Moving your yacht by road seems counter-intuitive, but it gives you the freedom of coastal cruising wherever you want, whenever you want it, as Matt Newland of Swallow Yachts tells Theo Stocker
Not even Alex Thompson aboard his Hugo Boss rocket ship can sail to windward at 60 miles an hour. As we all know, getting to your chosen cruising ground can mean days of slogging to windward, or waiting for a better weather window. Unless you have a yacht you can tow. I admit, I’ve often dismissed trailerable boats as ‘not real yachts’.
Certainly, you can’t tow a 45ft bluewater cruiser behind your car, but what if you could have a boat that is beautifully built, sails well, and is comfortable enough for you and your partner to spend a long weekend or even a week or two on board? That’s a fair summary of what most of us use our boats for.
The benefits of trailer sailing are numerous: no costly lift-out fees, hard standing on your driveway, no corrosion, no fouling. Furthermore you can sail wherever you want, whenever you want. If the weather looks unexpectedly good on the west coast of Scotland, a few hours’ driving will have you gently rocking at anchor on a remote loch by nightfall. You want to cruise the West Country, but don’t want to spend a week sailing west down the Channel? Simple. Even a two-week cruise in the Mediterranean on your own boat becomes a reality.
For most cruising sailors, launching, recovering, towing and rigging are a new set of skills. Making sure your trailer is safe, and ‘rules of the road’ need to be taken seriously. Done methodically, however, it is easier than you might think. With the right boat, you could have more adventures than with a yacht kept permanently afloat.
We went to Pembrokeshire to meet Matt Newland, owner of Swallow Yachts, who agreed to take us for a familiarisation sail on a BayCruiser 26 with its proud new owners.
Ludger and Sonja Bödding, from Germany, plan to keep their boat at Hooksiel near Wilhelmshaven on the German North Sea coast. While she will have a berth afloat, they intend to explore the North Sea, Baltic and IJsselmeer, depending on the weather, and all within a couple of hours’ drive from her home berth, demonstrating just how flexible trailer sailing is. I was keen to see if it was as easy as I had been led to believe.
Exactly how heavy a boat you can tow will depend on your driving licence and the size of your towing vehicle. The rules changed in 1997, so you may need to take an extra test if you got your licence after that time. The rules state:
■ If you passed your car test before
1 January 1997 you’re usually allowed
to drive a vehicle and trailer combination up to 8,250kg maximum authorised mass* (MAM).
■ If you passed your car driving test on or after 1 January 1997 you can:
■ Drive a car or van up to 3,500kg
MAM, towing a trailer of up to 750kg MAM
■ Tow a trailer over 750kg MAM, as long as the combined MAM of the trailer and towing vehicle is no more than 3,500kg
■ If you want to tow anything heavier than your standard driving licence allows, you’ll need to take the car and trailer driving test.
To find out exactly what you are permitted to do on your licence, go to www.gov.uk/view-driving-licence.
■ Maximum authorised mass (MAM) means the weight of a vehicle or trailer including the maximum load that can be carried safely when it’s being used on the road.
In practice, this means that you may need to tot up what the boat, trailer and contents weigh in total. In practice, it’s likely that a boat and trailer comes to more than 750kg, so you’ll need to add the kerb weight of your vehicle to check it comes under the correct MAM. Also, as the trailer load will be more than 750kg, it’ll need to be a braked trailer.
If you’re towing with a car up to 3500kg, the trailer (minus the coupling and draw bar) must be under 7m, and narrower than 2.55m. For larger towing vehicles, the trailer can be up to 12m, as long as the car and trailer together are not over 18m long.
Type of vehicle
For pulling a boat up a wet slipway, a four-wheel drive vehicle is undoubtedly the most capable choice, and the heavier and more powerful vehicle it is, the more easily it will handle the task.
A 4×4 is by no means essential, however, as long as you’re confident your car is up to the job. The National Trailer & Towing Association (NTTA) also recommend checking the car’s engine and brakes are competent. Their suggested rule of thumb is that the trailer should never weigh more than 85% of the towing vehicle’s weight.
The 30mph limit applies on all roads with street lighting, unless road signage says otherwise.
A limit of 50mph applies on single carriageways unless signs show otherwise, and there’s a 60mph limit on motorways and dual carriageways.
Don’t forget to get your trailer serviced. While this isn’t compulsory, you are required to have your trailer in good working order at all times, so the NTTA recommend an annual service, just as you would with your car. Don’t forget to make sure the registration number on your lighting board matches your car!