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catamount 03-20-2005 07:03 PM

low-budget performance passage-maker
In about 8 years from now, I intend to spend a year''s sabbatical sailing a North Atlantic Circle. I want to acquire an appropriate boat about 5 years in advance of that, to allow time for necessary re-fitting and shakedown cruises (e.g. Labrador? Bermuda?). So I''ve got about 3 years to find "the boat."

My previous experience includes a voyage from New Hampshire to Newfoundland and back aboard my father''s Cape Dory 36 Cutter, as well as several shorter passages (e.g. 250 miles) aboard boats ranging from a Paceship PY23 to an Irwin 37. I currently own a San Juan 21 (obviously not a candidate for blue-water voyaging), and also occaisionally get to sail a Galaxy 32.

My father''s Cape Dory 36 just isn''t the right boat for me. We spend an awful lot of time motoring or motor sailing, as it just doesn''t move in light air--too much wetted surface, too heavy, etc. The sail-handling gear (and navigational equipment, too) isn''t all that well laid out, particularly for single-handing.

The Galaxy 32 is a fairly nice-sailing boat, although being smaller it doesn''t have a stand-up galley, etc...

I am particularly interested in being able to SAIL (as opposed to motor) to chosen destinations regardless of the weather, which means light air as well as heavy, and to windward as well as down or across the wind. To me, this puts a premium on sailing performance. I am used to roughing it, and so can do without a lot of amenities and the complicated boat systems that provide them (and the displacement needed to carry them). Of course, I will want good navigation and communication systems.

So I''m looking for the right boat. Of course, my budget is rather limited. But, I''m not afraid of "project boats" (My current SJ21 is one).

My current preference is for a sloop in the range of 34 to 36 feet LOA, with a displacement probably in the range of 10,000 to 12,000 pounds, offering decent sea berths, basic sea-going galley, good sail-handling, a proper bridge-deck between cockpit and companionway, etc...

Without ever having stepped foot on one, much less actually sailed one, a boat that has caught my fancy is the J35 -- older well-used offerings are at the high-end of my possible budget. They are, of course, just about the complete opposite of my father''s Cape Dory 36, but that doesn''t mean they are not capable ocean-going boats. I''ve read that J35''s have competed successfully in the OSTAR trans-Atlantic single-handed race, and in the TransPac (Does anyone know if any J35''s have raced from Newport to Bermuda, around Fastnet Rock, or from Sydney to Hobart?) I''ve also read of a J35 that was cruised through the South Pacific.

Looking at current listings on of 34 to 36 footers under $40,000 in the Northeast, some others that look interesting include:

C&C 36,
Lancer 36,
C&C 35 (Mk I or II),
Erickson 35,
Bristol 34,
C&C 34,
Norlin 34,
Sabre 34,
S2 10.3

Some of these I know are thought of as coastal cruisers and club racers, and not as ocean-going yachts -- but is that because of the hull form, deck layout, or sail plan? Or is it due to issues like build quality or equipment selection?

I would welcome your recommendations for ocean-going performance cruisers (e.g. cruiser/racers) under $40K that I ought to consider.



WHOOSH 03-20-2005 08:12 PM

low-budget performance passage-maker
Tim, your query illustrates what a good post should look like when requesting boat info; I wish everyone followed this pattern.

Rather than zero in on some of the specific boats you mentioned, I''d like to offer a few thoughts that could be applied to all of them. First, and while I don''t mean to disregard your preference for a good sailing boat, including light air performance, I''d encourage you to not overlook that you are probably planning an Atlantic Circle for the enjoyment, adventure and broadening experiences it offers, and not merely to be sailing for a year. To me, this suggests that having a boat somewhat suitable for your route is at least as important as sailing the route efficiently. When I think of J35''s with their tiny fuel & water capacities - and then think of the infrequent *convenient* availability of fuel & water along, as just one example, the Spanish & Portuguese coast - I picture you lugging jugs around each port rather than enjoying the Tapas menus or meeting some locals in a park. I can appreciate you are willing to ''rough it'' but suspect that is a different thing than setting out with the hope of *only* roughing it or being chronically less comfortable than you can be. Unless you come up here to N Europe (we''re wintering in London at the moment, after a last season in Scandinavia), you are going to be spending much of your time in semi-tropical and Med summer climates where shade and ventilation are especially important. You''re going to want to hydrate yourself thoughtfully without worrying about water. You will need to be prepared to handle an anchor from the transom while Med mooring, or alternatively be prepared to back into a pontoon and open your cabin up to passers-by, with the anchor handling gear somewhat beefy. None of these things specifically excludes barebones layouts & racing-oriented decks like the J35, but they do incrementally point out how much such a boat will need to be modified in order to suit its purpose. And while it may be true you will have 5 years to modify the boat, there are several things that work against you when doing so: mods cost money, they take precious time (a non-renewable resource), and they typically are done in a vacuum (of knowledge & experiences in the settings yet to be encountered) and so the mods must be further adjusted once the cruise begins.

