Looking for the perfect sailboat

When we started visiting boats, we didn’t have a clue what we wanted. Six month and a few nautical shows later, we have a better idea of what criteria are important to us.  Looking for a sailboat without a clear idea of what you need is not unlink looking for a flat. You waste a crazy amount of time visiting places that won’t cut it, and you end up settling down for something just because you’re tired of looking. We’re sharing the list below hoping it will help people who are where we were 6 months ago.

A monohull. We like the traditional sailboat look and sailing a well balanced – and heeling – boat upwind is exhilarating to us. Of course catamarans are faster and their accommodation are more confortable, but they’re not without their drawbacks either.  A catamaran means twice the size (and the price) in any harbor, twice as many motors to maintain, and it won’t get upright again if it ever capsizes in a gale. A quick google search – or lilo, would correct Sarah – is a good way to check that this is a hot topic without a clear answer. Lucky for us, we’re on the same wavelength 🙂

At least 1m92 (6″4) of headroom in the saloon and the galley. Basically, I want to be able to stand up unhindered with some shoes on. This eliminates most of the boats smaller than 40ft

1m50 (4″11) maximum draught. This means we need either a centerboard or a twin keel sailboat, or maybe a lifting keel. Twin keels will sail upward better, but will have slightly more draught. On the other hand, a centerboard is yet another thing that we need to maintain and fix. We believe that standard keel boats would be too limiting in the Pacific.

45 ft maximum, for many reasons :

  • it’s cheaper (both to buy and to maintain)
  • it requires less maintenance (cleaning a 45ft deck is not something you want to do too often)
  • It will fit in a standard harbour slot. Obviously, this is when you really need a shelter that shelters are crowded, so this is an important criteria to us.
  • this will help keep pirates away.
  • this is our first boat, so it sounds more realistic not to buy too big a yacht …

A CE certificate. If you plan to sail a European flag, and if the boat is newer than june 98, you need this stupid piece of paper. We could use a flag of convenience, but we’ve heard the French police (and probably others) don’t really like those, and usually end up controlling your ship thrice a day just to be annoying.

A deck saloon with lots of light. This is not to be overlooked if you’re going to be on your boat full time. That criterion is probably the most limiting of our list, as it literally excludes nine monohulls out of ten … On the left, a proper deck saloon. On the right, a standard saloon with lots of lights, but no real view towards the outside.

A used sailboat. Not unlike a car, a boat, will lost 30% of its value as soon as it is in the water. A new boat would also mean a lot of small defects that would need to be fixed. Of course, on the other hand, a new boat would alleviate any doubt we might have about how the hull and the motor have been maintained, and the accommodation would exactly match our needs. Anyway, we simply don’t have the money to buy a new boat. Actually, we’re looking for boats older than 5 years, so that they’ve already lost most of their value.

An aluminium hull. This is mainly because we want to sail in polar areas, and we need the hull to survive a collision with a chunk of ice.

  • a wooden hull is beautiful, but it’s not very robust, and you end up spending all of your spare time varnishing it.
  • a steel hull is very strong, but it’s also very heavy. And of course, it rusts if not taken care of properly.
  • aluminium is very light and as strong as steel (actually it is not, but it will distort itself instead of breaking). It is also more expansive, and much more complicated to fix, especially underwater. It seems this hull material is not very popular outside of France, so maybe we’re just missing something obvious …
  • fiberglass and other materials are usually cheaper and less robust, and of course they have they come with their own set of maintenance problems.

A recent circumnavigation. Buying a standard boat and circumnavigate is like buying a standard car and enroll on the Paris-Dakar : completely impossible. Ideally, most of the adaptation work will have been taken care of by the previous owner. John Vigor’s Seaworthy Offshore Sailboat has a comprehensive list of upgrades that need to be done on a factory boat before it’s offshore ready. Since most boats spend less than a week in the open sea every year, you can’t really blame the builders not to calibrate their sailboats for the handful of guys who really decide to live aboard.

A backpacker, unflashy look. First and foremost because this is who we are, but also to make sure we don’t attract too many preying eyes. Sailing a brand new flashing yacht in Venezuela is like using your brand new IPhone at midnight in the wrong neighborhood. Of these two boats, we definitely like the bottom one better 🙂

If possible, a heating system and a bow truster. Most of the other things we need are cheap and easy to install, so we don’t really consider them. It’s not as if we needed to further discriminate against hundreds of boats ….

If possible, harbored in Europe, so that we can avoid flights that are neither good for our wallets nor for the planet.

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