Mahina Expeditions – Selecting A Boat for Offshore Cruising

Mahina Expeditions – Selecting A Boat for Offshore Cruising

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Before starting the boat selection process, it is imperative to find out if you really like sailing and are comfortable living aboard. If you aren’t yet an accomplished sailor, consider a live-aboard cruising instruction course such as Offshore Sailing School’s Fast Track to Cruising. As many coastal sailors do not enjoy oceans passages complete an offshore passage to ensure you do. Time spent offshore will quickly clarify your priorities for boat selection and equipment plus generally satisfies the prerequisite for obtaining offshore insurance for your future boat.

Selecting a cruising boat is the most important decision in preparing for an offshore voyage and often is a pivotal point in the changing of dreams from “Let’s take off and go cruising some time”, into the reality of “Let’s get outfitted and go”.

Obviously there isn’t any one perfect boat for everyone. The boat you choose should be safe, comfortable, well built, and ideally capable of fast passages while proving to be a good investment If your plans are only for coastal cruising you can consider a winder range of suitable boats than those who are headed offshore and require a sturdier vessel.

The process of selecting and purchasing a boat for extended cruising usually takes a minimum of six to 12 months. Research boat types that suit your budget and cruising plans. Be patient, ask questions and learn everything you can while keeping an open mind. You’ll need to locate, examine, survey, test sail, complete the purchase transaction and possibly ship or deliver your new boat to a place convenient for outfitting.

If you make a poor choice you may be plagued with structural problems, leaks, slow uncomfortable passages, endless repairs and a low resale price. I mention resale price now, because the money used for purchasing a cruising boat often represents a substantial part of people’s life savings. Although sailboats are rarely a “good” investment in monetary terms, you’ll want to recoup as much of your original purchase price as possible when it comes time to sell.

Size, Cost and Time

Two of the most important points to remember when selecting a boat are size and cost. The size of boat you select directly affects your cruising costs, not only in initial purchase and outfitting, but also in cruising expenses once you’re under way. Few people realize that outfitting a stock new boat for long distance cruising can easily take 30% to 50% more than the initial purchase price. On a 40′ new or used boat, this can mean an additional $20,000 to $50,000 just for essential equipment including additional sails, ground tackle, liferaft, safety gear and tender. This amount excludes optional equipment such as refrigeration, electronics, outboard motors, scuba gear and autopilots. On a boat 20 years or older, replacing rigging, tanks, engine and upgrading the electrical system can easily add an additional 50% to 100%.

It’s easy and normal to overspend on the initial purchase of the boat, spend more money on equipment that isn’t essential and then run short of funds once you’ve completed your initial provisioning and have actually started cruising.

A better approach if you’re working within a fixed budget is to spend less on the initial purchase by either purchasing a well‑built used boat or a smaller new boat. Purchase the priority equipment first; then set aside money for an initial provisioning ($2,000), and funds for cruising (an average of $1000 to $2000 for a couple per month) for the period of time you want to cruise. Then see if there is enough money left for the expensive, non‑essential but “sure would be nice to have” equipment.

The majority of boats cruising for a year or longer are sailed by couples, and a boat in the 35′ to 45′ size range generally works out best, particularly if the owners are new to sailing. The cost, time and energy required to maintain a 50′ to 60′ boat versus a 40′ boat once you’re “out there”cruising is significantly higher.

When I started cruising the South Pacific in 1974 on a Vega 27, there were many cruisers on shoestring budgets, multi-year open-ended cruises on boats under 35′. Today we see people cruising faster on larger boats, visiting many countries in a shorter time. Offshore cruising is now rarely an open-ended lifestyle choice, but one that most people experience for one to two years before moving on to the next phase of their life.

In general, the median length of cruising boats has been increasing steadily. This may correspond with an increased budget of many cruisers and the development and improvement of sail‑handling systems including furling mainsails and electric winches.



People cruising on larger boats may have to depend on finding pick‑up crew in different ports in order to safely manage their boat on ocean passages and to satisfy insurance requirements. Crew difficulties are one of the most persistent and common problems on cruising boats. It’s easy to find friends and family members excited about sailing with you when you first leave your homeport. As you get further away airfares become more expensive, it becomes expensive and time consuming coordinating the logistics of crew arrival and departure. You might also find that you may not be comfortable trusting your boat and life to people whom you don’t know well.

You must be prepared to singlehand your boat. Seasickness or illness may incapacitate you or your partner, leaving one person to handle everything. Safety dictates a boat with manageable-sized sails, a totally dependable wind‑vane self‑steering system and a powerful autopilot. Fatigue is the number one cause of short‑handed boats being lost on the rocks while making landfall; so it becomes essential that you are able to handle your boat without help, and that you realize your abilities and limitations. If you are considering a boat over 42′ and aren’t as strong as you used to be, consider adding electric winches, a bowthruster and possibly a furling mainsail. These add cost and complexity, but being able to easily handle your boat is important.


Purchasing Options

1. New Production Boat: Because of a shortage of quality 3-10 year old ocean-cruising boats, and the high cost and amount of time involved in upgrading a solid 10+-year-old boat, purchasing a quality new production boat is more attractive now than ever.

Example: if you purchase a 15 year old boat for $80,000, spend $50,000 replacing engine, sails, wiring, tanks, rigging, electronics and epoxy bottom job using 1-2 years of potential cruising time in the process, you end up with a 17 year old boat, probably worth around $90,000.

A better choice might be a new boat that costs more initially but returns closer to 100% of your investment. You will be out cruising 1-3 years earlier with fewer mechanical breakdowns.

Some people use the justification that since they have rebuilt every system on their boat, they now can fix them in some distant port. I personally would rather spend that time cruising than with my head down in the bilge fixing something that I overhauled a year earlier!

If you buy the right boat, keep it in top condition while you’re cruising, you’ll find a line-up of folks wanting to purchase it when you’ve completed your cruise and you should recoup most (or all) of your initial investment.


2. Custom Built: Having a boat custom or semi‑custom built always takes considerably more time and money than planned and there are nearly always “bugs” to work out that would no occur with a production boat. Resale value on a custom boat is frequently not as high as on a well‑known quality production boat. Custom boats just don’t make sense!


