Draft rec.boats.cruising FAQ

First Draft - Created 26 July 1997 (Total of 750 lines).
Last Updated 15 October 1998; links last updated 12 October 1998

Copyright (C) 1997/1998 David H Dennis - All Rights Reserved. Opinions of others are copyrighted by their respective authors. Unless otherwise noted, photographs were also taken and copyrighted by the author.

This is meant to develop into a Frequently Asked Questions list (FAQ) for the rec.boats.cruising newsgroup. It's very much a work in progress, created by an armchair yachtsman who has time to futz around with a FAQ because he's not cruising yet :-).

I asked John F Hughes, keeper of the Newsgroup Charter for rec.boats.cruising about the procedure for making this FAQ an "official" production. He told me that it was "a good and interesting document", but that it was filled with opinion and not really a compedimum of "frequently asked questions" at all. Alas, he has an excellent point - this is more a list of questions I frequently ask myself, with answers I've dug up.

So I can't say I have official sanction, nor that I will any time soon, but I hope you will still find this document of interest. It was fun to prepare, so it will be updated as long as I keep reading and getting input from the rec.boats.cruising community.

I would like to thank the numerous responses I've received to this document, all positive. I've received some great contributions, and as a result this is rapidly turning into a "real" document. I now have no doubts about its viability :-).

A Brief Outline of Sections

Who wrote this, and why?

The Dream


Equipment & Exotica

Costs, Logistics and Stuff

Foreign Lands

Reviews of Cruising Books - updated 27 December 1998

Cool Links & Resources

Yachting / Boating Photographs taken by the author

Who wrote this, and why?
My name is David Dennis, and I'll be very up front about this: I have virtually no cruising experience, an attribute that would seem to disqualify myself completely and utterly from FAQ writing or maintenance.

What I've discovered over the years, though, is that one of the best ways to learn and accumulate knowledge and eventually become an expert is to write a FAQ. And, since I'm an inverterate reader, I know quite a bit more than one might think.

What I've noticed is that groups that don't have FAQs tend to have lots of people who are too busy doing other things. In this case, I rather suspect most of you are out cruising, or at least trying to be out there. And if you are out on the water, you're busy putting together great web pages about your adventures, instead of a general FAQ.

So my hope is that I can help fill this gap, because I'm an inverterate FAQ writer, and have no adventures to tell (yet, anyway!). My previous FAQs include my magnum opus, the Internet Access Provider FAQ, 9,000 odd lines (over 120 pages) on how to become an Internet provider. When I started it, I knew virtually nothing about being an Internet provider. Now, I'm the technical head of one. With a bit of luck, I can do the same with cruising. :-)

My frequent presence at boat shows and my persistent asking of questions while there, combined with my incessant reading of boats for sale publications, make me know a decent amount about the market and boats as static objects. Unfortunately, I know little to nothing about actually running one, which will make some parts of this document oddly thin.

Before I put too much more into this, I'd appreciate knowing if you nice folks out there like the idea. If you think the idea of a FAQ produced by someone who presently knows virtually nothing about the subject at hand is laughable, tell me. Or if you enjoyed this document and want me to continue, tell me that, too. And, best of all, if you found parts of this document to be laughably inaccurate or some vital section just plain missing, or if you have a question to add (even without an answer!), I'd appreciate your contribution.

I've received about eight very friendly, positive responses, all with superb additions. So I don't think there's any question that this will turn into an extremely useful resource. My thanks to Jeremy Hoyland, Don Bingham, Eduardo Doria, Doug King, Betty Maxey, Chuck Woods and Steve Weingart for their splendid contributions and encouragement!

So how can you tell me more? Drop me an email!

How can you learn more about me to see if I seem like an all right kind of fellow? Visit my personal web pages, of course!

The Dream
As I'm sitting in this office in Marina del Rey, I know that, on the other side of my building, there is a vast Marina; and in that Marina, there are boats.

Even though I'm writing this on a Saturday, most of those boats are sitting in the Marina, waiting quietly for their owners who never come.

My dream is to be able to own one of those boats, but to actually take it out. To take it out near or far, but at least to get on to the water and enjoy the sea breezes and the friendliness of my fellow sailors.

Right now, I'm still trying to figure out how to earn the money for it. In the mean time, the Dream helps keep me going, even at times when I feel frustrated with what's going on in my life.

And to make this dream more real, it's time for me to learn everything I can about the world of cruising. And, hopefully, to help others learn as well.

That's the dream. And that's what this FAQ is all about.

What should I name my boat?

One particularly strange thing I've noticed on rec.boats is that there is an amazing amount of attention paid to boat names. Perhaps this is because a boat name is one of the few periods where everyone absolutely has to come up with something sounding creative and original. I remember well when my family bought a 13' Boston Whaler together. There were two major factions in the family, it being a coming together of two formerly-fractured halves, and each half wanted their own name or else. I threw in a name, and the other faction threw in a name, and they were so totally incompatible that there was simply no possibility of compromise.

Finally, I proclaimed that the boat be called The Great Debate. This silenced the audience.

The Debate and I had a great time that summer. It must be added that the other faction never expressed any interest in the boat after the naming was complete.

At any rate, you should name your boat after whatever you please. However, based on the de-naming folklore mentioned below, I would not name it after a passing fancy or an occasional whim. Don't name it the Rachel if Rachel is only likely to be a six-month wonder.

I don't like my boat's current name. How can I change it?

The Boating Gods are said to be intermittently displeased if a boat's name is changed without proper ceremony. Here is the appropriate ceremony, according to Paul Kamen:

Yes, there *is* a way to change a boat's name without upsetting the various deities of the sea and air.

First time out with the new name on the boat, luff up into the wind and drift to a complete stop, then allow the boat to sail backwards. This represents "backing over" the old name. Sailing backwards is hard - requires a good breeze, some waves usually help, and a fair amonut of skill. But the godesses and gods that are concerned with these matters are not easy to impress! If the boat is a fin keel type with a separate rudder, you should be able to stabilize in backwards mode and do it for at least a few boatlengths. For a full-keeler, the spirits will most likeley be appeased with a half-boatlength or so. Under no circumstance should you do this under power!

If the boat is a powerboat, you will have bad luck with the new name until you have run aground three times. I don't know if these can be intentional groundings - perhaps someone with more experience in this area could clarify this.

This, however, appears to be a highly controversial subject. I read an article in 48 North magazine that said you had to remove all traces of the old name, utter some bizarre incantation, wait some suitable period of time, and then proceed with a normal christening with the new name. Someone kindly reproduced this article on rec.boats.cruising. Apparently it was printed in Cruising World magazine as well. A close reading of it shows that it's apparently from the press release for a new book, so I daresay its publishers won't mind a wider distribution:

The Name Change Game

There is an old, venerable nautical superstition that bad luck will haunt the sailor so bold and foolish as to change a vessel's name once the original moniker has been confirmed. But does that mean a sailor on the used-boat market has to forsake the ship of his dreams simply because she is saddled with a bad handle? "No!" sys regular Cruising World contributor John Vigor - provided a few simple steps are taken. Vigor puts forth his theory in his new book The Practical Marinerís Book of Knowledge: 420 Sea-Tested Rules of Thumb for Almost Every Boating Situation (International marine/McGraw-Hill). Vigor's alphabetized tips deal with everything from bottom paints to resale values to weather indicators. And, in the first entry under letter "N", the tricky subject of boat names:

"Name, Changing of": It's not unlucky to change the name of a boat, provided certain rules are followed, including the holding of Vigor's little-known interdenominational de-naming ceremony.

"The first requirement is to remove the old name from everything onboard. Take the old logbook ashore. Check for offending books and charts with the name inscribed. Be ruthless. Sand away the old name from the transom, topsides and dinghy. Painting over is not sufficient. Remove and replace a name carved into wood or, at the very minimum, fill with putty and paint over.

Concoct your own ceremony, to be performed with or without spectators. Make it short, sweet and simple. The elements of the ceremony are twofold: a supplication and a libation. Address directly the gods of the wind (Aeolus), sea (Neptune), and any others you want, and ask them to strike from their records the old name of the boat. Mention the name. Then pray their indulgence in extending their goodwill and protection to the vessel with her new name, which will be revealed in a separate naming ceremony to come. Do not mention the new name.

Then, without further words, pour a libation of champagne, the best you can afford , over the bows. Be generous. You may drink some yourself and offer some to your guests, if any, but don't be mean with the gods' portion or you'll regret it. And unless you're absolutely bent on self-destruction don't use a cheap substitute for the real champagne. Remember the champagne represents the blood sacrifice of the ancients. It saves you from having to slaughter your favorite virgin, so don't stint on the price.

Immediately thereafter, or at any interval to suit yourself, you may conduct a normal naming ceremony as if she were a brand new vessel. And yes because blood sacrifice is no longer encouraged or even tolerated, you do need another, fresh bottle of champagne. Real champagne. I have changed the name of a boat in this way with great success, and I can recommend Vigor's interdenominational de-naming ceremony to all without hesitation.

SJPAV brings us another version, which seems compatible with what I heard from 48 North:

I researched this a few years back and found a little info you might like. The Mystic Seaport people dug this out of their archives for me. To rechristen your boat you must first remove all vestiges of the original name from the boat. All painted, stamped, printed, engraved, or decaled names must be removed inside and outside. All references to the boat's original name, ship's log, etc. (except for official paperwork concening ownership), must also be removed. Then and only then can you rechristen her with her new name.

Newfoundland fisherman have an interesting way of this also. First, the night before the rechristening, they sneak aboard and pour a cheap alcoholic potion (such as rum or wine) on the bow and decks of the boat. This is to wash away the old "luck". The next day she is christened with fine, expensive champagne, bring on the new luck!

Richard Hendrickson, in his excellent book "The Ocean Almanac," reminds us that the Titanic originally had another name.

Good Luck!


What's the best cruising boat?

The best cruising boat is the one that suits your needs. There are so many cruising different lifestyles, so many destinations, that the boat perfect for one might fall down flat on the other.

For example, consider an expensive Hinckley Bermuda 40, designed to survive all but the severest of storms, a magnificent creation created to survive the intense stress of a lifetime of cruising. Take that supposedly ideal boat, and put it next to a relatively cheap Hunter.

The Hunter does not have the exquisite quality of the Hinckley; one look will prove that. But in the light air and slight breezes of Southern California, its light weight will help it slip along smoothly in even the tiniest of breezes, easily passing the becalmed Hinckley.

In short: Buy your boat for what you think you'll use it for the most. It's very tempting to go for something like the Hinckley, just because the craftsmanship and design are magnificent; but if you're not going to use it for what it was designed for, you may not be nearly as happy with it as you would hope.

What level of boat quality do I need?

Why, the highest possible level, of course. All you need to do is rush out to Hallberg-Rassy and they will lovingly make for you a beautiful creation. The teak will shine and sparkle; the sails will flex magnificently as they do their work, and the hull will gleam with the pride of its creators ...


I woke up.

