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A simple ‘rule-of-thumb’ when selecting a long-term cruising boat.

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What is the issue?
Long term cruising vessels should be stable, strong, and have the ability to carry large amounts of equipment. Ideally, they should be easy to handle shorthanded or preferably by a solo sailor. However modern yacht design places more emphasis on speed and accommodation for in-harbour living, than for sea handling, which presents a problem for true blue water cruisers.

Why address this?
A seaworthy vessel is a yacht that looks after the crew, who in turn can look after the vessel. Choosing the average modern yacht that is designed for pleasure will place a significant load upon crews and could potentially be dangerous.

How to address this?
Choose a boat that is ‘in’ the water and not ‘on’ the water. This could be paraphrased into choosing a vessel with more traditional lines.

A tradition long keeled yacht low in the water underway
Photo: Simon Clancy via CC BY-SA 2.0

Modern yachts typically tend to sit ‘on’ the water upon rounded hulls. Although delivering speed and accommodation, it is bought at the cost of a handling trade-off. These vessels require continuous control which may prove onerous for long distance cruisers, and they are not ideal for carrying heavy cruising equipment loads.

A typical modern cruising yacht
Photo: David van der Mark via CC BY-SA 2.0

Heavy weather sailing in modern vessels can be particularly challenging as they have a tendency to ‘skitter’ about upon the surface, on the edge of being out of control.

Classic Yacht out of the water
Photo: Michael Harpur
In very heavy conditions, the absence of a bilge sump means water rolls up the side walls of the cabin and is difficult to remove. In extreme situations, very wide yachts have a propensity to turn upside down if they suffer a knockdown (beyond 90°).

Traditional lined vessels that sit ‘in’ the water behave differently. Their ‘sea kindly’ nature offers enormous tracking stability. This is largely due to long or three quarter length keels that, to a large part, take care of themselves in general sailing conditions. This can be equally said of heavy weather conditions.

In addition to this, they can typically achieve and happily sit ‘hove-to’ allowing for crews to rest. Having a bilge there is little issue with any water that gets inside. These keels typically yield significantly more stability in resisting a knockdown, and leave little chance of this type of vessel staying upside-down should one occur.

A vessels sea-worthiness depends largely on a vessel's suitability and its crews ability to function. Placing the emphasis on choosing the right type of vessel for the purpose from the outset, and not following the current fashion, dramatically increases the sailing pleasure and safety. See also what is a comfortable sized sailing vessel for a cruising couple.

With thanks to:
Michael Harpur, Yacht Obsession.
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