What makes a good family cruiser boat?
I have come into this discussion late, but I may have some useful comments.
My family and I started sailing in the summer of 2003. There are five of us, my wife and I, and three kids. The kids were 2, 4, and 7 when we first started sailing. The original plan was for a cheap small daysailer. We decided on an older Catalina 22, which was great for the first year. By the end of the year I was totally hooked on sailing and I wanted a bigger boat, something large enough to spend a weekend on, but still small enough to be easily sailed and, more than anything, affordable to purchase and maintain.
We started 2004 with the Catalina. At the end of June we sold it and bought a Newport 28. We did spend a few nights aboard and I want to do more in 2005.
Anyway, here are my specific comemnts regarding a boat suitable for family cruising:
1. The boat must be easy to sail single handed. With the age of your kids, one of you will most likely be watching the kids, and the other will be sailing the boat. You will need a good, reliable, easy to use autopilot. In addition to things like sheet winches at hand, etc, make sure that the boat has a well designed, easy to use, reefing system. Think about this scenerio:
You are sailing in a nice breeze, everyone is happy, you are loving the sailing life. Then the breeze and the waves start to pick up. The boat heels more and starts bouncing off the waves. The kids start getting scared, nervous, and unhappy. You start getting scared, nervous, and unhappy too. One of you (probably you) needs to tend to the kids. The other one must handle the boat, which is in need of a reef.
Being able to quickly and easily reduce sail makes the difference between everyone calming down and enjoying the sail and having people on edge, uncomfortable, and unhappy. And believe me, if the kids are not happy, no one will be happy!
2. Kids are not as well balanced or as agile, as adults. Make sure that the cockpit is open and easy to move around. While the traveler mounted in the cockpit is great for racing, it will really make moving around it difficult. Look for a boat with the traveler mounted on top of the cabin or at the end of the boom leading to the stern, like on the S2 9.2A. I was cloe to buying an Oday 30 until I realized that the main sheet, located right in front of the companionway, would be very difficult for my kids to pass each time they wanted to go below.
3. A stiffer boat will be more comfortable than a tender boat.
4. Look for a boat with an easy to use swim platform. My boat does not have one and I regret it. To get back into my boat you need to climb up a ladder, then climb over the pushpit. Not easy for a 4 year old! My next boat will have a walk through transom and swim platform (with shower).
5. Personally, the galley is not at all important. With the type of sailing I do (mostly day sails, the occasional weekend trip) no one wants to have to cook and clean up on the boat. For day sails we bring a cooler with prepared food. For weekends we will have a meal or two on the boat and the rest off the boat. As long as I can grill some dogs and burgers, and keep milk cold, my galley needs are met. I don''t see baking bread on the boat in my future!
6. Hot and cold pressure water (and a shower) is important. After a day of fun in sun, swimming, being slathered in sunblock, it''s nice to be able to clean the kids off. As you know, they are not fans of cold water rinses. And boiling water in a kettle gets old fast.
7. An open layout down below is also important. The table on my boat folds up against the bulkhead. I didn''t know it at the time, but that''s a great idea. It allows the kids to spead out on the sette, or the cabin sole and play. I don''t have to worry about them climbing on the table, the table falling down, etc. The table can also fold in half so it can be open, but still allow easy access to the head, V berth, etc.
8. I don''t know what sleeping arrangements are best, but everyone needs a bunk. I put one kid (the youngest) in the v berth, so he can fall asleep first, without interruptions. My wife and I sleep on a sette, it pulls out to a double. One kid sleeps in the rear quarterberth. It''s tight and hot but she doesn''t know any better. My oldest sleeps on the other sette. Forget about privacy!
9. For entertainment we bring books, toys, radio, etc. We have dedicated toys for the boat. We try to change them often so the kids don''t get tired of them and they look forward to playing with them. My kids tend to get seasick if they stay below when we are sailing, so mostly they play in the cockpit. At night we use a computer w/DVD drive to watch movies.
I guess that''s about it. I think you need a boat in the 27-34 range. You didn''t list your budget, so I won''t make any specific recommendations. We looked at Catalina 27 (nice, but too small for 5, would be OK for 4), Catalina 30 (perfect for us), Hunter 31 (I don''t trust the quality of 1980''s Hunters). Irwin 31 (all had leaks), O''day 28 and 30 (traveler location), S2 (nice but on the expensive side), Newport 28 and 30, and a few others.
If I were buying a new boat I would get a little bigger one, something 32-34, but that starts getting large for single handing (not to mention expensive).