“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain


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Boat Thoughts 10 Months Into Cruising

A blog follower recently asked us to give some updated thoughts on our boat and outfitting choices.  We have also been asked similar things by friends on Facebook and others who are thinking about sailing on a smaller than average boat.

In ten months of full time cruising we have put over 3,000 nautical miles under our keel.  For full time cruisers this puts us on the lower end but we have been enjoying ourselves on this slow pace that has allowed us to enjoy places like the Bahamas much more than other cruisers who pass through these places in a month or two. 

Our confidence in our boat and our abilities has grown exponentially in these ten months. We have been through good and bad and come out the other side more competent sailors who know where to push our boat and where not too.  Recently we left South Caicos for a 110 mile passage to Luperon, Dominican Republic in conditions that typically would have kept us at the dock back in Hingham. The experience has been more than I can put into words and we have no thoughts on turning back.  We just need to figure out how to make some money to keep it going.

Also, I firmly sit in the camp of it’s the sailor, not the boat.  Almost any boat out there is capable of putting up with more seas and winds then her crew.

The Boat: Size, Make, etc.

“It’s a production boat with a fin keel and spade rudder, you’re going to die if you take that off shore!”

“Your boat is too small and will go too slow for any buddy boating.”

“You won’t be able to carry enough provisions.”

These are some of the things we heard from internet forums, Facebook groups, and drunken sailors at bars and beaches during sundowners. The reality is that the majority of boats we see out cruising are production boats: Catalinas, Hunters, Jenneaus, Beneteaus, etc. In terms of numbers we see more Beneteaus than anything, with Catalinas coming in second and Hunters and Jenneaus about the same in number. The further south we go it seems like the more we see. 

It funny, the people in these lower end production boats seem to have gone further and cruised longer than many of the people in expensive semi-custom boats.  Every time we run into someone in a nice Cabo Rico or Caliber their idea of cruising is going from Florida to George Town, Bahamas and back every year. But that’s what makes this lifestyle great; everyone can do it their own way on their own boat.

The bottom line for us on boat make is you sail what you like.  If the interior layout and function of a Beneteau is what speaks to you then go with it.  If you like the feel of a big full keel boat under sail then that is the boat for you.  But don’t be dogmatic about it.  Don’t try to force your opinion on other sailors. Most of all, don’t suffer from confirmation bias by only listening to those who think and act the same as you.

I spent a lot of time reading and researching boat design, construction techniques, construction materials and hull shapes to come to my opinions.  I understand the advantages and disadvantages of a modern broad beam hull versus a traditional, narrow beam heavy displacement hull.  I also understand the differences in how you handle these boats under sail and how you weather a storm in them. You can’t substitute this research and you can’t outsource it.  If you plan to make a life at sea you need to put in the time. 

The age we live in is the best time in human history to do this research.  Take Robert Perry for instance.  He is one of the most prolific boat designers of any age of pleasure yacht building.  He has brought us beauties like the Valiant 40, Tayana 37, several Pacific Seacrafts and many others.  He writes books, he blogs and he posts on Facebook about his newest design, the carbon fiber cutter project. The access to information is so great.  Yet I will often hear or read people bragging about a feature on their boat as a safety design while a quick search will have you read in Bob’s own words that it was for marketing and ascetics. But people like to repeat their “old salt” opinion even when it has no basis in fact.  There are stickers in the local bar here in Luperon that read “barstool sailor”.  That best describes many of these opinions to me.  They like to brag about their knowledge or experience when most of it has little basis in fact.

On the size, this one is a little more complicated.  We have been on boats from 22 feet to 60 feet and they all have a different feel.  While we love cruising our Catalina 310, we could never fathom cruising a Catalina 320 despite it have over a foot of waterline on us.  The layout, the feel, even things like the displacement to sail area or the length to beam are completely different even though they came out of the same factory at the same time.  One example of this is that on many of the Catalina 320 wing keels the rudder extends to the bottom of the keel or just below.  With the Catalina 310 the rudder is about six inches shorter than the keel.  I consider this an important safety feature.  If/when you run aground its the keel that takes the blow not the rudder.  But I digress since this has more to do with design then size. My point being that it is very difficult to compare sizes of different makes and manufacturers.

We have never once felt that our boat was too small for the sea conditions.  We have been pooped several times now and find that our open transom is great. The water drains right out and I can never get more than ankle deep water in the cockpit.  We have friends on traditional “blue water” boats with small cockpits that fill up when pooped and they are often standing, or even sitting, in water.

