Selecting a cruising boat is one of the most important decisions in
preparing for an offshore voyage and often is a pivotal point in the changing
of dreams from "Let's take off and go cruising some time, into the
reality of "Let's get outfitted and go". Obviously there isn't
any single design perfect for everyone; the boat you choose should be safe,
comfortable, well built, and ideally capable of fast passages and prove
to be a good investment. The process of selecting and purchasing a boat
for long distance cruising usually takes a minimum of six to 12 months.
you'll need to research boat types which suit your budget and cruising
plans. Be patient, ask questions and learn everything you can and keep
an open mind. If your plans are for coastal cruising you'll be able to
consider a wider range of boats than those suited for long distance ocean
passages. Secondly you'll need to locate, examine, survey, test sail, complete
the purchase transaction and possibly ship or deliver your new boat to
a place convenient for outfitting. If you make a poor choice you may be
plagued with structural problems, leaks, slow uncomfortable passages, endless
repairs and a low resale price.
I mention resale price now, because the money used for purchasing a
cruising boat often represents a substantial part of many people's life
savings. Although sailboats are rarely a "good" investment in
strictly monetary terms, you'll want to recoup as much of your original
purchase price as possible when it comes time to sell.
Size and Cost
Two of the most important points to remember when selecting a boat are
size and cost. The size of boat you select will affect your cruising costs,
not only in initial purchase and outfitting, but also in cruising expenses
once you're under way. Few people realize that outfitting a stock boat
for long distance cruising can easily take 30% to 50% more than the initial
purchase price. On a 35í new or used boat, this can mean an additional
$15,000 to $30,000 just for essential equipment including additional sails,
ground tackle, liferaft, safety gear and tender. This amount excludes optional
equipment such as refrigeration, electronics, outboard motors, scuba gear
and autopilots. Here is a common scenario: you overspend on the initial
purchase of the boat, spend more money on equipment that isn't essential
and then run short of funds once you've completed your initial provisioning
and have actually started cruising. A better approach, if you're working
within a fixed budget, is to spend less on the initial purchase by either
purchasing a wellbuilt used boat or a smaller new boat. Purchase the priority
equipment first, provision the boat (or set aside $2,000 for it), set aside
an average of $700 to $1,800 (for a couple) per month for the period of
time you want to cruise. Then see if there is enough money left for the
expensive, nonessential but "sure would be nice to have" equipment.
From my observations and experience, the majority of boats cruising for
a year or longer are sailed by couples, and a boat in the 35í to
45í size range works out best, particularly if they are new to sailing.
The cost, time and energy required to maintain a 50í to 60í
boat versus a 35í boat once you're "out there" cruising
is significantly higher. When I started cruising the South Pacific in 1974
on a Vega 27, there were many cruisers on shoestring budgets, open-ended
cruises on boats under 35í. Today we are seeing people cruising
faster on larger boats, covering a lot of countries in a shorter time with
a planned cruising time frame. It is no longer a forever lifestyle choice
but one that people experience for a few years. In general, the median
size of cruising boats has been going up steadily. This may correspond
with an increase budget of many cruisers due to the strong stock market
and economic climate and the development and improvement of sailhandling
systems including furling mainsails and electric winches.
People cruising on larger boats may have to depend on finding pickup
crew in different ports in order to safely manage their boat on ocean passages
and keep their insurance valid. Crew difficulties are one of the most persistent
and common problems on cruising boats. It's easy to find friends and family
members excited about sailing with you when you first leave your home port.
As you get further away from home airfares become more expensive, it becomes
expensive and time consuming co-ordinating the logistics of crew arrival
and departure. You might also find that you may not be comfortable trusting
your boat and life to people whom you don't know well. You must be prepared
to singlehand your boat. Seasickness or illness may incapacitate you or
your partner, leaving one person to handle everything. Safety dictates
a boat with manageable-sized sails, a totally dependable windvane selfsteering
system and a powerful electric autopilot. Fatigue is the number one cause
of shorthanded or singlehanded boats being lost on the rocks or reefs while
making landfall; so it becomes essential that you are able to handle your
boat without help, and that you realize your abilities and limitations.
If you are considering a boat over 40í and aren't as strong as you
used to be, consider adding electric winches, furling headsail(s) and possibly
a furling mainsail.
New Production Boat
Because of a real shortage of quality ocean-cruising boats in the 3-10
year old range, and the high cost and amount of time involved in upgrading
a solid 10+ year old boat, purchasing a new production boat is more attractive
now than it has been for many years. Example: if you purchase a 15 year
old boat for $80,000 and spend $50,000 replacing engine, sails, wiring,
tanks, rigging, electronics and epoxy bottom job using 1-2 years of potential
cruising time in the process, you end up with a 17 year old boat, probably
worth around $90,000. A better choice might be a new boat that costs more
initially but returns closer to 100% of your investment. You will be out
cruising 1-3 years earlier with fewer mechanical breakdowns. For a confirmation
of this, read Tom Neale's articles in Cruising World of the unending breakdowns
and repairs of his old Gulfstars and Dan Spurr's articles in Practical
Sailor of all the years and money he has spent upgrading his old Tartan
44, Viva. Some people use the justification that since they have rebuilt
every system on their boat, they now can fix them in some distant port.
I personally would rather spend that time cruising than with my head down
in the bilge fixing something that I overhauled a year earlier! If you
buy the right boat, keep it in top condition while you're cruising, you'll
find a line-up of folks wanting to purchase it when you've completed your
Having a boat custom or semicustom built generally takes considerably
more time and money than planned. Resale value on a custom boat may not
be as strong as on a wellknown quality production boat as people aren't
as familiar with it.
