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Buying A Sailboat – What Should I Choose?

Post by: Dee White
26 January 2018

What should you buy?

Here’s the difficult bit because you must make this decision with your head and not your heart.
You should consider:

  • Cost – what can you afford, taking into consideration insurance, mooring, towing and all the add-on equipment you will need?
  • Usage – where you will use it, what for and how often.
  • Size – be realistic about the number of passengers/crew you normally want to carry, or need to sail the boat safely.
  • Storage – have you got a mooring or storage facility? These are sometimes more difficult to obtain than an actual boat.
  • Is it your first boat or do you want to upsize, downsize or change your type of usage?
  • If you are fairly new to sailing, consider getting some lessons and trying out different types of sailboats.

Your First Sailboat

This should be affordable, large and comfortable enough for an overnight stay or a week away and easy to sell on when you want to upsize or uprate, or in the unlikely event that you hate everything about sailing. The actual manufacturer doesn’t really matter as long as it is something fairly common and well known.

A suitable “first time” sailboat might be something like this:-

  • 22-27ft long
  • 10-30yrs old
  • Fiberglass hull – lasts almost for ever and needs little maintenance.
  • Sloop rigged – a single foresail and a main. This is both efficient and simple and suits a boat this size.
  • Fin or bilge keeled – depending whether you have a drying mooring or need a shallow draft.
  • Good condition – You’ll want to get on your boat and sail it NOW. Don’t buy a “project boat”.

Types of Sailboats

  • Daysailers – These are ideal for cruising up and down rivers, estuaries, creeks etc. They are usually 13 to 30 feet long, with open cockpits and one or two sails that you can set quickly with a small crew. Some carry a small outboard engine for when the wind dies or there is a tight entrance to a harbour.
  • Cruisers – These have a huge range from 20ft pocket cruisers with one or two berths, for a weekend away, to luxurious 60 footers and more with multi cabins, for long haul trips around the Med or the Caribbean and beyond.
  • Performance/ Racers – This is another world that you might aspire to if you crave a bit more speed and excitement. It is an intellectual as well as athletic competition which lends itself to a variety of formats and boats from modern carbon-fibre raceboats and wooden classics, to foiling dinghies and ultralight catamarans.

Understanding Sailboats and Rigs

  • Bermudan Sloop – The most common type of small to midsize sailboat, with one mast and two sails. The mainsail is a tall triangular sail mounted to the mast at its leading edge, reaching to the masthead. The foot of the sail is along its boom, which extends from the mast. The sail in front is called the jib or head sail and is mounted on the forestay with its trailing corner controlled by the jibsheet. This type of rig is easily manageable, especially for shorthanded crews and a sloop rig is usually cheaper to build. It is almost always faster than other rigs in boats of comparable size.
    By Ilenart626 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
  • Fractional Sloop Rig – This is a Bermuda rig with a proportionally taller mainsail and shorter jib, for ease of handling and maximum power. It is quite often used for sporty boats and racing dinghies.
  • Cat or Freedom Rig – These have only one sail. The mast is positioned very far forward making room for a very long-footed mainsail. There may be a traditional boom or a loose-footed mainsail attached to the aft corner to what is called a wishbone boom, rather like a huge windsurfer. The advantage of a Freedom Rig is ease of handling, especially for sailing single handed. It is very simple to tack but great care has to be taken when gybing. It is not considered as powerful as a Bermuda rig and is more rarely used in modern boats.
  • Ketch – This is a popular rig for a midsize cruising boat. It is similar to a sloop but has a second, smaller mast set aft but forward of the rudder post, called the mizzenmast. The mizzen sail functions like a second mainsail and a ketch carries about the same total square footage of sail as a sloop of similar size. Its advantages over a sloop are that the sails are usually somewhat smaller, so they will be lighter, easier to hoist and trim, smaller to stow and handling will be easier. Having three sails also offers more flexible combinations of sails, for example where a sloop might have to double-reef the main in a high wind, a ketch could sail with just the jib and the mizzen. The extra mast however, may make a ketch more expensive to buy and it is not considered as fast as a sloop rig.
    Tonkie at Dutch Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons
  • Yawl – Very similar to a ketch but with the mizzen mast set further aft, behind the rudder post and often smaller than that of a ketch.  Apart from this small design difference yawl and ketch rigs perform in a comparable way with similar advantages and disadvantages.
  • Schooner – This usually has two masts (sometimes more), but they are positioned more forward in the boat with the forward mast smaller than the aft mast (or sometimes the same size). Forward of the foremast a schooner can fly one or more jibs. Some modern schooners use triangular, Bermuda-like sails, but traditional schooners have gaff-rigged sails. These have a short spar (called a gaff) at the top of the sails which allows the sail to extend back along the fourth side. This gives a larger sail area than a triangular sail of the same height. Gaff-rigged schooners are still seen in many areas and are loved for their historical appearance, but they are rarely used now for private cruising, the rig being less efficient than the Bermuda and requiring more crew to sail.

