Tips on getting started w/ trailer sailing?

Started by marke14, May 02, 2023, 03:35 PM

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Hello all,

My name is Mark, and my wife and I now live in the Morro Bay, California area.  Hello!

We relocated from the L.A. area last summer; we recently sold our sailboat QUANTA, a Universal Marine Montego 25 that we kept in a slip in San Pedro, CA (Los Angeles harbor).  We owned it for close to 10 years, and most of the sailing was done by me singlehanded, with some crew/exceptions.  We did some weekends in Catalina, an island about 27 miles offshore from L.A., but mainly I did a lot of coastal sailing south of the harbor entrance, around the Palos Verdes peninsula. 

If you haven't had the pleasure of sailing a smaller sailboat in and around the very busy L.A./Long Beach harbor megaplex, let me tell you: between the asshat powerboaters, the commercial traffic including tugs, barges and service craft, and the "racing crowd" who feel they have right of way over everyone else because they are racing... man, you haven't really lived!  8)

My sailing experience is limited to our 25' masthead sloop, plus a little sailing on our Walker Bay dinghy which had the sailing kit.  Talk about apples and oranges!

Now that we are settled in our new location, I've begun looking at boats once again (naturally!).

Here are some current factors that I am considering:
* we have two passenger cars, only one of which I am considering adding a hitch to (Mazda 3 hatchback ... not exactly the best tow vehicle)
* I'd love to buy a truck (like a Tacoma) but they get horrible mileage - but you can tow and launch boats, etc.
* I'd love to buy an electric truck but they are quite expensive
* we currently do not have any place to park our theoretical trailer sailer - but, I believe I can find a place once that becomes a problem.

Obviously, if I were to buy a truck, that solves that problem.  I looked at a local Catalina 22 swing keel, which is stored mast-up on a trailer in MB (you can tow it through town to the launch ramp without lowering the mast ...) but the seller told me that he always used his pickup for launch and retrieval. 

If not ... not sure exactly how to determine how much weight I could tow (and launch/retrieve) with a Mazda 3 (2.5L engine, the bigger one).  However I'd imagine that I could likely handle smaller boats ~16 feet and smaller, plus the weight of the trailer.

So my dilemma is, should I kind of go for a smaller boat now (that is before I eventually buy a truck / suitable tow vehicle) - for example, there is a sweet Catalina Capri 16.5 for sale near us - or should I hold out until I get a truck which enables more options? 

Having not sailed boats in this size range - I learned on a Cal20 in Long Beach, CA - I am unsure for example, how wet or dry they are, typically (it is quite cold up here, and I'm not necessarily looking to go sailing in a dry suit).

In terms of intended use, I'm looking for something that I can singlehand, including launch/retrieve, for daysailing.  No overnights, but probably crossing the bar and heading out to open water near Morro Rock.  If it is truly small enough (to comfortably tow w/ the Mazda), we have a lot of lakes up here that I could trailer the boat to and do some lake sailing, which I'm betting my wife would enjoy moreso than offshore of MB. I'm middle aged and relatively strong/flexible/in decent physical shape.  I am confident in my sailing ability and seamanship, so learning a new boat and its procedures isn't going to be a problem.  Or so I currently believe!

Anyway, thanks for any thoughts you all may have for someone looking to get into this aspect of sailing.

P.S. I did some searching around for this kind of topic but wasn't able to find anything. Please forgive this probably common question/post, perhaps this was addressed on the old forum.

Captain Kidd

Welcome, Mark!

My thought would be to buy a smaller boat that you can tow with the Mazda. Looks like it's rated to tow about 3000lbs though that seems heavy to me. When the time is right and you can get a bigger tow vehicle, get a bigger boat. You can sell the smaller one or keep it (especially if it turns out to be daysailer).

The West Wight Potter comes to mind.

Good luck in your decision and search!

Dave Scobie

Smaller the boat more often used - easier and faster to rig, launch, tow.

Consider a Montgomery 15.

Norm L.

Even tho Dave is a bit biased, and well earned bias, I agree that for your specs a Montgomery 15 would be a good fit. Solid built, a bit of a cabin to help keep dry, weight under 1000 lbs so probably within the capability of the Mazda.
But you being in mountain country, at least on the way to lakes, I wouldn't want to go heavier. Specs give the car 1400 lbs unbraked weight. But Mazda (at least their lawyers) say not made for towing.

i still like the idea of a light weight 15-16" boat now and something bigger when you are ready for a bigger tow vehicle.