Catalinas do have large cockpits.  We love this at anchor, which is where you spend most of your time.  In heavy seas this is seen as a liability.  We have owned our boat for over 5 years now and know how to move around the cockpit in seas.  I suspect this is the same for every boat, including catamarans.  At the end of passages its not uncommon to compare “boat bites”; those injuries you get from being tossed around in seas or slipping while trying to handle the boat.

The same can be said for the open layout of the salon.  It lakes handholds, places to brace yourself, etc. While this is true to some extent, it can be mitigated. We added a set of drawers for provisions with a table top.  This also expanded our hand holds.  We could even do more to improve on hand holds around the cabin.

Comfort motion is something we also heard would be unbearable in a production boat.  The reality is that when you have a short period and significant height waves combined, it’s not going to be comfortable.  You are going to limit your time below deck and stay immobile in the cockpit as much as possible.  And this holds for all boat types. There will be times that the seas will be uncomfortable.  You mitigate this by picking your weather window as best you can and preparing by having things like drinks and snacks in the cockpit before you set out.

Bottom line is we have discussed if want to get a bigger or different boat several times.  We have looked and can’t seem to find anything else we like better for the cost to purchase, outfit and maintain.  We are very satisfied with Catalina 310 as our cruising/living platform and don’t think we will be changing anytime soon.

Provisioning

For our size we can hold several months of food without trying too hard. We can probably hold less than say a Bristol Channel Cutter 22 despite having several feet of waterline on that boat.  This does come with some sacrifices. Many of the cruisers we met in the Bahamas left the US with 20, 30 even 50 cases of beer on board.  We only had 3 cases of beer.  That meant we bought more beer in the Bahamas where the average price for a case of local beer was $45 a case.  A case of Guinness would cost you $75. You couldn’t even find a good IPA or other craft beer. 

We also ate a lot of canned chicken and pork in the Bahamas.  Our freezer isn’t that big and carrying lots of frozen meat is not possible.  Buying chicken breast (boneless, skinless) in the Bahamas can cost as much as $30 a pound.  You can get a whole chicken at a good cost in some areas but we can’t fit that in our freezer.

If you look at our costs to cruise we spent more on food then a lot of other cruisers we know.  A big part of that is because our boat was smaller so we started with less to begin with when we left the US.  Another big part of it is we provisioned wrong.  We didn’t carry any flour when we left the states.  We hadn’t been eating much bread when we left and thought things like flour tortillas would be easy to find and inexpensive in the Bahamas.  They weren’t.  When you did find them they cost around $5 for 8 tortillas.  So we purchased some flour and started to make our own.  We also make our own bread and rolls too. 

Of course, the easiest way to offset this is to get your protein for free. We hit a good stride in Lee Stocking Island where we could get a protein for a meal pretty much at will.  Mostly that was conch but some snapper and grouper could be had as well.  And fishing offshore is the best.  Even a small mahi-mahi will give you four meals.

In the Bahamas we were price aware but still bought things at a much higher cost then we did in the states.  Our thoughts were we could buy a lot of food for the cost of getting a bigger boat.  We definitely could have been better and have now started to make a bigger effort and are being more frugal with provisioning.  But this is budget driven not space driven.  We could easily hold 6 months of supplies on our boat if we were so inclined.  Cruising the islands it’s very rare that you will go more than a week without being in a harbor with at least a small store to get some provisions.

Our friends on Wright Away have a small Engel fridge/freezer.  It’s not a large system but would triple or better our freezer space.  It will use more energy but ultimately allow us to store more fish and conch or bulk buy meat when we find good deals.  So it would likely pay for itself in a short period of time. We are considering something like this for an upgrade in the near future.

Water

The Catalina 310 holds 35 gallons in the tank under the forward berth and 20 gallons in the water heater.  I know, such a large amount in the water heater, why? As near as I can tell it was in response to cruising couples that said they both wanted to be able to shower and have hot water left to do dishes.  This works and we will typically have hot water for 3-4 days after a few hours of motoring.  However, you can’t get the 20 gallons out of the water heater without water in the primary tank.  So this means that the usable volume of water is only 35 gallons.

In addition to the water in the tank and the water heater, we carry two 5 gallon gerry cans on deck for water.  We also have a 5 gallon solar shower that we will often fill and keep as more water supply. 

One thing we should have done was add some additional tankage.  We are in the process of looking into this upgrade and will hopefully accomplish it in Puerto Rico.  The options are to 1) add a bladder or hard tank under the forward berth, 2) get rid of the 20 gallon water heater and install a smaller water heater and an additional tank, 3) find a way to plumb the water heater to allow access to that water without water in the primary tank or 4) some combination of these choices.  We are working this out and will hopefully be making this improvement soon. 

