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Old 07-17-2009
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First of all we throw around this term "blue water cruiser" like there is a universally agreed upon definition. I use that term like everyone else but as has been said in other discussion, it is a pretty inaccurate description really because an awful lot of even mediocre constructed coastal cruisers are perfectly capable of going offshore for short hops (with a bit of luck), but as I explain below, over time they will pretty quickly wear out as compared to a boat that is purpose built for distance voyaging.

I apologize that the material below was cribbed together for another discussion from articles that I had written for other purposes. It was intended as a discussion of the differences between Coastal Cruisers, Offshore Cruisers and Race Boats but perhaps it might help as a point of departure to shed some light here....

What are the differences between a Coastal Cruiser, Offshore Cruiser and a Race boat? This is a question that would require a book to answer properly but I will take a stab at it. I think that the terms 'offshore' and 'coastal' get bandied about quite freely without any real thought about what the differences are. Of course boats that are intended to be raced can vary quite widely depending on the type of racing that they are intended for.

While the EU has a system that certifies boats into one of 4 categories, this rating system was intended to remove trade barriers between the various EU countries. It represents the lowest common denominator between all of the regulations that pre-existed the formation of the EU. A boat that is certified as meeting the CE Small Craft Directive, in the offshore category, has met this minimum standard but it does not certify that the vessel is actually suitable for offshore use. For example the EU standards do not look at motion comfort, or the suitability of the interior layout for offshore use. Stripped out racers with minimal tankage and fragile rigs can and do obtain offshore certification. The U.S.A. does have the ORC, ABS, and ABYC standards which are somewhat helpful, but again these do not certify that the vessel is actually suitable for offshore use

A well made coastal cruiser should be more expensive than a dedicated offshore distance cruising boat because it needs to be more complex and actually needs more sophisticated engineering and construction than most people will accept in a dedicated offshore boat. In a general sense race boats are optimized to perform better than the racing rule under which it is intended to race. This has a lot of implications. Under some rules (IMS and IRC for example) race boats are optimized to be fast and easy to handle across a wide range of conditions, producing great all around boats, but in the worst cases (International, Universal, CCA and IOR rules for example), the shape of the hulls, and design of the rig are greatly distorted to beat the shortcomings embedded in the rule, producing boats that become obsolete as race boats, and to a great extent as cruising boats once the rule becomes history.


In a general sense, all boats are a compromise and with experience you learn which compromises make sense for your own needs and budget. Most times the difference between an optimized race boat, coastal cruiser and a dedicated offshore cruising boat is found in the collection of often subtle choices that make a boat biased toward one use or the other. A well designed and constructed coastal will often make a reasonable offshore cruising boat and club level racer, while traditional dedicated offshore cruising boats generally make very poor racers or coastal cruisers. This brings up another key point. I would think that most knowledgeable sailors use the term ‘offshore cruiser’, they generally think of traditional, long waterline, full keeled or long fin keeled, heavy displacement, cutters or ketches. But in recent years there has been a whole series of ‘modern offshore cruisers’, which have been designed to take advantage of the research into stability, motion comfort, performance, and heavy weather sail handling that emerged as the result of the Fastnet and subsequent disasters. These boats tend to be longer for their displacement, often have fin or bulb keels, and carry a variety of contemporary rigs such as fractionally rigged sloop rigs. Depending on the specifics of the boat in question, a race boat may also make a reasonable coastal cruiser or offshore cruiser but will rarely be ideal as either.


When I think of a race boat vs. coastal cruiser vs. a dedicated offshore boat, there are a number attributes that I look for:


-Structure:
A typical well used coastal cruiser might only sail five hundred to a thousand miles a year. A well used offshore cruiser may do as much as 20,000 to 30,000 miles in a single year. Whether traditional or modern, offshore cruising boats need to be designed to stand up to the long haul. A single year of offshore cruising can literally be the equivalent the abuse encountered in 20 or 30 years of coastal cruising.


Traditional offshore cruisers come in a range of flavors. Whether fiberglass, steel, or timber, they tend to have robust hulls simply constructed. U.S. lace w:st="on">Hulllace> panels tend to be very heavy, accessible and maintainable. Engineering tends to be simple and reliable. Materials tend to be low tech, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The down side is that a weight goes into these structures using up valuable displacement that could be used for additional carrying capacity or ballast. Some of his weight is carried high in the hull and deck structure reducing stability and increasing roll and pitch.


