Boat Reviews

Grampian 26

A Plain Jane cruiser from one of Canada's oldest builderssports 6-foot headroom at a bargain price.

The first fiberglass auxiliary sailboats were built in the late 1950s; for the record, the first was the 40-foot Philip Rhodes-designed Bounty II (1956), followed by the S&S-designed New Horizons 26 (1958) and the Carl Alberg-designed Pearson Triton (1959). The burgeoning industry reached full bloom in the early 1970s, but the 1960s saw a rapid increase in the number of builders hoping to cash in on the new miracle material of fiberglass. No seams, no rot, no water absorption...or so we thought. Still, the claims were largely accurate, and even though the ad agencies were quick with hyperbole, the public bought it.

By 1961, a handful of European builders were also working with woven glass fibers and polyester resin, laying up hulls in female molds. In Canada, one of the first was Grampian Marine Limited of Oakville, Ontario.

 In its first year, the yard produced the 16-foot Jumpahead Catamaran and Triangle 20. In 1963 it added the 27-foot Eagle sloop and Triangle 32, and in 1965 the Classic 31, Walton 37 and U.S. Yachts 41. The Grampian 26 was introduced in 1969 and continued in production until 1987, an astounding 21-year run. (Between about 1977 and 1984, however, the 26 is not included in BUC Research’s Used Boat Price Guide; during that time the company made the Discovery 7.9, which appears to be based on the 26 hull. And, in our search for listings, we did not find any 1980-era Grampian 26s, so it’s doubtful many were sold). The company went out of business the next year, yet another victim of the industry downturn that has been attributed to the recessionary economy and glut of used boats.

We don’t know how many 26s were built, but an early brochure claims that 200 were sold the first season; having seen many of these boats over the years, especially in Great Lakes waters, we’re sure this was a successful boat for the company, probably with more than 1,000 built.

The Design and Performance

Alex McGruer, who we understand has passed away, designed most of the Grampian sailboat line, which in the early 1970s included the Albacore, Grampian 17 daysailer, and a line of cruisers-the Grampian 23, 26, 30 and center-cockpit 34. In commenting on the design of these boats, one must consider them in context of their contemporaries; each of the cruisers has a rather homely look, then as now. “High-sided, high-house, Clorox bottle, but very functional.” Was how one owner described the 26.

The hull of the 26 actually has quite nice lines, with a spoon bow, flat counter stern and gentle sheer. It’s the cabin that appears somewhat ungainly in its height, due to the demand for 6-foot standing headroom.

Inboard and outboard models were available, with the latter the more common. A 20-hp. electric start Chrysler outboard was standard for a time, though most owners report using smaller motors, with decreasing performance. The Atomic 4 gas engine and Volvo MD1B diesel were $1,800 and $2,100 options in the early 1970s.

Two keel configurations were offered, a keel/centerboard drawing 3' 0" to 6' 6", and a fixed keel drawing 4' 3". The rudder is a spade and steering is by tiller, though some owners may have installed cable wheel steering, unnecessary in a boat this size.

The moderate displacement/length ratio of 242 would suggest that the boat has a sensible, seakindly hull form. The sail area/displacement length ratio of 16.5 is in line with other conventional cruising boats. The ballast/displacement ratio of 47 percent makes her fairly stiff. A 1970 brochure says, “High speed performance combined with cruising comfort lets you vacation quietly with your family—or boil a wake for your racing rivals to follow!”

Owners responding to our Boat Owner’s Questionnaire paint a less conclusive picture. About half rate the boat’s upwind and offwind performance as average, with comments such as “Definitely not a racing boat,” and “She is no flash.” The other half rate sailing performance as above average to outstanding, adding notes such as, “Besides all-out racers, no boats 26-31 feet seem to stay with us.” Such polarity reveals the subjectivity, hence unreliability, of such ratings. One man’s speed wagon is another man’s milk truck.

A look at the PHRF numbers shows that the fixed keel model has an average rating of 213 and the centerboard models 222. By way of comparison, the 1970s-era Pearson 26 rates 210, the Ranger 26 195, and the Cal 25 about 222. Naturally, the keel model would be faster, but both numbers indicate respectable performance for what is essentially a family cruiser.

Most owners feel the boat balances well with an easy helm, though some said it can be skittish. A number of respondents said early reefing is required. “With full genoa she tends to become overpowered with winds above 15 knots,” said the owner of a 1970 model. “Easily sails itself with tiller lashed, if there is little chop,” said another.

Construction

The Grampian 26, like most low- to mid-priced production racer/cruisers, has a fiberglass pan interior, which forms the foundation of the berths and galley.

The manufacturer called this a “double skin,” which implies extra strength, though this building method seldom imparts more rigidity to the hull than a wooden interior properly tabbed in place.

Many owners rate quality of construction as above average, but those with complaints are nearly equally numerous. A number of owners said that gelcoat crazing was a problem, and that rigging appeared lightweight, though none reported failures. “It is built and rigged too lightly for offshore use.” said the owner of a 1972 model, “but is entirely adequate for coastal/protected waters.”

