After we arrived in Florida, …

March 2004 

A bitterly cold and snowy Nebraska winter is always a good reason to head south to Florida, but this year my wife and I were especially anxious to go. We had suffered through the coldest and snowiest winter in 20 years in Lincoln, and the news of 80 degree days and gentle breezes on Anna Maria Island, Florida, our destination, made us want to get on the road as soon as possible. A day after I returned from a business trip to California, on February 3rd we pulled out of Lincoln with our brand-new MacGregor 26M in tow behind our V-8 Ford Explorer.

I was somewhat concerned about towing a 26 ft sailboat 1500 miles from Lincoln, Nebraska, but my concern was not justified. The 26M towed beautifully at 65 mph, and we made it to our destination in 2 1?2 long days. We had made the same trip four years earlier, and had towed a Mac 26X. This trip was easier because the improved suspension of my 2002 Explorer reduced and nearly eliminated the buffeting of the eighteen wheelers as they sped by us. At times, I hardly new the boat was in tow.

After we arrived in Florida, I was anxious to get the new boat in the water, and fortunately, the night we arrived, I met a sailor who was on vacation without a boat, and I was a sailor on vacation without a crew. The result was he helped me launch the boat and we spent several days sailing the Gulf Coast and Tampa Bay waters with our mates.

The blue hull of my 26M drew plenty of attention during the trip, and even more so when my new friend Bill, and I, began to set it up. Surprisingly, in this sailing culture, mine was the first Mac 26M in the south Tampa Bay area.

Once I figured out how to use the mast raising kit, rigging and launching the boat went without a hitch until we backed it off of the trailer, and I discovered that I had not removed the bolts that secure the rudders in their upright position. I was soon in the water up to my neck with two wrenches in my hand to remove the bolts while traffic backed up at the ramp. After this minor inconvenience, we started the Tohatsu 50 and eased away from the dock while the ballast tanks filled.

During the four years I had been away, I had forgotten that unless a skipper stays between the red and green markers which mark the deep channels, you can find yourself in trouble in a hurry. As we moved further from the dock, I realized that I was on the wrong side of the channel marker and my rudders were scraping sand. Fortunately, I use bungee cords to secure the rudders in their down position, and as soon as I felt drag on them, I quickly released the cord to let the rudders come up.

The dagger board was only down one foot while I motored, so it was not a factor. Had I been in a fixed keel boat, I would have run aground, but with the 26M, by merely releasing the rudders and with the dagger board only down a foot, the shallow water was only an inconvenience. A quick turn to port got us going in the correct direction, and we were on our way to the marina to arrange the boat up for a three week live aboard.

As I mentioned earlier, I had previously owned a 26X, and I thought I would miss the layout of the X but the expanded cabin area with the removable table proved to be a much more efficient arrangement for a three week stay aboard. The open berth under the companionway made up into a king size bed for me, my wife, and Maggie, our Cockapoo. With the head moved forward on the M, both sides of the berth were easily accessible for us to climb in and out of bed. When we awakened in the morning, we rolled the bedding to the stern of the boat, and were ready to go sailing.

The removable table is stowed in an upright position on the port side of the rear berth. When we needed it for eating, or when I wanted to set my computer and portable printer on it to conduct business on the internet via my cell phone, it took only a few seconds to place in the guides. When unneeded, the stowed tabled opened up several square feet of living space in the boat, much more than I had in the 26X. Also, the thick cushions on this M are much more comfortable than those on the X.

I was pleasantly surprised at how the Mac 26 handled under power. The motor was new, and at full power I was able to get the hull speed up to 18 mph with the rudders up and empty ballast tanks. This is a real advantage when you need to get somewhere in a hurry.

We sailed Tampa Bay, the Gulf Coast side of the islands, and Sarasota Bay, and when the March sun began to fall toward the horizon, it took only a few minutes to raise the dagger board, lift the rudders, and open the ballast tanks before cranking up the Tohatsu 50 to head for the marina. After a couple of minutes, the water was drained from the tanks, and we were skimming along the water s surface around 18 mph. We turned more than a few heads of sailboaters who were plodding along at 6 mph to try to reach home before darkness fell.

We sailed with a mainsail and a furling jib rather than a furling genoa. I opted for the jib because the rotating mast and mainsail, along with a full jib gives me all the speed I need. I also could point higher into the wind with the jib, and the added visibility of jib over a genoa is a plus in crowded waterways with a boatload of people.

Bill, my new found sailing partner, was extremely impressed how the M handled with the water ballast and a dagger board. He was used to heavy, lead-keeled sailboats, and was amazed at the responsiveness and tracking ability of the Mac. More often than not, we would set the sails, let go of the wheel, and let the boat track the wind while we discussing sailing, or marveled at the beauty of the Gulf waters.

We did have a couple of rough water days where the waves built to four feet, but with a reefed main, or by sailing by jib alone, the M handled the rough waters effortlessly. The highest winds we sailed in were around 18 knots. 18 knot winds on the ocean are much different than sailing in 18 knot winds on a Nebraska lake because the waves build and we were fighting wind, waves and current.

On the few occasions where it was too rough to enjoy sailing, we simply dropped sail, and fired up the Tohatsu to head in to the protection of the Intercoastal waterway. In rough weather conditions, a 50 horsepower outboard is a real advantage because you can make headway into waves that would overpower a small engine.

Unfortunately, all good things come to an end, and reluctantly we loaded the boat onto the trailer and headed back to Nebraska. It was the best vacation we had ever had, and plan to make the same trip next year. The Mac 26M performed as well, if not better, than I had expected, and was a comfortable home away from home.

I highly recommend the 26M to anyone who wants a boat that can be trailered nearly anywhere in the continental US, lived aboard, and at the same time handles very well under sail and power.

Ron Brown
Tampa Bay, FL