CRUISING HELMSMAN MAGAZINE EVALUATION OF THE MACGREGOR 26
Note: The following article applies to the 26X, recently replaced by the 26M. However, the boats are very similar, and many of the comments relating to the X will be applicable to the M. We will post new reviews and comments on the boat as they are received.
This is a copy of the September, 1997 Cruising Helmsman Magazine article reviewing the MacGregor 26. Cruising Helmsman is one of the top Australian sailing publications.
The boat was provided by our Australian Dealer, Synergy Yachts.
(Photos are not included to save downloading time)
A NEW MACGREGOR HYBRID
In the late 1980's the MacGregor Yacht Corporation brought out a 26ft trailable which made interesting use of water ballast. The yacht eventually made its way to Australia, where there was some interest. In American however, the design underwent several modifications and now it has turned up in Australia once again. This time it may well open up a whole new market.
The latest version of the heavily modified trailable still carries its innovative use of water ballast, but it has an even more radical slant to it; it has been designed to become a high speed power cruiser as well.
For those who get tired of sitting around in no wind, this may prove the ultimate "getaway" boat. When the winds are light (as they were during my winter's day sail) you can leave the water ballast out and sail a lightened version of the MacGregor which moves surprisingly well in a small amount of breeze.
When the winds pick up it's a simple task to "pull the plug" and fill the specially built tanks with water, drop the swing keel a little further and get a stable, fast sailing performance. And when the wind dies completely (as it did during part of our test sail) you simply start the 50hp Tohatsu, open the water ballast tank plug, and take off for a quick ride back to the boat ramp. You can even ski behind it, if you have to keep the kids amused (though performance depends on the total crew weight aboard at the time).
The 26 is being handled in Australia by Synergy Yachts and proprietor Phil King says the response to the yacht in the US has been so overwhelming that the Los Angeles based company has decided to focus all their production on the boat, dropping off production of their 65 and 16 footers. "It's become the largest selling production trailer-sailer in the world," says King, "They've built 1,650."
To accommodate its twin uses the MacGregor 26 has an unusual shape, with rather boxy section shapes and fairly straight slab sides. There is a specific design concept behind this look, however. The flat bottom has been developed to promote easy planing when under power, and the high, straight sides help maximise interior space and headroom while at the same time keeping the beam suitable for a towed boat. A moulded stepped chine halfway down the side helps stiffen the hull as well as providing a wash deflector when powering at high speeds. The hull moulding is solid fibreglass and the deck has a balsa core to stiffen it, whilst the hull and deck mouldings are bolted together and sealed. When stationed on its trailer the boat has a stainless post which supports the mast aft. This is used in the relatively straight forward mast raising procedure.
A short lever arm is attached to the mast base and a block and tackle system runs from the lever top to the bow. Using this, one crew member can run the tackle line back to a deck winch and simply wind the mast into an upright position. It's accomplished in a couple of minutes.
The interior is simply and efficiently laid out. The water ballast tank (complete with built-in baffles to stem the "sloshing" effect) is incorporated into the lowest level of the hull and the swing centreboard sits snugly in its case without intruding as many vertically raised daggerboards do. Only nine inches of water is required to float the MacGregor, and it can be beached easily. There is a valve for the ballast tanks located under the companionway step, along with and air inlet so that air can fill the void created by water which drains out through a transom plug, or escape as it is filled. As a safety feature the MacGregor also has built-in positive buoyancy. The boat will float, gunnel to the water level, even if it is swamped.
Up forward there are two berths with three storage bins underneath. There are no bulkheads, so the feeling of space is accentuated. Immediately aft of the forward berths are the saloon table (with two person bench seats fore and aft, and an ice chest under the after bench) and a small two person settee running fore and aft along the port side of the hull. The saloon table drops down and in combination with its bench seats either side forms a double berth. A location for a holding tank is under the ice box, though the fitting of a tank is an option only. A stainless mast compression post runs under the mast base.
A simple moulded sink (a hand pump cold water tap) with storage underneath is aft of the port side settee, and in this area of the cabin headroom is available for a person of moderate height.