Quality in material things is a very interesting characteristic; it's hard not to love it, and to think everything you own should have that magical touch of greatness. Unfortunately, quality costs money. A great deal of money. I can get an older used Catalina 27 for about $ 6,500. A used Nor'sea 27 of roughly the same vintage sells for about $ 39,000. The Catalina is a middle-of-the-road design - decent quality but not exceptional. The Nor'sea is exceptional; it's fully capable of going around the world without letting you down. As you can see, the difference in price is pretty awesome.

So there is a sad dilemma: You may ache for the best possible quality, a gloriously loyal little ship to accompany your boating experiences, and yet this desire may prevent you from getting out on the water at all.

The highest possible level of quality is only necessary if you want to sail offshore, out of the sight of land, for long periods of time. If you want to go to Tahiti, or make a round trip cruise to Hawaii or back, the high-quality vessel is really your only choice. But most cruising boats spend their time along the coast, and a more moderate level of quality, such as a Catalina or a Hunter, should work perfectly well for that, and be quite a bit less expensive.

Brands such as Bayliner and MacGregor are the bottom-feeders of our industry, with the worst reputation for quality. However, MacGregor has some compensating features that may still endear it to buyers. For instance, they have a model that will effectively run as either a sailboat or a powerboat, depending on how much of a hurry you're in. Sail along if you're in the mood for peace, or blast away at 20 knots with a 40hp outboard if you're in a hurry. Because it's light, it's also easy to put on a trailer and move to more promising cruising grounds. This is all very clever stuff, but to old salts and those that generally take the salty attitude (such as myself), it's just not good enough. These features require a very light weight, which was achieved by compromising ruggedness and durability.

People who have bought MacGregors report oddly varying experiences, with many saying that it's a perfectly adequate boat for their needs. Others found that they were caught in unexpected situations, such as a storm, that caused some of the inferior quality fittings to break or at least stress heavily, endangering both the craft and its passengers. Some owners compensated for this by bolstering existing fittings with heavier ones that they installed. With those heavier fittings, they gained (or regained) confidence in the vessel's strength.

There have been a number of people who report highly positive experiences with the MacGregor 65, which was designed from the start for offshore cruising. While the 65 is certainly not going to satisfy those who love spit and varnish boating, MacGregor 65 owners seem to be a satisfied lot. In fact, the 65 could be thought of as a low-rent version of the Dashews' $ 2 million plus creations - it shares the long hull and narrow beam design that they pioneered. One unique feature of the 65 is that, like its smaller bretheren, it includes positive floatation, a great comfort in the case of a knockdown or severe hull damage. Unfortunately, the 65s are no longer made, but their generally good reputation lives on.

My personal bottom line is that it's tough to recommend the bottom tier of boat quality, such as Bayliner and MacGregor. You don't save much money over at least a middle of the road company like Hunter or Catalina, and you lose a significant margin of safety which might mean the difference between life and death somewhere down the road. If you're tempted by a new MacGregor, consider a used something else. If you're tempted by a used MacGregor, you'll find more durable alternatives for similar money. (I was surprised to see this, but check the classifieds and you shall find).

The only situations under which I would consider a MacGregor is if you always sailed in calm conditions, the area in which you were planning to sail was not known for sudden storms, and you really, really loved the motor-sail features of the boat. Even then, I feel an aesthetic pull towards high quality, and so I'd stay away. But if you don't, more power to you.

If you'd really like the highest possible quality level and can't afford it, I suggest you buy something in the next tier down and at least enjoy the water. You can then trade up when you're ready to start your world cruise, and you will have gained substantial experience in the mean time. Older used sailboats, even in pretty decent shape, can be mercifully cheap. Be patient, scan the classifieds, and be sure to get a good surveyor.

But if you can afford it, I wouldn't even try to talk you out of that neat little Hallberg-Rassy 53. It'll only cost you a bit over half a million dollars, and what's money, anyway? You are, after all, buying a gorgeous, durable mobile work of art that will have to endure whatever you and Mother Nature throw at it. That's a tough job, under any circumstances. It's hard not to love the best, even if you can't afford it.

Related links:

A review of the MacGregor 26X explains both the problems and the promise. (Note: If you decide to visit this link, note that it's strangely organized. You should probably go straight to the text version of the article instead of trying to read it as the set of rather blurry low-resolution images they have)

Some comments from a satisfied MacGregor 26 owner in response to my USENET post answering this question. Executive summary: The boat can be a loyal friend if you treat it right. In particular, avoid leaving the rudders in the water while powering. [15 October 1997]

What's the best size of boat to use?

For coastal cruising, the simple answer is whatever boat strikes your fancy and satisfies your budget.

People who strain their budget to buy expensive boats don't tend to use them that much, because they're busy earning money to keep both their boat and other aspects of their lifestyle afloat. I had a graphic example of this when I visited the ritzy Marina del Rey section of our city (where I work) and the far scummier Long Beach marina. In Marina del Rey, all was empty; in Long Beach, there were people actually using their boats, getting on them, chatting with each other and <gulp> actually taking them out of the harbor! [Picture at left of Long Beach harbor boats taken by the author]

So if you have been dreaming for ages of getting that perfect 40 foot Hinckley, you might want to think twice and settle for that Catalina 30 you could actually afford to buy today. Life's going on, and we're not getting any younger, friends.

For offshore cruising, writers are sharply divided on this point, with some insisting that any substantial amount of offshore cruising should be on a well-found boat of 40' or greater. Others suggest that a more austere approach might be better, especially for the cruising couple. They point out that if you strain your budget to buy the big boat, you won't have much left to equip it, provision it and generally cruise.

Even the right 28 footer can be surprisingly spacious. You just have to get the right one.

Despite this, as a general rule the biggest boat that fits your budget is probably the best one. You're going to be on her for a long time, after all. Just be sure you have enough money for cruising after you bought her, and remember that at 45' to 50' or so it will take more than a couple to handle her.

An interesting perspective on this came from Don Bingham, who wrote:

I do have one suggestion: IMHO, money may determine the quality of the sailboat to be purchased, but it should not determine the size. Sail plan is the big factor-how much crew does it take to manage it.A single, or a couple sailing a 40 ft. with 1100 or 1200 sq, ft.are going to be exhausted, or wait for additional crew. It is at least a partial answer as to why so few boats leave the dock
The average size of boats not leaving the dock seems to closely track the average size of boats, period, but it does seem from my research that overbuying boats leads to some awfully sad (and expensive!) stories.

Doug King comments about draft:

Regarding "Size of the ideal cruiser" you might insert a brief note about draft. Many of the world's best crusing waters are shallow, and there is no port anywhere that isn't easier to find a spot to moor or tie up for a shallow boat than a deep one. A boat that is for use primarily in coastal waters, say in the Gulf of Mexico or Chesapeake Bay, will find many miles of the most alluring waters where she cannot venture (ain't that poetic?)
Chuck Woods [Freya 39] suggests that we don't neglect the possibilities of the older and inexpensive boat:

Regarding boats, don't overlook the large number of older quality boats out there, many of them languishing in your very own harbor. There are plenty of Pacific Seacrafts, Cabo Rico's, Bristol Channel Cutters and yes, a few Freya's out there for sale. Some of them can be had for $25K or less, (Contessa 27 for instance) which have numerous circumnavigations under their keels. As you stated, you have to stay within your financial boundaries. By the way, there are lots of people out there cruising on less than $1000/mo including boat maintenance. They don't have air conditioning, ice makers and 50' yachts however. But they are having the time of their lives.
I'll leave the last word with Al Gunther, who writes:
I say to anyone who is entering into this area to think small first when it comes to boats. Don't go for the biggest boat you can afford unless it's only impressing your friends with your apparent wealth that you crave for. Better to go for the smallest boat that will take you where you want to go with the minumum you need to carry and spend more time in the water than ashore.
I'm going on a world cruise. How big should my boat be?

Boats of every size, from 24 foot midgets to 184 foot giants, have successfully circumnavigated. So the first answer is that it should be as big as you need. Overall quality (see above) is more important than size - I'd take a Hallberg-Rassy 31 before a MacGregor 65, for example. (It's cheaper, too; size isn't everything).

The most important factors, however, have nothing to do with the boat itself; they are psychological. How will you, your significant other and any children manage to get along in a confined space from which there will be no escape for long periods of time? The basic solidity of your marriage is probably the most important thing. You should not try to go on a cruise as a way to get back in touch with your family; the odds are that you'll have some very unpleasant surprises ahead of you. Get in touch with your family and then cruise.

The basic rule of thumb is that each person should have a decent amount of private space. Your love life will go down the tubes if there isn't private space for you and your SO. You don't want that to happen in such a romantic environment, do you?

The sort of vague rule of thumb I've developed from a great deal of reading (but, alas, no practical experience) is that a single person can get away with a boat under 30 feet, a couple should spring for 30-35 feet, and a couple with children will regret it unless they get 40 feet plus.

Bear in mind that even with an unlimited budget, a boat becomes more difficult to handle as it gets larger. So if you are a single person, and want the 40 footer so you can put all the gadgets you want on it, you may want to scale down your plans. On the other hand, if you have kids who can learn boat handling, the larger boat will make them more useful and the experience more valuable.

It's tempting to think that you could buy that 40 footer and use fancy gadgets, such as electric winches and the like, to make it easy to handle. Unfortunately, electricity and boats don't get along frightfully well, so you might find that your fancy systems fail you at crucial times, and that could result in anything from an uncomfortable ride to a sunk boat and even death. So don't rely on fancy gadgets; make sure you could run the boat yourself if you had to.

It's interesting how much contradictory advice there is in the sailing world. I have since read Offshore Cruising Encyclopedia by Steve and Linda Dashew. The Dashews are famously happy with their sleek 67 foot sailboat, which they run all by themselves quite well, thank you. I will soon elaborate a bit on this in my upcoming book review section.

I have a lot of money. How big should my boat be?

When you have the money, you can live in the lap of luxury, as Edward Wagner does on his 70' Hatteras motor yacht:

Lucky in life -- beyond even my exaggerated imagination -- I purchased and own a 70 feet Hatteras. Cruising in Bahamas (out of SE Florida), primarily Exumas and "out islands," I have an effective range of 300 NM. On my last cruise, almost 2,900NM, I refueled ten times -- 1,600 gals each time. Expensive? Quite.

More comfortable than sailboat (I sailed for almost thirty years on Great Lakes, northern Europe and Med)? Indeed. No more pushing and pulling all the strings, sitting in sun all day, sleeping in dank and airless cabin, cooking in space less than a small closet over a temperamental stove that consumed huge quantities of propane, showering with one gal of water in open cockpit, doing laundry seldom (and most often never for weeks on end).

Now I have a comfortable chair in a large saloon, a galley that rivals most condos, air conditioning day and night, a washer and dryer, a shower with endless hot water (watermaker produces 535 gpd actual), etc.

And I anchor 95% of the time, most often in small coves. I do not like marinas. I would guess than most sailors, if they happened to be as lucky as me, would make similar change. I have often invited sailors onboard for a sundowner and they sometimes seem reluctant to return to their boats. I was asked once if I invited him to be able to brag. I responded by saying I was not showing off or bragging -- did not need to. I suggested he take my hospitality at face value and not be cynical, cynicism being the last refuge of the scoundrel.