3. Used Boat: Compromise is important in selecting the right used boat. Chances are you may not find any boat in your price range that exactly meets all of your criteria so be prepared to be flexible and keep an open mind as you learn more about what makes a safe and comfortable offshore boat. You may go into your boat search thinking that you absolutely must have a heavy displacement double-ender with a long bowsprit and a centerline queen berth, for example.

After educating yourself, you may decide that these are not necessarily criteria that add to comfort or safety at sea.

Cruising equipment adds very little to the selling price of used boats, you may find a boat that has already been outfitted and cruised, saving you tens of thousands of dollars.

The easiest way to find a quality used boat is to locate a professional and knowledgeable broker who has offshore sailing experience and who will work with you to find a suitable boat. Some less knowledgeable or scrupulous brokers will try and sell you whatever boat is easiest. Use computer-listing network and various publications to locate appropriate boats on a regional and national basis. Spend time clearly communicating your purchase time frame, budget, and personal priorities with the broker. Be honest and don’t waste their time. If you need to first sell your house or won’t be able to make a purchase for some time, let them know that in your initial discussion and don’t expect their full attention until you are really ready to purchase.


4. Home Built: Home building makes the least sense unless you are an experienced boat builder and are not concerned about time and expenses. Home‑built boats generally cost more than a well‑built used boat, are usually much more difficult to sell when you’ve completed your cruise. They frequently have a lower resale value than a comparable production boat.



�        Have the boat carefully and thoroughly surveyed by a marine surveyor experienced in offshore boats. It is best if you research and choose the surveyor, rather than hiring a surveyor recommended by the seller or yacht broker. Ask to see examples of previous surveys. You want to hire a surveyor who has no vested interest in the transaction, other than making sure that the boat you’re considering is safe and a good investment for you.

�        If you consider purchasing a boat in a different part of the country and have a surveyor you trust, seriously consider flying the surveyor with you to inspect the boat. Marine insurance companies and banks can recommend surveyors whose opinions they trust.

�        On larger, more expensive boats, many buyers will also pay for individual surveys of engines, electrical systems, sails and occasionally rigging. Most marine surveyors do not thoroughly cover these items in a typical survey.


Market Trends

Used boat prices vary geographically and may be lowest in areas of the country experiencing economic downturn and weak real estate markets. If people can’t sell their property, they are less likely to be able to afford to purchase and outfit a boat for extended cruising.

In recent years have firmed up substantially nationally, and we aren’t hearing any tales of “stealing” good used cruising boats for 20% to 30% below asking or BUC Used Boat Guide prices. Brokers on both coasts are mentioning a real shortage of good ten-year-old or less cruising boats in the $60,000 to $200,000 price range. This shortage will become more acute.


Points to Remember when Considering Boats from Different Regions:

�        Florida boats tend to be less expensive than boats in other regions, but the higher humidity and salt really take their toll. When boat shopping in Florida, you’ll find that many of the boats have been unattended and not maintained for some time. Frequently the owners have run out of time, money or interest and have parked the boat with a broker, returning home elsewhere. The salt, humidity and UV really takes it’s toll on boats unattended in the tropics.

�        New England and the Great Lakes are excellent regions to shop for a cruising boat. A ten-year-old boat that has been dry stored in a low humidity, low salt environment for six months each year will often be in much better condition than a five-year-old Florida boat.

�        Annapolis metropolitan area has more quality offshore-capable boats for sale than any other area.

�        Southern California has a very limited inventory of offshore capable cruising boats. The light air and generally moderate sea conditions and temperature mean that less-expensive and more lightly constructed coastal cruisers dominate the market.

�        Pacific Northwest and San Francisco Bay Area generally has a fairly good inventory of offshore-capable boats.

�        Canadian inventory particularly in the Great Lakes area is worth looking at.


Purchasing a Boat Overseas

The present currency exchange rates have made purchasing a boat overseas less attractive. Prices of identical cruising boats are enough higher in Europe that many Europeans are purchasing boat on the US East Coast. New Zealand and Australia have some quality cruising boats for sale, but as these are small run production boats, few people in North America are familiar with these boats and they may be difficult to resell. However, there are always a considerable number of boats that have cruised there from Europe or NA that are now for sale as owners are ready to return home.

If you’re interested in cruising specific areas such as Scandinavia, the Med, French canals or New Zealand and aren’t interested in the long passages, purchasing a boat on location may be a good choice.

If you’re considering purchasing a boat overseas and plan to sail it back to the U.S., try and select a well‑known builder who has dealers in the States. You’ll find it much easier to sell a well‑known boat for a reasonable price. Any U.S. Embassy will be able to provide you with temporary documentation papers if you’re purchasing and cruising a boat in another country.


Shipping and Commissioning

When trying to decide whether or not it is logical to purchase a boat out of your area, make sure to factor in all shipping and commissioning costs.

The approximate costs for shipping a 35′ and 42′, sailboat with a beam of no more than 12′ and a trailer height of under 14′. Boats with beam in an excess of 12′ will require a pilot car at $1.00 per mile in some states. Add approximately $200 for trucking insurance rider, and $1000 to $2000 for decommissioning and recommissioning, depending how much of the work you do yourself.

Florida to New York or Los Angeles to Seattle : $2815-$3069

Annapolis to Seattle or Seattle to Florida : $6800-$7600

Wisconsin to Seattle : $4000-$4600

The cost of deck shipping a 35′ boat from Europe or New Zealand to the U.S. is $12,000 to $15,000. Dockwise Yacht Transport, is an excellent alternative.

boats to consider for offshore cruising


If at all possible, contact the designer before purchasing. Relatively few boats were actually designed for ocean passage making. You will need to learn if the boat builder followed the designer’s construction criteria. Some Taiwanese-built yachts advertised as being designed by Robert Perry or Doug Peterson may actually be pirated designs where the designer has not been paid a royalty and the builder may have tried to save money by reducing structural integrity. None of the Taiwan yards employing this practice were in business very long.


