We have chosen to omit the word “top” from this headline. There are so many cruising boats and so many opinions, anointing rank is probably not a good idea. However, these boats are definitely very popular for good reason and worth singling out for their virtues.
The Ranger 26 is a hearty little racer/cruiser with good looks and ease of handling as added attributes. Designed by Gary Mull, this boat is also fast and very well built. There is five-feet of standing head room with a small galley and forward berth, so cruising this boat is more than doable. They can manage a heavy sea and are typically modestly priced (for what they are) on the used boat market.
Walk around most marinas in the United States and you’re sure to see more than a handful of Hunter 31s. Although Hunters are sometimes criticized for their sailing prowess (or lack thereof) and lower standards in build quality, what they are never knocked for is the amount of space and comfort that exists down below. Hunter 31s boast 6’3” of head room and a layout that inspires social get-togethers. The Hunter 31 is a true coastal cruiser – it will get you there and once you’re all tied up – it’s comfy living.
The Columbia 26 MkII “bubble top”
This Bill Tripp creation is beloved by the sailors who own them. They have a sexy look and the word “bulletproof” is often used to describe the build quality. This design has stood the test of time and people are still cruising and racing them all over the country. They’re a well-regarded starter boat because they’re forgiving, moderately spacious for cruising and can be bought on the used market for well under $10,000.
The Cal 25
For the racer/cruisers (as opposed to the cruiser racers) the Cal 25 might fit the bill. Designed by Bill Lapworth and originally built by Jensen Marine, nearly 2,000 Cal 25s were made and many are still tacking around the race course today. They have spacious cockpits and decks that are plane flat, so daysailing can be a blast in these boats. They usually are well under $10k on the used market. For the first-time buyer or sailor that doesn’t want to get in too deep – the Cal 25 is fun little boat.
The Catalina 27
Finding a marina without a Catalina 27 would be a challenge. Over 6,600 C-27s were built because… people like them. A good sailing boat and a very good cruiser a used Catalina 27 in decent shape often checks off all the requirements a cruising sailor on a budget is looking for. In addition to a pragmatic layout and a tried and tested reputation, the Catalina 27 has a bit of lore to go along with it. A few people have even sailed these hearty little boats across oceans and around the world although they’re not really “bluewater” boats. BoatUS said about this boat: “One word may sum up the success of the Catalina 27–VALUE. In 1974, the manufacturer’s suggested selling price with an inboard Atomic 4 was $7,685. The current value of a 1974 boat, in good condition, is in the range of $12,000.”