Article appearing in the October 2004 issue

It’s often noted that every boat is a study in compromise.  We express individual preferences for design choices balancing speed and fuel economy.  Boaters consider trade-offs between larger enclosed cabins and maximum exterior deck space.  We wrestle with the benefits of fly bridge visibility at the cost of longer rolling moments and windage.  Shall we power with gas engines (cheaper to buy) or diesel (cheaper to operate)?  There is no universally correct choice, so the wide varieties of boats we own and enjoy reflect a healthy diversity of taste and opinion.

One of the first decisions most boaters will face is the fundamental choice between power and sail.  Nearly every other aspect of marine design is commonly compromised, but the vast majority of builders turn out a product that is clearly definable as either a sailboat or a powerboat.  Few manufactures endeaver to combine the best aspects of a speedy, planning, outboard hull and a nimble, fun to sail, cruising sloop

The MacGregor Yacht Corporation (represented in the Pacific Northwest by Bluewater Yachts on Seattle’s Lake Union) not only attempts the unlikely marriage of power and sail, but also has invented a highly successful nice category of high-speed trailer sailors in the process.

Todd and Cheryl McChesney own Blue Water Yachts, the largest trailerable sailboat dealership in North America.  Cheryl took us for a test sail on a new 2005 MacGregor 26.  We quickly realized that while the MacGregor 26 is not the ultimate powerboat or an ultra fine-tuned racing sailboat, it is a uniquely enjoyable and surprisingly affordable vessel that offers a wide spectrum of choices for cruising our Northwest waters.  As Todd observed, “No boat will ever be all things to all people, but the MacGregor has proven to offer enough things, to enough people, that we have a lot of very happy and satisfied owners.” 


MacGREGOR yachts began building boats in the early 1960’s.  The company business model was conceived by a group of graduate students at the Stanford School of Business.  MacGregor invented an adaptation of the retracting keel and energized the trailerable sailboat market.  Sailboats with fixed keels can be more difficult to tow and nearly impossible to launch at most boat ramps (the protruding keel puts the hull in the air that the tow vehicle could easily be submerged before the boat found enough depth to float free of the trailer).  With a retractable keel, a trailerable sailboat sits low on the trailer and launches as easily as a small runabout.

When MacGregor first begun building trailerable boats, families commonly owner a rear-wheeled drive, body on frame, V8 automobile with substantial towing abilities.  As car shifted to front wheel drive and lower horsepower engines, MacGregor recognized a need to reduce the weight of their vessels to facilitate safe towing.  The innovative solution was MacGregor’s water ballast system.  The weight can be literally drained away when running in powerboat mode, making it easier to haul the MacGregor onto a trailer.

Elimination the static ballast allowed MacGregor to improve the performance of the 26 when operated as a powerboat.  One of the company’s promotional brochures includes a photo of an adult water-skier being towed by a 26 MacGregor.  It is unusual, to say the least, to see a water-skier zipping along behind a boat equipped with a mast.  (With a 50-hp outboard, the MacGregor 26 will turn about 22 mph.)  Few people seeking a boat to be used primarily for water-skiing would chose a MacGregor, just as extremely serious sailor might prefer a more specialized and highly evolved sailing hull.  MacGregors appeal to boaters who hope to enjoy the fun of sailing and the distance-shrinking cruising ability of a powerboat in a single vessel.

MacGregor can legitimately claim to be one of the larger volume manufacturers, having launched in excess of 35,000 boats.


The 2005 MacGregor 26 is constructed of hand-laminated fiberglass, without the use of chop strand or “coring.” The dry weight of the empty boat is 2,550 pounds, and the beam is 7’9” to permit easy trailering.  (The trailer weighs another 710 pounds).  The general style above the waterline is reminiscent of a small sloop, but there is a broad, flat transom with an engine well that accommodates up to 70-hp outboard motors.  With the daggerboard and rudders in the “up” positions, the MacGregor is a planning hull, with a mere 12-inch draft.  The cockpit will easily seat four to six, with a pedistalmounted steering wheel and engine controls.  Side decks are nonexistent, with access between the foredeck and the cockpit routed across the cabin top.  Fortunately, Blue Water Yachts rigs their boats for easy single-handed sailing from the cockpit.  The roller-furled jib also reduces the need to go forward when underway. 

The MacGregor 26 interior provides all the basic amenities of a family cruiser.  An extremely roomy double berth is most aft, under the cockpit.  Just forward, to starboard, is a dinette that will seat four.  MacGregor incorporates a unique “sliding galley” mounted to port.  The galley locks into three different positions.  When slid forward, it is opposite the dinette and there is well over six feet of standing headroom available for the cook.  In the middle position, the alcohol stove and sink can be used with ease, and the additional seating space is created on the port side of the main cabin.  With the galley secured most aft, it is entirely under the cockpit but there is still plenty of room to sleep in the aft birth, and sliding the galley all the way aft creates an additional single bunk on the port side of the main cabin.  Two can sleep in the forepeak, and the dinette folds down into a single berth over seven feet long.  One could sleep six adults on a MacGregor 26, but frankly the boat would seem more appropriately accommodating for two to three adults, or a young couple with perhaps two or three kids.

Many smaller boats have no toilet facilities, or a “porta-pottie” arrangement that stows under a bunk when not being used.  Privacy on many small boats is non-existent.  The MacGregor26 has an enclosed head compartment with a mirrored bulkhead, so dignity can be preserved without asking everyone aboard to “look elsewhere.”  Blue Water Yachts includes a portable marine toilet with aholding tank that can be fitted if desired.


