Affordable daysailer that packs a performance punch while offering a stable ride
When Steve Colgate, Olympic sailor and founder of Offshore Sailing School, decided to update his vast fleet of Solings in 1996, he knew just what he wanted. After 35 years of sailing and teaching, Colgate was looking for a durable, safe boat that could be easily handled by novices but also offered the prospect of great performance. Most importantly, the boat had to be affordable. Colgate was convinced that if properly executed this new boat would not only be successful as a trainer but also appeal to the broader sailing public.
When the industry's major manufacturers failed to meet his demands, Colgate decided to develop the boat himself. Teaming up with designer Jim Taylor, whose credits include the handsome Sabre lineup, Colgate created an intriguing boat that bridges the gulf between sluggish pocket cruisers and rocket ship sport boats that require a high level of skill to handle. With a sail-away price of less than $30,000, it appears that Colgate's premise was right on the money. More than 100 of the boats have already been sold.
Few boats have been as carefully conceived as the new Colgate 26. An LOA of 25 feet, 8 inches, for example, means that the Coast Guard classifies the boat as a Class I vessel (Class II is 26 to 40 feet), which limits basic requirements and helps keep the cost down. Also, Colgate notes that many homeowner's insurance policies give automatic watercraft liability coverage for boats under 26 feet. The beam of 8 feet, 6 inches is the maximum legal width for highway towing. Storing the boat on a trailer in your driveway is another way to lower the cost of sailing.
Practicality aside, the rest of the dimensions add to up to a fine sailing boat that can handle a breeze and keep moving in the lightest airs. The LWL of 20 feet is a bit deceptive, since the counter stern is carried far aft, creating a handy instructor's perch behind the tiller. Students feel secure in the cockpit with a seat-level, inboard transom supporting the rudder post and tiller, but beyond that an open stern allows for easy access onto the boat in case of a man-overboard emergency. The bow overhang is moderate, and the hull form features a flattish forefoot and firm bilges. The standard keel carries 1,050 pounds of ballast and translates into a draft of 4 feet, 6 inches. A shoal-draft option adds 200 pounds of ballast and slices off a foot of draft. The ballast-to-displacement ratio is 40 percent, which accounts for the 26's stiffness when sailing upwind, while the displacement-to-length ratio of 145 helps explain its exciting off-the-wind performance.
The hull is solid fiberglass, further demonstrating that practical considerations ruled the day. Any sailing school boat is going to receive a few nicks and scrapes along the way, and a solid hull is much easier to repair. Private owners also appreciate the durability of a solid glass hull. The hull and deck are joined on a flange, bonded chemically and through-bolted before being covered with a rubber bumper. The hull is beefed up in the bow, under the stanchion bases, around mast support area and in the bottom of the boat where the stainless steel keel bolts are attached. The deck is cored with Core-cell foam for rigidity. Positive foam flotation makes the 26 virtually unsinkable.
Although the Colgate 26 is sometimes called a pocket cruiser, most sailors will use the boat for daysailing. The cockpit is well designed and accommodates four adults with ease. The mainsheet traveler runs across the inboard transom, allowing for efficient end-boom sheeting and keeps the cockpit clear. The mainsheet is double-ended, with the forward end leading to a cleat on a barney post on the sole, and the aft end leading to the traveler. This arrangement gives the instructor easy access to the sheet in case of emergencies; much like the passenger-side brake pedal in a driving school car.
The Harken No. 16 self-tailing sheet winches for the small, nonoverlapping roller-furling jib are set on the aft end of the cabintop. While this arrangement is ideal for teaching, it makes it more challenging to tack when singlehanded sailing. The stout wooden tiller is about the only piece of wood on the boat. A bracket for an outboard motor is mounted astern with a cockpit locker specifically designed for engine storage. The cockpit and lockers are self-draining, a vast improvement over the Soling.
The deck features a secure nonskid pattern and oversized, well-supported stanchions. Forward of the cockpit, the lifelines are conventional coated wire rope, terminating at a sensible pulpit that does not extend forward of the bow. Aft, the lifelines convert to solid stainless tubing, offering extra support when seated and a secure handhold when moving about the deck. The hardware is exclusively Harken, including the headsail furling system. The main, jib and spinnaker are by North Sails and are part of the standard package.
The interior is small, but like the rest of the boat, it is well thought out. It would be fun to spend a weekend sailing and camping. The V-berths are 7 feet, 3 inches long, making them more than sleepable if the weather prohibits sleeping in the cockpit. A portable head, insulated ice chest, optional sink and alcohol stove make the boat more comfortable for weekend cruising. A VHF radio is standard equipment, and a soft solar panel designed to be left in the cockpit will keep the battery topped off when you're away from the boat. Once the cushions are removed the interior can be literally hosed down for quick and easy clean up.
I was quite impressed with the 26's performance during a recent sail off Captiva Island in the Gulf of Mexico. While my wife and daughters attended Offshore Sailing School's weekend learn-to-sail course, instructor Christian Pschorr and I grabbed an empty boat and tacked out through Red Fish Pass. On the wind, the 26 points very high, and we tracked past an ugly shoal and into deep water.
The helm is very light, and even when the afternoon sea breeze finally piped up to a 12-to-15-knot range, it was fingertip control on the tiller. The cockpit offers good leg support, and the stainless railing really lends a sense of security when the boat heels. Falling off the wind, the boat accelerated as we gained sea room on a close reach.
The boat felt powerful in the water, but completely under control and quite stiff. The purchase on the mainsheet was more than adequate, and as my daughter later proved, the small headsail can be trimmed by child, even in a blow. The gulf was choppy, but the 26 sliced through the waves without pounding. The rubrail tended to deflect spray, keeping the cockpit surprisingly dry.
I manned the helm while Pschorr set up the spinnaker. The small chute really turbocharged the boat, and we zipped back toward the inlet, occasionally getting up on top of a wave. Pschorr, who is Offshore's Captiva Branch Director, told me that he is most impressed with how the boat performs in heavy air, noting that it really has a wind range of 5 to 35 knots. We made our way back through the pass and tacked our way up the narrow channel before easing the boat into the slip under sail.
The Colgate 26 is appeals on many levels. It's safe, affordable, easy to maintain and very handsome. However, its nimble and spirited performance is clearly its best feature.