What Makes the Colgate 26 Special
When Steve Colgate considered a new training boat design, he didn’t just rely on his own intuition, he asked a lot of racing sailors and talked to students taking Offshore Sailing School classes. Their ideas are incorporated in his design concept.
In addition, Steve insisted that the Colgate 26 meet Offshore Sailing School’s insurance requirements and recommendations. “Those criteria would meet or far exceed any established for an individual or fleet owner interested in buying the boat,” he said. The Colgate 26 has been sailed by some of the top racers in the world, including Russell Coutts, who used the Colgate 26 at a Bitter End match racing regatta “and said he loved it.” Here is the reasoning behind Steve Colgate’s design considerations and features.
Unsinkable and easy to climb back aboard from water
Some years ago, an incident occurred that reinforced Steve’s decision for lots of positive foam floatation and a low transom design for easy access from the water. In 1998 a popular 24′ club boat sank in New York Harbor; one of the crew could not get back aboard and drowned. The boat had a high transom. “I long felt, before this accident, that it would be a matter of time before insurance companies become very insistent in their demands about sailboats and their safety,” explained Steve.
Shortly after Offshore Sailing School started using the Colgate 26 at all its locations, another incident occurred in the cold waters of Lake Michigan that validated Steve’s safety concepts. Three students who had just finished a three-day Learn to Sail course on a Colgate 26 were alone on their “free sail” when they noticed two men clinging to a harbor entrance buoy. They had lost their jet ski and were hypothermic. The students quickly turned on their motor and powered to the buoy. One held the buoy, while the others aboard pulled the victims to the stern of the boat one at a time. They then pulled the two victims aboard over the low transom. For this effort, the students were awarded the US SAILING Rescue Medal. “I was there at the presentation,” said Steve, “and they told me one victim was well over 200 pounds, weak from the cold, and they never could have gotten him aboard over the topsides of a boat like a Sonar.”
In the picture opposite we tested swamping the boat but didn’t succeed. Designing the Colgate 26 with positive foam flotation and a transom that is only a few inches above the water for relatively easy access from the water has paid off in many ways. Of course, it proves that a good sailing education like those three students got from Offshore Sailing School, helps a lot too.
Able to effectively sail in higher wind strengths
The design of Colgate 26 allows it to be sailed in a broader wind range. “This is particularly important when teaching sailing,” explains Steve.
“We’ve had beginners out in 25-35 knot winds, double reefed with a rolled up jib, able to sail on all points – and they weren’t scared. We have also sailed the boat with jib alone (no mainsail), beating up a long channel in 25-knot winds. As we all know, all you need is one bad experience to sour a new sailor on sailing for the rest of his or her life. Everything in this boat is devoted to avoiding such an experience.” The broader wind range and ease of handling in higher wind strengths makes this the perfect boat for racing sailors too. During Gary Jobson’s Leukemia Cup Regatta Fantasy Sail weekend in New York Harbor we experienced winds gusting to 40 knots, and the racing sailors who participated had a blast!
Easy to sail alone
The boat’s balance makes solo sailing a breeze. Using the tiller extension, a person sailing alone can steer and still reach the jib winches. However, the boat is so well balanced, many solo sailors just leave the helm, go forward in a tack and throw off the leeward jib sheet. The boat tacks itself, allows you to trim the new leeward sheet, then head back to steer without complications.
Easy to get sailing again if you go aground
For this very reason, one of the requirements Steve gave Jim Taylor regarding the keel was there would be no pronounced bulb or wings. Many sailors sail in areas with muddy bottoms, where a bulb or wings can dig into the mud and make it very difficult to get free. The Colgate 26 has a fin keel with no bulbs or wings.
Extra keel to hull strength
Special attention has been given to the keel to hull attachment to avoid damage should you go aground. Extra fiberglass layers are added there and the keel is attached to the hull with eight oversized stainless bolts.
Large self-bailing cockpit for comfort and safety
The cockpit design was based on experience with students and racing crews. “We did a study teaching with another class boat that had a completely open cockpit to the stern,” said Steve. “The advantages are obvious. If the boat sits at a dock or mooring for a long period of time, it doesn’t fill up with rain water. The problem was, new sailors were uncomfortable and insecure with the open transom. They felt like they could be washed out. After sailing both that sailboat and our regular teaching boat (Solings at the time) they were asked which boat they wanted to use for the rest of the course. They unanimously voted for the Soling for the above reasons.”
The Colgate 26 has a large open cockpit, sealed off at the aft end with a seat-high barrier which supports the traveler and rudder post. Water exits out the transom through drain holes. The barrier gives the rudder post much greater support because of the distance between where the rudder post enters the hull from below, and the tiller head position. It also blocks any water that might come up over the low stern when sailing backwards. “At Offshore Sailing School, we tested teaching with another class boat with a completely open cockpit to the stern,” said Steve. “Although we knew the advantage to this is the boat won’t fill with rain water if it sits at a dock or mooring, new sailors were uncomfortable and insecure with the open transom as they felt they could be washed out. After sailing on the open transom boat and our then teaching boats (Solings) we asked which boat students wanted to use for the rest of the course. The unanimous vote for the Soling reflected a need for a barrier in the cockpit, which blocks any water that might come up over the low stern.” When sailing backwards the boat is surprisingly dry. “IF we overtook a wave, I wanted to make sure it could not flood the whole length of the cockpit,” explains Steve. All of this gives you the secure feeling of an enclosed cockpit.
