buying first boat
36 to 38 feet is a big boat for a first boat, especially if you plan to be single-handing most of the time. That said, this seems to be a popular size and price boat in these discussions. The boat that you are looking for very closely approximates my own recent search for a boat. I found that a $60,000 cap seemed to mean that some compromise was required. In particular I found it hard to find a boat in that price range that was equally good for coastal and blue-water sailing, had both an enclosed forward and an enclosed aft cabin, and which drew less than 6 feet. I ended up compromising on a boat that I could build a removable enclosure to create an aft cabin and which also was 6''-4" draft. I also set a minimum performance standard well under a PHRF of 100. Some of these boats may not suit your needs or willingness to compromise or alter a boat''s interior layout. While these compromises worked for me I am not tying to suggest that they do actually work for you, but maybe they will.
I don''t know if my process will be of help to you at all but I began by formulating a list of desirable characteristics for my ''dream boat''. It is very common for people to search for boat solely on length and the need for specific accommodations. I really think that the displacement of a particular boat says a lot more about its ''real'' size.
The classic cruising texts used to suggest that a distance cruiser needed 5,000 to 10,000 lbs. of displacement per person. In the past, when the typical L/D ratio was in the mid to high 300''s this meant that an ideal single-hander was somewhere around 29 feet and an ideal cruiser for a couple would be somewhere around 32 to 35 feet or so. If you look at the boats that were used for distance cruising in the 1930''s on up to the 1950''s this was pretty much the case.
Better hardware has permitted that ideal weight to creep up a little and the current trends in loading boats up with all kinds of heavy extras has pushed that range up to closer to 10,000 to 14,000 lbs. of displacement per person. I personally prefer to cruise more simply and so prefer to use displacements in the more traditional range of 5,000 to 8,000 lbs. of displacement per person. That meant that I was looking for a boat in the 10000 to 18000 lb. displacement range for two people cruising.
Of course with today''s better structural engineering, higher tech materials and careful decisions in the choice of fit-out, boats with an L/D as low as the 150 to 160 or so range can make good distance cruisers. By sizing my boat by the classic 10000 to 16000 lb displacement range for a couple, and trying to stay at the lower end of that range, and by going to a lighter L/D, I ended up looking for a 36 to 39 foot boat.
Displacement issues aside, I had decided that 36 to 39 feet was about the right length. Smaller than 36 feet it is hard to get the kind of accommodations and capacities that I wanted in lightweight boat. Over 38 feet or so, single-handing became considerably more difficult for me.
I have concluded that staying at a traditional weight range but lighter L/D results in a longer boat, which is a good thing. One thing that has consistently come out of the studies of the Fastnet tragedy and the Sidney-Hobart disaster, is that there are a lot of factors that determine whether a boat is a good sea boat or not, but nothing succeeds in heavy weather like length.
You often hear the old saws about heavy displacement being necessary in a cruising boat. You often hear comments such as, "light boats don''t have the capacity to carry enough gear and supplies to really go cruising." Or "they loose their speed advantage when loaded to go cruising". These kind of statements ignore that boats in this size range are often raced with 1,500 to 2,000 lbs. of crew weight and in distance racing, and an equal weight in racing gear and provisions for this crew. That is roughly 3000 to 4000 lbs. of capacity which should be adequate for a couple and their necessary gear and supplies.
Additionally, I wanted a fractional rig. I have owned fractionally rigged boats for the past 19 years and have really come to appreciate their many advantages especially for short-handed sailing. There are some big advantages to a fractional rig for cruising and racing. For cruising you are dealing with smaller and easier to handle headsails Not only are the headsails smaller because of the shorter headstay but, because the headsails represent a smaller percentage of the overall sail area, you don''t generally do not need to have overlapping jibs. The sail area missing from the smaller jib is made up in the mainsail.
Fractional rigs often have purposely designed flexible masts and, when combined with a backstay adjuster permits quick, on the fly, depowering of both sails. Mainsails are easier to reef in a manner that results in an efficiently shaped sail for heavier conditions. It means that you don''t have to take the expense, complication, maintenance and performance hit of a mainsail furler. Controlling mast bend you can often avoid reefing as the winds build. Roller furling genoas have notoriously poor shape when partially furled. The smaller jibs of a fractional rig rarely need reefing and when they do the fact that they are non-overlapping results in a better partially furled shape.
