I will not tell you which boat to choose but give some facts and reflections on important issues when considering buying a boat for blue water sailing. The majority of the blue water sailors are a couple +/- 60 years old, as we are, and my reflection is coloured by that. My experience is solely on mono hull. I have very limited experience from sailing and living aboard a catamaran, but one does not need much experience to conclude totally superior on space for living and entertainment.
When buying a boat, one must make many compromises, such as comfort, security, performance, size, price and of course cost. One might think one can afford to buy a big boat but might not understand how much it cost to run, maintain and improve a larger boat. We have never regretting buying an Amel even though it was a larger boat than we originally thought of. If we beforehand had known how much the running cost would be, we would probably gone for a smaller boat, but now we think it is worth the cost.
We have cruised the Mediterranean from east to west, a large part of the Eastern Caribbean, US East coast from Virginia up to Maine, there by crossed the Gulf Stream two times in relatively rough conditions and crossed the Atlantic twice. In all about 27.000 Nm.
Some key facts from our journey which I do not think deviate too much for an average cruising couple.
During this +4 years of cruising “only” 15% of the time we moved, the remaining time we were mainly at anchor, that exclude the time we were wintering in Finike, Turkey, if that period also would be added the time when on the move would be even shorter. So very important the boat should not only be suitable for sailing but also for living aboard when not on the move.
We have made 2100 h on the engine during that time, which is a lot, probably more than the average cruisers and there are some reasons for that.
- Two seasons in the Med that are well know for a lot of calms, or if it is blowing it is close to gale and on the nose.
- “Bad luck” i.e very little with wind on several of our major crossings. We usually start the engine when speed goes below 4 kn. (We do not have any gennaker for light wind sailing, we will install one for the coming trip), we do have the Amel downwind set up that works great for wind +/- 30 degree of dead downwind.
- Our up-wind capability is not excellent we do ca 120 degree between the tacks with the autopilot steering. (that is including wind drift and waves pushing us, so the 120 degree is the result when examine the track on the plotter.
Probably the most important part of the boat. When on an ocean crossing and if it is only the two of us we spend more or less all our time in cockpit including sleeping. If we have crew Kerstin usually sleep in the cockpit when I have the watch else down below and I maybe have 50% of my sleep in the cockpit.
At anchor we spend a vast majority of the time aboard in the cockpit, all meals are in the cockpit, entertaining guests, reading, relaxing, we spend very little time on deck as we do get enough sun anyway so prefer to be in the shade.
How should a cockpit look like?
A cockpit should be long enough to be able to sleep comfortable i.e close to 2 meters long or about 6’ 6’’
It should have squared corners to be able to rest and sit comfortable against, can’t understand how some naval engineers were thinking when they made round corners, not very comfortable. I see on some modern boats that the cockpit sets are in different levels, not very comfortable to rest on, how are they thinking?
Long benches space for the two of us.
Room to entertain guests
I hear rather often, no problem for you with a 53 foot boat to get a large and comfortable cockpit, but I have seen many +50 ft boats with very poor cockpits. There are smaller boats with a good cockpits such as the one below, from a Maxi 108 (35 fot, by Pelle Pettersson) The corners are slightly rounded but not to bad. We had one for 13 years, a very nice and capable boat.
(not my old Maxi 108, a sister ship)
A cockpit needs to be protected from the sun, with a large bimini solid enough to withstand gale forces of wind. The sun in the Mediterranean is often brutally hot, without a proper bimini you will suffer badly by the heat and the trip will not be as enjoyable as it could, on the contrary it can be very demanding due to heat.
You need a very solid spray hood, or preferable a dog house to protect you from spray and rain. We might have a dog house made when our current spray-hood needs to be replaced.
The photo below from an old Swan 44 by S&S is an example of, from a blue water perspective, a very unsuitable cockpit where you are very exposed to both sun and rain as it is difficult to fit a good bimini with the main sheet going down in the middle of the cockpit, and the very small and silly spray hood over the companionway usually seen on boats with bridge deck.
Note the very short benches
I crewed on a 1973 vintage ocean racing boat of similar breed. We sailed from The Algarve to Madeira part of the time in very rough conditions +30 kn up-wind. She sailed very well during those conditions, but we got very wet, nothing for an old grey-haired couple aiming to enjoy ocean passages and sit in the shade during costal sailing.
Watch the short clip, it demonstrate the issue with an unprotected cockpit
We have a full cockpit enclosure, keeping us warm during cold night and reasonably dry during heavy rain, during our +4 years of sailing we have never used our foul weather clothe due to rain, just a few times due to very cold weather. On the few occasions we need to go out of the cockpit during sailing I undress and just go out in my underwear do what have to be done, back in the cockpit I dry myself with a towel and put on my shorts and T-shirt and just continue under the shelter of our spray-hood and bimini. It can especially from December to mid-February be rather rainy in the Caribbean so a well thought out enclosure is well worth to invest in even though the temperature usually is very pleasant.
