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Jace2 11-09-2011 08:41 AM

Length limit for single handers???
As the title says, what's the uppermost limit? I know some of the racers get into the 60' + range, but those monsters come with a lot of specialized - and expensive - equipment built into the them for such LOA's. I'm asking about an average regular guy/gal sailor on the average cruiser-type vessel.

Also, in the opinions of SailNet's learned patronage, what are the challenges for the single hander that arise as boat length increases, and what is the cut-off point?

Thanks much.

Sailormon6 11-09-2011 08:57 AM

Ideal size depends on how you use the boat. If you spend weekends on it, then you'll need less space. If you live aboard for extended periods, you'll want more space, because you'll need room to store more than a weekend's worth of shirts, shorts, socks, underwear and food, as well as fuel and water. If you sail long distances and in big waters, a bigger boat will have a more comfortable motion. If your sailing is mostly local, a smaller boat is in order. Bigger boats can be handled shorthanded, but it's more difficult to handle them. It's harder to tack or gybe a big boat, and to raise and lower and furl big, heavy sails. It's no fun to raise a big mainsail or jib by yourself on a day when the temperature is in the 90s. For me, for example, a 35' boat is a good compromise. It's designed to sail long distances and in big seas, but it also sails well in lighter winds, and it's good for long term living aboard, but it's small enough to be single-handed by an older sailor.

I could singlehand a 40' or bigger boat, but it would be harder work, and my boat does what I want it to do, so a bigger boat really isn't necessary, and would increase the cost associated with it.

Jace2 11-09-2011 09:02 AM

Okay, Sailormon6, fair enough.

Trying to handle a bigger mainsail alone on a hot day gives me some idea of what one can look forward to with a bigger boat.


sailortjk1 11-09-2011 09:13 AM

Properly set up, sailing the boat is not the problem.
Docking and leaving the dock single handed is more of an issue than sailing the boat.
I single hand our 36' all the time. Much more LOA and I might have an isuue.

Jeff_H 11-09-2011 09:24 AM

There is a natural tendancy to size boats by length, but when you talk about the size boat that can be easily managed single-hand, I suggest that the limit is more about displacement than length.

I routinely single-hand my 11,000 lb 38 footer and have single-handed boats up to a roughly 24,000 lb, 42 footer, and have raced and cruised on boats into the mid-50 foot range. Based on watching average sized people manning winches and control lines, I would suggest that most healthy people can single-hand a boat up to around 17,000 displacement without too much trouble, but personally I find that 12,000 or so pounds is a lot easier for smaller people to man-handle.

Once you get much over 17,000 lbs, unless you are in very good physical shape, the weight and size of the sails begin to require specialized designs and gear such as low friction hardware and deck layouts, extra purchase on tackles, oversized, or even motorized winches, and perhaps even rigs divided into a larger number of smaller sails.

Its not that a normal person can't handle these larger loads in normal conditions without specialized gear, its just that it begins to become much more difficult and at some point even dangerous in heavy air, especially in rapidly building conditions. Even with greater mechanical advantage, at some point, as these loads increase expedentially, grinding the winches for so long, under such high load, frankly taxes the endurance and eventually drains someone who is not physically fit.

But beyond the mechanical aspects, single-handing gets easier as you develop skills. Often it is a matter of learning to develop an exact timing and sequence to make it easier to perform some manuever or adjustment. Many seemingly difficult tasks become much easier once you learn and become comfortable with where you stand, how you face, where you brace your feet, when to break and when to haul, whether to feather up, or hold course and so on.

And over time, you may make small changes to your boat that help as well. Sometimes, its a matter of leading a critical control line closer to the helm. Sometimes a small change in lead angle can put you in a position to use your body strength more effectively. Sometimes it is something much more major like like having specialized sails made or relocating the traveller into the cockpit so that you can reduce the friction that needs to be overcome when making mainsheet or traveller adjustments.

And it may even require some adjustments to your own body. As I have gotten older, in order to stay in shape, I have added upper body exercises to my routine during the winter.


