Monday, April 22, 2024
HomeCruiseBeyond Speed: Designing a Boat for the Ultimate Ocean Adventure

Beyond Speed: Designing a Boat for the Ultimate Ocean Adventure

You know you want it...

Mocka Jumbies and Rum...

- Advertisement -

The perfect boat only exists in relation to its design criteria and its eventual use. That’s why the best details of a racing boat can be actual drawbacks on a cruising boat. This is why boats designed to circumnavigate look so different (in nearly every way) from racing boats. 

For example: A racing boat needs, first and foremost, to be fast—but only strong enough to finish the race. Since a racing boat spends the highest percentage of its time on the wind, its speed-made-good to windward is of paramount importance. 

Think about it. The length of the race is the must-do endurance goal. Contrast this to our very windy, very rough, 48 days out-of-sight-of-land in the vast Pacific during our fourth circ. 

There’s a difference—a vast difference between hours and years. 

- Advertisement -

I congratulated one Australian owner of a certain type of flimsy production boat that his keel wasn’t “grinning.” “She’s almost brand new,” he said, puzzled. 

We sailed across the lower Indian Ocean together. Neither of us ran aground or stressed our vessels in any unusual way. Upon hauling out in Cape Town, he was horrified to see about an 18-inch-long crack in the forward hull-to-keel joint. The waves had literally been pounding the keel off as he sailed. 


Light is good, sure—but weak is dangerous.

Our $3,000 Wild Card was sloop-rigged. We sailed twice around the world aboard her.
Our $3,000 Wild Card was sloop-rigged. We sailed twice around the world aboard her.

Earning to Sail, Sailing to Earn

A good cruising boat, on the other hand, needs to be able to survive a wide variety of weather conditions in safety and comfort. It also needs to be able to carry enough supplies to weekend or vacation aboard. Plus, dry decks allow for open hatches, which makes the entire boat more livable. And the ability to anchor in all conditions is of paramount importance. 

The perfect boat to circumnavigate aboard must be, first and foremost, crew friendly for years on end. It also must be able to carry an enormous payload of provisions, supplies, spare parts, and fluids. Just the electrical needs are enormous—and growing daily. (Our Ganesh had nine solar cells during our third circ!)

Since a boat intended for circumnavigating almost never has to sail long distances on-the-wind, its windward ability mostly pertains to being able to beat off a lee shore in heavy weather. Thus, light air windward ability isn’t nearly as important as heavy air ability in big seas.  

Boats that can claw off a lee shore have to be strong—as do boats that occasionally ground. Modern boats with wobbly, stick-on keels gobble up the race course in light airs; but often aren’t heavy, deep, strong, and directionally stable enough to claw off in adverse, breaking-wave conditions. Lee shores are a real danger and a fatal one if you can’t claw back out to sea. How often does this happen? Once a month? Once a year? Once a circumnavigation? 

The better the skipper, the less it happens, but eventually all offshore sailors are faced with a deadly lee shore. 

This, as much as anything, separates the men from the boys or the females from the girls. (Each year, more circumnavigating skippers are women—and my experience is that almost all of them are fine, fine sailors.)

Now, I love to race on boats with aft cockpits—especially offshore. Why? Because I can see the sails better, and most of the spray will sheet to loo’ard forward while going to windward. 

However, while circumnavigating, we rarely sail to windward. Thus, amidship cockpits are actually drier and safer than many aft cockpits while, say, getting pooped in the Indian Ocean. (Pooped = cockpit filled up with water by the vessel being engulfed by a breaking sea over its transom. An important consideration? Yes. Ganesh was once pooped and had its cockpit filled every 40 seconds… for 28 hours!)


Inquiring Letters to the esteemed Fatty Goodlander

Amidship cockpits on boats over 40 feet allow for a spacious aft cabin, a spacious engine compartment accessible from two sides, and massive storage. Plus, the motion amidships is less than the hobby-horsing elevator ride fore and aft. 

Let’s talk about tankage. 

We use the half/thirds rule. We use 1/3 of our water in the first half of our passage and 1/3 of our water during the second half—and, thus, come in with 1/3 of our water as a realistic safety margin in case we get blown back out to sea at the last minute. We’ve found that if we’re reasonably careful, we only use three gallons a day offshore—and can, if extremely miserly, survive on half that. (We have two fresh water tanks. We also have a completely separate different ‘deck collection fresh water’ system with its own tank and faucet. Plus, we have a salt water pump on our galley. (Three faucets.) 

Twice we sailed around the world with no watermaker. At one point in our first circ, we went four and a half months without taking water aboard—trapping it on deck instead. Currently we have a PUR unit that came with the boat. It makes 3 gallons an hour—and both myself or my wife can rebuild the damn thing blindfolded. (Yes, we can always get it to dribble some precious freshwater but only if we tear it to bits and loudly curse at its innards.)

We carry 120 gallons of diesel fuel. But that’s not all. We carry enough lube oil for two changes—and three lube filters. We carry enough 5-year coolant to fully replace the three gallons inside our engine—plus a separate gallon for topping off. We carry distilled water for our lead/acid batteries. Don’t forget transmission fluid! 

Of course, fluids are heavy. As are hurricane anchors, cordage, Jordan Series drogues, and life rafts. And we purposely stow all this stuff amidships not at the ends. 

Wild Card, our light Hughes 38, was dangerous offshore with its two anchors and 200 feet of 10mm chain forward on the bow—but she was a sweet sailer with all that stuff stowed below amidships. 

Everyone knows that you shouldn’t carry excessive weight aboard—and that’s true—but it is often the placement of that weight that is really critical.

