What makes a good cruising boat?

In our home waters of Puget Sound, traditional boats predominate. The longer we’ve been gone cruising and thought about the qualities that matter to us, the more we wonder why people don’t break out of the mold more often. A family we met on Borneo on a decidedly racy boat, Relapse, inspired the monthly cruising column which Jamie and I co-author for 48° North, a Pacific Northwest regional boating magazine; it’s copied below. In addition to the family on Relapse, the family living and traveling on the “high tech carbon rocket-ship” Anasazi Girl inspire us as well. Any others out there?

RELAPSE into cruising: Mark’s interpretation of a cruising boat

A cute puppy on the dock was too much for our daughter Siobhan, now nine years old, so she dashed off to meet said pooch. After 266 days swinging at anchor or underway, Behan and I remained sedentary enjoying sunset repose in our just cleaned cockpit at Miri Marina on the northwest coast of Borneo. Siobhan returned bubbly from the exchange and said trivially, “oh, and the owners are American.” Mere moments pass before our curiosity, and theirs, won out and we engaged in lively conversation. Madaline and Mike are pilots living in Miri for a year and in possession of not just one recently rescued puppy but the long sought after knowledge of where we can buy tortillas locally. Fantastic people! Conversation turned to our story, followed by Mike telling us that he sailed in Florida and has interest in cruising across the Pacific. “So”, he says earnestly, “what makes a good cruising boat?”

I hesitated just long enough that Mike mentioned eying a particular design, a 43’cutter rigged, full keeled boat listed for sale in Singapore. The classic approach: conservative brute. “Well…,” I hemmed, thinking how he shared the secret to procuring tortillas in Borneo. It sounded like a strong, well-made boat:  excellent features, but completely lacking performance. “Speed”, I said, “is often dismissed by North American cruisers as racer’s folly, fundamentally irrelevant to safe and comfortable cruising. How wrong this is. Let me tell you about my friend Mark.”

BIYC racing

Mark is truck driver, rigger, and boat builder from New Zealand. He’s a kiwi sailor with many miles of Pacific Ocean sailing, including a few Sydney Hobart races. We had heard about Mark and his family because they are another ‘kid boat’, described to us as the family on the racing boat.  At first appearance Relapse is 50’ of pure racing machine, though oddly adorned with ratty awning, fishing poles, and a rusting (so called stainless!) BBQ grill, just like all the other cruising boats. Relapse, by traditional cruising convention, is born out of insanity with her 14’ wide transom, open for the world and Neptune to board any time they like.

Kids from Totem and Relapse were fast friends. The adults took much longer –say, 5 minutes. In true kiwi fashion Mark offered a beer to seal our friendship and we chatted away in their expansive cockpit. After awhile he asked, “aren’t you going to comment on how wet our cockpit must be? Everyone does,” he went on, “and someone will before you get off of the boat.”

DSC_1138Sure enough, old salty wanders by and says she must be fast, but so wet and unsafe with kiddies aboard. Mark’s wife Catherine rolls her eyes. Mark smiles at me and begins, patiently and respectfully. “This is my interpretation of a cruising boat,” he says. “I built this boat. We can easily sail 250 miles per day, as a family with kiddies; and we never ever have water boarding through the open transom because we move faster than waves.” The wide transom provides massive buoyancy. A traditional cruising boat by comparison has more weight and a narrower transom, less buoyancy; coupled with slower sailing speed, the chances of taking boarding seas are much greater on a traditional cruising boat.

A few more people join the conversation, trying to find a flaw in Mark’s approach; questions and answers flying about like birds in a squall. She can’t be strong enough, with so many stories about offshore racing boats breaking apart and keels falling off. That never happens on a cruising boat. Offshore racing boats are engineered and built with little safety margin to save weight. Relapse is engineered and built with big safety margins, just like your boat. As for the keel, it’s a torpedo shaped bulb at the end of a 9’ fin. It’s very efficient, like a racing boat, and very strong, which Mark adds they proved by accident after hitting a coral head at 7 knots.  When they hauled the boat to inspect, they found only that the bulb was bent slightly and nothing else: no bulkhead movement, and not so much as a hairline fracture where the hull and keel meet –remarkable really.

