You've wanted to sail for years, even wanted to cruise a little and hear the waves lap against the hull at night. But your budget is very limited. Where's the money going to come from? An expensive yacht club is out of the question, and you have better things to do with your money than pay a boatyard to take out, store, and launch your boat every year. Despite appearances, yachting doesn't have to cost big bucks. There's another way.
Think small. Forget the concept of the yacht as a floating status symbol. Think of your sailboat instead as an economy-class ticket to fun and adventure. If my guess is right, you'll soon be looking at microcruisers.
Microcruisers are small cabin sailboats 16 feet in length or less. These are basic boats with simple sail rigs and lightweight masts that can be stepped with one hand. Also, they are quite seaworthy, boasting self-bailing cockpits and, usually, foam flotation.
They are light and portable. If you keep one on a trailer, you won't be saddled with slip or mooring or other boatyard fees. They tow easily behind small cars, and you can be off and sailing anywhere your car will take you on a moment's notice. Furthermore, because they are shallow-drafted, you can sneak microcruisers into forgotten nooks and crannies larger boats can't enter.
With forethought, you can actually go cruising. It won't be plush, but you can bed down for the night in more comfort than most backpackers experience. Best of all, you can probably afford to own one.
There are a number of seaworthy, trailerable microcruisers on the market, among them, the Montgomery 15 and the Com-Pac 16. Both are attractive boats with traditional trunk cabins and strong sheer lines; both are salty-looking; both are ruggedly built to withstand more than the usual weekend wear and tear. Between them, you couldn't make a bad choice. They're not clones, though.
Montgomery Marine started off building tough little dinghies in lapstrake fiberglass but later forged beyond the dinghy business when it engaged the services of Lyle Hess to design a very seaworthv l7-foot boat. As the Montgomery 17 quietly built its reputation on the West Coast, Jerry Montgomery scaled down Hess's design, added a kick-up rudder and some other changes, and the Montgomery 15 was born.
In the 15, Montgomery retained the keel/centerboard concept that worked so well with the 17. The shoal keel provides good directional stability off the wind, while the centerboard can be lowered for windward work. The board is easily adjusted with a pennant in the cockpit. Water cannot leak into the interior of the boat, and the centerboard trunk does not intrude into the cabin.
The rig is very basic: three stays support the mast. You raise the mast with the side stay already attached, clip on the forestay, tighten it up, and you're off. With a hull weight of 750 pounds, trailering the 15 should be no problem. Nor should launching. The 15 will sit a bit higher on its trailer than a comparable boat without a keel, so it takes a bit more water to float her off. (This is true of shoal-keel boats in general). Once launched, though, the Montgomery's 15 inch draft makes it a go-anywhere, easily beachable boat.
Like the dinghy and the 17, the Montgomery 15 is graced with fiberglass laps, each of which serves as a longitudinal stiffener. It's harder to mold shapes like that, especially in the hand layup used by Montgomery Marine, but the result is a strong, pretty Nordic-looking hull.
I was privileged to be sailing with the most seasoned small-boat sailor I've ever met, Georgeana Porton. A veteran singlehander who has cruised all over New England, she chose the Montgomery 15 because she could launch and rig it herself.
When I stepped aboard, I found that the 15 heeled with surprising ease. Once over a bit, however, it stiffened up and wouldn't go over much more, even when the two of us got on at once. Because of its tenderness, it's a courtesy not to dive from one side of the boat to the other when other people are aboard.
While Georgeana rigged the boat, I slipped below. An enormous vee berth dominates most of the cabin. Since there is no centerboard trunk, the cabin interior is unobstructed. I could step down into it easily. For extra sitting room, the vee berth extends aft on either side of the cabin. The chemical head is located under a removable section of mattress in the center of the vee. If you want to use it at night without rousting out the other sleeper, you can set it on the cabin floor before going to bed. In its proper place, it's near enough to the hatch for a tall person to sit with his nose out of doors.
The vee berth is a fairly, generous bed for such a small boat. I'm 6-feet-1½-inches tall, yet I could stretch out nicely in the berth. Since the Montgomery has a fine entry at the bow, so does the vee berth, and two tall individuals are going to find themselves tangling toes at the pointy end. This is a problem common to vee berths in general. On the plus side, there is ample knee room, good shoulder room, and the delightful possibility of snuggling without the chasm of a footwell or the raised blade of a centerboard trunk to get in the way.