Thanks for these comments and the encouragement folks, I appreciate your thoughts!  The note about towing uphill (and braking downhill) with the Mazda 3 are especially well noted, thank you.

I'm in agreement with these points made:  smaller, simpler boats are easier and faster to rig/de-rig, and will likely be used more than something that is larger and more complex.

I't trying to avoid trading vehicles at this time (I also don't want to manage a "yard truck" aka a third vehicle, though that is also an option).

So with gratitude on these comments so far - and please keep them coming, TS forum readers! - allow me to shift gears here a little.

I have many years of sailing experience as I mentioned, but it's all limited to my 25' keelboat and the Cal20 I learned on (via classes through US Sailing in Long Beach, CA).  The only dinghy sailing experience I have is on our little Walker Bay plastic dinghy.

And this is really my question here.  Again sticking with the Capri 16.5 example, or the Montgomery or West Wights - how tender are boats like this and how wet would one expect to get sailing let's say in fewer than 15 knots? I know sea state and all of that are a factor, I mean more generally.

Another thing to consider is that while I'll mostly singlehand, I need something that my wife will be comfortable sailing with me at least during optimal weather.  Ideally we could even take another person or two. 

Travis Chapman

What a great question. A few years back I was in a situation where I needed to trade out my boat because we were getting rid of the yard truck, i.e, my Sierra 1500. I still wanted to sail, wanted my own boat, but needed something that I could tow with our 2014 Ford escape. We had a really good tow package on it for just this kind of situation but the Aquarius 23 that I had was really too big to safely tow with that vehicle, even though I had brought it back from North Carolina with a Jeep Liberty.

In the end I was able to find a Windrose 18 that fit the bill for me. It had a cabin, good sail characteristics, but importantly was of a low enough towing weight that the Escape could comfortably handle it. Since that time I traded vehicles again and now tow with a Nissan Frontier.

Couple thoughts:
- For my transit to the local lake, towing wasn't a real issue since I was below 50 most of the way. I like the Frontier for highway towing long distances; more power and better handling. Distance and frequency of travel made a difference.
- This past summer I had some good gusts on the lake that reminded me: an 18 footer ain't my old Tartan 37, and she'll bury her nose if allowed. Not quite dinghy sailing, but more tender than I realized.
- If it was available, I'd be interested in the Montgomery 15 or Potter 15, but in the Chesapeake area I just couldn't find many options above 15 ft, below 20, and within a reasonable weight. I still love the Sanibel 18, but I had to accept what the market had available.
- I do appreciate how much faster I can set up the Windrose compared to the Aquarius 23, and it makes a difference in how often I sail.
- A purchase needn't be forever. While I tend to think that way, I am trying with a new project to set some expectations on use: I need to get another 2-3 years of fun for my effort and then I can pass it on. An Albacore for a year of quick lake sailing can be a lot of fun, then pass it on if you want or when something more aligned to your overall wants pops up.
SV Panda Paws
Windrose 18
Glyndon, MD

Dave Scobie

Quote from: marke14 on May 03, 2023, 05:39 wet would one expect to get sailing let's say in fewer than 15 knots? I know sea state and all of that are a factor, I mean more generally

M15 is a keelboat and self righting.  There is real ballast in the boat.

A M15 has sailed from CA to Hawaii.  Book about the adventure - 'A Little Breeze To The West' by Michael Mann

M15s have cruised all the US coasts and from Maine to Florida, the Gulf Coast, West Coast and Inside Passage to Alaska.

A dry boat.  Excellent sailor both on and off the wind.

Cabin has a large and comfortable berth, an easily usable head and piles of storage.

Cockpit has a comfortable seating and ample storage in two cockpit lockers (some variation here that can be described if interested).

Boat has positive flotation.

