Boat Review April 2019 Issue

4 Types of Pocket Cruisers

The upcoming release of Steve Wystrach’s outstanding documentary film Manry at Sea: In the Wake of a Dream about Robert Manry, the former copy editor who sailed across the Atlantic in a 13-foot sailboat, got me thinking again about the virtues of small cruising boats. In my view, there are at least four main types of pocket cruisers. Manry’s modified lake boat fits somewhere in between the first two.

Robert Manry captured the world’s imagination when he sailed his tiny 13.5-foot sloop Tinkerbell across the Atlantic.

Types of Pocket Cruisers

Estuarine Elves—These are the maritime equivalent of the pop-top camper. The poster children are the popular West Wight Potters. The Victoria 18, the Sanibel 18, the ComPac Eclipse and other small catboats with any kind of cabin fall into this category.

These are boats that can creep up the lakes, creeks, and rivers of North America and still manage bay chop. They have enough cockpit space for family daysailing, but also offer a place to sleep, eat and be cozy when it’s wet and cold.

Trailer Sailers - These are small cruiser/racers like the Rhodes 22, San Juan 21, Catalina 22, Hunter 23, Tanzer 22, that can be Friday-night raced around the cans with other vintage boats, but also cruised.

Like the Estuarine Elves, these are easy to trailer fairly quick to rig and launch, but with longer waterlines, more sail and more efficient hull shapes, they generally perform better. There are too many boats in this category to list.

Auxiliary Pocket Cruisers - These boats can be trailered, but they require vehicles with big towing capacity and take much longer to rig. They usually have more ballast, built-in tanks, and can be equipped with inboard auxiliary engines—something you rarely find in the two smaller categories. Trailerability, in this case, means hauling the boat down to the Keys or Mexico for the winter, not down to the local ramp on a Sunday.

These can be fixed-keel boats like the Contessa 26, the Pearson Ariel, and Cape Dory 25D (both Carl Alberg designs); or swing keels like the Paceship 26 (also available with fixed keel), Yankee Dolphin 24, the Nimble 24, and the Lyle Hess-designed Balboa 26. Although some boats in this category have circumnavigated, going offshore in these boats requires a special breed of sailor.

Bahama-Mamacitas - Multihulls like the Corsair F-24, the Wharram Tiki 21, and the semi-custom trimarans like PS contributing editor Skip Allen’s new custom Wildflower probably could be shoehorned into the above group, but that would surely incite the wrath of the multihull crowd, so I’ll give them their own group here.

Microships - Generally these are fixed-keel boats with hefty ballast- displacement ratios that make them capable of cruising offshore. They are trailerable, but with displacement pushing 10,000 pounds, they require a powerful tow vehicle. Some, like the Bill Crealock’s Dana 24, have circumnavigated. Bruce Bingham’s Pacific Seacraft Flicka 20, or Hess’s Falmouth Cutter 22 are other examples of small boats that pop up in far flung ports.

If you have a favorite pocket cruiser, drop me a line at

For more preview of the film, check out the trailer on Vimeo. For more information on the film and related projects visit, and click the subscribe button for information on ordering DVDs and Blu-Ray. 

Comments (13)

From the "Trailer Sailer" category, we are big fans of our Vagabond 14' which is cloned as the Holder 14 and the Hobie 14 depending on the year. There is an active little community of these boats online, and some fierce advocates! When we don't have time to head to the bay and get into longer trips on bigger boats, the Vagabond is perfect for the local, smaller lakes and reservoirs, and a great way to introduce more people to sailing. It's like having a motorcycle in the garage - it will never replace the big boat, but it's still a lot of fun!

Posted by: | August 15, 2019 4:52 AM    Report this comment

The Com-Pac Eclipse is absolutely still in production. Just bought a new one last year.

Posted by: Brian Azevedo | July 9, 2019 1:01 PM    Report this comment

Worth checking out the Malbec 18 from Ventura Sport Boats. Ken Lange, who used to make the West Wight Potters, launched this line a year or so ago. I've seen them perform nicely off the SoCal coast in a chop. Cute little cabin, swing keel.