The bunks are fairly well raised from the floor. This arrangement gains bunk width (as beam increases with height) and increases storage space under the bunks. At the same time, it brought my head closer to the ceiling. My legs stretched out fine, but I had to duck a bit.
Storage in the Montgomery 15 is very good. Under the cabin seats are generous lockers and deep spaces that open into the cabin interior. A battery box is tucked in under the cockpit itself, just under the hatch.
Steady on its feet
A nervous pinging and rattling informed me that Georgeana had everything up and ready to go, and that the wind was rising, so we set out into Long Island Sound. A knotmeter, depth sounder log readout on the cabin bulkhead let us check our hunches about hull speed.
At first, the wind was light with only an occasional extended puff. The Montgomery 15 pointed surprisingly well in the light stuff. Gradually, the wind increased and we slipped along easily, at 3½ to 4 knots. The chop seemed to build up even faster than the wind, but the Montgomery stayed dry, its lapstrake hull cutting through the waves with a funny sawing sound.
After an hour or so, the wind began to howl, sending streaks of spume down the wave tops and across the water. Dropping the jib wasn't enough, the wind kept cranking us down onto our beam ends.
A quick jiffy-reef on the main had a dramatic effect. Suddenly, we were comfortable again, totally in control. (It's seamanlike to reef a microcruiser early.) Just before reefing down, we had been doing 4½ knots into the wind, Reefing may have cost us a half knot, but the gain in manageability was well worth it. Through it all, the tiller remained light and precise, and we stayed dry.
We let the boat drift under bare poles for a bit, just to make sure she was well-behaved )she was), then motored in. Although I always worry that cockpit lockers can become a sea's access to a boat's interior, the lockers on the 15 were sure handy. When the wind began to howl, seat cushions, glasses, and a hat were all safely out from underfoot in a flash.
The 5½-foot self-bailing cockpit easily accommodated both Georgeana and me on our test sail. I particularly liked the high, beveled coamings. They helped keep spray out of the cockpit and were comfortable backrests even when the boat heeled.
The Montgomery l5 is an impressive boat. It's overbuilt: The chemically bonded and through-bolted hull/deck joint is comparable to what one might find on a well-made 30 footer. The deck is cored with balsa, and the fittings are all oversized and carefully backed up with aluminum plates. As with any small boat, prudent reefing in foul weather is necessary–750 pounds is light as sailboats go. Georgeana even put in a line of reef points on her jib.
The Montgomery 15 is also fast for a little sea boat. Its fine entry and tall rig, coupled with its keel-centerboard system, make it quick but steady on its feet. Tenderness at dockside did not translate into weakness in a seaway.
The Com-Pac 16 built by Com-Pac Yachts of Clearwater, Florida, is one of the original microcruisers. By now, nearly 3,000 of them are sailing up and down the East Coast. It's the heaviest of all the microcruisers, weighing a hefty 1,100 pounds, and almost half the boat's weight is in ballast. Though the Com-Pac is a little bit less nimble off the mark and a little heavier on the trailer than the lightweight Montgomery, it's also more solid in the water. When you step aboard, it acknowledges your additional weight with only a deferential tip of the hat.
Like the Montgomery, the Com-Pac's hull is constructed of handlaid fiberglass. The deck is cored with a microballoon/polyester slurry (no delamination problems here), and the outward-turning hull and deck flanges are joined with tough 5200 sealant in combination with double-headed aluminum pop rivets. A protective rub rail covers the joint. All fittings are backed up with plywood. If the Com-Pac doesn't use some of the same construction techniques as the Montgomery boats, it compensates for its greater simplicity with what is, for a small boat, massive construction. In fairness to each, I would suggest that when it comes to hull safety, the difference between the boats is a matter of style, not substance. They're both very soundly built.
John and Ed Rodgers of the Small Boat Shop, a father and son business in Norwalk, Connecticut, launched the boat for me. The ramp was steep, which helps when your waterline is 33 inches off the roadbed. Although the trailer has a tilting hinge, Ed Rodgers simply backed down, then braked sharply. Two such stops were all he needed. The 1,100 pounds of the boat did the rest; the Com-Pac rolled itself right off into the water.
Like the Montgomery, the Com-Pac 16 has a three-stay mast that sets up quickly and needs only slight tensioning. I see no point in tuning the rig of a small cruiser like a harp: It just adds stress with no commensurate improvement in performance.