During the course of the Borneo International Yacht Challenge, where we got to know Mark and Catherine, I watched Mark make his case several times. Skeptics departed more open to accepting Relapse into the cruising herd, if not in outright envy of many of her features. Two rudders offer better sailing efficiency and redundancy should one be damaged.  A wide beam carried aft to the transom offers much open deck space and excellent form stability (hull shape that naturally resists rolling, much like comparing the rolliness of a popsicle stick to a pencil) and increased volume below for living and storage space. It has sailing characteristics that every sailor should envy: a helm so balanced that a six year can easily manage it, sailing a straight line without so much as a pinky on the wheel, and pointing to 35 degrees upwind –with speed. Not that cruisers go upwind much, but when people point out how inappropriate a boat like Relapse is for cruising they should consider how well a traditional cruising boat does if forced to sail upwind to escape a lee shore. Or what the pucker factor aboard is like when a stretch of ocean offers 4 day weather windows sandwiched between bad weather –and it’ll take you six days to Mark’s three. Performance matters.

I had asked Mark why he thinks so many cruisers and in particular North American sailors hold fast to a narrow view of what a cruising boat is. He answered in effect, that you (North Americans) all read about the Pardey’s approach to cruising and about how an Americas Cup boat breaks up in 10 knots of wind. The dichotomy is stark and cruising culture has matured with the idea that safety comes at the expense of speed.

Before we bought Totem I thought that transitioning from racing to cruising meant trading in running sneakers for steel toed boots. Circumnavigator Jim Jessie convinced me otherwise, saying “you want a boat tougher than you are, and one that can sail out of its own way.” Totem is no Relapse, but she has a balance of toughness and performance that serves us well. She just proved this again, while reaching along a shallow and barren stretch of the Borneo coastline at 8.5 to 9 knots in rough conditions, allowing us to reach our destination in daylight – important considering size and quantity logs floating about.

Every boat is a compromise, often selected through further compromises between money, location, and time. What matters most is that your boat makes you happy on more than first and last days of ownership. Mark’s interpretation also matters. He’s not alone in the message, but has gone well beyond what many open minded sailors think a cruising boat should be; and rightly so. Why can’t a cruising boat have the look and feel of performance and still be tougher than you are, as Jim Jessie says? It doesn’t have to mean a 9’ draft with a bulb keel, in the same way that a keel resembling a jersey barrier certainly doesn’t make the boat safer. If some old dog argued otherwise, then ask them how well they could sail off the lee shore or beat out bad weather. Tell them that there ought to be more puppies on the dock.

27 Responses

  1. A quick question for you: do you have any examples of more “standard” production boats that would fit some of the characteristics you are describing? I don’t think our budget can quite sustain a custom-built boat =)

    1. Hi Michele,
      Brandon makes an excellent point. Some older production “race” boats are built plenty tough and with performance in mind. Our good friend Jim Jessie did over a 100,000 miles in Nalu IV, a Lapworth 48 (basically a stretched Cal 40) – and Jim does not like to sail slow! For more contemporary production boats, many European designs have put emphasis on improving performance. For example, Hallberg-Rassy has a reputation built on being really tough boats, and yet they really put much into improving design performance from their original designs. We met a couple in the Cook Islands that spent the prior 2 years sailing in the area between Cape Horn and the Straights of Magellan – in a contemporary production 40’ (I believe it was a DK or X-Yacht). We know another couple that spent several years sailing a J-42 from Seattle to Australia and back again.

  2. Hey Michele,

    How about an old racing boat like my Columbia 43? She is 42 years old. They made 156 of them. A sister ship, the Stumppy J, competed in the Transpac this year completing the race from LA to Honolulu in 14 days 11 hours. They can be had for around $60,000 in good condition. Put another 10 or 20 boat units into them and you’ll have a good cruising boat. There are other boats out there like that too; the old Cal 40s come to mind, tough old racing boats that have a pretty good turn of speed.