If the yard is still in business it can be quite helpful for purchasing some parts and assemblies, but is by no means essential. If they are still in business, call and ask them about the boat you’re considering. Have the hull number and date of manufacture ready.
You may find that boats built by a yard that is still in business retain higher value than boats where the builder has gone out of business.

As an example, friends of mine had a Southern Cross 35 built for them by Ryder Yachts in 1985. After a successful Pacific circumnavigation and the arrival of two lovely daughters, they decided to move up to a Morris 46. They related that the Morris 36 that they were considering when they ordered the Southern Cross then cost $20,000 more but is now worth approximately $160,000 compared to a value of $75,000 for the Southern Cross today. Morris is still in business building excellent boats; Southern Cross went under not long after my friend’s boat was completed.

If you’re considering purchasing a new boat, check the financial condition of the company. Some builders are just barely staying in business and may use your deposit money to complete another person’s boat. This only works as long as the deposits are coming in!

Sailing Performance

You’ll sure appreciate a design that offers good sailing performance and ease of handling the more miles you sail.

Few potential cruisers think of passage-making speed as important criteria in choosing an ocean cruising boat. After considerable years and miles of ocean cruising, it is now high on my personal list of priorities. The shorter the passages, the less exposure you have to heavy weather conditions. A boat with good sailing performance requires less motoring and fuel, is faster, more responsive and fun to sail in the light to moderate wind conditions so common worldwide.

Windward sailing performance is nearly as important as passage-making speed. On the other extreme, a very modern, light displacement boat with a flat entry may tend to pound when sailing to windward and may lack directional stability when sailing downwind with large following seas. The ability to sail off a lee shore in an emergency is dependent on windward performance.

Negative Design Aspects to be Avoided

Bowsprits longer than 24′ often prove to be a liability when anchoring, changing headsails or maneuvering in close quarters.

Low freeboard may indicate a design that will ship a lot of spray and water on ocean passages.

Excessive freeboard may cause poor windward performance and a tendency to “sail” back and forth at anchor.

A small amount of weather helm as the wind increases is desirable, but an excessive amount that cannot be decreased by sail trim or rig tuning may mean that a boat will be difficult to steer by hand, windvane or autopilot.

If the design is excessively tender, you’ll have to get used to living, cooking, navigating and sleeping at 25 to 30 degrees angle of heel every time you are sailing to windward, something you may find fatiguing.

A comfortable motion at sea is very important.

A vessel with a short waterline and long, graceful overhangs often tends to hobbyhorse or pitch when to sailing to windward making upwind passages uncomfortable and difficult to impossible. Another drawback is frequently a lack directional stability when sailing downwind in a large following sea.

A Comfortable Home

This is just as important as each of the above points, because a boat may have the best sailing characteristics in the world, but if your partner views it as a deep, dark, damp, unattractive place to live, you’ll either be singlehanding or giving up your cruising dreams.

Remember most cruisers are at sea less than a quarter of the time, so comfort at anchor is also very important.

Storage Capacity

Space for the additional sails, tankage, food, lines, spare parts, medical and safety supplies required for extensive cruising is important. On some boats valuable storage space under the settees and berths is filled with tankage that could have been designed under the cabin sole.

Weight Carrying Capacity

A purpose-designed cruising boat will be able to carry the additional weight of three anchors, a windlass and several hundred pounds of chain, as well as additional water (8 lbs. per gallon) and fuel (6 lbs. per gallon), a liferaft, dinghy and outboard. You’ll be adding several thousand pounds of equipment, so if the boat you’re considering is already on her waterline before you start loading cruising gear you may end up several inches below the designed waterline. On some designs this may be a dangerous problem. Boats that handle the weight the bestare not real narrow at the waterline beam and have transom sterns without excessive overhangs.

Mulithull vs Monohull

Multihullsadvantages include very little heeling or rolling and tremendous interior volume and deck space, making them very attractive for sailing, living aboard and chartering in tropical climes. Another distinct advantage is that multihulls don’t sink if holed, unlike ballasted monohulls. Their disadvantages for offshore cruising are that they are more weight-sensitive to overloading; they may be uncomfortable going upwind into a head sea and under extremely rare instances they can capsize. As few marinas worldwide were designed for the width of multis, moorage in some places may be difficult to find. Having said this, multi-hulls are ever increasing in popularity and make the most sense for warm-water cruising areas.

Underbody Design

In the past, cruisers assumed a full-keel design with attached rudder was optimum for ocean voyaging. I have cruised on four different modern full-keel boats, plus on a boat with a longish keel and separate full-skeg and rudder. Our present boat has a partial skeg and for me the trade off of less protection is worth the ease of steering and added maneuverability.

Types of Underbodies

boats to consider for offshore cruising
Valiant 42

1. Skeg Protected Rudder, detached from the keel is well suited for long distance cruising. The skeg protects the rudder to some degree, and may increase directional stability. Examples of this type of design: Valiants, Pacific Seacraft 34, 37, 40, 44. There are many suitable, well-built boats of this design type and they are a popular choice for long distance ocean cruising.


2. Partial-Skeg Rudders can be semi-balanced which is like having power steering. This type of rudder generally has three bearings, making it sturdier than a free-standing rudder which often has only two bearings. Examples

Hallberg-Rassy 43

include Morris 44, 46 and the Frers designed Hallberg-Rassys providing some protection from logs and debris and a third rudder bearing and more strength than a spade rudder. Having the skeg extend only partway down the rudder means that the rudder is semi-balanced. This greatly reduces the amount of effort required to steer the boat. It is almost like power steering and means that not only hand steering, but also steering under autopilot or windvane is much easier and that there is much less loading on the steering system. The downside is that the top of the rudder balance area is prone to catching lines and weed.

boats to consider for offshore cruising

 3. Modern Cutaway Full Keel, with attached rudder and moderate displacement is another good choice for cruising in isolated areas where groundings or scrapes are common and the nearest shipyard may be thousands of miles away. The cutaway forefoot is a faster, more maneuverable design that will have fewer tendencies to trip or broach when running under storm conditions than a traditional Tahiti ketch type of full keel boat. Having the rudder mounted slightly above and protected by the full length of the keel and the propeller enclosed in an aperture offer the best protection against damage from collision with submerged or floating objects. Careening or hauling out in primitive boatyards is easy with this type of design. Examples include: Island Packet, Mason, Cape Dory, Freya 39, Nicholson 31, Endurance 35.

