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Cruising Under Full SailSailboat Cruising

Sailboat Cruising


  • What to consider when selecting a sailboat for cruising
  • What to consider when trying to select a cruising location
  • What you need to get educated about before going cruising

CRUISING BOATS - Some boats are made for cruising, some boats are not. Pick the right boat for your cruising pleasure.

The first step necessary before getting in the world of cruising is selecting a boat. There are a variety of questions that need to be answered before you can begin to home in on the right vessel. Simply put, there is no one boat that is perfect for cruising in general. Different boats for different people. If by chance you already own a boat and wish to learn about other aspects of cruising, please skip this section.

Where do you plan to go cruising?

  • What are the amenities that you will need for your selected cruising location?
  • What safety equipment and boat design features will you need for your cruising locations?

Depending on where you plan to go cruising, you may want to consider different types of boats. To begin with, certain locations will require specific amenities. One fundamental consideration is temperature. Not all boats are ventilated equally. If you plan to do some cruising in warm locations such as the Caribbean, you will want to consider ventilation. How many hatches and ports can be opened on the boat? Will an on-deck dinghy limit your ability to open the main hatches? In addition, some people simply cannot live without air conditioning above a certain temperature. Although many sailors consider AC to be death, if you need it to be comfortable, keep that in mind.

On the flip side of the coin, many people cruise in cold climates, or late enough into the season that things get a little chilly. Do you like to maximize the length of the sailing season? If that is the case, you need to consider how you will stay warm. Some boats have heat, some do not. Although rare, some boats even have a tiny fireplace that burns briquets. No matter how you do it, after coming in from a damp and cold day of sailing, you need some way to warm up. Hot chocolate just won't cut it sometimes.

The other aspect of the boat to consider with regard to the temperature is the deck and cockpit layout. If you plan on cruising in the Caribbean, are you going to want to put up a full biminy to protect you from the sun? Some cockpits will lend themselves to this and others will not. If you plan on encountering temperature extremes in either direction, hot or cold, you will want to take some time to consider the overal cockpit and deck layout for general exposure to the elements. Will you be heavily exposed to the weather even with a dodger in place? Does the boat have a low enough freeboard and short enough length that you will constantly be taking spray from waves in the face at the wheel? How often will you need to go on deck to tend to lines or other tackle other tasks? Is there a way for you to get out of the sun?

Moving on to other amentities that may be dictated by where you want to cruise, there are several key systems on a boat that will certainly effect your cruising lifestyle. The first is the icebox. Many boats (particularly older boats and smaller boats) still use iceboxes for refrigeration. If that is the case, you will need to buy ice blocks at least once a week. This could be a problem if you plan on sailing more off the grid, or if you plan on making longer passages such as across an ocean. A refrigerator on the other hand usually requires running the engine once a day (electrical generally isn't sufficient), which cuts into fuel consumption and creates unwanted noise. The second major item to consider is your electrical needs. Will you require a significant amount of juice to keep all of your electronics, lights, appliances, autopilot (a big one if you use it a lot), etc. going? If so, you may need a generator, of perhaps some form of solar energy collection such as a wind generator or solar panel. The third major item to consider is water. Generally water tanks are large enough to accomodate sailors for a lengthy period of time. However, if you waste a lot of water with showers, dishes, etc. you may go through the water faster than you think. Going to a dock just for water is a hassle, and sometimes it is difficult to trust the water source. Consider your potential water use, and if you are concerned, you might want to consider a water maker.

