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Small Boats, Big Adventures: The Key to Freedom and Exploration

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I grew up on a large, heavy schooner but my first boat was a 22-foot double-ender—and I’ve been in love with small vessels (below 30 feet) ever since. But as you grow up, your family grows, and—if you’re not careful—your expectations grow as well. Thus, I’ve owned, besides my 22-footer, a 36-foot ketch, a 38-foot sloop, and a heavy displacement, beamy 43-foot center cockpit, aft cabin ketch, built by Wauquiez in France. 

In many ways, Ganesh (our 43-foot Wauquiez) is the perfect boat for us at the age of 71. It is amazingly commodious. Our aft cabin is huge—with a desk, a curved sofa, a table, a head w/shower, and a large double bunk. Plus, there’s a real feeling of space because you can see from the aft cabin directly into the forepeak—which, when I first saw this amazing, awe-inspiring vision, made the boat seem more like a 70-footer. 

This aft cabin is the perfect place for me to spew books, columns, and articles while my wife putters (or sews) in the main cabin (two heavy, nearly-soundproof doors away). 

Ganesh is heavily powered with a Perkins M92 diesel which allows us to go 1,000 miles without hoisting sail. We’re also able to power into the teeth of a 40-knot gale at a stately 4 knots. I never—in my wildest dreams—thought I’d own a sailboat that could do that! 

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I’ve only done that once because I usually heave-to with my storm jib and trysail during heavy weather. It is an option I didn’t need at 50 years of age, but find reassuring now as the Pearly Gates loom. 

However, big boats have bigger problems. Scraping Ganesh’s four-bladed Max prop and her underbody takes forever. And, while the ketch rig is perfect in big air and big seas—here in airless Southeast Asia, she’s a bit of a half-tide-rock, even with her asymmetrical and mizzen staysail.

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Fatty’s Ganesh
Fatty’s Ganesh

Here in Asia, the locals are against opium ‘except for old men to dream.’ While I have a dozen opium pipes aboard, I have no opium. Instead I dream about small craft, especially small craft that can be marina-free. 

This makes sense as I’ve swung to my own hooks nearly my entire life. Tying up with a sound track of ‘ching, ching!’ doesn’t appeal. 

Sadly, most of the design innovation is currently happening in larger boats, multihulls, and racing boats. 

Everyone seems to want more convenience—and can’t understand why they’re not happy. 

One current marine design innovation that wows me, is the scow bows of racing boats such as the 21-foot Mini-Transat boats. Their scow bow looks wrong to my eye but performs well. Why? It maximizes righting moment and prevents the boat from burying its bow (hobby-horsing). This makes it wicked-fast off the wind. The downside is that the boat pounds horribly while sailing upwind. 

Of course, it is also ugly—but that’s more generational than true. Ultimately, if you’re a racer, fast ends up looking lovely. This issue of ‘beauty’ is only skin deep and will disappear as the fleet grows. 

Alas, in ‘under-30’ cruising vessels, innovation varies between slow and non-existent. Most are ‘starter’ boats with a large cockpit, vee-berth, head, and minimal accommodations. Sadly, 26-foot sailboats today look quite like those of my youth—with dried snot fiberglass replacing the traditional wood. 

Thankfully, post-pandemic, this is beginning to change. 

Take the lovely, traditional-looking BayCruiser 26 by Swallow Yachts for example. Its design goal was simple and familiar—to make the largest, most fun, most innovative sailboat that can be easily and quickly trailered.  

Fun sailboats sail fast and balance well, and with her carbon-fiber fractional rig, fathead main, twin rudders, light-weight, deep-draft, low-wetted-surface, and 320 square feet of working sail, the BayCruiser does exactly that. 

Nevis, Oh Nevis, how you did surprise me

BayCruiser by Swallow Yachts of England
BayCruiser by Swallow Yachts of England

Yes, she’s a mom-and-pop cruiser but there is a real emphasis on performance—especially with a Code Zero at the end of the bowsprit/anchor roller. There’s also a sailor’s eye for convenience. Thin water, tidal sailors will appreciate the 12-inch draft (with the centerboard up) and the fact that the twin rudders and pivoting 9.8 hp outboard can be linked together (in an instant) for easy maneuvering (and controlled reversing) in close quarters.

Why an outboard instead of an inboard? One; modern outboards are incredibly reliable. Two; an outboard is a fraction of the weight. Three; an outboard coupled with twin rudders make for a highly maneuverable vessel. And lastly; with the lack of weight and lack of drag from prop, shaft, and strut, the boat is a witch in light airs. 

Yes, there’s standing headroom by the galley and three large hatches for ventilation in the tropics. 

Sound too good to be true? That’s where the real innovation comes in. 

