About two years ago I wrote an article “Perfect sailing boat?” for my previous blog. At that time I was in the process of selecting the ideal boat for my needs. I went through a lot of different boat designs from different eras and year models varied from 1974 to 2005. I wanted to find a seaworthy boat that could be easily sailed and maneuvered singlehandedly, but would still have enough size and displacement for offshore sailing and longer journeys. Space below the deck and number of cabins was less of a decisive factor. I read a lot of articles on ideal boat qualities for offshore and ocean sailing. This article is trying to reflect the complexity of choosing “the perfect boat”. We decided to publish this article on this blog with some small updates.

A Perfect Sailing Boat?

Few things in the world, when it comes buying something material, compare with the complex task of choosing the right sailing boat – at least in the eyes of a sailor. There are many things to consider: for example your budget, typical and potential sailing area, the type of sailing you want to do and the number of people living on board. The criteria for choosing a boat for comfortable family cruising in the archipelago differs quite a lot from the criteria of someone mostly doing singlehanded offshore sailing or racing. Usually difficulties occur when the boat should be capable of different kinds of sailing: e.g. from family-cruising to racing or from coastal cruising to longer offshore passages.

Needless to say, there is no such thing as the perfect sailing yacht. Choosing a boat is an example of a multidimensional optimization problem, where different demanded qualities for a boat are contradictory. Increasing one parameter in the function starts eventually effect negatively in the outcome – there are no free lunches! The perfect boat would be safe and comfortable at heavy seas, fast in the light winds, but still carrying its sails well. It would have balanced sailing performance (fast both on headwind and downwind), spacious interior which would still be practical and safe at sea, spacious but well-protected cockpit, beautiful “sailboat-looking” design and all this at an affordable price!

Elegant wine glass shaped lines of the Sparkman & Stephens classic, S&S 34. 

Many modern production boats are designed for the needs of the Caribbean and Mediterranean charter companies in mind. Thus, these boat designs emphasize the comfort in the marina. One example of this is the nowadays popular lower-able bathing platform that is nice to have in the harbour, but makes the attachment of a windvane impossible.

In the category of 28-32ft’s, manufacturer often tries to squeeze in the boat the same cabin lay-out that is found in larger yachts. Thus, the result is a beamy boat with high freeboard, which does not look nice and is often not very good in terms of seaworthiness. Furthermore, boats under 30ft are often sporty and lightweight and designed for coastal cruisers. There is just not enough demand for smaller offshore boats, so it is not profitable for volume manufacturers to make them anymore. Fortunately, there are still some few manufacturers, that keep producing decent smaller boats as well, but unfortunately these are usually priced quite high. Thus, when looking for one at a decent price, many are forced to look for older boats.

Bigger yachts are often less of a compromise as there is not as much need to increase the beam or freeboard for the sake of interior space and the number of berths. And due to the longer waterline, the bigger boats are also faster, thus reducing the need for over-canvasing. However, besides being more expensive they are also more difficult to handle when sailing single- or shorthanded – especially in the harbour maneuvers.

The characteristics of an ocean-going yacht

When following the discussion on both Finnish- and English-speaking internet forums, one notices the persistent debate on an ideal design of an offshore sailing yacht. There is no ultimate list of the qualities of a proper ocean sailing yacht, but merely different opinions. In the end, a boat is always a compromise, so it is about personal valuation and weights given to different qualities. Below a list of some qualities that I wanted to have on a boat:

– A medium-long fin keel (for strenght and directional stability)
– A ballast over 1/3 of the total displacement of the boat
– A rudder hung on skeg (for strenght and directional stability)
– A deep, solid laminate hull (with proper bilge) for comfortable ride at sea
– A tiller steering

Many of these characteristics are difficult to find on a modern 21st century sailing boat.

Naturally, choosing the right boat is also a matter of personal valuation, intuition, market supply and luck. I also feel that aesthetics is one of the pleasures of sailing, as few things made by man compare with the beauty of a sailing boat.

HR 36, designed by Germán Frers, is one of my dream boats. There is a proper bilge and the keel attachement looks very sturdy. Balanced rudder is strengthened by a partial skeg. 
Picture from Hallberg-Rassy.     

Plans of Swan 38 (S&S design) introduced in 1974. The genius of S&S designs is in combining performance and low wetted surface with a sturdy construction. Note the full-depth skeg for rudder.