MacGregor 65 Review: Fast Racing Sled

MacGregor 65
MacGregor 65

You generally hear two opposite perspectives about the construction quality of MacGregor 65’s. A solid group of knowledgeable sailors derides them as flimsy suicide sleds. As one broker told me, “You know what a MacGregor 65 is like? It is worse than a Hunter 54.” But while you hear claims of oil-canning and thru-hulls popping out, stangely owners tentatively state they have never experienced these issues. You hear the same about her sailing ability. Doubters question her windward performance while owners shrug their shoulders.

MacGregor Yacht Corporation was a fruitling of a Standford MBA project of Roger MacGregor in the early 1964’s. As an economics student, he studied the dynamics of the highly competitive boat building business. In 1964 while working at Ford Aerospace, he starting building boats as a hobby. By 1967 Mr. MacGregor was making more money from his hobby than his real job and decided to build boats full time. The yard was across from Westsail and Islander in Costa Mesa, California. He built superfast, inexpensive trailerable fiberglass sailboats branded Venture. By 1977 he was building boats under the name MacGregor. In 1984 he launched the 65-foot racing sled and built 100 hulls until 1995. At this point, the demand for a 26-foot trailerable design was so great he decided to focus on it full time. Currently in production, the 26-footer features water ballast. A 70-foot extended version of 65 MacGregor is in the works with two preliminary hulls produced as of 2010.

First Impressions
You impression will depend on whether you are viewing an early or late model 65. On all, the forward cabintrunk edge and sides are black creating the illusion of a deck saloon like enclosure. On later versions, raised up another level is an actual pilothouse with windows. The pilothouse versions give a great view from the deckhouse inside through black plastic doghouse windows along with portholes on each side. She has a 63-foot waterline with only a slight bow overhang for her 65-feet length overall. The sheer is straight rounding off for a swim platform aft. It is a predatory, modern fast cruising look. There is not a touch of teak on deck with low maintenance plastic fixtures. The black anodized sloop spar comes in a 75′ race version or standard.

Looking at her line drawings, she has a fine entry, deep V-shaped forefoot, and moderately high aspect ratio keel. Her 12′ beam is carried amidships for a ultra slim length over beam ratio of 5.5. Aft is a powerful spade rudder mounted on a straight post. Combined with her low displacement ratio of 54 (cruisers range from 200 to 400), the shape leads to her extreme speeds. Her PHRF is negative 54. According to MagGregor Yachts, a 65 “averaged over 10.5 knots for 1150 miles, in generally upwind conditions, and hit top speeds of over 25 knots” in the Los Angeles to Puerto Vallarta race. They come in 6′ wing keel and 8’6″ deep fin keel versions.

Macgregor 65 PDF Brochure (Click to Download)

Despite the sniping comments, the MacGregor 65 appears to be built to pretty high standards. The 65 was one of the few American production yachts certified to meet American Bureau of Shipping Construction Standards (ABS). Mr. MacGregor notes, “Many of our buyers paid the extra amount and had the ABS actually oversee and inspect the boat’s construction.” He staunchly defends their quality. To achieve the displacment to length ratio of 54, Mr. MacGregor had to carefully build these Ultra-Light Displacement cruisers. Construction starts with a basic hull shell, 3/8” thick at its thinnest spot (aft rear topsides), and 1 ¼” at its thickest. The hull and deck are solid mat-roving hand laminated to achieve this thin and evenly faired skin. Unlike what you might expect and in contrast to the Hunter 54 construction, MacGregor used tabbed in framing structure in addition to molded liner construction. The structure includes 4 beefy full length longitudinal stringers along each side and one down the centerline. At close intervals, full transverse bulkheads of about 120 pounds each support the stringers. The molded liners do limit access to the hull.

The hull deck joint was originally of the shoebox type. Later version switch to the external flange type with 3/8″ bolts on 4″ centers, bonded with 5200, and covered with a rubber railing. Both types of joints are more often used by lower cost, high production builders because of a simplier molding process. While more accessible, the shoebox and outward flange type joints are more vulnerable to physical forces and hull flexing. The keel stepped mast is mounted on a transverse floor which is 20″ wide and 3″ thick. There are 6 floors which 3″ thick by 6″ wide thru which MacGregor attaches the keel bolts. The mast step also picks up chain plate loads. The ballast is 11,000 pounds of external lead. The proof lies in the results after 20 years of successful circumnavigations.