A Boat with Decor
While John and Ed bent on the sails, I went below to check out the cabin. Where Montgomery opted for a vee berth, Com-Pac went the quarterberth route. Two 8-foot berths fit under the cockpit seats, leaving the peak area open for storage. Since no sleeper is apt to be 8 feet tall, plastic baskets with some extra odds and ends can be shoved down to the ends of the quarterberths and retrieved with a lanyard when needed.
Storing almost everything forward has one useful advantage. In many small boats, everything is stored under the cockpit seats. When the passengers are also sitting aft in the cockpit, the boat tends to squat in the stern and sail badly. One can either design a boat with a broader, flatter, and slower stern to handle the load or store the goodies forward for better trim underway, as Com-Pac has done.
When I slid my legs down into the space under the cockpit seat and lay down, I was reminded of one of the old Mercury astronauts getting shoehorned into his space capsule. It was snug. A panel of veneer that graced the aft cabin bulkhead further reduced by an inch the space over my hips. The berth was also narrow. My arm flopped down into the footwell. What to do?
The width problem was easily fixed by setting two square flotation cushions on top of each other in the footwell. They fit so perfectly I had to wonder if the footwell was sized for them. Now, I could sleep.
The meager height above the after end of the berth was another problem. Even if the veneer panel were trimmed flush, the 12-inch clearance from mattress to seat underside would remain tight. One rolls over with care in such a bunk. I've met a few well-upholstered individuals who couldn't have fit in there at all, let alone rolled over. A little boat is, after all, a little boat. Mounting Beckson inspection ports with screens in each side wall of the cockpit foot well would encourage a refreshing flow of air through those leg tunnels especially, helpful on hot nights.
The Com-Pac 16 ventilates the cabin via an air scoop mounted on the forward deck. It has a flexible plastic cowl that will yield easily, if accidentally stepped on. I'd substitute a taller, wide-mouthed scoop, especially in southern waters. Although the little round cabin ports let in a reasonable amount of light, on most sailing days the companionway hatch is the primary source of air and light.
Sitting in the cabin was comfortable. I only had to duck over a little. The chemical head slides out from under the bridge deck, and a potti-user can sit with his head poking out the hatch into the fresh air. It's the best arrangement for a small boat.
Before going back on deck, I sat in the hatchway, and admired the cabin. Teak paneling inside the cabin trunk, teak stripping along the insides of the hull, tan canvas storage pouches, brass portlights...this little boat has décor!
I've gone sailing on Com-Pac 16s a couple of times, but this trip we had the best weather ever. John's happy German shepherd jumped in and we were off, riding the same robust northwester of the previous day, only slightly moderated. The Com-Pac moved and handled more sedately than the Montgomery, but she impressed me with her sea-keeping ability in conditions that would force other boats her size back to the docks. An occasional gust would heel us way over, but the boat would stop before things got antsy.
The Com-Pac 16 is conservatively rigged to begin with; reefed down, it's hard to imagine how anything short of a hurricane could seriously threaten the security of this shippy, bluff-bowed little boat. The Com-Pac also responds easily to the helm. If it doesn't point as high as the Montgomery, it sails to windward satisfactorily for anyone interested in relaxing while under sail.
The self-bailing cockpit is nearly 7 feet long and nicely proportioned to make sailing comfortable for, in this case, man and dog to stretch out at their ease. An after lazarette provides a handy spot for life jackets, cushions, anchor, and other gear. If I anticipated doing any real offshore sailing, I'd put a rubber gasket and a solid tie-down system on the lazarette hatch.
The Com-Pac 16 deserves the popularity it has received over the years. It is well appointed and ruggedly built; it sails well and is easy to rig. It weighs a few hundred pounds more on the trailer than the Montgomery, but for a boat only 16 feet long, it offers a reassuring sense of security on the water due to its generous ballasting. And though the cabin may not fit every cruiser's needs, there's plenty of sitting (and sleeping) space in the cockpit. And that, after all, is where a sailor spends most of his time.
|Montgomery 15||Com-Pac 16|
|Weight||750 lbs.||1,100 lbs.|
|Ballast||275 lbs.||450 lbs.|
|Draft, Board up||1' 3"||1' 5"|
|Draft, Board down||2' ½"||N/A|
|Sail area||122 sq. ft.||115 sq.ft.|
|Designer||Jerry Montgomery||Clark Mills|
|Builder||Montgomery Marine Products
|Hutchins Co., Inc.
|Small Boat Shop
|Price||$4,650 w/ sails||4,695 w/ sails|