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Old 31-08-2015, 16:54   #1
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Water Ballast or not?

I am looking into a used cruiser boat to sail on Lake Michigan or Green Bay. It would be a daysailer/weekender type likely moored all summer in one place. I don't intend to trailer it. Likely it will be in the 22-30 foot range.
I also do not intend to race it and I am looking for stability over speed.

I am leaning towards a fixed keel but I will probably get whatever boat happens to light my fire. I do see a fair amount of water ballast boats and I wonder what are the pros and cons of this type of arrangement?

Thanks for any and all insights.
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Old 31-08-2015, 18:28   #2
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Re: Water Ballast or not?

I've owned a MacGregor 26 water ballasted sailboat for years, and have recently replaced it with a keel boat because our kids grew too big for a 26' boat. We loved it.

Pros:

Dramatically reduced trailering weight.
Very shallow draft, as low as 12" with ability to pull all boards up.
Ability to go without ballast for increased speed under power.
Much easier to get on and off of the trailer.

Cons:

1) Extremely tender, with an unstable feel at the dock. Once moving, it hardens up but at dock or anchor, they're not very comfortable when someone is moving about in the cockpit. This is because the center of gravity is much higher than a keel boat.

2) Rapid heeling to 20 degrees or so before hardening up. Again, not problematic, but it can be very scary for new owners and those unaccustomed to heel.

3) They can be knocked over if you forget to ballast them. Ballasting is a manual operation, and as such can be overlooked when in a hurry. It's never happened to me or to anyone I know of on the MacGregor forums, but it's a remote possibility. Generally people realize they forgot to ballast when they get wobbled more than they expected. A good safety measure is to leave the ballast gate open by default. That way if you forget it, at least it's full and leaking rather than empty and unballasted. This will also keep the ballast tank dry.

4) Foul smells can be emitted into the cabin through the water ballast vent if you've let things grow in the tank. This is prevented by using vinyl tube to move the ballast vent from the inside to the exterior of the boat, usually either the chain locker or the stern near the ballast tank vent.

5) They don't point quite as well as a keel boat, although the difference isn't as dramatic as you'd expect. It's only about 5 degrees or so. They won't pinch much at all however.

If you aren't going to trailer the boat, get a full keel. You'll be much happier with the stability, performance, and one less thing to remember.

If you are going to trailer, get a water ballasted boat. The reduced weight dramatically increases towing options, improves towing characteristics, and makes the boat MUCH easier to get on and off the trailer.

It's that simple.
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Old 31-08-2015, 18:35   #3
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Re: Water Ballast or not?

I haven't owned a Mac myself, but a friend had one, he liked it well enough, but in open water on Lake Ontario he took a beating, they are pretty lively boats, if trailering and motoring are your goals, good boat. But since you mentioned stability as a priority, I might look for something with a real keel.

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Old 31-08-2015, 18:53   #4
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Re: Water Ballast or not?

Thanks for your comments, mstrebe and FamilyVan. I guess it really comes down to trailering or not and I'm leaning towards not. I'm 63 and will be single handing a lot so in addition to rigging, dealing with a trailer on a ramp is not something I want to do a lot.
Sounds like a fixed keel for me!
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Old 01-09-2015, 10:24   #5
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Re: Water Ballast or not?

It appears the responses are from owners of the 26X Macgregors and they fall in a unique place. That boat is a compromise to be a sail and power boat and does neither all that well as most compromises suffer. The predecessor 26 was nothing like the vessels discussed here and sailed quite well. Water ballast boats have initial tenderness and then stiffen. The advantage is reducing the weight of the boat for trailering. The question about fixed or lifting keel is totally unrelated to the nature of the ballast and can be a big advantage of the waters you travel are skinny or you tend to find bottom.
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Old 01-09-2015, 10:38   #6
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Re: Water Ballast or not?

It appears the responses are from owners of the 26X Macgregors and they fall in a unique place. That boat is a compromise to be a sail and power boat and does neither all that well as most compromises suffer. The predecessor 26 was nothing like the vessels discussed here and sailed quite well. Water ballast boats have initial tenderness and then stiffen. The advantage is reducing the weight of the boat for trailering. I own a Dehler 25 and it is a mix of 800lb cast iron lifting keel and about the same in water ballast, it is very stiff by having both. The question about fixed or lifting keel is totally unrelated to the nature of the ballast and can be a big advantage of the waters you travel are skinny or you tend to find bottom.
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Old 01-09-2015, 10:57   #7
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Re: Water Ballast or not?

