Jan 25, 2021
What is the best boat?
POSTED BY Alan Jacobson
Beneteau 40CC “Imagine II”
Is the best boat a sloop, a schooner, a cutter or a ketch? Nope. Is it a Baja, a Bavaria, a Beneteau or a Bristol ? Nuh-uh. For the answer, heed the words of world-record-holding sailor Robert Suhay: “The best boat is the one that leaves the dock.” Why? Because most boats never do. The reasons are countless, the excuses are endless. But most boats don’t move until their owners sell them. So, before you consider buying a boat, answer this question: “What is your mission?” Because you're more likely to use your boat it if is well-suited for your intended use. All boats are compromises, but some are so compromised that they fail to satisfy in all circumstances. The best/worst case of a compromise boat design is the so-called “cruiser/racer.” It's neither a cruiser nor a racer, because it is not optimized for either purpose. It lacks all the amenities to be truly comfortable for long-term cruising and it lacks the specialized rigging, keel and sails that allow to make the most of racing. For instance, let's consider this sailboat buyer: He’s eager to compete in Thursday night beer can races, but he also wants to spend some weekends anchored out with his wife/girlfriend, even though she gets seasick and has no intention of going out on his boat. So what does this sailboat buyer buy? He buys a cruiser/racer because believes he can convince his significant other to spend weekends with him on the boat. But it ain't gonna happen. Ever. But here's what will happen: this sailor will be frustrated every week because his cruiser/racer never handles or performs like a racer. So rather than enjoy each race, he spends every moment annoyed – and thinking about his next boat rather than enjoying the one he has. My mission was just the opposite. I had no intention of racing. I had every intention of spending days, weeks or months on my boat – long before I decided to live aboard. So I bought a cruiser. It's built for comfort, not for speed. But I didn't buy a blue-water cruiser because I didn't intend to cross any oceans. But Rick Page thinks I made three fatal errors. Rick is the author of “Get Real, Get Gone: How to Become a Modern Sea Gypsy and Sail Away Forever” The cover of his book sells itself. He's living the dream and has the photo to prove it. But according to Rick, my boat has three fatal flaws:
  1. A furler. Rick says do not go cruising on a boat with a furler. Especially a mainsail furler, because they are prone to jamming.
  2. A spade rudder. According to Rick, a spade rudder is a no-go, because it leaves the leading edge of the rudder completely exposed to countless hazards. A full keel protects the rudder. Even a skeg in front of the rudder protects it on boats with fin keels.
  3. Large lights. Rick puts the kibosh on cruising with large lights (windows) because they reduce the structural integrity and are prone to leaking.
Here's how my boat runs afoul of Rick’s advice: My main and my jib are on furlers, I have a spade rudder and my boat has large lights. In contrast, Rick’s Island Packet is the kind of boat he recommends. It’s an excellent cruising vessel specifically designed for cruising the Caribbean. As Rick is both experienced and credible – and the cover of his book depicts the life I’ve dreamed of – I took his advice seriously. So I was worried about how I would fare while cruising on a boat that failed to meet his standards. I shared my concerns with Suhay – remember Suhay? He's the guy who said “The best boat is the one that leaves the dock.” To alleviate my fears, Suhay told me the story of a sailor who single-handedly won an around-the-world race on a boat with a furling main. When his fellow sailors questioned his choice of a furling main – I can assure you it is prone to jamming because I've jammed mine more than once – the sailor replied that the furling main was safer than a conventional main. That's because it can be reefed with ease without leaving the cockpit. As a single-hander, he saw the furling main as an asset, not a liability. That sailor was Philip Weld. He won the 1976 OSTAR (Original Single-handed Transatlantic Race) on “Moxie,” a trimaran with a furling main. Then I watched hours of videos posted by the crew of “Finding Avalon,” an Elan Impression 384 that sailed from the eastern Mediterranean to Australia – with a spade rudder. If this crew could cross the Atlantic and Pacific with spade rudder, maybe my boat could as well. So let me tell you what makes my boat, a Beneteau 40CC, the best boat because it is the best boat for me:I've been living aboard for more than a year, and I haven't once missed being a dirt dweller. Because this boat is the best boat – for me.
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