On Kerpa we are now very protected also during passage
Well needed at some occasions
Mesh sunshades can be attached all around for sunny days
So very important cockpit features:
- Full length for sleeping
- No rounded corners
- Dog house or a solid Sprayhood
A well thought out bimini, on which you easily can attachable sun shades down on the sides.
For us when we get older food become more and more important, we try to enjoy well prepared food both at anchor but also during ocean passages. A well though out galley is then of importance. So if you think preparing food during passage it is important carefully think over how the galley in the boat you are looking for would be under normal passage conditions. Many boats have good galleys so it should not be too difficult to find one that suits you.
Note the rope that can block/protect the crew in the galley.
- A crash bare in front of the stow is a must
- A bulkhead or similar to take hold on
- Anti-skid surfaces to put your gear on when working in the galley
- Protective gloves and an apron to protect yourself when handling hot water
- Grab bars on strategic places not only in the galley but wherever needed inside the boat
Maintenance is probably not the first things you are thinking of when selecting a boat for Blue Water sailing, but you should. Things will wear and thus need service, things will break down, usually at very inconvenient moments. Therefore, accessibility to service points and important devices, are very important. I ones crewed on a Sweden Yacht 42, a very nice quality yacht who sails wonderfully. The engine stopped when we were on our way out from the Amazon river, we had maybe 20 knots head wind and rain so not a very pleasant situation, but thanks to that the Sweden yacht is very capable sailboat we could beat against the wind and current and eventually we got out on open water and with the current with us we had a wonderful sail towards Grenada. BUT when I tried to access the starter motor to try to jump start the engine with a screwdriver across the terminals it was totally enclosed, it was no way to reach without dismantle a major part of the interior. To change the starter motor it is a big and costly job just to get access. Each time the captain on that boat, needed to service the genset or the water maker he was double folded in some very confined space, given that it was over 35 C and humidity close to 100%, not very appealing job.
Inside the engine room, very easy to service the engines, pumps, water maker etc.
It was rather easy to lift up the engine to change the engine mounts as well as the flexi coupling.
Easy access to change some instruments with modular system just to pull out and then you have access, You may think you do not do that very often, no that is right but I do poke around behind there rather often, connecting new gadgets etc.
Some more examples on easy access
So look very closely on service points for changing impellers and filters, as well for electronics that may malfunction or need a new fuse.
Heavy or light, fast or slow
I see a lot of arguments for both and many of them are valid, some I claim are less valid. I rather often see that people claim with a fast boat one can sail away from bad weather, something I doubt I have a few reasons for my doubts. First I have found that the forecast is not accurate enough to know where to go, on the contrary I have found them very unreliable I see it more as an indication on what weather could be. We have used Chris Parker weather service and that is an improvement he gives advice where to be and when, but speed usually is not so important to position yourself at a desired position. The weather system usually moves much faster than a grey haired couple could manage even if they had a very fast boat. We have had some spell of bad weather but not uncommon we have had very calm conditions before so speed under sail would not have helped us. I think it is more important to have a solid boat capable of handling whatever mother nature decide to throw at you. If you really want a fast boat, buy a fast catamaran. If you like a boat who sail well buy one. But not for sailing away from bad weather but because you love the performance of the boat, and are prepared to give up some other comfort, that might come with a more sluggish boat.
We have taken part in two rallies, one under Jimmy Cornell and one under the Salty Dawg organization. What I have found, our 20 year old boat designed about 40 years ago, is one of the fastest on crossing an ocean, we were the first mono hull arriving Barbados from Mindelo, actually all cruising catamarans was behind us, the boat after us was an old HR 53, a very heavy and solid boat. Modern 45-50 feet boats with very long waterline and flat bottom were far behind. I do think performance boats like Arcona, Sweden Yacht or RM from France might be faster.
The Salty Dawg rally from Hampton, USA to Antigua took us across the Gulf Stream in rough conditions, many boats had problems, some had to turn back, other go to Bermuda for repair and rest. We felt very secure and exited during the exhilarating ride across the Gulf stream and so did our very inexperienced crew who were on their first crossing you must trust your boat whatever condition you encounter.
Especially when sailing in such conditions one appreciating a high-quality boat, either it is an Amel, Sweden Yacht, Ovni, HR or… I have been part owner in two Bavaria for over 10 years and sailed a lot in Greece and Turkey with them. They are excellent boats for holiday, excellent quality for living aboard, one of then was more than 15 years old when we sold our share and the interior had aged with much more pride than many “high” quality boats I have inspected, but I would never choose one for extended cruising they are not made for, with bulk head glued, already at moderate wind both of them started to give squishing noise, and one of them gave sound at anchor when waves rocked the boat. Further I have meet three which sailed Hanse 50 feet boats, all of them complained about the quality and all of them had problem with the autopilot which was not dimension strong enough. For one of the owners the steering cable broke during the crossing of the Atlantic, the boat was 2 years old!