On the subject of water, our small TDS meter is invaluable.  Its a pen like device that lets you read total dissolved solids.  We use it to test any water before we put in our tank.  Around 350 PPM is considered decent drinking water.  We have seen supposed RO (reverse osmosis) water test as high as 1,000 PPM.  That is brackish water and not safe to drink despite what the marina or yacht club tries to tell you. It means their RO system isn’t working right.

Watermaker Debate

We debated long and hard about adding a watermaker.  We could buy a commercially available 12 volt system for $4-6K, a 110 volt system for $3-5K plus the cost of a Honda generator or build our own 12 volt system for around $3K. We couldn’t justify the cost of these units based on the cost of buying water.  You just can’t.  You can buy a lot of water at even $1/gallon before you come close to the cost of a watermaker.

The issue we kept having was unoperational or poor performing watermakers at several of the key ports where we wanted to take on water.  In addition, we had to leave some areas sooner than we would like to get water because we were running out.

So this debate is back at it again. 

Here in Luperon, DR, its a no brainer.  The water in the harbor is too dirty to run a watermaker and good, clean water is readily available and cheap. Yesterday we took on 35 gallons of water that tested out at 24 PPM on our TDS meter.  That’s actually too clean and we might not be getting some minerals we need to be healthy.  Time to up our vitamin intake while we are drinking this water. This water cost us 50 DR pesos for each 5-gallon jug.  That’s about $1 per 5 gallons.  And that cost is delivered to our boat and poured into our tank. 

Supposedly we will have similar experiences in the rest of the Caribbean. 

Right now we think we might try to get a small 12-volt watermaker used.  Our friends on Wright Away just went through the process of evaluating their watermaker.  They have decided to ditch their 12-volt watermaker in favor of a 110-volt system.  So maybe we can buy their used 12-volt.  But read their write on their decision to get a bigger watermaker.  We have discussed this with them a lot and are still on the fence about what we are going to do.  It’s a great post and anyone considering adding a watermaker should read it.

Electricity

I won’t go into our decision to go with Renogy solar panels.  I have posted on that before and let’s just say we are disappointed in how Renogy is handling the quality issue.  But the panels we have are currently performing as expected when we installed them. Weather they stay on the boat or not is a different conversation.

As far as solar goes, we under-planned.  We left with 200 watts of solar.  Back in Hingham this would get us close to 100% state of charge by 2-3PM every day.  On the ICW we did so much motoring it didn’t really matter what the solar was doing.  However, once we were in the Bahamas we were chronically underchargine our batteries.  We found that we were using 25-50 amp hours per day more then we were getting from our solar. 

We think there are a couple of reasons for our undersized solar.  First is the fridge.  We had about a 30% run time on our fridge back in Hingham.  Now we seem to be more like 60% run time.  We believe the prime reason for this is the water temperature.  In Hingham harbor the water temp was typically around 68 degrees F.  In the Bahamas and south we are seeing temperatures around 82 degrees F.  Our fridge is located on the exterior of the hull and we think this is causing the fridge to run more. 

Other energy hogs that we didn’t plan correctly for were the laptop, iPad, and iPhones.  Many of these devices were charged on shore, typically at work, when were in Hingham.  And while we didn’t use the battery charger for most of our last 6 months in Mass because of the solar panels, we did have the shore power plugged in and on for charging stuff like the electronic devices. 

This resulted in us running our engine a lot to try and make up the difference in charge.  We were growing frustrated with this approach because it meant someone had to stay on the boat for several hours while it ran.  Sometimes this wasn’t too big of a deal and one of us would stay while the other ran some errands.  But we were using more diesel than we had planned.  We did end up buying a used Honda eu1000 generator off of our friends on Wright Away.  It can run our 40 amp charger and we have to run it for less time than we do the engine to top off the batteries. 

Based on what we have experienced we are a 100-watt panel short of covering our daily use.  On top of that we are considering adding a couple of power hungry devices to the boat (see watermaker and provisioning discussions above).  So we are planning to expand our solar system to 500-watts.  Finding places to put that many panels is tough on a small boat but doable if you think creatively. 

Dingy Management

I left with a dislike for davits.  I felt you couldn’t get them high enough to be safe in seas. They compromised the performance of the boat.  They were difficult to use compared to towing.  So we left with intent to manage the dingy by a combination of towing, storing the dingy on deck and using the Dinghy Sling.

Admittedly, I was wrong.

Towing works fine but can be inconvenient at times.  On the ICW, we would tow with the engine on.  Nothing could be easier.  It took little time to prep or to get in the dingy once anchored.  But when we start to head out into the sounds in the Bahamas or the Atlantic Ocean it took more prep.  Removing the engine and much of the other things stored in the dinghy could take considerable time.  We also had some situations where we would have the dinghy thrown at the stern in following seas.  Towing is doable but it does take more time and effort.  We now tow with two bridles when we head offshore.  It holds the boat behind us better and prevents some of the issues with following seas. 

