Desired features vs. boat capabilities
I've been following the thread started by Smackdaddy titled "production boats and the limits". There seems to be a common need to list boats by their "capabilities". I've read several lists of boats that are touted as bluewater boats, read threads which describe the limits to which the writer has pushed a given boat, and even threads where individuals will defend or deny whether or not a certain boat can or should be used for a certain purpose. Boats seem to be placed into categories such as blue water, coastal, or bay sailing.
Through much reading of books as well as listening to the opinions expressed in these forums I'm beginning to wonder if these categories are very well defined. Take the blue water category for example. It seems to be expressed as a single pinnacle of seaworthiness. But is it truely only a single category? One could say that crossing an ocean to get from one city to another in safety and comfort would require a boat that is blue water capable. One could also say that crossing an ocean to explore a remote shoreline far from repair facilities and in areas known for rougher weather and seas requires a boat that is blue water capable. I would say both are correct.
I think these lists of blue water boats are all capable of crossing oceans. However, do all of these boats incorporate design features that make them the best choice in both instances? Maybe so, maybe not. So rather than discussing what specific boats can or can't do, I would like to generate ideas and opinions in order to better define the categories and what design features, whether purpose built or upgraded, it takes to make a boat perform well within said category, and why.
Below is a rough list of categories and a short definition of the type of use the boat would typically see. As people start to provide ideas and opinions I'll edit the list to reflect them so that it will be easier to see our progress. I'm really hoping for input from a wide range of experience levels as well as geographical locations. I'm sure that some things that find their way to this thread will depend largely on personal preference and opinion, and that's ok. Those opinions will get new people to thinking and hopefully they will know what to look for when they go looking for their dream boat.
Lake/Bay - Typical day or weekend sailing with occasional overnight stays. Rescue and safe anchorage is readily available.
1. Large cockpit for entertaining.
Coastal - Travels extend outside of harbor and may include short periods offshore with reasonable forecasting. Rescue within 24 hrs, safe anchorage within 4 days.
1. Self-bailing cockpit.
2. good light air performance
Liveaboard - Owners live onboard permanently. Boat may need features common to other categories if so used.
1. Plenty of storage
2. Standing headroom
Extended Cruising - Crosses oceans. In many cases ports of call may include destinations where repair facilities and moorage may not be available, anchoring only. Long periods at sea where forecasting may be spotty/unreliable at times. Typical crossings are on well travelled routes with ocassional deviations and planned for relaxation and enjoyment. Rescue may take a while depending on location. Must be self-sufficient.
1. Versatile sail plan with strong rig
2. Reliable self-steering
3. Rugged hull
4. Plenty of tankage (water, fuel, etc.)
5. Storage space for stores and spares
6. Good ground tackle.
7. Kindly motion in a seaway.
Expedition Cruising - Crosses oceans using less frequented routes often including high lattitudes and areas known for extreme weather. Long periods at sea with spotty/unreliable forecasting. Destinations along route will likely have limited or no repair facilities or moorage. Must rely on anchoring and self repair. Extended wait for rescue depending on location. Due to the remote locations visited, expect limited chart data.
1. Same as for extended cruising only more of the same
2. Consider steel for hull material
Racing - Covers anything from local regattas to offshore racing.
1. Light hull
Interesting groupings and I agree that there is no generally accepted definition of 'bluewater'. Some specific comments on your Trans-oceanic and Voyaging designations:
T-O - crossing an ocean is not remotely like crossing the biggest lake there is in terms of days from shelter, rescue possibilities, weather (assuming in both cases you are doing it at a good time of year. There should be no mention of high latitudes here at all - that is a different kettle of fish entirely. Until the pirates in the Indian Ocean problem, the routine circum nav (if there was such a thing) was in tropical or subtropical waters. Now you have to go around South Africa and you pick the best season for it and really listen to the weather. If you are doing a coconut milk run you still have long times at sea (more than 3000 miles to Marquesas for example) and will be in lots of places with no repair facilities - eg Galapagos, Vanuatu, whole bunch of other places that are certainly not off the beaten track.
Voyaging - see above, you also need the versatile sail plan. For either you need really good ground tackle.
I think a better grouping of the last two would be something like 'Extended cruising' which is what we are doing. We are going off the beaten track at times - for example, we went to Easter Island from Galapagos instead of Marquesas but basically looking for a circumnav that is as non-dramatic and pleasant as possible. BTW, I think you need to add a very stout rig and reliable self-steering to both. We got knocked down (not talking Cape Horn - it was something like 400 miles from Tahiti) and just read a friend's blog. Their autopilot quit 6 days from Durban, South Africa and their spare they could not get to work either. Six days of handsteering with a 2-person crew is not something you want to do too often in life.
The second group I would call 'Expedition Cruising' for lack of a better term. These are the folks who go around Cape Horn or visit Baffin Island or the Aleutians (typically high latitudes). Their needs (rugged boat, self-sufficiency) are similar to the extended cruisers, just that much more so.
