Considerations for the next sailboat

I am broke. Poor. Fighting the cat for what food scraps I can find in my almost empty pantry (perhaps I exaggerate … slightly). But, barring another major financial disaster (knocking on a nice hunk of varnished oak), I should hopefully find myself in much, much, much better financial shape in six months or so (I know I said that six months ago … but my wife going crazy put me behind schedule a bit). The plan is to cut expenses, buy a new boat to live aboard, and eventually do some cruising for a few months to a few years. Things are quiet in my life at the moment, so I thought I’d do some thinking “out loud.”

Consideration number one is that I am not seriously heading over the horizon for a few years, and in the meantime will be using the boat as a “living” home, as opposed to a “cruising” home. I’ll be living aboard to avoid the ugly home mortgage bill (I really don’t need a four bedroom home) including the $12,000/year in interest, the $4000/year in taxes, not to mention insurance and utilities. An extra $16,000? That will help settle things down. Plus, I just WANT to. What this means is that I need to have enough room for shore-side/work gear to live and to, hopefully, occasionally entertain guests while still keeping the boat in sailing trim.

Consideration number two is that I do plan on seriously heading over the horizon IN a few years (and maybe the Bahamas, via the offshore route, NEXT year if things come together fast enough). That means seaworthiness. Something that a reasonably prudent sailor would consider for a trip to Bermuda would be a good place to start. I’m probably not going around Cape Horn; but crossing the Atlantic someday is a possibility.

Consideration number three is that I will likely be doing most of my sailing for the next few years on Chesapeake Bay, which means that light air performance and draft are considerations.

Consideration number four is that I don’t want to replace a house mortgage with a large boat mortgage (assuming I could even get one in today’s market). Freedom is the goal, here. I don’t want to be permanently tied to a job and bank.

Consideration number five is that while I would like to have company on occasion, or better yet a long term companion, I have learned that I need to be prepared to handle everything on my own. It is impossible to count on anyone, long term. My dreams are my responsibility. The max boat size and complexity needs to take that into consideration.

Consideration number six is that I will be living aboard in Maryland (quite probably either Middle River or Annapolis) for awhile; but could conceivably end up in New England at some point. Both cold weather and hot weather need to be considered.

Happily, I am a reasonably simple man with simple tastes. I don’t tend to buy stuff for stuff’s sake. I tend to use things until they fall apart on me. I’ve lived quite happily in the past in a very small studio apartment. I’m certain I can do it on a small sailboat.

So, with the above considerations in mind, and based on my experience with my Seafarer 24 and sailing in other peoples boats, I’m starting with the following criteria…

The size will probably be in the 29-34 foot range. This could take me somewhat out of Sailfar territory; but as far as boats go it is still pretty small. If I was just cruising and not planning to live-aboard dockside for a few years I would consider smaller.

Since I’m currently sailing on the Chesapeake, I would really like to keep the draft below five feet. Nothing over six feet will be seriously considered. Heavy, slow lead sleds, while great offshore, and generally comfortable below, lose points (but aren’t automatically disqualified) because of the light air we typically get here in Summer.

It gets cold here. I was really impressed with the diesel heater on Auspicious (much appreciated on the January Bahamas to Annapolis Beaufort trip), and will probably use something similar (I’m expecting to have to install it myself … bonus points if heat is already installed). If I’m shooting for diesel heat, a diesel engine makes sense. A diesel also makes sense for fuel economy. I will consider repowering; but I would expect that to cost between $7-10,000, so will have to take asking price into consideration.

A permanent chart table to use as a desk is very desirable. I would like to keep working space/living space/sleeping space as separate as possible (difficult in such a small space). I spend a lot of time on the computer (both for work and pleasure). It is best if it has a permanent usable home. Oddly, if I’m actually doing navigation (with good old fashioned paper charts, I mean), I’d probably be content to spread the charts out on the cabin table.

