Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Perfect Boat

The boat search and buying process is surprisingly similar to that for small airplanes, so we at least have the experience of buying our old Piper Pacer under our belts (then again, considering how that turned out...). Like airplanes, all boat designs are a set of compromises between cost, convenience, and the immutable laws of physics. Just as there is no such thing as the perfect airplane, there is no such thing as the perfect boat - only the boat whose design compromises most closely align with your priorities. The search process, then, begins with defining your mission. How do you anticipate using the boat? This will help you establish your design priorities and narrow your search to a few specific models, at which point you can focus in on a manageable number of specific boats within your price range.

Defining The Mission

We will be cruising from Florida to the Bahamas and throughout the entire Caribbean basin for an anticipated three seasons. We will most likely haul the boat in Puerto Rico for the first hurricane season, and anticipate hauling in Trinidad for the second although we will also explore the possibility of sailing the boat north to New England for the summer. We'd also like to keep open the possibility of exiting the Caribbean via the Panama Canal at the end of the second season and spending 1-2 seasons in the South Pacific. Even if we complete our cruise as currently planned, the third year will involve several crossings of the Western Caribbean, and so we prefer a boat with rugged offshore construction (as opposed to a coastal cruiser, which would be otherwise adequate for most parts of the Bahamas and Lesser Antilles).

We enjoy sailing and wish to avoid motoring when possible, and thus would like decent sailing performance though not at the expense of easy motion in a seaway. The boat will be usually double-handed on passage, with solo night watches making ease of sailhandling an important consideration. We anticipate taking a dock when Sam has to leave the boat for work, but otherwise only a couple days per month with the rest of our time spent on passage, at anchor or on a mooring, and will require self-sufficiency for these periods, preferably using renewable energy sources. We anticipate bringing friends and family down to sail with us as often as possible, usually two at a time but occasionally two adults and two children. We will have a medium-sized dog aboard full-time. We are both moderately handy but are inexperienced at maintaining boat systems and brightwork (for now!), and though we recognize that our cruising goals will require a fairly complex boat we would prefer that it at least has well laid-out systems with good access for easier and more regular maintenance. We enjoy snorkeling but only Sam is SCUBA certified and Dawn has no interest; we don't foresee the need to keep extensive dive equipment on board.