So you know the differences between the most popular rigs. Which do you choose? Here are a few advantages and disadvantages to help you.

Advantages of a sloop

  • Simpler to use.
  • Comes in all sizes from 8-foot dinghies to boats over 100-foot long.
  • Faster and sails closer to the wind.
  • Fewer sails to buy and maintain.
  • Less rigging (both standing and running) to manage and maintain.
  • Most popular modern boat with a wide variety of choice available.

Disadvantages of a sloop

  • Sails usually larger and heavier, requiring more strength to handle.
  • Few options to reduce sail area – only reefing or furling.

Advantages of a ketch

  • Smaller sails to manage and hoist.
  • Different combinations of sails available for different conditions.
  • Intended as a cruising boat that is comfortable and easy to handle.
  • More stable in lumpy seas and more room below.

Disadvantages of a ketch

  • Usually do not sail as fast or as close to the wind.
  • More rigging to manage or maintain.
  • Mizzenmast takes up more room in the stern.
  • Fewer ketches available now – more popular as an older boat.

Monohulls or Catamarans?

By Jpbazard (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Catamarans are very popular in the charter industry but when looking for your own boat, unless you are very experienced, it is probably more sensible to choose a monohull.

Catamaran Pros

  • Spaciousness. With two hulls and the cockpit and saloon on the same level there is a feeling of space and light, with generally more room everywhere on the boat compared with a monohull.
  • Stability. Cats have amazing stability. They do not heel under way in normal conditions and do not roll at anchor, so they are generally more comfortable for those who suffer from seasickness and safer for children.
  • Speed and manoeuvrability. Cats are faster under power or sail and because of their shallow draft they can get into places that monohulls often cannot reach and also anchor close to shore. They are also very manoeuvrable.

Catamaran Cons

  • A cat may not give you that real feeling of sailing as it does not heel over. Only a monohull gives you the full sailing experience.
  • Cats take up much more docking space, which may be inconvenient and more expensive in busy marinas.
  • A cat does not typically sail well upwind and needs different techniques for tacking and anchoring.
  • In spite of their stability, care must be taken not to over canvas a cat. In severe conditions it is possible that the boat may heel and capsize in which case it will be virtually impossible to right.

What type of Keel?

Fin keels are generally the most popular. They give good stability and recovery from capsize and are the most effective at preventing leeway, but they have deeper displacement, so cannot enter shallow water and there may be less options for mooring.

Bilge keels have shallower drafts so they are more useful in shallow water and most can dry
out on a mooring, but they tend not to be so stable and may need reefing earlier.

Lifting keels have the best of both worlds, but there is more mechanism to maintain and there is concern about the keels jamming particularly if the boat is bumped on the bottom.

Engines

Inboard or outboard? This is a matter or choice but normally depends on the size of your boat, draft requirements and usage. Usually a small boat of less than 30-foot will carry an outboard engine, while about 30 to 40-foot and longer will have an inboard.

So many decisions to make and I haven’t covered all the options!  My advice would be to take a lot of time to do as much research as you can. Look at the boats available at boat shows, talk to people who know their boats, read about them and if you have the opportunity then try them out for yourself. Don’t rush into buying the first boat you fancy – it could be a costly mistake. But if you get it right it could provide you with many years of joy and excitement.