    SV Oceanus

  3. You stole the post out of my fingers! I so agree.

    Also: We are cruisers and we sail upwind all of the time it seems. Now, of course we *choose* to do those legs when they are upwind passages but we sail upwind within lagoons regularly too.

    1. Hey there Estrellita- Almacantar here, saw you in Rangiroa… we’re in Tahiti at the mo, but off West soon. Anyhow, of course we ALL sail to windward more than downwind. Necessarily, as we are moving forward! As to the article in general (no longer referring to your own good selves) nicely written and I agree with some things, but about that buoyancy and “faster than the waves” stuff… well, if your transom has massive buoyancy and your stem is very fine… you are far more likely to bury the bow and pitchpole as you surf down a wave. Going faster than the waves is all very well as long as the waves are not travelling at 30 knots or more… and sure, being fast can help you avoid heavy weather, but sooner or later you will be hit. And when you are you’d best be able to stop the boat in heavy weather as well as surf it out. IF you miss ONE surf and broach… you will be stopped anyhow. As to that keel… composites often do not show damage visibly, and it is hard to test of it. Usually there is little or no visible damage and then a sudden collapse. Oh, and we often make 200 mile days too, but are 30 tons.

    2. Almacantar – If you make 200 mile days, then you already get/know/understand the importance of performance onboard! It’s safe to say that any offshore boat designed so that it is far more likely to bury the bow and pitchpole is rather ill-conceived. It’s also easy to come up with hypothetical scenarios in which Relapse could get into trouble; and just as easy to come up with such scenarios for the classic blue water cruiser. A faster (well managed) boat is likely to avoid bad weather more often than a slower boat; and yes, even the fast boat will get wacked now and again. Yet, the point is that boats can have both performance and strength (as it sounds like yours does). Relapse got wacked on the trip from New Zealand to Tonga, and had no problems (being speedy, they were in the bad/uncomfortable weather days less than the other boats on the same passage). As to the keel and composites – and being that all fiberglass boats are by definition are composite – I sincerely hope that all of us floating on fiberglass are not doomed to “sudden collapse”, because that would really ruin our cruising!

  4. I imagine that much of the poor reputation that performance boats have among the long-distance voyaging community in the US may have to do with manufacturers who, when confronted with the dilemma of “pick two: ruggedness, speed, low cost”, opt for the latter pair.

    What’s she made out of? Aluminum? GRP?

  5. Hello, I found your post here interesting. My experience would disagree with you on a few points. The need for a 9′ keel would keep you out of a lot of spots that we have been in, especially along the east coast of Australia. The wide transom offers form stability but also presents a large surface area for following seas to push the boat around, trade wind sailing means a lot of following sea situations rather than beating. Also auto pilots struggle the most in these conditions and the wide beam aft has to just make that more of a struggle for them. 2 rudders is not more efficient, its more drag and since they are linked it means more parts to break as well as if one gets hit or fails there is a good possibility of damaging the other or at least jamming the linkage to prevent the other from working. Fin keels track no where near as straight as a full or modified full keel. From personal experience being caught out on my way into Tahiti in a 65kt+. blow with a fin keeled boat that would not track and that I needed to run the engine and rev it up to bring the boat back on track at the top of each wave as it wanted to slew to weather. Our own slower heavier modified full keel boat in the same conditions just slogs along. I agree that most of your sailing is in 15-20 kt winds but you have to be safe and prepared for the bigger stuff as well. Not that I think the boat here is not safe, I think it is. We never have had 250 mile day and never will. But we have sailed safely for a long time now.- Thanks, John S.V.OZ

    1. Sorry to be posting this at such a late date (thread seems to be over 2 years old) but maybe some will see it anyhow.

      We’ve sailed over 55,000 miles on an old racing boat. Fin keel 8ft draft tiller steered, no roller furling, just a headfoil, Two persons. Only the smallest of autopilots (Autohelm tiller pilot) and yet we never have to hand steer; this boat steers naturally with a Monitor windvane. 200 mile days are not unheard of, yet we feel the motion and tracking of our boat, even in the worst conditions, is easy. The keel depth is not really a problem getting into harbors, however it does help in going to windward, which we have had to do many times, and in fact, we enjoy it.