I've seen a 70' Hatteras at a boat show, and it is indeed a beautiful piece of equipment. Unfortunately, the asking price of the ones I saw were in the $ 1.6 million range, and the cost of keeping it running is sky-high. But for those of you who desire comfort, something like it may be the only realistic choice. Diesel fuel can be purchased in bulk in the US for less than $ 1 a gallon, but in the Bahamas it ranges around $ 2.

If you have virtually unlimited funds, the makers of large sailboats have a surpise for you: Many manufacturers, looking to obtain somewhere around $ 1 million or more from you for a boat, claim that you can do "push-button sailing", using powered winches and other complex gadgets.

I'd like to know if anyone has really tried such things, and if they really are workable. Most books that mention this kind of system at all are profoundly skeptical, claiming that electric winches make things easier, but electrical breakdowns, all too common on boats, can make dependence on gadgets annoying and downright dangerous at times.

I'd like to know if anyone's actually used a sailboat dependent on gadgets. Does it still feel like sailing? And does it make the whole process more enjoyable?

Should you buy a new or a used boat?

Well, you would think it would be like a new or used car - you buy a new car if you need reliable transportation and can afford it, and otherwise you're stuck buying someone else's problem.

Boats are not that simple; there are several facts that point towards a used boat unless you're highly experienced with them.

Commissioning. This is the act of getting a boat ready for sea. If you buy a base boat, even if it's advertised as "sailaway", you will still need to add additional equipment to make it suit your needs. You may want to install a radar, or a built-in GPS. You may want to customize the interior, especially if the boat's going to be your home for a long time. There are probably many things about the boat as it leaves the factory that will not be practical for long-term cruising; you'll want to change them. Flip through the West Marine catalogue, and you'll get a good idea of the types of things people can do with their boats; the possibilities are nearly limitless.

If you buy a used cruising boat, much of this work will have been done, and the bugs will have been worked out. For this reason, it can be much less frustrating - and expensive - to buy a used boat than a new.

Delivery. In many cases, you won't be able to get a new boat of your choice without waiting a long time for it to be made for you. Some popular boats have waiting lists of over a year.

Situations. People tend to sell their cars when they are on their last legs and about to die in their hands. As a result, used cars have a reputation for unreliability. However, people tend to sell their boats when they're bored with them, when they find that they're not likely to get much use out of them, and when they've finished cruising and want to do other things. As a result, it's much more likely that you'll find a good used boat than a good used car. Many (although admittedly not all) used boats have many, many years of good service left in their hulls.

Survey. As we will find out in more detail below, a survey is a complete inspection of the boat. You have a survey done to have an expert's view of your boat's condition. Odd as it may seem, you will want a survey even if you purchase a new boat. Malcom Oakes (see the links page) found this out the hard way; he purchased a brand new boat with a disconnected through-hull fitting, and it could have sunk the vessel on the way from the yard. You can avoid his potential plight with a survey.

What's it like to own a megayacht?

Fortunately, I got a rare glimpse into a truly rarified world when I visited owner Phil Restino aboard the Picante, a 123' Broward motor yacht, during my trip to South Florida.

[Mast of a very, very,
very big boat with lots of bristling antennae] This is my favourite picture of the Picante: Antennae for every conceivable kind of electronics and communications gear.

8,500 gallons of fuel creates a 3,000 mile range with the twin 12-cylinder GM diesel engines. Powerful air conditioning keeps the yacht cool in summer and warm in winter; through any weather it can endure, it will cruise at a steady 15 knots, no matter what the direction of the wind.

The crew of six creates a magnificent atmosphere of service and comfort. The twin 75kw generators provide sufficient electricity to run whatever fancy gadget you might wish. The powerful satellite communications keep you in touch with the globe at all times.

Of course there is the slight problem of the matter of finance. Most of us don't have the charter fee of $ 55,000 a week. (The ship's owner claims it breaks even).

To sailboat owners, there is also the moral issues - the question of air polution, generator noise, despoilization of the environment. There's also the simple fact that, with a crew of six, what you really have is not a boat but a business, an enterprise that needs its own management team and its own rules. And there is the matter of the three page typed list of deficiencies, from minor leaks to the lack of a CD player in the staterooms (oh the horror!)

It's not impossible that my picture of this yacht might have made you want to see more. So here are some more pictures of the Picante for your enjoyment.

Incidentally, the Picante's owner uses her for about two weeks a year. He's already contemplating replacing her with a 150 footer; he says you can get better charter fees that way. At the time I got my pictures, the Picante was where she usually is: sleeping peacefully in her slip.

What material should my boat be made of?

Almost everyone will immediately say Fiberglass. It's strong, it's durable and it doesn't have many of the durability problems of the other materials. Basically, unless you're a maintenance maven, it's by far the best choice.

What about wood? Wood boats are far cheaper than fiberglass ones, and they might seem like an ideal way to get into cruising. I find contradictory reports about wood boat maintenance; some (usually wood boat owners) say it's not that hard, while others say it's a total nightmare.

As much as I can piece it together, if you get a wood boat in sound condition, it may serve you well for many years of joyful use. But that will only happen if you're an absolute demon about following the maintenance schedule. If you let it slip - even a little - your boat will disintegrate under you quicker than your worst nightmares come true.

In the tropics and other wet, muggy climates, wood boats will rot quite rapidly and are not recommended at all. In dry climates like Southern California, they are far more durable. Taking your wood boat from Southern California to some tropical paradise may not be the best idea.

Wood & Work

I was just at an exhibition of wooden boats with all their lovely old-style teak and varnish. I asked several of the boat owners how difficult it was to keep their boats together.

They all said that many, many hours of hard labour were involved. "It's either a lot of work, a lot of money, or both" one of them told me. I got the impression that none of them particularly appreciated that I'd brought up the subject, that it was somehow taboo in their world to discuss exactly how much back-breaking work went into their lovely vessels.

I did manage to ask one of them a follow-up question: "How much would it cost if I just wanted to have someone else do it for me?" He said it varied so dramatically by condition of the wood, frequency of work, and the worker's love for the boat that it was impossible to say. I got the impression that you might be able to find someone who really, really loved those boats, who would give you quite a deal. But finding someone like that would be sheer luck.

[Photograph of a beautiful vintage motor yacht by the author]

27 July 1997

Steel is exceedingly strong, stronger than any other material. If you want a boat that can really take it, steel may be your best choice, particularly for a sailboat or trawler. Unfortunately, steel rusts, and is subject to electrolysis, a process which can cause it to disintegrate. Because of its heavy weight, steel has been largely replaced by aluminum in the megayacht market. However, there are still many steel world cruising sailboats in moderate sizes (45 feet and up) that are well worthy of consideration.

Aluminum is generally the material of choice for custom boats in the massive (100' plus) sizes. It's easier to make one-off custom shapes than fiberglass, and it's light and strong. The main con is that it's quite expensive and it's subject to something called electrolysis, which can cause it to decay. It's less strong than steel; it can be dented in situations where steel would hold up. But such considerations are only likely to apply when the yacht is already in serious trouble.

Megayacht makers have responded to competition from Hatteras' high-end fiberglass boats by making their newest products in fiberglass, but most cutting-edge design is still done in aluminum.

Ferro-Cement is a material that you can use to build a boat yourself relatively easily and cheaply. Unfortunately, its advantages stop more or less there. Because most FC boats are hand built by people with little experience, corners are likely to be cut, and there are many heartbreaking stories of boats constructed after great effort and found to be absolutely worthless. When done right, the material is very strong, and requires little in the way of maintenance, but for most people this doesn't override the potential quality problems. A poor-quality ferro-cement boat can be basically impossible to put right.

Teak Brightwork: Pros and Cons

The current trend is to make boats that look like giant pieces of plastic, with no teak trim whatsoever.

Even though I'm awfully lazy when it comes to questions of maintenance, I have to say that I would prefer to have teak, since it looks so wonderful.

I asked numerous people at the Boat Show about the costs of keeping exterior teak together. Apparently, it's a lot like a wooden boat: If you keep it up well, it won't cost that much to keep varnished or oiled. But if you let it go, you're in trouble.

In the Southern California area, which is admittedly kinder on wood than most other cruising grounds, I was told that a good polishing about every 3-6 months would be good enough to keep it shining. If you have an outside worker do it, I was told by two different people that it should run $ 100-200 per polish at a rate of $ 7 to $ 10 an hour.

Teak trim inside the boat should last virtually forever. I saw one 30 year old brokerage boat that had horribly destroyed teak trim in the outside, but picture-perfect trim in most of the interior. So interiors shouldn't be much of a problem, although I was told it might be looked at every two years or so to keep it absolutely perfect.

Chuck Woods [Freya 39] writes as follows:

First, Teak is varnished or oiled, not "polished". [This correction has been made - Oops!] You are absolutely correct in that wood working, especially varnishing is a labor of love. Actually, there are few chores on a boat that I don't enjoy, even doing the bottom of my Freya 39.
See Wood & Work, above, for another perspective. For the gritty details about teak maintenance, see teak maintenance, below.

Power or Sail?

Latitude 38, an excellent magazine devoted to cruising, has as its motto: We go where the wind blows.

This captures the romance of sailing - being caught up by the wind, and blown all over the earth. No smelly diesel engines for you, no tiresome engine problems, no wearying contact with the outside world, just you and your significant other against the wind and the world.

Sailing also has significant cost advantages - normally, you only run your engine an hour or so a day, to take care of essential power needs like refrigeration. Because of that, it's much cheaper to run a sailboat than a powerboat; your primary source of energy is the wind, which nobody has figured out how to charge for. A long-range powerboat often has a diesel tank of 1,000 gallons or more; that's a lot of money even if it can be stretched to last a good long time.

So sail has romance and cost all covered, which is especially important considering that many cruisers eventually try to prolong their trips by earning money in the remote location. Clearly, the less you can get away with spending, the better off you will be in the distinct likelihood that you won't want to return to the "outside world".

Still, powerboats have a number of interesting advantages, which has resulted in a growing number of them appearing in traditional sail-only territory.

A sailboat can go a long way without fuel, but if there is no wind, it won't be going anywhere (unless, of course, you use your engine). A powerboat will go anywhere, as long as it doesn't run out of fuel or is not sunk by weather or accident. That's a key advantage in many cruising areas where there just may not be enough wind to run a boat in any kind of reliable way.

A powerboat can help you keep a schedule - the average speed over ground is likely to be faster, even with a full-displacement boat (see below).

Probably most interestingly of all, powerboats tend to be beamier (wider), meaning that they can pack much more comfortable accomodations in any given amount of length. Check out the accomodations on a Grand Banks 42 (a typical trawler), and you'll find it tough to return to your cramped sailboat.

A powerboat takes less skill and effort to operate - you don't have to run all over the boat to adjust the sails. There's also less risk of falling overboard, for the same reason.

Since an engine is almost always running on a powerboat, more creature comforts, such as air conditioning and sophisticated communications gear, can be run without worrying about their strain on your electrical system.

If you love the fancy gadgets, the Radars, the Satellite Communications systems, the hefty refrigeratior/freezers, the air conditioners and so on, only a big powerboat may be able to accomodate the fuel and generator capacity needed to use it.

