If a boat is a magic carpet for dreams, then a trailer is a magic carpet for a boat.
Most of us have commitments that tie us to a specific place and schedule – a job, for example. As nice as it would be to sail away into the sunset, few people can afford to be without paid work for long enough to make that happen. And yet the urge to be out on the water, exploring new places, is still there.
Consider a typical recreational sailboat (Boat A) of perhaps seven or eight metres (twenty-three to twenty-six feet) – something big enough to take a few friends out along the coast, but not to cross an ocean. While she might top out at eight knots in a really nice breeze, she'll probably average closer to five knots (9 km/h) over the ground in real-world cruising.
We might also look at a mass-market cuddy cabin powerboat (Boat B), non-trailerable, with a similar price tag, cabin volume and passenger capacity. She'll be faster, but her range will be limited by her fuel tanks – rarely more than 250 km between \$250 fill-ups for boats typical of this class.
Now consider a trailerable boat (Boat C) with a similar passenger capacity, costing about the same to buy as the previous two boats. She might be a bit smaller, of course, with rather limited cabin space by comparison. But – thanks to the trailer – she can do sixty knots to windward, along the coast or over land, in almost any weather.
Let's leave home base at eight in the morning. We want to be home by eight in the evening, and we want to spend at least eight hours out on the water.
Boat A's owner will lose half an hour on each end to get to and from the marina, leaving eleven hours for cruising. He might be able to cover 100 km out and back, for a cruising radius of 50 km – although that will be reduced considerably if he stops to relax anywhere.
Boat B is in the same marina and has the same eleven hours to play with. Unless this owner wants to stop for gas mid-day, his cruising radius is one-third of his fuel capacity, or 85 km.
Boat C, the trailer boat, will have its cruising range cut off by the amount of time we're willing to spend on the road. In this case, 15 minutes to hitch up, 90 minutes on the road and 15 minutes to launch will give us our eight hours on the water. This boat's skipper has her choice of any navigable lake or river within about 130 km of home base. In addition to the waters available to the other two boat owners, she has something like 35,000 square kilometres of lake- and river-strewn wilderness to explore.
If we want to make an overnight trip of it, then sailboat A will still be limited by her speed. Let's say a maximum of ten hours out, some time to relax, swim and enjoy sundowners, and ten hours back the next day (leaving some leeway for bad wind) – giving this skipper a 90 km radius from home base.
Powerboat B can cover a lot more ground, wave conditions permitting (she'll have to slow to sailboat speeds if there's more then two feet of chop). She's still held back by her fuel capacity – in this case, we'll allow a gas stop at the midpoint of the trip, allowing her to get up to 165 km from home base. She could do more, but it'll get expensive and the passengers will grow weary of the boat's motion in open water.
The trailer boat C is limited, once again, by how much time we're willing to spend on the road; three hours out and three hours back is about as far as I like to drive for a weekend trip. That's about 260 km if we allow a bit of traffic and some time on slower local roads. But look at how much area that covers!
We have several thousand different, unique boating destinations to choose from in that green region. The Thousand Islands and Prince Edward County may be some of the finest sailing grounds in the world, but you're still restricted to one set of waters for the short cruises that folks with full-time jobs can realistically manage.
With a trailer, though, it's possible to explore a completely different location every weekend for twenty years, and still have covered only a fraction of your convenient cruising range.
High winds on Lake Ontario? The water-bound boats are out of luck, but the trailer boat can still hit the Rideau Canal, Loughborough, the Trent-Severn, the Ottawa River, the Kawarthas or the Finger Lakes. And that's just the big popular spots.
A Week Away
Let's say you can spare a full week off work – nine days of cruising. Where could you go?
In sailboat A, you can cover all of Lake Ontario and down the St. Lawrence, perhaps as far as Montreal before you have to turn around.
Powerboat B can do all that and can also take you partway up the small canals, perhaps into Lake Erie, but you're limited by lock timings; a full transit of the Rideau Canal from Kingston to Ottawa is at least four days, usually seven. You might have to leave the boat at the other end and pick it up later if you have to be home on a schedule.
The trailer boat, though, can hit anything from Thunder Bay to Chicago, the Chesapeake or the Gaspé with two eight-hour stints on the highway. It's quite realistic for this skipper to spend six days cruising the New England coast in her own boat, then be back in Ontario by the time the work week begins.
What's more, as a few of us have been discussing over at AAC this week, it's possible to build a trailer boat that can be lived aboard (albeit a bit awkwardly) on land, much like the RVs that many cruising sailors gravitate to when they get older. That opens up the whole continent to you, if you can spare three or four weeks.
Most of my boat designs are intended to be trailerable, usually behind relatively "normal" vehicles. This is why.