More discussion and pictures here -


Hi Mark. I live in SLO and have a WWP 15 I tow with a Honda Fit no problem. In fact I am seeking a partner since I can't get her out on the water often enough. They are light, easy to rig, launch and sail singlehanded.
If you want to check her out for any reason give a call.
805 215 1551


Quote from: Pete on May 26, 2023, 12:16 AMHi Mark. I live in SLO and have a WWP 15 I tow with a Honda Fit no problem. In fact I am seeking a partner since I can't get her out on the water often enough. They are light, easy to rig, launch and sail singlehanded.
If you want to check her out for any reason give a call.
805 215 1551

Hey Pete! I think we may have exchanged emails back in November or so. I will contact you to discuss this, I am loving this idea!


I'll be interested to hear about your trials and your choice. One criteria for boat choice is about how things will work out if, and when, you get caught out in a blow. I race Thistles and Lasers which are both boats that capsize easily. Some might consider them less safe, but the opposite is true. I have plenty of experience riting each and I never worry about what might happen. We capsized the Thistle last Saturday, righted the boat easily, and finished the race, and the series (on the podium). The Laser ends up with the mast pointing down on a regular basis. I've capsized both types of boats in big wind and big waves on open water. Early on, with my wood Thistle I had to accept assistance, on 2 occasions, to get back to shore. Since that time, in the 1980s, I've never needed assistance. Partly do to improvements made to the floatation in the wood boat, and better floatation built into the glass boats. After that, comes experience and confidence. I've, fortunately or unfortunately, had plenty. The important point is that I don't worry. When I ask myself, What's the worst that can happen?, I can't think of much that I haven't dealt with.

On my Oday 240 I really don't know what will happen in a knockdown. My experience in the smaller boats helps me imagine how things might go. Hopefully I would have the hatch boards in, and I wouldn't be flying a chute, because I don't have one. Whether the boat would rite itself or not, is a good question. One thing that keeps a boat from coming up are sheets that are still cleated or maybe fouled on something. I know to look for that first thing and how to fix it. I know that some have had to climb out on their keels to bring a small cruiser up, and I would be prepared to do so. Here, my small boat experience is very helpful, but there are still, What's the worst thing?, variables. None the less, I've sailed this boat in big wind and waves and have never come close to laying it down. That in itself provides a lot of confidence.

If I was looking at one of the smaller cabin boats, I would really like to be able to answer the, What's the worst thing?, question. I have a friend who had sailed a Daysailer his whole life. I asked him about its self rescuing capabilities one day when we were sailing in whitecaps on a cold day in February. His answer was that he didn't know, because he never had. That very next summer he found out, the hard way. He ended up turtled in the middle of a medium sized lake and had to be towed, upside down, to the lee shore, as the rescue boat couldn't make progress to the weather shore, where the club was. The Daysailer is a much more stable and forgiving boat than a Thistle, but that doesn't mean that it's a safer boat. It may be less likely to go over, but that's not the crucial property.

One can try to gain some experience by dumping a boat on purpose. This can be helpful in telling you how it will float, whether or not it turtles, and how much effort it takes to get it to come up. I have seen people testing small cruisers in this manner, and I would suggest doing so.

I'm talking about all of this because sacrificing performance for safety, that may not exist, is a loosing proposition.  These are just some of my ideas. I've never sailed a 16 to 18 foot cruiser, but I have thought about looking into one, as my Oday is really not a trailer-sailor. We have a Daysailer that I might turn into a camper. I would work on its self rescuing capabilities if I did so. It can easily be made to self recue much like the Thistle. Otherwise, it's a decent performer. By that I mean that, even though it's slow, it will make its way to windward, and it has a balanced helm on reaches. I can probably sail it comfortably in 5 to 8  mph more wind than the Thistle, but sailing it in light air will bring little joy, particularly when it's loaded up with camping gear. I probably would opt for some oars, rather than a motor.

These are my thoughts.

Ken j

Check out the potter yachters club - great and active small sailboat group - not just for potters

Noemi - Ensenada 20

Quote from: rfrance0718 on May 26, 2023, 04:00 PMOne can try to gain some experience by dumping a boat on purpose. This can be helpful in telling you how it will float, whether or not it turtles, and how much effort it takes to get it to come up. I have seen people testing small cruisers in this manner, and I would suggest doing so.

That's exactly what I did when I bought my Ensenada 20.  I had only sailed Sunfishes before that, and was really scared of capsizing a much (relatively) larger boat.  So I went out on a blustery October day with two friends who were more experienced sailors than I.  We pulled the main in way too far, standing on the sides of the cockpit seats, and then.....enough of the rudder came up out of the water, and the boat turned into the wind and sat up. 

