We decided to buy a boat.
That one short sentence, just six words, actually describes a generally fun process also involving years of internet research, visiting boat shows in the US and France, sailing a variety of boats, chartering a variety of boats, test sailing, hand wringing, angst, hair loss, hair growth in unwanted areas, explosive diarrhea, and copious amount of bar room pontification and rumination.
Deciding On The Fundamentals
The decision of whether to buy monohull or catamaran, new or used, size, brand, and model are all genuinely difficult. And, inherent in much of this are personal choices about life-style such as: smaller space but higher speed of a performance cruiser or more space but slower cruiser; how many heads (bathrooms) do we really need; do we really anticipate frequent guests, must we actually have a restaurant type espresso maker and grinder (duh, yes!) or could we live with a drip coffee maker (that just ain’t living). Virtually every one of the choices is the subject of debate (fights) among sailors (and brawls among Marines) -well, except for the espresso issue. Worse yet, no easy and objective guide like Consumer Reports (which I love!) exists. So, this is the story of our thought process.
This may be the most strictly boat-related series of posts I’ll engage in on this small virtual island of narcissistic vanity. Proceed at your own risk. (As the old saying goes, when you dance with the devil, the devil does not change. The devil changes you. As a result, you may become older, fatter, and more self-indulgent.)
Please forgive me my meanandering ramblings as I process my own decision on these virtual pages. You non-boater types, I am keeping it simple for you. (And thanks for being my excuse to mask my own ignorance on certain topics)
Monohull or Catamaran -A Bar Fight Waiting To Happen
Decision number 1 -monohull or catamaran – is so fraught with debate among sailors, both in real life and on the internet -that I really do not care to dive into the fray. But, for purposes of explaining our eventual decision, I offer this general description of the issues.
Monohulls are what most folks think of when picturing a boat. If you ask a kid to draw a sailboat you almost certainly get a monohull. A monohull has a single hull (that primary part of the boat that sits in the water). It usually extends 5 to 7 feet below the water with a heavy lead (Pb) weight to counter balance all of the weight from the mast and sails. So, it is, in essence, a giant seesaw with more weight under the water than above. That weight distribution tends to keep things right-side-up, which keeps things like coffee pots and toilets in compliance with the general laws of gravity and cleanliness. It also allows the boat to heel over (lean over), release wind from its sails, and right itself.
Crusing catamarans, by contrast, have two hulls sitting parallel to each other and attachd by a top deck and living space. They are rather shallow compared to a monohull, and instead find their stability (to remain in compliance with the aforementioned laws of gravity and cleanliness) on the wide stance of the two independent hulls. (In the picture to the right you can see us on one hull of a catamaran, the connected deck that does not touch the water, and then the other hull). As a result, they cannot really heel much. The inability to heel means the sails cannot release wind and must be tended to carefully to avoid problems.
Although the difference between one or two hulls may seem minor, the differences in sailing ability, liveablity, and, according to some, safety, are enormous.
The major differences in a nutshell (and no, I am not debating this no matter how much beer you buy me, and no, this list is not complete) are:
- Sits deep in the water
- Slower and smoother motion under sail
- Because it sits deeper in the water, it is able to sail more deeply into the wind
- Heels over to release excess wind
- Heeling in general is a love/hate issue
- Heeling feels more sporting
- Heeling means things need to be secured or they will slide around a lot
- Larger main hull area
- Single motor
- If rolled in severe weather, generally rights itself due to weight on keel (rare circumstance)
- If holed or loss of keel, it sinks quickly
- Less stable at anchor
- Feels more cramped
- Sit on top of the water
- Faster more jerky motion under sail
- Because it sits on top of the water, it generally does not sail as deeply into the wind
- Does not heel -must adjust sails based on anticipated gusts
- Lack of heeling is a love/hate issue
- Lack of heeling means easier/less tiring sailing (your coffee cup tends to stay where you put it)
- Smaller hull area per hull
- Large living area above the hulls
- Two motors
- If flipped over, it stays that way (rare circumstance)
- Generally, won’t sink entirely and life rafts can be tied to it to increase visibility
- More stable at anchor
- Feels roomier
These differences spark a lot of debate. Suffice it to say that for our purposes, we decided that the catamaran was the right choice for us.
New or Used
Unlike the auto industry, there are very few “certified pre-owned” type deals. And, perhaps even more importantly, there is no easily accessible dealer network to handle warranty issues if your plan is to travel the world. And, unlike cars, the various components manufactured by a variety of companies are typically serviced by those companies, not the boat manufacturer. (There are laws in the US that consolidate this to the retailer for cars. Not such law exists for boats.)
We both still work and do not have the time to dedicate to searching for a suitable used boat. Worse yet, once we find a boat we like, which could be anywhere in the world, we would then need it surveyed (think home inspection), and renovated. A boat is more like a house plus the water company, electrical company, and sewage company all rolled into one. You generate your own water and electricity and deal with the waste, so all of those systems need attention, and routine maintenance by the owner. So, all of those systems would need to be checked and renovated to bring them to our standards, and maintained.
So, because our time is better spent working for now, we decided to focus on new boats.
Narrowing The Choices
There are few truly objective means of evaluating boats. Every boat is a compromise. Thus, you are forced to compare apples to oranges to watermelon to bananas to your grandmother’s gnarly old back-scratcher that you sincerely hope she only used to scratch her back, but just aren’t sure. The best you can do is visit boats, test sail them, and rely on people you know, and internet reviews.
So, a good thing about the internet is there are an abundance of reviews of virtually everything. A really terrible thing about the internet is that there are an abundance of reviews of virtually everything. Most cannot be trusted -except the reviews concerning Haribo Sugarless Gummies – those are true. But, I digress . . . .
At first, the sheer abundance of reviews can be paralyzing for a few reasons. First, every boat has somebody who loves it and somebody who hates it. Second, because all of the reviews are on the same or similar platforms, a viewer can be lulled into believing that they are all equal. And finally, the reviews tend to focus on the boat at dock where everything is stable and calm.
I tend to shy away from magazine reviews. They appear to me to be so biased toward their advertisers that they are love letters rather than evaluations, even when the subject is a truly unlovable troll. Reviews on forums are also suspect, but useful if you know the poster. If you don’t, they can still be useful for pointing out issues that need further exploration by you.
You should also remember that not all reviewers are created equal. You must consider factors such as the reviewer’s age, experience, sailing experience, financial situation, possible bias, stage of life, and every other factor you can think of when deciding how much weight to give their opinions.
YouTube Reviews I Like
Personally, I rely on two primary YouTube channels for catamaran reviews. Even though I like them both, I still run them through my mental filter to adjust their expectations and comments to my own situation.
First, I found Cruising Off Duty. This channel features Craig and Janice, whose goal is to buy a catamaran to live aboard. They openly admit they don’t want speed, are looking for a good size, washing machine, etc. (For you non-sailors, more interior volume, dishwashers, etc. are mortal sins to some sailors). Thus, they do nice walk-through reviews. But, the biggest draw for me is that Craig managed to get on 2 separate Atlantic Ocean crossings on two different catamarans. One of those was the X5, which is one of our top contenders. The crossing videos were well done and are a fantastic resource for me. I watched all of them several times.
Sailing Yacht Ruby Rose features Nick and Terysa who are actual liveaboards. Their content is great, and their detailed catamaran reviews are about the best the internet has to offer. Their experience and keen eye are real assets.
More To Come
More detail will follow. For now, go check out those YouTube reviews! There are a lot of cool boats.