boats to consider for offshore cruising
Sabre 38

4. Fin Keel/Spade Rudder is the fastest and most maneuverable design for racing and is the easiest and least expensive underbody to build. Some designs featuring a deep, high aspect keel may exhibit a lack of steering directional stability when ocean swells are present. The unprotected spade rudder is vulnerable to being damaged by groundings or hard impact with objects. There are several very  successful cruising designs that have a longer, substantially supported keel (not a thin, high-aspect keel) and strong rudderstocks. Some examples of this type of design appropriate for offshore voyaging are Sabre, Sundeer, Deerfoots, Niagara 31, 35, 42 and Cal 40. If your cruise plans involve high latitude sailing or gunkholing in remote areas, you will need to be more cautious with this type of design.  

boats to consider for offshore cruising
Westsail 32

5. Heavy Displacement Full-Keeled Double-Enders based on Tahiti ketch or Norwegian lifeboat lines used to be a nearly automatic choice for long distance voyaging. However, yacht design has made some great advances in the past 40 years, and you may choose to take advantage of these improvements which make for faster, more comfortable passages, and smaller, more easily handled sail plans without resorting to bowsprits and boomkins.

Having said that, there are plenty of folks happily cruising on their Westsail 32s and Hans Christians content that they have the best design for their cruising lifestyle. Remember that there is not one design or style of cruising that suits everyone.

Hull Construction Material

1. Fiberglass is the least maintenance-intensive material for cruising boats, but construction quality varies greatly from one builder to the next. The majority of fiberglass boats were never designed or built for extended ocean sailing and may eventually start falling apart if pressed into this type of service. The other extreme are designs that are so heavily built and overweight and do not have the sailing performance that makes for fast and comfortable passages.

Pearson Vanguards, Tritons and Alberg 35’s are examples of very well built, reasonably priced earliest production fiberglass boats. After 40 years these earliest production fiberglass boats are still going strong.

Hull thickness doesn’t necessarily translate into strength. A thick hull with a high resin to glass ratio may actually be more brittle than a thinner hull where the resin has been carefully squeegeed out.

Some builders have a history of serious osmotic blister problems. In some cases blistering may be serious enough to require removal and replacement of part of the hull laminate, which can be very expensive. A knowledgeable surveyor will be an excellent resource and may recommend looking for a different boat if the blisters are deep and extensive.

If the hull is balsa-cored and the core material becomes saturated because of improperly installed thru-hulls, or if the boat has “gone on the beach” you may want to look at a different boat because of the cost of repairs and potential for future problems.

Foam-coring provides excellent insulation above the waterline but there can be problems with water absorption if coring is used below the waterline.

Read Surveying Fiberglass Sailboats by Henry C. Mustin, International Marine, 1994 for a clear and concise view of hull and deck design, structure, and condition

2. Steel is an excellent boatbuilding material, and is frequently the choice of sailors who have done extensive offshore cruising. The impact resistance and total watertightness of the hull, deck and fittings is an advantage over other materials. With sandblasting and the new epoxy coatings, steel takes less time to maintain than it used to, although it still requires more time and cost to maintain than a fiberglass boat. Many of the steel boats on the North American market are owner-built hard-chine designs. Although strong and stiff, they are not particularly fast or attractive to many people’s tastes. A poorly-built steel boat will have places on the inside of the hull that will trap water and rust through from the inside out. Access to every part of the interior of the hull makes checking for corrosion and painting much easier.

Some attractive, modern steel cruising boats are the Waterline Yachts built in Sidney, BC (an excellent yard), Kanter Yachts, Brewer-designed Goderich 35, 37 and 41 built in Ontario; and the Amazon 37 and 44 which were built in Vancouver, BC.

3. Aluminum boats are generally lighter and faster than steel boats, have less impact resistance and may be slightly more difficult to have repaired in remote shipyards. Painted aluminum boats often tend to develop paint blisters after four to five years of serious cruising, requiring an expensive repainting job if you want a perfectly fair and shiny hull. There are hundreds of unpainted French aluminum boats cruising the world, and although you may not find their concrete-colored oxidized aluminum hulls attractive, they are strong and practical. Aluminum suffers from electrolysis more severely than steel; if you’re cruising on an aluminum boat you’ll need to be very careful when moored in electrically “hot” marinas. Quality aluminum builders include Ovni and Garcia in France and Kanter in Ontario.

4. Wood boats often offer a lower purchase price, although the cost and time involved in keeping them in good shape is more than with other materials. If you have a limited budget, and don’t mind the additional work, a well-built wooden boat could be a reasonable choice. It may be difficult to find long-distance offshore insurance for traditionally built wooden cruising boats.

Perhaps because there are so many potential sources of problems on wooden boats in the tropics we see fewer of them long distance cruising each year. There is the special warmth and appeal of wood that some people find irresistible, whether or not it takes more care and maintenance.

Modern wood epoxy saturation (WEST System) technique produces boats that are lighter, stronger and often faster than traditionally built boats and have a better chance of being insurable for ocean cruising. The best areas to find modern cold-molded boats are in the Northwest, New England and New Zealand.

5. Ferrocement is the only material that has no advantages other than inexpensive construction materials. It is the most labor-intensive material to build with, is difficult to finance, insure or repair, and has the lowest impact resistance of any material. Having said this, I have met two cement cruising boats that have completed two and three circumnavigations respectively.


Most cruising boats run aground at one time or another, and sometimes at speed. Some keel designs are better suited to withstanding a hard grounding without damage.

A longer keel with external lead ballast attached to a substantial stub that is an integral part of the hull absorbs groundings well. When external ballast is used, keel bolts attaching the keel to the hull must be accessible, and keel loading must be spread out through the floor system.

Another option is internal lead ballast that is lowered into the keel cavity and then heavily fiberglassed over. Internal lead ballast eliminates some potential problems with keel attachment, but check closely during survey for any voids or water penetration in the keel area between the ballast and fiberglass. Read Surveying Fiberglass Sailboats for more details.