Behind the saloon area to starboard is a fully enclosed head, unusual in a craft of this size. Whilst there is no shower facility, it does have a small sink with cold water hand pump fitted. (Water capacity is approximately 15 gallons (US) in two plastic inflatable tanks. Fuel is retained in two nine gallon tanks stored under the cockpit seating.)
Immediately behind the sink and storage area to port is another small seat (making room for seven people to sit in the cabin) and under the cockpit area is a massive double berth. There's plenty of room below decks for a relatively small craft, and a neat moulded headliner with stiffening helps add strength to the overall structure.
On deck the layout is unusual as well. Because the whole boat is based on the idea that it can be easily motored as well as sailed, the hull shape and cockpit design show influences from the power boat area. Up forward there is a simple synthetic bow roller and a compact anchor locker which can hold a surprisingly large amount of line. There are no side decks and stanchions run from the bow, up over the sleek coach house line back to a spacious cockpit. There are two sets of headsail tracks, one for the genoa (which we carried) running along the cockpit coaming and another pair set on coachhouse roof, which are shorter and used for the jib. Single Lewmar Six winches are located either side of the companionway hatch, which is extremely large. The cockpit would hold seven in comfort and is fitted with weatherproof cushions. The central steering console is the point at which the mainsheet attaches and the 4 to 1 system has a cleat attached.
The small steering wheel drives the boat easily and is quite responsive, both under sail and power. Engine controls (revs, tilt and throttle) are all attached to the steering console.
Behind the console is a seat for the helmsperson which hinges upwards to allow access to the broad transom. There is a boarding platform and a substantial bracket to support the 50hp Tohatsu outboard (which comes with the powersailer version of the boat). There is a 9hp outboard supplied with the standard boat.
The sailing rig is basic, but effective. A fractional set up is supported by a single set of swept back spreaders (round, heavy-walled tube) and one set of lowers. A vang and the mainsheet are the only sail controls. The standard inventory is a hanked jib and mainsail, both in Dacron. The larger headsail we used is optional, as is an asymmetric spinnaker.
Lines from the mast run aft to banks of jammers. To starboard (from the outside in) run the kit halyard, jib halyard, main halyard, and the centreboard control (which need very little movement to raise or lower it). To port there is an outhaul control line and a reefing line.
The conditions we sailed in proved to be quite testing, mainly because of the lack of wind. Though it took less than half an hour to get the boat into the water (a low profile trailer which helps make launching easy comes as part of the package) it was just enough time to see the last of a morning breeze fade to nothing.
Ordinarily this would have spelt the end of a yacht test, but with this craft it gave us chance to see how it performed under power. We sprinted out under the Captain Cook at George's River, but to no avail. At least it didn't take long to find out there was no wind there either.
Given the light conditions when we launched the ballast tank had been left empty (another advantage of this system) and the boat found the just faintest airs enough to get going. Waiting proved a virtue and eventually a light breeze built from the northeast, coming in at around five knots. I was surprised to find how responsive the boat was in its yachting configuration. It tacked smoothly and quickly and (given the fairly wide sheeting angle for the large headsail) picked up apparent air to point reasonably closely to the wind.
Gybing presented no difficulties and despite the lack of pressure the boat performed nicely. Finally, after as much sailing as the conditions allowed, we decided to head back to the launching ramp and I got the chance to try this unique hybrid craft under power. I'm no power boat expert, but this boat has a tremendous turn of speed when the throttle goes down. Great sheets of spray were thrown out as we tore along at around 20 knots. It was a weird but engaging sensation for a sailing boat. Under this much power the boat was easily manageable (though the rudders are lifted and steering is supplied through the outboard). The relatively hard chines dig in and turn the boat through a tight loop when required.
It certainly beats hanging around waiting for the wind to come back! Whilst the fitout reflects the way this boat is used for the generally lighter breezes of Southern California, it is also exceedingly well appointed and offers good value. As a trailer sailer for coastal day sailing or overnighters it seems an excellent option. The shallow draft will allow easy access to the beach and the relatively high powered motors means explorers never have to worry about running out of wind. The way this nicely finished boat is selling in the States suggests there may be a potentially large market available and with its official launch about to take place at the Sydney Boatshow (at the time of writing) it will be interesting to see if Australian buyers warm to it as well. The MacGregor 26 is an interesting and unusual concept and it may well have found a new market in the crowded boating scene.