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Small and Beautiful Trailer-Sailers Open up New Cruising Possibilities

12th June 2012
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Small and Beautiful Trailer-Sailers Open up New Cruising Possibilities

#trailersailer – Ireland's coastline is one of the world's finest cruising grounds. Yet there are long lengths of the coast that rarely see a visiting cruiser. It is not that the area is inhospitable, although the weather can be challenging. Safe anchorages and sheltered harbours are numerous, the welcome on shore is legendary. The plain fact is that, for many of us the west coast of Ireland is very much the Far West.

A circumnavigation of the island is over 700 miles, roughly the same distance as the Fastnet Race, longer than the Sydney-Hobart, or the Newport-Bermuda. For the East Coast cruising sailor with a fortnight to spare Wales, Cornwall or Scotland are nearer, and, in the prevailing westerlies, easier to reach. Cork sailors can explore West Cork or South Kerry, but a trip to Galway is a serious voyage, with a long stretch of coast offering little or no shelter.

Any plan to develop cruising from Cork to Donegal must take account of the distances involved. One solution would be to develop marinas and encourage boat owners to keep their boat there for all or part of the year. However, maintaining a boat that is several hours drive from home is never easy. Those who are fortunate to keep boats in France, Portugal or elsewhere can depend on a well developed network of professionals, with workshops in the harbour area, to carry out necessary work. Unfortunately, marinas in Ireland are conceived more as a pretext to develop shore-side housing, rather than as essential industrial infrastructure. Boatyards and luxury apartments do not make good neighbours!

Basing the boat on the west coast for a month or two is no less problematic. Finding a window of opportunity, and the crew, for the delivery trip there and back, is never easy. A 300 mile cruise is, for many, already a summer holiday in itself! Furthermore, sailors can be reluctant to abandon the short but intense racing season, especially on the East Coast.

There is an alternative: the trailer-sailer, or, as well known nautical author Sam Llewelyn prefers – the "Minimum Boat". For an owner wishing to explore the nooks and crannies of the Irish coast such boats have huge advantages. The ability to tow a boat to a suitable area greatly extends the range of possible cruising grounds. The flexibility of such a mobile boat means that plans can be changed easily. You may have planned a weekend trip to the Aran Islands, but if the forecast is for squalls, rain and a huge swell it is no great problem to divert to Lough Derg, or even to "go foreign" and explore Lough Erne. How often is it set to rain in Kerry while Donegal basks in sunshine (or vice versa). Until you choose which exit to take off the motorway, the "Minimum Boat" owner is not committed to any one destination.

In addition, a ferry trip to Cherbourg or Roscoff opens up the whole of Europe. Personally I quite fancy exploring the Venice Lagoon or the Skerries of the northern Baltic.

In choosing a "Minimum Boat" compromises have to be made, between the boats nautical capacities, convenience when rigging, launching and recovering and the trappings of modern comforts. Many commonly used boats are no longer than 21-22 foot, and no more than 2 tons. Increasingly water ballast is used, reducing the towing weight, making it possible to tow and launch somewhat larger boats.

Obviously, a boat this size will not have standing headroom throughout. Farewell the power shower, the microwave and the master cabin. However, there is great pleasure in rediscovering the little luxuries – making that first tea or coffee whilst still in your sleeping bag, stepping ashore from the bow of the boat on a sheltered beach or settling down for the night in an anchorage known only to those that go to sea in kayaks or RIBs. Not forgetting that keeping the boat in the garden is a great convenience when maintenance is required.

Cruising on boats this size is more about exploring the coast and the islands, rather than passage making. In fact the whole point of the trailer-sailer is that long passages are made by road. The most difficult moments of any holiday will be launching and recovery. Many cars can cope with towing a fairly substantial boat. However, slipways are often narrow and steep. Alexander Nimmo and his fellow engineers of the 19th Century singularly failed to take account of the constraints of launching a small yacht from a road trailer when engaged in building so many harbours, piers and slips that are still the backbone of our nautical infrastructure. If a Minimum Boater has to rely on launching only at well-equipped boatyards or clubs then the range of accessible cruising areas is limited.

A major contribution to the development of trailer sailing could be made at little cost:

⁃ by publishing a comprehensive list of slipways, including details such as the angle of the slip (preferably between 7° and 12°), launching conditions and information on safe parking;

⁃ identifying a local tractor owner who would, for a small charge, tow the trailer down the slip. Ideally, they would also be able to offer safe parking for for car and trailer. Trailer-sailors would be happy to pay for such a service. Obviously, there will be considerations of liability and insurance, but in a period when small farmers, building contractors and other small businesses are facing difficulties, launching and recovering could provide a small but useful revenue stream.

To conclude by an (apocryphal) example:

Sitting in the bar of a well-known yacht club club in Greater Dublin two boat owners are discussing the possibility of viewing from the comfort of their own cockpit the in-port race in Galway Bay when the VOR fleet is in town. One owns a well-found 35 ft yacht that competes in local races. His owner reckons that in order to be sure of getting to Galway in time, and get the boat back, he will take a fortnight's holiday. He already organising a delivery crew, one for each trip, there and back, with the family driving down for the weekend. It is proving difficult to find a berth in Galway and he may have to anchor off somewhere.

His friend has a French-built 21 foot trailer-sailer that has proved competitive in club racing, and did well when he towed the boat to the UK to compete in Cowes Week. His plan is to lift out on Thursday evening after racing and drive down early Friday morning. He intends to launch in Kinvara, having checked the slip on Google Earth, and sail across to Galway. When he called the organisers they told him they would have no problem finding a berth for such a tiny yacht! The in-port race is on Saturday. The plan is to party in Galway on Saturday and sail back to Kinvara on Sunday. With HW just after 2130 there will be no problem getting back to Dublin sometime (possibly late) on Sunday night.

Small is beautiful. More to the point a small trailer friendly yacht is the passport to spending more time in some of the world's most spectacular seascapesMagheramore

Published in Cruising
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