Cast iron or mixtures of iron and cement are less desirable ballast materials, resulting in a boat that heels more quickly and has less room for tankage in the keel.

Centerboards and lifting keels are an option if your plans include more coastal cruising than ocean voyaging, but the increased complexity and lowered stability are drawbacks.

High aspect deep and short fin keels (in a fore and aft measurement) are best suited for racing boats. Running hard agro can result in damage to the area where the trailing edge of the keel meets the hull and can cause leaks around the keel bolts.

  • Wing keels have a shape similar to a Bruce anchor and can be very difficult to refloat when run aground. The loading on the keel when attempting to kedge or be towed off is enormous because of the extra surface area of the wing.

Deck Construction

The deck surface must provide adequate non-skid without being overly abrasive on bare knees. If you plan on living aboard or cruising in non-tropical areas, insulated decks will reduce condensation and moisture.

Teak decks look greatat the boat show, but on older boats improperly laid decks will present additional leak potential and maintenance.

If teak decking was laid over plywood there can be serious problems once the boat is over approximately 8-12 years old. If the plywood core material is not marine grade or if insufficient bedding compound used, you may end up with the core material becoming saturated and many small deck leaks where the screws are.

Many of the less-expensive Taiwan builders of the ‘70’s and ‘80’s used random bits of plywood as deck coring material, with filler between the wood scraps. When water penetrates this core material, repairs are often expensive and very time consuming. Check with any marine surveyor to verify this and avoid these boats.

I would recommend having a surveyor look very carefully at any boat older than eight years with balsa-cored decks. Unless the core has been eliminated in favor of a solid laminate where stanchion bases, genoa tracks, cleats and other deck fittings are placed, water will penetrate the balsa sooner or later, and repairs may be extensive and expensive.

If the boat has foam-cored decks, the marine surveyor will check all horizontal surfaces carefully for voids or delaminating by tapping with a small hammer.


The majority of long distance cruisers are choosing sloop or cutter rigs. Dependable furling headsails and mainsails have meant that cruising couples are able to easily handle cutter or sloop-rigged boats in the 40′ to 50′ range. Many cruisers are adding a removable inner forestay on a sloop on which they can set a storm staysail once they have furled or dropped their working headsail.

I don’t have any hard and fast rules that apply to my choice of rig. I used to think that I would not like a ketch rig, but after seven years and 70,000 miles on my previous boat that was ketch-rigged, I changed my mind. I appreciated the flexibility of the rig and the ability to drop half the total sail area (the mainsail) in less than a minute without having to resort to a furling mainsail. Amel of France is one of the few yards presently building ketches.

Hull to Deck Joint

There are several methods of attaching the hull and deck of fiberglass boats.

The most common method utilizes bolts or screws protruding through on the inside of the hull to the deck joint. This a mechanical clamp joint is relying on the bond of a sealant adhesive (3M 5200 is often used) to stop leaks. After eight to 12 years and several thousand miles of ocean sailing the sealant/adhesive loses some of its elasticity. Due to the working of the boat and the different climatic conditions the toerail and hull expand, contract and flex at different rates eventually weakening the bond, allowing water to follow the bolt or screw threads down, and drip on the inside of your lockers.

Two Methods of Solving Caprail Leaks

Remove the teak cap rail or aluminum extruded toerail and clean and re-bed each bolt.

Radius the inside of the joint with epoxy and microballoons and then lay several layers of fiberglass tape over the inside of the joint, totally sealing it and strengthening the area at the same time.

A more trouble-free hull to deck joint utilizes substantial fiberglass bonding on the interior of the joint, eliminating mechanical fasteners and leaks.

Bulkhead Attachment

Bulkheads must be securely attached to the hull. On a fiberglass boat they need to be substantially glassed to the hull on both sides and to the deck with multiple layers of tape. High production builders skimp on this, gluing bulkheads in instead, but once their boats have made several ocean passages, bulkheads and interior wooden cabinetry frequently come unbonded from the hull, allowing the hull to flex more than it should. The repair is complicated, messy and expensive, involving grinding and fiberglassing in some difficult to reach areas.

Internal stiffening systems (grid floor systems, and/or full-length and transverse glass over foam (not wooden) stringers) contribute greatly to the stiffness and rigidity of a boat. If the interior woodwork is just glued or lightly attached to a hull liner pan or to the hull, it’s not uncommon to discover it breaking loose after a few thousand miles of ocean sailing. Access to hull and deck areas is generally restricted when fiberglass liners and pans are used in construction, making equipment installation and leak stopping difficult. From a manufacturing standpoint, hull liners are substantially less expensive than “stick-built” interiors, but you won’t find them on top-end ocean cruising designs. This is one of the reasons for the large price difference between high-volume mass-produced French and German yards and higher quality, lower production builders.

Chainplate Load Transmission

The loading from chain plates must be evenly transmitted to bulkheads and structural members below deck to avoid lifting or distorting the deck. Separate chainplates for forward, upper and aft shrouds provides more stability for the mast and reduces the chance of deck loading distortion.

Swept-back spreaders mean a less expensive installation for the builder and a tighter sheeting angle for the headsail, but this presents a huge disadvantage when easing the main out for downwind sailing.

Swept-back spreaders are not really appropriate on an ocean cruising boat.

External chainplates (fastened to the outside of the hull) look salty but have a much higher leak potential and restrict jib sheeting angles. Chainplates must be easily removable as crevice corrosion, particularly in warm climates can be a serious problem.

Mast Support System

Deck stepped masts work well, but only if proper structural members transmit the load to the keel. Otherwise deflection and possibly delaminating under the mast occur. With keel stepped masts, inspect for corrosion at the base of the mast. Check the mast for trueness.

Steering System and Position

Some sailors prefer tillers on boats under 35′ as there is less to go wrong and installing most windvane steering systems is less complicated than with wheel steering.

If the boat you’re considering has wheel steering, hopefully the system was built by a reputable company like Edson or Lewmar/Whitlock where you’re assured of quality components and that you’ll always be able to spare parts if needed. Many Taiwanese-built steering systems suffer from poor initial design, inferior bronze castings and rudders that aren’t able to hold up to the stresses of ocean sailing. This is less of a problem on higher quality Taiwan boats like Norseman, Taswell, Mason and Little Harbor.

