Boat Reviews

Lancer 28

This maximum-size trailer sailer shows the compromises needed to haul a boat on the road.

Lancer Yachts was an offshoot of the remarkably complex and inbred family tree known as California boatbuilding. Lancer principals Dick Valdes and Maury Threinen founded Columbia Yachts back in the late 1950s, built boats under contract for Islander, sold Columbia to Whittaker, and got back into the sailboat business in 1974 by forming Lancer Yachts.

The names that passed through this Columbia connection read like a who’s who of fiberglass boatbuilding. Designer Bruce King was a draftsman for Columbia. Ericson founder Kurt Densmore was a Columbia plant manager, and Frank Butler—owner of Catalina Yachts, probably the biggest sailboat builder in the country—ran the Coronado division of Columbia.

It’s no wonder that many California-built boats from the 1970s bear a strong family resemblance: they’re practically first cousins.

Lancer Yachts built a rather astonishing variety of boats before going out of business in 1986. None of the Lancers can be considered a classic. Rather, the boats were a mirror of their times, and this constant change may have been what finally did in the company.

In 1983 alone, Lancer offered 13 different boats ranging in size from a 25' trailer sailer to a 65' motorsailer. The sheer variety of models reduces efficiency in production, and to stay competitive in price, you must shave profit margins closer and closer.

Perhaps the most interesting boats ever produced by Lancer were those in a series of high-performance motorsailers built in the mid-1980s. These boats ranged from the 25' Powersailer up to the 65' Motorsailer, and were characterized by huge engines relative to their displacements in an attempt to get both powerboat and sailboat performance out of the same hull. The Powersailer 27, for example, was designed for outboards of up to 200 hp. The 44' high-performance motorsailer had engine options up to twin 200 hp turbocharged diesels.

The idea was to capture a crossover market which really wanted a powerboat, but felt that sailboats were the way to go due to real or imagined fuel shortages.

Needless to say, these boats had a somewhat limited appeal, and the return of cheap oil spelled their doom.

By comparison, the Lancer 28, built from 1977 to 1985, seems a rather tame and ordinary boat.

Part of the variety in the Lancer line stems from the use of a number of different designers. Most builders use a single designer or design team. Lancer was building designs by Bill Lee, C&C, Bruce Farr, and Shad Turner—all at the same time.

Turner designed both the 25 and 28, the smallest Lancers from 1977 to 1983. Both are shoal-draft fixed-keel trailerables. The 25 and 28 are attractive boats with short ends, flattish sheer, and Swan-type bubble deckhouses.

When the Lancer 28 entered production in 1977, trailer sailers were a hot item. And the more you could cram into a boat that could be towed behind your car, the better the consumer liked it.

Sailing Performance

In a lot of ways, the Lancer 28 is a good study in the compromises that are inherent in creating a relatively big boat that can be lugged around from place to place on a trailer. Sailing performance is one of those compromises.

Small boats get stability either from wide beam or deep, heavy keels. The Lancer 28 has neither.

To keep weight to a level that can be towed behind a car, trailerables such as the Lancer 28 tend to be lighter in weight and more lightly ballasted than boats of the same size designed to be kept in the water rather than taken home at the end of the day. The

Lancer 28’s 44% ballast/displacement ratio may sound high, but the actual amount of ballast—2200 pounds—is fairly low for a 28' boat. By way of comparison, the Ranger 28, at about the same displacement, has 600 pounds more ballast.

It’s not just the weight of ballast that counts, it’s the location. Because of the Lancer 28’s shoal draft— less than 3'—the ballast cannot be located very far down. A fin keel 28-footer of the same displacement would draw 4' or more, and have a correspondingly lower center of gravity.

What this means is that the Lancer 28 is tippy. Most owners in our survey consider the boat about average in stability, but in our experience, an “average” rating usually means a fairly tender boat.

The narrow 8' beam doesn’t help stability, either. In many states 8' is as wide as you can go without special trailering permits, so you find an awful lot of trailer sailers 8' wide, no matter what their length.

The fixed keel of the Lancer 28 is a poor shape for windward performance. The keel is a hollow fiberglass box, with the cabin sole dropped down inside it. The keel is much wider than it should be for good performance, and its long, shallow shape does little as an efficient foil.

This is a boat that must be sailed upright. When the boat heels over, there is little to stop it from moving sideways. A centerboard would probably make a dramatic improvement in windward performance, but it was not an option.

Off the wind, performance is substantially better. Owners rate it average to above average in reaching and downwind performance.