Other than the lack of romance, the main problem with a powerboat is range; few of them can carry enough fuel to go on an extended journey. Unless you have a megayacht like the Picante or a trawler like a Grand Banks, you probably aren't going to be able to go more than a few hundred miles without filling up your tanks. That pretty much closes most popular cruising destinations (at least in people's dreams), like Hawaii or the Pacific Islands, to you, because you can't get fuel in the middle of the ocean.

But I'll give Jere Lull the last word:

Difference between a powerboater and sailor: A powerboater gets in his boat to go someplace; a sailor steps onboard and is already there.
How often do sailboaters run their engines?

This seems to vary a great deal, depending as much on the energy requirements of the equipment being used as wind conditions themselves. In This Old Boat, it is said that the typical refrigeration unit requires about two hours of engine time a day, and other power-eating items might even add a bit to that.

Jere Lull writes:

We run as a powerboat probably a couple of hours a day on average this year. We put 60 hours on the clock during a nearly 3-week trip this year, but that was because we didn't feel like working. With the previous boat, we didn't use the engine 6 hours in a 6-month season! Sailed to and from the mooring. We're also running under autopilot for the first year and that chews up some battery, so we spend more time on the motor simply to ensure the batteries stay fully charged.
Sail: Rigs

The simplest rig is the cat, which has just a single mainsail. This is generally used on small boats and not at all by cruisers.

The most common type of rig is the sloop, with a smaller mainsail than the cat, but with the addition of a single headsail called the jib.

Many cruisers prefer the less common cutter, which is similar to the sloop but has two sails in front of the mast instead of one. This provides more flexibility at a low cost in performance.

Sail: Full Keel vs Fin Keel vs Centerboard

Traditionally, only a full-keel cruiser, such as the one shown to the left, was considered rugged enough to go cruising. Nowadays, this is a highly complex subject, riven with firey emotion on both sides. If you are a traditionalist, nothing beats the hefty ruggedness of a full keel cruiser, especially in the shorter lengths. If you are a modernist, nothing beats a long, thin boat with a flat bottom and a fin keel. (Traditionalists, sadly, don't tend to have web sites).

I get the impression that this conflict has a great deal to do with money. People who advocate cruising in small boats also tend to advocate traditional, full-keel cruisers. This is because they are more comfortable in a blow, more solid and secure, so they can "take it" if something bad is going to happen. For persuasive advocacy of this point of view, see Lin and Larry Pardy.

Those who advocate cruising in large, modern boats, as big as possible, tend to advocate large fin-keel cruisers. The long hull helps even out the waves, and the high speeds that can be had by these designs help you stay out of trouble, instead of wallowing in it. For an equally eloquent argument for this view, see Steve and Linda Dashew's Offshore Cruising Encyclopedia. But beware: The yachts the Dashews design cost in the millions of dollars.

Fortunately, Jeremy Hoyland summarizes the basic facts:

Keels (At least it will get people stirred up) :

Full Keel = Traditional, good directional stability, a plus at sea -a minus in a marina, good motion, not too good to windward, strong if you hit anything, relatively slow -esp. in light airs.

Fin Keel = the opposite of the above, e.g. quick, weak, jittery.

Bilge Keel = All the vices of a long keel, few of the virtues, But you can dry out on it.

Centre Board = All the vices of a fin keel, few of the virtues, But you can dry out on it, if you do so it may jam.

Photograph taken by author with his Canon XL1 MiniDV camcorder.

Sail: Single versus Multi-Hull

Jeremy Hoyland writes:

There's also the rather more fundamental question of how many hulls to have e.g. cats vs tris vs monohulls vs poas.
From what I understand, the question is aesthetics versus practicality. Multihulls are more stable, faster ... and mind-bendingly ugly.

Monohulls are less stable, slower and generally way better looking. Unfortunately, it's hard to dismiss this characteristic, petty as it may seem, because sailing itself is a largely aesthetic experience anyway.

Here's Jeremy's take on this question:

Stability is a two edged sword, Multis are stable both ways up! Which is why many of the more modern ones have an escape hatch in the bottom, or at one end. If you knock a monhull over it's got a few tons of lead trying to bring it back up.

Of course if you knock a hole in the monohull it will sink, wheras a multi probably won't. But see fishmeal on light displacement and foam flotation.

As they are generally light multis tend to be less tolerant of weight. This can be an issue for a serious cruiser with a lot of fuel, food, water and general tut to carry.

Marinas often charge 1.5 or 2 times per foot more for a multihulll.

If hit by a gust a monohull will heel over wheras a multi can't, it goes faster and may well flip or trip.

All that said I would quite like to try a big one, I had a Hobie for a few years, great fun!

Sail: Centre Cockpit versus Stern Cockpit

I was wandering around the boat show, and saw a gorgeous Jeanneau 47 centre cockpit yacht (photo to the left by the author). When I went on board, I noticed almost powerboat style accomodations - most notably a spacious rear cabin with a comfortable double bed.

In all the sailboats I'd seen before, I didn't notice much concern for the crew's comfort. But the centre cockpit changed that by providing large amounts of headroom in the stern of the yacht. I was most impressed; here was a sailing yacht with many of the traditional power yacht virtues. "I could see myself buying this thing," I said to myself. Price: $ 365,000. "Well, maybe not just yet :-(."

I notice that virtually all sailboats have the stern cockpit, and I was wondering why more didn't try the centre idea. It just seemed like a better idea.

The broker told me that the centre cockpit was further away from the water, and so it brought a less "pure" sailing experience. It also increases the windage of the boat, which may harm sailing characteristics.

I'm curious to hear other people's opinions of the centre cockpit versus the stern cockpit designs. Free free to drop me an email.

fitzfam comments:

A center cockpit is where the beam is wider allowing more space associated with the cockpit - for example for more sail lockers. The engine can be located under a center cockpit. Because of the greater space around the engine if located in the center of the boat, access is easier, and the engine weight is removed from the rear of the boat, and can be placed low in the middle of the boat. In heavier weather, with the boat running downwind the danger of flooding from pooping an aft cockpit is reduced. On the other hand, the more foreward the cockpit, the more water it gets beating or reaching to windward. This can be offset somewhat by a doghouse over the foreward end of the cockpit. A doghouse is good in colder climates, and restricts airflow and is hot in hotter climates. I guess that's why we see more (and more enclosed) doghouses on boats in the north Atlantic, and less in sunnier climes.
I saw that doghouse on one center cabin boat in the boat show, a Hunter 45 if I remember correctly.

David Halliday writes:

So far so good may I say, but as invited, on the subject of Center Vs Aft Cokpit. You seem to be missing the main point of an aft cockpit. Sailability, it is much easyer to sail an aft cockpit boat, you get a much better view of the sails, esspecially the main, the boom can be rigged lower as center cockpit boats tend to have the cockpit above decks, line are more easily lead to an aft cockpit, especialy true if the boat has a large Genoa or a Spiniker as these will need riging to the rear of the cockpit then broght forward again.

Sail: Engines

The traditional sailboat has a small and neglected inboard engine. Smaller boats tend to have an infamous unit known as the Atomic 4, made by a company called Universal. The Atomic 4 is known for being essentially unbreakable, but a royal pain to fix. It's also a gas engine, which means that you're dealing with a highly hazardous volatile fuel on board. This is especially noteworthy considering the close quarters in which most sailboat engines are jammed.

Steve Weingart gives a spirited defense of the Atomic Four:

Don't say so many bad things about the Atomic 4 :-) We have one and it's reliability is legendary (more so than many diesels). And while gasoline is dangerous, folks often have it aboard anyway for the dinghy motor. The replacement cost for an Atomic 4 with a diesel often runs $6k+ for the new motor and needed parts, add installation to that and you exceed the value of many of the boats that we would replace them in. Even a used/rebuilt diesel is often $3k+
I read an article in a boating magazine in which an owner of a $ 12,000 sailboat and a broken Atomic Four decided after much soul-searching to repower. The final cost was an eye-popping $8,500 for a new 30hp Universal diesel. So it may be worth getting a rebuilt Atomic Four, or at least a used Diesel for a repower.

Jeremy Hoyland notes that the Stuart-Turner in the UK is roughly equivalent to the Atomic Four, but "we still prefer diesel and seem to share a lot of the same makes."

Few would dispute that the best engine to have is an inboard diesel. In fact, Universal makes a drop-in diesel replacement for the Atomic 4, but due to diesel engines' high cost, the Atomic 4 soldiers on in many used boats. The main advantages of the diesel are higher reliability and a far safer fuel to have on board.

I must confess a major prejudice against outboards on aesthetic grounds. Let's just say that they don't add to the aesthetics of the craft :-(. However, they do have cost and maybe even safety advantages over the Atomic 4.

David Halliday mentions other advantages of outboards: They can be removed and stored below. This eliminates the often significant drag from the propeller, and the potential of leaks from the stuffing box.

Alas, Steve Weingart confirmed my suspicions about the somewhat better safety of outboard gas engines as compared to his Atomic Four:

Probably, the tanks are usually OB tanks which are removable for filling on the dock and the pressurized fuel lines are outboard of the boat, you also don't have the exhaust system inside, nor holes in the bottom for the cooling water inlet (but a diesel has them too). They are ugly, but they are easily removable for repair. I've had both, and I like/hate both :-)
Captain Ron has a complete copy of the Atomic Four owners' manual on his web site.

Power: Full Displacement versus Planing

A Full Displacement power boat slices through the water. A complex formula having to do with resistance of the water against the hull determines the maximum speed of the yacht. Called Hull Speed, it varies slightly depending on the length of the boat. It's typically about 8 knots, which is, well, rather on the slow side.

The main advantage of full displacement boats is that, as long as you don't try to push them through the water any quicker than that, they are supremely efficient. You can build a full displacement boat with a range of thousands of miles, especially if you go with a single engine.

Virtually all cruising sailboats are full displacement, which is why this question never comes up when discussing sail.

A Planing boat dances above the water. These boats normally have ferociously powerful engines and a hull design that rises above, instead of slicing through, the water. This means that there is no limit on speed, other than the power of the engines that are placed in the boat. A Mediterranean 54 sport fishing boat, for example, comes standard with two 485 horsepower diesels, and can be had with two 900 horsepower, 12-cylinder powerhouses (at a mere $ 254,323.00 over the $ 695,000.00 base price). Those big, fast engines can propel this massive object at speeds of a touch under 40mph, which is a truly awesome sight. [Conflict of interest note: I designed the web page for Mediterranean yachts. But then again, they are very cool people to work with. One of their founders also founded both the Columbia and Lancer sailboat companies]

Unfortunately, even with huge fuel tanks, it's unlikely any of these boats can go more than a few hundred miles without refueling. This makes them pretty much non-starters for world cruising, even if you have the virtually unlimited budget that keeping them fed with fuel implies.

A semi-displacement boat is an attempt at a compromise: It doesn't knife through the water like a displacement hull, but it doesn't float above it, either. This makes for a smoother ride than a planing hull, better fuel economy, but much lower speed.

The Grand Banks 42 is an excellent example of a semi-displacement design - if you put large engines, like twin 359 cats, in them, a GB 42 can cruise at around 15 knots and get somewhere around 1-1.5 gallons per mile. If you throttle it down to displacement speeds, it can go even further.