The location of the steering position is also important. If the wheel is mounted at the far aft end of the cockpit, it may be very hard to design a dodger that will provide protection to the helmsperson without resorting to a long, potentially unseaworthy design.

Aft vs. Center Cockpit

Nigel Calder makes a clear argument as to why he prefers aft cockpit design. I can make a reasonable argument for either design, but personally prefer a center cockpit in boats over 40′-42′ as long as the cockpit isn’t unduly high off the water. Some designers try to maximize engine room and interior volume, resulting in this problem. Some of the advantages I see to a center cockpit include more privacy, better engine access and less danger of the cockpit being filled from following breaking seas.


The ideal stern for a cruising boat includes a built-in swim step on a slightly reversed transom stern. This not only makes getting in and out of the water and dinghy easy, but allows easy access when moored stern-to a dock or wall, a common situation in less developed cruising areas. Double enders may look salty, but the loss of valuable, hard-to-replace lazarette storage area and buoyancy aft must be taken into consideration. Most double enders have a tendency to “squat” in the stern and hobbyhorse sailing to windward when loaded with cruising gear.


Being able to maintain at least six knots under power will get you in most passes and channels at the time of least current. A rule of thumb is two horsepower per thousand pounds of displacement for a sufficiently powered cruising sailboat. Purists may say that this is excessive, but in my experience it has been an advantage to have sufficient power to deal with currents and the ability to motorsail to windward for short distances into steep chop when necessary.

Points to Consider in an Engine:

How good is everyday access? Can the water pump be removed without dismantling the engine?
Can the engine be removed if necessary for rebuilding without having to destroy the cockpit or companionway?

Is there an engine hour meter and logbook showing maintenance history?

What is the fuel consumption and range under power? 600-800 miles minimum under power for long distance cruising where fuel may not be available for months at a time is only a minimum, from my experience.

Ideally the boat you are considering will have a common make of engine that will be easy to find parts and service for in less-developed cruising areas.

Examples of engines which may be difficult to obtain parts for are BMW, Isuzu, Mercedes, Pisces, Pathfinder, Bukh and to a lesser extent, Yanmar.

Best manufactures for worldwide parts availability are Volvo, Perkins, Caterpillar, and Cummins.
When I bought my Hallberg-Rassy 31, I thought the 25 hp diesel engine was excessive for a displacement of only 9,500 lbs, but the top speed of 7.2 knots, cruising speed of 6.5 knots and maximum range under power at 5 knots of 1,200 to 1,500 miles proved useful.

My 42′ ketch displaced 25,000 pounds and was powered with a 62 hp engine which proved very adequate in areas like Patagonia, Antarctica and Alaska where conditions dictated powering for weeks at a time, encountering strong currents and tidal rips and fierce catabatic winds daily.

My present 48′, 38,000 lb boat has a 95 hp. motor which provides an 8.3 knot top speed, and a 1,500 mile range at more economical 6 knots. I have supplemented standard fuel tankage with jerry jugs stowed in cockpit lockers with each of these boats.

Key Points to Remember

Make sure you really enjoy and know how to sail. Complete an offshore passage. Realistically assess your needs in terms of size of boat and amount of equipment. If you’re outfitting and cruising on a budget, remember the KISS formula. More complicated systems mean more money and maintenance, repairs and spare parts to track down. Think moderate in terms of displacement and sail area. You’ll want to hire a surveyor who has no vested interest in the transaction, other than making sure that the boat you’re considering is safe and a good investment for you. Marine Insurance companies and banks are often able to recommend surveyors whose opinions they trust.

Sail on as many different designs as possible and take notes on the features you like and dislike, noting pluses and minuses of each. Joining a sailing club or chartering different can be helpful. If you are quite convinced that you want a specific boat, a one-week charter on a sistership will be a sound investment.

Don’t overspend on initial purchase price; save at least 40% to 50% of your total budget for outfitting, provisioning and cruising funds. DO NOT FORGET THIS!!!

Suggested Reading

The Best Used Boat Notebook, by John Kretschmer, Sheridan House, 2007.
The Voyager’s Handbook, 2nd edition, Beth Leonard, International Marine 2006.
Twenty Affordable Sailboats To Take You Anywhere, Nestor, Paradise Cay, 2007.

(cross out C&C Landfill, Cheoy Lee, Endeavour, Islander, S2, shouldn’t be on the list!)

Inspecting the Aging Sailboat, Casey, International Marine, 2004.
Practical Sailor’s Practical Boat Buying, Volumes 1 & 2 from Belvoir Publications, P.O. Box 2626, boats to consider for offshore cruisingGreenwich, CT 06836-2626 for $39.95 each or $59.95 for both. Also available from Armchair Sailor.
Practical Sailor December 1993 issue has an excellent list of cruising boat prices between $5,000 and $200,000 which is still surprisingly accurate.
Surveying Fiberglass Sailboats – Henry C. Mustin, International Marine, 1994.
Desirable and Undesirable Characteristics of Offshore Yachts – John Rousmaniere.

Since 1976 I have professionally consulted for hundreds of people seeking cruising boats. My experience in the marine industry is unique; 332,000 miles and 38 years worldwide ocean sailing experience plus boatbuilding, surveying and previously owning a yacht brokerage. As my time available for consultation is limited, it is only appropriate that I charge for this service.

boat consulting servicesFor $750 your unlimited email consultation includes:

  • An analysis of the boats you are currently considering; discussing design, construction quality, seaworthiness, safety, speed and comfort.
  • Answers to your questions regarding suitability of various designs
  • Analysis of your total overall cost of ownership: purchase, refit, outfitting, maintenance and resale value
  • Suggestion of additional boats for you to review based on your cruising plans
  • Evaluation and forwarding of listing and selling prices of sisterships utilizing information from
  • Referral to a qualified and unbiased marine surveyor
  • Review of the survey with recommendation on post-survey price negotiations
  • Evaluation of current gear and additional equipment needed for offshore passage making
  • Advice and referrals regarding documentation/registration, offshore flagging and tax implications
  • Recommendations and referrals for offshore insurance including crew of two
  • Assistance selling you boat years later, potentially in a higher market than where you are considering purchasing

Unlimited Outfitting and Voyage Planning Consultation: $300
If you’ve already purchased your cruising vessel, but need advice and recommendations on gear replacement and additions plus overall voyage planning consider this service.