The main reason the BayCruiser is so light to pull with a trailer is because it is primarily water-ballasted. Once launched, 1,650 pounds of water—nearly a ton—comes aboard at the turn of a valve, if you’re going sailing. If the sailing conditions are light and you’re off the wind, this extra liquid weight can be discarded. This is why she’s so fast off the wind and so easily trailed. 

She’s also safe. Even if flooded, the hull and all its gear floats because of internal floatation. This not only adds a level of comfort, it also means that a life raft isn’t required. 

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BayCruiser innovative design
BayCruiser innovative design

Plus, being able to ‘bottom out’ twice a day in a mud berth is a huge advantage in certain locations—like England, where the BayCruiser is built. 

Ditto—it means that not only are marina fees eliminated—so are shipyard fees. The boat can easily be scrubbed or painted ‘on the tide,’ even in places without much tide. 

Of course, day-sailing a trailerable boat is silly if it takes all day to rig it. 

The BayCruiser takes less than an hour because of its innovative hinged/pivoting tabernacle (which compensates for the cabin height while the mast is lowered) and the aft arc/support over the outboard. This stainless steel arc has a roller that allows the lightweight carbon mast to be slid/rolled forward and then pinned with a drop-nosed pin. Part of the tabernacle stays with the mast and connects via Fast Pins to the bow roller—making the mast instantly a rigid part of the boat without any lines or strings. 

Best of all, when on deck, the mast is entirely inboard of the boat. If you don’t smash the boat into something while on the trailer, you can’t damage the mast. 

Want more clever thinking? The boom has lazy jacks and a non-standard ‘cassette-style’ gooseneck. The mainsail, sail cover, and kicking strap always stays on while trailing. All you do to attach the boom is to hoist it by its lazy jacks and ‘snap’ the cassette/gooseneck onto the custom mast. 

Hoisting the mast is so easy that even a 12-year-old girl can and does it in the instructional video on YouTube. (The carbon whisker pole does double-duty as a strut while hoisting.)

This eliminates expensive marina fees. One of the first European owners of the BayCruiser claims he can sail her in the Black Sea, Med, or Atlantic within a day of hitching her to his modest car. 

Any other innovations? Well, it’s galley, sink, stove, and oven all roller-slide in and out of her interior on the starboard side—hiding under the starboard cockpit when not in use. This makes for a spacious interior with a decent head, four berths and a folding table despite the centerboard trunk. (The trunk adds tremendous rigidity to the hull.)

Record-Breaking Submersible Dive in the Bahamas

Drawbacks? I’m sure there are some. I’ve never sailed her so I can’t say. And the mainsheet pod in the center of the cockpit looks too weak to me—even if it looks nifty with the standard cockpit table attached. 

Of course, with a price tag of $145,000 base or $168,000 all tricked out with the trailer, she ain’t cheap. Then again, quality and innovative thinking never is. 

Why mention all this? 

Because over my lifetime, I’ve found that small boats are sailed more often than large boats—and give maximum pleasure for minimum money. 

I purchased my own 22-foot boat at 15 years-old and started living aboard during summers at 16. I am now in my 63rd year of living aboard. Early habits last. And I don’t want yachting to become a hobby of the elderly and the rich. 

A small vessel is a perfect ‘starter apartment’ for a young sailor on the prowl. At 16, I spent a summer cruising the Great Lakes with a wild woman, my best male friend, and exactly 186 pennies. We had the time of our young lives—the height of which was being taken into custody by the Saugatuck police in the middle of a Green Slime festival (No, you don’t want to know, dear reader!)

Anyway, such freedoms—once tasted—are forever desired. 

That summer changed me forever. I vowed that I’d eventually sail around the world. After all, boats have far, far more room than the backseats of automobiles. 

And here’s the bottom line—with the utter freedom of chasing the horizon also comes the complete responsibility of being skipper. That summer of 1968 made me the man I am today—a man who realizes that if you’re prudent and cautious, you can do amazingly, out-of-the-ordinary, highly dangerous things. 

The old cowboy rallying cry was ‘don’t fence me in.’ 

So far, the few who own this planet—or think they do—haven’t been able to fence me in. Once offshore I’m not merely an American, Christian, Chicagoan, white guy, or poor person; I’m a citizen of the world, with all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities thereof. 

The entire watery world is my oyster and has been almost my entire life. Thus, when it comes to ‘take this job and shove it,’ I’m an expert!

Right now, at this stage in my life, I think that Singapore offers the highest quality of life on this planet. There’s no crime, no violence, no guns; almost zero corruption.

How did I get here? Was I just lucky?

No, this has been the plan my entire life. And the Key to the Kingdom is remarkably cheap—a modest boat and a willing partner. 

Good luck. (end). 

Fatty writes this while anchored between Ubin and Ketam islands—amid hornbills, wild boar, mouse deer, monitor lizards, and a family of sea otters—in a nation-state of six million peaceful souls. 

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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

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