Compromise is important in selecting the right used boat. Chances are
you may not find any boat in your price range that exactly meets all of
your criteria so be prepared to be flexible and keep an open mind as you
learn more about what makes a safe and comfortable offshore boat. You may
go into your boat search thinking that you absolutely must have a heavy
displacement double-ender with a long bowsprit and a centerline queen berth,
for example. After educating yourself, you may decide that these are not
necessarily criteria that add to comfort or safety at sea. Cruising equipment
adds very little to the selling price of used boats, you may find a boat
that has already been outfitted and cruised, saving you tens of thousands
of dollars. The easiest way to find a quality used boat is to locate a
professional and knowledgeable broker who has offshore sailing experience
and who will work with you to find a suitable boat. Some less knowledgeable
or scrupulous brokers will try and sell you whatever boat is easiest. A
broker can use the BUC computer listing network and various publications
to locate appropriate boats on a regional and national basis. Spend time
clearly communicating your purchase time frame, budget, and personal priorities
with the broker. Be honest and don't waste their time. If you need to first
sell your house or won't be able to make a purchase for some time, let
them know up front.
Home building makes the least sense unless you are an experienced boat
builder and are not concerned about time and expenses. Homebuilt boats
generally end up costing more than a wellbuilt used boat, are usually much
more difficult to sell when you've completed your cruise often have a lower
resale value than a comparable production boat.
Have the boat carefully and thoroughly surveyed by a marine surveyor
experienced in offshore boats. It is best if you research and choose the
surveyor, rather than hiring a surveyor recommended by the seller or yacht
broker. Ask to see examples of previous surveys. You want to hire a surveyor
who has no vested interest in the transaction, other than making sure that
the boat you're considering is safe and a good investment for you. If you
consider purchasing a boat in a different part of the country and have
a surveyor you trust, consider flying the surveyor with you. Marine insurance
companies and banks are often able to recommend surveyors whose opinions
they trust. On larger, more expensive boats, many buyers will also pay
for individual surveys of engines, electrical systems, sails and occasionally
rigging. Most marine surveyors do not thoroughly cover these items in a
Used boat prices vary geographically and tend to be lowest in areas
of the country experiencing economic downturn and weak real estate markets.
If people can't sell their property, they are less likely to be able to
afford to purchase and outfit a boat for extended cruising. Since January
1996 prices have firmed up substantially nationally, and we are hearing
few tales of "stealing" good used cruising boats for 20% to 30%
below asking or BUC Used Boat Guide prices. Brokers on both coasts are
mentioning a real shortage of good ten-year-old or less cruising boats
in the $60,000 to $180,000 price range. In 1999 and later the shortage
will become more acute. Pacific Northwest
prices have remained slightly higher through the last recession, due to
demand and the strong economic climate. Here are some points to remember
when considering boats from different regions: Florida
boats tend to be less expensive than boats in other regions, but the higher
humidity and salt really take their toll. When I was boat shopping in Florida,
I found that many of the boats I looked at had been sitting for some time,
often unattended. In several cases the owners had run out of time, money
or interest and had parked the boat with a broker and returned to Europe
or the Northeast. New England and the Great Lakes
are excellent regions to shop for a cruising boat. A ten-year-old boat
that has been dry stored in a low humidity, low salt environment for seven
months each year will often be in much better condition than a five-year-old
Florida boat. Southern California has a very
limited inventory of offshore capable cruising boats. The light air and
generally moderate sea conditions and temperature mean that less-expensive
and more lightly constructed coastal cruisers dominate the market. Pacific Northwest prices are higher and inventory
of good offshore-capable boats is scarce because of many years of a booming
economy. Canadian prices are good and inventory
particularly in the Great Lakes area is worth looking at. When trying to
decide whether or not it is logical to purchase a boat out of your area,
make sure to factor in all shipping and commissioning costs. Here are approximate
costs for shipping a 35' and 42', sailboat with a beam of no more than
12' and a trailer height of under 14'. Boats with beam in an excess of
12' will require a pilot car at $1.00 per mile in some states. Add approximately
$200 for trucking insurance rider, and $1000 to $2000 for decommissioning
and recommissioning, depending how much of the work you do yourself. Florida
to New York or Los Angeles to Seattle: $2815 $3069 Annapolis to Seattle
or Seattle to Florida: $6800 $7600 Wisconsin to Seattle: $4000 $4600 The
present currency exchange rates have made purchasing a boat overseas much
less of a bargain than it was in 1984/85. Prices of identical cruising
boats tend to be consistently higher in Europe at this time. New Zealand
has some quality cruising boats for sale at attractive prices, but as these
are small run production boats, few people in North America are familiar
with these boats. If you're interested in cruising specific areas such
as Scandinavia, the Med or the French canals and aren't interested in the
long passages, purchasing a boat on location may be a good choice. If you're
considering purchasing a boat overseas and plan to sail it back to the
U.S., try and select a wellknown builder who has dealers in the States.
You'll find it much easier to sell a wellknown boat for a reasonable price.
The cost of shipping a 35' boat from Europe or New Zealand to the U.S. is
$12,000 to $15,000. Any U.S. Embassy will be able to provide you with temporary
documentation papers if you're purchasing and planning to cruise a boat
in another country.
Boat Selection Checklist
If at all possible, contact the designer before purchasing. Relatively
few boats were actually designed for ocean passage making. You will need
to learn if the boatbuilder followed the designer's construction criteria.
Some Taiwanese built yachts advertised as being designed by Robert Perry
or Doug Peterson may actually be pirated designs where the designer has
not been paid a royalty and the builder may have tried to save money by
reducing structural integrity. None of the Taiwan yards employing this
practice are still in business today.
If the yard is still in business it can be quite helpful for purchasing
some parts and assemblies, but is by no means essential. If they are still
in business, call and ask them about the boat you're considering. Have
the hull number and date of manufacture ready. You may find that boats
built by a yard that is still in business sell for higher prices than boats
where the builder has gone out of business. As an example, friends of mine
had a Southern Cross 35 built for them by Ryder Yachts about 15 years ago.
