Stability Gained By Balance

Boats can be split into two categories: the ones that dig holes in the water and the ones that travel on top. Race boats, runabouts, fast cruisers, sport fisherman and military patrol craft are part of the planing fraternaty. A few racing sailboats and wind surfers fall into the same cult… Ralph Naranjo Ocean Navigator pg 22 November/December 2006

rowTo understand how a fast sailboat can also safely motor fast it is useful to consider the CLAMS (Classic Ancient Mariners). These men and women row on Green Lake, which I can see from my Seattle home and on the Montlake cut as far as the Ballard Locks from Lake Washington. Carbon-fiber shells are used these days.


shell at east end of<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /> Montlake Cut<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /> Opening Day 2002Rowing looks gentle, like sailing, but there is a certain violence and a definite acceleration involved at the start of a race. The shells are tippy vessels with the lowest of freeboard and yet on any morning that a pleasure boat might make way through the cut, they will. Stability is gained by balance. The balance of the extended oars and attention to the details of catching, driving, feathering and recovery. These vessels rocket. A sailboat built for high performance sailing is similar. The form presented to the water when under sail will be thin and shell-like or as is sometimes stated racing-canoe like. That is a simlar shape presented by the Murrelet when heeled at ~17 degrees.

Murrelet doesn’t have oars for balance, instead she has water ballast tanks as far from the centerline as possible, which provides stability like extended oars would and maximum hull speed is reached with wind that is normal when heeled between 15 and 20 degrees. A sailboat that is sailed at an angle of heel greater than 25 degrees has to much sail up or needs more ballast. There is a physical law that limits maximum speed in displacement hull vessels. The law dictates that the smaller the length of the vessel at the water line, the slower the maximum possible speed. It has to do with the inability of a displacement hull vessel to climb its own bow wake. The Mac26x hull design is displacement like in the bow but is a planing hull further aft. Hence by moving crew aft and reducing heel to 10 to 15 degrees it is possible to break out of displacement mode and reach planing speeds.

wave form while<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /> planing under sail from fan tailThis allows Murrelet to power or sail over her own bow wake thereby both motoring and sailing at fast speeds. To reach planing speeds under sail live ballast (passengers) are moved aft so that the planing part of the hull can do its work in climbing the bow wave and then forward to pop the boat over the top. Mac26x cruisers plane when they have exceeded their displacement hull speed, which is calculated at 6.3 knots (7.2 MPH)

The Murrelet also has a “powerboat underbelly” which comes into play while turning at Wide Open Throttle (WOT). As the cruiser turns, to retrieve a water skier for example, the belly provides bouyancy preventing the boat from flipping. Most Mac26x captains, especially those who have mounted 70 hp motors, will reduce speed before turning just as the CLAMS and smart ski boat operators will. Editors of the February 15 through March 15 2006 Nor’westing conclude “The MacGregor 26 remains a popular and appropriate choice for boaters anxious to enjoy a single vessel that can be a very good sailboat as well as a very good powerboat. Enthusiastic MacGregor owners probably wonder why other boaters would ever settle for a boat that is only a powerboat or only a sailboat.


Note:  The following article applies to the 26X, recently replaced by the 26M.   However, the boats are very similar, and many of the comments relating to the X will be applicable to the M.   We will post new reviews and comments on the boat as they are received.


The following article appeared San Francisco based Bay and Delta Yachtsman, in the December, 1997 issue. It was written by Ron Menet,


It had been a terrific day of sailing on San Francisco Bay. A wonderful westerly breeze had allowed us to sail all the way to the Carquinez Bridge, making an average of about ten knots. We came about ready for a pleasant run back to our Alameda marina. Everything was perfect-a nice breeze, good company, a nice boat-when suddenly, and without warning, the wind simply died. Not a breath was stirring and San Pablo Bay was like a mirror.

