Small by Choice, Able by Design
The new generation of 18-foot trailerable cruisers are as practical
as they are portable. SBJ tests four new boats.

By Nick Rukavina
photos by Rod Millington
Small Boat Journal #68 August/September 1989

Cruising sailboats under 20 feet, designed for easy trailering behind the family car or van, are known as overnighters, weekenders, or pocket cruisers. But there the identity blurs in a flurry of misconceptions. To some people, these portable boats are:

Any confusion may be traced to a lingering notion of small-boat features from a decade or more ago. Then, sailors slept in a cuddy cabin upon a flattened cushion the manufacturers euphemistically called a “berth.” On deck, sails were muscled into shape by crews accustomed to being uncomfortable. But times (and small cruisers) change.

Today’s under 20-foot trailerable cruiser has interior amenities to coddle a family of four. On deck, there are lifelines, roller furling gear, full-battened mainsails, good toerails, effective scuppers, jiffy reefing, boom vangs, cunninghams, internal halyards, anchor lockers, and built-in coolers.

The small cruiser’s virtue is use: Sail her on a local lake, a coastal bay,
down rivers to the sea. Itinerary doesn’t matter, the use does.

The well designed and built small boat will endure heavy weather better than will her crew. A growing legion of people prefer these boats—a fully-found under 20-footer—rather than a cheaply built 28-footer. Wouldn’t you?

And sailors are now looking toward small boats as a choice, a preferencethat fits their boating needs, their lifestyle, and their budget. Does it not make sense to buy a boat you can afford, trail, rig, and use? Limits, if there are any, rest with the owner’s sailing experience and sense of adventure.

With this in mind, the SBJ staff sized up the production 18-footers available and invited builders to supply a test boat to be sailed on Sarasota Bay in February. Production schedules, boat shows, and other complications kept a number of companies from participating. The boats we did test—Catalina’s Capri 18, Hunter’s 18.5, Precision’s 18, and in a separate test, Sovereign’s 18—typically represent the market for small trailerable cruisers. All are fractionally rigged but each has a different type of shoal-draft keel.

Former SBJEditor Tom Baker and I conducted the sea trials. We considered construction, safety design and features, rigging by one person, launching, cockpit comfort and storage, cabin accommodations, deck and sail-handling gear, and performance under sail.

The tests spanned two days. The first day had light, variable winds. The second day saw gusty 20 mph winds and choppy seas—real-world conditions that enabled us to see problems not evident the day before. It was a time for sailing gloves, Croakies, and cinched-down hats. We had our hands full keeping these little cruisers at top speed without rounding up in the gusts—but we enjoyed every minute of it.