choosing a sailing yacht
Article reprinted courtesy of
Mono or Multihull
This is a fundamental decision, but one that most people will already have
arrived at. Let me say that I have never sailed a cat - yet - and am a bit
worried about doing so in case I like it. Let's face it, they don't heel,
are much faster, have more space, shallow draft and can be beached easily.
Many cruising cats, Wharrams in particular, have made and are making long
ocean passages in comfort and safety. On the other hand, if they do
capsize that's it, they are expensive to berth and a handful in marinas if
you are a pontoon addict and . . . well, let's face it, they don't look
quite right do they? Seriously though, it might be worth a second thought.
there are quite a few companies who will charter you a cat, so you can
always give it a try to put your mind at rest. Have a look through the
Mulihull section of the site for more information. For now we will assume
that you have decided on a monohull.
New or Second Hand?
Everyone likes the idea of a shiny new boat, with your choice of
yard-fitted extras. The truth is, however, that you will get more boat for
your money if you buy second hand, and that not all new boats are perfect
and problem-free. If you want a particular new boat, can afford it and are
possibly prepared to wait quite a while - particularly if it is a
semi-custom yacht - then go for it. Just try to reassure yourself first
that the yard is on a sound financial footing - UK yacht builders seem to
go on the rocks with monotonous regularity. Check the resale value of the
model you are buying (or a similar one) and speak to other yard customers
Don't go beyond your budget and be unable to afford to go anywhere - that
is why you want a yacht, isn't it? If it's a new boat, look at the
standard equipment package. Does it include everything you need, or will
you have to spend a lot more on essential cruising gear? You may have to
budget up to 20% on top of the basic price for what you consider to be
essentials. If it's a second hand boat, the general recommendation is that
you allow 50% of the purchase price for a refit and extra equipment.
Survey cost may also be a consideration if buying second hand. With any
boat, take into account mooring or berthing fees, winter storage and
ongoing maintenance costs.
majority of cruising yachts in use today are of GRP construction,
and with good reasons. GRP is strong, long lasting and easily
repaired. There is a big difference in thickness of GRP layup
between earlier boats and some modern lightweight cruiser-racers,
however. Osmosis may also be a problem - if the vessel has the
dreaded blisters it will undoubtably be cheaper than an unaffected
specimen - but how much will it cost to fix the problem? (One school
of thought says don't worry, no boat has ever sunk due to osmosis).
Steel seems like a good idea - it is by far the strongest material
if in good condition - steel boats have been run firmly onto reefs
and recovered with a few scratches. No material is perfect, however,
and with steel rust is the enemy - all surfaces must be kept
thoroughly painted, and a tatty looking boat may be hiding a few
problems. A thorough survey is probably a good idea. Other downsides
- many are home-built, so the standard of finish will vary a lot,
and there may be condensation and magnetic problems. Steel
construction is usually only used for boats of 30ft LOA or more, as
it is an inherently heavy method of construction. Small steel boats
may be sluggish performers in comparison with their GRP or wood
Aluminium is rare in the everyday cruising market, but is a popular
material for the construction of top quality professionally built
custom yachts. Be aware of potential areas of concern in yachts
constructed by amateur or inexperienced builders in the shape of
possible galvanic problems when different alloys are used, not to
mention welding problems. If you are contemplating buying an
aluminium boat, make sure you know as much as you can about this
method of construction or take someone with you who does.
Most traditional of building materials, wood still has a lot going
for it. If it is the right kind of wood, it can last as long as any
other material - but the ongoing maintenance costs are undoubtedly
higher, particularly in terms of time if you do your own painting
and varnishing. Many classic cruising designs were made initially in
wood and then in GRP and a wood version can be very affordable while
the GRP equivalent may be out of your price range. Compare, for
example, prices of the Vertue (wood) and her successor the Vertue II
(GRP). A good example of the wooden version of this superb pocket
bluewater cruiser can be had for less than half the price of a good
example of the later GRP Vertue II. For wooden voyagers, the teredo
worm is still a problem in the tropics - sheathing or very regular
antifouling is essential.
Concrete boats have been around for a long time, but caught the
would-be cruiser's imagination big time in the 70s. Although a cheap
method of hull construction, many ambitious projects were abandoned
when the builder realised that he could never afford to fit out the
monstrous hull he had created, or even get it to the sea. Done
properly, this is a very strong and satisfactory method of
construction. First choice has to be a professionally designed and
yard-built boat from a yard with a good name for ferro construction,
but a professionally designed and amateur-constructed boat can also
be a sound purchase. In ferro more than any other material, research
is recommended and impulse buying discouraged.
Traditionally, cruising yachts are long in the keel and narrow in the
beam. This supposedly ensures a seakindly motion and good stability. It
also makes for limited accommodation and a possibly wet ride to windward.
Here as everywhere else it is a matter of personal preference. My advice,
for what it is worth, is to go for a design that has been widely proven in
the conditions you want to cruise in. For bluewater cruising in smaller
boats traditional design has a lot going for it in terms of documented
achievements, but all sorts of boats are out there doing it right now.
Most popular choices are sloop, cutter or ketch, in that order. The sloop
has the virtue of simplicity, while the ketch and cutter rigs split the
sail plan into more easily managed areas. A ketch can sail under mizzen
and headsail alone, while a cutter rig may offer a simple twin headsail
downwind option, with the inner forestay handy for a heavy weather sail.
The sloop will be slightly closer winded. Again, it depends on the
cruising you intend to do and the number of crew you will have. Junk rig
may look weird but it has a lot going for it for the singlehanded or short
handed sailor - easily and progressively reefed, with fewer control lines
and an unstayed rig. If your intended purchase has a sail plan you are not
familiar with, then an extended trial sail in various conditions would be
ideal - although not always possible.
As regards sail control systems, most boats have
furling headsail systems nowadays, but many cruisers still like the option
of flying a hanked on headsail if necessary - as a storm sail or if
something goes wrong with the furling system. A cutter rig is a natural
choice, but the babystay on a sloop is ineveitably too far back to be any
use. Some cruising sloop owners fit an occasional second forestay which is
permanently attached to the mast and attached to a strongpoint on deck
when required. A tensioning device - ideally quickly operated by lever -
is used to achieve the necessary tension. Again, this may be useful for
flying twin headsails downwind.
When it comes to mainsails, in mast or in boom furling
has become popular - but these systems add to the cost and can go wrong,
and in-mast furling adds weight aloft and increased windage under bare
poles. Slab reefing is simple and effective, and would be our personal
recommendation. A few older boats may still have the old-style boom roller
reefing where the sail is rolled round the boom. It is probably a good
idea to budget for fitting slab reefing in this case.
Essentials vs Desirables
Before you start looking for a boat, make a list of what you must have,
then a list of what would be nice. You may have (e.g.) a minimum number of
berths required - that is an essential, and non-retrofittable in most
cases. Work out how much it would cost (roughly ) to fit other less
intrinsic essentials after purchase. Now you have a basis for working out
if you can really afford the boat. Think about what sort of cruising will
you be doing. Do you need heating? How big a sail wardrobe will you need?
Is a liferaft essential? Is there a decent tender with the vessel? If in
doubt, take a step back and take stock - the boat will probably still be
Most of all, buy the boat you can afford, and get out
there and do it. If you wait to be able to afford your ideal boat you may
never get her.