Mid-Life Cruising Sabbatical

Chapter 4

The Perfect Cruising Boat

Oh come on now, you REALLY didn't think I was going to try to name a perfect cruising boat did you? My mama didn't raise no idiots!

What I am going to do is describe what I would do differently, in terms of outfitting and preparation, with the benefit of hindsight. I'll also list what I would consider desirable in a monohull sailboat (I don't know anything about others), and I'll tell you what types of boats we met while out there.

Remember all this applies to the type of cruise we did -- island hopping with a little offshore from Florida to South America. It would apply to any Caribbean cruising but probably not to ocean crossings.

OK, here's what we would have done differently given the same boat:


Remember we had an Avon Rover 3.10 with a Sears 7.5 hp outboard. You will never believe how important a good dingy will be to your enjoyment of your trip. Your boat will be your house but your dingy will be your car. Many times you will have a long dingy ride from your anchorage to town or somewhere else you want to go. Almost everybody carries some form of inflatable. To be "with it" you take the seats out and sit on the tubes. To be really "with it" you stand up and steer with an extension on the control handle (a piece of PVC pipe works fine). There's a reason for this. You take the seats out because it gives you more room. If you sit on the tubes and the water is other than flat calm your rear will get soaked in salt water. Very uncomfortable to spend a night on the town with a wet butt. So you both stand. One holds the painter and leans backward (to keep from falling); the other steers.

Get the biggest dingy you can carry and at least a 10 (preferably) 15 hp outboard. Pay attention to tube diameter (larger diameter means dryer ride). I would get a hard bottom inflatable dingy. I'm not sure about brand. The Avon was OK, but I think you can get a better buy on some of the ones (like Caribe) being made in Venezuela. I would also get davits capable of lifting the dingy with the motor attached. My engine preference would be a 15 hp Yamaha or maybe even one of the 4-stroke Hondas.

Outboards are one thing you can buy cheaper in the Caribbean than in the US. There are two reasons for this: 1. The Japanese stuff comes in duty free, and 2. Some governments subsidize small outboards to help the fisherman. The one brand you see more than any other is Yamaha. You can get parts anywhere. Second is probably Mercury. It's hard to find parts for Johnson, Evinrude, etc.

When we were there Yamahas were a good buy in Nassau. So if you can hold out with what you have until you get there, you'll save money. Yamahas used to be real cheap in Venezuela because of the government subsidy, but this is no more. Venezuelan made dingys are a good deal, costing about half of what you pay in the US. Many people we were with bought a Caribe there and seemed very happy with it.

Get the picture: dingys are real important.


I'd go for all chain rode and maybe the next size up CQR (55 lb. ?). My concerns would be the additional weight in the bow and the problems of raising the anchor manually (after all, sooner or later the windlass is going to die).

Remember our primary anchor was a 45 lb. CQR on 60 feet of chain and 300 feet of line. The distance from our bowsprit to the water was about five feet. Using a 3 to 1 rule for all chain, we could anchor in 15 feet of water and let out no line. Using a 6 to 1 rule for line rodes we could anchor in a maximum depth of about 60 feet.

Here's an interesting note. 3/4 inch nylon line has a greater working load than 3/8 HT chain. The reason is the line stretches.

My real reason in wanting an all chain rode is so I wouldn't have to worry about some idiot cutting my line with his prop. It happened to me once in Biscayne bay and ever since I have gotten nervous when someone motors too close.

Most cruising guides tell you to put out two anchors. We almost never did (like maybe five times in 31 months). One well laid anchor beats two poorly laid ones any day. We used two in changing current situations and storms. Remember that to put out two anchors in opposing directions (current switching situation) one of your anchors needs twice as much rode as you will actually leave out.

And please practice your anchoring before you go. Remember the hardest thing about cruising is not getting the boat to go where you want it to, it's getting it to STAY where you want it to. How many times have you seen someone drive up, drop the anchor with all the rode on top and think they are anchored? Nothing separates cruisers from charterers more than their anchoring. It truly is a thing of beauty to see a couple sail (or motor) into an anchorage, drop the hook, and set it properly.

I guess I should say something about storm anchors and then I'll stop this anchor stuff before I bore everybody to tears. We carried a Fortress FX-37 but never used it. I think its a good choice because it's light weight and easy to store. Tests I've seen indicate it holds well. We cruised with people who used them as their primary anchor and were pleased. A lot of people still carry a big old fisherman.


