As a sporty trailable sailer, the Copland Harrier 20 delivers the goods, says David Harding

Product Overview

Copland Harrier 20


Copland Harrier 20: ‘Puts a smile on your face’

Some boats just get things right. They’re fast, responsive, well balanced and a pleasure to sail. They do exactly what you want, with a smile on their face that can’t help but put a smile on yours.

The Copland Harrier 20 is one such boat. This 20-footer is little sister to the better-known Fox Terrier.

Both were designed by Uffa Fox’s nephew, Tony Dixon, and built by Copland Boats on the Isle of Wight as part of a range that included Fox’s own-designed Foxcub, Foxhound and Flying Fifteen.

While the Fox Terrier has much in common with Hunter Boats’ Sonata, the Harrier drew obvious comparisons with the Medina: she’s the same length (give or take a few inches), from the same era and similar in many ways, with a ballasted, vertically lifting keel and a good turn of speed.

On balance – and at the risk of invoking the wrath of Medina owners – I would say I preferred sailing the Harrier.

For enthusiasts of the Medina, I will explain why later.

A man sitting in the cockpit of a boat

On a boat of this age it’s worth upgrading the systems and hardware to make life more efficient for both racing and family cruising. Under sail, the outboard is lifted out of its well and stowed away. Credit: David Harding

When it comes to popularity, however, the Harrier can’t compete with her rival.

You simply don’t see that many of them, although there’s inevitably a concentration in and around the Solent and Rowan Horner’s Meg gets out and about as much as two or three typical 20-footers.

Rowan bought Meg 11 years ago as a move up from dinghies, having found her in Essex in a state that called for some restoration.

He’s only the fourth owner since she was built in 1983.

An earlier owner kept her as a liveaboard boat for a year in the Greek islands.

Now a resident of England’s South Coast, Meg lives life as a true trailable sailer, on a trailer at Buckler’s Hard on the Beaulieu River.

Rowan launches her from the slipway behind his car, trails her home for the winter and brings her back in the spring.

It takes a bit longer to get rigged and ready than if the boat were on a mooring, but the savings in cost, maintenance and the hassle of antifouling make it an appealing option unless you want to pop out for a couple of hours of an evening.

Copland Harrier 20: Good made better

On the day of our sail, I joined Rowan and his daughter, Finn, while Meg was still on the trailer.

I wanted to observe both the launch and recovery.

Once ready to go, we started the 6hp Johnson 2-stroke outboard and set off down the river.

Given the steep, densely wooded banks, a light breeze and a spring flood tide, sailing simply wasn’t an option unless we wanted to spend the day ghosting around the river’s upper reaches.

The cockpit of a Copland Harrier 20

Wide side decks are a welcome feature on a boat of this size, making for easy movement forward and allowing a racing crew to hike comfortably. Credit: David Harding

Meg has an outboard well, unlike the original Harriers that kept things simple with transom brackets.

In exchange for creating more noise, a well keeps the engine working in a seaway when a transom-mounted outboard would be about as much use as Rowan’s weight-saving alternative, Boris (Better Off Rowing Instead: 2hp, just enough to push the boat along in flat water and about as reliable as its name suggests).

As we plugged away against the flood, I asked Rowan about the modifications he had made to Meg.

I had heard rumours that he was a practical sort of chap and that Meg had undergone a few changes since he had owned her.

It transpired that he is and she has.

Where to start? Well, he made the trailer – not part of the boat, but pretty important in this instance.

A man lifting a keel on a Copland Harrier 20

Rowan lifting the keel he built himself. The lifting mechanism uses Dyneema rather than wire. Credit: David Harding

Most significantly, as far as sailing is concerned, he made a new keel.

The cast-iron original weighed 750lb (340kg) and was crudely profiled. It was also constant in its maximum cross-section throughout its depth, while tapering to a shorter chord at the tip than at the root in the style of the IOR keels of the day.

This had several implications. First, at the tip it was so short and fat as to be almost round: hardly an efficient section.

Second, the tapered shape meant the keel would only fill the case and fit snugly when fully down.

If raised slightly for sailing in shallow water, or lifted on a mooring, it would thump around inside the case.

Rowan found a NACA section on the internet and set about making a new hollow keel in steel, with three internal sections that would allow him to move the lead that he poured in from one section to another if necessary to balance the boat fore and aft.

He concentrated even more weight at the bottom by giving it a small lead bulb.

Continues below…

The result is a keel that’s not only more efficient in section and with a lower centre of gravity but also 220lb (100kg) lighter, reducing the boat’s total weight by 10%.

It’s deeper, giving a maximum draught of 5ft 3in (1.6m) and it now fits snugly in the case whether up, down or in between.

Modifying the removable strut with its jockey winch was another important job, to make sure the new keel could be fully raised inside the cabin.

