Grampian 26

2008 November 10

It might not be a looker, but this inexpensive pocket-cruiser is just the ticket

What was the first Canadian production sailboat company? No, not C&C, not Hinterhoeller, not Whitby. Give up? Try Grampian Marine. That's right, Grampian, and they came of age at the right moment, during that brief but glorious epoch when styrene wafted from small factories across the land and sailboat production actually flourished in North America. Those golden years, which began in the mid-1960s and hung on into the early 1980s, produced some notable boats and a lot of forgettable boats. Despite the fact that it may not be the most handsome boat afloat, and that's putting it charitably, the Grampian 26 falls into the notable boat category. Why? For one thing, around 1,000 boats were launched during a 10-year production run making it Grampian's best seller, and for another, this roomy 26-footer was well-built, sailed better than it looked and has endured as something of a cult boat for those looking for a capable but inexpensive small cruiser.

The Grampian 26 was designed by Alex McGruer in 1967 and quickly went into production. In fact, 200 boats were ordered the first year alone. McGruer's family had been building boats since 1911 on the Clyde Estuary in Scotland, and although Grampians were built in suburban Oakville, Ontario, McGruer longed for the Scottish countryside and named his designs after the Grampian Hills overlooking the weathered moors of his homeland.

McGruer's mandate was to design a boat big enough for a family of four, with six-foot headroom, and it had to be both seaworthy and trailerable-a tall order. While most 26s have fixed keels, a few centerboarders were built to meet this last requirement. And when it comes to seaworthy, at least one Grampian 26 has completed an Atlantic Circle and countless others have made the long trek from the Great Lakes to the Caribbean and back, and that qualifies as seaworthy.

First impressions
The Grampian 26 has a soft sheer and sweet hull shape with a spoon bow and counter stern. These features are often overlooked because of the high-sided, boxy cabintrunk and ample freeboard. However, the big cabintrunk was a major reason for the boat's popularity as it produced headroom, light and a sense of spaciousness below. By the numbers, a 21-foot LWL and 8-foot, 4-inch beam, the Grampian 26 is comparable to other small cruisers of its day. However, it seems bigger because of more volume belowdecks. The fixed-keel models featured an externally fastened cast iron section with a 4-foot, 3-inch draft. The centerboard models had a 3-foot fixed-keel and board down draft of 6 feet.

The displacement/length ratio of 242 and a sail area/displacement of 16.5 both describe a boat designed for coastal cruising, despite the manufacturer's heady comments about being a racing machine in the original brochure. The Grampian 26 is also a stiff boat, and the ballast/displacement ratio of 47 percent is no doubt partially responsible. The freestanding rudder is positioned well aft, especially for its day, and it offers good control off the wind. Almost all boats have tiller steering. The sloop rig supports a deck-stepped spar with an air draft of around 36 feet.

There was nothing fancy about the way the Grampian 26 was built, and that's not a complaint or a compliment. Like most boats of the day, the 26 was heavily laid up. Oil was cheap and there was no skimping on the fiberglass. A fiberglass molded pan was used to anchor the wooden facings for berths and cabinets. Joinerwork was workmanlike at best. Pans, especially in the early days, were not always well-secured to the hull. The keel was fastened with one-inch iron bolts. The centerboard and the rudder were both fiberglass. The rudder included a stainless post and rods forming a rib cage for the resin. Overall the fiberglass work typically featured thick gelcoat that was prone to cracking and crazing. The decks are cored and should be carefully checked for signs
of delamination.

What to look for
Any boat that was built between 30 and 40 years ago is going to have some issues. There are several areas of concern with the Grampian 26. Be sure to check the condition of the keel bolts and backing plates, they may well be rusty and in need of love or replacement. Also, the keel may be loose or tweaked and the bolts may need to be taken up and the seal recaulked. If the boat is a centerboard model, the board may be stuck in the cavity and may need to be rebuilt. There is good chance that there is deck compression around the base of the mast. Some owners have fitted their own mast support systems, some will be better than others. Also check for delamination in the deck and be wary of blisters when you haul. Many Grampians were sold and sailed in the Great Lakes and there are advantages to buying a freshwater boat over a saltwater boat.