      Most of all, it’s FUN to sail. We rarely motor, and if you like sailing rather than motoring, get a performance boat, or best of all, an old race boat. They usually need some upgrading, and by the time you have finished you will know your systems well. You can learn to sail it by racing, then you will get to know it’s sailing characteristics as well.

      This boat of ours is strong, roomy, fast, and cheap (not that it’s for sale, but there are many similar boats).

      Fred & Judy, SV Wings, La Cruz Huanacaxtle

      1. Never too late Fred- based on traffic this page gets a share of historical reference. Thanks for sharing your experience. I really enjoyed your blog, too. Oh, to sit and talk about Brazil for a while!

  6. There is a reason our first offshore boat was a heavy 30′ monohull and our current offshore boat is a lightish 40′ catamaran. Experience. I’d add to the criteria of what makes a good cruising boat is also ‘do you still sail in 5-8 knots of wind’? We do and make good speed. Light wind sailing ability is undervalued.

    To John s/v Oz:
    Yes, 9′ draft can be limiting – boats are compromises.

    Seas pushing on wide transom? Did you read what Mark says – his boat is so fast that he’s outrunning the waves. In reality if you’re moving fast the waves are not pushing on your transom, they’re lifting the hull and rolling underneath the transom.

    Autopilots struggle when the boat’s sailplan isn’t balanced or rudder is heavily loaded (unbalanced skeg hung rudders), not because a wide beam makes the boat heel.

    2 rudders not more efficient? It depends. If designed correctly drag values are similar. Experience on the Vendee Globe with boats losing 1 of 2 rudder suggests that damage to other rudder doesn’t happen. I’d rather have a bit of redundancy.

    Some fin keel boats track well, some poorly. It’s rather broad generalization to say all do not track well. Sounds like the fin keel boat you were sailing wasn’t being sailed well if it was rounding up. Maybe a bit more headsail and no mainsail or?

    1. Hi, Again from my personal experience when you are sailing in the big waves that higher winds generate you aren’t going to be flying along in any boat. There is a big risk of stuffing the boat at this time as well. The time off Tahiti wasn’t my only experience in those conditions. You aren’t skimming across the wave tops, you are up and down, surfing down into the troughs. When you have swell running against your transom in more than one direction at the same time and you rise to the top of a wave, it will push you off to one side or the other. This is what makes the auto pilot work so hard. More transom to push on more strain. That’s why a canoe stern has its popularity. At that point it is not as much about balanced sail plan. Rudders in their very nature are devices designed to create drag to control the direction of the boat. And they will be joined with linkages below in the hull that can jam, considering it would likely take a strike of some type to wipe out one rudder so I don’t see 2 rudders as being redundant. They are set up so when the boat is so heeled over there is some steering control on either tack, not for redundancy. Some Fin keel boat may track well, I think its generally safe to say that all full or modified full keel boats track well. Its in their very nature and design. The situation I described coming into Tahiti, was going on for about 8-10 hours and we tried everything and only came on to using the engine as a last resort. More and less main, more and less headsail. The rudder on this popular production 47′ boat was not large enough to overcome the force of the wave/swell that pushed us around at the top of the wave when the wind force was also at its strongest. No auto pilot, just hand steering for the whole time. I was really rung out when we finally got in. There is a reason that the typical cruising boat design looks like it does, because it has been refined thru the years and it works. Sure there will always be people out sailing successfully in design that don’t fit the “mold” And nothing wrong with that at all. But for the rest of us, I am happy to learn from what others have discovered works, and that which I have found for myself to work.

    2. Hi John -A few thoughts
      Despite east coast Australia’s shallow patches, Relapse and their 9’ draft cruised there without incident. They are currently in Indonesia and heading to Manly. 9’ draft is limiting in areas, but so is engineless cruising (no glorious atoll stops) and inability to make ice aboard!

      As for wide transom getting knocked about, I guess I’ve been on enough wide transom racing boats to choose them over narrow transom boats, as being more stable in any sea state. You mention double-enders handling big following seas well and that’s why they came to be. My understanding is a bit different, that small cockpit and aft deck lessen the drama from getting pooped (less water contained onboard). Still, the chances of getting pooped are much greater on a slow boat. Yet, narrow boats do have advantage of greater chance of recovery if rolled, than do a wide mono (or cats). As we both pointed out, every boat is a compromise.