Moving on to issues pertaining to safety equipment and boat design, there are some important things to consider before purchasing your boat. One of the most basic design elements to consider is the draught of the boat. If you plan on trying to poke around small coves, inlets, and islands, a shallow draught will simply get you into more locations. It may seem silly, but pulling out a chart and taking a look at likely cruising areas will give you some information. Staying on the topic of hull shape, if you plan on cruising anywhere near ice, you must have a hull that is strong enough to handle collisions will small ice (some people actually reinforce hulls with extra fiberglass and/or add frontal crash bulkheads). In addition, the shape of the keel and rudder should be such that it minimizes chances of the rudder being broken from ice. On to safety equipment, this topic mainly comes down to whether you plan to do offshore cruising or not. While there is a whole boat-load of safety gear that you will need if you plan to go offshore, that is largely independant of the boat itself. However, you will want to be sure the boat has a full array of updated electronics including radar if you want to go offshore. In addition, consider the freeboard of the boat. Many modern boats have excessive freeboard to enable more substantial accomodations below deck. These boats can be dangerous offshore as they limit the ability to recover someone who has fallen overboard. In addition, the righting moment of these high boats may actually be above the waterline, which makes their chances of righting themselves in a knockdown significantly lower.

Finally, one of the easy to overlook aspects of the boat design is the cockpit and deck layout with regard to offshore safety and comfort. It is tempting to assume that all boats will have similar layouts for the lines, etc., but that would be a false assumption. Layouts can vary dramatically. A couple of things to consider include: How many lines run all the way back to the cockpit? It is very handy in a storm if the reefing lines come back into the cockpit instead of forcing you to go on deck. Does the cockpit layout protect you from the elements but still allow for ample movement? Is the cockpit/companionway designed in such a way so as to minimize problems if you take a wave over the stern? In summary, make sure the cockpit is well thought out and don't assume it to be so. You should literally sit in the cockpit and go through all the various activities to discern the ease with which they can be performed.

What level of luxury do you desire in your sailboat?

When it comes to luxury and build quality, there is a large gap between manufacturers. It is very important to determine the level of luxury that is acceptable to you, because it can be one of the biggest factors in the price of the boat. On one end of the spectrum you have mass produced boats offering little customization and trimmed mostly in fiberglass and plastic. On the opposite end of the spectrum you have a fully custom built boat that is not only designed to your specifications, but trimmed in mohaganny, teak, etc. Of course there is everything in between as well. There are two factors to consider when it comes to choosing what level of luxury is right for you; initial cost and maintenance. The initial cost portion of the equation is of course easy to quantify and plan around. Maintenance is perhaps a slightly more nuanced buying decision. With luxury comes not just added maintenance cost in the future, but also added hassle and potential liabilites. More complex systems on a boat, often translate into a higher risk of having some sort of breakdown. If you plan to be cruising far from home, finding parts for those high-end systems can be difficult or impossible. In addition, all wood (particularly topside wood) requires regular maintenance. To properly care for varnished wood on deck it usually requires a fresh coat of two of varnish every year. However, perhaps the most dificult to care for wood on a boat is a teak deck. Regular oiling is required to keep them from going silvery gray, and almost nobody can keep up with it fully.

How many people will you be cruising with and what level of comfort will be acceptable?

The number of people onboard a boat can dramatically affect the comfort level. There are probably 3 types of groups that typically go cruising: couples, families of 4 or 5, and groups of friends ranging typcially from 4-8. You need to decide what your typical cruising size will be and what you want your max cruising size to be for the occasional weekend with friends or family aboard. After you have solved the size part of the equation, you must determine the duration of the cruising that you intend to do, as this will play a large role in the comfort equation. Since this article is about cruising, we will assume a minimum cruise length of at least a weekend. If you are really trying to stretch a budget, and you only intend to go on weekend cruises, a couple can get away with a glorified day-sailor (as long as it has bunks). However, you probably won't get too many friends looking to go cruising with you, which can put a damper on the fun for some people. If you are looking to do a decent amount of longer cruising with 4 people or more, there are a number of factors to consider that will impact your comfort level. Headroom is the first thing to consider. Can you stand up completely in the cabin? Bunk space is perhaps the second factor to consider. On many boats, if you must use the bunk setup in the main cabin it means putting the bunk together each morning and taking it apart during the day to have a usable cabin. Bunks like this can get tiresome unless they are used primarily for getting an extra couple people on the boat for a weekend. The galley is another factor to consider. Many boats share space between the galley and the navigation station. There is nothing wrong with this, but it is significantly more comfortable to have separate space if you can afford it. Finally, the number of heads is a factor to consider. If you have a lot of people (4 or 5) using a single head for a long period of time, it can get pretty ripe in the head. It is difficult to keep things clean and drying towels can be a problem. Having two heads is a significant step up in terms of cruising comfort.

