This popular trailer-sailer was designed by Peter Milne (of Fireball fame), and between 1963 and 2003, over a thousand were built under the various names Skipper 17, Skipper Mariner and Eagle 525. The 40-year production run may be the longest of any commercial cruiser.
Skipper 17’s have always been popular because they are light to tow, easy to launch and recover, relatively safe in heavy weather, and fun to sail. In the early production years, they were made as day boats with a forward storage cuddy, but in later years, most were produced with a proper cabin. All had pivoting steel keel plates - early boats had a single centreplate, but from the late 70’s onward, all had twin bilge plates. The keels are fully retractable and the boat will dry out nearly upright.
The Skipper 17 has a big cockpit with space for up to 4 crew to sit on the windward side. The crew sit well forward, reducing the tendency to squat at the stern with a heavy crew seen in other mini-cruisers of similar size. The cockpit is self-draining and has two stowage bins – handy for fenders etc.
The cabin is big enough for 4 adults to shelter, or for 2 adults and a child to overnight. The keel cases of the twin-plate versions fit unobtrusively down the sides of the berths, and are almost totally sealed. There is plenty of storage space, with room for a cooker and a loo. The inside of the saloon has good sitting headroom, and a table slides down from the roof on the king post.
The cabin is admittedly difficult to clamber around for mooring etc, because the coachroof is high and sloping, and the side decks are narrow. However, visibility round the coachroof from the cockpit is quite good.
The Skipper 17 is not a racing dinghy, being short, beamy and too heavy to plane easily. However, she will beat most mini-cruisers up to 17 feet. The boat is directionally stable but always tacks readily. She handles heavy weather competently, sails well to windward, and when sailing downwind there is little tendency to broach.
The cruiser is stable when stepping on to the side decks or foredeck. The hull form confers much of the stiffness, as the ballast ratio is only 25. In gusty weather she can become too lively if sail area is not reduced, so most boats are equipped with jib roller reefing and main slab reefing. As she sails quite well on main alone, the jib can be completely furled if the wind speed gets up unexpectedly, taming the boat right down. However, in the extreme, she will bounce back upright virtually dry even when pulled over on to her beam-ends.
Skipper 17 Trailer Sailer comments and advice
I ran the leisure boat division at Andersons in Whitstable. We made the 12s, 17s, 21s and the 28s for Richmond Marine. At one stage the freeboard of the 17 was extended by heightening the deck by about 5 inches. Thereafter the boats were marketed by a motor dealership in Cheshire.
It would be nice to know what has happend to the moulds for the 17 and the others in the range.. who know some manufacture could be re-started if the market looks reasonable.
JOHN COPSEY, MJPC ltd, Canterbury
Morton Boats of Eagle nr Lincoln were making the Eagle 525 up to the late 1990s to all intents this is the same boat as the Skipper 17. I bought a second hand 525 about 3 years ago from them and when chatting to them they still had the workshop and I believe they still had the moulds.