      On the point of tracking, any well designed, well sailed boat can track well – it’s not just a feature of full keels. Tracking and autopilots does bring up a good point though. When full keeled boats track well, it’s largely because the long keel and water forces on it resist turning. Hence tacking full keeled boats can be an exercise in tedium. So, it stands to reason that an autopilot must work really hard to turn a full keeled boat. Modified keels as we both have, less so, but still much effort. In the case of fin keels, poor tracking is because of poor design, bad weight distribution onboard (bow down, etc.), or poor sail selection/trim. Fin keel / bulb keel boats such as Relapse, that track like on a rail – do so because of perfect balance, not massive water resistance. Consequently, turning the boat by hand or autopilot are easier. I can attest to sailing on Relapse for a couple days and on a number of occasions, we had nobody at the helm (and autopilot off) while the boat sailed straight, as we taught kids onboard about sail trim and mark roundings. As for your experience in the fin keeled boat versus your own boat in high wind events, I think there are so many variables. We’ve been in Totem when our autopilot struggled some in 45 knots and big seas, and when it did fine in 50 knots and bigger seas – but from a different angle.

      On the point of rudder(s). Evan on Ceilydh that replied is a naval architect that worked for Farr Yacht design so he knows a bit about boaty things. Further that all offshore racing boats now have 2 rudders, strongly suggests a performance gain. Having been involved with a number of major offshore race campaigns, I can say that there isn’t much effort put to compromising speed.

      I suspect the point is that as a boat heels, a single rudder is at an angle (not plumb), so wants to drive boat (think vector angles) left or right AND (because of the angle) up or down. With 2 rudders, each flared outward at an angle, the leeward rudder become vertical (when boat is heeled) and more efficient. Viewing 2 rudders as redundant or double trouble, is subjective in the same way that one can view 2 headstays (with furlers, etc), or 2 engines on a cat. I don’t know of one case where a problem with one rudder caused a jam and full rudder failure – so I see 2 rudders as a good thing with performance benefits to boot.

      Why do you see it as “us” and “them”? Cruising today is accumulation of knowledge from many voyages, people, and approaches far and wide. The article came about because I noticed opinions on what makes a good cruising boat differ regionally. Many people, especially fellow North Americans, probably see Relapse as a radical cruising boat. In other parts of the world, that’s not the case. We could debate all day about big bums and bigger seas; but maybe the notion that new and different is a better “compromised” mousetrap isn’t so bad. So, carpet tacks are the best defense, GPS edges out sextant, and 2 rudders – well, we’ll see.

  7. Hubris will get you every time. Don’t assume that just because it is a “modern” design it is better. A nine foot keel is a deal breaker unless you have a 75 foot boat or a movable centerboard. Well designed full keel boats (think Alberg, Atkin, Alden, Herreshoff, Rhodes, Stephens, etc.) are proven cruisers. For the most part distance traveled in 24 hours is a function of boat size, or at least waterline length. Sure, some boats will surf, but that is not the usually most comfortable way to sail. If you want to cover a lot of miles a day, you need a boat with a longer water line, or a power boat. I could name a dozen boats off the top of my head better than your example for serious cruisers – especially engineless cruisers. That said, everyone has their preferences, and I have nothing against catamarans, junks, or modern go-fast boats as long as the owners understand the limits of the vessels and are capable of sailing them well, as your example family obviously does. I assume they know better than to anchor in a one fathom bay!

