Choosing a boat

Boatnotes Ponyo Sailing with family

Finding the right boat can take time

Well well well, many people have said many things about the perfect boat to cruise safely and comfortably and how to find it.

Logically enough most came to the conclusion that it depends on people and plans. And budget, of course. We didn’t really have any and had to borrow money, so some types were out of the question from the very beginning because they were just more expensive than others. Catamarans for example, and boats with an aluminium hull – fantastic material but out of range for us.

What material do sail boats come in anyway and what are the advantages/disadvantages respectively? How big does a boat have to be to cross oceans and to be suitable to live on with a family? What about the rigg? Those (and a million more) were questions we had to ask ourselves before we even started looking for a boat on the internet. We started reading about every book on the market and spent weeks in online forums to learn what type of boat we had to look for.

Charter a boat to find out what’s important to you

The most important information yet came from own experience: we treated ourselves to a 10-day yacht charter in North Greece – my first boating experience altogether! I am still very glad we did it because only then I found out I really couldn’t stand staying below deck without windows. Most sailing yachts are built like this: the living space is entirely below the waterline and there are usually tiny windows very high up. Only a few boats are equipped with something called a deck salon where you can sit inside and still have a good view outside the boat because the living space is partly elevated. Most boats don’t have that, it’s not a feature you want when you care about speedy sailing. Since making knots isn’t high on our priority list, we started looking for deck salon yachts. A catamaran would have also done the trick but wasn’t in our budget. So the first and most important advice to anyone unexperienced would be: Try a boat, any boat, and find out what you yourself would need to feel safe and comfortable.

Boatnotes Ponyo Sailing with family

Most boats only have tiny windows up high

 

Boatnotes Ponyo Sailing with family

Ponyo’s deck salon with a 360 degree view

You will also be able to find out more about your sensitivity to boat motions. Some might be even surprised that it’s not as bad as they thought! Moving a vessel by wind is a lot smoother and calmer than by motor. And if you find you are very sensitive you might want to consider a boat with a centre cockpit layout instead of an aft cockpit one. From physics lessons you might still remember that with any angular motion the center is what moves the least. We remembered out physics lesson only after we had bought our aft cockpit boat. Well, you can’t have everything I suppose!

Which material is the best?

Materialwise nowadays on the 2nd hand market you can choose from steel, aluminium, GRP (glass fiber reinforced plastic) and sometimes wood. So what should you go for?

  1. The deal with steel is that it’s very solid and stable, a good lightning protector (by now you must have realized physics lessons come in handy) and good to fix in remote places (you are likely to find a welder or at least a basic welding device virtually anywhere). Most steel boats are one-offs or self-built and rarely part of a series. Disadvantage: One word – RUST. You have to take care of the hull a lot. When you are done at the back repainting the hull you can start all over at the front. Someone once said sailing a steel boat means painting it in the most beautiful places on the planet. Buying a 2nd hand steel boat is always a little risky because there might be hidden rust developing within tiny crevices.
  2. Aluminium has all the advantages of steel but without the rust. What can be a little tricky though is corrosion. Aluminium’s valency is quite low in the periodic system so any metal with a higher valency will cause corrosion. Also it’s more difficult to fix in remote areas – an average welding device won’t do it. But the biggest problem with aluminium is the price: aluminium boats are very often much more expensive than steel or plastic boats.
  3. Most yachts nowadays are built from GRP (glass fiber reinforced plastic) because it’s easier and cheaper. With GRP it’s important to distinguish between the much more solid boats from the 80s/early 90s that often have a balsa core and the cheaper yogurt pots that are sold for charter purpose and are built for fun rides. Also Scandinavian, Dutch and UK-manufactured yachts should be checked out, they are usually quite reliable and sturdy. The biggest risk with GRP is osmosis – when material fatigue has led to water penetrating the hull and slowly dissolving the plastic. Fixing an on-going osmosis can be extremely cost- and time intensive.
  4. Wood is probably the rarest material you will find in long term cruising yachts. It’s without doubt the most beautiful but quite possibly also the most tiresome material of all discussed here. Wood works and is prone to bugs but if it’s taken care of it can last forever. You have to be an aficionado with time and money though to be able to maintain a wooden yacht especially in warm climates. But don’t take my word for it – this is a friend’s yawl built in the 30s, a wooden beauty that already crossed the atlantic and is now taking guests for unforgettable charter trips in the Aegean: vega-sailing.de

Then there are differences in rigging, some yachts have one mast, some have two. If you are looking on the 2nd hand market and you already have other features you are focussing on you might just take whatever you get regarding masts. At least that’s what we did. Ponyo is a ketch (2 masts), a common rigging at the time she was built but it wouldn’t have been our first choice.

The bigger the more expensive

How big should a boat be? Like everything else this, too, is individually different. As a rule of thumb she should be as small as possible and as big as necessary. With a bigger boat you will always need more material and paint and you are also going to pay more in marinas and for canal passages. For a couple 1-2 cabins (the 2nd for potential guests and/or storage) should suffice, for a sailing family with small children two cabins can be enough as well. With teenage kids we needed a minimum of 3 cabins but: „Big boat big problems“ is what they say in the Caribbean and they are probably right, but we needed to compromise for harmony’s sake.

Except for material, size, rigging and layout there are many more aspects that need to be considered before deciding for a type of boat. But in the end it’s still a gut decision – you have to love her or leave her. No, sorry, not you – the family has to. And the decision will often be a compromise.

Be sure to take enough time – to gain as much experience as possible, to look as many boats as possible and to have enough time to negotiate. Owners are often eager to sell: if you signal initiate interest they might come back to you time and again with a better offer each time. Never accept their first price unless you are crazy obsessed and believe life without this particular boat won’t be worth living or if you don’t have a budget you need to stay in! Don’t forget that you still need to equip your capture with lots of expensive stuff: Instruments will likely be outdated and have to be replaced and if the boat wasn’t already used as a live aboard many things will be missing (see: Equipment). On the other hand of course, don’t over equip: the more you have the more can break.

Have fun anyway and feel welcome to ask questions and add comments below!