All of that said, here is the original list that I came up with in my search:
Beneteau First 38:
These Frers designed 38 footers certainly sail well and offer the desired aft cabin layout. They are reasonable but certainly not ideal boats for offshore work. They seem to be better constructed than the Idyle, Oceanis, and ''number'' series Beneteaus. I have a lot of experience with the Beneteau First 38s5 which replaced this boat and although out of our price range found the 38s5 to be an extremely nice boat even in very heavy conditions.
Cal 36/ Cal 40,
While not exactly my kind of boats, and not exactly meeting my light air performance, rig, or displacement goals, there is something about the classic lines and sailing heritage of these old girls that still pull at my heart strings. While structurally these are somewhat flexible fliers they are reasonably well constructed and offer very workable comfortable interior layouts. Given enough wind and a little luck, they can turn in quite respectable passage times.
I have always like these boats. They offer a good balance of cruising and performance. While not ideally shaped hull or rig wise for offshore work, they have done a lot of sea miles. There were three models of this and the shoal keel (almost at 6''-1") and centerboard models would meet your draft criteria. In my case the C&C 37 fell just at the bottom of my performance criteria and with their masthead rig and comparatively small main was not high on my scale as a single-hander.
C&C Landfall 38:
These boats have never really appealed to me but they are reasonably well constructed and sail reasonably well. Certainly one of the slower boats on this list. The one that I knew best had a really cobbled up interior plan but I understand that it was a ''special model'' of some kind. These would not fall high on my list of offshore capable boats.
C&C 38 Mk2:
This is not my favorite C&C design. Its pinched in transom would limit off wind performance and comfort in a seaway but C&C''s of that era were well constructed and were pretty quick boats for their day. These boats particularly accel upwind.
Dehler 38 and Dehler 35:
Neat boats. This would be very high on my list for its very good sailing ability, high build quality, fractional rig (which as I noted I consider ideal for single-handing), and nice interior layout. The only problem is that they are comparatively rare in the US and the 38''s tend to be at the very top of your price range.
These boats are probably the best all around sailors on this list and certainly the fastest. They mostly have striped out interiors and most have drafts approaching 7 feet and so may not work for you. Depending on the year they either had nicely built but stripped out interiors or pretty nice layouts (there was a C series that had an aft cabin). They would have been my own second choice.
Fabola Diva 39:
These are really cool boats. A bit narrow beamed, these Scandinavian built boats are really wonderful all around boats and were high on my list on all counts. They do have a pretty compact interior but it is nicely laid out. They are pretty rare in the States.
Farr 37 (Dickenson):
Although built as out and out IOR race boats, some of these have been retro-fitted with really nice interiors. I looked at one with an aft compartment and forward vee berth added. They would fail on draft concerns but sometimes can be found in the mid $40K range and can perhaps be retrofitted with a shallower keel.
Farr 11.6 (Farr 38):
This was the boat that I ended up buying. I did so for a lot of reasons. They have quite good light air ability, and are renowned for their heavy air sailing abilities. They have a fractional rig, which I see as a major asset as a single-hander especially offshore. They are one of the faster boats on this list. They are readily adaptable to an aft compartment but have a great layout for two people.
On the down side, at 6''4", they are pretty deep. (There is a custom one in North Carolina that only draws 5''6") They are quite rare on the US East Coast but pretty common on the West. Many of these boats have custom interiors. The one in North Carolina is especially nice, but some were completely stripped out as racing machines. These boats are sold in a wide range of pricing from the mid-$30K range on up to nearly $70K but most glass versions sell in the mid $50K range with cold molded wooden ones and stripped out racers selling for a lot less. If you are interested in the North Carolina boat please email me. I had this boat surveyed. It is a good boat but it had a quite few problems. I understand that the owner took the year and addressed many of these.
Frers 37, Frers F3:
These Hinterhoeler constructed racer cruisers are really neat and often forgotten boats. They were built in a lot of versions but there was a cruising version with a really nice interior and exceptionally good build quality. These are very well rounded designs and often sell for a very fair price for a boat of this all around quality.