The Mythical Ideal Boat

Considering all of the above (which admittedly includes several contradictory wishes such as sailing performance + ease of motion and sailhandling, or self-sufficiency + simple systems), we can paint a picture of the perfect boat. This boat surely doesn't exist - certainly not in our price range! - but it is a handy yardstick against which we can evaluate potential candidates, as well as a starting point for post-purchase refitting prior to cruising or during subsequent off-seasons.
  • 40-45 feet length overall, moderate to moderate-heavy displacement, modified full keel or wide cruising fin keel with skeg-hung rudder. Draft 6 feet or less. Also possible: Modified full keel with centerboard, retracted draft under 5 feet. Barrier-coated, blister-free hull with recent bottom paint.
  • Cutter rig preferred, ketch or cutter-rigged ketch possible. Roller furling for headsail and high-cut staysail, full-batten mainsail with 2-3 reef points, stack packs and lazy jacks for main (and mizzen if applicable). Asymmetric cruising spinnaker with mast-mounted pole. Diamond stay setup to eliminate running backstays. Recent standing and running rigging. Mast steps. All or most lines led aft to cockpit, adequate number of appropriately-sized self-tailing two-speed manual winches. 
  • Center-cockpit design with hard dodger or stout soft dodger, attached bimini, full roll-up enclosure with zip-in screens (damn you, Zika virus!). Wheel steering via cable. Master autopilot head and chartplotter at nav station with remote head / slave chartplotter and remote VHF mic at helm. Full sailing instrumentation within view of helm. Adequate room in cockpit for up to 8 on daysails, comfortable space to recline on watch. 
  • Non-skid, non-teak decks and minimal brightwork to maintain. Wide, clean side decks, stout handholds extending forward to end of coach roof, tall stanchions with double stainless lifelines and netting to keep pooch aboard. Permanent folding swim ladders mounted at gates port and starboard. Propane grill mounted aft. Selectable fresh/saltwater shower/washdown aft. Dinghy davits aft for at anchorage or daysailing, adequate space on foredeck for dinghy on passage. RIB dinghy with 15 hp outboard engine, outboard crane and bracket.
  • Double anchor roller on secure anchoring platform, horizontal drum electric windlass with dedicated battery and foot controls, salt-water washdown. 60-pound CQR-style primary anchor with 300 ft 3/8" high-test chain rode. 40-pound Fortress-style secondary anchor with 35 ft 3/8" chain and 200 ft rope rode in locker. 35-pound Fortress-style stern anchor with 10 ft chain and 150 feet rope rode. 12-inch stainless steel cleats with fairleads located fore, aft, and amidships port and starboard. Adequate lazarette or deck box space for dockline and fender stowage. 
  • Companionway hatch that allows for use of sliding boards on passage only. Secure handholds alongside companionway and in cabin. Warm teak cabin with light headliner. LED cabin and exterior lighting. Excellent ventilation including opening ports, forward-facing hatches, dorade vents, and efficient 12-volt fans. Large stowage capacity. Positive-latch drawers, doors, sole floorboards, etc. 
  • Two-cabin design with guest cabin forward and owner cabin aft through passageway. Forward head accessible from salon or v-berth. Centerline queen bed in aft cabin, separate shower stall in aft head. Freshwater foot pumps, manual toilets, and holding tanks with Y-valves in both heads. Workbench with vice grip and stowage space for tools and spares in passageway.
  • Open salon with L-shaped settee around foldable salon table, convertible to single berth with lee cloth. Opposite settee available as seaberth with lee cloth. Plenty of stowage, lots of bookshelf space.
  • Nav station near companionway including master autopilot and networked chartplotter, radar, VHF radio with DSC & AIS, SSB radio with pactor modem, AC/DC breaker panel with battery monitor and solar/wind generator controllers. 
  • Secure U-shaped galley with double sinks on centerline, hot/cold pressure water with fresh and salt water foot pumps, 12-volt well-insulated top-and-front-loading refrigerator, 12-volt separate freezer, 3-burner propane stove/oven on gimbals, propane solenoid with 2x 20-lb tanks mounted in vented aft locker. 
  • 100-gallon fuel tankage and 200-gallon water tankage - both replaced since original, stainless steel. 6-gallon water heater with engine heat exchanger. 4+ gph modular 12-volt watermaker with automatic freshwater flush. 
  • Large, clean engine room accessible on all sides. Recent, low-time repower with modern marine diesel of 60-90 hp. Dual selectable Racor fuel filters with fuel polishing system. Oil change system. High-capacity alternator. 
  • Large 800 amp-hour battery bank, separate engine start and windlass batteries. Smart battery charger/monitor. 2000 watt inverter. Shore power cord for 110/220V. 400+ watts solar and KISS wind generator with controllers preferred, separate diesel generator otherwise.
  • Heat/AC unit for aft cabin and salon while on dock power only (if boat has generator, would use AC and 110-volt watermaker whenever using genset to charge batteries). 
  • Two independent high-capacity automatic bilge pumps with high-water alarm and gallon counter. Third manual bilge pump. Recently replaced through-hulls with accessible seacocks, recently replaced hoses and fittings below waterline. USCG-required safety equipment, life raft, EPIRB, ditch kit, jacklines, harnesses with integrated inflatable PFDs.
Yep, that's "it." In our fantasy world this immaculately equipped, thoroughly updated 30-year old cruising boat is also in Bristol condition, has only been used 4 months of the year in New England waters and stored in shrinkwrap the rest of the time, was just moved to Florida last month, and is squarely within our budget with no additional money required for refit. While we're here let's just stipulate that nothing will break and all future maintenance will be quick, easy and cheap. Man, boat ownership is great in fantasy world!

Back to the Real World

Ah well, that was nice while it lasted. Back here, the best we can do is find similar boats within our price range (<=$150k) and somewhere on the east coast that have good bones, have seen constant use and have been well-maintained, whose owners used them for similar purposes as our intentions and who equipped them accordingly. I'm searching yachtworld every day for new listings between 38 and 48 feet, built after 1975 and listed for $200k or less, and looking into the most promising leads. We've realized that many of the boats we're interested in are one of the following six models, partly because their original design goals were well aligned with our tastes and partially because these particular boats tend to be owned by like-minded owners. Without further ado...

Kelly Peterson 44/46. Center cockpit, cruiser fin keel with skeg-mounted rudder, mostly cutter rigged, usually very well equipped with beautiful, spacious interiors. Taiwanese built. Tend to be at top of our price range or above, especially the rarer and more desirable 46. Known for spectacular sailing performance, partly thanks to a Bahamas-unfriendly deep draft (6'8" for the KP46).  Cheaper knockoffs of inferior construction include Formosa 46 and Spindrift 46. Some still have teak decks. Very few have been repowered but the original VW Pathfinder 90hp is known as a very good engine.