We drifted along for a while, hoping for a return of the wind, but eventually we fired up the auxiliary engine and headed for home. Our speed for this trip would never exceed six knots. The sun set hours before we reached our marina and an idyllic day had deteriorated into a long and painfully slow trip home. My guest – no sailor – asked, “Why can’t they put a big enough engine in a sailboat to make it go faster?”

“Because it’s a sailboat,” I answered. “Sailboats don’t go exceptionally fast under sail or power.”

The above is a fictitious tale. It never happened to me. I’m a powerboater, not a sailor- although I was a sailor a long time ago. But, over my years on the water, variations on the story have been told to me at various times and locations. I recall one sailor in particular, sailing the San Juan Islands, who actually found himself going backwards under power due to the force of the tidal current. In another more recent example, I voyaged 450 miles in the company of a 42-ft. sailboat that plodded along at a scant 6 – 7 mph all day, under power.

There are a few exceptions to that slow boat statement but, overall, it holds water. The hull of most sailboats is a displacement design; meaning the hull pushes through the water rather than lifting and planing across the water’s surface. Sailboats are also heavy boats with cast iron or lead in their keels to provide stability under sail. Pushing all of this through the water takes a lot of energy. But, within reason, placing a larger more powerful engine in such a hull produces only small increases in speed, while dramatically increasing fuel consumption. The slant term for a sailboat auxiliary engine is “kicker”; an engine designed for occasional use only, usually for docking maneuvers or for transiting narrow twisty channels.

Many sailors have longed for a boat combining all of the features of a cruising sailboat but capable, under power, of getting them to the breeze, the next port, or back home when the wind dies, in a reasonable period of time.


Just such a boat exists in the form of the MacGregor 26X. Capable of 24 mph with a mere 50 hp outboard motor, as well as having a good turn of speed under sail, she seems like a perfect combination. I originally saw the 26X at the recent NCMA boat show at Jack London Square, where she sat on her trailer in one of the tents nestled amongst the water ski, fishing, and runabout boats. I spoke with Arena Yachts representative Eric Lowe who waxed glowingly of the boat. After a quick tour I knew this was a boat I had to test for myself. Gene Arena, owner of Arena Yachts of Alameda, Ca, was most gracious and accommodating in arranging for our on-the-water session in the 26X.

When I arrived at his office, Gene explained all of the philosophy behind the building of the boat and the means used by MacGregor in bringing those concepts to reality.

First was weight. Weight is important for a number of reasons:1) they wanted a boat that could be easily towed by the average family sedan;2) a lighter boat is easier to launch and retrieve on the trailer;3) every pound removed during production is one less pound to move on the road or water.

The finished boat weight a mere 2,250 lbs., empty. The trailer, and empty boat combined weigh in at about 3,000 lbs; well within the towability range of many family sedans.

To achieve this bantam weight was no easy task. Every item on the prototype was tested for strength and weight. In every instance lighter weight, but equally strong, alternatives were considered. The result is a boat totally without frills, You’ll find no fine joinery in the cabinets or brightwork topsides. Other than for the covers on a few storage hatches in the cabin, you’ll find no wood on the boat at all. In fact, the boat is built from three main components – a hull, a hull liner, and a deck. No chopper guns are utilized, as the layers of lamination are all hand laid using cloth, mat and roving.

More weight savings can be found in the rigging which, but most sailboat standards, is quite light. You probably wouldn’t want to venture into the Roaring 40s with this boat but, for Bay-Delta, or lake sailing, and coastal cruising in the right weather, she’d perform just fine.

After weight came the underwater hull shape, in this case a rounded forward section gives way to a nearly flat planing section aft with almost no deadrise at the transom. This allows the boat to operate in a displacement or semi-displacement mode while under sail but still rise up on the planing sections when under power.

The boat incorporates a fully-retractable centerboard and a pair of transom-mounted rudders, for use when sailing. When under power, these are unnecessary, as the outboard motor is used to steer the boat.


