Please help a novice sailor choose a boat.
Hi! My name is James and I'm stuck in the desert right now. I'm in the army but soon after my tour is over I'm going to find myself with a lot of time on my hands, because I'm getting out.
I've been an avid powerboater for years but lately, perhaps because I'm getting older, I seem to spend a lot of my time on (rented) powerboats watching the sailboats cruise around belton lake. My favorite sound in the world is the gentle metallic clinking noise of hardware tapping against a mast. I've been on several sailboats but have never actually sailed one myself. Long story short, soon I'm going to be in the market for a boat myself because rental fees are just ridiculous. Especially when one spends as much time on the lake as I do.
My original plan was to buy a 30ish footer that I could live aboard and try to learn to sail on the weekends, but after reading so much on this site and others, I've decided that's just not the way to go. Not because I don't think I could self-teach myself to sail, but because doing so on what would essentially be my home didn't sound like a very good idea. So.
What I'm looking for is a float-on trailerable (weight won't be an issue), forgiving boat that won't leave me going nowhere on a light wind day. It must also be affordable, let's say no more than 12,000 dollars or so and preferably in the 5-10 thousand range (I'm not exactly drawing engineer's or stock broker's pay). But it need not be new because I have some pretty good experience restoring powerboats and a background in general contracting. Also, as I've said, I should have considerable time to work before the next sailing season. Draft shouldn't be much of an issue because Belton Lake is a dammed reservoir with depths of over one hundred feet for much of the lake. However, there's still the issue of floating it onto and off of a trailer. I'll be using the boat in primarily lake water with a 1-3 foot chop, and possibly bay areas once I get confident. A small cabin would be nice for doing an occasional weekender aboard.
One more note: I'd like to learn to sail on as close to a classic sailboat as I can, so please don't recommend anything too simple. I enjoy a steep learning curve and a challenge. To me that's half the fun.
I know I'm a bit long winded, and if you're still reading then thank you for getting this far. Any suggestions on which boats to look for would be much appreciated, as well as any other tips on what to watch out for... Danger signs if you will.
Thanks for taking the time to share your experience with a novice.
You might first want to go to yachtworld.com and do a search for boats in the price and size range you have in mind. That will give you an idea of what is available, and then you can start to refine your search more specifically. You'll find you get more usable responses to specific questions rather than general ones.
If you haven't already, you should check out
The have a relatively extensive collection of informaiton and forums about trailerable sailboats. By wanting a "float off" sailboat your range is relatively reduced from the start.
In your price range an O'Day 25 or Catalina 25 would certainly fit the bill. Both boats offer weekend accomodations. In the conditions you describe, an outboard would be just fine. You could probably get a well worn boat pretty cheap - it sounds like you have the skills to make repairs. One thing to consider is sail inventory. Having good sails really does make sailing a lot more fun - and safer. 10 year old sails are probably going to need replacing unless they were very well cared for. I am not familiar with present day sail costs for these boats, but a new main and jib may run 2K or more. Check it out. I know the Sail Warehouse sells "stock" sails for many popular boats.
These 2 boats have been around for a long time and many were made. I have never sailed either boat, but I am confident that the longevity of their production attests to a reasonably good small coastal cruiser.
Thanks for your responses so far. I found the trailersailor website to be more tailored to what I'm looking for, as compared to yachttrader or boattrader online which I had been looking over up til now.
I'm discovering quickly that as with their powered brethren, sailboats have some components that can add up to some severely costly and or time intensive replacements/repairs. Is there anything specifically that I should definitely walk away from, aside for the obvious such as stress cracks in the hull?
Also, I'm seeing many boats that have race histories, should I be wary of those? How long can a boat be used for racing, generally, before it really starts to take a toll on it's structural integrity? Or should I not be so concerned, as I don't intend on taking the boat out in heavy weather?
One last question (for now) and it's in regards to the choice between tiller or wheel. Is it just a matter of preference, or are there definite advantages/disadvantages to each? I ask because I will be singlehanding most of the time, and if one is simpler to singlehand than the other it would be good to know.
Generally, a boat that has been raced extensively, will have more wear and tear, though it may be maintained better. Delamination in the deck is something you should definitely look out for in an older boat, particularly if it has had a lot of stuff added to it.
A tiller has two advantages over a wheel. One it's simple and requires little maintainence. Two, you have a better feel for the boat. I singlehand a tiller boat, and have no real problem with it. I use a tiller-tamer to hold it steady for the few minutes I need to be away from it.
You ask some good questions, but they're all in the world of "it depends."
