Learning to voyage
To begin with, you are asking very basic questions about what it takes to go voyaging and so the thread has drifted toward that discussion. Although this was not originally meant as a direct answer to your question, I had written this a while back for others, like you, who are considering 'going out there'.
The dream of voyaging under sail can be a powerful one. There was a period when several times a month I would receive an e-mail from someone who was considering doing just what you are proposing. I have watched literally dozens of folks go through this. Some are successful in getting 'out there', some discover that they really enjoy sailing and find that they really have no need to 'go out there’; some have discovered that the sailing life is just not for them, and others have not even gotten past the dreaming stage.
From what I have seen, the most successful (especially when children are involved) have been the ones who have been somewhat systematic about going. There is a lot to learn before one can safely venture offshore. No one would assume that they could buy a jet airliner take a few lessons and be able to fly around the world. I think most rational people would expect to start with a small plane and work their way up. But for some reason people assume that they can just go out and buy a big boat, take a couple lessons, read a few books, and then go safely cruising.
While there are people who literally taken a few lessons, read a few books and went out cruising, those that were successful following that route are far more rare than those who have done some kind of apprenticeship. Learning to sail and learning to cruise involves a lot of knowledge and no matter how much you know, there will always be more to learn, but I suggest that you at least take the time to learn the basics, and that just about can’t happen if you buy ‘a big sailboat’ and move your family aboard.
I find myself saying this a lot lately but here I go again. We all come to sailing with our own specific needs, our own specific goals and our own specific capabilities. The neat thing about sailing is that we all don’t have to agree that there is only one right way to go sailing. There is no more truth in expecting that there is one universally right answer about many aspects of sailing than there is in trying to prove that vanilla ice cream is universally better than strawberry ice cream. One area of sailing for which there is no one universally right answer involves the amount of knowledge one requires to go sailing.
For some, all they need or want to know about sailing is just enough knowledge to safely leave the slip sail where they want and get back safely. There is nothing inherently wrong with that approach. Lack of knowledge will impact the level of risk, cost, comfort, and performance, but if you want to get out there with minimal knowledge it can be done. But for others, like myself, there is much more to sailing than simply developing a rudimentary knowledge of sailing basics. If you fall into that camp, it is next to impossible to learn to sail really well on a boat as large as the one in question.
While I am in no way suggesting that this makes sense for everyone, for those who really want to learn to sail well, I strongly suggest that they start out owning a used 23 to 27 foot, responsive, light-weight, tiller steered, fin keel/spade rudder (ideally fractionally rigged) sloop (or if they are athletically inclined then a dinghy.) Boats like these provide the kind of feedback that is so necessary to teach a newcomer how to really sail well. Boats like these have small enough loads on lines and the helm that you and your children can all participate and learn together. Being able to learn and participate, the children will be more engaged and less likely to be bored and feel kidnapped.
By sailing well, I mean understanding the nuances of boat handling and sail trim in a way that cannot be learned on a larger boat. Used small boats generally hold their values quite well so that after a year or even few years or so of learning, you should be able to get most of your money out of the small boat and move on to a bigger boat actually knowing something about which specific desirable characteristics of a boat appeal to you as an experienced sailor rather than the preferences of some stranger on some Internet discussion group.
From the advice that you have already gotten you can tell that there will not be a consensus of opinion on how to go distance cruising. In any event, I think that you have the right idea about taking sailing lessons. If I were in your shoes, I would sit down and put together a list of all of the things that I would want to know before I set off voyaging such as:
· Boat handling
· Sail trim
· Rules of the road
· Boat husbandry, repair and maintenance
· Diesel/ gas engine maintenance and repair
· First aid
· Heavy weather tactics
· Legal restrictions on leaving and entering foreign countries
· Navigation, (Piloting, Celestial, dead reckoning and electronic)
· Radio operators license exam requirements
· Safe and dangerous fish to eat
· Sail trim
· Survival skills
Once I had what I thought was a complete list, I would set up a schedule to try to develop those areas of skill that I was currently lacking. As much as possible I would try to involve all those involved in as many of those aspects as each is capable of understanding. This process could take as little as a year, but more often takes two to three years. The process itself can be very rewarding and can build the kind of family bonds that are required to be cast away on that oh so small island that a boat underway represents. At that point, you should be able to answer the question of how big is too big for yourself.
But in broad general terms the right size for your boat will not necessary be a length. I know that it is very common for people think of length as being the predominant determinant of the 'size' of a boat. When you talk about a boat intended for long distance voyaging, length is far less significant of a determinant of size than displacement (which is the weight of the boat). In other words, while it is tempting to search for boat solely on length and the need for specific accommodations, the displacement of a particular boat says a lot more about its 'real' size.
Traditionally, the classic texts used to suggest that a distance cruiser needed two and a half to five long tons (2,240 lbs) of displacement person. In the past, when the typical L/D (length to displacement) 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.
In recent years improvements in materials, engineering, sail handling gear, and the like, have reduced the ideal L/D ratio so that these days boats of a similar weight to the boats that were used for distance cruising in the 1930's on up to the 1950's, will more typically be in the range of 38 to 42 feet.
All other things being equal, if you compare two boats of equal weight, one being longer and the other being shorter, the longer boat will offer better motion comfort, be more seaworthy, be easier to handle, have an ability to carry more supplies, and be faster. In most cases, if the boats are of equal weight they will have a similar cost to buy, and maintain.
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Curmudgeon at Large- and rhinestone in the rough, sailing my Farr 11.6 on the Chesapeake Bay
Last edited by Jeff_H; 02-08-2011 at 04:15 PM.