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My caravan that floats

Graham Leslie

Our family owns a 24ft (7.3 metre) trailer sailer. It is a bit like a floating caravan and we have had many camping holidays on the water.

With a boat it is easy to move on to a new site or anchorage. In fact, some mornings I have pulled up the anchor and started sailing before the others have got out of their beds. We are Wellington-based but have towed the boat north to the Bay of Islands, the Hauraki Gulf and Great Barrier Island. We have also explored Queen Charlotte Sound in the Marlborough Sounds. There are still plenty of places we are yet to explore.

A trailer sailer is an affordable compromise offering us the opportunity to cruise coastal and sheltered waters (and lakes) all around the country without the need to sail it there. The boat allows us to camp (on the water) in many beautiful bays and coves not accessible by road. It offers chances of go to those special places.

Most trailer sailers can be managed easily by two adults. We started sailing with our family of four when the kids were about 6 or 7 years old. As the kids grew up they took over more of the sailing. We both did a Boat Masters and a VHF radio course. Yacht clubs can offer lots of advice and support. Racing your boat at a local boat club is a great way to improve boat handling skills.

We are self-contained in that we carry a porta potti and our own fresh water. Washing ourselves is mostly done by jumping over the side and swimming (solar showers are also used). We have gas cooking and electric charging from a solar panel and our outboard motor. We use the outboard as little as possible because the boat travels better under sail and sails require no petrol. It is also very pleasant sailing along at about 5 knots exploring bays and coastlines.

Freedom camping on the water is much less regulated than on land — you can anchor almost anywhere. I love that we can anchor in exclusive bays with millionaires’ holiday mansions and us in the middle of the bay in our scruffy little boat. The biggest concern when anchoring for the night is finding somewhere your anchor won’t drag and it’s not too bouncy with swells or waves. Land-based campers often complain about the wind rocking their caravan at night. On a boat you are also concerned that your anchor is holding and you don’t drift across the bay or onto rocks during the night. As a consequence you sometimes sleep quite lightly. Nice, sheltered bays with good anchoring can occasionally become crowded with boats. In the Marlborough Sounds “moorings” are used extensively instead of anchors. A mooring is a permanent anchor on the sea floor (maybe a 2-tonne concrete block) with chain and a rope up to floating buoy that can be picked up and secured to your boat. On a fixed mooring you are secure for the night.

Marinas offer the boating equivalent of a campground. Its somewhere secure you can tie up and step ashore. Marinas often provide access to mains power, water, rubbish disposal, toilets, and coin-operated showers and laundry. Prices in marinas are based on the size of the boat and for our relatively small boat it is generally cheaper than what we would pay in a campground. Normally we leave our car at the marina for easy access when we come into port. During bad weather, marinas make a great place to have the boat tied up and do land-based activities. This works particularly well in Auckland. You can generally continue to live aboard your boat while your boat is in a marina.

Accommodation on a trailer sailer is probably more like a tear drop caravan than a regular caravan. To meet the practical sailing needs of the craft, the cabin head room typically ranges from a bit over 5 foot (1.6 metres) and then reduces down to even less as the deck and hull curve. Our model of trailer sailer is regarded as relatively roomy in the cabin; others have less room. Tidiness is an interesting concept on a boat; space is short, so gear needs to be stowed wherever there is room and be secure. Boats rock on the waves and when a yacht is sailing it can lean over as much as 45 degrees. Unsecured gear ends up on the floor, including the pantry contents, if the cupboard doors are not shut properly.

Like camping, a lot of your time is spent outside on the deck and in the cockpit, and a boom tent can be added for shade when anchored.

Towing yachts is similar to towing a caravan except they tend to be slightly heavier for their size (due to the need for ballast) and are quite streamlined so don’t catch so much wind. When towing I notice my boat most on the hills.

Trailer sailers had their heyday during the 1970s and 1980s. They were mostly made of fibreglass and even though they are now often 40 years old they are still quite serviceable. Prices vary a lot, a bit like caravans, but can be bought for a similar price as an older caravan. The costs of owning a trailer sailor are in repairs — accidents do happen on the water and parts do wear out as you use the boat. The fibreglass hull and decks however are very repairable with minimum skill. New trailers can also be bought for old boats if the original trailer has rusted away.

On reflection, holidaying on a trailer sailer may not always be as restful as regular camping but it provides an opportunity to go cruising and see a range of destinations not available by road. Sailing to get there is also part of the experience. The opportunity to raise the anchor and explore round the next headland is always a tempting proposition. n

Motoring up the river to Warkworth for groceries and ice creams. Trailer sailers have a raisable keel so while they may require a 1.5 meters depth of water when the keel is down to sail, they can float in 40cm or less of water when the keel is up enabling access up rivers or into shallow anchorages.

Watch the slideshow above. Click on the image to load full screen with captions.

a floating caravan

Not near a road so not affected by law changes.

7 Autumn 2024

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Autumn 2024


ISSN 2815-827X (Online) | ISSN:2815-8261 (Print)


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