Our deck is just too small to fit a dingy of any size comfortably.  If we had a little 6 or 7 foot dingy, maybe. But for us that is not a usable dingy.  We like our aluminum RIB Heighfields.  It tows well.  It can handle big seas for a dinghy.  And we are even starting to get up on plan when loaded down.  But putting it on deck involves deflating it and we still have limited access to the bow area with it up there.  This just isn’t an option on a 31 foot boat. 

The Dinghy Sling works great but has two draw backs.  Under the right wind conditions it can funnel the diesel exhaust into the cockpit.  We first experienced this during our gulf stream crossing and it made me get sick.  Second, its a little too complicated to use daily to get the dingy out of the water.  Getting the dingy out of the water for security is a major consideration the further south you go.  It’s a great product and cost effective easy solution for many boaters.  If we weren’t traveling with a dog, which requires us to be in the dinghy far more often than other cruisers, this may have stayed as our solution.

So we are now currently evaluating options to add dinghy davits to our boat.  This has taken a lot of planning and the cost will be considerable.  Most likely in the $2,500 neighborhood.  Of course some of that will be more expensive since we are doing the work in the islands instead of back in the states.

Anchoring System

In the 10 months we have been out, a little over a month combined of that time has been at a dock.  And this includes the 3 weeks we spent at Lady’s Island Marina in a free slip thanks to our friends Tom and Nancy.  We have been at anchor through gales, in rough conditions and in calm.  We have dragged anchor 3 times.  All due to short scope in calm conditions when we anchored in rivers with a deeper bottom and not enough swing room to put out even 5 to 1 scope.  But we knew the risk in these locations and took it anyways to enjoy an area that was otherwise inaccessible. 

We are and continue to be strong believers in new anchoring technology.  I will never consider having anything but a new generation anchor as my primary until science makes something better.  I am admittedly an anchor snob.  When I see a boat start to anchor near me using a bruce, plow, or CQR I get nervous and uptight.  I stare at them, give them angry glares and hope they will feel uncomfortable enough to move far away from Smitty.  In my opinion the science on this is solid and anyone using an old style anchor doesn’t below on the water.  The cost is so little that it should never justify sticking with the old anchors when it is the primary thing holding you safe at night.

We use a Manson Supreme 35 pounder as our primary.  This is oversized by two from what Manson recommends for our boat.  We love it.  We would also love a quality Rocna or Mantus.  I don’t think you could go wrong with any of these.   

We left to go cruising with only 20 feet of 5/16-inch chain.  We knew this wasn’t enough but were hoping we could find some more chain at a cheap price as we worked our way down the coast.  We picked up another 40 feet in Annapolis and then 90 feet from our friend Andrew on Solace (another Catalina 310 out cruising) in Miami.  We now have 130 feet of chain on our primary anchor.  Ideally I would want 150 feet of continuous chain on my primary (which is what Andrew did and why he had the 90 feet available).  But I will take what I have because I have not paid over $2 a foot for any of it.  Behind that I have 200 feet of 3 strand line. 

We have two Mantus chain hooks on board and love them.  We have the primary one setup on a bridle that I spliced.  We use this every night we anchor.  If heavy winds are predicted we will also put out the second Mantus hook on a chain snubber.  If the bridle were to let go, the snubber would take up before the chain would be pulling hard against the windless/cleat.

Our windless does not have a chain gypsy.  We wish it did, but at over $2K for a new windless it wasn’t in the budget.  So I raise the anchor by hand-hauling with the assistance of the rotating capstan that is our windless.  When I used to just hand-haul the anchor, the chain would smack agains the roller furler.  I didn’t like the damage this was doing and found that using the windless helps keep the chain below the roller furler.

We have several backup anchors too, including a 30-pound danforth, fortress anchor and 50-pound fisherman’s anchor.  If I would find a good deal on a larger fortress anchor or Mantus anchor I would replace the fisherman’s anchor with one of those. 

Navigation

We have been using an iPad as our primary chart plotter for 5 years now.  I wouldn’t change this at all.  The iPad is plenty accurate for a good skipper to use for navigating.  I would say I am no more than 20 feet off the location shown on the iPad.  In that type of space visual piloting is favored over any electronic form of navigation.

We use the Navionics app on the iPad for navigating.  For the most part I love this software.  The one exception is the Bahamas.  The map data was garbage there.  We started out supplementing Navionics with hard explorer charts.  But this involved a lot of putting in waypoints, something that the Navionics app is not strong on.  We ended up downloading the Garmin Bluecharts.  The map data for the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos was much better, but the app itself is lacking. For instance, there is no ETA function. 

