Join Date: Feb 2000
Location: Annapolis, Md
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These discussions always strike me as the sailing equivalent of the medieval “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” As has been said above, the answer depends:
· Your definition of “blue water”
· How good a sailor you are,
· How much risk you are willing to assume.
Anecdotally, there are bunches of stories of this guy or that gal sailing the moral equivalent of a tea cup around the world. Does this mean that sailing a teacup around the world is a good idea? I don’t think so. By the same token there is a recent phenomena that just plain baffles me where brand new, know-nothing sailors go off and buy 45/50 footers as their very first boat and plan to sail around the world. And before they’ve sailed a single serious passage, or gotten hammered by their first gut-wrencher of a storm, they swear that this is the smallest boat that is safe to sail around the world.
To me, anyone seriously contemplating serious blue water sailing better have spent a bunch of time coastal cruising and getting to know almost reflexively how to sail out of any mess they get into. People would not do surgery or fly a plane without learning how to do so through a rigorous apprenticeship (by any other name). Yet they are perfectly comfortable setting off into the wild blue yonder on whatever plastic (or metal) fantastic they happen to justify owning.
I understand that going voyaging always includes a bit of the Dirty Harry factor (as in “How lucky do you feel? Punk”) But making a careful and thoughtful decision before getting your head handed to you on a silver platter seems to make a lot more sense than trying to wrestle your way out of hell in a leaky basket. It makes a lot more sense than wrestling against the huge forces of a big boat before you learn how to work with them. It makes a lot more sense than trying to survive in a boat that is the poster child for "how big is thy seas and how tiny is my boat".
Almost any decent boat, with a touch of luck can make almost any passage that it can carry enough supplies to keep the skipper and crew alive, assuming that is that the worst does not happen. And experienced distance cruisers tell us that the worst rarely does happen. It’s the lottery in reverse.
And since you can’t be certain that you won’t be the one who won the negative lottery and in other words, you can’t be certain that you won’t have to be the one to prove that you really can claw off a lee shore in a full gale in a Lead Bobber 24, then you better pick the most suitable boat you can find and make every effort to make sure that boat is in good shape and that you know how to sail it.
Pretty much all studies of marine disasters have shown that length matters (at least up to a point), more than any other parameter, in the likelihood that a boat will survive a bad storm. Robustness is important because no matter how long your boat started out it had better hold together and keep water out and the rig up. Stability counts because there are cases you need to be able to carry enough sail to keep sailing no matter how much wind you are in. And lastly you need to have enough displacement to carry all the supplies and gear that you need to carry to make the passage.
Which gets us back to the original question of how small a boat makes sense for offshore use. In a general sense, if you plan to do distance voyaging offshore, you need 2 ½ to 6 tons of displacement per person to carry enough stuff to keep them alive. If you go modern with your cruiser then you end up with an L/D somewhere less than 200 or if you go more traditional you end up with an L/D somewhere above 250. There is no excuse for an L/D any higher than 300.
And those numbers get you to a minimum size distance cruiser. But of course, not every boat that goes offshore is actually going distance cruising. Many are doing a series of short hops no longer than a coastal cruiser might grapple with.
And that, of course that brings us back to the guy with the Hunter 25 who went to Cuba. If I remember right it is roughly 90 miles from Key West to the Cuban coast. In decent weather that is roughly 24 to 30 hours of sailing. If you can pick your weather window, it’s not all that hard to make that leap on any half-way decently maintained and constructed boat, including a 25 foot Hunter.
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Curmudgeon at Large- and rhinestone in the rough, sailing my Farr 11.6 on the Chesapeake Bay and part-time purveyor of marine supplies
Last edited by Jeff_H; 10-15-2009 at 02:11 PM.