Pride and Fall of a Mariner

Weight at the ends of a yacht causes severe hobby-horsing, which increases wetted surface and destroys performance, especially to windward.

This is why we don’t have a wind generator or a tower-of-power aft—like the CT37 next to us did off Madagascar in a prolonged gale, when it flipped keel-up and we had a second cup of coffee and warm fresh bread from our gimballed oven. 

Yes, we practice what we preach. We never crossed an ocean in Wild Card without bringing all our chain and anchors from forward and lashing them below to the mainmast base in the head. 

Ketch rigs are almost non-existent these days. I agree they are inefficient, except while circumnavigating shorthanded. Our four working sails are small—jib, staysail, main, and mizzen—and our easily hoisted and doused mizzen staysail is nearly as large as our main. Sailing off the hook is easy with the mizzen—just push it to one side as you begin to make sternway in order to guarantee you’ll sail off on the tack desired. Yes, we can, and do, heave-to temporarily under mizzen alone. 

Of course, we use the mizzen to dampen our roll in harbors with swells. We also use it to turn/angle our boat up to 25 degrees while at anchor. This often is the difference between rolling from rail-to-rail and barely rolling—especially if combined with a bridle. (We also have flopper-stoppers because I want to be able to comfortably anchor where almost no other yacht can.)

To sum up: Ketch rigs are often slow, especially to windward. I don’t recommend them to most people unless they intend to circumnavigate west-about when shorthanded—then they are utter magic. 

We often drop the entire main and jog off under jig-and-jigger (jib and mizzen) safely and with full control in short lived gales. (In prolonged gales we hoist our storm trysail and in ultimate storms we consider our Jordan Series Drogue or our Paratech sea anchor.)

We love our ketch rig. The mizzen gives us a convenient place to put our radar (we took off the wind generator to reduce roll). Oh, and we have spreader lights, anchor lights, and deck lights on our mizzen as well. (Wanna understand how rough the Indian Ocean is? Well, we always leave with three sets of perfectly-sealed running lights, but often arrive in Cape Town with only one set still working. They tend to fail by height-above-water—with our bow bicolor the first to go and our masthead tricolor usually the last.)

Boat Maintenance: Pre- & Post-Covid

It’s important to realize that almost all sailors eventually learn how to sail their vessel—usually somewhere around 20,000 miles into their circumnavigation. Thus, I can tell you how to sail Carlotta, Wild Card, or Ganesh in both light and heavy airs. 

However, that doesn’t mean I know how to sail your boat. I can heave-to Ganesh in five minutes to survive 72 hours of 50-knot winds. However, I just hove-to a friend’s fin keel boat—and it took me almost two hours of playing with rudder, sheet, outhaul, halyard and topping lift before I got her to stop hunting and have zero forward speed. (Poke a damp paper towel underwater with a boat hook on the windward side. If the paper appears it is being magically sucked to windward into the breakers—that means your vessel is trimmed perfectly with no forereaching. Large scary waves will break behind and forward of you—but not upon you. If, however, the paper appears to quarter off at a 45-degree angle astern, we’re still fore-reaching and might be sailing out of the turbulence/slick that is taking the sting out of the seas.)

Many people think that you have a choice of three different displacement boats while circumnavigating—light, medium, and heavy. That’s not true because even the lightest racing yacht becomes a medium or medium-heavy displacement yacht when all the gear and provisions for circing are loaded aboard. 

If you hang out in the Caribbean where provisions and spare parts are plentiful, your lightweight boat might only be slightly overweight while anchored off St. Barts—but by the time you emerge from the Panama Canal, it will weigh another 2,000 pounds or so. 

And we haven’t even mentioned chafe. Rolling downwind for 30,000 miles is extremely hard on sails, running rigging, gear, and—most of all—humans. 

Here’s just one example—normally, I buy the correct length jib sheets. While circumnavigating, however, I buy them 30 feet longer than needed so I can chop-off two feet every 1,500 ocean miles or so—to renew the area where my sheet goes through my spin pole jaws. (On our fourth circ I began using a snatch block outboard and low on the pole—and this greatly reduces chafe on the outboard sheet end.)

Basically, all the gear you need on a circ has to be robust. A California sailor whose boat is moored in Long Beach might be okay with his cheap electric autopilot lasting three years—which would translate into a single week of a 260-week circumnavigation. 

This is why I have a robust Monitor windvane for use while under sail and also an hydraulically-operated ram on my electro autopilot—a unit designed and built for use on commercial fishing boats in Alaska. (Yes, it draws 12 amps but so what while the engine is running?)

To sum up—all boats are compromises. But if you circumnavigate-as-lifestyle, your life (and the life of your loved ones) will depend on your boat and its gear repeatedly. Many boats are designed and constructed to be dock queens—and, dollar-for-dollar, they are pretty-okay things to get drunk aboard while plugged into shore power. 

Offshore vessels, however, are different. Mother Ocean is a harsh mistress—and if you refuse to learn basic seamanship, she kills you. (Not vengefully, just with utter and complete indifference.) 

- Advertisement -

Don't Miss a Beat!

Stay in the loop with the Caribbean


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Cap'n Fatty Goodlander
Cap'n Fatty Goodlanderhttp://fattygoodlander.com/
Cap’n Fatty Goodlander has lived aboard for 53 of his 60 years, and has circumnavigated twice. He is the author of Chasing the Horizon and numerous other marine books. His latest, Buy, Outfit, and Sail is out now. Visit: fattygoodlander.com

So Caribbean you can almost taste the rum...

- Advertisment -
- Advertisment -spot_img

Recent Posts

Recent Comments