So we will run both apps on the iPad.  We always have paper charts up in the cockpit with us too.  In addition, we keep a log of GPS coordinates, heading,  and speed every hour while offshore.  When we can see the coast we generally don’t keep the log. 

AIS

We looked into adding AIS but had a couple of reservations.  The units with remote mics were expensive and it would have required running wires up through the steering pedestal.  I tried to do this once before and found that our pedestal is maxed out with wires.  So this would have been a significant undertaking.  So we opted not to get AIS.

After traveling with several boats with AIS we wish we had it.  At night when we see a cruise ship or large cargo ship we have to try and estimate their location and try to hail them call for “the cruise ship at approximate GPS coordinates XXX”.  Most of the time they don’t answer.  But with AIS you have the name of the ship and they always answer when called by name.  It also helps keep tabs on buddy boats during night crossings.

In hindsight the smart thing would have been to add a second VHF with AIS and a second antenna mounted on the stern rail.  This would have given redundancy and made the installation much easier. 

Spares

This is a tough one because you never know what you might need and when.  We probably have too many spare impellers (12 on the boat) for our raw water pump.  But I didn’t have a rebuild kit and had to have Frank bring in two rebuild kits when he came for a visit.  They are short money ($45 each) and I should have had them on board.   We didn’t have a spare alternator and spent twice the cost of the alternator to have it shipped into the Bahamas when we thought we needed it. 

But we didn’t even think of things like spare 12-volt chargers for the laptop or cords for the iPad. Also, since we use the iPad as our primary chart plotter, I would really feel more comfortable with a spare iPad on board. 

You try to think about what you need for spares the best you can but the bottom line is you will always need something you don’t have.  Be prepared to improvise and have the knowledge to fix anything on your boat within reason.

Conclusion

This list of things we want to improve on our boat above represent a substantial cost.  This has made us ask each other many times if we are happy with this boat or if we should get a bigger boat.  The bottom line for us is this boat suites us well.  To get a boat that we like as much we would spend twice as much money on the boat and would probably still have to do all of the things we are thinking about doing to Smitty.  We like our pocket cruiser.  She is nimble, sea worthy, and comfortable for us.  Don’t expect to see Smitty on Yacht World anytime soon.


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Sailing a Modern Hull

Last weekend we were at a friends yacht club for some nautical bingo.  Fun night and we won an eco air horn and spare dockline.

During the evening I got to talking to a prospective member of the club.  He has been sailing a Catalina 30 out of a nearby marina for 8 -10 years and was trying to become a member of the club and purchase a bigger boat.  He was looking at boats similar to the Catalina 36.  After talking to him about what he was looking for in a bigger boat (i.e. larger master berth, more room for short term guests, bigger cockpit, bigger head, etc.) I suggested he should look at the Catalina 350 as many of the layout aspects may be better for his intended use.  He responded that he had ruled out the C350 because he heard it didn’t point or track well.  Ugh!

This is one of those things that you hear and that is perpetuated by the internet that drives me crazy.  How you sail a boat has a lot to do with the hull shape, the rig and the conditions.  You just simply can’t sail a Catalina 310 the same way you would sail a 1970s Cape Dory or a Lyle Hess Bristol Channel Cutter. Understanding the hull’s stability curve is paramount to sailing the boat efficiently.  This requires having some basic knowledge about form stability vs. overall stability vs. dynamic stability.  In this day and age of computer designed boats and boat designers willing to help the public learn it’s never been easier to get this general understanding.  Here are some of my favorites:

Bray Yacht Design, Stability – What Is It and How Does it Work?:

Stability is the ability of a vessel to return to a previous position. Positive stability would then be to return to upright and negative stability would be to overturn. Stability in it’s most basic form is the relationship between the center of all floatation in your hull (center of buoyancy, or CB) and the center of all weight (vertical center of gravity, or VCG). In other words, the downward pull of Gravity and the uplifting force of Buoyancy. These are the primary characters in this scene and all others play minor roles. Once you understand how their relationship works, understanding stability becomes a simple matter.

M.B. Marsh Marine Design, Understanding Monohull Sailboat Stability Curves:

midship_sections

Righting moment with KG's scaled for hull loading

Righting moment with KG’s scaled for hull loading

  • Hull A, the narrow one, will have a hard time flying much sail. She’ll heel way over in a breeze. But she can’t get stuck upside down.

  • Hull B, a moderately slender cruising shape, also can’t get stuck upside down- her AVS is 170 degrees. Her extra beam causes the centre of buoyancy to move farther to leeward when she heels, so she has more initial / form stability than hull A and can carry more sail.