A separate, safe platform for extra passengers
The aft part of the boat has two seats behind the tiller and traveler. A passenger, an instructor or a match racing umpire can be stationed there – out of the way of the action. This area is perfect for an instructor or coach because of its separate location, close to the action but out of the way. Here, a second mainsheet trim and release cam cleat on the traveler allows the person stationed behind the traveler to trim in the mainsail for faster leeward mark roundings while racing, or take control with novice sailors when in a tight situation. The Offshore Sailing School faculty calls the aft transom area “the office” where not only are they in a safe and secure position, he or she controls the emergency mainsheet release. This is particularly useful when the helmsperson tries to go to leeward of a right of way or moored boat and the mainsheet hasn’t been released from the forward cam cleat by one of the crew.
Easy ship to shore communication
The Colgate 26 has always had a VHF radio aboard as part of the total package price. At the time Steve’s concept was coming to fruition, the U.S. Government decided licenses were no longer required for VHF radios. Steve immediately decided to make a VHF radio standard equipment to comply with not only Offshore Sailing School”s insurance company’s wishes, but to give all Colgate 26s the capability for emergency communication. Power for the VHF is stored in batteries charged by a portable solar panel, both of which are standard equipment included in the base price.
It takes a LOT to make this boat broach
This leads into another design discussion Steve had with Jim Taylor, whose initial suggestion was to hang the rudder off the stern, mainly for cost reasons. With modern, beamy sailboats this puts the rudder in turbulent water exiting off the stern, which results in the rudder losing effectiveness early when the sailboat heels, thus causing broaching. To avoid early loss of control and broaching, Steve opted for a rudder mounted under the cockpit., where it has a more effective bite in the water and is in smoother flow. “I’ve seen modern boats used by sailing schools for beginners that broach when sailing upwind; not a great way to turn beginners on to sailing,” observes Steve. The sailing coach of St. Mary’s College in Maryland took his personal Colgate 26 out with his racing crew in 30 knots of wind, set a spinnaker and “waited for the inevitable broach, but it never happened.”
Rudder rotates 360 degrees for safety and control
Another advantage of the rudder placement is ease of “sculling.” The rudder and tiller are designed to be able to rotate 360 degrees without hitting the hull or stops. You can rotate it 180 degrees and scull backward out of a slip. Also, when first learning to sail backwards, if the helmsman loses grip on the tiller, the rudder spins harmlessly rather than breaking rudder stops or hitting the hull.
Easy to power with an outboard motor
When using an outboard motor in close quarters, one can put the tiller in a vertical position and do all the maneuvers with the outboard. The rudder will spin harmlessly. When powering in a straight line, you can just set the outboard straight and steer with the tiller.
Spacious, comfortable, ergonomically designed
As for the rest of the cockpit, Steve wanted a clean, large area with seats, comfortable for young and old, easily traversed during tacks by four or more adults (without knocking into each other), designed so you don’t slide to leeward when heeling. He also insisted that all halyards and reefing lines lead into the cockpit. Jim Taylor did a superb design job on the cockpit, the seating ergonomics and the sheeting arrangement. Crew can sit with their legs over the side, draping their arms over the rigid railings; or they can sit on a cockpit seat and brace their legs on the leeward seat.
Bow pulpit designed to avoid damage
Bow pulpits are fragile when they extend past the bow of the boat “as we have found from various cruising boats we’ve owned,” said Steve. It is often easy to bend them if a piling is hit. Therefore, Steve asked that the Colgate 26 bow pulpit be designed so it would not extend past the bow.
A weekender with sitting headroom
Steve’s concept was to make the Colgate 26 as versatile as possible, thereby enhancing its resale value by appealing to a broad sector of the sailing public. That’s the reason for the V-berth, two large quarter berths, portable head, optional sink, insulated cooler, navigation lights and interior light. It’s a weekender with sitting headroom;one of the reasons it won Cruising World’s Boat of the Year in the Pocket Cruiser division when it debuted.
A shoal draft boat that maintains performance
At an early Chicago Strictly Sail Show, Offshore Sailing School received many requests for a shoal draft model. Steve approached Jim Taylor with the requirement that stability and performance must be maintained at the highest possible level. After much number crunching and collaboration, “we found we could add 200 pounds of lead and take a foot off the keel to make a 3′ 6″ draft without greatly changing sailing and stability characteristics,” explains Steve. “Any less draft would result in marked reduction in performance and stability.” This required a completely redesigned keel and rudder along with added lead, which is the reason for a shoal draft surcharge.
A turn-key boat with few optional cost items
It was important to Steve that the Colgate 26 comes with just about everything you need to start sailing as soon as it is rigged. The all up package price is proof of this – even sails are included!