Choosing a Boat, Part 1 – Length

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Choice of boat is a huge subject. The first thing to do is to have a long hard look at what you will do with your boat. N0t what you want to do, but what you are likely to actually do. Sure, I’d love to spend three months sailing down the to med and cruising around Greek Islands, but I have a job and I have kids. My wife and I are separated and me being around for the kids allows her to work, which is important to her. I love being around my kids and it’s important to me to be a big and constant part of their lives. This means I’m likely to spend the maximum of a couple of weeks at a time on the boat. That still gives me a large cruising area, with opportunities to cross the channel, head over to Wales and up to the solent and beyond. I’d like to be able to take the kids cruising too. They’re pretty excited at the prospect of staying on a boat. So I’m looking at something capable of a channel crossing, with at least three births that I can live on for a week or two at a time.

Boat Length Choice

One complication for me is that while at university I did an RYA Yachtmaster Offshore shore based course.  I’d love to start accruing the 2500 miles at sea pre-requisite for the YM Offshore practical exam. Half of the 2500 miles must be done on a boat with a waterline over 7 metres. So initially I was thinking of getting a 28ft boat which should have a lwl of 7m.

Then I listened to Tom Cunliffe’s ‘Sailing, Yachts and Yarns’. Tom has observed that sailing is very much about adventure and a feeling of freedom. That feeling can’t be achieved if the cost of sailing is likely to restrict your ability to sail, or mean you’re shackled financially for the rest of the year. So, he postulates, enjoyment and satisfaction from a boat in inversely proportional to length.

I thought about that a little while.

Bigger boats require more routine maintenance which eats into your sailing time. Costs are not proportional to length. They are more like a square of the length. Think about your sails for example. Cost are relative to their area, which is roughly that of half a rectangle. As length of the boat increases, area increases by a factor of roughly eqn.

Wetted area again increases disproportionally. So new sails, rigging, antifouling and many other costs increase exponentially rather than proportionally as length increases. So the difference in yearly costs between a 22ft boat and a 28 ft boat won’t be 27% more (the percentage length increase), they could increase by as much as 60%. An 80% increase in length to 40ft might mean an as much as a 230% increase in costs!


So I’ve decided to look for a 22-24ft boat and start eating into those 1250 <7m RYA miles. This way I can see if the urge to do that Yachtmaster Offshore exam grows or subsides. If I’m still keen after 1250 miles then I’ll look for a > 7M LWL boat then.

Will a 22-24 ft boat suit my needs? Well yes. There are plenty of 22-24 ft boats that have crossed the channel, can sleep three and have sufficient space and comfort to live on for a couple of weeks. Having spent more time than is sensible looking at what might suit the following list, while not exhaustive for complete gives and idea of the kind of boats that might fall into this category;

Westerly 22
Macwester Rowan Crown
Westerly Cirrus
Jaguar 22
Hurley 22
Trident 24
Snapdragon 747
Leisure 23
Hunter Horizon 23

and many more….

Anecdote of the Day

I once had a disposable boat that was the epitome of freedom. I bought it for £400. It was a 20ft plywood boat with a jib, sliding gunter main and a scaffold pole mizzen. It had a cabin with two births and a cooker on board. I had some amazing times on that boat. I sailed it from the Helford, round the Lizard to Porthleven using an Ordinance Survey map to navigate with. Yeah… I know. But I was skint, and it was that or nothing. I hit the tidal race of the Lizard and spent half an hour wondering if the old plywood hull would stand up to the slamming as I motored into the headwind and short steep waves. Then the seagull outboard ran out of petrol….

I sailed that boat all summer then went back to University. It lasted the next summer too and I spent nothing on it. It then went off to a life as a chicken shed. That was cheap boating.

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