So...what I''m hinting at is that some targeted research about the nature of the route you will be traveling and then laying up that information alongside your preferred sailing performance would result in, overall, a more satisfying cruise. There are a ton of sites with this kind of info on the Web, altho'' the best single, easily searchable source I know of is a CD compilation of montly bulletins from the SSCA (, go to Store, Pubs, select CD). Cheap at $20, easily searched with Adobe Reader.

Second, you will find a lot of anecdotal evidence that any of the boats you''ve listed are capable of doing an Atlantic Circle. Mostly, this is because the most common routes involve exclusively in-season temperate climate sailing with - usually -relatively stable weather systems. As a rule (which has exceptions), you won''t find many survival stories when crossing the Atlantic either way and so the typical problems are more generic to sailboats as a group: chafe and failure of running rigging & sails; engine/transmission weak links (misaligned belts, dirty fuel in dirtier fuel tanks, all shaken as well as stirred); crew safety issues (from puncture wounds to staying aboard the mother ship); and of course the most common issue, reliable self-steering (and for that matter, the integrity of the steering system as a whole). This is where most of the problems exist, most of the time.

To spend just a moment at the other end of the weather continuum from what you mentioned (light air sailing), your most likely risks from heavy seas and intense winds will be the following:
- northern route from New England to Ireland (count on little viz and potentially heavy prevailing W''ly winds) or the traditional guide book advice of ''up to 38-40N, then ride the W''lies'' which fails to point out this guarantees a succession of lows and their frontal systems marching past
- crossing the Gulf Stream, which can always have at least a few surprises when a front, opposing current, and some form of localized convective junk are mixed together
- leaving the Med too late in the season(usually anytime from early Oct onward) and being beat up heading for Mediera or the Canaries instead of enjoying the Portuguese Trades most of the way

Why do I mention these? Somewhat counter-intuitively, the way one mitigates these threats today is the same way one avoids disappointing sailing in too-light winds, and it''s this suggestion I think is especially important to you, given your stated preferences. It used to be that we only had pilot charts and guide book advice to go on when planning a route. Once we left and the initial, local wx f''cast vaporized, we just hung in there and took what came. If the Azores High was a little north this year, we found disappointing winds. If the Spring to Summer transition came later than normal in the N Atlantic (this happened in both 2003 and 2004), then we got plastered with one front after the next, its clocking winds (which can head the boat and beat up both it and the crew) and its heavy seas. But this is the way it used to be. Today, it''s very common for boats making any ocean crossing to be pulling down real-time weather f''cast products, daily or perhaps even multiple times daily, and then reshaping their route as they sail it. E.g. in 2003 we could dial in our wind speed within a 5 knot range (and the resulting seas) simply by monitoring the Azores High''s position and the tracks of the lows to our north. When leaving Horta for Falmouth, where the conventional route has one going far west of the rhumb line to avoid being embayed in Biscay with successive gales, we were able to cut many miles off while monitoring N Atlantic systems and their respective tracks.

So...what I''m suggesting is that, to some extent, the kind of sailing you aspire to be doing is under your control NOT just by the kind of boat you pick but by how you prepare your boat & your self in obtaining wx data and using it knowledgeably. This will also help you qualitatively improve your local cruising, as well, once you arrive in Europe and again when you return via the Caribbean. There is a huge wealth of info available on the Web when you reach the point of preparing, altho'' it''s fair to point out the most complete single source of wx f''cast products at this time is available from the Winlink system (, which requires an amateur radio license (and the time to get it), a SSB transceiver, a ''radio modem'' and a good backstay antenna. To offset these expenses, I''ll point out we have had onboard email (24/7) and abundant wx f''cast products since 1999 and have yet to pay a penny for them. And to get you started on examining some of the web resources when the time comes, I''d suggest you visit among other sites; very comprehensive re: Euro wx f''cast products.

And finally, while your Euro preparations may be less extensive than those of us planning to cruise here a while, you may find it helpful to visit where I''ve placed some articles on preparing a N American boat for the Euro infrastructure.

I didn''t plan this to be so long; sorry abut that. Let''s see what others think about some of these specific boats...


paulk 03-22-2005 02:54 PM

low-budget performance passage-maker
Some reading (if you haven''t already gotten to these): Practical Sailor''s book: Used Boat Buyers Guide. They have good, in-depth reviews (biased, perhaps, but not by advertisers!) of many of the boats you''re thinking about. Also, Steve Dashew''s Circumnavigator''s Handbook. Have fun!

Jeff_H 03-23-2005 05:21 AM

low-budget performance passage-maker
I went through almost the same search a few years ago with a slightly higher budget than yours.