We didn’t need to launch the MacGregor 26; it was secured to a dock at the Blue Water Yachts office.  Launching a MacGregor is reported to be an easy task, with the aluminum mast easily raised or lowered by a single person.  (There is an optional mechanical device that uses a brake winch and support pole to more precisely control the mast white raising or lowering.)  The forestay is the only rigging disconnected when the mast is lowered, so setting the mast up again is a simple procedure.  Launching would involve only a minimum of fussing around, once floated free from the trailer.

To exit the dock, we lowered the daggerboard and the twin trailing rudders.  Cheryl put the MacGregor into the fairway, spun it around smartly on the daggerboard pivot point, and we motored out to Lake Union.  The outboard ran flawlessly.  The MacGregor’s “sailboat genes” allowed it to be very agile in tight quarters.


Once out on the lake Cheryl showed us how easily the MacGregor converts from a powerboat to a sailboat.  The first order of business was to confirm that there was water in the ballast tank. Removing a cap from a fitting under the V-birth allowed water to displace the air in the system, and we confirmed the tank was full by sighting water within a half-inch of the vent fitting.

 For purposed of our demonstration we would be doing a “low tech” sail (there’s a limit to what a stinkpotter can be expected to absorb.)  We centered the boom over the companionway dodger

After removing the sail cover and the bungee cords bundling the mainsail against the boom, Cheryl motored into the wind and raised the outboard, releasing it from hydraulic steering ram and securing it on an adjacent post.  Disconnecting the motor reduced the load on the steering wheel to just the two rudders trailing off of the stern  (We were surprised to learn that the extra point for securing the outboard was a Blue Water Yachts innovation, and Todd and Cheryl sell the parts for this system to MacGregor dealers and owners throughout North America.)

 We hoisted the 170-square foot mainsail and began scooting across the lake.  We made very good progress up wind.  Cheryl commented that many sailors are surprised at how well the MacGregor 26 goes to windward.  There is a powerful, soothing silence when under sail-an experience that can’t be exactly duplicated in a powerboat of any type.  Sailing is a natural, organic experience, with Nature herself carrying you toward your destination.  Every time I go sailing, I resolve to do it more often. 

 We unfurled the jib and turned to take the wind board abeam.  It’s a good thing the seven-knot speed limit on Lake Union doesn’t apply to sailboats- we were flying!  The planning characteristics of the MacGregor hull free the vessel from the constraining bow wave that decrees a 26-foot displacement hull- sailboat normally sailed seven knots.  With a moderate wind on Lake Union, we were clipping along faster than one would expect; factory sales literature claims that with enough wind a MacGregor can achieve 13-14 knots under sail.

 We heeled over on the beam reach, but the water ballast proved to be effective.  Sitting on the high side of the cockpit and watching the chop bouncing off the hull is a real sailing experience-as it should be, since the MacGregor is a real sailboat.

Cheryl called our attention to the MacGregor’s rotating mast.  The mast is shaped like an airfoil and automatically seeks the proper angle relative to the wind direction.  (The shrouds and spreader remain fixed.)  A non-rotating mast can deflect the wind and create a “dead spot” in the head of the sail.

The rotating mast all but eliminates the deflection of air away from the sail, and the wind fills the sail more efficiently.  The rotating mast, the shallow draft, and the relatively lightweight all contribute to a surprisingly speedy experience under sail.


Sailing the MacGregor was such fun we could have spent all day just blowing up and down the lake.  Alas, time limitations eventually dictated that we douse the mainsail, furl the jib, and experience the MacGregor in powerboat mode. 

We hauled up the daggerboard, lowered the outboard, and reconnected it to the steering ram, and hauled up the trailing rudders.  Our top speed would be slightly reduced because we still had the water ballast in the tanks (the tanks can be drained in about five minutes when underway).  We headed up for the “speed lane” and throttled up.

The MacGregor 26 stepped up the plane very quickly, easily reaching about 20 knots with minimal wake.  Aside from the empty mast protruding from the cabin top, there is little difference between running the MacGregor at the moderate speed as opposed to any one of a number of traditional runabouts.  Most trailerable sailboats will motor at five or six knots, or about a quarter of the speed of a MacGregor.  Fuel consumption is said to be around three gallons per hour when cruising at 15 knots, achieving an impressive five nautical miles per gallon.  Make no mistake about it; the MacGregor is a real powerboat, too.


As Todd McClesney stated, no boat can be all things to all people.  There are certainly higher performing, more technical sailboats (and more exciting, speedier powerboats) than a MacGregor 26. What does singulary well in combine the potential for a very wide range of fun boating experiences into a single vessel.  It would seem too obvious that a boat that can sail well and then slip easily into planning powerboat mode will appeal to a greater number of family members and could enhance the family’s total boating enjoyment.

I have often wondered what happened to the affordable family boat.  It’s all too easy to attend a boat show and conclude that unless one is prepared to invest $80,000-$100,000, or substantially more, it may be tough to go home with a new boat on which a family of four would consider spending a week in the San Juans.  The affordable family boat is alive and well, and available at Blue Water Yachts.  Todd and Cheryl employ a “no dicker” pricing and offer the same low price to all comers.  The Blue Water Yachts “bare boats” package includes the bare essentials (but no out board ), the prices out at $20,999. 

There are packages that include a 50-70-hp Nissan and Suzuki outboards, dual battery systems, marine coolers, canvas covers, and much, much more.  The extremely well equipped boat we tested at Blue Water Yachts was configured with the “Super Cruising Package”; more than adequately prepared to depart on a summer vacation cruise at a moment’s notice.  The MacGregor 26 with this top-of-the line option group is still modestly priced at $30,999.

Affordable family boats are good news for the marine industry, as well as for the families that are enjoying them.  Cheryl McChesney expressed it very succinctly: “I really enjoy selling MacGregors, they make people happy!”

One could do far worse than own a boat specializing in happiness.