How big should the boat be?


This is definitely one of the easiest questions to answer for me. I wanted the biggest boat that I could safely single hand. I felt that would be 35 - 42 feet. This was based on crewing on other peoples boats over the years, and reading lots of books. Also on what felt comfortable to me in the boats I had owned previously. I had owned a Thunderbird (26'), a Morgan OutIsland (38'), and a Cheoy Lee Lion (35').   This actually changed when we got out here and did some looking at what others had done to their boats to make them easier to handle under way.  I now think that I want to upgrade to about a good 45' - 50' cutter rigged sloop.


The answer is the same even if there are two of you. As most of the time on a passage that is more than an overnighter, there will be only one person on deck at a time. The other will be below sleeping or preparing food etc.. Thusly, both people should be able to safely handle the boat on their own. That includes reefing the main, etc..


This may sound very easy you say, but is has taken me many years of sailing to find the right size for me. Do not be influenced by my, or other peoples deeds or what others are riding around in. Ask the following question "Can I handle this boat alone in the worst weather?" As you will commonly encounter 30-35 knot winds and 15' - 20' seas.  Squalls are uncommon around the main land but are a common occurrence on the open ocean.  Are you prepared for them?  In most instances, the people I spoke to have never ventured more then a few miles out of the harbor on their own, and in the best of conditions (5-10 kts. of wind and calm seas). If they are a racer, then it is hard to accept their arguments, since most of their racing will have been short races, the local "mid-week" or "beer-can" series, round the markers on a Saturday or Sunday, or maybe an overnighter or two a year. Don't forget they are racing, you will not be, well maybe not!  Do not let me mislead you here. I raced for many years, loved it, and found it to be most rewarding. The experience I gained definitely helped me. Think about this. You are out racing on a friends boat the weather turns on you.  Does the skipper say "the wind is too strong, let's go home" or does he/she say "Okay folks now we are having fun and it's time to show our colours to all those others out here". I think you will find the latter to be true. The whole crew goes into high gear, and the adrenaline starts pumping and the foredeck person shouts "YES" as he/she gets another dousing. You will have to have a similar answer to get through the tough times.  Ask if they do all their racing with a crew , short handed ( 2 people), or single handing. If they say with a crew, then forget them. If the answer is short or single handed then listen to what they have to say.  It will help you one day in one of the many decisions you will have to make. Listen to them and store the information away for later retrieval. If they are an experienced cruiser then listen carefully to them and do everything in your power to make them your mentor and best friend. Learn from their experiences. There is nothing better, except for you getting out here and "doing it".


Consider this, you will be sailing long distances on a regular basis, usually 100 - 500 nmls. Not many islands or atolls are only 20 nmls. from each other once you leave a group. Even in some island groups you may have to travel far. Once in most groups though, the next island is in site.  For example, when we were in the Society Group, the Northern (Raiatea, Bora-Bora, Huahini, etc.) or Leeward group is some 100 nmls. away from the Southern (Tahiti, etc.) group. The Cooks are 400 nmls. apart from the Northern to Southern groups. Then there are island groups like the Galapagos, that are thousands of miles from anywhere.


Sometimes you will be in not so good weather conditions that may last for several days preventing you from making harbor until it clears. I am not trying to alarm you unduly.  In fact, most of the time everyone out here is very concerned about the weather. We all eat up weather broadcasts and download the latest weather faxes every few hours. There is something to put on your list of things, a method to get weather faxes/broadcasts. They are essential to every cruiser's daily diet. It prevents us from getting stuck in those bad storms, although it does happen every now and then. There was a boat in our group that everyone has nicknamed "Local Phenomena", since he always seems to travel in bad weather, he starts out in good, and it soon turns on him. Most of us ask him if he is moving to another island today. If he is, we stay put for another couple of days.  Boats would arrive at about the same time, consequently they seem to be traveling throughout the islands in groups, all going their own way, but together, I'll explain that later.


Taking the weather into consideration for size considerations of your cruising boat defines the comfort level you will be living in when the weather is not so good for days on end.  Mine was 35' - 42', but has now changed to 45' - 50'.  The change is more for storage and with two of us to give each our own space.  I have also learned a lot more about sailing the open ocean and the type of rig I want.  This allows me to think of bigger boats.  That is of course if I can afford it!  No question, Mouse Pad will be with me for a long time to come.


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Revised: 19 September, 2005 .