Selecting a Sailboat for Bluewater Cruising

There are many things to consider when selecting the right boat for extended cruising. We offer you the thoughts and experience of one of our brokers while narrowing down the list of boats for his planned circumnavigation with his son.

Roger Johansson

Bluewater Cruiser Selection

By Bob Frantz

 

As I was beginning the process of identifying and purchasing a boat to sail around the world in with my son, I initially found the task overwhelming.  There are so many different manufacturers of boats with different kinds of specifications and reputations that it seemed the task might be impossible.  Different hull shapes, keel/rudder types, rig types, monohull vs. multihull . . . you get the picture.   What I found as the best way to work through the process in a logical manner is to start with identifying your objectives.  This then provides some benchmarks against which you can compare the boats you’re considering.

What are your objectives?

The way through the maze, however, revealed itself when I started to hone in on the criteria that were most important to me, in other words, what are my objectives.  This is how I suggest anyone start the process of finding a boat for bluewater cruising.  For me, first and foremost, I wanted a boat that would take us safely to our destination.   Next I wanted a boat that would be fairly fast, so that the passages would not be unreasonably long.  I also wanted a boat that was sea kindly, with a good motion while at sea, and which could be handled easily by two people.   For all the provisions and gear that we would need to take, it needed good storage and tankage.  Finally, the boat needed to have good access to engine and systems so it would be relatively easy to maintain while on the trip.  Finally, it had to be within my budget.

Fairly quickly I settled on a monohull vs. a multihull.   My theory was that I wanted a boat that if it capsized, it would right itself.  Monohulls also have a more regular and predictable motion in the ocean.  Because catamarans have two hulls in the water somewhat separated from one another, each hull is independently affected by the waves, sometimes resulting in a disconcerting motion.  Having said that, there are many great catamarans out there that are easily crossing oceans in fair weather and foul, and the good ones are generally doing so faster than a comparable length monohull.   Multihulls are growing in popularity, and better and better ones are being developed and built.  Nevertheless, from a safety perspective and given that most of my experience growing up on the water and later cruising, was in monohulls, I felt that was the way to go for me.  Therefore, this discussion will focus on factors relating to monohulls.

Regarding the rig, I prefer a sloop rig due to its upwind capabilities, but would have considered a ketch, if I had found the right boat.  While a ketch rig doesn’t perform as well going to windward as a sloop, it is perfectly adequate off the wind, which is the primary type of sailing one does on a westabout circumnavigation.  It also has some benefit for shorthanded crews, as the sails are smaller and more easily handled than on a sloop.

Budget

Budget is obviously a matter that is different for everyone.  Boats can be found for a wide range of prices that are capable of, or with some work can be made capable of, crossing oceans.  To state the obvious, older boats cost less than newer ones.  However, one factor that must be considered is the cost to refit an older boat to a state that makes it capable of bluewater cruising.   Even newer boats can require some investment.  My boat, Blue Heron, was 6 ½ years old when I purchased her.  I sailed her one season before heading off on the circumnavigation.  Before I left, however, I felt I needed to upgrade the sails and some electronics due to their age and the fact that she did not have AIS (Automated Identification System), a means by which you can easily see and be seen by ships and other yachts.

Smaller boats also cost less than a larger one, and one can often meet budget requirements by downsizing a bit.  It has been said that it’s better to buy a newer smaller boat than an older, larger boat to achieve budget objectives.  The newer smaller boat will cost much less to maintain than the older larger one, possibly even to the extent that the owner of the larger one can be overwhelmed by the cost of maintenance.  For a more comprehensive discussion of this issue, see Leonard, Beth A. The Voyager’s Handbook (2007) at 42-44. 

Another factor to consider is ease of reselling, and the ability of the brand to hold its value.  When I started the process, I knew that I wanted a relatively new boat (less than 10 years old), in part because I thought I might sell it when I returned, and felt that a newer boat would be easier to sell.  A newer boat would also be less likely to need any major service and repairs during the trip.  My budget then constrained the size boat that I could afford.  I found that boats larger than 45 feet of an age and quality that met my criteria were too expensive for my budget.  Fortunately, there were excellent quality boats in the 38 to 45 foot range that were within my budget. 

How to judge the more qualitative factors

Age, size and price are all readily measured and therefore are easy factors by which to sort boats.  Sea-kindliness, or motion at sea, is not obvious in a boat without a sea trial, which cannot be done for every boat that you’re considering.  Similarly, safety in the form of stability, righting moment and the like are also hard to judge when looking at a boat.   Fortunately, there are some ratings systems out there that help with this process.  For example, there is something called a motion comfort ratio, which gives a sense of the pitching and rolling motions of the boat.  Generally, a motion comfort ratio of 30 -35 is acceptable, and 35 or more is very comfortable.  While the motion comfort ratio is a calculated number and can appear to be quite precise, it should be considered as just a guide, as the formula for doing the calculation makes certain assumptions about what makes for a more comfortable ride.1 These assumptions can be more or less reflective of comfort on one type of boat versus another and, ultimately, ride comfort is a very subjective matter. 

Boats are also rated on their stability, through something called a stability index, or STIX for short.  STIX is calculated by a third-party organization, the International Standards Organization, or ISO, through their standard number 12217.  The rating is on a scale of 1-100, and factors in such things as ability to withstand a capsize or knockdown, righting moment, and wind moment (ability to withstand a gust of wind).  Boats equal to or greater than a STIX rating of 32 are rated Category A; 23 – 31 are rated Category B. 