Hinterhoeller Niagara 35:
This is not a boat that was actually on my list of possibilities, but they are excellent cruising boats if speed is not a high priority. They do have a very ''creative'' interior layout that might not be everyone''s cup of tea.
Hughes 38: (late 1960''s and early 1970''s)
This is a very interesing Sparkman and Stevens design. They share a hull, deck, rudders and rig with the Hinckley Competition 38. (Hughes built the hull, deck, rudders and rig for Hinckley and Hinckley built the interiors on their Competition 38.) The problem is that Hughes built a number of 38 foot designs that were very different and several are typically listed as Hughes 38''s. The model that I am referring to was only built for a comparatively limited time. Of the boats on this list they are probably one of the more offshore capable but not one of the fastest. Still they are really neat boats.
Hughes 40, Northstar 40
These center cockpit Sparkman and Stevens designed 40 footers were available in a wide range of rigs and keels and interior layouts. They were slower than my criteria would have considered but if speed is not important to you these are really neat boats. They were well constructed and had a very nicely modeled hull form that should be quite comfortable in a rough sea. There was a sloop rigged, cut away keel/skeg hung rudder version that is an exceptionally nice model of this design.
Hunter 37 cutter
I know everyone loves to trash Hunters but like any successful boat builder, Hunter has built a wide range of boats, some obvious dogs and others a big step above the rest of their line. The early 1980''s era Hunter 37''s would fall in the category of a big step above the public perception of other Hunters. These are well constructed, very nice sailing boats. They are pretty much a match for the Morgan 38''s in most ways but are typically less expensive.
J-34c and J35c:
These are interesting boats that were part of J-boats cruising boat series and so are biased toward being a good cruisers yet offer really nice performance. They are certainly offshore capable but are pretty rare and are often sold outside our price range.
J-35 and J36:
These really do not meet your criteria but I ended up looking at both of these because non-one design race competitive versions are quite reasonably priced.
While not exactly a high performance boat, these are reasonably well constructed and certainly offshore capable boats. There was an aft cabin layout but I have not seen one. (The 382 fell below my performance threshold but are still good boats if speed is not as important to you.) They had an extremely nice layout that is a little compact for a 38 footer.
These C&C designed 41 footers are very interesting boats. They offer a tremendous amount of boat for the money. They were quite fast for their day and offered a nice workable interior that would be great for a cruising couple. Their narrow beam really pays off in terms of inverted stability and comfortable motion but results in a small interior for a 41 footer. Based on my own experience with the Newport 41, I had concluded that these were not the best built boats out there but after a prolonged discussion with a long term owner, I have concluded that some of these (and perhaps most of these) boats were quite solidly built.
Old One Tonners:
These can vary very widely in build quality, sailing ability and finish levels but youcan find these old race boats for as little as $25 K and build a nice workable interior into them, and end up with a fast boat. The best candidates for what you want to do were from the early 1970''s when these boat were still raced offshore. Webb Chiles is currently cruising offshore in an older Morgan designed one- tonner for example.
These are neat early 1980''s (1981 and 1982) racer cruisers that were nicely built and nicely detailed. They offer a fair amount of performance and are generally good all around boats.
These are old race boats and as such often have stripped out interiors but when I was looking around for my boat I saw two of these that were retro fitted with lovely interiors. These are ''small'' 37 footers so the interior was not what I would call commodious but they have reasonable sailing ability and reasonable offshore capability and with a custom build out would perhaps suit your needs.
Sigma 36 and 38:
Nice English boats. Solid construction and clever but simple interiors.
These ex-race boats were built by Tartan and were really excellent boats in many ways. They are probably right up there with the Express 37 as the highest performer, they may fail your criteria for other reasons. Although they tend to have high asking prices they seem to sell in the mid to high- $50K range. I gave them a serious look even to the point of negotiating on a stripped out full race version, planning to alter the deck plan and to build a real interior into the boat.
Although many of these early IMS boats were built with completely stripped out interiors and very deep draft, there were a few that had very nice interiors and a shallower keel. They offer very good build quality and very well rounded sailing abilities.
Nice IOR era race boats but with good sailing characteristics and some had very nice interiors. These were very well constructed boats built on a semi-custom basis.
Good hunting and feel free to email me since I have just been down the same trail that you are going down.