Semi-displacement is probably the best compromise for many powerboaters, but bear in mind that they still won't go as far on a tank of diesel as the full-displacement boats. For going a long distance, there's still no beating the traditional full displacement design, as celebrated by magazines like Passagemaker, Power Cruising and Trawler World.

I want the best quality boat there is. What are the premium manufacturers?

Yachts from these companies are premium quality and prices are positively outrageous, even for used examples.

Prices specified are from my research on new examples at boat shows. My memory may be spotty at times, so all corrections are welcome. Nonetheless, this should give you a good idea of what to expect.


Sail is unlike power in that the premium, exquisite-quality blue-water boats may not be the best choice for you unless you're actually going out in blue-water conditions.

Even if you have unlimited funds with which to buy a boat, you'll find these boats heavy and harder to control than their cheaper, lower quality bretheren. A heavy boat will protect you when the blow comes; however, ordinary sailing may be less fun, since you'll find yourself passed by "lesser" boats that are lighter and friendlier to the wind.

This isn't as immutable a law as I first thought. Companies like Hallberg-Rassy and Swan make fin keel boats that have unparalleled reputations for quality and durability. They seem to represent the best of both worlds - but they're still not cheap.

Hallberg-Rassy. $ 100k+ new; used start around $ 39k. World cruising boats of uncompromising quality, with lovely craftsmanship, favoured by crusing veterans such as John Neal. The modern versions use a "performance cruiser" fin keel design, but they have retained their repuatation for top-notch performance and durability under terrible conditions. Prices stike me as a real bargain; check them before buying a lesser yacht.

Hinckley. $ 400k plus new; hard to find in the West Coast. Known for design and construction excellence; plant in Southwest Harbour, Maine. Used prices are not just high, they're stunning. Figure on $ 125k for a 1969 Bermuda 40, almost a million dollars for a newish 50 footer. One major claim to fame for Hinckley: According to surveyor David Pascoe, Hinckley was one of the two or three brands of boats on which he has never seen significant blistering. That's quite a track record; the only other company he had that to say for was Bertram, a powerboat maker. So you can buy your incredibly expensive used boat with confidence (but still have a survey done).

Swan. Known for design and construction excellence and high performance. The 36 foot model is about $ 250k for 1980s, $ 125k for 1970s.

Shannon Yachts are serious bluewater cruisers, from $ 360k on up; used prices start around $ 130k. Laluzzi@aol.com writes:

for the serious world cruiser, or the cruiser who wants a true blue bluewater boat try Shannon. I own one, and have made many friends of other Shannon owners. We all cannot say enough about the quality of workmanship put into these boats, and the fact that when the going gets incredibly tough (and you and the crew head below) you know that the boat can take care of itself and you just need to worry about you (not that any of us WANT to be out in these type of extreme conditions). On a more day to day note, it is incredibly well thought out, organized, and safe (at dock and at sea, unlike many mass produced "coastal cruisers" I've seen which are great at dock, but leave me scrambling for handholds when underway.)

PS - most of my associates have used Shannons anywhere from 20 yrs old (including mine) to 13 yrs old.

Hans Christian. Unknown new; Used $ 100k-250k. Known for traditional heavy deep keel design; superb workmanship but somewhat dark down below. Their more modern "Christina" series uses a deep keel with a high forefoot, which improves performance significantly. Asian.

Nor'sea makes a extremely strong and high-quality 27 foot boat that has undertaken several successful circumnavigations. It's one of the most expensive per foot small boats I've ever seen - the cheapest I've seen one for is about $ 35,000, although I hear tell of one hapless seller who sold one for $ 5,000. Oops! Research those values before selling, friends! Greg and Jill are outfitting one for serious cruising, and they share their plans with you in the link. Nor'sea, like Westsail, has a close-knit group of happy owners who are pleased to share information about their vessels. Nor'sea now has a 37 foot boat joining their 27; unfortunately, I haven't heard about an official web page for them. However, there is also the Northern California Owners' Association, which includes a brief history, extensive maintenance tips and other information.

Westsail. The company no longer exists, but the legend lives on. Westsail 32s are known for incredibly durable construction quality, heavy displacement strength and weight, and slow speeds. However, one nonetheless won the Transpac, bewildering supporters of supposedly fast designs. One possible explanation of this is that light boats have a correspondingly light carrying capacity; if you load 'em up, as you must for the Transpac, you disturb their computer-computed lines and slow them down. The Westsail, being designed to carry lots of stuff, was therefore unaffected. In the reality of cruising life, this is an enormous asset. Here is a Westsail web page, and a page done by a Westsail surveyor featuring detailed information and Westsails for sale.

Incidentally, the Westsail designs above 32 feet used a more modern design and are known for good speed. They were unfairly tarred with the "Westsnail" brush because so many more 32s were sold than any other boat.


Trawlers and their friends

Grand Banks is the granddaddy of the trawler yacht business, and still has a commanding position in that market. However, oddly enough, most of their boats are prettified semi-displacement motor yachts. In other words, they will run about twice as fast as the traditional designs, while using up quite a bit more fuel in the process. They are uncompromising in quality, fans of the traditional trawler may be disappointed. Very expensive; 10 year old used examples of their classic 42 hover around $350,000.

Nordhavn and Kady-Krogen are now the best known exponents of the pure, heavy displacement trawler market. Excellent boats, but again, they hold their market values extremely well. No operational web page for Krogen, but (as you can see) I now have a link for Nordhavn.

The following boats I find very appealing but are, alas, not at all well suited to long-range cruising. Pity.

Bertram and Hatteras make fishing and cruising yachts notable for superb quality and sky-high prices (you can easily give either company more than $ 2 million for a state of the art sportfishing boat in the 60' range). Bertram has a first-rate reputation for design and construction excellence, but has been a corporate football lately, having been taken over and then dropped by a variety of companies. Hatteras may be a better bet for long-term survival. With the notable exception of the Hatteras long range cruisers (no longer being made) and the really huge (90' plus) Hatteras yachts, none of these boats are well suited for long-range cruising; they simply use too much fuel. If you don't mind the fuel bills and need the speed, however, they may be just the ticket.

Mediterranean Yachts makes 38' and 54' sportfishing boats. This company is a scrappy entrepeneurial venture and prides itself in its combination of value and craftsmanship. It's run by a pair of people I find truly outstanding to work with. (I produced their web page, so I may be biased, but I've known them for ages before that).

Note that Bertram and Hatteras used to make much smaller boats (28' or therebouts) than they do now. As a result, you can get used examples of the small models quite cheaply. Larger models, like in the 35-40' range, generally start around $ 100k and go up like a kite.

Yacht models tend to be better value than sportfishermen; the latter hold their value shockingly well. So unless you plan to fish or are particularly enamoured of the sportfisherman look, take a close look at the yacht models.

Yikes, that's expensive! What are some good alternatives?

Well, I've done a job researching the best - the moderate (with one exception) isn't as fun to research. So I need a little help here.

BeneteauFrance/US47: 365kI/D

Should I buy from a broker, or is a private party transaction perfectly sound?

Buying through a yacht broker puts a knowledgeable third party in the middle of the transaction, in exchange for a sizable percentage of the purchase price as a commission.

Unless you're very familiar with the procedure of boat buying, it's probably safest to rely on a broker if the boat you're buying is worth more than a certain amount. You'll find relatively few brokers who handle boats under around $ 50,000 or thereabouts. [Since I wrote this, I've seen brokerage boats as cheap as $ 4,500 - I was deceived by California Yachts and similar magazines, which only feature boats over $ 50k or so].

According to Jeremy Hoyland of the UK:

Again in the UK a broker may well sell anything, from 100 quid up, and most yachts seem to be sold that way, especially over 5000 pounds.
The US definitely seems more friendly to DIY yacht sales. 100 quid is about $ 150 or thereabouts.

Gilman Yachts, a Florida yacht broker, explains the boat buying and brokerage process. [14 August 1997]

What is a Survey? How do I have one done?

A survey is a complete check of your boat, and should be done before you take delivery.

Most purchasers are simply not qualified to appraise the condition of their dream, especially under circumstances where wistful thinking often takes precedence over solid thought. (I suffered from such a case when I bought a used car, and boy was I sorry for it a few months down the road!) A surveyer brings an impartial view to the purchase.

Normally, a survey is done in two parts: First, in the water, and second hauled out. You will normally want to do the first part during the sea trials. Then, if the survey finds bad news before the haul-out, you don't have to go through that expense. If the news looks good, the boat can be hauled and the survey completed.

If repairs are needed that were not disclosed before the purchase was agreed to, normally a new price is negotiated between the buyer and seller to compensate for the damage found. This is one place where the art of negotiation is definitely important!

What is Documentation, and how does it differ from state registration?

Warning: US-centric section ahead. For Europe and the UK, see below.

I'm sure you've noticed the ugly registration letters that you see on the bow of most boats under a certain size. Those are state registration letters, and they indicate that the vessel has been registered with a state, in the same way cars are.

If your boat is over five tons (approximately 25 feet), there is an appealing alternative: Documentation. This is a procedure by which your vessel gets registered with the Federal Government, not the states. Your yacht is identified by a unique combination of name and hailing port, which must be painted on the stern. To document your boat, it must be specially measured, and complex bureaucratic procedures must be followed. However, renewal registration is free, which is certainly a major reason to keep your little ship documented instead of registered. Best of all, you don't have to disfigure your bow with those ugly letters! Virtually all large yachts are documented.

Most importantly for bluewater cruisers, documentation is the more "official" form of boat identification, and is more respected by foreign countries you may enter. Most people on rec.boats.cruising feel that documentation is nearly mandatory for world-wide cruising.

This does not necessarily exempt your boat from state property taxes; that varies depending on the state.

Steve Weingart notes:

Two things on documentation, for a recreational boat the name can appear almost anywhere on the hull (I'm fairly sure about this). If the boat is used and has not been previously documented, the back tracking to the maunfacturing point can be time consuming and expensive. Send folks to: http://www.dot.gov/dotinfo/uscg/hq/g-m/vdoc/nvdc.htm The National CG documentation center for good info.
I later asked him to elaborate on the back-tracking issue, and he wrote:
To doc a boat, you have to show the unbroken chain of ownership since the keel was laid, and the freedom from all/any liens. If the boat is currently doc'ed. you order an abstract of title from the CG and it shows the boat's history (pretty cool). Otherwise you have to produce equivalent proof(s), there are pros who will do this for realtively big $$$, if the abstract is clear, you can easily do it yourself for about $100 in filing fees (what we did)
See the Department of Transportation's web page on this subject.

How does documentation/registration work outside the US?

Jeremy Hoyland of the UK quite understandably didn't appreciate the US-centric nature of the draft FAQ:

One main comment, although rec.boats has a lot of Americans on it not all of us are, and things are different in the rest of the world. For instance in the UK a boat does not have to be documented, it is only a requirement in the outside world. If it is documented we have a choice between the SSR (Small Ships Register) and a full Lloyds cert. -the same as an oil tanker would get, which is expensive.

On a similar theme most European countries, although not the UK, require the boat skipper to have a license of some sort and may impose restrictions on where a boat can go due to its size. This puts us in the position of needing documentation and a license if we go abroad, but not at home!

