Boat Criteria

Now we have come to the big discussion of the boat that I need to get this thing going. Thousands of magazines and books devote millions of words to describe the "perfect" offshore yacht. I, however, cannot afford the new boats reviewed in the pages of marine magazines. I must find a capable, seaworthy boat that fits my budget. In the world of cruising boats, my budget is quite small. In the perfect world, I would get a brand new, custom cruising Catamaran in the 40 foot range.  Able to handle whatever weather is thrown at it, cruise fast across the open oceans, have plenty of storage for surfboards and other gear, and plenty of room for a half dozen of my closest friends. This will have to be my lottery winnings boat.

To narrow the field, I'll use some exploratory questions:

  1. What type of boat do I want?
  2. Where do I intend to cruise?
  3. What size of boat will suit me?
  4. What age boat will suit my budget?

What type of boat do I want? Well this is an easy question to answer because my choices are limited by my budget. I should start by saying that a mono-hull is my first criteria because as much as I would want a catamaran, I cannot afford a multi-hull. There are many mono-hull boat designs to choose from including traditional voyagers, performance cruisers, and the more modern racer/cruisers and cruising sleds. All of these except the traditional voyagers are out of my price range, with a few exceptions in the performance cruiser category.

Traditional voyagers are characterized by being slow, but safe and comfortable. They typically have a large keel area and heavy displacement to dampen motion in a seaway. Traditional voyagers take care of their crews and are comfortable even in a blow. The biggest downfalls are speed, especially to windward. They are sluggish under power, difficult to move in a marina, and nearly impossible to back up in a straight line. All of which do nothing to discourage me!

Boats in the other categories have less keel area to make for better performance. To compensate for seaworthiness, they make them bigger. The bigger the boat = more money. Therefore, to afford a seaworthy boat, I need to look at the older, more traditional voyagers. Fine by me, most old sea salts swear only by full keeled boats and I will trust them.

Where do I intend to cruise? Different cruising grounds offer different challenges. A boat well suited to high-latitude cruising may not do as well in the tropics. For my voyage, the majority of the time will be spent cruising in the tropics. This is something I can plan on and make good judgment calls about my purchases because of it. I do not intent to explore the higher latitudes just yet, maybe later in life when surfing is less of a priority.

For a tropical voyage with the prevailing trade winds, a boat needs to sail well downwind. It should be stable and easy to steer when running dead downwind and have a variety of downwind sail combinations for everything from light to gale-force winds. If the crew is to stay cool in the tropical heat and humidity, the boat needs to be protected from the sun. Shoal draft (less than 5 feet) is a big advantage in a handful of cruising areas like the Bahamas. High latittude cruising requires a boat able to handle a much wider range of conditions, therefore adding to the crap it needs. From what I have found, I will be able to save money by getting a boat intended for tropical cruising over high latitude cruising.

What size off boat will suit you? Well I don't think I need to worry about a boat that is too big. Many boat buyers are rich and want the biggest, and that isnt necessary the best. Bigger boats are harder to handle, harder to find a place to anchor, and need much more cash in the bank to maintain. Too small of a boat, however, is something I needed to figure out. The conventional wisdom is that 30 feet is the smallest you should consider for a sea-worthy vessel. Any smaller may not handle the demands of the sea, and will not have enough storage. However, I just fininshed The Self Sufficient Sailor and they circumnavigated on a 27 footer, so it is definitely possible. But with the style of cruising I plan and the gear I plan to bring, I am putting the minimum at 30 feet.

The only thing I really need to consider when it comes to size is storage for surfboards. The board bags are big and bulky and will get in the way on any small sailboat. So I will definitely be seeking the biggest boat I can afford. After searching, they start to get too expensive after 40 feet, and I can't see myself needing a boat that big anyways. So for my boat search I am looking at everything between 30-40 feet.

What age boat will suit your budget? The answer is: Old. I can't afford anything build in the past two decades, so I usually don't bother looking. But as the age of the boat goes up, so does the percentage of the cruising budget that must go into refitting. I am expecting to pay at most 100% of the purchase price into refitting the boat. I can expect to find a quality vessel made around the mid 80's or earlier to be in my price range. I will aim for as new as I can, especially considering some things I have read about the improvements in boat hulls in the early-80's.

So now we have a good list of criteria for my boat, and this is how I do my searches:

  • Between 30-40 feet in length
  • Traditional design with full keel or modified full keel with skeg rudder
  • Priorities: Lowest possible total cost for seaworthy boat, simple as possible to minimize costs, excellent stability.
  • If I need 100% of the boat costs budgeted to refit then my boat budget is $20k with $20k for refitting. So the idea is to find a boat in my size range and style with the "best deal", i.e. the biggest, newest, safest boat with minimal refit needs within my budget.