Does Size Matter? (Analysis Paralysis – Boat Decision Process- Part II)

Does size really matter or is it all just up to the motion of the ocean?

Size of a boat!!! I just meant the size of a boat -you pervs.

Continuing from Part I– this is the written memorialization of my rambling thought process that led to a boat choice.

[Warning for sailors: much of this is written to help my non-sailor friends understand the very basics. As a result, if you focus too much on the technical aspects you will become annoyed. Sorry.]

A General Discussion of Length and Girth

In general, the longer the length of a boat at the water line, the faster it has potential to go and the more stable it will be with respect to oncoming waves. The beam, or width, of the boat will also impact speed: the narrower the boat hull in the water the more easily it cuts through the water (less friction and displacement of water).

In the picture above you can see that the old 1889 ship has a lot of hull in the water and is pretty wide. So, to move forward it must move a lot of water out of its way and overcome the friction associated with moving that water over its hull. As a result, that 1889 cutter would probably not even sway if a speedboat went by throwing off a big wake. All of that hard-to-move hull also keeps the boat steady.

The more modern boats in the picture above have less hull in the water, and thus less mass to displace in order to move. The less hull in the water, the less mass a wake or wave has to overome to move that boat at anchor, so it is less stable. (There are other factors I am not bothering to discuss here like the density of the keel, but you get the general point.)

Bottom line, the size of the boat DOES matter to how it will handle the motion of the ocean!!

Tee hee.

Based on this, we want a boat big enough to handle rough seas, provide good interior volume, and still remain something a couple could handle. Based on our research, somewhere between 45-55 feet was the sweet spot.

Alternative Adult Toys

(Wow, I am beating this metaphor to death!!)

Unlike a monohull, catamarans ride on the water instead of in the water. They rely on the two hulls for lateral stability rather than a single wide hull. Like monohulls, the length of the hull on the water also confers a higher potential for speed. In general, the two types of boats both get faster, more stable, and exponentially more interior space with every foot of length. And, both get more difficult to handle due to the increased mass, larger sails, more complex systems, etc.

For catamarans, our sweet spot was still in the 45-55 foot range. This has less to do with a concern about the lack of space in a smaller boat than the limited availability of smaller boats. Catamaran manufacturers do not offer many in the 45′ range. Those that do are primarily production manufacturers catering to the charter companies, and we did not love those boats. Once you look at the semi-custom world, the boats tended to be in the 50′ range.


As you will notice in the picture above, the catamaran sits on the water and has relatively little keel (the part sticking below the main hull) in the water. Compare that with the picture of the monohulls (way above) and you see the significant difference between monohull and catamaran keels.

Keel design and size are huge factors in determining how close to the source of the wind a sailboat can sail. (For non-sailors: sailboats can sail into the wind and not just with the wind behind them. Some can sail at an angle of about 30 degrees in the direction of the wind while others can only do 50 degrees. Either way, they get to destinations that are up-wind by zig-zagging at their upwind angle, which sailors call “tacking” to avoid soundng silly. So, the better their upwind performance, the faster they can get where they are going if the destination is upwind.) For a great video on how sailboats sail into the wind and the relationship between sails and keels, check out this awesome video.

Awful Metaphor Warning – – Imagine that keels are like tires on a car. The ocean is an icy road. The wind is the slope of the road. Monohulls have all-weather tires and chains. So, they can drive along that icy road and even up an icy hill to a point where the slope is just too much. Most catamarans have summer tires. They can easily go down the icy hill and and side to side, but their tolerance for a steep hill is much less than that of a monohull. But some cats have all weather tires, as discussed below.

A few catamarans have an alternative to those little keels, which are called dagggerboards. Daggerboards are retractable keels built into each hull. By raising or lowering the daggerboards, a catamaran can emulate –almost– the effect of the larger keels on a monohull.

The performance catamaran’s daggerboards go right through the hulls and take up a lot of room. So, the interior of the hulls (the living quarters) are less spacious. Another disadvantage is that it is just another moving part to learn to use and adjust.

For us, we decided against daggerboards. The extra work, less space, and the fact that they are typically associated with lighter, less stable catamarans led us to decide that they are not worth the extra speed.

Heeling is Hard

(Yes, I am giving up on the innuendo. This one was just too much of a SOFT ball.)

For those that don’t know, monohull sailboats heel. That is, they lean over as the wind presses against the sails. The keels are the counter weight that keep them from flipping over.

