Sunday, March 29, 2009

Grampian 26 Review (Part One)

Below: My Grampian 26 the day I bought her:

Readers of Good Old Boat are already aware that the current issue of the magazine features a boat review of the Grampian 26, written by Gregg Nestor. I picked up this issue with interest, as reviews of this popular Canadian design have been few and far between - and, of course - because I owned and sailed a fine example of this vessel for six years. I've been planning to write about my experiences with this particular good old boat for quite some time. So I have now decided to begin a multi-part series on how I came to own, refit, cruise and ultimately lose the boat I named Intensity.

I found my Grampian 26 in the late summer of 1999, when I drove to the Tampa/St. Petersburg area with cash in hand and intentions to buy a different boat, a Bristol 24. The Bristol seemed like a good deal from the seller's ad in the Florida Sailboat Trader, and from what he told me in our conversations on the telephone. As it turned out, this particular example of that fine design had seen better days, and was far from being ready to make the trip back to Mississippi on her own hull. I had to pass on it but I was in Florida to buy a boat; with all my gear in the truck , money still in my pocket, and a block of free time available to sail home. I was determined to find a cruising sailboat that I could purchase and make ready in a reasonable time frame. I called about several boats in my price range (about eight thousand dollars max) and went to look at more than half a dozen.

Most of these boats were either too run-down for the asking price if they were big enough to meet my needs, or too small or lacking in sea going quality if they were in great condition. I looked at a Kenner Privateer 26, a Colombia 24, a Pearson 26, an Albin Vega 27, and a couple of custom built boats. None were up to the 450 nautical mile trip from Tampa Bay to the Mississippi Sound without a lot of work and expensive upgrades. Since the Gulf coast north of Tampa is an area of extensive shallows many miles out from shore, following the coastline in series of day trips was not an option in a boat of this type drawing 3 feet or more of draft. The first leg of the trip would include a 160-mile offshore passage from Anclote Keys to Appalachicola Sound, so needless to say, I had to be picky about choosing a boat that could do this with reasonable safety.

I was staying at my brother's house near Tampa during all this searching, and was beginning to get frustrated after several days of running around all over the bay area looking at boats that consistently disappointed. I was about to give up when I made a last drive to Clearwater to look at yet another one and while walking down the dock noticed a "for sale" sign on a very clean and almost new-looking boat that seemed just the right size. From the new paint, crisp green Sunbrella bimini and sail covers and varnished toerails, I assumed this boat would be well out of my price range. There was also a new-looking Honda 9.9 outboard mounted in a cut-away on the transom. I was actually looking for the simplicity of an outboard-powered sailboat, as I did not want to mess with the complexities of an inboard diesel. The one feature of this boat I did not like was the pedestal wheel steering, but everything else just seemed right. Despite my fears that this boat was well out of reach of my limited boat-buying budget, I called the number posted on the sign.

The owner was out of state on vacation, but at last I reached him after talking to other boat owners on the dock. It turned out he was an employee of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, which was why the boat was docked there alongside various donated boats in run-down condition. I learned that the boat was a Grampian 26 - a Canadian design that I knew nothing about. I called my experienced sailing friend in Winnipeg, Lawrence Pitcairn, to ask his advice regarding the design. It just so happened that he had the issue of Practical Sailor in which the Grampian 26 was reviewed. He read the entire article to me over the phone. The editors of this publication strive to be as objective and unbiased as possible. Like all boat designs the review, they find the faults, but there was a lot they liked about the Grampian 26. Excerpts from the review that caught my attention included:

"The Grampian 26 was heavily built and, happily for their owners, no chronic problems have surfaced in the nearly quarter century since the first boat was launched."


"In the past 24 years, this Canadian boat has been spotted in waters around the world. During one notable voyage an owner sailed from Lake Ontario to England and the Mediterranean, then returned to Canada via the Caribbean. Several of these boats have made good the trip through the Intra-Coastal Waterway to the Bahamas and the Caribbean, returning to their ports with a contented crew."

Designed by Alex McGruer, the Grampian 26 specs sounded good as well:

LOA 26'0"

LWL 21'9"

Beam 8'4"

Draft 4'3"

Ballast 2,600 lbs.

Displacement 5,600 lbs.

Sail area 325 sq. ft.

Like the other boats at the dock, the Grampian had come in as a donation, (someone's tax write-off) but the employee who was the current owner took a liking to her and decided to rescue her himself. He was in the process of a complete rebuild from the inside out, using Don Casey's excellent book: This Old Boat as a manual. Work completed thus far included most everything on the exterior: new Imron paint on the topsides and decks, a new professionally fabricated rudder, a custom stainless steel bow pulpit and anchor platform/bowsprit, recent bottom job, new bimini and sail covers, and a like new Honda 9.9 outboard. The inside had been gutted of the original cabin sole and furniture, and bulkheads stripped down to the bare plywood. All new wiring had been completed, including cabin lighting, fans, shore power charging system and top quality DC and AC switch panels. The owner had obviously poured a lot of money and time into this boat. The reason for selling? He was about to get married and his wife didn't like to sail. (I wonder if this has ever happened to anyone else?)

It was a lot more boat with a lot more stuff included than I would have ever expected to find on my budget. But best of all, I didn't even have to spend everything I brought to buy this boat. The price was $5000 firm. I couldn't believe my luck. All this for just five grand. I didn't even consider argueing price and immediately said I would take it. The only condition was that I wanted the boat hauled out so I could inspect the bottom before I handed over the cash. The owner agreed and I had to wait a couple more days until he returned to Florida, then we motored over to the Travelift at the boat yard next door to the aquarium. The haul out proved that he had done what he had said was done below the waterline. After seeing the keel and knowing for sure what was under the bottom, I felt confident I could sail this boat home.

Just when I had been about to give up, I had found everything I wanted and more in a small cruising sailboat. Money exchanged hands and I was the proud owner of my first cruising sailboat. My free time was running out, however, and there was still much work to be done before I could untie the dock lines and sail away.

(Next Installment: Moving aboard, making ready for sea, and sailing home)

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


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