An organization that pulls this all together is Lloyd’s Register, which rates boats into four categories:

Design Category A Ocean.  Designed for extended voyages where conditions may exceed winds of Beaufort Force 8 and significant wave heights of 4 meters and above, and for which vessels must be largely self-sufficient. 

Design Category B Offshore.  Designed for offshore voyages where conditions up to, and including winds of wind force 8 and significant wave heights up to, and including 4 meters may be experienced.

Design Category C Inshore.  Designed for sailing coastal waters, large bays, estuaries, lakes and rivers where conditions up to and including wind force 6 and significant wave heights up to, and including 2 meters may be experienced.

Design Category D Sheltered Waters.  Designed for sailing on small lakes, rivers and canals where conditions up to and including wind Force 4 and significant wave heights up to, and including 0.5 meters may be experienced. 

Putting this all together, for bluewater cruising, from my perspective, my preference is for a boat with a motion comfort index of 30 or better, preferably closer to 35 or more and Lloyd’s Register rating of Category A Ocean.  Not all boats will be rated by all these systems, as Lloyd’s is a third party certification and manufacturers have to pay for them.  Moreover, some manufacturers may choose not to have their boat rated (sometimes for obvious reasons).  STIX ratings are newer and again, not all boats have them, but if available they should be considered as well. 

By using these criteria, consulting a number of books that have been written on the subject, and talking with a wide range of brokers, sailors and sailboat experts, I came up with a shorter list of boats, not all of which met all of my criteria, but which met many or most.  This process hammered home the old adage that when it comes to boats, everything is a compromise.  The boats on my list included:  Hallberg Rassy 40 and 43; Najad 390, 420; Valiant 40 and 44; Pacific Seacraft 44; Island Packet 420; Bristol 42, 45; Oyster 42, 45; Hylas 46; Shannon 43, 47.  These are all very solid boats with histories of crossing oceans.  On all of these manufacturers, you could choose a larger boat, but I was constrained by budget.

I was able to narrow the list further based a few additional factors.   Was the tankage adequate?  What about storage and creative use of space?  Does the boat have a center cockpit or an aft cockpit?  While I didn’t rule out aft cockpit, I concluded that I preferred the center cockpit, both because it offered a large aft cabin and because the cockpit is a bit higher, making it less likely that a boarding wave could swamp the cockpit. 

The used boat buyer is, of course, also constrained by availability.  Not every one of the sizes/models desired is available at the time you’re in the market for a boat.  The range of boats is even more constrained if you’re limiting your search to a particular geographic area.  If you’re not willing to travel and perhaps ship the boat, the range of choices will be smaller.   The Annapolis area is one of the few areas offering a wide selection of sailboats, and it’s often a good place to start a search.   

My analysis led me to Hallberg-Rassys in the 40 to 43’ range.  I settled on a 2003 Hallberg-Rassy 43 after looking at two different ones that were available at the time in the Annapolis area.  The one I chose was a little better equipped than the other, as well as having an electrical system which was switchable between 115 volts and 230 volts.  HR 43’s are rated Category A Ocean and have a comfort motion index of about 34.   The comfort motion rating is conservative because it’s calculated using HR’s unloaded or light displacement number (i.e., without options, fuel, water, stores, spares, etc., which can easily add 5,000 or more pounds).  With those added, the HR 43 ratio clearly exceeds 35. 

During our circumnavigation, Blue Heron, our HR 43, performed admirably, keeping us safe in the foulest of weather while moving us toward our destination expeditiously.  She was often the subject of compliments wherever we were anchored or in a marina.  HRs are recognized around the world as classy, high-end blue water cruisers, and the compliments we received certainly reflected that. 

After returning we kept Blue for another year, but ultimately decided we did not need this much boat if we were primarily going to cruise the Chesapeake.  As a result, we sold her and will be replacing her with a new Hallberg Rassy 372. 

As I reflect back on the process and what it entailed, there is one additional consideration I would offer.  I undertook my search without a broker, largely because the few whom I had initially talked with did not seem like the right fit.  A knowledgeable and honest broker, however, can assist and simplify immensely the process of finding your dream yacht.  They can also provide a sounding board for any boats you may look at, and can even help you to rule out boats that may have issues.  While they should not be a substitute for a formal survey, they may save you from unnecessarily paying for and going through one or more, only to find that a boat has significant problems.

1Motion comfort equals D ÷ [0.65 X (0.7 LWL + 0.3 LOA) X BWL⌃1.33], where D is displacement in pounds, LWL is length of the waterline, LOA is length overall, and BWL is beam at the waterline, taken to the 1.33 power. 

References

  • Leonard, Beth A., The Voyager’s Handbook, The Essential Guide to Bluewater Cruising, McGraw Hill 2007.
  • Mate, Ferenc, The World’s Best Sailboats, Albatross Books, 2003
  • Neal, John, Selecting a Boat for Offshore Cruising, January 2014, Mahina Expeditions.
  • Roth, Hal, How to Sail Around the World, McGraw Hill, 2004
  • Siefert, Bill, Offshore Sailing, McGraw Hill 2002

sales@freestateyachts.com

410-867-9022 or 1-800-871-1333

 

Like us on Facebook
Return to brokerage page