One of the issues in your search will be finding a performance boat within your price range with decent seakeeping ability and at the same time, enough robustness to stand up to the large amount of useage implied by a North Atlantic Circle. To put this in perspective, a heavily used but otherwise normal performance coastal cruiser might sail something like 800 to 1000 miles per year. When people talk about the ''North Atlantic circle'' there seems to be somewhat differing views of that term, but near as I can tell the various routes are minimally 7,500 miles but are generally closer to 10,000-11,000 miles. In other words, something on the order of 10 -11 years of very hard use.

Few coastal cruisers or racers are built to stand up to that kind of use without seriuus modification.

In stock form, boats like the J-35 were aimed at racing with large crews. Their deck gear is on the light side and spread out to provide working space for crew members. Tankage is minimal. Their hullforms are not very tolerant of large heel angles. Thier draft is quite deep.

All of that said, boats like these can be adapted to make reasonable, but very spartan, high performance single-handers. Addint things like tankage and better shorthanded sail handling gear is relativeky easy on boats like these. But adapting any boat to be an offshore capable passagemaker costs quite a bit of money and adapting a full blown race boat from the era of the J-35 can be especially expensive and time consuming. I seriously doubt that a J-35 in structurally sound condition can be purchased for less than $40K. J-35''s in particular are subject to core problems and when you see one for less than $40k the problems are usually reasonably extensive.

Of course the term ''performance'' is very relative. I chose to define it as being a PHRF rating of 102 or below. Most of the candidates that I came up with were selling in the roughly $50K range. A couple boats that I would suggest that you consider for your goals would be boats like the early 1970''s era Tartan 41, or Newport 41 and I would try to find one that someone has already restored and upgraded for offhore use. In the long run that is usually cheaper than doing the restoration and upgrades yourself.

For what it is worth, I ended up buying a Farr 38 (Farr 11.6), which have had an excellent offshore cruising record. Unfortunately they are comparatively hard to find on the US East Coast but are pretty readily available in South Africa within your price range. Of course that adds a lot of miles to your Atlantic circle. Good luck.


catamount 03-24-2005 04:31 AM

low-budget performance passage-maker
Thanks Jack, Paul and Jeff for your comments.

Jeff, indeed "performance" is a relative term. To me it means a boat that can readily outsail my dad''s Cape Dory 36! ;-) The J35 could obviously do that, but then so could a C&C 35, with a PHRF of around 126 (Mk 1). I recognize that the J35 is probably a bit extreme for my proposed sailing (but I''m still intrigued with the concept of the sailor''s sailboat); the C&C 35 looks like it might be a better choice (and within my budget). FWIW, the Tartan 41 you mentioned strikes me as too big.

Paul, I did pull out my copy of Practical Boat Buying 6th ed. and pour through it once again. The boats reviewed there that can be found in my price range seem inadequate for offshore work (Ericson 35-2; Columbia 36), or are older full-keel heavy cruisers, which I''m trying to avoid, while the more modern boats they''ve described as being sufficiently well built for offshore work generally can''t be found in my price range.

Jack, you are a fountain of great information! Thanks! BTW, I have been following John''s preparations for his Atlantic Circle at and am familiar with your articles posted there.

Considering tankage, amenities, and roughing it -- the longest that one is likely to be at sea on a voyage like this is probably not more than a month or so. I can wait until I get in to port to take a nice hot shower (or I can use a solar heated gravity-fed shower), so I don''t need pressurized hot and cold fresh water plumbing for example (and a manual pump will help in conserving the resource). If I''m clever about capturing rain water to replenish the resource, I can get by without an RO watermaker (and I''ve already got an manual RO watermaker for emergency backup). But you are right, I do need to sit down and think about just how much water I need to carry so I can evaluate what the boat has and how much I will need to modify it (a gallon per person per day sticks in my head for some reason; BTW I''m envisioning a crew of 1 or 2 for longer passages and up to 3 or 4 for shorter passages...)

For another example, refridgeration is not a necessity but a luxury. Nonetheless, a well insulated (vacuum?) icebox and some big blocks of ice (maybe even some dry ice?) ought to keep me in fresh food for the first week. Without a refer or a watermaker, I shouldn''t need to run the engine as a generator (perhaps solar and wind power can keep up with the energy needs for communications, navigation, and self-steering); and if the boat sails well, how much fuel do I really need to carry? In any case, our experience in Newfoundland was that, although not necessarily a desirable way to spend your time, lugging jugs can be a good way to meet the locals! ;-)

But back to the question of boat choice -- what about something like the C&C 35 (Mk 1) or maybe an S2 10.3 as more moderate alternatives to the J35?



