What factors must be taken into account to determine if your boat is safe to go offshore? For example, I do all my sailing within the Chesepeake Bay, but would like to buy a boat that will enable me to travel south to Florida and the Islands. Any input would be appreciated.
Sue & Larry respond:
Recently, we were anchored in Key West Harbor. It struck us as very interesting that there were no two cruising boats alike out of a grouping of over 300. These boats ranged in size from 25 to 55 feet, and sported flags from countries around the world. As was evidenced by these boats in Key West, some sailors believe that only full-keeled, heavy-displacement boats are safe for cruising, while others prefer lighter and faster designs. There are strong arguments for both, but the reality is that both types are being sailed widely and successfully offshore.
A few of the characteristics to look for in all boats for offshore sailing are as follows: Yachts should of course be of quality construction, water-tight, self-righting, and have cockpits that drain quickly at all angles of heel. Companionway hatches must have the ability to be securely closed. The ability to sail well to weather is important to us and we believe to most cruisers. This is often a function of both keel design and freeboard.
A great deal of what makes a boat safe offshore can be found in the vessel's preparations and in the skill of the captain and crew. Any boat must also be properly outfitted for the conditions expected. US Sailingís ORC special regulations for Category 1 sailboat races offer a good set of guidelines for both the design of and outfitting of a boat for offshore sailing.
Having a well-rested crew is often the most important element of seaworthiness. A cruising boat must be set-up for both comfort and safety in the cockpit and down below. Good protection from the elements will keep you warm and dry. Below, handholds must be readily available so the crew can move about in heavy weather without sustaining injury, and berths should be fitted with lee cloths. Huge interiors that are great at anchor can sometimes be a problem at sea. Then thereís the finer details, like a strap in the galley so that someone can be held in place to cook, and lockers and floorboards that can be securely fastened in case of a knockdown.
Many good books have been written addressing these aspects of your question. Steve and Linda Dashew have one of the most complete books weíve ever seen on offshore sailing. Itís called Offshore Cruising Encyclopedia. In fact, itís so big (over 1,000 pages) that in a pinch you could probably use it as a sea anchor.
Good luck choosing your new boat.