Modern offshore cruisers tend to use higher tech materials and structural design. Some robustness and redundancy may be given up, but often the better of these newer designs have greater strength despite their lighter weight. These newer designs often take advantage of sophisticated framing systems and purposefully selected alloys or laminates. They often benefit from careful engineering intended to improve impact resistance and longevity.


Whether traditional or modern, offshore cruisers need to be able the cyclical loadings that insidiously wear out a boat over long passages. Larger margins of safety are required. In offshore cruising boats more than the other types, a little weight added, an often breed a whole lot more weight. A little added weight has a way of ricocheting through the whole design cycle. A little weight added means that perhaps the sail area needs to be increased. The increased sail area means a little more ballast. The added ballast perhaps means larger keel bolts and more robust transverse frames. This additional weight and sail area means higher stress on the rigging and so perhaps heavier rigging and attachment points get added, and that means perhaps a decrease in stability or perhaps a bit more ballast. The added weight means more drag and so fuel consumption increases and perhaps so does the size of the fuel tanks. And with all that added weight the designer is then faced with an under-canvassed design or else adding a sail area and risking going though another round of weight addition. Which is why, when all is said and done, traditional offshore cruising boats tend to be so much heavier than race boats, coastal cruisers or even more modern offshore designs.


Coastal cruisers generally benefit from better performance than offshore boats and do not have as stringent a requirement for a robust structure as and offshore boat. As a result coastal cruisers greatly benefit from lighter construction using modern materials and methods. Redundancy and self-sufficiency is less of a requirement. Fully lined interiors and other conveniences are often the norm on cruisers. Even quality coastal cruisers use molded force grids or pans that are glued in rather than laid up in place. Framing is often wider spaced and less robust. lace w:st="on">Hulllace> panels are often cored and thinner than on an offshore boat. Rarely do they receive the careful workmanship that is required for a quality race boat, or the high safety factors ideally applied to a dedicated offshore cruiser. Then again they don’t need either as their use and abuse is generally much less harsh then encountered in the life cycles of either racing or offshore cruising boats.




-Accommodations:
On a coastal cruiser there should be good wide berths, with enough sea berths for at least half of the crew for that night run back to make work the next day. An offshore cruiser is often handled by a smaller crew and so fewer berths and fewer sea berths are necessary. The berths on an offshore boat should be narrower and have leeboards or lee cloths. On both I am looking for a well-equipped galley but the galley needs to be larger on a coastal cruiser so that there is adequate space to prepare meals for the typically larger crew or a raft-up. Refrigeration is less important on a coastal cruiser, where ice is typically readily available at the next port of call, although the case can be made for no refrigeration or icebox if you are going offshore.


-Cockpit:
A comfortable cockpit for lounging is very important on a coastal cruiser. It should be larger than an offshore boat to accommodate a larger number of people which is OK since pooping is less likely to occur doing coastal work.


-Deck hardware:
While gear for offshore boats needs to be simple and very robust, coastal cruisers need to be able to quickly adapt to changing conditions. Greater purchase, lower friction hardware, easy to reach cockpit-lead control lines, all make for quicker and easier adjustments to the changes in wind speed and angle that occur with greater frequency. There is a big difference in the gear needed when ‘we’ll tack tomorrow or the next day vs. auto-tacking or short tacking up a creek.


-Displacement:
Offshore boats need to be heavier. They carry more stuff, period. The traditional rule of thumb was that an offshore boat needs to weigh somewhere between 2 1/2 and 5 long tons per person. A coastal cruiser can get by with less weight per crew person but they are generally cruised by a larger crew. The problem that I have is that most offshore sailors and many coastal cruisers seem to start out looking for a certain length boat and then screen out the boats that are lighter than the displacement that they think that they need. This results in offshore boats and some coastal cruisers that are generally comparatively heavy for their length. There is a big price paid in motion comfort, difficulty of handling, performance and seaworthiness when too much weight is crammed into a short sailing length.