Rowan uses Dyneema for the lifting line, expressing surprise that contributors to a discussion on the PBO forum favoured wire.

As for performance, you would expect a new keel like this to have a marked effect.

Even though she didn’t feel radically transformed, Meg jumped right up the results list.

A yacht flying a blue and white spinnaker

As well as conventional spinnakers, Meg flies asymmetrics from a bowsprit. Credit: David Harding

There’s no way that lift, sail-carrying ability and straight-line boat-speed cannot have been greatly improved.

What Rowan did notice immediately, however, was a dramatic increase in step-on stability.

Small, light and relatively beamy lift-keelers like this can lurch alarmingly when you step aboard, especially if you’re not aware of this and put your weight near the point of maximum beam.

Or, as Rowan puts it, ‘the opposite gunwale would come up and smack you in the forehead if you weren’t careful.’

Such initial tenderness characterises relatively light and beamy lift-keelers of this nature.

On some, such as the Evolution 19, you have only to stretch out your arm to heel the boat if you’re on a mooring – but bear in mind that lack of initial stiffness doesn’t imply a problem with ultimate stability

A stiff test

Without sailing an unmodified Harrier it’s impossible to comment first-hand on the differences the new keel has made.

Nonetheless I can say that, with her new keel, Meg demonstrates remarkable step-on stability for a 20-footer.

She slips along nicely, too. After motoring down the river we still had to search for the wind, abandoning a Solent where any sails were simply drifting west on the tide and returning to the river instead.

Here we found 7-10 knots of wind which, with the help of the racing laminate mainsail and No2 jib, propelled us upwind with mid-4s showing on the log and allowed us to tack through around 75°.

A little more breeze filled in later and Meg revelled in it, remaining perfectly balanced and slicing her way through the short Solent popple when we poked our nose out into open water for a second time.

We were sailing in gentle conditions, but Rowan has been out in some serious blows.

A boat in a blow

Meg rounding the Needles during the breezy Round the Island Race in 2011. Credit: David Harding

In one (west-about) two-handed Round the Island race he switched the VHF to the correct channel only after rounding the Needles and just in time to hear the gale warnings.

It was already blowing old boots and, since they were heading downwind by then, carrying on was the only option.

‘It got a bit lively at times’, said Rowan. ‘We did wonder whether we should phone our families to say we that loved them.’

Such thoughts didn’t slow them down, though.

The Copland Harrier 20 loves breezy downwind legs and that was one of several occasions when the GPS recorded over 15 knots.

The maximum to date has been 15.9 under spinnaker, and that was with a foul tide.

In those sort of conditions it helps to have a rudder that keeps the boat on track.

As well as having just the right amount of balance, the Harrier’s grips tenaciously.

That’s another area in which this boat scores over the Medina, whose rudder makes her heavier on the helm and will let go with far less provocation.

Reaching double-figure speeds was out of the question during our afternoon’s outing, but we still had a variety of spinnakers to choose from to spice up our downwind sailing.

Given the amount of gybing likely to be necessary within the confines of the river, we plumped for one of the asymmetrics that flies from a short removable sprit.

And since sailing hotter angles was more fun than optimising VMG, we kept the apparent wind at little more than 90° most of the time and threw in countless gybes as we headed back up the river.

Despite this frivolous approach we still stayed ahead of a new 35ft performance cruiser that was sailing in a straight line under plain sail.

As well as being fast and fun to sail, the Copland Harrier 20 makes life comfortable for the helmsman and crew.

Sitting on the angled coamings outboard of the cockpit, you can lean back against the guardwires but might need to slacken them in a breeze so you can incline your torso further outboard to counter the heel.

With the combination of boat and rudder balance being spot-on, you need just two fingers to hold the tiller extension (except, perhaps, when surfing past St Catherine’s Point in 25 knots of wind against the tide).

This sort of lightness and sensitivity is a rare treat indeed.

Because the blade lifts vertically, the boat remains easy to steer when it’s partially raised.

All that’s wrong is its massive weight – its ‘on the scales’ weight, not its steering weight.

It’s extraordinarily heavy. Not surprisingly, making a new one is on Rowan’s job-list.

As well as the comfort of the helming position and the balance of the rudder, the longer cockpit is another area where the Copland Harrier 20 scores over the Medina.

From the inside of the transom to the cabin bulkhead is over 6ft (1.83m).

Drag reduction

It almost goes without saying that, when we started sailing, the outboard came out of its well and a fairing plug filled the aperture in the hull.

Sailing with the handbrake on was never an option, and it’s generally the same when Rowan has his family aboard.

Although he enjoys racing (the Round the Island, Island Double and Mini-Ton Cup have been regular fixtures in the calendar), family cruising is what he does most.

