PBO reader Keith Mackie is looking to buy a trailer sailer for exploring Greece, our trailer sailing expert has this advice…


Keith Mackie writes: “After 15 years working for the AA and RAC I achieved my RYA Level 2 powerboat handling certificate.

“I was aiming to go for Competent Crew next but instead I gave it all up and went to Greece to work for a tour operator on flotilla. And after nine months in the Ionian I am well and truly hooked on Mediterranean sailing.

“I’m now in the position to buy a boat and I have a little list – top of which is that the boat must appeal to my non-sailing spouse! The plan is to have a trailer sailer boat and tow it to the Med – I don’t have the funds to spend weeks sailing there – and I still need to work to fund my extra-long holidays.

“Other things on the list are that the beam should be under the maximum to tow on the road, it must have a fixed sea toilet that I can fit a holding tank to, and it should have an inboard engine and good sails.

“Is there a list of things to check for before buying a yacht or should I buy any boat within my budget and just get on with it?”

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PBO trailer sailing expert Colin Haines replies: “I once knew a man who liked to say that he’d trailer sailed his boat everywhere between the Hebrides and the Sporades, so your dream is not ill-founded.

“Both vertically lifting or swinging keel options have their advantages, especially when thinking about drying-out as the tide falls away and a swinging keel can retract fully into the centreboard case.

“Swinging keels tend to be flat plates while vertically lifting keels can have profiles more beneficial to the flow of water they pass through. They can also have a ‘torpedo’ at the bottom to maximise the righting moment for a given amount of ballast.

“Unless you plan on regularly beaching the boat a vertically lifting keel could be the better option provided it has some sort of provision to lock it down.

“Trailer sailers were built with a provision either to clamp an outboard engine onto the transom, or carry it in a well. Purists will argue that the transom-mounted engine can be lifted clear of the water to avoid drag.

“Said purists have never tried to use a transom-mounted engine to motor into large waves, where the engine risks alternately being swamped and having the propeller spinning in fresh air.

“Neither risk exists with a well-mounted engine, nor will any dropped tools join all the rubbish in Davy Jones’s locker when changing a spark plug etc. Trailer sailers may have been lucky or unlucky with their owners, and the lucky boats having caring owners will now offer good value for relatively small sums of money.

“Unless you intend to employ a surveyor – budget perhaps £10 per foot plus travelling costs – you need to pay close attention to any cracks in the gel coat and think about what they tell you.

“For example, cracks radiating out from the mast step tell you that it could not bear the imposed load at some point in the past. Has the cabin sagged? The state of the fittings will also tell a story.

“A boat surveyor will not look at the boat’s trailer. For that you need to seek the advice of an experienced trailer mechanic used to things like horse boxes. The reality of your dream is that the trailer, especially its brakes, is more important than the boat.

“The trailer itself will have to be registered for overseas towing. I can only think of one trailer sailer boat that had a marine toilet in it. The rest of the boats I’ve seen all relied on some variant of the ‘chuck it bucket’ or had a chemical toilet with its own holding tank that can be taken ashore to be emptied and cleaned.

“If you’re buying your first boat, it may be better to consider it to be a learning experience to find out which features are actually the most important to you so you know what to look for if, or when, you sell it and buy another.

“The best advice I can give before you set off with your boat on a trailer is to make sure that all of the kit behind your tow vehicle looks well cared for and in obviously good condition. Passing policemen won’t notice any shambles inside the cabin.”

Got a question? Email: pbo@futurenet.com and we’ll put it to our panel of experts.

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This feature appeared in the August 2022 edition of Practical Boat Owner. For more articles like this, including DIY, money-saving advice, great boat projects, expert tips and ways to improve your boat’s performance, take out a magazine subscription to Britain’s best-selling boating magazine.

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