I recently bought a boat that had been raced, in part because it had an extensive sail collection (several very recent) and the standing rigging had been replaced and upgraded not long ago. It was also came with with two spinnakers, whisker pole, and other race-related controls. These were all pluses for me, as well as the fact the rigging had been kept tuned and maintained well.
On the other hand, I'd stay clear of race boats that haven't been well maintained, old standing rigging, tabbing coming loose below decks, leaks or stress cracks from over-tight rigging, etc.
As for tiller, there's reasons pro and con, but it's often a matter of personal choice. An argument could be made that there's no real mechanical advantage of having a wheel on a boat that's less than 30-34 feet, and there's a mechanical disadvantage in that a wheel may be more complicated to service and maintain compared to a simple tiller. One gets less feedback from a wheel, and in my opinion it's harder to add an autopilot to a wheel.
For a single-hander, it might be nice to just tighten the knob on a wheel to hold it in place while doing other jobs. A tiller can be locked pretty easily with a basic auto-pilot, and I really liked how the previous owner installed the tiller pilot on our boat (and it can steer to waypoints on the GPS).
Finally, based on the design of the cockpit on a small sailboat, the wheel could be a pain or benefit for climbing around when managing sails and the like. Some tillers "sweep" the cockpit and can be a pain, but they also can normally fold up and out of the way when anchored or even changing tacks. Some wheel set ups can be pretty inconvient for managing sheets and moving about, depending on the cockpit setup.
If you haven't guessed-- my bias is for a tiller, and others might sucessfully argue a wheel is better. "It depends..."
Trailerable sailboats have undergone a major change in design in recent years. It's getting increasingly difficult to find a good, used tow vehicle with a powerful engine, so manufacturers are finding ways to build lighter trailerable boats that can be towed by less powerful tow vehicles. Older 25' boats, like the Catalina 25, which is a very nice boat for its size, are heavier, and that weight not only makes them harder to tow, but it also makes them harder to launch and to rig. The newer design Catalina 250 is lighter, and easier to tow, launch and rig.
Also, within this size range, a relatively small size difference can make a big difference in the boat's weight. A Catalina 22, for example, can be towed by a mid-sized suv, and can be launched and rigged by a single person, but a mid-sized suv can't tow a Catalina 25, and it is much more difficult for one person to launch and rig it. (although it can be done with the necessary rigging.)
The bigger, older boats have nicer interior accomodations and generally sail better, but, unless you plan to keep it in a slip, you'll find that you won't sail it very often, because it is so much work to tow, launch and rig it.
So, if you plan to trailer-sail, then you should either look for a smaller, older boat in the range of 20-22', or a newer boat up to 25' with a more modern, light-weight design. If you plan to keep it in a slip, you can luxuriate in a bigger, heavier, older boat.
When you're buying real estate, the 3 most important concerns are location, location, location. When you're buying a boat, the 3 most important concerns are condition, condition, condition. I've seen many old racing boats in superb condition, and visa versa. The same is true of cruising boats. It isn't about how they're used. It's about how they're maintained. It is true, however, that you have to look more carefully at old racing boats, because they're designed and built just strong enough to withstand the stresses, and no stronger, and because the've been subjected to maximum stress much of their existence. But, people are still enjoying good old J24s, Capri 25s and similar racers just as much as their fathers did, a generation ago.
Don't be in too much of a hurry to buy a boat. Look at a lot of them. Volunteer to crew on different boats, so you can see for yourself how they behave.
I learned to sail a boat with a tiller, and, although it might sound a little fanciful, I liked to think that the boat "talked to me" through the tiller. Whenever the boat started to labor, it became apparent first by increased tiller pressure. When I felt too much tiller pressure, that told me to start looking around for the cause, to optimize the boat's performance. Sometimes I could reduce the pressure by increasing the tension on a sail control, like the traveler, or a halyard or outhaul or backstay adjuster, or to make some other adjustment. When the tiller pressure started to lighten, that told me it was time to start thinking about easing all the sail controls. My present boat is a 35 footer, and has a wheel, and I've learned to like it too, but the wheel doesn't talk to you as clearly as the tiller. If you'll learn to listen to what a tiller is telling you, I think you'll be a better sailor for it.
Okay so I'm slowly closing in on what I'm looking for. Sounds like a tiller will definitely be far more conducive to a good learning experience for a newbie like myself. I'm to be on the lookout for delaminated decks, tabbing coming loose, old standing rigging (10 yrs or so?), and old sails. Having a good set of sails in the package will be a definite plus as I looked up some prices using a Catalina 25 as a reference point and discovered I'd be looking at a 2.5 to 3k expediture, if not more. Also that I shouldn't be overly concerned with the race history of a boat, as it may have more wear and tear, but will generally be better maintained. I already know to look for an outboard (and preferably a diesel OB) rather than an I/O motor because they are easier to maintain and repair on the fly.
