making the right choice
Right off the bat you
need to know that there simply is no such thing as the best boat any more
than there is the best car or the best food—only a compromise that fits your
specific needs and budget. For those with infinite wealth, finding a
suitable boat is a simple matter, but most of us on restricted budgets must
prioritize. Your specific plans for cruising and the money you have
available are the key ingredients that will dictate the relative importance
of the features to consider. There are many good vessels out there that can
serve your needs. Here are some of the important factors you'll need to keep
in mind as you go about choosing one.
perfect boat doesn't exist, says the author, so look for the one that best
suits your needs and plans.
Plans Numerous little decisions centre around the
type of cruising you plan to do, and here many plans founder on the rocks of
judgement error. Be honest with yourself at this stage—don’t be tempted to
buy the all-weather, ‘round-the-world boat for short coastal cruises and
If your plan is to limit passages to coastal
areas, fuel and water capacities are not the prime criteria. The same is
true for storage space. But if long, offshore cruises loom on your horizon,
consider the minimum factors of one gallon of water per person per day and
sufficient fuel tankage for motoring 400 nautical miles. any cruisers even
suggest adding a factor of 50 percent to these numbers, but sailing more
minimizes fuel consumption, and the use of salt water for bathing, washing
clothes, and doing dishes can help to reduce freshwater usage.
Ship’s stores require
space, and the longer the voyage, the more you need to carry. Most
blue-water cruisers stow at least a 30-day supply of staples aboard. You
can start with a storage space figure of one cubic foot per day for a
couple, but lifestyle variations can drastically alter that number. I have
yet to see an offshore cruiser leave port with storage lockers that were
only half full, but coastal cruisers often let the larder get rather bare.
Be aware that all lockers eventually fill up, regardless of their size,
and that storage is a cubic function—a 40-foot vessel will typically have
a volume about 2.2 times that of one 30 feet long.
As sailors reach their late 50s and
beyond, creature comforts become more important. The luxuries of our youth
now seem more like necessities, and to accommodate these necessities, boat
size tends to become more important. It is natural to consider the largest
boat your budget will allow. But heavier ground tackle, larger sail areas,
and greater maintenance costs have to be seriously considered along with
Remember the stores you
place aboard will influence your boat’s draft. During our years of
full-time cruising we raised OuiSi’s waterline by six inches, and
performance suffered as a result. Of course, larger boats are less
vulnerable to effects of additional loading.
Sailing to remote and beautiful
places requires a boat that's up to the job of getting you there
safely and in an expeditious manner.
If you plan to follow the lead of migratory birds along the Intracoastal
Waterway—heading south for the winter and north for the summer—a good
engine is important. Weather windows are often capricious in spring and
fall, while currents and scheduled bridge openings along the ICW can make
for slow progress. In fact, I’ve never heard a coastal cruiser complain
about having too much engine power, but know of many that wish they had
more. On the other hand, a few offshore cruisers have no engine at all.
Mast height is also crucial, as many inland routes are subject to overhead
obstructions as low as 46 feet—certainly a boat with a stick more than 65
feet off the water cannot use the inland routes.
Geography Where you intend to cruise should have a
strong impact on what boat you select. For instance, in Panama, the tidal
range is up to 15 feet on the Pacific side and six inches on the Caribbean
side. Tidal ranges in the Pacific Northwest and Northeastern Atlantic
dictate the need for a power plant capable of overcoming four to six-knot
currents, but this is unnecessary in the Caribbean.
the scene above was your intended cruising ground, you probably would want a
boat that with a pilot house, as well as a few other amenities.
Deep-draft sailboats are common along the Pacific coast,
and before transiting the Panama Canal, I thought any water depth less than
30 feet was shoal. We now go for miles in the Bahamas with less than two
feet beneath our keel. It might be easy to conclude that a shoal-draft boat
is more desirable, but most offshore cruisers prefer deeper draft to reduce
leeway and enhance stability. This just reinforces the initial premise that
it is the cruising plans that should dictate the features you seek. If the
plan is to undertake long, offshore passages and later gunkhole the shallow
areas in some faraway place, a dilemma requiring some compromise will be in
Prevailing wind direction and strength also influence
decisions over the vessel’s sailing capability. The common coastal cruiser’s
lament is, “The wind always blows from the place we want to go!” So these
folks would be better off with lightweight boats that are good at upwind
work. Most circumnavigations, however, are made westward with trade winds
abaft the beam. In this situation, a close-winded sailboat is less important
than having a vessel that tracks and rides well in following or quartering
The painful truth is that strength and agility diminish as we
age. Physical exercise can reduce the rate of change, but it can’t totally
stop the aging process. The senior sailor is less willing or able to
transport fuel or water by jerry jugs, so tankage has greater importance as
we get older. Each year I find it harder to use the boarding ladder; so
maybe there is something to say for the “sugar-scoop” sterns of more
contemporary designs. The more forethought you expend now on factors such as
these, the more pleasant your retirement cruising will be.
