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In a recent Facebook discussion about which boat to buy, I posed the question to a couple of our friends “Does everyone need a Bluewater boat?

The thread diverged into the typical monohull vs. catamaran stuff, and a friend brought up the argument about catamarans flipping in big waves. That really related to my initial question/statement though. I then wrote…

“This is really the point of my original post. I have been cruising in the Caribbean for over 2 years now. While I have met many people who have crossed oceans, some multiple times, the vast majority have no desire to. So, unless these people are idiots who don’t know how to check the weather, they will not end up in “the perfect storm.” The 40′ following seas that people fantasize about battling don’t occur down here. If you want a boat with tiny ports and a super deep, protected cockpit, recognize that you will not have a boat that is super comfortable at anchor in the tropics. Decisions, decisions.”

I will admit to initially being in Bluewater Boat camp. I had read those stories and watched those movies, the ones where the salty Captain went head-to-head with Mother Nature in a gale, far out to sea. If those tales don’t scare the crap out of you, and if you’re smart they should, they probably feed your dreams (or nightmares).

In the same discussion another friend commented that “Every boat is a Bluewater boat… it’s all about the Captain!” I disagree. While just about every type of boat could cross an ocean, that does not mean that they were designed for it. Some vessels were only built to sail in sheltered waters while others were made for cruising comfortably up and down the coasts. Certain boats though were designed specifically with ocean crossing in mind.

What makes a boat suitable for ocean crossing? I don’t think I’m really qualified to judge that. Is our boat a Bluewater Boat? Most would say no although I honestly do believe it would do the job just fine. If you want to read about boat designs, especially ones which you won’t have to take out a second or third mortgage to buy, check out our friend’s blog Boat Bits. He posts a lot of great info on that very subject.

31 Comments

  1. Hello, I think, that most would be, cruisers or experienced cruisers know, every boat is a compromise. in my mind ,i chose a boat that has the capability to go most anywhere, has a beautiful wood interior, has simple systems. Its a 1976 Westsail 28. She is probably not as comfortable, as a catamaran, at anchor, but ,i chose to trade that, for massive construction, teak decks, outboard rudder,and the capability, to possibly, survive, a bad weather event, if, i made a mistake on a wrong, weather window!, I am partial to the Thorny Path as well!

  2. Okay, I take credit for In the same discussion another friend commented that “Every boat is a Bluewater boat… it’s all about the Captain!”…….Although I agree with you disagreeing, my comment was more towards “tongue and cheek”…….My point is more about making the right decisions as captain…Would I go to Bermuda in a 40 Beneteau, Hunter, 31 Tartan or 34 PDQ Cat. Absolutely at the right time of year, right weather patterns and right safety equipment. People do it all the time…Would I prefer a 40 swan, yes, but not in the Bahamas……Again, I follow many people who are not on a time table who have gone around the world in 24′ Dana’s, 34′ Gemini’s, 38 ‘ Lagoons and 40 Hunters………98% of us will never go beyond Bermuda, the Bahamas, Caribbean (easter, southern, western) so boat choice to me opens up almost about everything. Most new/newer boats today have crash bulkheads as a safety feature….What if you had an older “bluewater cruiser” without one and they both hit the same object 1000 miles offshore…..Just get out there, find a boat that fits your needs and sail. Forget bluewater vs coastal….You will still be sharing the same anchorage.

  3. I agree with so much of this and disagree with as much. There is a new breed of sailor out there these days and I believe your blog is an asset to them all. Your prudent, informative and share common sense tactics to many who are looking here for input. But it wasn’t to long ago that most boats where you are ‘had’ crossed oceans. That of course was before GPS and since then it’s been easier and easier for a non-blue water boat to navigate their way down the thorny path. Before GPS, and up to the minute weather reports, that trip was a more serious endeavor and those that did it were most certainly not the majority. I have to tell you, I ‘have’ seen and experienced those nightmare 40 footers in a 55 ‘ boat, and it really was “the perfect storm” but we were well south of the banks but still crossing the stream….we were to0 far south to make it in the movie, ha. The Caribbean does have that kind of shit, that’s why your in Grenada. Imagine waves breaking over the fort at the entrance to English Harbour during hurricane Hugo. And one more thing my friend…little ports, deep cockpits and one hull is plenty enough. Don’t knock it till you tried it, can’t believe everything you read. I hope I get to discuss stuff like this face to face, beer to beer someday. Keep up the good work!

    • First, thanks for the kind words and for adding to the discussion.