I must admit that I have no excuse for being US-centric, other than the fact that I know nothing about the situation outside my own country. Many thanks for Jeremy for putting me straight. Hopefully others will put me straight about other countries.

What can be done about sales tax?

Sales tax is definitely the bane of anyone wanting to buy something as expensive as a boat. Many states are getting increasingly aggressive in trying to collect tax on boats regularly operated in their area.

If you're irked at the prospect of paying sales tax on your boat, the best solution is to move to a low-tax state, or at least store your boat there. Tax is generally due in the state that is the home port of your vessel, regardless of where you purchased it.

If you plan to buy a large boat and have massive resources, it may be best to find a "flag of convenience" country where the boat can be based. That way, you can completely avoid sales tax with perfect legality.

I'd like to hear more about this - does it ever pay to have your cruising yacht registered in a tax haven such as the Caymans, Monaco or Liberia? At what size does this become an attractive option? And does the protection our government can give you in foreign waters make it more practical to stay in the US, or is that a sham?

And, most intriguingly of all, could this be a protection against the now infamous coast guard "safety inspection" boardings?

Jeremy Hoyland notes that "Sales Tax tends to translate to VAT or TVA if you're french and there are issues as to how long you can keep a boat where without paying it." I believe sales tax rates in Europe make US taxes look positively benign: I seem to remember rates of 17% or thereabouts. Flag of Convenience definitely looks tempting.

Basic Equipment

What is a winch? A self-tailing winch?

I was wandering through the West Marine catalogue and found a description of various winches. The fancy ones are over $ 800 each! So I asked Don Bingham, one of our readers, about the difference between a regular and a self-tailing winch. Fortunately, he came through:

The difference between a regular winch and a self-tailing winch is a cleat. On a regular winch, the line (sheet or halyard) is wrapped around the drum and must be kept taught by pulling, or the line will slip back or off the drum. With a self-tailing winch, the line is turned around the drum-and passed through a ratcheted cleat which automatically pushes the line out. On a power winch, self-tailing is a convenience. On a manual winch-which requires at least one hand to crank-it frees both hands to crank or one hand to hang on with. For the solo or limited crew, the self-tailing model is considered by many a virtual necessity. And it's cheaper, and more dependable, than electric or hydraulic power. The down side is that the use of cleats cause additional wear on lines.

I had no idea that winches were as expensive as you reported. But then again, most prices are now mind-boggling.

Electronics & Exotica

Because I have a heavy interest in costly electronic gadgetry, this should be one of the best sections of the FAQ at the moment.

My thanks to West Marine for suppling me with one of their cool free catalogues from which I got most of the pricing information here.

Much of this basic information comes from my readings of the Stapleton's Powerboat Bible, a very fine book that came out around 1980 or thereabouts. Fortunately, I've been able to update it through my own research.

What is a GPS?

The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a satellite based navigational system. The GPS Receiver (often simply called a GPS) is a device that receives signals from up to seven satellites and does some intricate mathematical computations to determine your position, which it then displays on a screen.

A basic model can be had for as little as $ 200. Gadget freaks (like me!) can pick up fancy units with colour chart reproductions for $ 1,500 and more.

It's important to stress that all electronics are subject to failure, usually at the most akward possible time. You should be sure you're aware of your position through manual methods such as dead reckoning, viewing the shore (coastal cruising) or a sextant (offshore), so that if your fancy GPS fails, you can still find a way to your destination.

If you're still fairly dependant on the fancy electronics, it's a good idea to have a GPS that runs on batteries and is thus not dependant on internal boat power, so that if you have electrical problems on board, you still know where you are. Definitely have at least two GPS units on board if you're depending on them for navigation. (Hey, they're cheap).

What is Differential GPS?

When the US defence department developed the GPS satellite system, it was meant for military applications - to help pinpoint the exact position of a soldier in the field, for example. That system is extremely accurate, within something like 50 feet.

The DoD didn't want to give that capability to the enemy, so they scrambled that signal. The signal that's available to the public has been deliberately tweaked to provide a position within about 200 feet.

Some companies have come up with a correction system called Differential GPS. This involves use of ground stations basically similar to the workings of Loran sets. These systems plug into GPS units of compatible brands and correct the position so that it is once again accurate. Yes, this means the Soviets can do the same thing, making our military look pretty silly.

A correction unit that plugs into the $ 995 and $ 1,495 Garmin GPS/chart units (as well as various humbler units, some as cheap as $ 200 - check with your dealer) is $ 495 from West Marine.

Incidentally, I've read reports that the system that the government uses to decrease the accuracy of GPS units is often not in operation at all. After the advent of differential GPS and the death of the cold war, really, they'd might as well abandon it. I wonder if they will.

My thanks to Steve Weingart and _ for telling me the right name and adding some additional detail.

Jeremy Hoyland:

GPS corrction is known as Differntial GPS, the tweak is Selective Availability. a good link would be : http://vancouver-webpages.com/peter/index.html
What is (or was) Loran?

Loran is another method of navigation which used ground-based transmitters instead of the spiffier satellites of GPS. Because GPS is cheaper, more accurate, globally based and more reliable, there really isn't much call for Loran anymore. In addition, conversion of the data it spat out ("Time Differences" or TDs) to latitude and longitude was somewhat probematical.

In one respect, Loran is more accurate than a GPS. If you have a specific fishing spot, and you want to return to it at a later time, you'll find that you can use the raw Loran data (the time differences) to return to that spot within about 50 feet. In other words, Loran's inaccuracy is in determining latitude and longitude; its repeatability is good. However, you can obtain similar results with GPS and use a depth sounder or fish finder to determine your location through patterns in the water's depth. This repeatability is why many fishermen still use Loran.

Old Loran units may still work, but fixing one would be more expensive than throwing in the towel and buying a GPS. This is especially true considering that the Loran system is scheduled to be permanently discontinued in the near future.

Loran is and always was hopelessly inadequate for world cruising, because its coverage area was distinctly limited. Only GPS has the advantage of worldwide coverage.

The Federal Radionavigation Plan still calls for the elimination of Loran as of 31 December 2000. [15 August 1997]

Jeremy Hoyland tells us that Decca in the UK is the equivalent system, although it's somewhat more accurate than Loran.

What is Radar?

Radar helps you see what's around you. An antenna mounted high above your boat (often on the mast of a sailing vessel) sends radar waves down towards the ground, hoping to pick up reflections of land or other boats below. It's not foolproof - it can often pick up images of waves instead of real objects - but it definitely helps you see what's around you, especially in conditions of poor visibility.

A radar set used to be the plaything of the fabulously rich, but now you can get one for around $ 1,000, and a full-on brand name (like Raytheon) for around $ 1,500. It's worth the money, particulary if you plan to cruise in foggy waters.

How can you receive weather forecasts aboard ship?

Jeremy Hoyland:

Navtex might be woth a comment, it's a system by which one can receive weather forecasts, noticec to mariners &c, gebnerally printed out, but one unit keeps the messages in memory and displays them when asked.

He also gave us a link to weather forecasts in the UK:

Another useful point would be the availability of weather forecasts, in the UK this is a decent link : http://www.atlantis-sailing.demon.co.uk/weather.htm
What is a Radar Reflector?

A radar reflector is something you put high up on your mast that reflects radar waves, making you more visible to radar. This makes it considerably less likely that you'll be mowed down by a ship you never see. (There have been a number of heartbreaking incidents of that type, so don't think you're immune or this is mere fantasy; those ships are out there lurking).

Get one and use it, even if you have radar. Fortunately, it's very cheap (I think around $ 30).

[Big ship photo by the author]

How can you access the Internet aboard ship?

The good news is that it's possible. The bad news is that you probably can't afford it, at least not the kind of continuous, high-speed Internet access you're used to.

Satellite phone time costs about $ 1.50 per minute. The maximum speed is 4800 baud. For that reason, it's really only useful for obtaining personal mail from your Internet mailbox; it's just too expensive otherwise. Not only that, but if you're used to a T1 (as I am), or even a 28.8 modem, it's going to be horribly, painfully slow.

The good news is that direct, high-speed Satellite Internet access exists, and is usually provided on a continuous, permanent, 24 hour a day, 7 day a week basis - just like the 56k or T1 line you might get if you were an Internet Service Provider. The disadvantage, naturally, is that it costs mind-bending sums of money to do this. A satellite vendor who listened patiently to my query says that a charge of $ 3,500 a month for 128k access (about the same speed as an ISDN line) would probably be on the low side for actual sailboat conditions, for a variety of reasons having to do with the level of satellite coverage in the Carribean, and the possibility of having to deal with multiple satellite vendors as the cruise progresses.

One company I interviewed at the recent Newport Beach boat show (ahem, "Lido Yacht Expo") told me that there was no suitable equipment available yet for this kind of communications. He suggested that shipboard equipment might become available in the mid-term future (say a few years down the line) for $ 10,000 plus a per minute fee he didn't define. I talked to him again at the 1998 Lido Yacht Expo; the current chap says that physics apparently prevents ANY workable high-speed solution. He was rather vehement about this. I wonder if physics has changed between last year and this?

Here is a new satellite phone system that seems quite well priced.

Gene Gruender of Rainbow Chaser uses a more typical, if less sophisticated method, and it works fine. Here's what he says about it:

No, just a laptop and pcmia modum. And an accoustical coupler. We'd either plug into a phone, or use the coupler. Soometimes at a phone booth, sometimes at a comercial place, sometimes at a new friends house, always a new adventure and always gathered an interested crowd. It was sometimes a local call, sometimes an 800 number, often an international call to the states. We had a number of other cruisers find out what we were doing and they'd dig out their forgotten computer components, call the states for passwords and access numbers and get on line. We sort of blazed a trail across the Bahamas and Caribbean. We even sent in stories we write for magazines over the email.

It's crude, but works and is still a lot cheaper than all that fancy gear.

Here are some links that had some interesting information on this topic:

SailMail is a cooperative that offers unlimited 5k messages via SSB for $ 100 a year. Sure beats those $ 2 a minute services! This looks like the best solution for anyone who can't afford Immarsat B, which - alas - is most of us :-(. There is also a free ham-based system, WinLink

Live Aboard Magazine has a fuller story of recent developments regarding Internet email on board.

Seven Seas Communications has a commendably clear explanation of satellite phone and data service costs. Unfortunately, they left out information on Inmarsat B high-speed data services, just like everyone else. :-( [15 October 1998]

NSN InSat was mentioned on rec.boats.cruising as a possibility for Internet access. It does look promising; you can see that it's possible to surf the third world from the first using their satellite systems, which I for one thing is very, very cool.

So I dropped them an email asking for pricing information, but didn't get a response. If I do, I'll post it here. I suspect, though, that the pricing is mind-bendingly expensive, probably around $ 6,000 a month or so. But at least you do get high-speed 56k access (about double the speed of a 28.8 modem). You can even run your own web sites on board ship!