This sounds like a terrible scenario but in truth it isn't. Remember, you can find a nice G26 for less than $10,000, in some cases much less, and if you are willing to invest a few bucks and some elbow grease you can come away with a nicely refurbished coastal cruiser for the price of a new 16-foot runabout sans engine. Other items to look for include changes during the production run. The biggest change came with the last boats built when the model was changed to the Discovery 7.9 that featured a raised deck to make it less boxy looking. The hull was unchanged, but few were launched. Other changes included swapping over to an aluminum toerail about halfway through the production, which allowed the stanchions to be bolted to the rail, freeing valuable side deck space. Most boats were outboard engine models. The inboards came with either a Palmer gasoline engine or an 8-horsepower Volvo diesel. Outboard models typically sell for less and are probably preferred as it makes repowering simply a matter of slashing the debit card, hefting the old one into the garage and the new one onto the boat.

On deck
The cockpit features long seats that are fairly comfortable. Tiller steering frees up space otherwise consumed by a wheel and pedestal. The outboard engine lies in a removable cutout on the transom, making the engine controls accessible. There are lockers to port and starboard, including a cockpit-accessible icebox. The original primary winches were undersized, but they likely have been upgraded by now. Also, the original mainsheet was led aft, on a silly angle to a fixed point on the stern. If it hasn't been already, it should be led either to a traveler across the forward end of the cockpit or, and I can't believe I am suggesting this, to a traveler bridge over the companionway. Yes, I know, that's a midboom sheeting arrangement I am recommending, but the 26's loads are manageable.

The side decks are extremely narrow, that's one issue that can't be rectified, however the tradeoff is space below and it is something you get used to. There are teak handrails that line the cabintrunk making it a bit less daunting to go forward. As noted earlier, the single-spreader mast is deck stepped. Naturally, be sure to carefully inspect the standing rigging, chances are it is due for a replacement. The main boom was originally set up for roller reefing, one of the industry's worst ideas, and most owners will have converted over to slab reefing. This allows for the use of a solid vang, as well as being a much faster method of shortening sail.

Down below
To the younger crowd, the interior of the G26 will seem pre-historic. To me, it seems sensible. There was only so much space to work with and McGruer's plan was well received by the public. Indeed, the interior was considered downright luxurious when it was first introduced. When you drop below, the tiny galley with a single sink and single-burner stove is to starboard, just forward of a decent sized quarterberth. Opposite is a dinette arrangement that converts to a double berth, but is better suited as a single. There is a lot of storage under each bunk.

The head runs athwartship, a practical arrangement on a small boat. The V-berth is big enough for average-sized people to sleep comfortably and a full-length shelve is fitted above each side. There's an opening hatch above the bunk. The woodwork is nondescript. However, the key factor below is the 6 feet of headroom in the saloon. Affording most folks the ability to stand up, having a fully enclosed head and four legitimate berths made the Grampian 26 something special in 1967.

Most of the 1,000 boats launched came with an outboard engine. A robust 25-horsepower Chrysler outboard was standard issue for a while. Now boats on the used market will have smaller, more efficient outboards. A 9.9-horsepower four-stroke is an adequate outboard engine for the boat. Some 26s came standard with inboard engines. Early in the production run a Palmer gas engine was offered and later small one-cylinder diesels by Volvo and Yanmar.

Owner reports of the Grampian 26s performance vary, yet they all seem to agree that the boat is fairly well balanced, stiff and can carry sail in a blow. Like most spade rudder boats of the day, the tiller needs constant attention. The boat is not the "taut thoroughbred" the brochure claims it to be, and never really was, but it's not a cruising slouch either. Its PHRF rating is about the same as the Cal 25 and Pearson 26, two comparable boats of that time. It is possible to carry full sail to almost 20 knots, although it is more comfortable to reef sooner. Also, the 26 is not particularly close winded as the sheet leads are typically on the rail. Still, the boat is capable of ocean sailing. We saw a Grampian 26 in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, this summer, it sailed over from Boston as part of the Marblehead to Halifax fleet and had apparently done well in the race.

The Grampian 26 is a roomy, well-built cruiser that can usually be purchased for less than $10,000. You may need to retrofit, or at least update the boat, but it's a boat worthy of a bit of TLC. This once popular pocket-cruiser represents a good buy on the used boat market.