  • Hull C, which is typical of modern cruising yachts, has over twice the sail-carrying power of the slender hull A. She’ll heel less, and since her midship section is much larger, she’ll have more space for accommodations. The penalty is an AVS of 130 degrees. That’s high enough that she can’t be knocked down by wind alone, but wind plus a breaking wave- such as in a broach situation– could leave the boat upside down until a sufficiently large wave comes along.

  • Hull D, the broad-beamed flyer, can hoist more than three times the sail of hull A at the same angle of heel. She’ll be quite a sight on the race course with all that canvas flying. Her maximum righting moment, though, is only 37% more than hull A’s, which leaves less of a margin for error- hull D is more likely to get caught with too much sail up, and will reach zero stability at a lower angle of heel. If she does go over, she has considerable negative stability, making it unlikely that she’ll get back upright.

Wavetrain blog, Modern Sailboat Design: Form Stability:

formstabl.01

 

 

 

formstabl.02

 

Stiff boats with good form stability in one sense are more comfortable, especially for novice sailors, than boats that heel easily. In another sense, however, they can be very uncomfortable. Though they are rolled to less severe angles, they snap back from those lesser angles more quickly and abruptly than boats with less form stability that are rolled to greater angles. The resulting motion can seem jerky and violent, and this is reflected in a boat’s motion-comfort ratio. This quick motion, combined with the tendency of a flat-bottomed boat to pound in a steep head sea, may lead some to conclude that there can be such a thing as too much form stability.

The most important thing to remember about form stability is that it does not translate into ultimate stability. A sailboat’s hull form can help it resist heeling up to a point, but past that point all bets are off. A boat that depends too much on form stability to stay upright will be capable of supporting an enormous sail plan in moderate conditions, but when caught in a sudden squall with all its sail up, it can be laid over and capsized very quickly.

Ted Brewer Presents a Primer on Yacht Design:

The terms and ratios that follow are used by all yacht designers so it’s a good idea to have an understanding of them if you are considering buying a boat, or having a custom design created (of a classical style, of course!).

You may need to work out some of the ratios for the boats you are considering for purchase from the available information but the formulas are simple and can be handled by an inexpensive scientific calculator. The one I use in my design business is a Sharp EL-520, almost old enough to vote, and cost less than $25 new, too many years ago.

Robert Perry (my personal favorite designer), Keel Design According to Perry on the Sail Far Live Free blog:

I have designed a series of full keel boats (Baba 30, Baba 35, Baba 40, Tashiba 31, Tashiba 36) and all of these boats sail quite well. But I have pulled the leading edge of the “full” keel aft and tried to give it a reasonable leading edge in terms of shape. Some people call these designs “modified full keels”. That’s OK but those labels can be pretty nebulous. Probably my biggest complaint with full keel designs is that they seldom if ever back up well under power. They also add a lot of wetted surface and that can kill light air performance. Plus, they are so long in chord that if you give them a good efficient foil say with a thickness ratio of 10% (width of the keel compared to the chord length) you will end up with a fat keel that adds too much displacement to the boat. And the funny thing is, and it’s not intuitive, all that keel volume is on the wrong side of the righting arm when the boat heels over. So technically a big full keel can reduce your righting moment.  Go ahead and love your crab crusher full keel boat but don’t try to justify the design on technical terms. Some traditional full keel designs have a lot of subjective, aesthetic appeal. That’s good enough reason to love your boat.

We don’t have to guess anymore about keels and draft. I use a Velocity Prediction Program (VPP) to analyze my hulls and keels. I can try various keels and drafts and pick the one that gives me the best combination of performance results. We reduced the draft on CATTARI 6” after doing a series of VPP runs.

I included this last bit from Robert Perry to highlight a point I often make.  Too often we fall in love with a look of a boat or how salty we think it makes us to have certain aspects of a design.  But seldom do most people actually understand what that feature actually does for performance.  Also, I often get chastised from old, salty types for bringing up that boats designed by computers have advantages over older designs done by hand.

Several weeks ago I came across this blog post: How to Sail a Morgan Out Island 416.  Many of the characteristics described in this post are similar for modern cruising boats like the Catalina 310 and Catalina 350.

All yachts are a compromise. As such, each design has its strengths and weaknesses; the Out Island 41 is no exception. She is very beamy to allow for more living space below and more room to enjoy the pleasures of being on deck. In addition, her draft was kept relatively shallow so as to allow her owners to enjoy many anchorages and gunk holes. These can be enjoyed only by dinghy when sailing deeper draft yachts. As a beamy, shallow draft yacht, she must be handled on some points of sail in a slightly different way than a deeper draft yacht with less beam. The most prominent distinction exists on the wind and close reaching. Sail trim on both these points of sail is critical for optimum performance.