Inmarsat Mini-M provides satellite store and forward email for $ 2.25 a minute at 2400bps. Equipment starts at $3,500. This is probably the best-proven solution, but it's definitely not cheap. Inmarsat-B, which this company also sells, is the hot ticket, with 56k Internet access and pretty much everything you might want. Pricing, unfortunately, was not disclosed. I do have a friend who owns a boat with it, and he says equipment is $ 50k and the access fees are $4-9 per minute. Gulp.

Ottercom in the UK has an interesting-looking Inmarsat B offering.

Station 12 offers, as you can see from the web page, affordable high-speed global communications. Of course, affordable is a relative term, and some might blanch at paying $ 11 per minute, even for dazzling 56k speed (about what your modern modem will give you for your garden-variety $ 20 a month Internet access). Be the envy of your friends and national governments; surf the web in the highest style ever. For equipment, visit KVH Communications. The equipment is surprisingly affordable; it's those per-minute charges that kill ya.

Global ISDN Access is the promise of this interesting-looking company.

A real blue-sky plan because I can't resist sharing anything dealing with this topic. No pricing, but with its primary purpose convenience of earth-based access, it's bound to be reasonable. But will it fly (literally)? And how far away from the US will it be able to serve? Your guess is as good as mine. [15 August 1997]

How can you generate electricity aboard your boat?

The most straightforward way is the alternator hooked up to your engine. You may find that you'll want to increase its capacity significantly, especially if you want some form of refrigeration (see below).

Wind power can keep your batteries charged, and can have high output if you're in a consistently windy region. Unfortunately, high winds can damage or destroy your wind generating equipment, and by all accounts it makes a terrible racket.

I think This Old Boat underrates solar cells. According to its figures, you can satisfy typical boat power needs (100 amp/hours a day) for around $ 2,500 worth of cells. That's a lot for a $ 7,000 boat, but considering that a lot of cruisers have $ 100,000 boats, it sounds more worth investigating than he states. Anyone have experience with solar power?

One of the problems with solar cells mentioned in This Old Boat was that covering or blocking a single cell renders the whole array all but inoperative. This problem has apparently been corrected in more recent solar systems, making it a much more viable solution than before.

How can you keep electricity stored and happy?

Deep cycle marine batteries seem to be the short solution. But beware: It's absurdly easy to damage your batteries by under or over charging.

Photograph of a Jeanneau 47 electrical panel taken by the author

How can you get cold drinks and a cool cabin?

If anything, the answer to this question for sailboat owners may be even more discouraging than the Internet access question. Most sailboat owners simply will not have enough electric power for refrigeration.

Liveaboards and powerboat owners, of course, are lucky sods who can get their current through shore power, the engine, or the powerful generators that seem to live in most powerboats. Refrigeration, freezing, and even air conditioning are very much realistic possibilities

Sailboaters, on the other hand, are pretty much stuck. The various solutions for generating power aboard small boats are not promising when it comes to something that requires the power of refrigeration.

The secret to refrigeration is heavy insulation and to avoid opening the refrigerator/freezer door as much as humanly possible. Cold air that gets lost is almost impossible to replace without running the engine at virtually all times.

If you're interested in this subject, I recommend that you pick up a copy of This Old Boat (reviewed elsewhere in this FAQ) and check the formulae for energy consumption very carefully. Unless you insulate your refrigerator very completely, you will wind up having to run your engine almost incessantly in order to keep your food cool.

Here is an excellent article on chronic battery problems and how to avoid them.

Steve Weingart on refrigeration:

His [This Old Boat's author's] discussion on battery power, especially in the light of refrigeration is spot on, (depressing or not :-) it will change you boat from simple to complicated in one step. Mechanical refrigeration takes less support systems, but is in itself more complicated and failure prone. It's a dilemma, I have never owned a boat with a reefer, I keep coming close and backing off...
Air conditioning, of course, is out of the question without a dedicated generator, something few sailors have the stomach (and the wallet) for. I'd be curious to hear what cruisers without generators use to keep cool.

According to Charlie Wing's The Liveaboard Report, 48% of cruisers have thrown in the towel and bought a generator. However, few that I've noticed have succumbed to the temptation of air conditioning.

Where should I buy my equipment?

West Marine is the Marine candy store, with an excellent reputation, especially compared to comparable computer industry outlets such as Fry's Electronics. I was quite surprised at the high regard West is held by its customers; the closest equivalent in my own industry, Fry's Electronics, is known as the place where you love to shop, but hate to buy.

Jeremy Hoyland (in the UK): "As against West Marine, one might have Cruisermart -they did my wedding list!"

A good source for used equipment, with an enormous inventory, but uneven quality, is:

Minney's Marine Supply
1500 Newport Blvd
Costa Mesa, CA
Voice: (714) 548-4192
You pay your money, and you take your chances.

Getting Started

How can I tell if cruising is right for me?

You should probably join a sailing club, an organization that starts by teaching you how to sail, and then allows you to charter their boats by the day. That way, you can get your feet wet in the activity without committing yourself to the purchase of an expensive boat and equipment.

I'm not sure how well these work in practice, but the principle certainly sounds good.

Another way is to find a friend with a boat and go out with her or him to see what you think of being out on the water.

The US Coast Guard and Power Squadron both have training courses that are said to be quite comprehensive.

OCSC is a SF Bay area-based sailing school/club that has a very nice set of web pages.

How do I learn more?

Surprisingly for such an expensive activity, there are quite a few excellent free publications you can pick up at your local West Marine store or similar outlet. In my area, Latitude38, The Log, Santana and others are readily available.

For searching for your dream boat, most of the above magazines have classified sections. In addition, there are even more free publications, such as California Yachts which include nothing but brokerage listings.

Oddly enough, I have yet to find a glossy, colour cruising magazine of the calibre of the free Latitude 38.

I'm finding more and more interesting web sites every day as I wander the web in search of cruising information. The resources section at the end of the FAQ has many links to the best of these sites.

Costs, Logistics and Stuff

Since I've never done it, this section is pure, rampant speculation, based on some of the accounts I've read.

How much does it cost to live aboard?

As you might guess, that depends a great deal on your lifestyle. On the one extreme, you could run your Bertram 60 1,800 horsepower twin diesel motor yacht at full speed every day, hire someone to fix it whenever the tiniest thing broke, glide into a commercial slip every night, take a taxi to a recommended five-star restaurant and go back to your boat to make $ 5 per minute phone calls to all your friends. That kind of lifestyle, of course, would cost huge bucks.

On the other extreme, if you do all your repairs, prepare all your food, use native foods instead of looking for stuff you're used to eating, anchor in a deserted cove every night, and replace only the most vital components, you could spend less. A lot less. In fact, it could cost substantially less to live on a boat than it does for you to live at home, what with running your car, keeping your house heated and cooled, and eating out every day because you don't have time to cook.

Latitude 38 magazine did a survey of cruising costs, and the most trustworthy all-inclusive figure was around $ 3,000 a month - but some people with minimal contact with the commercial world got away with as little as $ 1,000. So it depends on how good you are at scrounging, and how good you are at doing your own repairs and keeping essentially independent of the greater world.

Chuck Woods [Freya 39]:

By the way, there are lots of people out there cruising on less than $1000/mo including boat maintenance. They don't have air conditioning, ice makers and 50' yachts however. But they are having the time of their lives.
Steve Weingart recommends Charlie Wing's: The Liveaboard Report. This "is a survey of at least a hundred cruisers as to what they like and don't and what they have and don't and what they spend."

I bought this book and recommend it highly. A lot of the bugaboos that you hear so many negative things about are revealed as not nearly as bad as one might think.

How do you find out how to fix things?

There seem to be quite a few books on this particular question, including ones specifically addressing electrical and plumbing questions. Perhaps some kind soul who reads this will be good enough to give us some recommendations.

Steve Weingart came through again:

How do you fix things, books: This Old boat, Don Casey. Upgrading the cruising sailboat, Dan Spurr. Boatowner's Mechanical and Electrical Manual, Nigel Calder, The Sailor's Sketchbook, Bruce Bingham. The maker's of West System Epoxy, have a great $3 book on fiberglass repair.
I might add that I'd been looking at This Old Boat for quite a while, and I finally bought it yesterday. It's a very good read, and looks like it has some excellent information. (It's hard to tell until you actually try to use it, of course). I like its down-to-earth economical approach, although its discussion of electrical requirements and the difficulty of satisfying them aboard boat has me covetously glancing through generator catalogues. Unfortunately, he doesn't tell me how to install one, and his overall impression seems to be that I shouldn't - 110vac, he says, is way too dangerous to work with on a boat unless you're genuinely competent.

Steve Weingart writes his own review, in response:

I like the review, but I do feel that he gets a little curmudgenly at times (don't we all:-) The things that I have used from the book are good solid advice. The things that I have not done mostly seem solid too, and I do all my own work, keel to masthead, so I'm pretty familiar with most jobs, he will not steer you wrong. He also takes the high road, no shortcuts. For example, whether or not to through bolt a seacock flange to the hull, or to just screw a ball valve onto a backed/nut clamped through hull. He flatly rejected the non through bolted approach. In a sense he is right, but all of the through hulls on my boat are not through bolted, I was going to go the through bolt route when I replaced two and couldn't even find all the right parts. I intend to go this way in the future, but since I have not seen one done inthat manner yet (and I looked when I could), I'm not too worried (and the boat has not sunk in 30 years), OTOH the way he describes is simply the best.
Jeremy Hoyland: On the how to fix things front Nigel Calder's book seems to be the current bible, on both sides of the pond.

More specifically, what goes wrong most often?

A close reading of rec.boats.cruising posts seems to indicate that the worst culprit is the engine, whether gas or diesel. Batteries and electrical problems in general seem to be another major sore spot. Note that this is not the electronics themselves; this is the electrical system - corroded battery connections, electrical panels, etc.

Additional reading I've done indicates that the macerator pump in the head (which performs a particularly gross function and is thus probably quite gross to try and fix) is a major sore spot.

I'd welcome answers to this question that are more based on actual experience.

Steve Weingart:

What goes wrong. Yup, engine and batteries (electrical), heads come in right behind. Few folks have mascerator pumps, but the head itself and the plumbing/holding tank/valving are major headaches (do it right, few problems). Use only the best grade of hose for head plumbing, others leak odor if not more :-P

In all the above, good installation and scheduled maint is the key, doing a little, all the time, before a problem, keeps you going and lets you find small problems before the grow (trite but true)

For more holding tank info, get Peggie Hall's posts form Deja News

Tell me a little about marine heads

Peggie Hall, one of the world's experts on the lamentably unpopular subject of marine sanitation, has been kind enough to contribute a copy of her comprehensive pamphlet on marine sanitation: Marine Sanitation: Fact vs Folklore. Read it for all sorts of great information on this sadly neglected subject.

Why does my engine overheat?

Most likely, because your outside water intakes are clogged. Check them.

How do you find out what to take?

You might be away from the real world for a long, long time. You need to take everything you'll need for that time. How can you figure out what you'll need, especially if you (like me) are not a meticulous planner?

One good way might be to do a charter the first time out, and see what they take.

What's the best thing to do about evil pests?

I see a lot about mosquitos ruining otherwise idyllic cruises, so this seemed like a good question to ask - anyone have answers?