The consultation is best conducted by e-mail.

If you would like to proceed, email me ( or contact our Friday Harbor office with your credit card information, tel: 360-378-6131 or fax 360-378-6331 and fill out and return the following Boat Consultation Questionnaire. It is quicker if you can email me a Word.doc version of the questionnaire.

Another option is to join us for an Offshore Cruising Seminar. This seminar will give us plenty of time to learn what your cruising plans are and suggest some specific boats for you to look at.

Please remember I am a professional. I don’t sell boats or receive commissions of any type from anyone. My only interest is in helping you find the boat which will allow you to realize your cruising dreams safely and comfortably, while maintaining as much of your investment as possible.

John Neal

Christoph Rassy started building production sailboats on Sweden’s West Coast in 1966 with the Rasmus 35, a center-cockpit, aft cabin cruising boat designed by Olle Enderlein. Dozens of these boats are still out cruising the world, and the designs that followed have consistently been comfortable, attractive and reasonably fast; very reliable cruising boats without any concession to racing design or passing tends. Large tankage and engines and fixed windshields with optional hardtops are common features and consistently high construction quality has resulted in steadily increasing value of these boats over the years.

In 1988 Germán Frers was hired to design a new series of yachts. The Frers designs brought improved performance with longer waterlines and other features such as external lead ballast, semi-balanced rudders and a sloop rigs. Having sailed 114,000 miles on Rassy-Enderlein designed HR 31 and 42, I was eager to test the sailing performance the new Frers-designed 39, 42, 46 and 53, and the difference in both light and heavy air performance was surprising. The larger water plane area aft means these boats can sail to windward in strong winds and seas with very little pitching motion.

Before selecting a Hallberg-Rassy 46 to replace the older-style Rassy-Enderlein designed HR 42 which we sailed 70,000 miles over seven years of sail-training, Amanda and I traveled around the world inspecting boat yards and speaking with designers.

On a visit to the Hallberg-Rassy yard in Ellös, Sweden we met Christoph Rassy the owner of Hallberg-Rassy. He is an avid sailor commissioning a personal boat every few years to cross the Atlantic, trading off with his employees for time aboard. Many of the 260 employees have been with the yard for over 30 years, and boatbuilding is a family tradition carried out on the island of Orust for over 10,000 years, according to archaeologists. The entire yard closes for four weeks each summer allowing employees to go cruising on their own boats.

We gave very little consideration to a custom design, having watched dozens of our ex-students go through the time and cost overruns and seemingly unending teething problems of custom boats. Purchasing a used boat and going through a major refit was something I had done three times previously. After careful evaluation, we took the major step (for us) of ordering a new HR 46, exactly the way we wanted it.

I was particularly pleased to be purchasing hull #92 of the design, and to know that the yard had completed 8,000 boats to date. Between the time we ordered the boat and it was built, the yard incorporated several standard upgrades which they did not charge extra for.

There are many construction details that I’ve found to be excellent, and in some cases unique to Hallberg-Rassy. This list highlights some of the most noteworthy features:
Optional rigid dodgers with opening center windows on the 42 to 62. Once you’ve made a rough ocean passage with a rigid dodger, you’ll never want to go back to a canvas dodger that can be easily carried away. Permanent sun protection is also a consideration in these days of ozone depletion and high rates of skin cancer.

  • An excellent anchoring system with a watertight bulkhead and deck anchor locker for 250′ of 3/8″ chain and three fenders which drains overboard, not into the bilge. Two bow rollers are standard, and the boat handles the weight of a 75 lb. CQR and 44 lb. Delta permanently stored on the bow. The powerful 1300 watt, 24 volt Lofrans vertical windlass has worked flawlessly, even in 90′ depths.
    Oversize thru-bolted mooring cleats including midship spring-line cleats mounted on top of the solid teak toerail in such away that chafe is minimalized.
    Hull-to-deck joint that does not rely on bolts, screws, rivets or adhesive for strength or watertightness. The joint is heavily glassed on the inside the entire way around the boat and solid stainless steel rods for mounting stanchions are recessed into the bulwark thus eliminating potential leaks so common when stanchion bases are thru-bolted.
  • A strong hull utilizing isophtalic resin and Divinycell closed-cell PVC insulation above the waterline. I believe this an excellent construction technique for a cruising boat, providing a hull with excellent torisional stability and no chance of water absorption. I really like the fact that the yard takes the time to grind the inside of the hull and bilge smooth, and paint it with a gray topcoat. This means no sliced or scraped fingers from errant fiberglass strands when installing equipment or cleaning. All interior lockers are lined with satin-varnished mahogany battens. This eliminates moisture and condensation problems, even when we are sailing in Antarctic or Arctic waters.
  • Very careful osmotic blister protection. I have spent much of the past 22 years in tropical waters aboard my HR boats without blister problems. This may be due in part to the fact that the hulls are built under strictly controlled temperature and humidity conditions.
  • A deck that will not leak! The deck also utilizes Divinycell coring which does not have the water absorption problems I’ve seen on many boats with balsa-cored decks.
    A substantial structural grid fiberglassed to the hull made of hand-laid fibreglass that ties the bulkheads, mast support and engine beds together and divides up the large storage areas below the cabin sole.
    A Seldén deck-stepped mast with solid wood support that transmits loading to the interior grid system. I have come to prefer this deck-stepped mast design as it eliminates leaks where the mast comes through the deck, corrosion at the mast base and deck collar, and the inevitable water in the bilge from rain entering around masthead sheaves. After 156,000 miles on my HR 31, 42 & 46 I have never experienced any deflection or problem with the deck-stepped masts.
    A simple and efficient sloop rig minimizing foredeck clutter. Utilizing a reefable 130% headsail with foam luff we are able to sail to windward in up to 40 knots. Over 40 knots upwind we easily rig the removable inner stay on which we set a bullet-proof hank-on storm staysail. Running backstays provide additional mast stability. In winds over 50-55 knots, we drop the triple-reefed main and hoist a storm trysail. We have only had to hoist the trysail twice while in the Roaring Forties, during our 42,000 miles to date on our 46.
    Substantial stainless tanks with 275 gallons fuel (including an optional 100 gallon tank) and 245 gallons water are mounted above the keel, and below the cabin sole, creating roomy storage space below the main cabin settees. The tanks are installed after the deck is constructed and are easily removed without having to destroy interior joinery work.
  • A powerful yet economical 95 hp engine with excellent access from all sides and plenty of room for additional systems.
    Massive amounts of storage area are available below the cabin sole and on the 46 it runs to nearly 3′ deep at the main bulkhead. We have five large Rubbermaid bins screwed to the grid system and filled with spares and food. A boat with a flatter underbody would surf better downwind but have reduced storage space and prove less comfortable going to windward in heavy weather.
    A semi-balanced rudder suspended on three sets of roller bearings and utilizing Whitlock torque-tube and bevel gear Mamba steering system gives fingertip control, even in heavy seas. I was initially concerned that the design didn’t have a full-length skeg, but after 42,000 miles, the “power-steering” effect of being semi-balanced is addictive, requiring far less rudder input and effort. The rudder post is solid stainless steel, tapered at the bottom and the substantial welded flanges are also tapered stainless steel.
    A substantially deep bilge and sump with external lead ballast with stainless keel bolts.
  • A convenient swim step built into the reverse transom. We find this type of transom unbeatable for active cruising. Not only does this make getting out of the water after snorkeling and swimming easier, it is also makes practicing the Lifesling Overboard Retrieval system easier. Mooring stern-to floating docks or boarding from a dinghy with this type of transom is a breeze!