How many miles do you expect to cover in a day?

This is perhaps one factor that is greatly overlooked by people when they are looking to purchase a boat. All boats move slowly when compared to cars, but modern technology has enabled a significant gap in typical boat speed to develop between boats of identical length. What many people don't realize, is that one or even two knots of boat speed can make a real difference in your cruising. Perhaps the biggest difference can be for people who have several good destinations around them that are about a days sail away. Upon careful investigation you may find that the boat speed of one boat makes it a really long day to try to reach a particular destination. Whereas the typical boatspeed of another boat may make it easy to make port in time to have dinner. Since the reality is that most boats spend most of their time in their home ports, this could be a real difference to those people who like to make shorter trips. Boatspeed can of course make a real difference in longer trips as well. On a one week trip to a destination a couple days away, a faster boat might mean one extra day of cruising and one less day of offshore sailing. If you plan on crossing oceans, a slower boat can make a journey significantly more daunting due to estimated journey length alone. At the end of the day, it is very important to consider the imortance covering ground is to your planned cruising adventures.

There are a number of things that affect boat speed, and almost all of them involve tradeoffs. Waterline and boat size are perhaps the biggest factors. Larger sailboats will usually go faster, but the waterline will also play a significant role. If you prefer the long overhangs of a classic sailboat, be prepared to go slower. Hull shape will also dictate typical sailing speeds. A full keel with a nice v to the shape will handle ice well and provide a smoother ride in choppy waves, but a flat bottomed fin keel will let you cover a lot more ground. Draught is another big factor. Many boats are offered with 2 different draughts available. The deeper draught is always faster, but limits the harbors you might be able to fit into. Weight is of course one more factor that greatly affects boat speed. The luxury associated with lavish wood interiors adds a lot of weight to a boat. Finally, the size and shape of the rig will play a large role in your top speed. A short mast with small sails is easy for a beginner to handle, but you won't be making it very far on your sailing journeys.

CRUISING LOCATIONS - Cruising can be done from the frigid waters of Alaska to the sunny Carribean. Explore cruising locations.

What do you like to do on vacation?

There are perhaps 2 key elements of cruising, that while seemingly obvious, can be overlooked by those who seek the perfect cruising experience. The first aspect of cruising is sailing. Perhaps overlooked as an element, for some, actual sailing time is the most important element of cruising. The second aspect of cruising is of course the destination. It is important to determine which elements are important to you in order to design the most fulfilling cruising experience.

For many people, exploring coastal towns, having dinner onboard in a quiet harbor at sunset, and swimming off the boat are the most enjoyable aspects of cruising. If you think you fit into this category then you will certainly want to design a cruise that has minimal distance goals in an area that has closely spaced attractions. If there isn't a destination close-by that fits the bill, you may even want to consider hiring someone to deliver your boat to a location that does fit the description. On the opposite end of the spectrum, for those that really prefer to be out on the water actively sailing, planning a trip around favorable wind directions and including some real distance to cover will be important. Open water with plenty of leeway will provide the greatest chance of getting in some beautiful sailing without being forced to beat upwind or even motor if the weather isn't cooperating. Trips that require fairly precise navigation around ostacles, or trips requiring specific stop-overs at closely spaced destinations will always limit the amount of sailing that actually gets done. Tight navigation and wind that is never exactly where it should be will leave these highly correographed trips heavy on motoring and shy on sailing.