After a successful Pacific circumnavigation and the arrival of two lovely
daughters, they decided to move up to a Morris 46. They related that the
Morris 36 which they were considering when they ordered the Southern Cross
then cost $20,000 more but is now worth approximately $160,000 compared
to a value of $75,000 for the Southern Cross today. Morris is still in
business building excellent boats; Southern Cross went under not long after
my friends boat was completed. If you're considering purchasing a new boat,
check the financial condition of the company. Some builders are just barely
staying in business and may use your deposit money to complete another
person's boat. This only works as long as the deposits are coming in!
You'll sure appreciate a design that offers good sailing performance
and ease of handling the more miles you sail. Few potential cruisers think
of passage-making speed as important criteria in choosing an ocean cruising
boat. After 160,000 miles and 25 years of ocean cruising, it is now high
on my personal list of priorities. The shorter your passages, the less
exposure you have to heavy weather conditions. A boat with good sailing
performance requires less motoring and fuel, is faster, more responsive
and fun to sail in the light air conditions so common worldwide. Windward
sailing performance is nearly as important as passage-making speed. A design
that has graceful overhangs and a shorter waterline will often tend to
hobbyhorse or pitch when sailing to windward into a chop. Upwind passages
back home may be impossible or extremely difficult. On the other extreme,
a very modern, light displacement boat with a flat entry may tend to pound
when sailing to windward. The ability to sail off a lee shore in an emergency
is dependent on windward performance.
Negative design aspects to be avoided:
Long bowsprits which may prove difficult or dangerous when changing
headsails or maneuvering in close quarters. Low freeboard may indicate
a design that will ship a lot of spray and water on ocean passages. Excessive
freeboard may cause poor windward performance and a tendency to "sail"
back and forth at anchor. A small amount of weather helm as the wind increases
is desirable, but an excessive amount which cannot be decreased by sail
trim or rig tuning may mean that a boat will be difficult to steer by hand,
windvane or autopilot. If the design is excessively tender, you'll have
to get used to living, cooking, navigating and sleeping at 25 to 30 degrees
angle of heel every time you are sailing to windward, something you may
find fatiguing. A comfortable motion at sea is very important. A vessel
with a short waterline and long, graceful overhangs often tends to hobbyhorse
when to sailing to windward and may lack directional stability when sailing
downwind in a large following sea.
A Comfortable Home
This is just as important as each of the above points, because a boat
may have the best sailing characteristics in the world, but if your partner
views it as a deep, dark, damp, unattractive place to live, you'll either
be singlehanding or giving up your cruising dreams. Remember most cruisers
are at sea less than a quarter of the time, so comfort at anchor is also
Space for the for additional sails, tankage, food, lines, spare parts,
medical and safety supplies that are required for extensive cruising is
important. On some boats valuable storage space under the settees and berths
is filled with tankage that could have been designed under the cabin sole.
Weight Carrying Capacity
A purpose-designed cruising boat will be able to carry the additional
weight of three anchors, a windlass and several hundred pounds of chain,
as well as additional water (8 lbs. per gallon) and fuel (6 lbs. per gallon),
a liferaft, dinghy and outboard. You'll be adding several thousand pounds
of equipment, so if the boat you're considering is already on her waterline
before you start loading cruising gear you may end up several inches below
the designed waterline. On some designs this may be a dangerous problem.
Boats that handle the weight the best are not real narrow at the waterline
beam and have transom sterns without excessive overhangs.
Hull thickness doesnít necessarily translate into strength. A
thick hull with a high of a resin to glass ratio may actually be more brittle
than a thinner hull where the resin has been carefully squeezed out. Read
Surveying Fiberglass Sailboats by Henry C. Mustin, International Marine,
1994 for a clear and concise view of hull and deck design, structure, and
condition. Some builders have a history of serious osmotic blister problems.
In some cases blistering may be serious enough to require removal and replacement
of part of the hull laminate, which can be quite expensive. A knowledgeable
surveyor will be an excellent resource and may recommend looking for a
different boat if the blisters are deep and extensive. If the hull is balsacored
and the core material becomes saturated because of improperly installed
thruhulls, or if the boat has "gone on the beach" you may want
to look at a different boat because of the cost of repairs and potential
for future problems. Foam-coring provides excellent insulation above the
waterline but there can be problems with water absorption if coring is
used below the waterline.
The deck surface must provide adequate nonskid without being overly
abrasive on bare knees. If you plan on living aboard or cruising in nontropical
areas, insulated decks will reduce condensation and moisture. If teak decking
was laid over plywood there can be serious problems once the boat is over
approximately 8 - 12 years old. If the plywood core material is not marine
grade or if insufficient bedding compound used, you may end up with the
core material becoming saturated and many small deck leaks where the screws
are. Teak docks look great at the boat show, but on older boats improperly
laid decks will present additional leak potential and maintenance. Many
of the less-expensive Taiwan builders of the 70's and 80's used random
bits of plywood as deck coring material, with filler between the wood scraps.
When water penetrates this core material, repairs are often expensive and
very time consuming. Check with any marine surveyor to verify this. I would
recommend having a surveyor look very carefully at any boat older than
eight years with balsacored decks. Unless the core has been eliminated
in favor of a solid laminate where stanchion bases, genoa tracks, cleats
and other deck fittings are placed, water will penetrate the balsa sooner
or later, and repairs may be extensive and expensive. If the boat has foamcored
decks, the marine surveyor will check all horizontal surfaces carefully
for voids or delaminating by tapping with a small hammer.
Hull to Deck Joint
There are several methods of attaching the hull and deck of fiberglass
boats. When there are bolts and nuts or screws protruding through on the
inside of the hull to the deck joint, a mechanical clamp joint is relying
on the bond of a sealant adhesive (3M 5200 is often used) to stop leaks.