The boat was built with both fractional and masthead rigs, with the fractional rig stepped further forward. The fractional boat should be better balanced, and is faster.

The Lancer 28 is no speed demon, with an average PHRF rating of 258 for the masthead version. The fractional rig is about 10 seconds per mile faster. By way of comparison, the Hunter 27 rates about 216, the Ericson 27 about 220, the Ranger 28 about 186, the Catalina 27 about 204. Any of these boats will chew up and spit out the Lancer 28.

You don’t buy this boat for speed. It’s a noncompetitive daysailer and weekend trailer cruiser.

Engine

Most Lancers under 30' were powered by outboards, although inboard engines were frequently options. An inboard engine in the Lancer 28 adds several hundred pounds of weight to a boat that is already near the upper limit for trailering.

While most Lancer 28s have outboards, a number of different inboard engine configurations and models were used over the course of production, including

Petter, Renault and Yanmar diesels; a 10 hp gas inboard; and an OMC saildrive.

If the boat is really to be trailered, an outboard engine is preferable. An outboard can be flushed with fresh water after every cruise in salt water. The outboard and its fuel tank will come in at less than half the weight of any of the inboards. When the time comes to replace the engine, an outboard will cost about half what an inboard will cost, and you don’t have to worry about whether or not it will fit in the boat.

The outboard well in the stern of the Lancer 28 is pretty good. The engine stays in the water even in rough conditions, and the weight isn’t cantilevered out over the stern to add to pitching moment. We’d be wary of purchasing a boat with a saildrive that has been used in salt water. A lot of owners are less than faithful about flushing out saildrives after each use, yet the innards are as vulnerable to corrosion as an outboard.

Likewise, parts for small diesel inboards are disproportionately expensive, and may be hard to find for any of the engines used in the boat except the Yanmar.

The inboard engine is tucked in a box under the companionway ladder, and owners rate the installation about average for accessibility.

A 10-horse outboard will move this boat along just fine, even in a chop. Take good care of it—flushing with fresh water after use in salt water—and an outboard will easily last for seven or eight years. Neglect it, and your first season may be its last.

Construction

To keep weight down for trailering, construction of the Lancer 28 is fairly light. To keep price down, finish detail is not particularly refined.

In its description of their fleet, Lancer described the 28 as bringing “real ocean-going capability to trailer boating.” We think you’d have to use a lot of imagination to consider this a boat for serious sailing in the ocean: the design and construction are those of a coastal cruiser and daysailer.

With the masthead rig, a compression column in the middle of the main cabin is required for under-deck support; the fractional rig utilizes the forward bulkhead.

Check for compression and stress cracks around either mast step.

The companionway dropboards are light plywood, and the companionway opening has so much taper that the boards can be removed by lifting them only a few inches. This may be convenient and give a lot of ventilation below, but it also means that the dropboards could fall out in a severe knockdown. The sliding companionway hatch is also wide, and not well sealed against boarding waves.

Several owners in our survey comment that the mast tabernacle is not strong enough, and that there is a lot of friction in the system when raising and lowering the mast.

The rig is quite tall—about 31' above the top of the cabin with the masthead rig, and the fractional rig is taller still—so a lot of care is required in stepping and un-stepping the mast. That’s one trade-off with a maximum-size trailerable boat: you’re getting at the limit for easy rigging and unrigging without a fairly sophisticated tabernacle, which the boat doesn’t have.

Owner complaints about structural flaws include leaking hull-to-deck joints and leaking ports. Finding deck leaks is complicated by the vinyl headliner. Water may find its way along a circuitous route before it deposits itself on your head, and leaks may be next to impossible to trace. Look carefully for signs of drips and discoloration on the vinyl, particularly around every joint in the liner.

In general, there are numerous reports of deck leaks in our surveys. This is fairly common in relatively inexpensive mass-produced boats such as the Lancer 28, but it is a problem that can make your life miserable when cruising.

In order to gain some interior headroom, the designer dropped the cabin sole a foot down into the keel. This resulted in a fat keel and a narrow cabin sole, giving the feeling that you’re standing in a hole.

Although bottom blistering is usually less of a problem with trailerable boats than with boats kept in the water, several owners report blistering or other types of gelcoat flaws, such as crazing or stress cracks.

Interior

The Lancer 28 was designed in a time when it was fashionable to jam the maximum number of berths in the shortest possible overall boat length. It is true that there are six berths in the original version of this boat. It is also true that headroom at the aft end of the main cabin is 6' 2". However, just as the rooms in tract houses look a lot smaller in the flesh than they look in those wonderful wide-angle architectural photographs, the reality of the interior of the Lancer 28 is a little different from the promise.