Posted by: MZ | April 22, 2019 11:40 AM    Report this comment

Rich Franz-under Catalina still makes the Capri 22. I'd say it's as much a cruiser as any 20 to 23 footer.

Posted by: Kurt Wullenweber | April 21, 2019 11:17 AM    Report this comment

Hi All, one commonality in all the trailer sailers and pocket cruisers listed is that they are not in production. The current Catalina 22 is not a cruiser and it doesn't seem like Nimble has built a sail boat lately. Looking for a boat a bit newer and a bit larger than the 1975 Catalina 22 that I have been sailing for the last 38 years, the only truly trailerable design I can find is the Seaward 26 RK. This boat was positively reviewed by PS back in 2005. Is there any reason you did not include this design in your list?

Posted by: Rich Franz-Under | April 18, 2019 10:45 PM    Report this comment

Sage 17, Sage 15 and SageCat are exceeding seaworthy. I've extensively cruised these three boats including taking part in Leg 1 of Race to Alaska in a Sage 17.

Posted by: Scoobflight | April 16, 2019 9:34 PM    Report this comment

The Montgomery 17' or 23' are well worth considering for a pocket cruiser that is easy to trailer with a 1/2 ton frame vehicle. They are Lyle Hess designs and are therefore stiff hulls that handle well in heavy chop and are a pure joy to sail. But, you might want to beware of significant delays in having a new one built.

Posted by: Tayana 37 | April 16, 2019 4:50 PM    Report this comment

Oops. San Juan 24 has a 1:2 ballast displacement ratio.

Posted by: DaveChicago | April 16, 2019 1:42 PM    Report this comment

Several years ago a fellow sailed a San Juan 24 from the mainland to Hawaii. It's a solid fiberglass hull and has a 1:1 ballast displacement ratio, so with adequate preparation, strengthening the right places (I'd check the chainplates and compession post under the deck stepped mast for sure) and maybe some back up flotation, it could be suitable for "pocket cruiser" use. Personally (and I have one) I think crossing the Pacific is a bit extreme, but there are plenty of more nearby destinations that could be suitable.

Posted by: DaveChicago | April 16, 2019 1:30 PM    Report this comment

Hi Guys, yes there are a surprising number who do this. We were in Darwin getting ready to head for Bali and points west and to our surprise, a Russian man, single hander in maybe a 14 foot open sloop rigged vessel like the one pictured with no engine, no radio arrived. No Visa, no pre-clearance The Aussies gave him a three week temporary stay and off he went. Never heard from him again but then no one had heard from him before. Oh, he spoke no English. He put a bucket on the dock for donations.

Posted by: ARGONAUTA I | April 16, 2019 11:56 AM    Report this comment

I would put my old 26 Coronado in the mix as well. back in the 80'sI used to cruise mine out of Long Beach CA. to all points along the US west coast and down into Mexico with good confidence it could handle most anything thrown upon us. However I currently have a 25 Balboa (Laguna), that I sail on Lake Tahoe, and though its a quick little boat with nice amenities for trailerable boat, I would not think of taking it outside of SF Bay, it is simply to light and does not shed water well enough.

Posted by: Jeffery Huelsman | April 16, 2019 11:03 AM    Report this comment

This article seems to confuse the Cape Dory 25 with the Cape Dory 25D. The Cape Dory 25 was designed by George Stadel and has an outboard well. The Cape Dory 25D was designed by Carl Alberg and has a diesel inboard.

Posted by: Cloyd Van Hook | April 16, 2019 10:56 AM    Report this comment

My introduction to cruising came on a Stiletto 27 (review in PS July 2016),which is really nothing more than a beach catamaran on steroids. I went on a series of 600-mile trips around the DELMARVA Peninsula with my then 11-year old daughter. Although it was a tender boat with little more than two bunks below, it was also fast and shoal draft, making it an excellent craft for exploring the barrier islands of Virginia. We stopped in hotels every 3-4 days, ducking bad weather and getting cleaned up; this took the edge off the limited accommodations. Unforgettable father-daughter times.

The thing about cruising in a small boat is that the hunger for adventure and exploration must outweigh the need for comfort. 23 years later, I'd need a slightly bigger boat.

Posted by: Drew Frye | March 27, 2019 7:45 AM    Report this comment

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