Sailormon- I maintain that weight won't be much of an issue (I have a late model F-250 SD w/ towing package to include trailer-brake system. It's towing cap. is in the neighborhood of 16k lbs. It's light on creature comforts but it's a brute built for hauling.) and if a bigger boat generally sails better than a bigger boat is what I should be on the lookout for. The added cabin space will make it worth my while for the occasional weekender. Besides, the rigging which an experienced sailor finds tedious will all be new to me, at least for a while. If I was in a big hurry, I'd just get another powerboat. None the less, I will consider myself warned. :)
I should also note that I'm not looking for "the" boat. Just a boat I can learn to sail on and have some fun in the process. If I really catch the bug, I'll upgrade to a bigger, newer boat a few seasons down the road.
All that said, I've been doing some more research, and of course, I have more questions.
Of a centerboard or a daggerboard, which is "better"? (I'm leaning towards centerboard, due to it's ability to fold if I find myself grounded) Or should I look instead for something with a fin keel? Do they make boats with fin keels that are float-on trailerable?
I keep hearing that due to the low cost and high availability a Catalina would be a good choice for me, but I've read that the quality of the brand is not all that great. I know on my budget my choices are limited, but would an older Catalina be able to stand up to some rough handling? Not that I intend to be rough on the boat, but I am after all new to this. I just would like to know that the first time I bump a stump or manage to ground myself I have a pretty good chance of sailing away from it, rather than swimming for shore because the hull caved like an eggshell. On a side note, are all monohull sailboats self-righting to a degree, or is that particular blessing reserved for full, weighted keel boats?
And one more, although it may be one for the learning to sail topic: How much effect would hiking have on a boat in the 25' range without a full keel? I may occasionally have a few friends aboard, but most of the time it'll be just me, and I don't have that much weight to throw around.
Once again, I've prattled on for far too long. Sorry about that, and thanks for bearing with me. I have so much to learn before I can make an educated purchase. Good thing I still have some time before I can even look at another boat. Not really a good thing though. The desert sucks. I'd rather be paddling a canoe through a mudhole. :)
I bought a Catalina 25 new, and raced and sailed it for over 20 years before I moved up to my present boat. I've never seen any other boat that was so capable of sailing so much better than it's rating.
The notion that Catalina quality is "not all that great" was nurtured for many years by competing salesmen at boat shows who were having difficulty selling similar but more expensive boats. Buyers found that they could afford bigger Catalinas with more accomodations than the more expensive brands, and most of them didn't need such sturdy boats just to cruise a big bay or the coast. Competing salesmen had to puff the quality of their boats vs. Catalinas in order to make sales. There are indeed better boats, but, if you're looking for a coastal cruiser/racer, Catalinas are a very good value. Don't be afraid of a Catalina, but some of the higher priced boats with better reputations can now be bought in the same price range as Catalinas, now that they are depreciated.
Your price range of 2.5 to 3K for a C25 is in the range for a decent older boat without a trailer. A boat with a trailer will cost about another 2k. You can spend 1k on boat maintenance in the blink of an eye, to replace just one sail, for example. So, if you find a boat for an extra 1k that has been better maintained, and has better, newer equipment, you may be way ahead of the game.
Daggerboards are a type of centerboard that are usually found in smaller dinghies. Offhand, I can't remember any in cruising boats, although there might be some. Generally, a fin keel sails well, but you need 4' of water and a trailer tongue extension to trailer-launch it. A wing keel doesn't point to windward quite as well as a fin keel, but it needs less water depth to launch it, and, if you run aground, it can be a little more difficult than a fin keel to break it free. Some older C 25s also had a swing keel. They sail as well as a fin keel, and provide shallow draft, but the keel-raising mechanism absolutely must be meticulously maintained.
I have to tell you that you really don't want to bump a stump too hard with the keel of any boat, no matter who built it. You should ordinarily stay out of shallow water, but whenever you have no choice, slow down and proceed with caution, so that you won't do any serious damage if you hit something.
Some monohull sailboats are ballasted, and some are not. With a few exceptions that aren't relevant here, ballasted monohulls are generally self-righting, but unballasted ones are not.
In moderate winds, it doesn't make much difference whether you hike out or not on a ballasted sailboat. In exceptionally strong winds, it can help to reduce the angle of heel if you have extra crew sitting on the windward rail. On the other hand, in exceptionally light winds, if you have enough crew members, you can put them on the lee rail and force the boat to heel. That usually reduces the boat's wetted surface (which reduces the amount of drag) and it also improves the sails' shape, which helps them continue to drive the boat, both of which help keep the boat going in light air.
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