As mentioned, there is no lead or cast iron ballast. Ballast for sailing is provided by water stored in two reservoirs beneath the cockpit deck and the forward part of the cabin. Converting the boat from a power cruiser to a sailor is quite simple. A tank sealer (similar to the plug used in transom drains) is removed from the stepdown into the cabin and a waste gate (identical to those used in RVs at the outlet of their holding tanks) located on the transom is pulled open. Water begins to flow into the hull through the waste gate and flows forward through hollow stringers.

In a short 6 to 8 minutes, the tanks are full and the boat has taken on 1,500 lbs. Of free water ballast – ballast you don’t have to haul as you power or tow the boat. After sailing, fire up the engine, open the plug and waste gate and, because of the boat’s slightly bow-up attitude, the water flows back out the transom. It’s an ingenious system that has been adopted by other trailerboat builders.

Ballasted, the boat is remarkably stable. In fact, she is self righting. With the positive flotation built into the hull she’s also unsinkable. With me standing on a cockpit gunwale, she leaned every so slightly, and I’m a big guy.

Below deck the boat is remarkably roomy for a 26-footer. You could even sleep six folks down there in beds, but I wouldn’t. Six adults on a 26-ft. boat is at least two adults too many. Under the cockpit is an enormous sleeping area. It’s actually larger than a standard king-sized bed. Sitting headroom is provided at it’s forward end on both sides. Just inside the cabin access hatch on the starboard side is the private head compartment with solid door. This tiny room contains a built-in sink with water pump and a Porta-Potti. Forward of the head, but still on the starboard side of the cabin, is the dinette, also convertible to sleeping for two or sitting for up to five. The dinette seating is raised enough to allow an outside view through the side windows or the two located at the forward end of the cabin. You can place flat charts or family photos under a clear plexiglass panel in the table. Forward is a full double berth in the V.

The starboard side of the cabin, between the V and the large bunk aft, is the galley console. It contains a one-burner alcohol stove, a sink with water pump, a storage or pantry locker, and several shelves and bins on its front for other gear.

It’s all very neat and compact. Pleasant woven fabrics cover all of the cushions which, should the need ever arise, can all be removed and the interior of the boat washed out with a hose. There’s absolutely nothing down here other than the cushions which could be harmed by water.

The overall effect, however, is very plastic. The hull liner has a white gelcoat finish which is not the prettiest below-deck material to look at. The sole is also white gelcoat covered in a removable carpeting. One could, I suppose, begin to cover some of this plastic with wall coverings or carpeting, but you’d only be adding to the weight of the boat – a big no, no – and the chances of mildew and other nasty stuff. Basically, if you like the boat, you probably won’t be much bothered by the gelcoat interior.


So how does it sail? We powered out of the Oakland Estuary at between 15 and 19 mph onto San Francisco Bay looking for some wind. The 40 hp Honda four-stroke outboard seemed completely up to the task. With 50 horses, I’ve seen video of a sistership pulling a water skier. In every way she felt and acted like most powerboats of this size I’ve handled previously. I took her through several tight 360-degree turns, several figure eights, and crossed the wakes of several large boats finding nothing out of the ordinary.

The Bay, between the Estuary and the Bay Bridge was glassy calm. Continuing under the bridge towards Alcatraz Island we begin to find a little breeze and, somewhere between Alcatraz and Pier 39, we picked up enough that Eric suggested we kill the engine and try sailing. We flooded the ballast tanks, dropped the centerboard and rudders and hoisted the sails. The sail hoist was made especially easy by the roller-reefing of the 150 percent genoa (optional). With the roller equipment, the jib or genoa simply roll themselves up like a window shade, unwinding just as easily. With this setup, trips to the foredeck are minimized or eliminated. Mainsail hoisting is done from the side deck or cabin top.

We mutually agreed the wind was blowing at only 6 to 8 mph, but I soon had the 26X moving at better than 5mph toward Alcatraz (I’ve seen video of this same model boat in 25 mph winds and handling them nicely under reefed sails). Heading into the breeze she seemed to point quite normally and, off the wind, picked up a little speed. I would have liked more wind in order to better evaluate her sailing performance, but the zephyrs of the day were all that were available. Blame it on El Nino; it’s been blamed for everything else.