      I don’t think talking about hurricanes is relevant though. Even the weathermen will say that, when compared to normal weather patterns, hurricanes are an entirely different animal. Even a battleship caught out in a hurricane would be at risk.

      As for GPS and electronic navigation, it is here to stay. Reminiscing about what it was like before this technology is again not really relevant.

      As for “trying” boats with little ports, etc., not only have I been on several of them at anchor, I have been sailing on at least a couple too. Better for crossing oceans? Maybe. I’d sill rather party on our friends’ 47′ Beneteau!

      • It’s true, most of my comment wasn’t relevant. Here at a keyboard, is definitely not the most comfortable form of communication as the old dog I am. I talk way better than I type. I do reminisce of before GPS , I think it’s important and prudent to consider any power source navigation a luxury.

        • Absolutely. We carry backup GPS unit, two laptops with navigation software installed on them and paper charts for the areas we cruise. We also have a sextant. I just need to learn how to use that! 🙂

          It’s actually kind of ironic to be having a discussion like this via a blog on the internet, don’t you think?

          • Yes! But I’ll NEVER trust it’s, absolutely be-there-ness.
            The only times I ever used a sextant at sea, we had
            the old SAT-NAV (get a fix at least once a day) to verify
            but we would practice with the sextant. I’ll be damned
            that the “girls” always got closer than the guys! Maybe
            you should get Rebecca to start practicing on a noon site.

  4. Food for thought or off topic, what do you think are some basic requirements of a coastal cruiser tank size? Such as fuel tank capacity, holding tank capacity, fresh water tank capacity?

    • I can only comment on what we have really. We carry 47 gallons of water in our main tank which is not a lot. This is why we chose to invest in a watermaker. That said, we have friends who carry less and do NOT have a WM!

      As for fuel, our main tank holds 29 gallons of gasoline. For costal cruising that is fine. We chose to carry several full jerry cans of fuel when we’re going to do a long passage (DR to PR for example).

  5. We picked the boat we did because we’re not really hot weather sailors and intend to do a lot of sailing up north where there’s the potential for a lot more serious weather. I think everyone has to analyze the type of sailing they intend to do, their personal skills, their crew, and then pick the boat that matches all of that. Also, it doesn’t take 40 footers to need a bluewater boat. We circumnavigated Long Island in October with 10+ foot following seas and the 35 foot Pearson we were on was not nearly bluewater enough…

    Deb
    S/V Kintala
    http://www.theretirementproject.blogspot.com

    • I hear you, Deb.

      We circumnavigated Long Island in October with 10+ foot following seas and the 35 foot Pearson we were on was not nearly bluewater enough…

      What happened during that sail around Long Island to make you say that? How would your current boat be different?

  6. Healthy debate and opinions of others is knowledge!

    John
    http://www.KEWLCHANGE.com
    S/V Freedom TBD

  7. The area where You really do sail does have an effect. A colleague of mine + wife plan to sell their Arcona400 in Western Sweden after their circumnavigation because the draught. 2.2m is too much for the rocky and shallow archipelago along the coastline of Sweden and Finland. Our boat has a draught of 1.4m, which allows us to visit most of our harbours and anchor in beautiful bays.
    Some people order an ocean yacht with extra cost for less draught.

    The some keels of modern sailboats have been criticized to be “net catchers” and prone to break.

  8. Mike,
    I agree with you but in my point of view, to know and select a boat fit to the purpose you intent for is also something that relies on the capitain decision, therefore seamanship stuff to me.
    So “all the boats are blue water” for the guy that knows how to select her, equip her and handle her .
    I know a family that built(wood) a 29 mono in their backyard and sailed aroud the world (its a family, not a couple) including the cape of good hope were they got really bad weather and they came back home safely.
    I know that design and can tell you the boat is solid, so he was right chosing a design that could handle what he intented for and the size/type/model just matched what he could afford…. Very good seamanship from the start.

    So to me all boils down to the capitain.
    Evidently, your story proves that even when you were at “zero”stage, you had good seamanship.
    Not everyone needs a boat that can handle 40′ seas and frozen water, but all people that are in charge needs to know what they are doing.

    I’d rather be on a Gemini in the cape horn with a capitain that knows what he is doing than to be in the med on a cruise ship with a crazy guy in charge.

    Model of boat for blue water? It’s like to start a discusison what looks like the perfect woman . .. . discussion will never end.

    Ricardo

  9. Deb, I hope you don’t take this the wrong way but your scenario with the Pearson 35 ads to the statement that usually boats will take a lot more abuse than the humans inside. Sure you would have been more comfortable on a 50′ St. Francis cat for example but the fact is the older Pearson 35’s in my opinion are great bluewater boats.