Once you have designed a cruise that fits the type of cruising that you prefer, the destination itself is easy. Most people are limited by practical considerations such as work or boat size to an area that is reasonably close to their home port. If this is the case, work with what you have to design cruises that cater to your preferred lifestyle. However, if your boat is big enough and you have a bit more freedom with your time, all you really need to consider is where you like to go on vacation. Lovers of sandy beaches and relaxed sailing should find themselves in tropical destinations and people who love adventure, or exotic destinations will find themselves crossing oceans or sailing to destinations more guided by cultural attractions.

In terms of specific locations, most sailboat cruisers love the seemingly endless possibilities offered by cruising grounds rich with islands and ports. The freedom and excitement of anchoring next to and exploring your own little island for the day is hard to compete with. For this reason, destinations such as Maine, the Pacific Northwest of North America, Sweden, the Caribbean, and Polynesia are true favorites among sailors. In each case, seemingly unending choices of destination and the ability to explore are supremely seductive. For more information on Maine and Sweden, please follow the links below:

Cruising The Maine Coast - The ultimate cruising destination in the United States

Sailing Sweden - The best cruising ground in the world?

SAILBOAT CRUISING EDUCATION - Make sure you are well prepared to ensure a happy cruising experience.

Like it or not, sailing is generally not a casual sport requiring little attention to detail or planning. To have a safe and enjoyable cruising experience, sailors must be fully educated with regard to their boat and their destination.

The captain of a sailboat has a responsibility to the everyone on board including themselves to be fully educated on all safety related aspects of cruising. Safety begins with the physical boat itself. First and foremost, all of the systems on board must be properly maintained. Engines and generators must be serviced at their designated intervals (it is important to keep track of engine hours for this reason). Furthmore, the captain should understand how to perform some basic engine repair/diagnostic tasks. Particularly if offshore passages are planned, being caught without a functioning engine is a serious liability. It is recommended that captains take a basic course on engine repair and maintenance before heading out to sea.

Navigation is another category that requires a significant amount of knowledge and education. Modern GPS navigation and charplotting systems have taken a lot of the work out of navigating, but there is much more to navigating than just knowing where you are. Understanding tides, currents, navigational markers, chart markings, inter-vessel communication, radar tuning/use, basic sailing rules, etc. are all extremely important. If you aren't fully up to speed on all of these areas of interest, it is again recommended that you take a course and spend some time learning from more experienced friends aboard their boats.

First-aid is perhaps an unpleasant thing to plan for, but certainly necessary when heading out to sea or to any remote location. Purchasing a first-aid kit from a local drugstore is not sufficient. To be minimally prepared, one needs to carry a variety of medication and "tools" in order to handle unforeseen medical emergencies. For many offshore races, a first-aid class is required before becoming certified to make the trip. These are great classes to attend, even if you do not plan on participating in the offshore race.

Being prepared for emergencies onboard the boat is yet another area requiring education when trying to ready oneself for cruising. The most basic scenario one must be prepared for is a man overboard situation. Understanding how to maneuver the boat, and how to physically pull someone from the water is absolutely critical. It is recommended that cruisers either purchase a lifesling (specifically designed to pull a person out of the water) or rig their own "lifesling" to handle the same task. Many people do not realize how difficult it is to get someone out of the water if they go overboard, and countless sailors have lost their lives on the side of a boat that could not get them back on board. Once a procedure has been established for a man overboard situation, it must be practiced in a controlled environment. The next emergency preparedness task to be educated for is abandoning ship. Even a short passage could put a cruiser in danger if their ship went down and they were unprepared. It is generally necessary to have an a liferaft aboard, along with an abandon-ship bag that contains essentials and can be grabbed in a hurry, and at least one EPIRB to notify the coast guard of your location.

Hopefully this article has provided some insight into the basics of cruising!





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