    1. Mrostron – Indeed, is it not hubris to believe that yacht design has gained nothing in 40 years! As for assumption, wait, what was assumed? It may be interesting to know that Relapse is designed by New Zealander Jim Young, who is above 80 years old, has been building and designing boats since 1940. You may not have heard of him, but he’s a highly respected and innovative yacht designer. A 9’ draft certainly present problems in some areas, but I’m not sure I understand what a 75’ boat has to do with it?
      While sailboats have a theoretical hull speed calculated based on waterline length, it flat wrong to say that “distance traveled in 24 hours is [mostly] a function of boat size” – and that’s the point. A Hans Christian 43 and a J42 have similar waterline length, and very, very, different speeds. Practical cruising involves much more than theoretical math. I don’t find “surfing” uncomfortable at all, but I do find wallowing slowly with the threat of getting pooped by following seas very uncomfortable – so maybe that’s just personal preference? On Totem, we don’t really surf as I used to on racing boats, but rather we slide very quickly when the conditions permit (our top speed is 17.2 knots).
      Deciding on “serious cruisers” is seriously subjective and limits newer sailors by imposing dogma that is often unhelpful and inaccurate. How does anyone really know what a vessel is capable of? We were just in Borneo, where one boat dragged into a 42’ fin keeled production boat, causing it to end up bashing on a reef (on its side) for the night. It was refloated the next day (big tidal swing) and then hauled out; some fractures but not holed, and fully fixable. Would a full keeled heavy boat been better-off, or worse off from its shear mass? I don’t know. We are friends with a family of 5 from Belgium that recently completed a circumnavigation in a Beneteau and without incident – was that beyond the vessels capability? I don’t know. I agree with the bit about “sailing them well” though, because we’ve seen many cruisers with poor sailing skills. It would be easy to point that feature out, but that doesn’t do any good and they usually know it already; but I do have the hubris too offer them help.

  8. Amazing article my boat is also an ex racer built in 1950 I am currently refitting her out to take around the world with my brother. the punchline of our adventure I am only 20 he is 19 fair winds =)

  9. Thanks so much for this really timely post! We are currently considering what exactly we will want in an offshore boat and, of course, have looked at those big heavy, full keel versions that we know will be comfortable above and below, but won’t go anywhere fast or even sail out of their own way here in the Puget sound area. Something in me does not want to let go of having a boat that will sail well in light wind, or sail well to windward. Perhaps it’s partly that we have a couple of years left here at home before we can readily cast off the proverbial dock lines and I don’t want to give up being able to sail locally and have a good time. But also I can’t see how having a faster boat would be a bad thing when making passages. Maybe rather than looking specifically at the boat the article used as a reference point, since it’s probably an extreme example (and more power to them) what I’ll take from this post is that I should be keeping an open mind in terms of what will work as an ocean cruiser. I like that idea and plan to keep it firmly in mind. We currently are trying to sell our awesome Cal 34, which many people think should be the boat we take to sea. It’s a little small for me, but who knows? That could happen.

  10. A good cruising boat is one you can afford! Most boats don’t sail well in light air because they do not have enough sail area as mass producers tend to under-canvas knowing most folks rely on their engines anyway. Sailors without auxiliaries know the SA/Disp should be at least 20 or even higher rather than the more standard 15 to 17 that you see on most cruising boats. Nothing wrong with putting a reef in or changing head sails a bit earlier – a small inconvenience to gain better light air performance.

    I do stand corrected on one item: designers like Alberg and Aden were considered “modern” and forward thinking in their early years too! People have sailed ’round the world and across the oceans in every conceivable kind of craft, but who among us would want to cruise with our families in a wicker coracle or an America Cup racer. Somewhere between those extremes is what most of us would choose – Jamie is just a little bit more to the racer side of the spectrum. As others here have pointed out the Cal 40 was considered radical in her day and is still considered a good performer, yet plenty have crossed oceans, and she is a respected family cruiser now(though still not with the sea-kindly motion of some higher displacement 40 footers). If expense did not count for anything I suppose we would want several different boats – each ideal for the specific waters we wanted to sail in! Fair winds Jamie!

  11. Hi Totem,
    What makes a good cruising boat? If there are still sailboats a century from now the debate will be no closer to having been closed!

