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Grampian26250Nov2It was one of the nicest sails I have had in my home waters. The sun was shining and the wind was easterly at Trade Wind strength, force 3 to 4. We motored out the opening in the breakwall near Toronto's Western Gap and set the mainsail and the roller-furling genoa in the lee of Ontario Place. Then we close-reached for an hour into Lake Ontario at a steady six knots.

Our vessel was not some gold-plated, high-tech machine, but the humble Grampian 26, hull #688, a fixed-keel version called Lineva II built in 1974 and now owned by John and Linda McFetrick, members of Alexandra Yacht Club in Toronto.

The Grampian 26 was designed by Alex McGruer in 1967. McGruer is part of a boatbuilding dynasty that reaches back to 1911, when the family business was located on the Clyde Estuary on the west coast of Scotland. The Grampian hills of his native land gave the name to this line of boats, which also includes the McGruer-designed 30-footer. Grampian Marine in Oakville, Ontario built most of these vessels, though some were built at Summerstown, east of Cornwall, Ontario. The boat was in production from 1967 through 1977, and according to McGruer, just over 1,000 Grampian 26s were built during that decade. (Nearly 200 were ordered during the first year alone.) Taddle Creek Yachts, of Toronto, tried unsuccessfully to revive interest in the design in 1987, but it seems new boat buyers were looking for a more modern design and there were no orders.

McGruer's design mandate had been for a comfortable family sailer, with six-foot headroom in the interior, and the berths for four (five if you squeeze two into the pull-out settee). She was to be strong and seaworthy, and trailerable - hence the swing-keel version. (The swing-keel has a draft of 3ft with the keel up, 6ft 6in with the keel down; fixed keel draft is 4ft 3in.)

The Grampian 26 was heavily built and, happily for their owners, no chronic problems have surfaced in the nearly quarter century since the first boat was launched.

In the past 24 years, this Canadian boat has been spotted in waters around the world. During one notable voyage an owner sailed from Lake Ontario to England and the Mediterranean, then returned to Canada via the Caribbean. Several of these boats have made good the trip through the Intra-Coastal Waterway to the Bahamas and the Caribbean, returning to their ports with a contented crew.

I have never heard the Grampian 26 described as a "pretty boat" but she is comfortable for her size. Overall length is exactly 26 feet and the beam stretches to 8ft 4in. Many owners describe her as the ideal minimum-sized boat for a cruising couple. People less than six feet tall will find sufficient headroom to walk upright from the companionway through the head area to the V-berth. The deep lockers under the berths have lots of stowaway space. To help make this deep space more useful, John McFetrick has installed wire baskets on slides under the bunks, in addition to lining the locker floors with carpet to muffle sound and reduce condensation.

There were a number of different versions of the original boat. The majority of the boats were built with mixed keels, but a centreboard model was also available. Most boats were outboard-powered - a removable panel in the transom allowed the outboard to be clamped in position, eliminating the need for an outboard engine bracket - however some were outfitted with inboard engines and no transom cutout. Early inboard-powered Grampian 26s had Palmer Gasoline engines; later inboard models were equipped with 8hp Yanmar diesels. There was also a raised deck version, called Discovery, which was designed to update the look and make it less "boxy" , but few were built before the Oakville plant closed.

Over the years subtle changes were made on the boats. An aluminum toe rail replaced the wood rail on early models. Early versions also had a slightly steeper slope to the forward end of the coachroof and lacked the ridge above the ports,which was a cosmetic variation on later models. There were several variations in the ports; some boats had opening ports, some had larger or smaller ports. Most boats had lifeline stanchions bolted on the narrow decks, but the McFetricks' 1974 model has stanchions bolted to the anodized toe rail, freeing up more of the narrow deck space.

Fitting out of the interior was not to a luxurious standard, but was typical of this time. Corners are square, bunk fronts are straight and the layout seems unimaginative by modern standards, though it is workmanlike and well proportioned.

The galley counter is of reasonable size, with a sink on the counter top and a two-burner cook stove in a recessed compartment. The ice icebox is located in a cockpit locker, and there is no access to the icebox from the cabin, an arrangement which the McFetricks find to be a nuisance.

The Grampian 26 has a long comfortable cockpit with a tiller sprouting from the cockpit floor. There is enough room behind the tiller for the outboard engine to be easily operated in the transom cutout. The operator need not hang precariously over the stern.

As we sailed along in the moderate wind the helm required only a light touch to mainstream our course, and provided a slight weather helm. Directional control was positive , though the boat required constant attention from the helmsperson. The full main and #2 genoa felt right for our sailing conditions, and Lineva II balanced nicely. As we sailed back towards the club, however, the wind increased. We continued to carry full sail, but in gusts up to 20 knots the weather helm nearly took over, and the boat fought to round up into the wind. We probably should have reefed the mainsail but we were still in control, nearly home and having fun!

McFetrick has converted to jiffy-reefing from the original roller-reefing mainsail system so he can sail with a permanent boom vang. Many owners have also converted the original end-of-boom mainsail sheeting, where the sheet leads to blocks on either quarter, to a track-and-car arrangement across the cockpit for better sail shape control. The original cockpit headsail sheet winches are small, and only just adequate, to trim the genoa sheet in the breeze.

Members of the Alexandra Yacht Club in Toronto, where 11 Grampian boats are based, attempted to start a Grampian owners association in 1990 and staged the Grampian Regatta, the first of what they hoped would be an annual event. Sadly, though many local boats participated, and a few owners from New York shore of Lake Ontario sailed across the lake for the rendez-vous, there was not sufficient interest to continue to organize events.

Grampian 26s were once considered good club racers, and the boat has surprisingly good sailing performance. She tacks quickly and points well, belying the somewhat ungainly and outdated appearance of her high cabin trunk and her high spoon bow. For a couple wishing to do some cruising on a boat with standing headroom and a minimum length (remember, marina charges are by the foot!), the Grampian 26 could fit the bill.

To see if this boat is available, go to http://www.boatcan.com for listings!