Though the old brochures and ads claimed that the boat sleeps five, the dinette is really too narrow for more than one person.

Other problems mentioned include cracks in the aluminum stemhead and mast step fittings, window leaks, bow and stem pulpits “coming apart,” rusty “keel plates.” loose rudder, and unspecified problems with the keel. One might expect to encounter some of these problems in nearly any older boat, but taken together they should give a potential buyer pause. Our impression is that this was a boat built “just strong enough” for expected use, which as the above owner stated, is for coastal and protected waters.

At the same time, if one approaches an older boat with the attitude that anything can be fixed, even fitting new keel bolts and rudder bearings, a Grampian 26 at the right price could be a good deal.

Livability

The standing 6' headroom was a major element in its appeal. That, plus an inboard engine and a marine toilet, go a long way toward making one feel he’s no longer camping.

With a waterline length of nearly 22' and an 8' 4" beam, there is a fair amount of room in the Grampian 26, at least by the standards of its day. The layout is straightforward, with a V berth forward, enclosed head, convertible dinette, small sideboard galley, and a quarter berth. A couple with one child could be quite comfortable on this boat; with two kids, the dinette must be used for sleeping, and anytime you have to knock down the table, the routine of daily living is disrupted.

“There is no 26-foot sailboat around with same interior space or cockpit that can sail as well as this,” said the owner of an early model. “The galley is cramped,” said another, “but what can you expect?” Berth sizes are noted as “big.” Headroom in the head and forward cabin slips just below 6'.

By the standards of the day, the Grampian 26 had a reasonable amount of room belowdecks. One of the nice things is the considerable headroom for a boat of this size.

On deck, one problem is the narrow side decks, which several owners said makes going forward a little tricky. This is the result of the obvious tradeoff with interior space—wide side decks would put the cabin side smack in the cook’s face, and though it doesn’t appear an adult could sit on the inboard side of the dinette as is, a narrow trunk cabin would make it that much tighter.

Conclusion

The Grampian 26 enjoyed a production run spanning two decades, so prices are bound to vary a good deal with age and condition. In 1973, the base price was $7,995, but by the time you added sails, engine, missing elements of the standard electrical system, pulpits and lifelines, genoa gear, toilet, compass and other essentials, you’d have spent another $2,000. That boat today probably is worth about the same...$8,000 to $10,000. Obviously an inboard model will sell for more.

Our recollection of the Grampian 26 is that it had a lot of room for a 26-footer, and the standing headroom in particular was appealing. Clearly these were major reasons for its popularity, and remain so today. For someone wanting basic amenities at a bargain basement price, the Grampian 26 satisfies several requirements. And its sailing qualities are respectable if not scintillating. Fussing with the outboard-and that is how most 26s are equipped-is the penalty for low price.

The interior of the Grampian 26 was a major selling point, but the wide cabin trunk makes the side decks narrow.

But, you can take an outboard to the serviceman in the trunk of your car, and easily perform much of the maintenance yourself in the garage or basement, at your off-season leisure. So outboards have much to recommend them, despite inferior motoring performance, and the weight and unsightliness of placement on the transom.

For an economy lake and coastal cruiser, the Grampian 26 is a good introduction to the joys and woes of family cruising...at a price that won’t break the bank. And considering that they’ve probably depreciated all they will for another 10 years or longer, with routine maintenance you should be able to recoup your investment when you’re ready to move up...or out!

As with most any older fiberglass boat, we’d check carefully the following major components before making a firm offer:

Rigging: Few owners, it seems, are conscious about replacing the standing rigging before failure occurs. Stainless steel wire rope, and specifically the terminal fittings, become suspect after about 15 years, even if there are no outward signs, such as broken strands or cracks. If the standing rigging of a 1970s boat is original, plan on replacing it sooner than later. Check the spar itself for corrosion and cracks.

Hull and Deck: Retain a surveyor who uses a moisture meter to detect unusually large amounts of moisture in the laminate. Older boats can be expected to have more moisture than new boats, but with so many used boats available, there’s no point in buying one that is saturated, as delamination and/ or blisters may be likely in the future. Have the surveyor check the deck carefully for signs of delamination of the skins from the core. Plan to re-bed deck fittings as time permits as leaky cleats and stanchions are a major cause of wet cores. Inspect the deck, above and below, around the deck-stepped mast for signs of compression-a cavity in the deck, delamination of the bulkhead tabbing, etc.

Keel: Everyone runs aground sometime, and one would expect to find dents in external ballast keels, or abrasion of the fiberglass covering internal ballast. Determine how well the loads on keel bolts are distributed; transverse floors are the mark of better quality engineering. Saltwater that finds its way down the keel bolts into the ballast can cause serious corrosion; in this regard, freshwater boats are a safer choice. Check the bilge for cracks around the keel bolts. Exposed fiberglass on the bottom of internal ballast can soak up a lot of water; it should be dried and repaired with filled epoxy.

Anything else—except sails and engine—probably can be fixed at reasonable cost.

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