Jace2 11-09-2011 09:27 AM

Thanks, sailortjk1, that helps quite a bit.

Docking and such, I can deal with. I'm sure it won't be fun, but it would be a worth while trade off for size - I'm a pretty sizable guy.

So you don't think the boat handling is the issue, huh? Good, because I'm looking at a rather lengthy (53') boat, and I'm all by my little lonesome . . . *sniffel, sniffle*.


Jace2 11-09-2011 09:36 AM

Thanks, Jeff_H, much to think about, and interesting thoughts on the learning better techniques and 'developed skills' aspect.

Okay, so Jeff, what do you say about a cantankerous 6' 3" 240lb 50 year old with one arthritic left hand and a helluva lotta' guts (both figurative and literal), single handling a 53' 46,000 displacement boat?

Can it be done?

Jeff_H 11-09-2011 09:47 AM

The Roberts 53 that you are considering would be just about the worst choice you could make for a single-hander. Not only is it a very high displacement for single-handing, but it is also a very high windage and very high drag design. Windage makes docking much more difficult, and high drag requires a lot more sail area for any given condition. Fitting out a design like this for single-handing would be wildly expensive as compared to a more suitable design with equal accommodations and seakeeping ability. You could easily spend as much adapting a boat of that general design as the entire cost of buying a more suitable design ready to go.

If you were a very skilled single-hander, you would know how to pick your timing and when to wait things out. If you were in great physical shape you might be able to handle a design like that in moderate conditions or in heavy conditions for a reasonably short period if nothing extreme went wrong. If you were lucky, you might never have to find out whether you can deal with a boat that big when all hell breaks loose. But for most of normal folk, the goal is to try to stack the deck in our favor.

But I doubt you are a very skilled single-hander or you would not be asking this question since a skilled single-hander would know the answer for themself. Picking a worse than mediocre design for your announced intended purpose (single-handed circumnav), being finished by an amateur boat builder without the experience to know what has worked for them in the past, and trying to adapt a totally ill-suited design for the purpose would be clearly stacking the deck against yourself and against the kind of common sense understanding of the physical realities of distance voyaging that a circumnavigator needs to have.


Jace2 11-09-2011 11:07 AM

Uh, well, thanks, Jeff. No need to get pissy, I never said, or even implied, that I was a "very skilled single-hander". In fact, just to dispel any misgivings, I have sailed 6 times on a lake for a around 4 or 5 hours in a '68 Coronado 25. That's it! That is the extent of my single-handing experience.

I would have thought that my in-experience is obvious since I'm on here asking the the questions I'm asking.

But perhaps I'm misreading your post and you meant no implication of a 'pretense of skills' on my part. If I implied - or you somehow inferred - that I have the experience to know sailboats and their suitability for any given sailing situation, then, just to sharpen the tip of my point to a refined, unmistakeable, hypodermic injection instrument even further - syringetically speaking - let me say this: No Experience Here To Speak Of.

But I do thank you for your input, it is very helpful. So much so that I feel much more informed now about my decision on the particular boat I'm looking at after reading your post. You've really have been a great help, you advice is quite salient and seems to make very good sense.

I'll have to weigh everything and figure the hell out what to do. Dammit!

imagine2frolic 11-09-2011 11:13 AM


Originally Posted by Jace2 (Post 795233)
Thanks, Jeff_H, much to think about, and interesting thoughts on the learning better techniques and 'developed skills' aspect.

Okay, so Jeff, what do you say about a cantankerous 6' 3" 240lb 50 year old with one arthritic left hand and a helluva lotta' guts (both figurative and literal), single handling a 53' 46,000 displacement boat?

Can it be done?

I would call this fairly reasonable good health. I am 60, and in Feb could not hold a pencil after cancer treatment. Last month I siingle handed from Costa Rica to the Panama Canal. I sail a 46ft cat with a cutter rig. I had all kinds of weather. Including going downwind with headsail alone doing over 11 knots. As Jeff types it more about what kind of boat you sail. It could be a tub, or a good sailing vessel will make the difference.......i2f

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