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Choosing a Boat

Racing or cruising
Sail configuration
Hull configuration
New or used
Comfort

The Perfect boat
Part 1
Part 2

The Ketch Rig
Why Cruisers like it
Versatile Rig
Ketch Trim

Comfort at sea and at anchor

There are certain features that make a vessel lovely to sail under all conditions.  First and foremost is the responsiveness of the helm and the balance of the vessel with appropriate sail trim.  A vessel that is well balanced will sail herself.  A vessel that is overpowered will require help to stay on course no matter how much you trim. 

We learned quickly that having all the lines lead aft to the cockpit made for a safe and easy to handle boat when sailing short handed.  Are the sails easy to hoist and to set?  How straightforward is it to reef the main?  Is the roller furling in good shape and easy to deploy?   What is the condition of the standing rigging (the shrouds and stays)?  What is the condition of the running rigging (the sheets and halyards)? Was she raced and are there signs of stress fatigue from being worked hard? 

A wonderfully functional interior suits the Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 35 (above) and Beneteau First 40.7 (below).

The Swan, showing a 56 on the left here, is traditionally stately and well thought out, especially the designs by German Frers.

The sumptuous interiors of the Oysters with their centerline queen beds are very inviting. I wouldn't want to sleep here while underway, beating to windward and tacking toward a destination, though. I'd roll off the bed with each tack! It's great at the dock but find alternate sea berths while underway.

 

The Catalina 47 provides volumes of luxurious space. The few handholds and wide open spaces make it somewhat difficult to maneuver belowdecks while underway.

A note of caution. On some of todays' new cruising designs that try to give you a condominium on the water the hulls are very full in the forward sections. This exaggerates the rigging and tightening the sheets leads simply to an increase in leeway even though the vessel appears to be pointing better. This is a huge sailing compromise. Good designs by professional naval architects will incorporate a narrow, flared forward hull section to slice through the seas easily and a plumb stern to complement the rig. You'll note this in the sailing difference between a Beneteau and a Catalina.

Continuing on deck, is the cockpit adequate both for entertaining and for passages, with storage locker to clear all the clutter off the deck, including all the fenders, the extra lines, buckets, mops and brooms, cleaning materials, life raft, bolt cutter, you name it?  Separate lockers aft are perfect for the gas cylinders and dock lines. No clutter on deck makes for a safe environment.  Are there padeyes where you could clip in if you had to go forward in bad weather? Are the railings and lifelines secure and in good shape? 

Anchoring is a key consideration for cruisers, but also for all sailors as a safety feature.  If your engine quits in the middle of a channel, you want to be able to deploy your anchor in a hurry.  Is the anchor system logical and easy to deploy? Is it the right anchor for the boat and for your cruising territory?   Is it a rope rode or does it have chain?  Will you need a windlass?  Does it have one?   Is there a spare anchor and rode?

Moving below, the first thing you’ll note is the headroom.  If you will be sailing with tall people, you’ll want to be sure you have enough headroom for them to stand up straight.  Is the galley arranged in such a way that you can cook easily while underway?  You’ll need to brace yourself to manage in rough conditions – does the configuration of the galley allow for it?  Is the seating adequate below to seat everyone who will be onboard if you need to have your meals below in inclement weather?  Is it so spacious that you’ll have trouble hanging on while walking through the cabin in a rough sea?  Or are there handholds and cabinets in strategic places that will allow you to brace yourself comfortably?

The next issue to tackle is the sleeping accommodations.  How many people can it sleep comfortably?  Are the compartments private enough or is it an open arrangement?  Is there enough room in the main saloon to keep it from feeling claustrophobic at anchor?  Is the ventilation good, especially across the cabins? Are there enough handholds reachable throughout the cabin to hang onto while underway in rough seas?  Is there enough locker space for the provisions you will need and to stow your gear when fully occupied?

The head can make a cruising boat a joy or a terror.  Evaluate it critically thinking about all those who might use it and their needs.  Is the head conveniently located?  Does it have a shower? Is there hot water?  It’s amazing what a difference a hot shower can make in the middle of a long cruise or a cold shower on a hot day.  Is there enough water capacity?  How big is the holding tank?  How far can it motor on the fuel tank capacity?    These are all questions that are important to ask even though you are not going on a world cruise.  You don’t want to be stuck in Block Island on Sunday with no fuel.  You don’t want to be visiting Cuttyhunk with a full holding tank.  You don’t want to be arriving in Newport with no water for a shower and a boat load of teenagers onboard.

Now evaluate the nav station.  Is the chart table large enough to let you plot a line of position on a paper chart?  If not, is there another surface you can use underway that is?  With all the electronic gear aboard these days, many people don’t use charts any more. We do.  We know what happens when the power fails.  Been there, done that.  We like a spacious nav station and chart table.

Finally, is it equipped with the types of gear and electronics you need and would feel comfortable using?  Does it have GPS, chartplotter, radar and VHF radio and are they current or older models that need replacing?  Those are staples on today’s boats, along with refrigeration and autopilot.  A good autopilot is the key to effective short handed sailing and to managing a larger vessel.  Autopilot, refrigerator and radar are the most energy hungry of the common onboard systems.  Adequate power supply is a must.  Do you expect to use a lot of power on comfort gadgets (television, computer, microwave, hair dryer all suck up the power)?  In that case, you’ll need a large battery bank, possibly solar panels, and probably a generator.  If you will be sailing simple, you’ll be able to get away with recharging the batteries via alternator. 

Finally, what else does it come with?  Is a dinghy included with engine?  Are they in good shape?  How are they stowed? On davits, on deck, or towed?  Is there a life raft and EPIRB?  Are they out of date or current in inspection?  These are all major costs that can significantly affect both purchase price and upgrade cost. 

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