After 10 to 12 years and several thousand miles of ocean sailing the sealant/adhesive
loses some of its elasticity. Due to the working of the boat and the different
climatic conditions the toerail and hull expand, contract and flex at different
rates eventually weakening the bond, allowing water to follow the bolt
or screw threads down, and drip on the inside of your lockers.
The two options for solving the problem are: Remove the teak cap rail
or aluminum extruded toerail and clean and rebed each bolt. Radius the
inside of the joint with epoxy and microballoons and then lay several layers
of fiberglass tape over the inside of the joint, totally sealing it and
strengthening the area at the same time.
Bulkheads must be securely attached to the hull. On a fiberglass boat
they need to be substantially glassed to the hull on both sides and to
the deck with multiple layers of tape. Some builders skimp on this, gluing
bulkheads in instead, but once their boats have made several ocean passages,
bulkheads and interior wooden cabinetry may come unbonded from the hull,
allowing the hull to flex more than it should. The repair is messy, involving
grinding and fiberglassing in some difficult to reach areas Internal stiffening
systems (grid floor systems, and/or full-length and transverse glass over
foam (not wooden) stringers) contribute greatly to the stiffness and rigidity
of a boat. If the interior woodwork is just glued or lightly attached to
a hull liner pan or to the hull, you may find it breaking loose after a
few thousand miles of ocean sailing. Access to hull and deck areas is often
restricted when fiberglass liners and pans are used in construction, making
equipment installation and leakstopping difficult. From a manufacturing
standpoint, hull liners are less expensive, but you won't find them on
top-end ocean cruising designs.
Chainplate Load Transmission
The loading from chain plates must be evenly transmitted to bulkheads
and structural members below deck to avoid lifting or distorting the deck.
Separate chainplates for forward, upper and aft shrouds provides more stability
for the mast and reduces the chance of deck loading distortion. External
chainplates (fastened to the outside of the hull) look salty but may eventually
leak and need to be re-bedded. They also can restrict the jib sheeting
Mast Support System
Deck stepped masts work well, but only if proper structural members
transmit the load to the keel. Otherwise deflection and possibly delamination
under the mast occur. With keel stepped masts, inspect for corrosion at
the base of the mast. Check the mast for trueness even with an aluminum
Underbody Design: Keels and Rudders
Most cruising boats run aground at one time or another, and sometimes
at speed. Some keel designs are better suited to withstanding a hard grounding
without damage. In my experience the best type of keel for serious cruising
is not a short, deep, high-aspect fin. There are two keel options that
work well for cruising boats that may occasionally run aground. A longer
keel with external lead ballast attached to a substantial stub that is
an integral part of the hull absorbs groundings well. When external ballast
is used, keel bolts attaching the keel to the hull must be accessible,
and keel loading must be spread out through the floor system. Another option
is internal lead ballast that is lowered into the keel cavity and then
heavily fiberglassed over. Internal lead ballast eliminates some potential
problems with keel attachment, but check closely during survey for any
voids or water penetration in the keel area between the ballast and fiberglass.
Read Surveying Fiberglass Sailboats for more details. Cast iron or mixtures
of iron and cement are less desirable ballast materials, resulting in a
boat that heels more quickly and has less room for tankage in the keel.
Centerboards and lifting keels are an option if youíre plans include
more coastal cruising than ocean voyaging, but the increased complexity
and lowered stability are drawbacks. High aspect deep and short fin keels
(in a fore and aft measurement) are best suited for racing boats. Running
hard aground can result in damage to the area where the trailing edge of
the keel meets the hull and can cause leaks around the keel bolts. Wing
keels have a shape similar to a Bruce anchor and can be very difficult
to refloat. A rudder must be able to take the impact of hitting logs and
grounding without jamming or being damaged. Unprotected spade rudders are
more likely to be a problem. Ideally you should be able to remove the rudder
with the boat in the water for repairs in remote areas. In the past, cruisers
assumed a full-keel design with attached rudder was the only design for
ocean voyaging. I have cruised 75,000 on four different modern full-keel
boats, plus another 70,000 miles on a boat with a longish keel and separate
full-skeg and rudder. My present boat has a partial skeg, providing some
protection from logs and debris and a third rudder bearing and more strength
than a spade rudder. Having the skeg extend only partway down the rudder
means that the rudder is semi-balanced. This greatly reduces the amount
of effort required to steer the boat. It is almost like power steering
and means that not only hand steering, but also steering under autopilot
or windvane is much easier and that there is much less loading on the steering
system. For me the trade off of less protection is worth the ease of steering
and added maneuverability. Plan on removing and thoroughly checking the
rudder on any used boat before venturing offshore. To check for excessive
rudder play, when hauled out grasp the bottom of the trailing edge of the
rudder and try and move it fore and aft and also athwartship.
Skegprotected rudder, detached from the keel
is well suited for long distance cruising. The skeg protects the rudder
to some degree, and may increase directional stability. Examples of this
type of design: Valiants, Crealock 34, 37, 40, 44. There are many suitable,
well-built boats of this design type and they are a popular choice for
long distance ocean cruising.
Partial-skeg rudders can be semi-balanced
which is like having power steering. This type of rudder generally has
three bearings, making it sturdier than a free-standing rudder which often
has only two bearings. Examples include Morris 44, 46 and the Frers-designed
Modern cutaway full keel, with attached rudder
and moderate displacement is another good choice for cruising in isolated
areas where groundings or scrapes are common and the nearest shipyard may
be thousands of miles away. The cutaway forefoot is a faster, more maneuverable
design that will have fewer tendencies to trip or broach when running under
storm conditions than a traditional Tahiti ketch type of full keel boat.
Having the rudder mounted slightly above and protected by the full length
of the keel and the propeller enclosed in an aperture offer the best protection
against damage from collision with submerged or floating objects. Careening
or hauling out in primitive boatyards is easy with this type of design.
