Thursday, June 12, 2008

Montgomery 17 Trailer Sailor Crosses the Pacific

This is Strawanza, a custom-built Montgomery 17 trailor sailor that has crossed most of the Pacific and is enroute to the West coast of Africa.

How big does your sailboat have to be to cross an ocean? If you believe what most of the writers in the yachting press would have you believe, you need at least a 40-footer. At least that was the case until recently. In the current issue of Sail, the typical advertising-driven sailing rag with glossy full page ads for yachts costing a half a million dollars or more, the "new boat roundup" cover story attempts to explain why 50' is the new 40'. The article, entitled: Life Begins at 50, profiles 38 production sailboat designs ranging in size from 50 to 60 feet.

It seems that for some reason most boat owners are always craving a larger boat, no matter what size they currently sail. According to the article, average boat size has been on the rise for years, and the author claims this is a logical progression from the days when most boats in any given harbor were under 40 feet. Logical? Please tell me why? The sea hasn't changed since the 1950's, 60's and 70's when all kinds of adventurers like John Guzzwell, Robin Lee Graham, Tania Abei, Lin and Larry Pardey and countless others were circumnavigating the globe in boats under 30 feet. What has changed is that navigation equipment, communications technology, safety gear, and boat construction methods have gotten much better. So you would think that small boat voyaging would be more popular and more doable than ever before and with a greater margin of safety.

The truth is, there are still a lot of adventurous sailors out there making incredible voyages in small boats. Just after flipping through this latest issue of Sail magazine, I came across a link on the forum about a Montgomery 17 trailer sailor making landfall in Vanuatu. That may not sound all that extraordinary until you read further and see that this single-handed voyager departed from the coast of California.

Willi, an experienced solo sailor from Austria, commissioned a custom crafted Montgomery 17 from Montgomery Boats in Dana Point, California. He had read about the Montgomery 17's racing record, the strength of its construction, and proven seaworthiness of the Lyle Hess designed pocket cruiser. Montgomery 17's have cruised the Caribbean, sailed from California to Hawaii and from Cape Hatteras to San Diego via the Panama Canal, and sailed the length of the Mississippi. Many others have crossed the Sea of Cortez and have made countless trips to Catalina and the Channel Islands.

Willi's voyage is perhaps the most ambitious of them all, however. His homeport and yacht club is in Namibia, on the West coast of Africa. He will sail his custom Montgomery 17, which he christened Strawanza down the coast of California from San Diego, across the Pacific, then cross the Indian Ocean, to round the Cape of Good Hope and up the West coast of Africa to home. Planned time enroute, including stopovers is around 15 months.

The photo below gives you an idea just how small a Montgomery 17 is, but despite appearances, this is a boat that can go to weather, is self-righting and can carry food, water, supplies and safety gear for 100 days at sea.

The Norvane Self Steering gear bolted on the transom is not something you see every day on a trailer sailor. Many more photos and descriptions of the modifications done to Strawanza can be found here.

There's no question that crossing oceans in a 17-foot sailboat is not for everyone, but then again, neither is owning a 50 to 60-foot luxury yacht. There are a lot of happy mediums and lots of boats in the 20-32 foot range that can do the job in safety, a degree of comfort, and for a reasonable outlay in purchase price or refitting of a tired, old example. Voyages like Strawanza, serve as inspiration and reassurance for those of us who want to go to sea but don't want to grow old being melon farmers while trying to earn enough to pay for the boats magazines like Sail tell us we should be sailing.


  1. Great story Scott and thanks! I've owned a Montgomery '17 for 18 years and absolutely adore it. She's fabulous offshore in a stiff breeze, but also super comfy for short coastal daysailing AND an incredible cockpit, cabin & storage space. With an added Bimini, she's also great for dock lounging.

    Tim McInerney
    Long Island, New York

    1. I have just bought this boat. She is now in New Plymouth, New Zealand

    2. I have been trying to find info on this trip. Did he not sail all the way to S. Africa?

  2. I've also looked into the M23. That seems a little more comfy for the pampered couch potato.
    I'd be curious as to your opinion on the M23?
    Dave Katcoff
    Jericho, Vt

  3. I have no doubt that the M23 is a fine pocket cruiser in that size and displacement range, and being a Lyle Hess design, I'm sure it's as seaworthy as they come. My favorite in this range though would probaby be a Pacific Seacraft 25, a very salty double-ender of about the same displacement that you can find used for 15-25K.

  4. You are right Scott, the PS25 was a truly remarkable small cruiser. We owned the last one built and sailed her many thousand miles over the years. I must admit, however, that our current Voyager 26 (a very similar boat) will sail rings around her, and is an even better offshore boat in our opinion.

    Unfortunately, opposed to the 250 or so PS25's out there, there are only 48 or so Voyagers - either boat is a go-anywhere small cruiser.

    Ron Chappell.

  5. Scott,
    What is your pick for a used, simple, affordable, go anywhere, cruising proa, cat or tri?

  6. Anonymous: I like the Wharram cats, of course, which is why I'm building a Tiki 26. They meet the requirements: simple, affordable, go anywhere, though finding a used one is not always easy. I like Jim Brown's and Dick Newick's trimarans as well. There are so many choices. A lot depends on the size you require too.

  7. I had the boat for 6 years,had a great time sailing her.I did all the sailing and camping out in her that I anticipated/dreamed about when I bought the boat.The Montgomery 17 is not a boat for everybody.It is,out of need,significantly more extravagant than different boats in the size range, and there is a purpose behind this.The 17 is overbuilt, overengineered, and one of Lyle Hess' absolute best designs.It is shockingly quick,shockingly firm,handles like a BMW, and is solid enough to be an icebreaker.The 17 is one of the driest sailboats made paying little respect to size.It is not a "floating housetrailer"; the cash is in fiberglass and fittings.At the point when there is any inquiry concerning the quality,quality, or suitability of any part,we go to something bigger or better.The inside is clean,effective,needs zero support, and has a richness of sorted out and open stockpiling,however is not favor.In short,the Montgomery 17 is made for the discriminating and requesting sailor.Best Wishes.
    ~Jane Wright.

  8. Jane,

    Thanks for your comments on the Montgomery 17. It's aways great to hear from someone who has used a boat the way the designer intended, and it's great to hear how highly you speak of the design and construction after owning one.



"A boat is freedom, not just a way to reach a goal."
Bernard Moitessier - A Sea Vagabond's World


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