There is no “right size” or “right design”, everybody’s different. Just make sure to contemplate all factors before choosing a floating home. Don’t go for second-best choices that do not fully convince you, just for financial reasons or because you feel in a hurry. Better wait and do some more searching (and saving) than set out with a boat you’re not happy with.
Will you live on the boat all-year-round or just fly in for the season? If you move in for good, you will need more space than if you keep a house/apartment ashore. Will you spend time in marinas? Then you should consider the higher costs of catamaran. Or will you stay at anchor entertaining friends and family? Then the spacious living space on a cat would have its advantages. Or would you like to sail to remote places and brave rough conditions along the way? Then a sturdy monohull’s your thing. If you want to sneak into shallow areas, a lifting keel may be a great feature, but if the mechanism fails in a remote place you’ll be in trouble. A large boat will be faster on passages and provide you with more space and comfort, but it also makes maneuvers in confined quarters more difficult, cost more in marinas, will limit your choice of anchorages and place a considerably higher burden of responsibility on your shoulders.
Whatever type of boat you choose, make sure she’s sturdy and seaworthy. Even if you plan to mainly do short passages in benign conditions you may still run into nasty weather at some point or encounter a drifting container or an uncharted rock. We love our Pitufa, even though she’s a little bit too small for us and all our gear, because we can rely on her in all situations. She happily bashes into the waves close-hauled to bring us where we want to go (and not where the wind takes us), makes us feel safe within her thick aluminum hull.
The level of comfort people need or want is (again) very subjective. A washing machine, a dishwasher, a microwave oven, a breadmaker–what may seem ridiculously wasteful for one crew, may keep the peace and harmony on another boat. Whatever fits, makes you happy (and can be supported power-wise) should be the maxime for such additional gadgets. Other devices add to the independence of a boat, like a watermaker to ensure drinking water underway or in remote areas and a fridge to be able to store fresh food for a prolonged time (and let’s be honest: what’s a sundowner without cold drinks??). Purists may still happily cruise without such equipment, but then there are a few essentials no responsible skipper can relinquish:
A well-sized and well-designed anchor. It seems incredible what toys are blissfully hidden in anchorages, but shamefully revealed in marinas and mooring fields. Even large, heavy boats set out with tiny, old-fashioned anchors—maybe because they go well with the design of the yacht, or maybe because they never planned on anchoring anyway. Our 25 kg Bügelanker (similar to a Rocna) hasn’t failed us in 11 years and allows precision-work as it sets immediately.
A reliable engine. Of course a sailboat should sail, but there are moments when only a strong engine can keep a yacht safe, e.g. entering a pass with currents, or maneuvering in confined quarters in heavy winds.
A sturdy rig and a set of sails for all conditions. Everyone prays that they’ll never have to use their storm sail and try sail, but they should still be aboard (like an umbrella to keep away the rain). Lightwind sails will reduce your fuel consumption (i.e. hoisting the gennaker in very light winds instead of turning on the engine).
Tools and spare parts to do emergency repairs underway and the knowledge how to use them. You don’t have to be a trained specialist, but doing some courses in preparation and watching experts closely is a must before setting out safely towards remote areas.
Solar Panels and Wind Generators. As cruisers we live close to mother nature and should be trying our best to reduce our carbon footprint. Everybody’s talking about the energy crisis at the moment, having our own alternative sources of energy aboard makes us autonomous and independent. Installing solar panels may mean some initial investment, but they keep going for a long time. Diesel generators are not cheap either and you’ll be constantly buying fuel for them and when they fail (which they frequently do) they cause lots of grief and quite often the battery bank goes with them (as the batteries cannot cope with the energy consumption without a daily generator boost).
Keep Improving the Boat
Despite all our efforts to prepare our Pitufa well before setting out, we discovered lots of deficiencies underway. The same will probably happen to you—it’s perfectly normal. Every boat, no matter how expensive, will have features that are annoying to one crew while acceptable to another. Unsolved problems, no matter how small they seem at first, drain the fun out of cruising in the long run. A leaking hatch, a toilet seat that keeps slamming on your back in rough conditions, a rattling locker door—such tiny issues can lead to arguments, frustration and ultimately the end of cruising. The important thing is to try and solve these issues, so we keep on makeshifting and improving our floating home to keep on cruising happily!
Birgit and Christian have been sailing and repairing their S&S 41 “Pitufa” from the Med via the Atlantic and Caribbean to the Pacific. Check out their blog www.pitufa.at or read their book “Sailing towards the Horizon” to learn more about their journey!