Examples include: Island Packet, Mason, Cape Dory, Freya 39, Nicholson
31, Endurance 35.
Fin keel/spade rudder is the fastest and
most maneuverable design for racing and is the easiest and least expensive
underbody to build. Some designs featuring a deep, high aspect keel may
exhibit a lack of steering directional stability when ocean swells are
present. There are several very successful cruising designs that have a
longer, substantially supported keel (not a thin, highaspect keel) and
strong rudderstocks. Some examples are the Sundeer and Deerfoots, Niagara
31, 35, 42, Cal 40, and Sabre Yachts. If your cruise plans involve high
latitude sailing or gunkholing in remote areas, you will need to be more
cautious with this type of design.
Heavy displacement fullkeeled doubleenders
based on Tahiti ketch or Norwegian lifeboat lines used to be a nearly automatic
choice for long distance voyaging. However, yacht design has made some
great advances in the past 40 years, and you may choose to take advantage
of these improvements which make for faster, more comfortable passages,
and smaller, more easily handled sail plans without resorting to bowsprits
Having said that, there are plenty of folks happily cruising on their
Westsail 32s and Hans Christians content that they have the best design
for their cruising lifestyle. There is not one design or style of cruising
that suits everyone.
Being able to maintain at least six knots under power will get you in
most passes and channels at the time of least current. A rule of thumb
is two horsepower per thousand pounds of displacement for a sufficiently
powered cruising sailboat. Purists may say that this is excessive, but
in my experience it has been an advantage to have sufficient power to deal
with currents and the ability to motorsail to windward for short distances
into steep chop when necessary. Here are some points to consider:
How good is everyday access?
Can the engine be removed if necessary for rebuilding without having to
destroy the cockpit or companionway?
Is there an engine hour meter and logbook showing maintenance history?
What is the fuel consumption and range under power? 600800 miles minimum
under power for long distance cruising where fuel may not be available
for months at a time is only a minimum, from my experience. Ideally the
boat you are considering will have a common make of engine that will be
easy to find parts and service for in lessdeveloped cruising areas.
Examples of engines which may be difficult to obtain parts for are BMW,
Isuzu, Mercedes, Pices, Pathfinder, Bukh and to a lesser extent, Yanmar.
Best manufactures for worldwide parts availability are Volvo, Perkins,
Caterpillar, and Cummins. When I bought my Hallberg Rassy 31, I thought
the 25hp diesel engine was excessive for a displacement of only 9,500 lbs,
but the top speed of 7.2 knots, cruising speed of 6.5 knots and maximum
range under power at 5 knots of 1,200 to 1,500 miles proved useful. My
42' ketch displaced 25,000 pounds and was powered with a 62 hp engine which
proved very adequate in areas like Patagonia, Antarctica and Alaska where
conditions dictated powering for weeks at a time, encountering strong currents
and tidal rips and fierce catabatic winds daily. My present 48', 38,000
lb boat has a 95 hp. motor which provides an 8.3 knot top speed, and a
1,500 mile range at more economical 6 knots. I have supplemented standard
fuel tankage with jerry jugs stowed in cockpit lockers with each of these
Steering System and Position
Some sailors prefer tillers on boats under 35' as there is less to go
wrong and installing most windvane steering systems is less complicated
than with wheel steering. If the boat youíre considering has wheel
steering, hopefully the system was built by a reputable company like Edson
or Whitlock where you're assured of quality components and that youíll
always be able to spare parts if needed. Many Taiwanesebuilt steering systems
suffer from poor initial design, inferior bronze castings and rudders that
aren't able to hold up to the stresses of ocean sailing. This isn't a problem
on the more expensive boats like Norseman, Taswell, Mason and Little Harbor.
The location of the steering position is also important. If the wheel is
mounted at the far aft end of the cockpit, it may be very hard to design
a dodger that will provide protection to the helmsperson without resorting
to a long, potentially unseaworthy design.
The majority of long distance cruisers are choosing sloop or cutter
rigs. Dependable furling and headsails and mainsails have meant that cruising
couples are able to easily handle cutter or sloop rigged boats in the 40'
to 50í range. Many cruisers are adding a removable inner forestay
on a sloop on which they can set a storm staysail once they have furled
or dropped their working headsail. I don't have any hard and fast rules
that apply to my choice of rig. I used to think that I would not like a
ketch rig, but after seven years and 70,000 miles on my previous boat which
was ketchrigged, I appreciated theflexibility of the rig and the ability
to drop half the total sail area (the mainsail) in less than a minute without
having to resort to a furling mainsail.
The ideal stern for a cruising boat includes a builtin swim step on
a slightlyreversed transom stern. An overly large, sugarscoop stern may
prove a liability in a heavy following sea. Double enders may look salty,
but the loss of valuable, hardtoreplace lazarette storage area and buoyancy
must be taken into consideration. More double enders have a higher tendency
to "squat" in the stern when loaded with cruising gear than do
Hull Construction Material
Fiberglass is the least maintenance-intensive material for cruising
boats, but construction quality varies greatly from one builder to the
next. The majority of fiberglass boats were never designed or built for
extended ocean sailing and may eventually start falling apart if pressed
into this type of service. The other extreme are designs that are so heavily
built and overweight and do not have the sailing performance which makes
for fast and comfortable passages. Pearson Vanguards, Tritons and Alberg
35's are examples of very well built, reasonably priced earliest production
fiberglass boats. After 35 years these boats are still going strong.
Steel is an excellent material for boatbuilding,
and frequently the choice of sailors who have done extensive offshore cruising.
