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Old 04-04-2009
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I've not sailed either, but these boats look fine for your purposes. The Picnic Cat is easier to set up and sail and having the mast way forward leaves the large cockpit clear. Compac makes VERY solid boats with excellent stability and top quality detailing. They are solid as rocks and almost as slow. The Picnic Cat video shows a surprising degree of leeway, and I stil can't understand the point of a gaff that adds all of 1' over the mast height -- why not just use a triangular main? Would simplify everything and give better sail shape.

The American boats I have a soft spot for. I cannot vouch for their quality or handling, but they look really nice for the intended use. They offer new sailors both a main and headsail, good practice for larger boats. Square chines should give good initial stability, though it might get notchy in stronger winds, like a Lightning. The reef points should help settle it back down. The Americans have a high boom, so you don't have to crawl under it during maneuvers. Should be able to wrestle the jib w/out going on the foredeck. The boats have more sharp edges than I would like.

A slightly higher-performance open-cockpit boat is the Vanguard Nomad. It has a main, jib, and asymmetric spinnaker on a retractable sprit. It's 560 lbs, so you could tow it w/ your Soob. The Nomad can capsize it pushed hard, tho it is stable if you throttle it down. Righting it is not trivial. They can be found used at medium prices.

It might be worth asking for a test sail before buying any of these boats -- they are expensive enuf to justify that. Pile three or four people in so you can tell how it handles with a load, and how much of a scramble it is during tacking. Good luck, and let us know how the search is going.
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