Although I get many of my topics from women I meet at boat shows and although I wrote last month about the temptations of brand new boats bobbing at boat show docks, the fact is that most cruisers do not find their boat at a boat show. Obviously, since all the boats out there were new once, somebody does. But your typical cruiser is of a mindset to make their budget, however small or large it might be, stretch as far as possible. Unlike RVs, for example, that come new with every feature you could possible want preinstalled, new sailboats come with very little. Sometimes, even the fundamentals – anchors, radios, even SAILS…are add-ons you choose. So, most brand-new boats hot off the production line still have a long way to go before they are ready to go cruising.
Most serious cruisers shop for their boat on the used market. Here, the term “used” has a good connotation, because it implies the boat has already been out there, logged some sea miles, been shaken down. To have been “used”, someone –the first, second, or third owner – has had to add at least the fundamental equipment and often much more, yet in one of the perennial injustices of the world, all those improvements rarely come back to the improver in the selling price. All good news for buyers.
Future cruising captains generally scan the ads in cruising publications or go to the boat brokers with a list of things they want in a boat. Forgive me for oversimplifying, but they tend to focus on things like size, waterline, hull (material, shape, weight and whether a mono-or multi-hull), rig, engine, sail inventory, performance, tankage, etc. Much has been written about these features in major magazines and books, and each one has a myriad of variations, all of which will matter to Admirals, too, in ways you should understand.
But are there things an admiral should tune her eye to in her soon-to-be full-time home that the captain might overlook?
To start with, consider every aspect of the boat in question with how it will be for you underway. This is particularly true for smaller persons. Where are the handholds below? Can you move safely from cockpit to galley to head to the nav station? How will the galley be to work in underway? Can you get into the fridge and the food lockers while heeled over? Does the stove swing freely on its gimbals? Is there headroom above the sink, and will the sink backfill with saltwater on one tack or the other? Can you wedge yourself in to successfully use the head? Is there a good, secure place to sleep when you are off watch?
On deck, how do you feel about walking forward? Are there good handholds? Are the lifelines, bulwarks, toe-rails high enough? Is the deck strewn with toe-biting obstacles? Can you reach the mainsail to connect the halyard or to help reef? Are you able you raise the sails yourself? In the cockpit, are the coamings high enough for security and back support? When you are behind the wheel, are you able to see forward? Can you brace yourself in the cockpit? Are you protected from weather? Can you get down the companionway in lively conditions?
Next consider how the boat will be at anchor. As important as all of the above considerations are, the chief difference between a weekend sailer and a cruising boat is how well it serves as your home. Review the galley as a place to cook regular meals as opposed to quick bites at sea. Is there enough storage for cooking tools and even appliances you don’t want to leave behind? Spices? Pots and pans? Wine glasses? Will accessing the fridge be easy or a constant struggle?
Will your cabin meet your basic needs? Is the bed long enough? Will you be able to climb out reasonably easily at night? Is there enough storage for clothes and shoes? Is there somewhere on the boat – the cockpit or the salon – where you can lounge comfortably — cushy corners with good air movement where you can read or settees where you can stretch out full length for a nap? If you are planning a tropical cruise, emphasis will shift from belowdecks to the cockpit. Will you be able to provide shade or enclose yourself from rain? Alternatively can you open up to maximize the breeze? In colder climes, a snug salon may be more important; does the boat have insulation, dorades, heat?
The cruising community tends to be a social one, and, if you like to entertain, consider whether the boat will accommodate guests comfortably in the cockpit or below? Is there a place to play such games as cruiser favorites Mexican train, cribbage, or Scrabble, and, if you like videos, will you both be able to relax and see a TV/computer screen, topside or below. And, if having visitors join you along the way is important (there’s often a lot of empty talk!), will you have a place to put them?
Space and storage are the two most finite commodities on any sailboat. If you have hobbies –for example, sewing, beading, painting, writing –will there be space to pursue them? Will you be able to make space for books, files, and computers? And if the boat’s mechanic has a project in the engine room, will normal life in the salon and/or galley have to come to a halt every time he needs to make repairs? And storage! Know now there will never be enough, but consider whether the boat has storage for things both large and small, for his and her tools, for deck equipment like lines and fenders, and toys like dive gear, wind or kite surfing, kayaks and fishing. And last but not least, how is the boat’s access to the water, the dinghy, and the dock?
Finally, as we wrap up our checklist, let’s add a few things to beware of. The chief one is cool-looking but impractical features, many of which, ironically, are conceived to draw in the distaff half. Some personal pet peeves are rounded settees in the cockpit or below (no comfy corners or backup berths!), curved space-age surfaces where you can’t set a drink down, and bathtubs! For others it may be amp-hungry gizmos – eg air-conditioning, microwaves, dishwashers, ice-makers – that seem desirable but turn out to work only at the dock. And lastly, the monohull-ers in my “club” want to remind you that the two hulls of a cat are not automatically the answer to space and storage issues, since loaded down cats can lose much of the performance and seakindliness that initially make them attractive. Think every feature through!
No Admiral’s checklist for the perfect boat will be the same as the next, and, obviously, no one boat can score A+ on all fronts, but unlike those pre-fabbed RVs, boats can usually be aftermarket-customized to answer your needs, especially if a sharp eye was kept in the buying process. As Ellen of Cayenne III concludes, “Self-knowledge and a clear view of the goal make for better compromises…and every boat is a compromise.”
Contributing Admirals: Lisa Schofield, Lady Galadriel; Donna Abbott, Exit Only; Kathy Parsons, Hale Kai; Ellen Sanpere, Cayenne III; Vicki Juvrud, Firebird; Judy Knape, Ursa Minor; Debbie Leisure, Illusions; plus others
This article was published in the April 2007 issue of Latitudes and Attitudes.