We also look for seakindly vessels with a gentle motion
and more stability so that they heel less. Numerous articles can be found on
these subjects, but the final, best criterion is how the vessel’s motion
feels to you.
The size of the boat, both length and displacement, has a
direct relationship with the size of sails, anchors, and other parts.
Maintenance chores such as bottom painting are three times as big on a 40
footer as on one that's 30 feet long. You might surmise, then, that just
when we need the extra space and comfort of a larger boat, we no longer have
the strength to sail her. The good news is that there are systems that
help—like larger davits, winches, and windlasses that can do the heavy
lifting. Having all lines lead to the cockpit can be very appealing after
you’ve been to the mast a few dozen times to reef the main in the dark. Many
prudent sailors cruising offshore throw in a reef at sundown so that the
person off-watch can rest, and we have a rule aboard Oui Si that
both of us must be topside if there is a need to leave the cockpit after
dark. And other items like watermakers can help by making hand-carrying
jerry jugs of water obsolete.
Some maintenance jobs also require strength. While the split rig of a
ketch or yawl reduces the size of each sail and thus eases the effort of
sail handling, that second mast means there is more hardware to maintain and
replace. Over the years, I have become envious of those sailors who own
vessels with unstayed spars. At 55, I thought nothing about using mast steps
to go up the mast six or eight times in one day; now two or three is all I
can handle, and even then my muscles complain the following day. So keep all
of this in perspective as you go about your search.
A split rig might seem like a good
idea to make sail handling more manageable, but it can almost double
the maintenance of gear.
The Analytical Approach
Even with all the
comparative data available, most people still choose a specific
boat based on economics and aesthetics. The design of a sailboat
is an elegant combination of science and art—and no
understanding of this can truly reduce the topic to simple
equations or ratios. However, there some formulas available that
can help guide and temper our expectations regarding a new boat.
If your compromises are well thought out, that could mark the
beginning of a long-term love affair for all three involved—you,
your significant other, and your boat.
The following formulas give valuable clues to
the relative motion and performance of different sailboats. They
allow you to compare the designs of various cruisers of
different sizes. Note that the determining factor in most of the
calculations is displacement, not length (and especially not
length over all, or LOA). A long, light boat and a short, heavy
one might have the same amount of sail area and ballast, but
they could have very different motions and speed potentials.
- The length-to-beam ratio (LOA divided by
maximum beam) indicates interior storage space and nominal
stability. An L/B value of 2.8 to 3.2. is common for smaller
vessels and normally increases to between 3.6 and 4.0 for
those in excess of 40 feet. A ratio higher than these numbers
may mean an excessively narrow boat, while a lower ratio may
prove to be too beamy to sail well.
The speed-length ratio is used for
traditional speed estimates of displacement hulls. It is a
constant multiplied by the square root of the waterline length
(LWL). The constant most normally used is 1.34; thus a cruiser
with an LWL of 36 feet would have a theoretical hull speed of
8.04 knots (square root of 36 = 6, times 1.34 = 8.04). Modern
cruisers may exceed an S/L ratio of 1.4 on a beam reach, but
on a long-term offshore cruise, the constant is probably
closer to a value of 1.0. It is helpful to remember that the
power needed to exceed hull speed is enormous relative to that
used to drive the boat at or below hull speed.
Displacement-to-length is a non-dimensional
ratio that allows comparison of displacement boats having
different LWLs. The displacement is stated in long tons of
2,240 pounds per ton, and this is divided by 0.01 LWL cubed.
Values of 280 to 320 are typical for cruisers. Boats with
lower D/L ratio accelerate faster, even to the point of
planing, but they may have an unacceptable motion in a seaway
and have reduced carrying capacity.
The sail area-to-displacement ratio (SA/Disp
2/3)is perhaps the most important, but also the hardest to
derive without a scientific calculator. The boat's sail area
in square feet at 100 percent of the foretriangle is divided
by the displacement stated in cubic feet of seawater
(displacement in pounds divided by 64) to the 2/3 power, that
is, first squared, then taken to the cube root. The SA/Disp
2/3 can be considered like the horsepower per pound of a
motorboat. Higher ratios indicate better potential
performance, but also increasing the need to reef as winds
build. Most single hull cruisers have a ratio of between 14