I never worried after that.


Interesting comments rfrance - I must say, I wouldn't ever try to intentionally capsize a boat that had a cabin. I can appreciate the perspective, coming from Lazers and being comfortable with getting wet. Being a keelboat guy, that is sort of anathema to me. This is one of the reasons I asked about stability and dryness of the ride ...

Maybe you guys are more adventurous than I am, but one of the nice things about near shore and inshore day sailing for pleasure is that one can afford to be a fair weather sailor. Which I am, in fact. I don't shy from breezy days but I play it safe.

In the LA/San Pedro area it gets quite windy on a regular basis and my answer is to be very cautious and conservative, reef early, and don't stray too far if the weather is dynamic.  Keep the boards in and the hatch closed.

I've done almost all of my sailing solo and so I have good safety habits. I wear my life vest and keep a vhf radio clipped to it. I


Great perspectives! Dumping the 20 footer on a blustery day was smart. When we teach new sailors to capsize and recover it's usually on calm days and doesn't give the full picture. I totally understand not wanting to capsize a cabin boat on purpose, and I have no intention of dumping my Oday 240. That being said, a smaller cruiser, something in the 21 foot range or less, is often touted as being "self righting", but I would be leery of accepting that claim.

I have another Daysailer story which illustrates this point. My friend's experience was on an original Daysailer 1, built in the 60s. At that point the builders were just learning to put floatation tanks into glass boats and still had a lot to learn, and the users had a lot to learn as well.

I'll get back to the Daysailer, but first a  sad history about "self rescuing" boats. In the Thistle class we had a tragedy in the early 70s. There was a fleet racing in the Pacific by Carmel, that was hit by a sudden squall. When the fleet was in the parking lot, packing up, they found that there was an empty trailer.

The boat was found the next day, barely floating with just the tip of the bow showing above what was by then, a calm sea. All three of the crew were lost. It was an early glass boat that didn't have the floatation volume that modern glass Thistles have, but there were other problems found when the boat was inspected. There had been hardware, which had been mounted to the seat tanks, and maybe the bow tank, that had been moved, and the old holes hadn't been properly filled. On top of that, there was little positive floatation (foam) stuffed into the tanks. Finally, it was discovered that the crew didn't have pfds on, although, if they had, they may have died a slower death from hypothermia. After that, the Thistle builders increased the size of the tanks, and the class mandated a minimum amount of foam be stuffed into the tanks. (it's a lot, just barely fitting in)

My friend's experience with his original Daysailer had all of the same elements, even though it happened 30 years later, and fortunately, occurred on an inland lake. And then, I have my own Daysailer story. Tami had a new generation Daysailer 1 built in the 1980s. It had bow tanks, seat tanks, and even a double bottom, and was advertised as self rescuing. I was crewing for her in a Holiday series, at our club, when we death rolled in a failed gybe with the spinnaker. The boat was laying on its side, much like the Thistle does, and we climbed onto the board and started to bring it up. It was just starting to respond when I heard a rush of escaping air coming from the stern. With all of the floatation, the company had not bothered to put in a stern tank. That void, had at first, trapped a bunch of air, but as we started to bring it up, that seal was broken, and with the air replaced by water, there was nothing to hold up the stern. In short order, the boat became just a small tip of the bow, protruding straight up, about 10 inches. We were towed, very slowly, to the club ramp, where we slowly bailed and drained, until the boat waas dry, and could be hoisted out.

After that incident, I added some foam under the stern deck and then took the boat out, rolled it over, and righted it easily.

And finally, another club member tells the story of purposely rolling his friend's new American Sail 14.6, which claimed to be self rescuing. His experience was essentially the same as our experience with the Daysailer. He had thought that the boat would come up easily, but he ended up with the same dreaded bow tip, and had a heck of a time getting it up and dry, even with assistance.

I'm thinking the small cruisers, 15 to 21 feet, lets say, need to be tested, as Naomi did, with her Encinada 20. I would think that doing so, with an empty cabin, with hatches closed, and hatch boards in place, would be prudent.

Noemi - Ensenada 20

If I hadn't done that, and seen how far I could push her without going over, I would have been scared every time she heeled.  After testing, I knew that nothing I would do on purpose would endanger the boat.