Main cabin headroom comes from dropping the cabin sole 1' into the keel stub. What this means is that you have a very long, narrow section of cabin sole over which there is reasonable headroom. But the effect is a little strange: you feel like you’re standing in a hole.

Frankly, this dropped cabin sole is a pretty mediocre idea. In the galley, where you could use the headroom, it’s not even easy to turn around because the dropped sole is so narrow. You’d be better off sitting on a little folding stool.

Without the dropped sole, headroom would be 5'2" or so. You would have trouble selling that amount of headroom in a 28-footer, even a trailerable boat.

Forward, there is a narrow double berth with a storage locker below. In 1979, the forepeak berth was replaced in the Mark V version with a sail storage area. There is no provision for ventilation in this space. The bubble-type deckhouse fairs into the foredeck over the forward cabin, so there is reasonable sitting headroom over the berth. Actually, “cabin” is a misnomer: it is really just a berth, separated from the head by a bulkhead.

Just aft of the forward berth, a narrow head compartment spans the width of the boat. It gives you as much privacy as you can get in a trailer boat—which isn’t that much—and has a hatch overhead for ventilation. Some of these boats are equipped with self-contained toilets, while others have more conventional overboard-discharge toilets. Your sailing waters will dictate which arrangement you need.

There are two berths in the main cabin, On the port side is a conventional settee berth. On the starboard side, the dinette table drops to form a fairly wide berth, but don’t let anyone try to tell you it’s a double.

Dinettes don’t really work on narrow boats. You feel like you’re sitting in a narrow booth at the corner drugstore, which is fine if you happen to be a teenager—but not if you’re an adult. In this case, it’s a really tight squeeze for four people to fit into the dinette. On the other hand, it’s great seating for two.

Over the years, Lancer has actually done some pretty inventive things with interiors. Their boats had a California/European crossbred look that was always the talk of boatshow crowds, with wild colors and fabrics.

But the interior of the Lancer 28 is basically Neo-Padded Cell. Almost every surface is covered with either carpeting, upholstery, or padded vinyl.

Lancer isn’t the only builder guilty of this. Early Swans such as the Swan 43 were similarly padded.

It may seem like a good idea—if you get thrown against it you won’t get hurt—but we’ve never cared for the look of padding. Owning a boat is precariously close to insanity in any case: reminders of that when belowdecks are not particularly welcome.

The galley occupies both sides of the aft end of the main cabin, with a two-burner stove and lockers to port, and a sink, icebox and lockers to starboard. It’s quite workable.

Aft, there are quarterberths under both sides of the cockpit. They are very narrow at the foot. Your head and shoulders, however, are not stuffed under the cockpit, so the berths are not claustrophobic, although they are likely to be pretty hot in warm weather.

It’s not realistic to expect a lot of interior room in a hull as narrow as the Lancer 28. But the boat has a relatively long waterline, and the low-profile cabin trunk is also quite long, increasing the feeling of space.

Conclusions

The Lancer 28 is a maximum-size trailerable boat. The weight of about 5000 pounds will require a serious pulling vehicle if anything other than a once yearly trip to and from the launching ramp is planned.

Despite the six berths in the boat, we wouldn’t recommend it for four adults for anything longer than a weekend. For a young family with several children, the Lancer 28 could be seen as a floating camper.

The performance compromises that are a result of the shoal keel, high center of gravity and narrow beam have to be weighed against the fact that you can put the boat behind a big car or truck and take off for cruising areas that you might otherwise never reach with a 28' boat.

If you really aren’t going to trailer the boat, there are a lot of other boats around 28' long that will give you better performance and better accommodations. The extra foot or so of beam and ton of displacement that you would get in most non-trailerable 28-footers translates into a lot more usable volume, and in most cases, better performance. At the same time, a Lancer 28 costs less than most 28-footers.

Keeping a boat in a marina or on a mooring can be an expensive proposition. You can greatly reduce your sailing costs by owning a trailerable boat. The problem is that a trailerable as big as the Lancer 28 is a bit of a handful to tow, launch, and rig. You’re not going to hitch it up to the family station wagon after a day at the office and launch it for an evening cruise.

If you need a trailerable boat that can accommodate two adults and several children for relatively short-term cruising, the Lancer 28 makes sense. But don’t expect to get six berths, “full headroom,” shoal draft, and trailerability in a 28' boat without some fairly substantial compromises.

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