This post goes on to describe some specific techniques for different points of sail and conditions.  Almost all of these tips hold true for our Catalina 310 and some other modern designs like Jeanneaus that we have sailed.

The way I often describe it to people is you have to sail a modern cruising boat almost like a catamaran.  My Catalina wants to sail flat footed.  We typically stay between 10-15 degrees of heel.  If we are heeling over 20 degrees we can see a noticeable reduction in our speed.  Compare that to a Pacific Seacraft 36 that feels like it will heel to 25 degrees with the slightest breeze but can’t get pushed over 40 degrees in gale force winds. This gets back to the form stability vs. overall stability discussed above; it’s like comparing Hull A (Pacific Seacraft) and Hull C (Catalina) in the article from  M.B. Marsh Marine Design.

If you sail a beamy, modern hull over heeled it will not point well. The keel is designed to stay deep in the water and not be up closer to the surface.  With the keel up high, you will have sideslip and your will not point well.

So REEF!  Reefing is not a sign of defeat or the sign of a beginning sailor.  On most points of sail we need to reef at around 18 knots or we lose significant speed.  The good thing is that Catalina designed our boat to make this easy.  We have factory installed, single line, slab reefing.  This means all you need to do to reef the main is ease off the sheet until luffing, release the main halyard and ease it down while taking up the reef line, once the reef point is down to the boom lock it in and retention the main halyard.  All of this can be accomplished from the cockpit in under a minute if you are well practiced.

There are many other small pointers such as sail trim, lead positions, etc. but the article on sailing a Morgan Out Island already does a great job of listing these so I won’t repeat them here.

In my opinion there are very few bad boats.  Boats are designed for a purpose and a price point.  Add to that some aesthetic characteristics.  To balance all of these you need to make compromises.  I always say that a boat is a series of compromises and it’s finding the balance of these that best fit your wants and needs that will make for a good match between the boat and owner.


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The Right Boat

A recurring theme in my blog, and life, is that I spend too much time readings sailing and cruising forums and blogs. Hey, there is a lot of knowledge out there and the more I gain from reading is one less mistake I’ll make or something broken that I will know how to fix.  (At least this is how I justify my obsession to my Bride.)

One topic that comes up often is what boat should someone choose?  What boat is the “best” boat? Is boat A better than boat B?

The  bottom line answer to all these questions is that no one can answer this for you.  Much of the information that goes into making this decision is personal preference.  Everyone makes this decision in a different way.

Experience is the best thing to teach you what you like and don’t like about boats.  I think it is unrealistic to go into your first boat purchase with the expectation that you will pick your perfect boat.  For one reason, every boat is a series of compromises.  But mainly, it is very difficult to know what’s important to you until you have had some experience in a boat.  So while no one can answer this question for someone else, I will explain how we chose the right boat for us.

We purchased our first boat, Splash, a C&C 24 from my aunt and uncle.  We had been out on the boat and knew it was very well maintained by a good boat yard and knowledgable owners.  They had done some fairly recent work to the boat that included the purchase of new sails and reapolstering the interior.

Splash is a great boat and she taught us a lot about sailing.  She is still the best sailing  boat I have handled.  She had a fin keel and tiller, was very responsive, forgiving and fast for her size.  You could bury the rail almost a foot into the water and still feel safe in her cockpit.  Even without a traveler, she out pointed most boats.  But she also taught us some of the things we didn’t want in our next boat.  Here are some of the things we didn’t like and wanted to change in our next boat:

  • The “head” consisted of a porta-potty under the vee-birth.  Not very convenient in the middle of the night.
  • The vee-birth was too small.  I am a big guy and we couldn’t sleep together in the vee-birth.  One of us would sleep on the settee and the other in the vee-birth.
  • The galley consisted of a hand pump sink with a two gallon tank, a dry storage box, a cooler and a two burner alcohol stove.  When we cooked onboard it was typically on a grill hanging off the back of the boat.  Cleaning dishes was a pain and was usually done at the dock or at home.
  • The cockpit was small and had the main sheet attached in the middle.  With 4 people on board we were pretty much maxed out in the cockpit and we couldn’t easily add shade.
  • The outboard engine would cavitate in anything above 1 foot swell.  In chop or when there was a lot of wake, it was very difficult to make way and we would also lose steerage at times.
  • Folding boat ladders suck.  Getting back onboard with the folding ladders that you store in a locker is almost impossible for a big guy.
  • You had to go to the mast to reef, raise and douse the mainsail.  The chain plates were out near the edges and it was difficult to get there safely in rough weather.  We wanted to be able to manage the sails safely from the cockpit.