Good point about the skinny/shallow waters. Not sure at this point what types of waters I will be primarily sailing but it is good to keep in mind.
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Old 01-09-2015, 11:46   #8
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Re: Water Ballast or not?

Hi there. I just bought a water ballast Macgreggor 26 M, retractable keel, and I am in Kenosha. I can tell you that my boat is terrible for Lake Michigan. On a beautiful day mine bobs like there is a tsunami, then I look at the other boats and they are all fine. Also, the sail isnt suitable for Lake Michigan. Now I bought it for the Florida intercoastal for which it is great so I don't mind. My friend had a Hunter 26 water ballast, also retractable keel. Same problem in Lake Michigan.

From what the other sailors in the marina have I would say get a heavy fixed keel sailboat since it sounds like trailerling isnt important. The water in Lake Michigan is deep and has a washing machine effect (hits WI then hits MI back and forth). The Hunter did great in the Atlantic, took her to the Bahamas last year, different water. Fog rolls in real fast and weather changes fast here, so get something that sails good in all sorts of conditions. Otherwise, you will be enjoying a lot of cocktails in the marina, waiting for the weather. Lol

PM me if you want to chat or see some of the boats for sale here at Southport.

Hope that helps.
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Old 01-09-2015, 12:52   #9
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Re: Water Ballast or not?

There are really two different types of water ballast systems. The first is found in the above mentioned Mcgregors, and really tries to replace keel weight with water. It is marginally effective, but its best attribute is to reduce the trailerable weight of the boat. For the same design a lead or iron ballast will create a far more stable boat than water ballast. The second type of water ballast is found in high performance race boats, and is radically different. If you see this type, run. Not that they aren't great, but they have limited use for cruisers, and place enormous loads on the rigging and boat.

For a boat that is going to be moored or at a harbor I wouldn't consider any water ballast system. Find a reasonable 30' knock around in good condition and save yourself the aggravation of something like this.

If you want the option of being able to trailer it home at the end of the season... same suggestion. Just buy a heavy duty trailer, and rent a towing vehicle the twice a year you will need it.
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Old 02-09-2015, 13:25   #10
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Re: Water Ballast or not?

I own a Mac 26x that was set up for blue water fishing (although sailboats are not well suited for fighting or pulling in big fish). Not only is it loaded with electronics, but it has a 115 HP outboard for pushing the boat over big swells (and close to 30 MPH on flat water). The good thing about a water ballasted boat where you have waves and swells is the "duck" action. You tend to ride over big waves instead of crashing through them. You still need to crab when going into waves to smooth out the ride, but with ballast and motor, I have little fear of stormy seas. Not as smooth over chop, but if you keep the boat moving, it has less effect. While at anchor, I use ballast and "Rocker Stoppers" and the boat is relatively stable. But if weather comes in and I don't want to ride it out, I have the option to motor in at a pretty good clip. That big motor also opens up a huge area I can sail in over the span of a weekend. I'm not limited to a 20 mile circle. Lastly, I sail the Chesapeake and there are points where the depth is 3-4 feet a good way into the bay. Having a shallow draft can really expand the water you can operate on. I can even bring the boat up on a beach. But that's not where you sail. Pick up an older Catalina and for little money, you will be enjoying the open water where you live.
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Old 07-09-2015, 21:25   #11
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Re: Water Ballast or not?

262-751-8709
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Old 07-09-2015, 21:54   #12
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Re: Water Ballast or not?

Quote:
Originally Posted by irenepsyhogios View Post
262-751-8709
= -9,198

Is their a prize?
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Old 08-09-2015, 07:39   #13
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Re: Water Ballast or not?

Having first owned a 1990 Mac 26, swing Keel, I will say it was a good boat for its intended purpose which is, either a beginer boat or for inter-coastle weekend sailing.
Water ballast was not an issue as it did give you limited stability, reefing early and dumping the main was a necessity. The big issue that I felt limited me from enjoying more intense sailing was the swing keel which banged around quite a bit,not a comforting feeling when you know just how flimsy it is attached.
Also i had 5 people in the cockpit one day and ended up almost sinking the boat as the ballance chamber vent went below the water line. yes plug was in but it is a poor set up and is easily dislodged.

Now owning a full keel 31' boat is a dramatic change, not even a comparison. I would sugest trying both if you can before making any decisions remember you wanted "stability" which equates to peace of mind.
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