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Montgomery 17

Design Characteristics

BuilderMontgomery Marine Products and Montgomery Boats
DesignerLyle Hess
LOA17'2"
LWL15'10"
Draft1'9"
Draft Down15'10"
Beam7'4"
Displacement
Production Start1973
Production End
Number Built
Weight1600 lbs
Trailer Weight2300 lbs

History and Description

Written by Jerry Montgomery

The Montgomery 17 was designed by Lyle Hess, a well-known and highly respected designer of blue-water cruising boats, as an able coastal cruiser; small enough to be easily trailered but capable of moderate offshore passages. The first 17s were made as fixed keel boats, with a 525 lb. cast iron, bolt-on keel, and we took the first two to the Newport, RI, and Annapolis, MD boat shows in the fall of ’73 and sold over 30 of them between the two shows, strictly on the reputations of the designer and builder and the obvious quality of the boat.

Several of these were fixed keel boats, but most were orders for the announced keel/centerboard version. A total of about 20 of the early fixed keel 17s were made and the remain very stiff, seaworthy boats. (These boats are now old enough that keel bolts should be replaced for safety’s sake, and I still have a supply of the old 5/8" hi-tensile galvanized steel bolts, which are very difficult to find now). Soon after the shows, we finished the tooling for the still-current keel/CB version. I believe that the M-17 was the first production boat to use end-grain balsa coring in the deck.

In the late 70’s we made several flush deck 17s, which were a racing version with a flat deck like a Soling or Etchells 22, with no house and a small, self bailing cockpit. This started out as a lark, actually, because a good friend, also a boat builder, agreed to make the plug (mock-up) for the new deck mold in exchange for a 17 hull, which he wanted to finish off and sail to Hawaii. I made a mold off the plug, and made the first boat, Coyote, for myself. I took it to the October race in Guaymas, Mexico a few weeks later, and even though I did not yet have a spinnaker, finished 6th boat-for-boat on the first day and 2nd on the second day. A Venture 17 and I were the two smallest boats in the fleet, and not knowing anything about a Montgomery 17, let alone a flush deck 17, the race committee rated me the same as the Venture, which is a slow boat, and I won by so much on corrected time the first day that I had only to finish on he second day in order to take first overall. I also won the second day.

Later in the year, I sold "Coyote" (to an incredible guy in Tucson who won the Guaymas race the next two years with it) to help dig up money for the down payment on a house. The flush deck was a little lighter than a normal 17, had less windage because of the flat deck, and had a taller and higher aspect rig. It was a handful in a blow, but a light air bomb! I ended up building 9 of them, but destroyed the deck mold when I moved to the Sacramento area in 1987.

During the late 70’s we also made 15 or 20 tall rig 17’s; the mast was 1’9" taller than normal. Most of these were sold in the light-air areas of southern California and Arizona (mostly sailed in the Sea of Cortez).

In 1981 we retooled the 17, mostly because the molds had had several hundred boats made form them and were getting worn out, but incorporated several minor changes, like improving the windows, cockpit drainage, and the hull/deck joint, and changing the toe rails, forward hatch details, etc. In about ’84 we changed from extruded aluminum toe rails to those of teak, mostly because of changing market trends. In 1987 we made a centerboard change; from cast iron to fiberglass with a lead core. The new centerboards were thicker in section but smaller in profile, and I can’t tell the difference between the two types in sailing them. This change was made in response to death threats and other complaints resulting from the rusting problem common to cast iron. The new centerboards are no better, but they don’t rust. The older ones are probably more reliable, being cast iron, but we’ve had no problems with the new after 6 years. At the same time, we changed from steel to lead ballast, and increased the total ballast weight from 55 to 600 lbs.

The older, pre-81 17s are nearly as good as the newer; the difference being mostly that of cosmetics and other slight refinements, but they are usually a good bit less expensive in the broker’s yards. The biggest improvement in the 1981 17 was the addition of the wet locker, and the resulting improvement in cockpit drainage.

Other changes have been in the interior. Originally the 17 had a "three berth" interior; a double berth forward and a quarter berth on the starboard. On port, opposite the starboard berth, was a molded-in galley unit consisting of a sink with storage under, and a place for a stove. A few years later (about ’78 or so) we tooled a new interior with four berths, replacing the galley unit with a port side quarter berth which was a mirror-image of the starboard berth.

Neither of these interiors was perfect. The 3-berth lacked sitting room below; two people could shoehorn themselves onto the starboard berth and sit there like a couple of sardines, but it was far from comfortable. The galley/sink unit was seldom used except in cold or wet weather. And its most valuable qualities were the storage under, and even more important, the cockpit storage behind it, accessible through the port side cockpit hatch. The 4-berth had great sitting room for two people (or cramped room for four), but no galley for storage, and since the portside quarter berth ran all the way back under the cockpit, no storage there. To me, the 4-berth was the least desirable of the interiors.

In about ’87, we changed to the present interior, which is an adaptation of the previous two. On port, instead of the galley, we have a shortened (5’ long) berth that allows the much-needed sitting room and is long enough for a half-grown kid to sleep on, but still leaves enough room behind it for cockpit accessed storage. This is by far the best interior of the three and we have long since discontinued the other two.