20 Year Old Needs Boat Buying Advice
Toby, I did a simple YachtWorld.com search for 28-30 footers under $20K and found 688 of them. Even when factoring out all the boats that you will geographically be unable to consider, you would seem to have much to pick from.
You and your friend apparently are planning a Caribbean run, and it sounds like you lack strong preferences for boat type. In fact, one could say you are looking for criteria (to use when selecting a boat) at least as much as for the boats themselves. So my suggestion is to start with what the trip requires and use that to filter out from the large field the few choices that will meet your needs best.
Presuming you two deal with the hurricane season sensibly, there are few other dangers you''ll face. As you sail to & then down the eastern chain, you will see every imaginable brand of boat...and a portion of them will have crossed an ocean to get there. So just about anything gets down there, altho'' it''s better to choose wisely, enjoy the trip more and suffer less. So...let''s look at a few criteria that I think are important, and then move to a few suggestions off that list YachtWorld produced.
1. Excellent windward sailing ability. If coming back is a dreamlike run, getting S and E to St. Martin requires you to work the boat against fairly relentless winds, wave action and wind driven currents; it can be a tough slog. Many deal with this by relying on their diesel engines but your boat will be smaller, lighter, and the engine less powerful for your load-out displacement. So you''ll end up doing it by combining slippery windward sailing ability with thoughtful weather watching. (So you need to think about how you get good wx info down there as well; see below).
2. Working sails in better-than-good condition and sound, basic running rigging & hardware to trim & reef them. Sails can be expensive (tho'' you can buy used with care and without regret) as can hardware, and sails will be your basic ''engine'' when getting down there and then moving between the islands. You''re not looking for a large inventory, but rather for perhaps 3 really good sails: a main properly set up for reefing, a working headsail (ideally, that you can reef somewhat, as well, and have a good shape) and a light air headsail.
3. Water is available almost everywhere down there but can be expensive at times. Meanwhile, it''s often hot, always humid, and the sun can be pretty tough so hydration is important. You want to make sure you have decent water tankage (40 gals +/-; more is better) plus some jugs to carry & fetch more.
4. A decent sea berth will come in handy as it often makes sense to grab a good forecast and make a 2- or 3-day passage, both when going down and when returning. For the size boat you''re considering, a quarterberth is probably your best bet if you can keep all the crap off it when underway. (Beware the dinette opposite linear galley layout unless it has a good quarterberth).
5. The U/V in the Caribbean can be insidious and destructive, moreso to people than boats. And working hard against the wind & spray can be very tiring, making a dodger a wonderful accessory. But working canvas can be expensive to add to a boat (just like sails). So altho'' it may seem an incidental consideration, were I you I''d be hoping to find some choices that include at the least a decent dodger and think about adding a simple awning. If the awning is rigged to catch rainwater, so much the better.
6. The last two criteria are meant to protect your pocketbook more than enhance your cruise. It''s savvy ownership, from Day 1, to think Resale and so your want to make your final selection with the feeling that the boat will move relatively easily when you are the seller and not the buyer. And weak, needy engines can consume more of one''s cruising kitty than almost anything else on simple boats, so you''ll need to insure the engine that comes with the boat is as unquestionably reliable and has as decent a maintenance history as you can find for your price bracket. (Diesel is safer and helps resale; an Atomic 4 is less desireable).
I''m sure there are other criteria worth considering but, based on the above and looking at that YachtWorld list, here are a few of the 30 footers you might consider:
-- Albin Ballad 30''s, which are routinely raced in the North Sea, have a very functional layout, are fast and well built
-- C&C Redwing 30; I see one for well under $20K that looks immaculate, has the needed canvas, and should sail nicely
-- Cal 9.2 (or 30''), good sailing boat with a functional layout and lousy tankage
-- Dufour Arpege 30'' which have been sailed all over the western hemisphere
-- Morgan 30 (if you can add a water tank and still have room for provisions and personal effects)
-- Newport 30 (worry about resale as they aren''t known well on the East Coast)
-- Tartan 30, which has decent build quality and a functional layout.
You''ll end up considering Pearson 30''s, Catalina 30''s and a flock of Hunters if only because the marketplace is flooded with them and some will therefore be very price competitive and also be pushed by brokers...but I''ve intentionally left them off the list. You probalby won''t find a selection of Rawson 30''s on your coast and so irrelevant. And don''t worry about having a deck-stepped mast; for you size, that''s appropriate. It''s the age and condition of the rigging and the condition of the mast support structure in the cabin where you should place your focus.
One caution: ALL these boats were built so long ago that their equipment can be aged and unsuitable for your plans. As Jeff suggests, you can pour money in oh-so easily after buying what may at one time have been a suitable boat but is now a refurbishing project. (I corresponded recently with one young man that had exactly your dream; after buying the ''right but aged'' boat, he upgraded her appropriately and then found he couldn''t even cross the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas before having to stop. His boat ate his cruising kitty - very sad, indeed). For that reason, I would place evidence of the boat being ''well maintained and upgraded regularly'' at the top of my list of criteria. If an owner has a spotless engine bay, the cabin is clean and visually appealing, and the minimal electronics are of newer vintage, then it''s unlikely he''s skimped on replacing his rigging or servicing his engine.
''The Bible'' for sailing down to the Caribbean is Bruce VanSant''s Passages South; I believe it''s in its 8th edition now. It will provide 1,001 helpful pointers on things like the weather info sources I mentioned above, but buying and reading it now would be well worth your time. He has a lot to say about the kinds of boats taken down there, and in what ways they - and the methods used by their crews - are unsuitable. Reading it will give you a realistic context in which to place your boat selection, I think.
Best of luck, and keep us posted on your progress.