What To Look For
The main concern would be if a 65 is an early or late model. The switch includes a change in hull deck joint from the shoebox to a more sturdy external flange type and the addition of a pilothouse. The shoebox joint is the most vulnerable type to flexing. To stiffen the joint, you can insert cabon plugs suggests one owner. “Some owners with the shoe-box joint have put carbon plugs horizontally every 6 inches in place of the original throughbolts, while filling the joint overlap with epoxy. Once that cured they glassed over the joint.” There is a steep drop in prices as you progress towards the earliest models because of what might be the root of the 65’s poor quality reputation. The earlier models without the pilothouse were 10,000 pounds lighter. Like all builders, with more experience MacGregeor learned how to perfect their techniques. The keel could be a deep fin, shoal wing, or even a rare bulb. The wing seems to be the most common from brokerage listings. The racing version is another variation. Racing versions had taller rigs and open interiors. Mostly all 65’s are the same. One of the main reasons MacGregor was able to keep the new price so reasonable is that they did not offer customization.

On Deck
Forward, she has a dual bow roller. The chainlocker has deck access and is a watertight bulkhead for safety offshore. The very fine bow leads to a narrow foredeck with a lazarette fiberglass hatch. She has a nice diamond non-skid that even turns black along the soft incline to the cabintrunk. There is a track for a self tending headsail. These are mostly rigged as double headsail sloops. The rigging itself is 5/8″ wire, standard swedge fittings with turnbuckle covers like faux Navtec rod terminals. Two separate genoa tracks lead along the side decks. There is a single coachroof hatch and no dorades though 13 hatches provide ventilation. Aftmost is a small deck space and three stepped sugar scoop swim platform.

The aft cockpit is long with a shallow footwell and low, wide seating. The combings are short but ergonomically angled. The traveller is mounted on the lower step of a secure, two stepped bridgedeck which takes up room in the cockpit. This allows for traditional, endboom sheeting while sacrificing cockpit manueverability. The aft combing has a large, lazarette built in. Portside there is a plastic spin-off compartment. Two 2″ scuppers are aft by the helm. All in all this is a long, comfortable cockpit.

MacGregor 65 Layout

Down Below
The interior is one of the big changes with Mr. MacGregor’s new 70-footer. The least attractive part of the 65 series is the narrow, barren, and modest accommodations. Especially, the tall rig versions have open interiors typical of a spartan racing sled which do not provide any privacy. The decor is modernist and has little of the typical teak trappings. The lack of interior finish is another way MacGregor kept production costs low. This choice produces a functional but steril atmosphere down below. The new 70’s will have luxurious interior accommodations. This upgrade will help appeal to a more cruiserly audience.

From brokerage records, the engine on the 65’s could be 140 HP Yanmar Turbo, 150HP Mercury Turbo, Volvo, Pathfinder with a V-drive transmission. Access is from an aft lazarette on deck behind a watertight bulkhead. This positioning is an unusual and clever idea. If any of the thru-holes, hoses, or even prop sustain damage, the rear compartment will fill to a foot deep but the watertight bulkhead protects the rest of the boat. Standard was a 3 bladed 20″ x 14 convential prop though a Maxi-prop is an excellent upgrade to increase speed.

One of the more divisive questions about the MacGregor 65 is her upwind performance. Clearly, she is a great downwind sailing machine, surfing down waves. But, her light displacement leads to accusations of a choppy ride windward. Experienced owners suggest otherwise. The narrow entry and a deep V-shaped forefoot allows her to slice through waves. The trade-off is a rather wet ride with a steady stream of water over the foredeck although the cockpit is aftmost so the spray rarely reaches the cockpit. The long length means less hobby horsing too. A valid criticism relates to her tenderness upwind. Because of the narrow hull line, you will need to reef sooner than in a beamier boat.

MacGregors retail for between $100,000 to $200,000 with a sharp drop off for the 1980’s versions. The main attraction is her performance. Clearly, this 65-footer is one of the fastest production yachts ever built. The safety and poor construction concerns do not seem to be based on fact or experience. Likewise, the sailing concerns need to be refocused towards her slight tenderness upwind. Of all the criticisims, the most valid are about her narrow and sterile accommodations, arguably the worst part of the design for long distance cruising.

4 Replies to “MacGregor 65 Review: Fast Racing Sled”

  1. I have found that the negative comments about this boat are not reality based,
    one fellow claims one of these split down the middle longitudinally , NOT likely
    based on the way the hulls are layed up.

    I have scoured the internet reading about these boats recently-conclusion=
    naysayers are full of BS !!

    65 owners and delivery skippers don’t have any negitive comments that I can find.

    I want one of these and I think they are well built. ( > 1990 > up )

    Naysayers go get a Santana 22 or cal 20!! if you don’t already own one!!!

  2. I have found that the negative comments about this boat are not reality based,one fellow claims one of these split down the middle longitudinally , NOT likelybased on the way the hulls are layed up.

  3. The 26m, which is currently in production is not a swing keel, it’s a dagger board configuration.

  4. Pingback: yellow october

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