WHOOSH 03-24-2005 06:35 AM

low-budget performance passage-maker
Tim, just one observation: you seem to be focusing almost exclusively on the ocean crossing side of your thinking. I would encourage you to fold in as much consideration for the realities of your cruising experience AFTER you reach the distant shores, as that''s where you will be spending most of your time. You may use very little diesel on your crossings, but I can assure you that windless days and a schedule exist on this side of the Atlantic as well, and fuel tankage becomes an issue when not every port has accessible fuel. Lots of boat-related logistics issues to scratch your head about...


Jeff_H 03-24-2005 08:21 AM

low-budget performance passage-maker
Hi Jack,

I am not sure that the stock fuel tankage is all that big an issue as it is usually pretty easy to increase the tankage on older performance boats without hurting performance all that much.

Just a quick thought.....


catamount 03-24-2005 11:29 AM

low-budget performance passage-maker
Jack, you caught me. I probably am thinking about the voyaging more and not so much the time spent at the destination. So that''s a good point. On the other hand, my initial interest in a smart sailing boat that can get to a destination in light air as well as heavy was exactly because I had those "windless days and schedule" in mind...

Thanks, though, for keeping me on my toes. For example, from where does one deploy a stern anchor for a med moor in a boat like the J35 that doesn''t have any cockpit lockers or lazarette? It does make for something to puzzle over.

So on the general issue of modifications, almost any boat (certainly any that I can afford) is going to need some significant work in preparation for the planned voyage. My planning does (at least I''m trying to) take into account both the time and the money involved in the refitting, beyond the intitial purchase price of the boat. I know for example, that if I spend say $30K on a ~30 year old boat, I may well end up spending another $30K re-fitting it (but those expenditures would be somewhat spread out over time). But if I postpone my purchase a bit so I can save up to spend $60K on a ~20 year old boat is that boat not also going to still need signifiicant re-fitting (for the sake of argument, say $15K)?

As to what is modifiable and what isn''t, I see the hull form and sail plan as pretty difficult to change, so you have to get that right in choosing the boat. The deck layout or house structure, on the other hand, while not exactly easy, is still possible to change if needed (e.g. Dave Martin''s wholesale rebuild of his Cal pop-top, or the Roth''s cabin extension to their WHISPER). Interior arrangements, depending on the construction method (e.g. pan vs. built-up), and systems, are relatively easier still to change as necessary (assuming you''re willing to start cutting...the first step is often the hardest). Deck hardware can, of course, be moved and upgraded (assuming you''re willing to drill holes...).

Obviously the closer you can get to your ideal, the less modification will be necessary. But boats are compromises, and sometimes you have to make trade-offs to get something you really want (say, perhaps, the sailing performance of a J35) knowing that you''ll have to make significant changes to other aspects of the boat to make it more workable for your purpose.

Got to go teach a class...



paulk 03-24-2005 04:55 PM

low-budget performance passage-maker
We went transatlantic on an Ohlson 38. Not exactly a full-keel design, but not a finkeel/spade canoe by any stretch of the imagination. It took us 22 days from Connecticut to Cork, Ireland. We had a few days of little/no wind, and 3 storms with winds up to & over 40 knots and waves to about 20feet. To increase water tankage we put flexible bladder-tanks into out of the way spaces (under berths, settees, etc.) that wouldn''t have been good for much else. Extra Diesel fuel was carried in plastic jerrycans lashed into the cockpit. These helped reduce the volume & weight of water in the cockpit when waves came aboard. (Especially after they were empty, since we topped off the tanks from them as quickly as we could.) They were also handy for transporting fuel in locations where there was no diesel fuel available dockside.
Another design to consider might be a Pearson 37. They''re reasonably fast, and I''ve been on one in over 50 knots of wind and on some rough spinnaker runs on the Chi-Mac race. It seems like they can be pretty well put together. A J/36 could offer the performance of the J/35 in a more easily handled fractional rig, and at a somewhat lesser price, if you can find a nice, dry-cored one. (You can''t have ours, though.) The C&C 35 mark I is a boat that I''ve always thought sailed well. Its lines make it look good, even if the boat may be quite old and tired from use. The price will be right, if again, you can find a dry one. (Watch for crackling in the deck, which indicates delamination.) Structurally, I like the idea that most all the surfaces in a C&C 35 are curved, like an eggshell, so provide the maximum strength possible for their weight. Inside, you can gut the plastic without feeling much remorse, or rebuild the wooden parts to suit without too much effort either. There are lots of options out there. You may even come across a Swan or Hinckley that for some acceptable reason falls within your budget. Good luck!

DaveB. 03-24-2005 06:21 PM

low-budget performance passage-maker
OK, though I''m reluctant to expose how little I''ve learned from reading JeffH. and Jack''s comments over the years...For various reasons I''ve always harbored a secret hope that a thoughtfully prepared Islander 36 could make this kind of trip (because eventually, I''d like to take one from SoCal to Tahiti [I know... how will I make it BACK?!]). What do you all think? Could this do the Atlantic trip?


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