The impact resistance and total watertightness of the hull, deck and fittings
is an advantage over other materials. With sandblasting and the new epoxy
coatings, steel takes less time to maintain than it used to, although it
still requires more time and cost to maintain than a fiberglass boat. Many
of the steel boats on the North American market are ownerbuilt hardchine
designs. Although strong and stiff, they are not particularly fast or attractive
to many person's tastes. A poorly-built steel boat will have places on
the inside of the hull that will trap water and rust through from the inside
out. Access to every part of the interior of the hull makes checking for
corrosion and painting much easier. Some attractive, modern steel cruising
boats are the Waterline Yachts built in Sidney, BC, Brewerdesigned Goderich
35, 37 and 41 built in Ontario; and the Amazon 37 and 44 which were built
in Vancouver, BC.
Aluminum boats are generally lighter and
faster than steel boats, have less impact resistance and may be more difficult
to have repaired in remote shipyards. Painted aluminum boats often tend
to develop paint blisters after four to five years of serious cruising,
requiring an expensive repainting job if you want a perfectly fair and
shiny hull. There are dozens of unpainted French aluminum boats cruising
the world, and although you may not find their concretecolored oxidized
aluminum hulls attractive, they are strong and practical. Aluminum suffers
from electrolysis more severely than steel; if you're cruising on an aluminum
boat you'll need to be very careful when moored in electrically "hot"
marinas. Quality aluminum builders include Kanter in Ontario and Topper
Hermanson in Florida.
Wood boats often offer a lower purchase
price, although the cost and time involved in keeping them in good shape
is more than with other materials. If you have a limited budget, and don't
mind the additional work, a wellbuilt wooden boat may be a good choice.
It may be difficult to find longdistance offshore insurance for traditionally
built wooden cruising boats. Perhaps because there are so many potential
sources of problems on wooden boats in the tropics we see fewer of them
long distance cruising each year. There is the special warmth and appeal
of wood that some people find irresistible, whether or not it takes more
care and maintenance.
Modern wood epoxy saturation (WEST System)
technique produces boats that are lighter, stronger and often faster than
traditionally built boats and have a better chance of being insurable for
ocean cruising. The best areas to find modern coldmolded boats are in the
Northwest, New England and New Zealand.
Ferrocement is the only material that has
no advantages other than inexpensive construction materials. It is the
most labor-intensive material to build with, is difficult to finance, insure
or repair, and has the lowest impact resistance of any material. Having
said this, I have met two cement cruising boats that have completed two
and three circumnavigations respectively.
Multihulls advantages include very little
heeling or rolling and tremendous interior volume and deck space, making
them great for living aboard and chartering in tropical climates. Another
distinct advantage is that multihulls don't sink if holed, unlike ballasted
monohulls. Their disadvantages for offshore cruising are that they are
more weightsensitive to overloading, they may be uncomfortable going upwind
into a head sea and under extremely rare instances they can capsize.
Keypoints to Remember
Realistically assess your needs in terms of size of boat and amount
of equipment. If you're outfitting and cruising on a budget, remember the
KISS formula. More complicated systems mean more money and maintenance,
repairs and spare parts to track down. Think moderate in terms of displacement
and sail area since extremes, ultralight or heavy displacement will be
either less comfortable or restrictive because of poorer performance. If
possible, find and talk with people that own sisterships to the boats you're
considering. Cruising world Magazine's "Another Opinion" Service
(1.900.988.2275 or 5 John Clarke Rd., Newport, RI 02840) is an excellent
resource. Practical Sailor also has a sameday fax service of comprehensive
37 page evaluations of more than 80 different boats for $3.50 per page
and several excellent books, 203.661.4802. Sail on as many different designs
as possible, noting pluses and minuses of each. This can be done by joining
a sailing club or chartering. If you are quite convinced that you want
a specific boat, a oneweek charter on a sistership will be a sound investment.
Don't overspend on initial purchase price; save at least 40% to 50% of
your total budget for outfitting, provisioning and cruising funds.
Practical Sailor's Practical Boat Buying, Volumes 1 & 2,
available from Belvoir Publications, P.O. Box 2626, Greenwich, CT 068362626
for $39.95 each or $59.95 both
Practical Sailor December 1993 issue has an excellent list of
cruising boat prices between $5,000 and $200,000 which is still surprisingly
Surveying Fiberglass Sailboats, Henry C. Mustin, International
marine, 1994 Desirable and Undesirable Characteristics of Offshore Yachts,
by John Rousmaniere
For a detailed five-page list of boats to consider for offshore cruising,
send $2 to Mahina Expeditions, Box 1596, Friday Harbor, WA 98250.
John Neal's passion since 1976 has been sharing the knowledge of preparing
for offshore cruising through 98 Weekend Offshore
Cruising Symposiums to over 5,000 sailors. When not teaching ashore,
John and his New Zealand wife, Amanda Swan-Neal conduct offshore sail and
navigation training expeditions aboard Mahina Tiare III, their Hallberg-Rassy
46. Past expeditions have included Cape Horn, Antarctica and just about
every island in the Pacific from Alaska to Australia. They are currently
at sea somewhere between Auckland and Alaska; to view satellite log updates
of their current expedition, click here.
If you'd like more information on selecting an offshore cruising boat,
consider attending one of the following Weekend
Offshore Cruising Symposiums. Yacht designer Robert Perry is co-presenter
of the boat selection section, and additional presenters include Dan Spurr
from Practical Sailor, sailmaker Carol Hasse, weather instructor Earl Seagars
and West Marine Catalog Advisor author and Safety at Sea moderator, Chuck
Seattle: November 13 & 14, 1999 and February 19 & 20, 2000
San Francisco: February 12 & 13, 2000
Annapolis, Maryland: February 26 & 27, 2000
by John Neal
Was the boat designed for ocean passage making? Did the boatbuilder follow
the designer's construction criteria? If at all possible, contact the designer
before purchasing. Some Taiwanese-built yachts advertised as being designed
by Robert Perry or Doug Peterson may actually be pirated designs. The designer
has not been paid a royalty and the builder may have tried to save money
by reducing structural integrity.