It’s said that whenever two sailboats come together a race ensues, and I proved the saying. A 33-footer sailed by on the opposite tack and we came about to give chase. She pulled away (more sail and a longer waterline) but not rapidly. The manufacturer claims speeds of up to 18 mph under sail and spinnaker in heavy breezes.

Operating the boat is very comfortable. The optional suntop or bimini can be put in place quickly while operating the boat under power or sail. All of the sheets and halyards are in the cockpit, making single-handing her a breeze. The two small Lewmar sail winches are located on either side of the cabin top. The standard wheel steering and helmsman seat are comfortable and natural feeling and the small binnacle is large enough to accommodate some instrumentation. The after bulkhead of the cabin structure could hold even more and still be close enough to be readable by the helmsman.

So, overall, impression was very positive. Consider for a moment the whole package: 26-ft boat, sails, motor, and trailer , at a list price of less than $23,000. That’s an attractive package. Combine that price with a nice cruising sailboat that can be quickly and easily converted into an eager powerboat and you see why more than 36, 000 boats have been sold by MacGregor. You could buy a more expensive boat, a fancier boat, but if you consider bang for the buck, you may not find a better boat for the average Bay or Delta, or lake cruiser. You’ll also probably go a lot slower under power than you would in the MacGregor.

Speaking of the trailer, it is built by MacGregor specifically for this boat. It looks a bit light, but years of use and experience by thousands of owners have shown it to be up to the task. It is a one-axle trailer with guide posts at its stern and have a large V-shaped fitting for the bow making loading a simple drive-on operation. At the winch end of the trailer there is even a ladder to make boarding the boat from the trailer an easy task. Neither you nor your tow vehicle need to get wet in launching or retrieving this boat.


Your choice of motor and propeller will impact the cost of the boat, obviously. You’ll have to face the two-versus four-stroke controversy, though most engine manufacturers are coming out with clean running, fuel-injected, two-strokers now. If you opt for a little kicker of ten horses or so, the price would come down. If, on the other hand, you choose an outboard in the range recommended by the builder – 40 to 50 hp – you’ll spend a little more but get the satisfaction of using all of the capabilities built into this interesting boat.

The boat comes equipped with a full set of working sails – main and jib. Optional sails from the factory include the 150-percent genoa and a spinnaker that requires no spinnaker pole. This latter means no one has to be on the foredeck during jibing maneuvers.

The rigging, as I mentioned earlier, looks a little light, but that could be modified by an owner so inclined, with a mind to keeping the weight in check. The mast can be raised and lowered by one person, either directly or through the use of the optional pulley system and sail winches. Once up and in place, only the forestay needs to be fastened at the bow, since all of the other shrouds and stays remain attached at all times. It’s so easy, that out on the water you might do it just to get under a bridge to see what’s on the other side.

Heading back under power to the Arena Yacht Sales dock in Alameda, I reverted to a typical powerboat form, chuckling as I passed the numerous sailboats slogging their way home on their kickers. You may not always want to steam along at 19 to 25 mph but it’s sure nice to know you can if you want to, and it’s fun to wave at all of the sailboats you leave in your wake.

The MacGregor 26X deserved a close look if you’re in the market and you can get one at Arena Yacht Sales in Alameda. Call Gene or Eric for an appointment at 510/523-9292.

7 thoughts on “Stability Gained By Balance

  1. The water ballast tank on a mac26x is baffled. So you can partially empty the tank on an 11 degree heel, close the air vent and valve and tack to put the remaining water on the high side. No need for pumping side to side. Note of course the capsize potential. Solid flotation is a big deal for the design. Some of the later Mac26x boats have only one tank valve on the starboard. You might look into what it would take to put one on port. Alternately, running with an empty tank and 6 crew members, like a flying tiger is attractive. No pump can match the speed of rail meat.

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