I suggest that a better way to go is to start with the displacement that makes sense for your needs and then look for a longer boat with that displacement. That will generally result in a boat that is more seaworthy, easier on the crew to sail, have a more comfortable motion, have a greater carrying capacity, have more room on board, and be faster as well. Since purchase and maintenance costs are generally proportional to the displacement of the boat the longer boat of the same displacement will often have similar maintenance costs. Since sail area is displacement and drag dependent, the longer boat of an equal displacement will often have an easier to handle sail plan as well.


-Keel and Rudder types:
I would say unequivocally that for coastal cruising, (except in very shoal venues) a fin keel is the right way to go here. The greater speed, lesser leeway, higher stability and ability to stand to an efficient sail plan, greater maneuverability and superior windward performance of a fin keel with spade rudder (either skeg or post hung) are invaluable for coastal work. Besides fin keels/bulb keels are much easier to un-stick in a grounding. In shallower venues a daggerboard with a bulb or a keel/centerboard is also a good way to go.


There is a less obvious choice when it comes to the keel and rudder type for offshore cruising. Many people prefer long or full keels for offshore work but to a great extent this is an anachronistic thinking that emerges from recollections of early fin-keelers. Properly engineered and designed, a fin keel can be a better choice for offshore work. There is the rub. Few fin keelers in the size and price range that you are considering are engineered and designed for dedicated offshore cruising.


-Ground tackle:
Good ground tackle and rode-handling gear is important for both types but all-chain rodes and massive hurricane proof anchors are not generally required for coastal cruising.


-Sail plan:
At least on the US East Coast, (where I sail and so am most familiar with) light air performance and the ability to change gears is important for a coastal cruiser. It means more sailing time vs. motoring time and the ability to adjust to the 'if you don't like the weather, wait a minute' which is typical of East Coast or Great Lakeslace sailing. If you are going to gunkhole under sail, maneuverability is important. Windward and off wind performance is also important.


With all of that in mind I would suggest that a fractional sloop rig with a generous standing sail plan, non- or minimally overlapping jibs, and an easy to use backstay adjuster is ideal. This combination is easy to tack and trim and change gears on. I would want two-line slab reefing for quick, on the fly, reefing. I would want an easy to deploy spinnaker as well.

Offshore cruisers need a robust and reliable rig that can shift gears across a very wide range of windspeeds but generally does not need to change rapidly as there is usually the luxury of lots of sea room. Traditional offshore rigs often feature low vertical centers of gravity to reduce heel angles, and multiple sails rigs such as cutters and ketches which can shift from moderate winds to heavy winds simply by dropping a single sail (and in the case of the cutter reefing the mainsail). As a result of better sailing handling hardware, sail and spar materials, more and more modern offshore cruisers are employing fractionally rigged sloops which permit a very wide range of windspeeds for a single headsail and can then deal with building conditions

-Speed:
I think that speed is especially important to coastal cruising. To me speed relates to range and range relates to more diverse opportunities. To explain, with speed comes a greater range that is comfortable to sail in a given day. In the sailing venues that I have typically sailed in, being able to sail farther in a day means a lot more places that can be reached under sail without flogging the crew or running the engine. When coastal cruising, the need for speed also relates to being able to duck in somewhere when things get dicey.


-Ventilation:
Good ventilation is very critical to both types. Operable ports, hatches, dorades are very important. While offshore, small openings are structurally a good idea, for coastal work this is less of an issue.


-Visibility and a comfortable helm station:
Coastal boats are more likely to be hand steered in the more frequently changing conditions, and higher traffic found in coastal cruising and are more likely to have greater traffic to deal with as well. A comfortable helm position and good visibility is critical. Offshore, protection of the crew becomes more important.


Storage and Tankage:
There is a perception that coastal cruisers so not need storage. I disagree with that. Coastal cruisers need different kinds of storage than an offshore boat but not necessarily less storage. Good storage is needed to accommodate the larger crowds that are more likely to cruise on a short trip. Good water and holding tankage is important because people use water more liberally inshore assuming a nearby fill up, but with a larger crew this takes a toll quickly. Holding tanks are not needed offshore but they are being inspected with greater frequency in crowded harbors and there are few things worse than cruising with a full holding tank and no way to empty it. Offshore boats generally need larger fuel tanks.
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Curmudgeon at Large- and rhinestone in the rough, sailing my Farr 11.6 on the Chesapeake Bay and part-time purveyor of marine supplies

Last edited by Jeff_H; 07-17-2009 at 12:27 PM.
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