Also, your description of racing boats needs to be extended, but I will let racers do that.
Great reply Killarney! I edited the offshore portions and dropped the redundancy. I can see where you would need everything the extended cruiser would need while expedition cruising (great term by the way. So appropriate).
So what's your take on hull designs? A lot of people seem to speak poorly of the heavy displacement full keel designs. My opinion is that from everything I've read, they tend to really take a beating before they start experiencing big problems. They seem like a good choice for the expedition cruising sailor and even an option for extended cruising. The cruising fin keels with a skeg hung rudder seem more like the design of choice for extended cruising and coastal cruising. What's your thoughts on this? I've read that both types can be dried out on tidal plains for cleaning or repairs. I don't know anything about these bulb or wing keels but they seem much less robust. I'm sure they work well in action but could they take a grounding without leaving you stranded?
It is all about compromises - full keel is stable but tends to have wetted surface = drag
This boat crossed the Atlantic. It's 13 ft long.
Edit: this is an Internet linked photo. If anyone knows how to resize it smaller, please PM me and I will fix it. Thx.
FWIW, having done a few crossings myself, I'll add my 2 cents. My view is that all production boats rated CE for offshore use are bluewater capable. But and it is a big but, the weakness is the crew. When faced with high winds, ugly seas, some boats are capable of keeping the crew in better shape than others. After 48 hours of high winds and disturbed seas, some boats beat up the crew - fatigue leads to mistakes or even a distress call "get me the hell off this damn boat".
Racing boats - the Volvo types for example, have trained pros - very fit athletes whose endurance is far greater than mine. Speed is all and concerns of comfort and crew rest under tough conditions are secondary.
So to end this, a true blue-water yacht is one which in addition to the criteria posted above is one which has a kindly motion designed to minimize crew fatigue under storm conditions. Of course this also implies a sail plan and equipment which allows mere mortals to manage the boat under challenging conditions. I think this explains why some of the older designs with narrow hulls, fine ends, heavy construction etc are still popular. Comfort in a gale has a higher priority than sheer speed.
Much better now
Hull forms - hmmm, sure to start an argument. I think that the ideal would be some form of longish fin with a skeg rudder. Everything is a compromise of course. As well as the hull form there is the question of displacement. Most long-keeled boats are heavy displacement and most narrow fin keelers are light displacement but that does not mean you could not have the reverse, but they are just really rare. Cost comes into the equation for sure. A lot of people are cruising in full keel heavy boats because they can afford one of those from the 1960s to 1980s, not because they are ideal.
It would be very instructive to have a dozen exprienced cruisers with unlimited budgets sit down with Bob Perry or another top designer and have a custom boat designed. I imagine you might get quite a lot of variation in the result.
Another consideration is hull material. The expedition cruisers are going to lean more to stell than the extended ones (although there are lots of steel boats cruising in the tropics). Many years ago when we were cruising in Newfoundland we met an American couple going home from a cruise in Labrador. They had a Mason 43 which is a very heavy, solid boat but were going to sell it to get a steel one because they wanted to cruise to Baffin Island and Greenland. In remote places like these (even in some not so remote ones) there may be one (1!) sounding in the bay that you want to anchor in. The chances of hitting something (and it will be rock on Baffin Island) are just too great.
Wing keels are a non-starter for me because of the problem of getting hung up on something. With a fin or long-keel you can take a halyard from the mast head to heel the boat and reduce the draft so you can kedge (or get pulled) off. Can't do that with a wing so a reasonably minor, non-damaging grouding can quickly become very serious.
Someone mentioned the CE Ocean classification. I would not put too much belief in these. The specs for the rating say that the boat must be able to take 4 m (13') waves and force 8+ winds. I have no idea what the '+' means but I assume not force 9 or they would say so. We got knocked down, well in the tropics by force 10 and 13' waves are not that unusual at all. We try to avoid them but don't worry too much about a forecast until the waves are over 12' and we are sucky cruisers, like our comfort.
Should put a plug in for our boat. It is a Ted Hood designed, heavy (36,000 lb) centerboarder (5' BU/ 11' BD). The centerboard adds a complication (got to change the cable before we take off again) but means we can get into some pretty shallow spots and still go to weather like crazy. The board also allows us to balance the helm which is big help to the Monitor when the winds get up over 15 knots. Hood was a genius with these heavy centerboard boats (built as real cruiser/racers - ours did a Newport-Bermuda Race and then carried on the Med), but such boats are not built much any more because they are quite expensive to build and no longer competitve as racers - but very good cruisers since they were built to sail well and not beat a racing rule.
@ Shock - Yes, I'm amazed at the amount of compromise when it comes to sailing and boats. As for the full keel, I've heard or read that very same thing from alot of experienced people.
