MacGregor has been building sailboats for some 40 years and claims to have sold more sailboats than any other manufacturer. With a focus on trailerable pocket cruisers, MacGregor developed the first water ballast system for their 26-footer in the late 1980s. The invention was ingenuous: fill the ballast tank when you launch the boat to give it stability when heeled over under sail, then drain the ballast when you pull the boat back out on the launch ramp, making it much lighter for trailering with an ordinary car. The latest MacGregor model 26M is now also a fast powerboat.
The New 26
The MacGregor 26 has evolved from the original swing-keel version with tiller and a small outboard to the current daggerboard 26M model with steering wheel and a big outboard. Along the way the styling evolved from original models that looked more like traditional sailboats to the distinctive “Euro-powerboat” appearance of the 26M. People seem to love or hate this boat, with few in between.
It's Mostly in the Power
When MacGregor gave the 26X model room for a 50 hp outboard in the mid 1990s, the move heralded a new market focus. The water ballast that had been removable only after taking the boat out of the water could now be dumped while underway if the sails were down. With its lightweight planing hull, the boat then became a powerboat capable of doing over 20 mph. The marketing strategy has shifted from its former emphasis on practical trailering to the fun and usefulness of having two boats in one. Sail or power, take your pick.
Creature Comforts Too
For its size, the new 26M is also quite roomy below and has the amenities necessary for weekend cruising by a couple or small family:
- Queen-size aft berth and vee-berth forward
- Enclosed head with porta-potty
- Galley area with sink and room for stove
- Removable table
- 6 feet of headroom under the sliding hatch.
- Many available options
It Also Sails
MacGregor’s mast-raising system makes it easy for one person to rig the boat in the parking lot beside the launch ramp. The boat sails well under just the mainsail when it’s breezy, and the optional roller-furler makes it easy to get the jib out without leaving the cockpit. Critics have argued that a boat that looks like a powerboat can’t sail very well, but I was surprised to find that it accelerates fast, tracks reasonably well, and is easy to control with the dual rudders. It is more tender than most sailboats with a deeper weighted keel, and you might feel at first that it could capsize easily when the wind blows hard—but that risk is probably no greater than with any trailerable. Always use common sense to reef or furl the sails when a storm threatens, and never be caught very far offshore.
MacGregor has kept the price of the 26M down by avoiding frills without sacrificing things that help a boat sail well. The mainsheet traveler, seldom found in trailer-sailors, helps the boat sail higher into the wind. The jib fairlead tracks, also rare in a boat like this, allow for better adjustment of the shape of the jib, which is critical with a furling jib or when changing from one jib to another.
The hull is designed for fast motoring, of course, and this does make the boat feel less stable than a keelboat when waves kick up. The shallow draft combined with high freeboard, necessary to provide all that room down below, also means the 26M has a lot of windage and is blown sideways more than most sailboats its size. But when in a hurry, just drop the sails and power up.
New Competitors in Water-Ballast Trailerables
MacGregor’s success in this market has led to newer water-ballast models from two other leading American builders, Hunter and Catalina. Both have solid reputations for small day sailors and larger cruisers.
The Hunter Edge reaches for the same big-power market segment with up to a 75 hp engine. Costing better than $10,000 more than the MacGregor 26M, the Edge is heavier and more solidly constructed. It requires a larger tow vehicle but is a more solid boat with a more substantial interior.
The Catalina 250 mkII, in contrast, is more like a high-end version of the original MacGregor 26, with a small outboard engine and swing keel and a more traditional appearance. Costing about $17,000 more than a comparably equipped M26, the Catalina 250 looks and feels more obviously like a quality sailboat. But it can’t pull a waterskier as the other two can.
Who Is This the Right Boat For?
The MacGregor 26M is an inexpensive boat and is often a starter boat for new sailors. Aside from those tempted by the lower cost, who might buy the 26M?
This may be an ideal boat for a powerboater becoming interested in sailing or the rare sailor looking for a powerboat. It’s also a good choice for someone who wants to trailer to distant places, stay onboard a few nights, and be able to race back into port if the weather starts to look iffy. If that’s you, you might add it up this way:
- Less expensive than most sailboats its size
- Lightweight and easily trailerable
- Capable of motoring very fast
- Acceptable sailing characteristics
- Roomy interior
- Attractive (to those who like “Euro-styling”)
- Less stable than traditional keelboats in rough conditions, and less forgiving of mistakes
- Planing “powerboat” hull compromises optimum sailing performance
- Not as strongly constructed as heavier sailboats
- Ugly (to those with traditional salty tastes)
Length: 25’ 10”
Beam: 7’ 10”
Draft: 10” (with daggerboard and rudders up)
Displacement: 4380 lbs with engine and full ballast, 3180 lbs with engine, without water ballast, 2626 lbs without engine and water ballast
Fuel tank: 24 gallons
Speed: 21 mph under power
Price: $21,500 with sails and trailer (without engine or options)
The MacGregor 26 has appeared in many different models and changes over the years. It also carries certain risks, and new owners must be cautious and prepared to take appropriate steps to avoid problems. Go to Part Two of this review for additional information and an experienced owner’s review.
If you can get by with just a little less interior space in a very sturdy, easy-to-trailer sailboat for pocket cruising, check out the West Wight Potter 19 - an outstanding small sailboat.
If you’re thinking about a trailerable sailboat like the Potter 19, remember that one of the great advantages is the ability to take it easily to other sailing destinations, such as heading to the Florida Keys in the winter.
Here’s an inexpensive, effective way to control your tiller if you have to let go for a moment while sailing.
Need a new outboard motor for your small sailboat? Check out the great new propane-powered outboards from Lehr.
If you own a trailer for your boat, be sure you maintain it adequately both to keep it working into the future but to stay safe when using it.