    Although few changes are allowed to the standard layouts, the yard has several optional layouts for each cabin. We cut and pasted layouts from the brochure until we had the combination we thought would work best for eight people on ocean passages in all conditions. We opted for a four-cabin layout with upper and lower bunks in the cabin directly forward of the main bulkhead, a traditional v-berth forward, standard L-shaped settees in the main cabin instead of easy chairs. In the aft cabin we chose a double to starboard and single berth to port in the aft cabin, instead of a centerline double.

    We chose far fewer options than most 46 owners: no generator, air conditioning furling main, electric winches, hydraulic furling systems or bow thruster.

    In retrospect, the bow thruster is a good idea on a boat of this size and displacement, and we will probably install one when we sail back to New Zealand in 2002.

    Instead of the optional generator, we installed a total of four 8-D gel batteries for the 24 volt system and three Group 27 (one starting, two house) gel batteries for the 12 volt systems.

    A 3500 watt Trace inverter provides 110 volt power.

    We replaced the standard alternator with a Balmar 135 amp, 24 volt unit and retained the stock 50 amp, 12 volt alternator. We chose not to utilize solar panels, and have found that one hour per day of engine running in the tropics is sufficient for battery charging.

    Instead of air conditioning, we had the yard install ten Hella Turbo fans, one for each bunk, plus additional fans in the heads, galley and nav station.

    I had originally planned to install an expensive holding-plate refrigeration-freezer system that would have run $10,000 installed. A friend who had just completed a three-year South Pacific cruise aboard his HR 42 with the factory-installed Frigoboat evaporator system convinced me to try it, saying that with over 3,000 of the units installed, the yard really knew what they were doing. A bonus was that the cost was a fraction of the holding plate system. We have been delighted with how well this very simple system has worked, holding the freezer at 10 degrees F. in 82 degree water with a maximum of one hour of engine running per day.

    I had the factory install Autohelm ST-50 series instrumentation that has worked well. I chose to install the Max prop and insulated backstay upon commissioning in Seattle, thinking it would be less expensive. In retrospect, I now really believe that the factory only charges cost their cost for options and recommend that anyone purchasing an HR have the factory install as much of the optional gear as possible.

    In only 28 days of work from the time our Hallberg-Rassy 46 was unloaded from the freighter in Seattle, Amanda, a friend and I commissioned the boat and were ready for our 10,000 mile shakedown series of sail-training voyages to New Zealand. We installed the mast, hardtop, SSB, VHF, weatherfax, INMARSAT-C, radar, watermaker, additional batteries, inverter and high-output alternator. This was the first huge difference in time spent outfitting between purchasing a used boat and a new boat specifically designed and built for ocean voyaging. The second major difference has been how little time we have spent making repairs over the past 42,000 miles and four years of hard sailing.

    In six months this summer we sailed 11,000 miles in eight legs from Victoria, Canada, through the Panama Canal, to the Caribbean, across to the Azores, Ireland, up the west coast of Ireland and Scotland, across the North Sea to Norway. We ended our cruise on Sweden’s West Coast at the Hallberg-Rassy yard. Many people asked if the boat would be ready for a major refit after so many miles, but our list was short: replace a couple of hatch seals, re-bed the windlass and service the forced air furnace. We had hoped to have a bow thruster installed, but with a two-year backlog of orders on most models, this wasn’t possible.

    The sailing performance has been very good, we are able to comfortably sail 160-180 miles per day, even in very modest winds. Our best 24-hour run to date is 200 miles, close-reaching in 35-45 knot winds from Rangiroa in the Tuamotus to Papeete, Tahiti. More impressively, we have found that this design can sail to windward into 30-40 knot tradewinds at over seven knots without pounding. We have twice experienced winds over 65 knots and seas over 30′ in the edge of the Roaring Forties between Auckland and the Austral Islands and have found that the HR 46 will heave-to in these conditions, although we prefer to run or close-reach.

    In retrospect, I know we made the right decision. The HR 46 has met our requirements and has proven a comfortable home. It has been a delight to spend our time teaching, hiking, snorkeling, and meeting people ashore, instead of making repairs. Having a boat that is fun and fast to sail has meant that we have enjoyed going for daysails, tacking through narrow passes and into anchorages instead of motoring.

    Hallberg-Rassy 46 / HR Construction Details

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