    For those with extra time on their hands and who enjoy the debate, might I reference the lengthy discussion that grew into a small book around John Harris’ concept of an Adventure 40, affordable purpose-designed 40′ ocean cruising boat design. (http://www.morganscloud.com/series/boat-design-selection-adventure-40/) I was the initiator/sacrificial lamb that provided the basic design specification as a take off for that discussion. And more recently I “waved the red flag in front of the bull” to open a discussion about the strengths and weaknesses of multihulls as cruising boats. (http://www.morganscloud.com/2013/08/27/benefits-of-multihulls/)

    Interestingly none of the responders to either discussion advocated design types derived from BOC/Open 50-60 race boats. And they represent hundreds of thousands of ocean miles, including a lot of high latitude expedition work.
    I’m personally not convinced that the Relapse approach doesn’t have merit. However my very limited experience with boats with somewhat similar hull forms left me with the feeling that the motion wasn’t what I wanted to experience over a long ocean passage unless there was a big cup filled with gold at the end.

    1. Horizonstar – So right about endless debates. That’s fine because they can be really helpful / meaningful. It also reminds me of the Dire Straits song lyrics – “Two men say they’re Jesus, one of them must be wrong.” Too often, a well intended discussion sinks into pedantic hypotheticals, meanders off topic, or becomes stage for “sailors” with few experiential data points and much hyperbole. Yes, I browsed the Adventure 40, and, well, oh boy! I like and agree with the concept.

      For what it’s worth, I’ve been sailing: for 40 years, on many boats ranging from dinghies to mega yachts, piggy cruisers to grand-prix racers to classic Herreshoff yachts, been a sailmaker / sail designer on and off since 1985, am now 5 years / ½ way / 24,000 miles into a circumnavigation (of something!) with my wife / 3 children – etc., etc. For all the experience and knowledge about sailing that I’ve been lucky to accumulate, I believe that I know much less now as a percentage of all that there is to learn on the subject then 20 years about when I was a hotshot sailmaker working on America’s Cup and BOC boats. Put another way – I didn’t know what I didn’t know – how naive and close minded was that!

      Somewhere there is a debate about what makes the best hammer, yet it will still bend the nail if poorly handled. A skilled carpenter has preferences, but can still make a proper job of it with any hammer. For people considering cruising, there is no perfect boat (anchor, windlass, sail, SSB, engine, etc.!) – learn sailing/boating skills, be open-minded, and you’ll probably make a proper job of it – no matter what tool you choose!

      As for the BOC/Open type boats – I briefly considered one before we choose Totem, but freeboard is so low on them that it you can’t make much out of the interior. Also, while I think general concept of hull shape appealing in many ways, rig and sailplan need to be dumbed down considerably. On Relapse, for example, the boom is 4’ short of racing form and the main has modest roach for easier control. Still, in my experience, the sweet motion of a boat like Relapse is different and easier than people seem to imagine. Really though, the article isn’t about one boat, but rather that capable cruising boats don’t have mean performance-less cruising boats.

  12. I’d say that spending your own money for a custom build boat is a pretty good indicator for it’s usefulness in it’s intended role, here as a cruiser.

    Another big indicator is that Relapse is not a retired racer relegated to cursing but rather modified new build with more than a few changes.
    Yes, the original design was a racer but there surely were several modifications even before you add in the self build factor. It’s an one-off custom after all.

  13. Hi, Nice blog.I think it goes without saying that if you dislike sailing, you will most likely dislike cruising. Sailing requires work and patience – but it’s fun. And your boat looks like a perfect cruising boat.
    Thanks for this blog

  14. Hi Folks, it is interesting to see the range of design considerations prioritised by various cruising sailors – brings to mind the expression ” One man’s meat may be another’s poison”.
    Each of us has his or her own personal priorities in a cruising yacht, our priorities in order are:
    (1) Hull Integrity and vessel safety,
    (2) Personal Security for occupants and crew,
    (3) Personal Comfort for occupants and crew, (Creature comforts).
    (4) Performance and handling under power.
    (5) Performance and handling under sail.
    (6) Overall vessel usability.

    We could not find a production yacht to suit our needs so we designed and built our own custom cruising yacht: “MISTY of Gosford” and we are now in our 8th year of happily cruising the Australian East Coast.

    We have publicly and freely listed our detailed design notes and considerations along with many photos of this project, in the hope that it may be of some assistance to anyone contemplating a similar journey

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