It’s a lot of work to launch and recover for a day’s sail, so weekending is the norm and Island Harbour (up the Medina) a favourite destination.

On the subject of work, another of Rowan’s jobs was to cut a few inches off the bottom of the mast where corrosion had set in.

He kept the rig the same height by melting down the aluminium wheel of a car that had been involved in an argument with a kerb, pouring it into a mould formed from styrofoam inside moulding sand.

Then he had the new casting, together with the mast and boom, powder-coated in white.

The everyday upwind sails on Meg are also white, the laminates we used being kept principally for competitive outings.

When Rowan does race, it’s for the fun and the challenge of the competition and learning how to get the best out of the boat.

Results and points are of little consequence.

A desire to sail efficiently and not waste the power of the elements is instilled in many who have been brought up racing dinghies competitively.

It makes sailing more enjoyable.

Accommodation on the Copland Harrier 20

This is one aspect of the Copland Harrier 20 that was criticised when she was new in the 1980s, because the standard of fit-out was considered to be below that of some competitors: slightly dated and a bit rough around the edges.

No interior mouldings were used and that, to my mind, is a big plus.

Bulkheads were bonded directly to the hull, as was the joinery, eliminating the dead weight, wasted space and restricted access to systems and the inside of the hull that often go with inner mouldings.

The inside of the Copland Harrier 20 trailer sailer boat

Harriers were supplied for home completion as well as ready to sail, so interior arrangements vary but there’s plenty of space for weekending

In similar vein, the headlining is vinyl-covered ply for easy access to the deckhead.

As standard the Copland Harrier 20 came with two long settee berths each side that continued as quarter berths beneath the cockpit (stowage lockers are in each quarter).

A galley unit pulled out from beneath the companionway and the forecabin was used for the heads and stowage.

Like a number of Harriers, Meg was bought part-complete and fitted out by her first owner.

Among other changes, he put a galley unit amidships to starboard, built stowage lockers outboard of the settee berths and fitted a V-berth in the forecabin.

The absence of mouldings allowed scope for making such modifications.

Among the few internal measurements that matters on a boat of this size is the sitting headroom.

At 1m (3ft 6in) it will be ample for most people.

PBO verdict on the Copland Harrier 20

There’s no doubt that the Copland Harrier 20 is a great little boat (as is the Medina too, lest anyone should get the wrong impression).

This particular Harrier has been tweaked and improved by a highly practical owner who has shown how to make a 30-year-old design not only faster but also smarter and more comfortable.

If you don’t happen to possess Rowan’s level of practical skills, you’re still unlikely to go far wrong with a Copland Harrier 20.

More’s the pity that they just don’t make ‘em like this any more

Dry-sailing with a trailable cruiser

A Copland Harrier 20 being floated onto a trailer

Docking arms on the trailer make an enormous difference when you launch and recover every time

If you have a shallow-draught boat like the Copland Harrier 20 that’s easy to launch and recover from a trailer, you can save maintenance and mooring fees by keeping her ashore near the water’s edge.

Having a trailer with docking arms makes life much easier.

You will need to be prepared to change the bearings every year, and it saves grief if you remove the brakes during the season.

Launching Meg behind Rowan’s Fiat Multipla is easy enough providing it’s at a state of tide when the cross-current isn’t running too strongly.

Recovery is normally straightforward, too.

Putting the boat to bed inevitably takes longer if, as we did on this occasion, you flush the outboard through with fresh water, put on the all-over cover and hose down the trailer.

This isn’t trailer-sailing in the usual sense of the term, but an option that might be worth considering if you own a trailable boat.

Other boats to look at

Hunter Medina

A Hunter Medina yacht sailing past woodland

Price: £3,000–£6,000

Perhaps the most obvious alternative to the Copeland Harrier 20, she too sails nicely and has a verticallylifting keel.

Built later as the Horizon 21, with fin or twin keels.

Parker 21

A Parker 21 sailing out to sea

Price: £8,000–£11,000

Based on a mini-tonner designed by Ron Holland, she was converted by Bill Parker into a nippy and practical weekender with a keel that can be lifted from the cockpit.

Jaguar 21

A Jaguar 21 sailing along the coast

Price: £4,000–£8,000

Designed by John Mullins and built by Jaguar Yachts in Essex, she was killed off by the Recreational Craft Directive (RCD) in 1998 but over 200 were produced, most with fully-lifting keels.


LOA:20ft 1in/6.12m
LWL:18ft 3in/5.56m
Beam:7ft 11in/2.43m
Draught - Keel up:1ft 0in/0.31m
Draught - Keel down:4ft 0in/1.21m
Sail area:178 sq ft/16.53 sq m
Engine:3-6hp outboard
Headroom:3ft 6in/1.00m
Designer:Tony Dixon/Copeland Boats
Builder:Copland Boats, Ventnor, Isle of Wight