Ship’s stores require space, and the longer the voyage, the more you need to carry. Most blue-water cruisers stow at least a 30-day supply of staples aboard. You can start with a storage space figure of one cubic foot per day for a couple, but lifestyle variations can drastically alter that number. I have yet to see an offshore cruiser leave port with storage lockers that were only half full, but coastal cruisers often let the larder get rather bare. Be aware that all lockers eventually fill up, regardless of their size, and that storage is a cubic function—a 40-foot vessel will typically have a volume about 2.2 times that of one 30 feet long.
As sailors reach their late 50s and beyond, creature comforts become more important. The luxuries of our youth now seem more like necessities, and to accommodate these necessities, boat size tends to become more important. It is natural to consider the largest boat your budget will allow. But heavier ground tackle, larger sail areas, and greater maintenance costs have to be seriously considered along with the size.
Remember the stores you place aboard will influence your boat’s draft. During our years of full-time cruising we raised OuiSi’s waterline by six inches, and performance suffered as a result. Of course, larger boats are less vulnerable to effects of additional loading.
If you plan to follow the lead of migratory birds along the Intracoastal Waterway—heading south for the winter and north for the summer—a good engine is important. Weather windows are often capricious in spring and fall, while currents and scheduled bridge openings along the ICW can make for slow progress. In fact, I’ve never heard a coastal cruiser complain about having too much engine power, but know of many that wish they had more. On the other hand, a few offshore cruisers have no engine at all. Mast height is also crucial, as many inland routes are subject to overhead obstructions as low as 46 feet—certainly a boat with a stick more than 65 feet off the water cannot use the inland routes.
Deep-draft sailboats are common along the Pacific coast, and before transiting the Panama Canal, I thought any water depth less than 30 feet was shoal. We now go for miles in the Bahamas with less than two feet beneath our keel. It might be easy to conclude that a shoal-draft boat is more desirable, but most offshore cruisers prefer deeper draft to reduce leeway and enhance stability. This just reinforces the initial premise that it is the cruising plans that should dictate the features you seek. If the plan is to undertake long, offshore passages and later gunkhole the shallow areas in some faraway place, a dilemma requiring some compromise will be in order.
Prevailing wind direction and strength also influence decisions over the vessel’s sailing capability. The common coastal cruiser’s lament is, “The wind always blows from the place we want to go!” So these folks would be better off with lightweight boats that are good at upwind work. Most circumnavigations, however, are made westward with trade winds abaft the beam. In this situation, a close-winded sailboat is less important than having a vessel that tracks and rides well in following or quartering seas.
Physical Abilities The painful truth is that strength and agility diminish as we age. Physical exercise can reduce the rate of change, but it can’t totally stop the aging process. The senior sailor is less willing or able to transport fuel or water by jerry jugs, so tankage has greater importance as we get older. Each year I find it harder to use the boarding ladder; so maybe there is something to say for the “sugar-scoop” sterns of more contemporary designs. The more forethought you expend now on factors such as these, the more pleasant your retirement cruising will be.
We also look for seakindly vessels with a gentle motion and more stability so that they heel less. Numerous articles can be found on these subjects, but the final, best criterion is how the vessel’s motion feels to you.
The size of the boat, both length and displacement, has a direct relationship with the size of sails, anchors, and other parts. Maintenance chores such as bottom painting are three times as big on a 40 footer as on one that's 30 feet long. You might surmise, then, that just when we need the extra space and comfort of a larger boat, we no longer have the strength to sail her. The good news is that there are systems that help—like larger davits, winches, and windlasses that can do the heavy lifting. Having all lines lead to the cockpit can be very appealing after you’ve been to the mast a few dozen times to reef the main in the dark. Many prudent sailors cruising offshore throw in a reef at sundown so that the person off-watch can rest, and we have a rule aboard Oui Si that both of us must be topside if there is a need to leave the cockpit after dark. And other items like watermakers can help by making hand-carrying jerry jugs of water obsolete.
Some maintenance jobs also require strength. While the split rig of a ketch or yawl reduces the size of each sail and thus eases the effort of sail handling, that second mast means there is more hardware to maintain and replace. Over the years, I have become envious of those sailors who own vessels with unstayed spars. At 55, I thought nothing about using mast steps to go up the mast six or eight times in one day; now two or three is all I can handle, and even then my muscles complain the following day. So keep all of this in perspective as you go about your search.
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