A gimbaled stove with oven would sure be nice. I will survive if it has a built in Origo or something (I would have to have add a Seaswing or equivalent for cooking while underway); but given the choice… Propane is convienient and available, but care needs to be taken to avoid leaks and the Boom Factor. Alcohol (the non-pressurized kind) is pretty safe; but not terribly hot and rather expensive per gallon, and reportedly hard to find in exotic and desireable cruising grounds. However, even if alcohol is expensive, if the boat already has an Origo stove, I suspect it would take a very long time for the extra cost of the fuel to meet the expense of putting in a new propane system. It sure would be nice to have an oven, though.

I’d prefer to have a dinette. For a live-aboard it just seems to make sense. Not a deal breaker, though.

I’m not thrilled with showering on a small boat due to the moisture (it’s unlikely that much in this size range will have a separate shower stall); however some facilities for occasional use are very desirable. Marina or health club showers might not always be practical.

How does one handle wet foulies in a small boat without getting everything inside drenched? Wet lockers or aft heads located near the companionway get major bonus points as a way to deal with this problem; but they appear to be rather rare in this size range.

I want a permanent place to sleep that isn’t in the main cabin. A v-berth, if comfortable and if I can keep it from being a catch all, is fine. As is a quarter berth, if not too cramped. Regardless, I do hope to have the pleasure of occasional female company, so a good double berth (even if I have to occasionally convert a dinette or something) needs to be available. Some boat companies are a bit optimistic with what they call a double. It needs to be usable.

For the sake of potential guests, the head needs to be enclosed. And it needs to have at least enough holding capacity for two people for a week (10 gallons? 20?). Bonus if it has a Y-valve for overboard discharge. If the boat for some reason has just a porta-potti, I might consider using an Air-Head or Natures-Head composting dry toilet.

I cannot over estimate the value of a good dodger. If the boat doesn’t have one, the cost of installing one needs to be factored into the price.

MINOR refurbishment needed is acceptable. However, I am not looking to do a major refit. One necessary major project is probably OK. Minor cosmetic stuff isn’t a problem. If I need to rewire, re-rig, re-power, re-core and repaint… too much. I should be able to move on-board within a month or two after purchase. And it should be reasonably comfortable and attractive when I do. Not necessarily new looking. But comfortable.

Electronics are a bonus. I like wind instruments. I can live without them. I like chart plotters. I can live without them. Same for RADAR. I need an autopilot; but I can install that later. A VHF is necessary; but I have no problem installing that myself. There should be 12v and 110v power in several places in the boat.

PRESSURE hot and cold water is VERY desirable. Remember, I’ll be living dockside for awhile. A foot pump for when it’s time to go sailing is just fine. Decent cold storage (given dockside living, preferably a fridge of some type), and enough counter space to prepare at least a simple meal (I don’t often cook fancy meals) is important.

And finally PRICE matters. I’ve been struggling with this one; but I think I can afford $25,000 (with major systems being in decent shape) without messing up my plans too much. I’ll go a little higher for a boat in very good condition. Theoretically I can afford more; but I want the boat paid off quickly (it will probably be financed with the money I receive from selling my rental … whatever doesn’t go into the boat, pays off debts. I want to be debt free quickly). Minor upgrades aren’t part of that cost (I’d expect maybe $10-12,000 in upgrades over three years). Major upgrades should be. All things considered, cheaper is better, of course.

Early favorites with good availability (there are lots of boats with only one or two examples available … I’m not going to list them all):

  • Pearson 323 – current favorite
  • Bristol 29.9 – Last months favorite
  • Cal 31 – Reportedly fast. Capt. Woody circumnavigated in one, I believe. sadly, no permanent sit down chart table, and hatches really too large to be ideal for offshore work, although they’d be great for the Bay.
  • S2 9.2 – The center cockpit version looks particularly interesting for a liveaboard; but I’m not sure I like the look. It has a rare separate shower stall and, dare I say it, a tub of sorts.

This is not an all inclusive list. Just my current favorites. Next month’s list may look very different.

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