While heeling is fun when day sailing (though it scares the hell out of some members of my family) ti is tiring. The picture above is pretty dramatic and mostly on a long cruise you are not heeled over that much, but even a slight angle can be tiring. You end up using different muscles to just sit or stand. Peeing -well that is a whole different issue!. Cooking, also a challenge. Forgot to put you coffee cup away, store that bottle of wine, or secure that iPad, well, they may all end up on the floor if you heel.

Cruising catamarans, on the other hand, do not heel much at all. As a result, you can pee, cook, and set your coffee down with a lot more comfort than on a monohull. The downside -which only salty sailors who love the heel and the motion of a monohull, that you sail less by feel and more by numbers. You figure out how fast the wind is and set the sails conservatively because if the wind picks up the boat won’t lean over, the mast might. And, that would be bad.

But, for us, we can live without heeling. So, another argument in favor of catamaran.

Shapely and Weighty Concerns

The shape of the hull, whether monohull or catamaran, is also a concern. As a general matter, the wider the hulls the slower and less responsive they will be due to the increased mass in the water. The converse is also true –narrower hulls tend to move more quickly and nimbly.

Weight matters too. The heavier the boat the more wind it will take to get it moving. So, a performance catamaran, which is generally lighter, may be able to sail in very light winds while a heavier boat would need to use its motor. And, once underway, the lighter boat will be able to reach much higher speeds than its heavier competitors.

We prefer stability, but not the incredible weight and volume associated with the production charter catamarans.

Why Not Just Get a Huge Performance Boat?!

As with all things, there are compromises. You can have a super fast, large, and comfortable boat, but it will be very expensive. As the budget drops, comfort and speed are sacrificed to accommodate the lower price. This results in the two classes of boats –cruisers and performance.

In the same budget range you can get a performance boat that is more spartan with less living space, fewer of the luxuries of land-based living, and more finicky in its need for adjustment and skilled sailing. Alternatively, you could get a much slower cruiser with a nicer living space, dishwasher, washing machine, and more space that will be much slower.

But, as with all things, there is a trade off. Heavier boats are likely to feel more stable at their higher end speeds. And once at anchor, the perforomance catamaran will, due to its narrower hulls and lower weight, be a less stable platform to live on. And, due to daggerboards, the performance cruiser will be less roomy.

The Verdict Is In

Sorry– nerdy lawyer reference.

As between monohull versus catamaran — we decided on a catamaran. The living space at anchor won us over. There are some sailing tradeoffs and the monohull fans will argue safety tradeoffs, but the enormous living space spread out around a catamaran makes it livable for us. Neither of us likes the idea of the relatively narrow and lower in the water confines of a monohull. This is particularly true when you consider that most live-aboard sailors spend about 90% of their time at anchor. [Yes, I hear you sailors, but monohulls . . . .]

Cruising catamaran versus performance cruiser. The same analysis led us toward a cruiser. While some speed would be nice when needed, the tradeoff of being uncomfortable at the higher speeds means we are less likely to actually go fast often. And, those performance characteristics also mean less stability at anchor.

Size. This is a weird issue in the world of catamarans. There are relatively few catamarans in the 45′ range, which is what we thought would likely be the perfect for us. We looked hard at those catamarans and none floated our boats. (see what I did there!). So, we are in the 50-55′ range, which is where the semi-custom higher-end catamarans are most numerous.

Brand. We considered a lot of boat brands. Among our favorites were the the Privilege, which is what we spent a week on in the Virgin Islands. We also looked carefuly and really thought about the St Franicis, the Knsyna, the Seawind 1600, and the Outremer 51. But, in the end, we really found the most appealing design, layout, features, and yes –even styling with the Xquisite X5.

Actually, the X5 we are waiting on, which, will be delivered in May 2022 in Capetown, South Africa, is a slightly larger new model that will be called the X5 Plus.

Details to follow.

5 thoughts on “Does Size Matter? (Analysis Paralysis – Boat Decision Process- Part II)

  1. Carol Rice

    All this is pretty interesting to me because my daughter lives on a sailboat in Key West. I’m sure I told you that. She and her boyfriend are buying a new (to them) 40 ft McIntosh cutter in Massachusetts and will be sailing intercostal waterways to take it back to the Keys. They are running charts etc to plan their path and planning to take about 3weeks. They got a bigger boat for the stability of living day to day with weather concerns and a desire for more personal space.

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