Is the builder still in business? (When considering a used boat.) This is
more helpful than essential. If the builder is still in business, call and
ask them about the boat you're considering; have the serial number and date
of manufacture ready.
Ease of sailing and performance
Does it have a long bowsprit which might prove difficult or dangerous when
changing headsails or maneuvering in close quarters? Low freeboard may indicate
a design which will ship a lot of spray and water on ocean passages. Excessive
freeboard may cause poor windward performance and a tendency to 'sail back
and forth at anchor. A small amount of weather helm as the wind increases
is desirable, but an excessive amount which cannot be decreased by sail
trim or rig tuning may mean that a boat will be difficult to steer by hand,
windvane or autopilot. If the design is excessively tender, you'll have
to get used to living, cooking, navigating and sleeping at 30 degrees angle
of heel every time you are sailing to windward, something you may find fatiguing.
Will it have a comfortable motion at sea, or will it tend to hobbyhorse
to windward because of a short waterline and uneven weight distribution?
Will the design roll excessively when sailing downwind? Few potential cruisers
think of passagemaking speed as important criteria in the boat selection
process; after 135,000 miles and 23 years of ocean cruising, it is now high
on my personal list of priorities. The shorter your passages, the less exposure
you have to heavy weather conditions. A boat with good sailing performance
requires less motoring and fuel and is faster, more responsive and fun to
sail in the light air conditions so common worldwide.
How Well Can the boat sail to windward?
Will upwind passages back home be impossible or extremely difficult? Will
you be able to sail off a lee shore in an emergency?
How easily can the boat be made to self-steer?
Does the helm require constant attention and concentration when sailing
downwind in fresh conditions? Is it easily balanced, and is the transom
free of overhanging stern pulpits which can make mounting a windvane steering
Will the boat make a comfortable home?
This factor is just as important as each of the above factors, because a
boat may have the best sailing characteristics in the world, but if your
partner thinks of it only as a deep, dark, damp dungeon, you'll either be
singlehanding or giving up your liveaboard cruising dreams. Remember most
cruisers are underway less than a quarter of the time, so comfort at anchor
is also very important.
What is the stowage capacity of the boat?
Will there be room for additional sails, tanks, food, bosun locker supplies,
lines, spare parts, medical and safety supplies, or has the space under
the settees and berths already filled with tankage that could have been
designed into the keel?
Does weight carrying capacity match your needs?
Can the boat carry the additional weight of three anchors, a windlass and
several hundred pounds of chain, as well as additional water (8 lbs. per
gallon) and fuel (6 lbs per gallon), a liferaft, dinghy and outboard? You'll
be adding several thousand pounds of additional equipment, and if the boat
you're considering is already on her waterline before you start loading
cruising equipment you may end up several inches below the designed waterline.
On some designs this may be a dangerous problem. Boats that handle the weight
the best are not real narrow at the waterline beam and have transom sterns
without excessive overhangs.
Do the builder's boats have a history of serious osmotic blister problems?
Two very good builders (Camper Nicholson of England and Uniflite, original
builder of Valiant Yachts) have a reputation for severe blister problems
on certain models. Is the hull balsa-cored (often a problem as the balsa
becomes saturated if thru-hulls weren't installed properly, or if the boat
has 'gone on the beach) or foam cored (great for insulation above the waterline,
some potential problems below the waterline)? Is the hull thick and brittle
from too high of a resin to glass ratio? I highly recommend Surveying Fiberglass
Sailboats by Henry C. Mustin, International Marine, 1994 for a clear and
concise view of hull and deck design, structure and condition.
Are teak decks laid over plywood or aluminum? If teak was laid over plywood,
was sufficient bedding compound used, or will you end up with thousands
of small deck leaks where the screws are? Teak decks look great at the boat
show, but on older boats they will present additional leak potential and
maintenance. I would recommend having a surveyor look very carefully at
any boat older than five years with balsa-cored decks. Unless the core has
been eliminated in favor of a solid laminate where stanchion bases, genoa
tracks, cleats and other deck fittings are placed, water will penetrate
the balsa sooner or later, and repairs may be extensive and expensive. If
the boat has foam-cored decks, the marine surveyor will check all horizontal
surfaces carefully for delamination by tapping with a small hammer. Do the
decks provide adequate non-skid without being knee-grinders? If you plan
on living aboard or cruising in non-tropical areas, insulated decks will
reduce condensation and moisture.
Hull to deck joint
Are there screws or nuts protruding through on the inside? In my experience,
this type of mechanical clamp joint which is relying on the bond of a sealant
adhesive (3M 5200 is often used) often starts leaking in 6 to 8 years. The
sealant/adhesive loses some of its elasticity, and as the toerail and hull
are expanding, contracting and flexing at different rates, the bond eventually
weakens, allowing water to follow the bolt or screw threads down, becoming
drips on the inside. If the hull to deck joint has been dripping through
on the inside you may choose to remove the teak cap rail or aluminum extruded
toerail and clean and re-bed each bolt. The other option is to radius the
inside of the joint with epoxy and microballoons and then lay several layers
of fiberglass tape over the inside of the joint, totally sealing it and
strengthening the area at the same time.
Are the bulkheads adequately attached to the hull? On a fiberglass boat
they need to be substantially glassed to the hull on both sides and to the
deck with multiple layers of tape. Some builders skimp on this, gluing bulkheads
in instead, but once their boats have made several ocean passages, bulkheads
and interior wooden cabinetry come unbonded from the hull, allowing the
hull to flex more than it should. The repair is messy, involving grinding
and fiberglassing in some difficult areas to reach. Are there internal stiffening
systems (grid floor systems, and/or full length glass over foam - NOT BALSA!
- stringers) or is the interior woodwork just glued or lightly attached
to the hull, only to break loose after a few thousand miles of ocean sailing?
Is there proper access to hull and deck areas, or do fiberglass liners and
pans make equipment installation and leak-stopping very difficult?
