Join Date: Jul 2002
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Steel vs Fiberglass
First, it''s a shame that ''steel'' is the focus of this thread and that metal boats are mostly discussed generically, when in fact there is a great deal to distinguish aluminum from steel, both pro and con, including cost.
Second, let''s assume we have a magic switch that we can flip and which affects our ability to view boats thru-out the Pacific Ocean. If we flip it one way, it gives us a 40,000'' view of ONLY self-built boats sailing in the Pacific. Looking down, we would be able to see that a large percentage of them (tho'' perhaps not a majority) are going to be steel, with some others being wood or wood/composite and a still others being of other materials, including aluminum. Now we flip the switch in the other direction and can view only non-self-built boats: only a small fraction of them will be metal. Whether we like it or not, a fair conclusion to reach is that the choice of a metal boat is driven by factors other than the kind of sailing we plan on doing.
So rather than only talking about metal as a suitable material based soley - or even principally - on intended use, we could instead talk about metal as a likely choice based on whether a given sailor with Pacific ambitions, shopping in his/her marketplace, will either build or buy a self-built boat.
Does it make sense to self-build, based on the desire for a metal boat and given only a moderate budget? The summary comment below on the wisdom of deciding to self-build when choosing an offshore cruising boat, has been said before on this and other BB''s; I''m taking it from www.mahina.com simply because of its brevity.
"Home building makes the least sense unless you are an experienced boat builder and are not concerned about time and expenses. Home-built boats generally end up costing more than a well-built used boat, are usually much more difficult to sell when you''ve completed your cruise [and] frequently have a lower resale value than a comparable production boat."
BTW if we took our magic switch with us and did the same thing from 40,000'' over N European and Med waters, we''d find a higher percentage of non-selfbuilt metal boats. And you will note this is without the predominant rock & coral that supposedly justifies metal hulls, and also despite the cruising grounds being far more developed (nav aids, harbor berths, etc.) than in the Pacific. This is because there are more Euro yards building in metal, both steel and aluminum, to a very high level and because the Euro marketplace embraces metal more readily than elsewhere (e.g. North America).
Of course, all this is just cheering from the grandstands and boat buying is usually not driven by one''s ultimate materials preferences and ''some day'' cruising dreams. In truth, most cruising boat buyers start off with neither a firm itinerary nor much long-term cruising experience. What they do have is a rather firm purchase budget, a desire for a certain level of amenities and quality of finish, and they limit themselves to boats which are regionally available...which reduces the diversity of their choices in an absolute sense, but makes the logisitcs of the purchase easier. They will then pick from this subset of choices based on cost and preferences as stated.
Where there is a diverse selection of metal boats at more affordable cost - and where their acceptability/desirability is greater and they are viewed as suitable for the intended mission, metal becomes a more feasible choice in the real world of boat buying. But those places are niche markets, and its clearly a case of Mohammed needing to go to the mountain for most boat shoppers who want to consider a diverse collection of affordable metal boats.
Finally, I think it''s a fair statement to say that, when looking at metal boats being purchased over any given time period, most of them are going to be either self-built (to include finished out by the owner from a bare hull/deck) OR they are going to be relatively expensive relative to all boats of that size/class. If someone else''s project boat isn''t what you want, and you have a purchasing budget that is like the rest of us mere mortals, you will probably end up with a fiberglass boat, having chosen it from a relatively large, diverse collection of mostly fiberglass choices. There are exceptions to this statement and there is certainly some geographic variability, but not enough to impeach the general conclusion, I believe.