are having fun on Bossa Nova!

"Ah, but is she seaworthy?"

Not in the fashion that the Cutty Sark, or the famous schooner Bluenose, were seaworthy.  More in the fashion that a lifeboat is "seaworthy" - she wouldn't be "sea-kindly" in really heavy weather, but she wouldn't sink, either.  She was not designed to take on the open ocean; she's meant for inland waters, lakes and bays.  Places like the Chesapeake, or San Francisco Bay, or the Channel Islands off of southern California.


These boats have a retractable keel, a long narrow fin that you can extend for sailing and retract for engine-powered boating.  This is necessary for trailering, and it lets you operate in shallow waters.  "Real sailboats," according to Macgregor's detractors, "use fixed, lead keels."  And, yes, a similar-sized keelboat might sail "better" than the MacGregor - but getting a fixed-keel Catalina 27, for example, onto a trailer would be an arduous and expensive job indeed!


One of Roger MacGregor's innovations, in these boats, was the use of water ballast.  There is a large, enclosed ballast tank in the very bottom of the hull, with a valve in the stern that can be opened to fill the tank (and another valve in the bow, well above the waterline, to let the air out so the tank can be filled).  Once the tank is full and the valves closed, this ballast is "fixed in place" and won't shift -- until you return to the ramp and drain the tank.  (And it's quite effective, too; with the tank full and plugged, it takes considerable force to push the mast over past about 15 degrees of heel.) 


Another innovation - a safety feature - is the use of flotation foam chambers in the bow and stern of the MacGregors.  Even with the cabin filled completely with water, the boat continues to float.  Few "real sailboats" are so equipped.  Further, being small and light means the boat is actually less likely to take damage - a floating log that might smash a hole in a heavier boat would be more likely to just stop the MacGregor in its tracks.


But the main "seaworthy safety" feature any boat could carry is a prudent skipper, who doesn't push beyond the boat's limits and who is ready to "beat it home" before conditions get bad! 

"But She Lives On A Trailer...."

Bossa Nova at the boat ramp in Cambridge, MD

And a "real sailboat," one with a deep lead keel and all that cabinetry, lives on the water during the sailing season.  You can anchor out for free, and use a dinghy to get out to her and back; but most people rent a slip at a marina, for several hundred dollars a month.  And at the end of the season, you'll pay hundreds to have her picked up with a crane and moved ashore - with keel blocks and special stands to keep her upright through the winter months.  Before you put her back into the water, you'll slap on a couple hundred bucks' worth of anti-fouling paint, and you may spend a few weeks' worth of evenings and weekends "decommissioning" her systems for the winter and "re-commissioning" her for the return to the water.


The MacGregor can live in a marina slip, with the attendant costs of bottom-painting and travel-lifting her from "the hard" to the water.  Bossa Nova, though, lives on her trailer at the marina - for maybe 1/4 of the cost of renting a slip - and my "attendant cost" is driving the 4Runner to the marina instead of a smaller car, spending maybe ten extra minutes launching her and parking the trailer, and maybe another fifteen or twenty minutes recovering her and fresh-water-rinsing the outboard motor's cooling system before I park the trailer and go home. 


And have you noticed the great advantage of traveling in a boat that can be towed so easily?


A small sailboat is not a fast vessel.  The maximum speed of a sailboat is a mathematical function of the length of its waterline; a longer boat will be faster.  Bossa Nova is doing well to achieve 5 knots under sail - about twice as fast as a comfortable walk.  The art of sailing is that you're letting (or actually forcing) the wind to propel you where you want to go ... a free lunch, even if the service is rather slow!  But how long would it take you to get down the Bay, from Annapolis to Norfolk, at "twice as fast as a comfortable walk"?


When I want to get somewhere in a hurry, I have the trailer.  Load her up, lower and secure the mast, and I can take her to Norfolk at 65 miles an hour - or haul her at the same speed to someplace like Deep Creek Lake, in western Maryland, a place you can only reach over land.  I can sleep aboard, cook aboard, live aboard on the trailer as if she were at anchor.  Then, with a boat ramp and roughly an hour's worth of work to raise the mast, I can have her back on the water. 

What better vessel to see the USA on a Voyage of Discovery?

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