The Best Revenge is Living Well!
After 15 years of club racing we're buying a cruiser and looking forward to
leisurely exploring the Bay and beyond. This column is about our experience from
first thought to the last adventure. We hope it provides some insight into the
cruising lifestyle and living aboard a boat for extended periods.
Picking a boat!
So, you're thinking about buying a live-a-board/extended cruiser. Ready to slip
the dock lines and sail off to far away exotic ports. Enjoy life on Carribean
time. Dreaming of quiet coves, grass skirts and adventures untold. Well first
you need a double dose of reality and then you need a boat.
Let's start with reality. Most extended cruisers spend the greatest part of
their lives tied to a dock with an umbilical cord surging with indispensable
electricity, phone and cable tv. Even blue water cruisers spend most days in
port. Perhaps a little more autonomous, but still tied to a dock. This
realization should have a profound effect on the performance and accommodations
of the boat of your dreams. It needs to get you where you want to go and then
provide shelter once you get there.
There are many aspects to boating that are value judgments. You can't get it
right, but your not necessarily wrong either. Here are a few of the features you
might want to consider while searching for your perfect dream.
We define our boats by their overall length, so lets talk about the size of your
boat. How big a boat do you need? If you look at the requirements for some of
the popular offshore races you'll conclude that 35 feet is probably as small as
you'd want to go. You can cross oceans in smaller boats, but it's not very
comfortable. Forty something is a very popular range for one couple cruising.
Bigger than that and you start to run into human physical limits. The sails get
so big that they are hard to handle. The bigger the boat the bigger the
problems. Everything costs more. Generally, pick the biggest boat that you can
single hand through tacks and jibes. Well, unless you're hiring a crew to do it
for you ... but what fun is that? Cruising, you will be single handed most of
the time. Remember to consider maintenance costs. Pick the biggest boat you can
afford. If you can only afford a 30 footer then maybe you should reconsider
crossing the Atlantic and just sail the bay.
No two sailors will ever agree on the best keel for a cruiser. So lets have a
look at the different types and what they do to performance. Old-timers have told
me you need a full keel for a blue water cruiser ... period, end of discussion
... and there are advantages. Full keel boats tend to be gentler through the
water. The pointed bow doesn't pound in chop. They can take a grounding or
collision with less damage and the long, thick keel helps protect the rudder
from floating debris. But...they generally don't point very well, they're not
known for their great speed and maneuverability. Fin keels, generally found on
performance boats and cruiser/racers are more efficient than full keels and they
point better. But they're also less structurally sound and a hard grounding can
result in leaks and other damage. Between these extremes there are many
variations of cut-away forefoot and keel/centerboard configurations and a few
specialized systems like twin keels. What you decide you want will depend on
where you are going and how important the keel is compared to other features of
the boat. Generally, very generally, I'd recommend a fin keel for those of you
who will mostly remain in your own bay, maybe taking an occasional cruise along
the coast or hopping to a nearby island. More bluewater entheusists will have to
decide between performance and durability. What is important to you?
Then you have to think about the rig. Do you want a sloop or a double masted
rig; ketch, yawl or schooner? For all around performance the sloop wins hands
down, but they can be a handful. Double mast rigs allow you to present
different sail plans to balance the boat in a wide range of wind speed and
sailing angle. But they don't perform as well as sloops and if you think
handling a jib and main are hard work, throw in a mizzen and staysail. Single
handing in the middle of the night can get to be real fun real quick when a
storm hits and you're trying to reduce sail in a hurry. Still, a ketch is easier to
balance without changing sail. For shear beauty you can't beat a schooner. This
is what most people picture when you say, "sail boat".
What about the cockpit? Should you get an aft cockpit or center cockpit? You can
see your sails better from an aft cockpit and the back of the boat tends to be a
little dryer, but they eat up a lot of realestate down below. If accommodations
are more important you're probably looking for a center cockpit.
Speaking of down below this is where you can go absolutely crazy over all of the
different layouts. You name it and chances are someone built it. It seems that
the more time you plan spending in blue water the more traditional you'll want
the boat to be. Seriously, if your just putting around the bay your more worried
about creature comforts at the dock. Does it have air conditioning? Is there
enough room for entertaining? Stuff like that. But if you're going off shore for
months at a time you're more concerned with a galley that you can cook in while
the boat is heeling at 30 degrees. You'll want to trade in the queen size berth
for a couple of singles with lee-cloths to keep you from falling out.
Speaking of the galley, while writing this story I stumbled on one pointer that
deals with the stove. There are lots of different fuels; propane, CNG and
alcohol just to name a few. Most modern cruisers have either CNG or propane.
Now, the popular mythology is that CNG is safer because it is lighter than air
and won't collect in the bilge and go boom. True enough, but once you leave the
United States CNG gets real hard to find and many popular destinations don't
have it. So if you intend to sail to that exotic destination of your dreams you
will probably be happier with propane. Other than that look for lots and lots of
storage. You can't have enough storage. Weather you're crossing an ocean or
lounging at the dock the more storage the better.
Then there are the various systems. Air conditioning is nice during those hot
summer months ... as long as you're tied up at the dock and plugged in. In fact
you're likely to sail less if you have air conditioning. Who wants to get all
hot and sweaty when basking below deck in a cool boat? Oh yea, air conditioning
eats up most of your precious storage space. The compressor takes one cabinet
and the air ducts fill up every cabinet they pass through.
A generator adds value to the boat and another maintenance nightmare. Crossing
an ocean you're going to run your generator or engine an hour or two a day just
to charge the batteries. You probably won't run it all day just to operate the
air conditioner though. The noise will drive you crazy. Depending on how many
110v AC appliances you have you might be better off with a low maintenance
inverter instead of a generator. There's no hard and fast rule here, you have to
decide which works best for you. Some boats are set up to do everything from the
engine, heat your hot water tank, chill the refrigerator/freezer and charge the
batteries, all for an hour's worth of fuel.
And then there is refrigeration. If you have refrigeration make sure your
batteries are big enough to run it. Then make sure your generator or alternator
is big enough to charge your batteries. If you don't have refrigeration you
won't get very far from the ice man.
Hot and cold pressure water is great but for blue water you should also have a
manual pump. It is very common for electrical systems to fail so you have to
think in terms of very basic services once you pass the continental shelf. Think
about how long you can go without fresh water verses how long it will take you
to get to port for repairs. The same is true for water makers. Basically water
makers turn fuel into fresh water. Ok that's confusing. Water makers turn energy
(usually electric) and salt water into fresh water. The energy, one way or
another, came from fuel. So your water maker may be dependent on your electrical
system which may be dependent on your engine etc, etc. Even with a water maker
you should have enough fresh water storage for the minimal daily requirements
for your whole crew for the whole trip. The chances of a failure are remote, the
consequences of a failure are catastrophic.
So these are some of the things we thought about while looking for a boat. Our
next installment will be about our experiences with brokers, finding the boat of
our dreams and actually buying it. Until then you can page through some of the
broker web sites like yachtworld.com and dream of the day you weigh anchor and
sail off into the sunset.