Bristol 41.1 (also rarer 43.3 and 45.5). Ted Hood design. Built in New England with legendary construction quality. Shoal draft full keel with centerboard (4'6" retracted, nearly 10' extended). Mostly cutters, some sloops. Came in both aft-cockpit and center-cockpit versions. A lot of these were used in New England and the mid-Atlantic as weekend coastal cruisers and aren't necessarily set up for living aboard in the tropics - but they otherwise make great offshore cruisers with many circumnavigations under their belts. Joinery not quite as well refined as some of Taiwanese boats. No separate shower stall in aft head. Most updated ones seem to have been repowered, usually with Yanmars. Tend to be middle to top of our budget.

Gulfstar 44. Unlike earlier Gulfstar motorsailers, the 44 is known as an excellent performer under sail. Moderate draft (5'10"). Built in Tampa Bay; Gulfstar's quality was not good in the 70s but rapidly improved in the 80s and the 1983-84 boats are particularly known for excellent quality though blistering has been known to be a problem. Very nice layout - most have centerline queen in aft stateroom with separate shower in aft head. Very few if any have teak decks. Very few cutter rigs, most are sloops and many of these unfortunately have inmast mainsail furling or (somewhat better) behind-the-mast or boom furling. Originally Perkins 4-154 engines, fewer than half appear to have been repowered.

Tayana 42. Robert Harris design, Taiwanese built with very robust construction but a few early quality problems (hull blistering, inferior stainless steel). Good-looking double-ender design with a wide cruising keel with skeg-hung rudder, virtually all are cutters. 200 built, of which 70 were center cockpits. Beautiful teak interiors all built on a custom basis, hardly any 2 are exactly alike. Extremely rugged offshore sailor, known to be relatively fast for its weight (which is to say, only moderately slow) with very easy motion at sea. A ton of these have circumnavigated. Many repowered and upgraded for cruising, these are in the middle of our budget, with quite a few other cheaper semi-derelict ones perpetually for sale. Most had teak decks and many still do; lots of brightwork.

Whitby 42. Classic Ted Brewer designed ketch, first built in Canada in 1973 and later built under license in Ft Meyers until 1988. Uneven construction techniques and quality-control problems particularly in the early boats, the Ft Meyers boats were better. Wildly popular liveaboard cruiser seen throughout Caribbean and plenty have circumnavigated though old salts argue the construction's not really up for it. Tons of space. Interiors tend to be a little spare. Heavy displacement, full keel, ketch rig, very traditional. Known for a wicked weather helm, fairly slow, and doesn't point well. A number had a bowspirit installed and were rerigged as a cutter ketch which along with enlargened rudders solved those problems. These are considered a value buy, which means that some extremely well-equipped and upgraded examples are still near the bottom of our price range.

Brewer 12.8/44. Cool history here. In 1980 a syndicate of ten Whitby 42 owners approached Ted Brewer and asked for a redesign of the Whitby 42 with a list of 100-some changes to make what they considered the ultimate liveaboard offshore cruiser. The changes included a cutter rig and a more modern underbody with the famed "Brewer bite" (essentially a modified full keel with a cutout before the skeg-mounted rudder) and a centerboard like the Bristol 41.1 that yields a similarly shallow board-up draft. Built in Ft Meyers by same yard that built later Whitby 42s, generally robust construction with few of the quality problems the Canadian Whitbys suffered. First ten Brewer 12.8s built for the syndicate were identical, later ones were semi-custom. A few had an extended sugar-scoop transom with swim platform, which later became standard as the Brewer 44. Known for excellent sailing performance. Fantastic liveaboard layout. Interior joinery varies somewhat. Not a ton on the market, most well-equipped and around the middle to top of our budget.

The Hunt is On

By browsing listings and emailing and calling brokers, we've identified nine well-equipped yachts of those six models, purportedly in good condition with minimal remedial maintenance required, within our price range in Florida and the Atlantic Southeast. I've seen one already, and we're hoping to see the other eight between this Saturday and next Wednesday. Will one of these boats be The One? Maybe, maybe not - we'll see! I'll talk a bit about these specific boats in my next post. 

No comments:

Post a Comment