Steve Weingart:

Pests: Plain old RAID works well. Sealing up the boat with a 20 lb chunk of dry ice will works as a non-toxic fumigation (the CO2 is unbreathable), but be carefult to air the boat when you come back, or you risk asphixiating yourself.

Bug screens, screens for hatches and a tent (made from good qual bug net, or bridal veil material (cheap and good) are very important for a comfortable night)

What about medical care?

Dr Mark Anderson tells us about putting together a medical kit for cruising.

What are blisters and how does one get rid of them?

Doug King explains blisters as follows:

"What are blisters" (you may already have better answers, but here's mine) Blisters form in fiberglass hulls for several reasons- basically because the laminate is adsorbing water one way or another. Salt water can have a chemical reaction with some of the materials used in some boats, and can form acetic acid inside the blisters. These are usually the largest and worst kind. Smaller (dime sized) blisters can form with the separation of the gelcoat from the cloth laminate. Cycles of freezing/thawing can exaggerate blistering, and cause severe hull damage.

Blisters are not necessarily a indication that the boat is worthless. They can (and should) be fixed by grinding out the blisters, patching the hull appropriately (sometimes a little putty is all it takes), then applying a sealer or barrier coat to the hull. This is not an inexpensive process, but it is cheaper than a whole new boat. There are also health and environmental concerns with grinding fiberglass, not to mention antifouling.

More detail on repairs comes from Jeremy Hoyland:
Blisters are evidence of Osmosis and are caused by water permeating the gell coat and making it's way into the matting. If you pop one and it stinks, it's Osmosis.

GlassFibre [Fiberglass in the US] boats are subject to blisters, in particular mid '70s to mid '80s, but as my surveyor said the others haven't been in the water long enough to tell. This applies to treatments as well, some of the early ones are being done for a 2nd or 3rd time.

Depends on how bad they are, Gougeon Brothers (West Epoxy) seem to have a good, cheap, booklet on the subject. On my boat I shallow drill out the small ones and fill them with marine epoxy filler, they don't seem to recurr. Bigger blisters require more treatment, the gelcoat has to be stripped, the hull dried out and a new gelcoat (hopefully of better quality) applied. Cost depends on size and location, (it it's cold & wet the drying out takes place in a shed with heaters and costs more.) but think in thousands.

This is an interesting but awfully discouraging article on blisters.

Holding Tanks and Waste Management Systems

Highlights needed: (i) Under what circumstances can you dump waste?; (ii) Holding tank versus Treatment systems; (iii) Acceptable treatment systems; (iv) Alternatives; (v) Maintenance.

How do you keep your teak looking beautiful?

Steve Weingart was kind enough to give me the following detailed answer.

O.K. here is one version of the teak game, this is the lowest maintenence approach that I know of, and what I do...

First, if the teak is gray and black and bare, you have to get it *CLEAN* (one alternative right here is to leave it gray, a popular chioce, regular gentle scrubbing with seawater can give it a nice silver sheen, but on to the real work :-), there is (of course) a lot of difference of opinion here, but the really strong two part cleaners seem to do the job with the least work, and if you keep up the teak, you only do this once (Don Casey dissagrees, he goes for the lighter stuff). I like Te-Ka or Tip Top Teak, both are in the *nasty* strong catagory. You need to wear gloves while working with this stuff. The best scrubber that I've found is the 3M Scotch Brite pad, it scrapes off the crud, and doesn't gouge the core wood.

Apply step one, let sit for the specified time (keeping it wet), scrub well and hose off, then use part 2, scrub & wash. To do the coamings, two locker tops, two grab rails and the toe rail around the whole boat took about 6 - 7 hrs. At this point the teak was clean and light colored.

Next, sand any grooved areas (80 grit paper and an orbital sander or sanding block) 'till smooth. If you want a really nice finish go to 150 grit after it's smooth.

(sanding was 2 hrs)

Now you have a choice. Varnish for beauty and masochism; Cetol if you want a close to varnished look, don't mind the yellow-orange color, and are not quite as masochistic; Deks Olje or Superdeck (what I am using this time after a satisfactory 1 year test run on one hatch top) if you want a tung oil based finish (more easily repairable if you let a spot get away from you and go back to gray).

FORGET STANDARD TEAK OILS, they won't last two weeks (ok, maybe a month) here in the FL sun.

(I'm doing the finish this weekend, from past experience, I'm giving the work time for the whole weekend (another 10 - 15 hrs) to finish the teak with one good coat of superdeck, there is a lot of time spent masking and cleaning, ad to lightly sand and put a coat or two of varnish on the two hatches that are that way (and are that way only because the hatches were not kept up by the previous owner and fell apart at the seams, after rebuilding them, there were too may filled spots to go with the superdeck, hence the evil varnish).

So about 18 - 24 hrs of real labor to do up the trim on a 30' boat (with a teak toerail). I'm not really anal so this is a decent job, not too sloppy and by no means perfect. It will look really nice but not stunning.

Now that we have a good finish, if I don't travel too much for work to keep up, it will be a 2 hr soap & water scrub & a day to give another coat of superdeck. I am sewing covers for the 2 varnished hatchtops which may give me a one to two year life on the varnish.

Jere Lull writes us as follows, providing some alternatives:

Cetol is a cross between varnish and oil. It and Armada, made by ex-Cetol employees, consistantly win the durability tests, hands-down. Oil, in this area, lasts a couple of weeks. Varnish disintegrates before the end of the season; I put half a dozen coats on the tiller over the winter and already it's showing age! Cetol has been on our teak for 4 years without touchup. Actually, we should have sanded down the rough spots and recoated this spring but it's still not too awfully bad. Last weekend, we had a couple of spare hours, so I sanded down the toe rails and put a quick coat on them and the companionway boards.

Some don't like Cetol's orangy-brown color (it's semi-opaque). Some of them like Armada because it's a little browner. I just like the non-grey look that keeps lasting and lasting.

[Photo of gorgeous teak on the left by the author]

Cruising in the US

Tax Hall of Shame

You should watch out before keeping your boat in any of the following jurisdictions:

Charleston, SC will assess a tax of 10% of your boat's value if it is in Charleston for more than six months (consecutive or not). Documentation will not protect you. (I previously said 60 days, but a number of helpful people have been kind enough to make the correction. Dale Robertson made the wry observation: "Guess they figure if you stay more then half the year here .. you have been a resident longer then anywhere else and therefore should be taxed as a local ...!!!" Not an attitude likely to get them more residents, eh?).

Dale Robertson issued a correction:

It is true that cruising boats are assessed at 10.5% of their appraised value ... BUT they are TAXED on a *millage rate* of that assessed value ... depending where in the county they are moored ... It comes out to about 3% of the appraised value of the boat ... Quite a difference ......!!!
Although we are surely relieved, I daresay Charleston amply deserves its continued presence in the Hall of Shame.

Add to this list

Foreign Lands

Most cruisers seem to dream of Jamaca, the Virgin Islands, Tahiti and other countries where the seas are azure, the water warm, and the people desperately poor.

Photo courtesy of Jere Lull

What are today's top cruising destinations?

What is life like in the Carribean?

I asked the question on rec.boats.cruising and got this reply:

Gene Gruender of the Rainbow Chaser writes us as follows:

Actually, they survive, but not by much. No car, no electric, no running water. A house is a shack that wouldn't be up to the standards of a storage shed behind the "house" in one of our getto's. And they are often rented. It's sad.

The "cost of living", is actually higher on individual items. A can of food, like corn, would be over $1 US, a coke is about a $1 US. They don't buy much of either. They pick cocanuts, bananas, make their own food, and just get by. Water comes from a community hose. And it's not like they won't work, there just isn't paying work to be had. You're right on the money about them being grateful for what they do get. It reminds me of the South Africa deal some time ago. We helped them by boycoting them. What did this accomplish? The poor people, instead of having low paying jobs, had none. Sort of like Cuba today.

We hired a fellow who normally did cement work, but was out of work. His wages were better, when he worked. About $40 a week. We gave him about $10 a day, for which he was very grateful. He became our tour guide, searched for things, accompanied us shopping and kept the prices in line. He worked a lot harder cheaning my boat than I ever did.

We got to know a number of people there (Port Antonio) and like them a lot. We just sent them a package with shoes and shirts and I'm sure they'll remember us. When we go again, we'll take a lot of shoes (plain sneakers, not Nike's, are about $100.) and things like that as gifts.

If you're going that way, take some shoes, an assortment of adult sizes. Goodwill ones would work fine. If they have none, any is a welcome gift. A $1 wrist watch would be welcomed. A pile of toys would be a great gift to kids. Zachary (11) played with a local boy who had nothing but a green cocunut, used a a football, for a toy. He left him some Leggos. The boy was very excited to have such a thing.

If anyone is going that way, email me and I'll be glad to share some tips.

Phaon Reid has an alternative view, based on a more European cultural perspective:

Your FAQ also contains a rather jaundiced (and generalised) judgement on the Caribbean. It is difficult to generalise meaningfully as it is extremely diverse. It is also wrong to make judgements from an overly materialistic point of view. I don t claim to be any sort of expert on the basis of maybe six months cruising some of the islands. But, during that time we met many local people. While they don t have many of the toys deemed essential by middle-class Americans, that doesn t mean that they have less potential for an enjoyable or fulfilling life. Of course, there are people living in abject poverty. But that is also, unfortunately, true in New York, or London. Arguably, despite the lack of social provision, it is better to be poor on a tropical island than in an inner-city slum.
Although I will admit to not having (yet) visited a tropical island, this last sentence surely rings true.

What do native people think of Americans?

Phaon Reid again:

You raise the question of how Americans are viewed in the Caribbean. Once again, it is dangerous to generalise, but I feel that in general they fit in less well than average Europeans (if there are such creatures!). Perhaps Europeans are more accustomed to cultural diversity? Most Caribbean Islanders judgement of Americans is probably based on the masses of cruise ship passengers that descend upon them. The stereotype is of the loud, crass, overweight, middle aged American couple, laden with expensive cameras and flashing wads of dollars, who blunder through other people s cultures with the grace (and appreciation) of a bull in a china shop. Of course, that is just a stereotype.....
Of course this was written by a European. This may be a more accurate expression of Americans than we care to think - in fact, I'm sure it is - but it doesn't seem to address yacht folks. The more I read about yacht folks, the odder the picture is - we've accumulated a sizable amount of capital to buy the boat, but after that we seem to be amazingly poor - because we spent all our money on the boat! It's all quite disillusioning to someone (me) who's still on the outside looking in.

So how do the natives see us? Do they see us any differently than they see the cruise ship folk? I would think we'd get at least somewhat better marks for sensitivity, and although we have less money, they may get more of it since we're here for so long and often have expensive disasters.

What are the people like?

Will I have to bribe someone?

And if so, how much should be budgeted for it?

Can I get away with never, ever going home?

That is, if I particularly like my cruising destination or cruising as an overall lifestyle, can I just stay there and settle down forever?

I've heard significantly varying answers to this question. They depend largely on whether you have skills needed by the population (whether native or cruising), how much (or rather little) money you can live on, and whether the officials of the country you're visiting want to kick you out (and whether you have somewhere else to go if and when they do).

I'd be interested in hearing more detailed answers to this question.

Now that you've gotten to the end, send me a comment!