Searching…deciding sailboat details?

Last time I shared the four phase process being followed as I get this sailboat journey underway:

1) Understand your dream,
2) Limit your search,
3) Consider your skills, and
4) Seek alternative purchase options.

Today I want to focus on limiting the search to vessels that meet the mission and your budget.

One big lesson learned is to avoid settling for the convenient option – the one that lets you get a sailboat now. It may not meet your true needs. Separating needs from wants is difficult. Take your time to really determine the differences.  A big part of my search included visiting local marina sailboat brokers, attending sailboat shows like the Strictly Sail Miami Boat Show, and watching videos of sailboat tours on YouTube. Honestly, walking around and talking with others at a local marina helped immensely.

Touring these sailboats, I quickly became infatuated in a escalating dream I couldn’t afford. Amel, Hylas Yachts, Hans Christian, Hallberg-Rassy to name a few – their size kept increasing, features over the top, and price tags bewildering. Finally I came to the conclusion that I am not buying a custom home. With each rationalization came the inevitable…how much longer will I need to work to save enough to buy ______? … fill in the blank.

So I stopped looking.

Instead, I went back to the mission realizing that I had stepped outside of it.  A fundamental requirement for me to sailing around the world is that I have a dependable boat that can do that – safely. This is when I stumbled into the discussion about “the perfect blue water cruiser”. Exploring the internet using this search term will provide more than a handful of opinions. Searching resources like Blue Water Boats, SailNet, CruisersForum got me back on track and provided a glimpse into technical details for particular boats with a bit of passion from their owners. But this is when I really started to learn some differences. The ones that would allow me to decide on a boat that will be within my budget.

Slocum Spray
on April 24, 1895, Joshua Slocum rebuilt the 36′ 9″ (11.2 m) gaff rigged sloop oyster boat named Spray and set out on a solo circumnavigation of the earth.

Books about circumnavigation and the features of those sailboats helped immensely too.

The first big take-away is reconfirmation that it does not take a lot of money – but it can, needlessly ! Why? There are so many options and examples of people doing this type of sailing with boats that cost less than a car. Helpful is that many of the boats in my price range are going to be “used” so there are plenty of examples of people doing what I want to do with examples of how that worked out. Happily there is no need to be a rich man for this dream.

The keys I stumbled upon include themes like:

  • Simplicity – ease to operate, repair, and maintain while at dock and underway
  • Solid – construction of the boat and its systems that have proven themselves dependable under many different circumstances
  • Sailing Qualities – wind and wave performance that has a lot to do with the keel, rudder, and type of mast
  • Safety – most things happen slowly on a sailboat at 6 knots of speed or less. And if it broaches or gets knocked down by a wave in extreme weather, they tend to pop right back up or the issue provides ample time to remedy with keen thought (watch Robert Redford in All is Lost)

Probably three of the most fascinating resources that contributed to my understanding of all this new information includes Nike Steigar at WhiteSpotPirates, Dan and Kika at Sailing Uma, and Drake Roberts at The Real Cruising Life.  Each has a YouTube channel as well.

Nike took a neglected 1992 Reinke Super 10 (37’) that cost $8k in Panama investing another $25k to make it bluewater ready – check out her videos at WhiteSpotPirates. Dan and Kika did a similar task taking 1972 Pearson 36’ and fitted her to meet their style which is fully documented at Sailing Uma. Drake has a Westsail 42’ that without any repairs could be in the $50-70k range (see Yachtworld for indicative pricing of boats).

Each of these examples solidified my personal belief to purchase a sailboat I can sail today without a several year process to make her seaworthy. The boat I purchased may not be ready for circumnavigation at the time of purchase, but I will not be dock bound or “on the hard” for several years to get ready.  I am quite comfortable doing smaller projects (will be documented in this blog) as I journey to get ready.  Sailing to build skills and reward myself with time on the water each step is an objective I had from the start. So yes, a bit of immediate gratification tends to keep me motivated.

In the end, deciding on a boat is not so formulaic. Get out there. Investigate. See which ones you like or do not like. But be careful to not focus too much on the “floor plan” and creature comforts. There are technical considerations to take into account as well.

islandpackat-1-740There a few things that I anchored on after much reading and investigation which link back to the 4 S’s above.  These are those “technical considerations” worth investigating:

  1. Keel – 6’ draft without any centerboard. I didn’t want the centerboard to malfunction or lock up which takes away from simplicity. But I did not want a shoal draft (typically in the 4’ to 5’ range) so that I would have more upright stability in rough seas.
  2. Interior Table – In the salon I like the ability to douse sails or just throw things down the companionway to get canvas or lines out of the way and sort them later. This means that having a fold-up table makes a big space to do the sorting. In the boat I ultimately selected, I have about a 5’x12’ working space below when under sail because the table can be folded and stowed.
  3. Length – About 36’ in length provides ample living space with the boat not being too large making it difficult to handle by myself or too small leaving me crowded.
  4. Keel Stepped – The mast stepped on the keel because I just like the stability knowing that the mast has a firm foundation over and beyond an engineer’s calculation (it’s worth checking out “keel-stepped” vs. “deck-stepped” masts).
  5. Sloop Rigging – adding a mizzen mast with another sail just adds too much and makes things more complex – more rigging, more winches, more of more. A mizzen has some interesting sailing qualities and I’d consider a mizzen if I did not have the requirement to be able to single-hand my sailboat – simple and solid is the objective.
  6. Righting from Knockdown – maybe I’m a little bit overcautious. But I want to have documented examples where the sailboat I choose has been knocked down repeatedly and bounced right back up. There might be some water below, but I want to know that if I screw up, the boat will keep me safe.
  7. Self Steering – I believe this to be my #1 risk management tool. I want to know that I can trim sails, make adjustments, gather meals, and rest without being glued to the helm. There are lots of choices here, but my objective is that the chosen solution must work in all types of weather.
  8. Low Winds Efficiency – I want to sail, not motor. When winds are low, I didn’t want a sluggish boat. It must have some of those qualities to slice through the water with minimal drag.
  9. Traveler Setup – outside the cockpit because I don’t want to be tripping over the lines or moving around the blocks to get into the companionway. A poorly located traveler to adjust the mainsail distracts from simplicity.
  10. Decision Making Choices – These are critical for my approach to risk management; including, navigation and radar systems, AIS, EPIRB, Solar/Wind Power with Battery Bank. All of this must have a manual backup approach should I lose power.
  11. Comfort Choices – These are things not so high on the list, but if they can be attained, all the better: water maker, refrigeration, galley with propane burners (no oven), microwave, exterior grill, and HVAC (this is a long shot and very low on the priority list).

So there you have a few of the details for “my perfect boat”. Sounds easy, right?

But there is more… I also learned that since I would be buying a used boat there would definitely be a few projects that would likely be required, no matter the boat selected. These are things I knew that within 5 years of getting a boat, these expenses would likely be required, no matter what boat I purchased. Of course, is a prior owner had already performed these in the last year, they would be priced into the boat placing it outside of my price range…potentially.  These are:

  • Haul out, sand, and paint the bottom
  • Replace standing and running rigging
  • Remove and step the mast
  • New sails
  • Replace through hulls, plumbing, and electrical wiring

My thinking is that I want to know all these systems and components are safe, top notch before I set out on a full circumnavigation. I was not going to trust the work of others done at some indeterminable time in the past. This would also help inform my budget over the next 5 years.

Now the more difficult part …which boats will fit this list?

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