One hears cruisers, I have sailed a Bavaria, Hanse or whatever mass produced boats around the world, others have used boats designed and built for costal cruising and claimed they are excellent for blue water cruising, Probably good for them but nothing to recommend anyhow, my daughter used the same arguments when she wanted to go out in the middle of the winter in a short skirt, nylon stockings and no hat. “My friends do that”! well that does not mean it’s a good idea.
Furling or non-furling main
When we started looking for a boat, we made a list on “must have” and “nice to have”. Furling main sail was not on the must have and actually relatively low on the nice to have list. Now I would NEVER buy a boat without a furling main sail. It is very practical. To reef is a “walk in the park”, we can always easy adjust the sail area to match the current wind, sometimes the wind cannot make up its mind and is shifting constantly, in the old days we would have either sailed under or over canvased, but now we have more or less always the right amount of canvas at very little efforts. I believe it also increase security; we never need to go out of the cockpit to reef everything is done in the shelter of the spray hood. A further argument, before we argued when to reef, Kerstin wanted to reef much earlier than me, mainly with the argument what if the winds pick up more…, well now she feel comfortable to wait a bit, and I feel we can reef early as if the wind pick up again I can easy unfurl the sail again.
What if the main get jammed? There is a risk if you do it wrong, but there is very easy to do it right. Make sure when you furl that the sail is firmly furled into the mast and not just a loose roll. And ALWAYS pull out the sail from the mast do not try to unfurl it from the mast and not pulling the outhaul. Just remember that and then it works. But if one does it wrong what then? Well we have had a guest not following the instructions and jammed the sail. It is very easy unless you get in panic and try with force to pull out the sail. Just furl it in again pull out as much as is possible without force, furl it again and repeat 1-3 repetition and the sails unfurls without a problem. The risk to jam the sail in rough weather are less as when the wind blows into the sail you get pressure on the small canvas out and help pulling out the sail.
I heard similar arguments about the furling head sail when they came “they will not work in a gale, only another thing to break down”, arguments you do no hear very frequent any longer.
A slab reef sail is not bullet proof either if you pull the ropes in the wrong order you might get into problem. Other arguments are the mast gets to heavy and the performance of a furling sails is much lower. The heavy mast has little impact on a cruising boat who is loaded with zillions of gadgets for comfort, heavy duty anchor and chain, maybe diving tubes, supply for month, rib dingy spare cans etc, etc, probably a few ton on an average cruising boat, the extra weight on the mast is not significant.
A furling main sail performance is much less, true a price we think is very easy to take, for the comfort and security, and for us who are “lazy” cruisers probably loose very little speed as we more or less always have the proper amount of sail out, with the alternative we would probably use the engine more or sail either under or over canvased. Further the head sail is the motor in most cruising boats so the impact is probably much less than if you have a performance boat. But for the one who love the sailing itself and always keep the boat trimmed to perfection should probably not choose a furling main sail.
I also want a boat that sail well and fast, we think we found the right compromise speed versus comfort for us. We have two issues with performance one is up wind sailing, we would definitely like to do better than the 120 degree. We will buy new sails from a reputable sail maker this time one who have a lot of experience with Amel, I hope that will improve performance a bit but at the best we will reach 110 degree so still not very impressive. Sailing in light conditions can be better, we hope a code sail on a furler will improve performance in light wind at apparent wind angles from 140 to maybe 70 degree, else we are very pleased with the performance
How large boat
Going back to my old history of owning boats, I have often gone into the trap buying the largest boat I could afford, I rather often see others doing the same mistake, thinking “what a bargain” for this large boat that I now can afford” That usually result in two issues, a lot of job to sort out and upgrade the boat, and usually the cost substantially exceed the cost of already buying a good and well equipped blue water sailing boat. The market for second-hand boats is long. There are many good boats out there for sale. The bargain level is often very high, we managed to reduce the price on our Amel by 30% on the asking price, and that was on an already reduced price. Several persons have on their bucket list to make the Atlantic circle (12-18 month) or an around world trip of 2-3 years, then they want to sell their boat, you can then find a well-equipped boat. To have a boat that is not used in a marina cost usually a lot, so after a while the owner tends to soften a lot and there is room to negotiate the price.
So, what boat to choose? Well you know better than me what suits you, but I hope this gave some food for thoughts and maybe make your choice at little bit easier. I knew some of you will think I’m totally wrong other will be upset because I underrate many of the mass production boats, anyhow good luck with your decision. A last thing. The only firm advice I can give you is, buy the finest and most well-equipped boat that fits into your budget, your “expert friends” will probably tell you “how could you pay so much! I saw a similar boat or I have a friend he bought same type at a much lower price”, but you smile to your self knowing that the alternative boat would in the long run cost much more money and loads of time to equip up to level. The only exception for that is for exceptional handy men who take joy and pride in restoring an old and classic vessel.