I am looking to buy a boat for my family of three to do some coastal cruising in the Bahamas. I live in Florida, and the Bahamas are just 150 miles away. I look at on-line brokers and it appears I need somewhere in the neighborhood of $75,000 to get a decent boat. Is this the harsh reality of it, or are there less expensive alternatives? I should add that I aim to own, not charter because I like projects.
Tom Wood responds:
Many years ago, Hal Roth stated in one of his numerous books that a comfortable offshore boat for two people would cost the equivalent to build and equip as a normal suburban house. As of early December 2000, the average American house sells for about $150,000. But when Roth was speaking a quarter-century ago, the average house had 1,600-square feet, one bath, no garage, and sold for about $25,000. Today, this would be considered a paupers cottage. Much the same inflation of expectation has occurred with cruising boats and the venerable days when the Hiscocks, Chay Blyth, and John Guzzwell could circumnavigate on boats less than 30 feet in length are looked on as quaint. Yes, $75,000 buys a nice family cruising boat and so does $500,000. Like housing these days, we have somehow all accepted the premise that bigger is better. In actuality, however, what is needed is a place to store food and water, provisions for cooking and sleeping, and a sound enough hull, rudder, and rig to get you safely there and back.
We have met a retired schoolteacher cruising the Bahamas on a 17-foot ODay Daysailer, and a family of four on a 22-sport catamaran. One family of three built their boat from Hurricane Hugo wreckage salvaged on the beach in Puerto Rico and sailed happily for a decade.
In fact, most of the people we have met in the Bahamas who were expending the bulk of their time snorkeling, exploring, and gamboling on the beaches had boats under 30 feetand many were less than 25 feet. The collection of stout, old Pearson Tritons and Wanderers, Allied Seawinds, Cape Dory 27s, and other shallow-draft boats tucked up in the coves and cuts throughout the Caribbean has always been a source of great amazement underscoring the inventiveness and hard work most cruising sailors put into their boats. In fact, one of the SailNet staff members sailed a 26-foot Westerly Centaur from San Francisco to Charleston, SC, via Panamaa derelict boat that he bought at auction for $2,000.
Are there disadvantages to small, old boats? Sure there are. Storage and personal living space are at a premium, so you have to shop often and love your companions. Weather that would be an uncomfortable nuisance on a larger boat can be treacherous to the smaller boat. Parts on old boats break down often, so you must become adept at the art of making things work with bubble gum, bailing wire, and scavenged bits and piecesa source of pride to many impecunious cruisers.
In the final analysis, you, the cruiser, have to make the decision where working for a bigger and more luxurious cruiser starts cutting into a life of freedom from working. Is it better to have a great big boat at age 60, or a little old boat and 20 years of cruising memories? There is no right answer to this question.