Chain plate load transmission
Are the chain plates going to lift the deck or distort hull, or is the load
evenly spread out by properly transmitting the load to bulkheads and structural
members? Separate chainplates for forward, upper and aft shrouds provides
more stability for the mast and reduces the chance of deck loading distortion.
External chainplates (fastened to the outside of the hull) look salty but
often leak when the boat is heeled over. They also restrict the jib sheeting
Mast support system
Deck stepped masts work well, but only if proper structural members transmit
the load to the keel. Otherwise deflection and possibly delamination under
the mast occur. On keel stepped masts, inspect for corrosion at the base
of the mast. Check the mast for trueness - even with an aluminum mast.
Most cruising boats run aground at one time or another, and sometimes at
speed. Some keel designs are much better suited to withstand a hard grounding
without damage than others. In my experience (having run aground in varying
conditions and areas) the best type of keel for serious cruising is relatively
long, where the keel is either part of the hull with the ballast added internally
and then heavily fiberglassed over, or else attached to a substantial stub
which is an integral part of the hull. Crealock 37 and Valiant 40/42 are
examples. High aspect deep and short fin keels (in a fore and aft measurement)
are best suited for racing boats.
Running hard aground can result in damage
to the area where the trailing edge of the keel meets the hull and can cause
leaks around the keel bolts. In many cruising areas there aren't Travelifts
available to lift the hull off the keel for repairs. Wing keels have a shape
similar to a Bruce anchor and can be very difficult to refloat if you've
run into sand or mud. When external ballast is used, keel bolts attaching
the keel to the hull must be accessible, and keel loading must be spread
out through the floor system. Internal lead ballast eliminates some potential
problems with keels, but check closely during survey for any voids or water
penetration in the keel area between the ballast and fiberglass. Read Surveying
Fiberglass Sailboats for more details.
How well is the rudder protected from logs and flotsam? Can the rudder take
impact and grounding without jamming or being damaged? How easily can it
be removed with the boat in the water for repair? Unprotected spade rudders
are much more likely to be a problem. I know of three Swans that lost their
spade rudders between Panama and Tahiti in one year. Plan on removing and
thoroughly checking the rudder on any used boat before venturing offshore.
To check for excessive rudder play, when hauled out grasp the bottom of
the trailing edge of the rudder and try and move it fore and aft and also
Is the engine a common make that will be easy to find parts and service
for in less-developed cruising areas? Examples of engines which may be difficult
to obtain parts for are BMW, Isuzu, Pisces, Pathfinder, Bukh and to a lesser
extent, Yanmar and Mercedes. Best manufactures for worldwide parts availability
are Volvo, Perkins, Catapillar, Cummins and Detroit Diesel. Is it a purpose-built
marine diesel, or is it an automotive or truck engine that has been 'marinized.
How good is everyday access? Can the engine be removed without having to
destroy the cockpit or companionway? Is there an engine hour meter and logbook
showing maintenance history? What is the fuel consumption? Range under power?
600-800 miles minimum under power for long distance cruising where fuel
may not be available for months at a time is only a minimum, from my experience.
Being able to maintain at least six knots under power will get you in most
passes and channels at the time of least current.
A rule of thumb is two
horsepower per thousand pounds of displacement for a sufficiently powered
cruising sailboat. Purists may say that this is excessive, but in my experience
it has been an advantage to have sufficient power to deal with currents
and the ability to motorsail to windward for short distances into steep
chop when necessary. When I bought my Hallberg Rassy 31, I thought the 25hp
diesel engine was excessive for a displacement of only 9,500 lbs, but the
top speed of 7.2 knots, cruising speed of 6.5 knots and maximum range under
power at 5 knots of 1,200 to 1,500 miles was useful. My 42' ketch displaced
25,000 pounds and was powered with a 62 h.p. engine which proved totally
adequate in areas like Patagonia, Antarctica and Alaska where I have powered
for days and weeks at a time, encountering strong currents and tidal rips
daily. My present 48', 32,000 lbs boat has a 95 h.p. motor which provides
an 8.5 knot top speed, and a 1,200 to 1,500 mile range at a more economical
Steering system and position
If the boat has wheel steering, is the system built by a reputable company
like Edson or Whitlock? Are castings of the highest quality bronze or stainless,
and will you be able to get spare parts quickly if necessary? Many Taiwanese-built
steering systems suffer from poor initial design, inferior bronze castings
and rudders that aren't able to hold up to the stresses of ocean sailing.
This isn't a problem on the more expensive imports like Norseman, Taswell,
Mason and Little Harbor. Is the steering position located where the helmsman
can be easily sheltered without having to resort to a huge dodger? What
is the visibility from the helm like? Many sailors prefer tillers on boats
under 35'; there is less to go wrong and installing most windvane steering
systems is less complicated than with wheel steering.
I don't have any hard and fast rules which apply to the choice of rig. I
used to think that I would never want to own a ketch, but after seven years
and 70,000 miles on my previous boat which was ketch-rigged, I appreciated
the flexibility of the rig and the ability to drop half the total sail area
(the mainsail) in less than a minute, without having to resort to furling
gear. The majority of long distance cruisers are choosing cutter rigs, which
are most logical on boats over 32'. Sloops over 38' or 40' can get unwieldy
for short handed crews. Many cruisers are adding a Solent stay, or removable
inner forestay on which they can fly a storm staysail once they have furled
or dropped their working headsail.
Is there an ideal transom/stern for a cruising boat? My ideal stern would
include a small, built-in swim step on a slightly-reversed transom stern.
An overly large, sugar-scoop stern may prove a liability in a heavy following
sea. Double enders may look attractive, but the loss of valuable, hard-to-replace
lazarette storage area and buoyancy must be taken into consideration. Most
double enders have a higher tendency to 'squat in the stern when loaded
with cruising gear than do transom-stern designs.