  10. ok…..I have been researching for many months. Actually started with ZTC site that I found by accident…some accidents are really fun!

    My final decision on hulls.

    No such thing as the perfect boat. I have owned a few at a time in fact. Small sail, Center console Regulator ( still have) and a 50′ cruiser ( no longer with us) and the truth is they all have a place.

    In a perfect world we would have those and a 42′ Fountain when youre in a hurry.

    The bottom line is like Mike and Rebecca did a few years ago, liquidate and simplify. If this is the state of mind and your desire. Take the 6 billion folks in the world and look at he percentage of whom live on boats……not many.

    If you are in for a adventure for beaches and reefs, no doubt in my mind a large cat. If you have no desire to cross any oceans. I have to believe a large mono hull keel boat is the only safe or safer way to cross any ocean. Just the design of the beast.

    If circumnavigation is your burning desire the Mono, if living aboard and hiking island mountain tops and hanging out in 80 degree clear water, a cat. Bigger the better.

    There are some new design Mono’s, the Beneteau 50′ Sense, that is 16′ beam and with new window design you feel above the water with views. But it is still not the feeling of cat for above water and the views.

    As far as navigation equipment and the ability to see in the future with the weather? Never trust any of it 100% ever. Weather here in Michigan is never spot on. I have crossed the Great Lake many times and I dont ever recall the NOAH weather predictions being spot on. Storms blow up at any time and a good captain is always prepared. The ocean is a bit more predictable. But even a high pressure wind could come from nowhere and create issues.

    So on a final long winded note, we all love the water for what it brings. Some folks on a interior lake with a 16′ speed boat whom never will see 2′ wave.

    Those that cross the oceans to experience the extreme forces that mother nature can offer.

    And those whom want to get away from it all and just relax and enjoy a floating home in blue water bays.

    Enjoy water….its the best place to be!

    No boat is perfect…….they all have a place 🙂

    Tony

  11. Ah, the old cat vs mono debate, I love them. Before buying our first cat 20 years ago I did a lot of research concerning their seaworthiness. The research 2o years ago mirrors the findings today. The insurance companies find the multihulls to be a slightly better risk than the monos, just barely. So they consider the multis to be a more seaworthy boat. The same holds true for injuries aboard a boat though according to the insurance companies you have an eight times greater risk of being injured on a mono than a cat. These findings are also similar to the CG findings. I love both mono’s and multi’s and would have to agree its more the experiance of the sailers than the ultimate seaworthiness of the boats that count.

  12. I have ran this debate around in my own mind several times. I had a Westerly Centaur for a while. It increased my wife’s trust in boats as that boat was bullet proof, small but blue water. I did not like to sail it as it was a slow pig unless it was blowing 20 knots!

    Now we have a Pearson 34 with a balsa cored hull (internet forums tell me the hull will come apart and we’re going to die!). It is more fun to sail, has some comfort but can pound like crazy in waves. It is not blue water but that is the boat we hope to cruise with next year. Why, because we own it.

    So here is my perfect boat: At anchor and winds less than 10 knots, a carbon fiber catamaran larger than 38 feet. Winds 10 to 15: mid sized, light mono hull. Winds 15 to 20 knots, mid to large sized heavy mono, 25 to 50 knots, small to mid sized very very heavy mono, above 50 knots, sitting at a fireplace in a large house far away from the coast.
    So there is no perfect boat for me. Dale

  13. It’s been interesting to look at boats in French Polynesia. The French cruisers who have come from France across the Atlantic, through the canal, and to the Marqueas, are almost all in one of two kinds of boats:

    1) sleek monohulls, all fin keel, many aluminum
    2) sleek catamarans, not the bubble-floating-condo-look

    I haven’t seen a French sailor in a full keel, heavy displacement boat yet. I’m sure they exist.

    I’m not saying “be like the Frenchies” but I would say that the N American discussion of bluewater boats is more “perfect storm/fear based” and the French is more “solid but fun/fast”.

    We’re in a 1980s French built boat so we are somewhere in between the two ethics I would say.

  14. I’m glad someone finally said it!

    I’m finding that the web forum sentiment is that the only approved boats must come from the atom voyages list of bluewater boats and capable of circumnavigation. If you choose comfort or sailing ability instead, you must somehow be a lesser sailor.

    Is anyone keeping a list of coastal cruisers whose boats have disintegrated in storms while island hopping?

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