So from this, we created a list of wants for our new boat. This is what they were:

  • All lines lead aft to the cockpit and wheel steering
  • Full, separate head
  • Walk-through transom or swim platform with a good boarding ladder or at least a permanent fixed ladder on the stern
  • A large main birth that didn’t require one of us to climb over the other to get in or out of bed
  • An inboard engine, preferably a diesel
  • A large cockpit
  • A full galley with a refer, propane stove and pressure water at the sink

We also had some things that didn’t matter much to us:

  • A large salon.  We spend most of our time in the cockpit
  • A go anywhere bluewater boat.  My Bride has no interest in sailing across oceans.  Coastal cruising was our goal
  • A deep fin keel.  We like to explore areas and didn’t want to be that limited by a 6-9 foot keel.  We were willing to sacrifice some performance for a shallower draft.

So with the above in mind, I went out to find our next boat.

Before we purchased Smitty I spent hours every day on Yacht World and other sites looking at boats.  There are few boats I didn’t look at, at least clicked through the photos to see if there was anything interesting about a particular model.

I went out and looked at boats in person.  Photos can be deceiving and what looks good on the computer, might be totally different.  I was a bit of a schizophrenic boat buyer.  I looked at older boats, newer boats; 28 to 40 feet long; bluewater to coastal cruisers; turnkey boats to complete gut jobs; everything.  I wanted to see as much as I could.

When I found a boat I liked, I than started to try to find out all the problems with that particular model or manufacturer.  If there were common problems with a model I really liked I wanted to know what they were.  Then I could evaluate if the problem was a deal killer or something that could be worked with.  Like I said earlier, boats are a series of compromises.  A large main birth would come at the expense of space somewhere else.  Having a refer means you need to carry a lot of battery capacity.

A really great site for comparing boats is Sail Calculator Pro.  A valuable tool to compare boats.  The website Sailboat Data is also a good place to start getting basic data.  But I do caution that you don’t get too tied up in the number.

Ultimately I narrowed down my list to about 3 boats: Catalina 310; Catalina 320 and; Nonsuch 30 Ultra.  I showed my Bride some good examples of all 3 on Yacht World.  The Catalina 310 immediately appealed to her.  So I set up a time for us to look at the best one I found locally.  Once she stepped on Smitty, then called Norm’s Place, she was sold.  We looked a several other boats just to be sure, but we returned to Norm’s Place and made an offer.  Eventually we negotiated an acceptable price and the survey didn’t turn up any significant items.  On December 20, 2010, Smitty became ours.

So what were some of the key features that made us like this boat so much?

  • Centerline, walk-around birth with a real innerspring mattress
  • Large cockpit with all sail controls on the cabin top
  • Nice galley with all of the wanted equipment
  • Stern rail seats
  • Under 5-foot draft with the wing keel
  • Fairly high displacement for a coastal cruiser
  • More robustly built than many of the competitors (i.e. better backing plates, stronger rigging, build quality than Benetaeu and Hunter)
  • Very large support group with Catalina Owners and the 310 Specific Forum

layout

Overall the boat seemed to be designed exactly for us.  A couple who wants to do extensive coastal cruising in a boat that isn’t too big to fit into the fun spots.  Also, at 31 feet it won’t break the bank in maintenance or marina fees.  With no exterior wood except the hatch boards and other smart design features, we can spend more time enjoying ourselves and less time on maintenance.

Admittedly, after we had Smitty I started to think about going bigger.  After the first year, I was back to spending a lot of time on Yacht World.  I definitely had a case of the two-footitis.  I was worried about the amount of storage, where friends would stay when we went cruising, being able to carry toys like kayaks and padle boards, if a dinghy on davits would put too much weight on the stern.  After all, most of the armchair sailors on the forums argue that you have to be in a 45 to 55 foot boat to have enough space to live aboard and cruise full-time.

After much soul-searching, more reading from those who are actually sailing and most importantly, a charter trip to the BVIs with another couple, I began to really think about the importance of size.  But now I was focused on the smallest boat we would be comfortable in.  Size = Cost!

Our experience and research has shown that supplies can be pretty readily had in our proposed cruising area.  There is little reason to carry more than a months worth of supplies.  Even if I have to pay a little more in places like the Bahamas, that cost is more than offset by the cheaper costs for maintenance, storage and overall purchase price.

What’s the point of this entire  post?  What’s the “right” boat?

It’s the smallest boat you will feel comfortable on without feeling like you are camping.  For us, it’s the Catalina 310.  There will be some modifications to make the boat better suited to our needs, but I believe you would have that with any boat.

Like the Pardey’s say, “Go Small.  Go Now!”