@ Minn - I totally agree with you about the skipper defining what their boat can and can't do. I see videos of these racers in the southern ocean litterally flying through and sometimes over the water in the kind of conditions they live in day in and day out. Cruising on a boat with no timekeeper through a gale would probably seem like a little inconvenience whereas a newbie like me would be chewing through his lip! Experience definitely counts.
I don't see how that little boat carried all that testicular fortitude across an ocean! Jeez!!!
@ Arpegecap - What you said seems to follow along with Minn in that the crew is usually the weak link. That is apparent when reading about many of the rescues that members post in the forum. In regards to boat ratings, do you feel that the manufacturers add a little hype to their advertising or are these ratings assigned to them by a third party? It seems that almost all the advertising written by sellers on sites such as yachtworld want me to believe their boat is offshore capable.
(A quick note on that. I believe that for any boat you care to name, there is someone willing and capable enough to do the seemingly impossible with it. The photo posted earlier proves that. My question is not whether a boat with an exceptional skipper/crew CAN go offshore but rather if a boat with an average skipper/crew SHOULD go offshore.)
I added your suggestion of easy motion to the list. I meant to add easily handled sail plan but forgot. I'll remedy that shortly. Thanks for the input!
@ Killarney - I must agree that the cost of older heavier boats appear at least initially more affordable. Almost all the boats on my short list are full keeled heavy displacement boats. I also agree that I'll probably start an argument by talking hull design. Hee hee! Your boat sounds great though and it sounds like she does what you want her to do. I'm curious about the centerboard. I've decided to stay away from those because of the reason you stated; another complication. The versatility sounds great but do you ever worry about the cable breaking or experiencing leaks? Have you ever grounded with it down? The more I talk about it though, it may be a great option for the bay and coastal catagories along with extended cruising.
To all - This list idea is my attempt to get past the sales pitch, the hype, and the marketing headgames to find out what's really important to look for in a boat depending on the principal use it will see. I've seen postings stating a boat will take it's owners to the farthest reaches of the globe. That sounds great and inspires dreams. And yet when I look at the photos, the cockpit is huge, there is no bridgedeck, the companionway opening is open to the sole, and it has huge windows. From what I've read, none of these things are desireable from a safety standpoint in a blue water boat.
I do realize that some of those things can be upgraded. From a newbie's perspective though, I will be more likely to buy a boat suitable to my needs that will perform in comfort and safety by knowing what to look for in the design of the boat rather than depending on the claims of others. The responses so far are a great start. Thanks to all!
Like anything else, the centerboard is a compromise, you gain some things and lose some things. If the cable breaks it is going to be in the down position. If you can't find an anchorage that is more than 11'm deep you will have to go for a swim and rig a line to pull it up some from on deck. I think it is a good idea to change the cable before you think you need to - it is not very expensive and not too hard to do.
For what we are doing I think it is certainly worth the complication. being able to go to weather really well could be a lifesaver in some conditions. Being able to get the self-steering working better by balancing the helm is going to save the crew's energy so again a safety thing. If we hit something I assume it would be pretty much straight - on and the board would push up. Never experienced it because we always have it up when entering an anchorage (the default position is up - we just lower it when we need it for a particular reason).
One comment about 'big windows' I had a look at the Discovery 55 at the Annapolis Show a few years ago (helping a friend who was actually in the market for a boat that was close to $1.5 miilion. It has very large windows in a deck saloon arrangement so I asked the sales manager about them. He said that they are laminated, tempered glass, permanently bonded to the cabin and stronger than the fiberglass - they certainly looked impressive. I doubt that similar windows on a cheaper boat would be built as well, but you never know. Maybe I don't have to sit down with the designer, the Discovery was an incredible boat - but I don't need a 55' even if I could afford it and the draft was pretty deep as I remember.
If I was going to look for a boat would I say it had to have a centerboard - no, not at all, but I think on balance it is a useful feature. If I was sitting down with a designer to have my perfect boat designed would I require one? Probably not, but would discuss the pros and cons with the designer. Heck, Ted Hood is still designing in his mid 80s, might see what he would have to say about it today.
One of the problems with this kind of discussion is that people get set in their ways and refuse to acknowledge progress.
I'm old enough to remember when Bob Perry's Valiant 40 was considered radical in a world where the only true ocean goer was a full keel. Heck, I bet there was once a time when even a cutaway forefoot was looked on as new fangled.
Nowadays I am sure that there are skegless rudders that can withstand anything thrown at them and as Killarney noted big windows that are well able to stand up to as much harsh treatment as any old timer with tiny ports.
Thats not to say all modern boats are up to the task but i'd reckon most are with varying degrees of comfort.
btw ... Killarney, along with winged keels I'd also disqualify anything with keel appendages that project forward of the keel. For mine, I'd not have a bloody great deep keel with a torpedo on it for quids but again that takes into account my cruising grounds.
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