You simply cannot go sailing in the Caribbean without a bimini. The sun would cook your brains! We never took ours down. In fact, next time I would replace the fabric one we had with a rigid (fiberglass) one. I would enclose the cockpit into sort of a pilothouse. We saw several boats that had done this and they looked great.

I would also get hatch covers that could remain on the hatches even when the hatches were open. Ours required the hatches be closed. It's amazing how much cooler the boat was with the hatch covers.

I mentioned that we had awnings that covered the entire boat but never used them. Ours were a real pain to rig. We had used them when we first got the boat and they did a good job of keeping the boat cool. Next time I would get some that are easy to put up and take down.


If I had a lot of money I would replace the Hyde system we had on the main for a Hood Stow Boom type. I would NOT get an in-mast system because of the danger and cost of jams.


One or both of us would get a ham license and of course a ham radio. I'll explain why I think you need both ham and SSB on a cruise in the article on Navigation, Electronics & Communication.


I would take a diesel mechanics course so I could do more of my own work. I seem to remember community colleges in Florida teaching courses specifically in marine diesels.  I have recently (May 2003) been told that the Yanmar distributor for the northeast US, Mack Boring, teaches hands on classes in several locations.


For batteries I would probably go for all gel cells (now in 2003 I would change this recommendation to AGMs), just for the maintenance if nothing else. We could easily use a gallon of water a week to keep our many batteries watered up. Of course the desalinator produced perfectly adequate water for this.

I would completely redo our charging system. I would remove the automotive alternators on the Perkins and only use the 110 volt AC chargers in marinas. I would install one large or two smaller special high output marine alternators (like Balmar) on the generator. I would choose the generator over the Perkins because our generator burned 1/3 the fuel of Perkins. I would also install one of the smart control systems. This is very important if you have different size batteries as we did. Otherwise, you'll overcharge the little ones or undercharge the big ones.

How you choose to do your refrigeration has a lot to do with your charging requirements. Our big consumers of DC were the refrigerator and the watermaker.

So what about wind generators? Lots of people have them and I would at least consider one. The negatives I see are that they are noisy, don't generate much power unless the wind is blowing 15 kts., and seem to require a lot of maintenance.

How about solar? Even if you covered your boat in solar panels you could probably only generate a fraction of the power a modern cruising boat needs. I think solar has great promise for cruising of the future, but it's not there yet. 

Do some people generate all their power needs from wind and solar? Absolutely! But not with refrigeration, watermaker, TV, VCR, radios, etc.

(Now, in June 2003 I may be ready to say that solar panels are ready for prime time.  We have recently talked to people who are able to generate all their electrical needs on sunny days from their solar panels.  Our new boat (see Chapter 22) will have four 110 watt panels.)

Having said all that, I would probably go for solar panels with the idea that the could support the DC refrigerator alone. That way we could go away for several days without worrying about the refrigerator.


You have two choices in refrigeration: 12 volt DC (like our Adler Barbour), or engine driven holding plates. I think there are 12 volt holding plates, but I don't know about them.

The 12 volt type works like your home refrigerator. You have a compressor unit stuck away in a locker (ours was under the sink), and an evaporator unit in the ice box. A thermostat turns the unit on and off as needed. Some units are water cooled for better heat transfer. You get a tiny freezer (about enough for ice cubes).

A holding plate unit consists of an engine driven compressor (like your car air conditioner) and an evaporator in your ice box. This time the evaporator consists of a coils inside a metal tank that is filled with a eutectic solution. When you run the unit the eutectic solution freezes (very cold, like zero Fahrenheit). The theory here is that twice a day you run the engine which freezes the eutectic solution. This keeps the ice box cold for the next 12 hours in much the same way ice would. At the end of the 12 hours the temperature of the eutectic solution has risen to about 30 degrees and you start all over.

Holding plate units are more expensive and more difficult to install. All I have seen require plumbing into your engine's raw water cooling. We saw one boat with both a refrigerator and a separate freezer. Both with holding plates. The ones in the freezer were just chilled to a colder temperature.

It used to be that all serious cruisers used holding plates. The majority still do. However, the 12 volt units are getting more efficient and are gaining some ground.

I think next time I would still go for the 12 volt type (probably water cooled) and a super insulated ice box. We met a Canadian couple who had built their own boat. They had basically an Adler Barbour (they bought the individual components and assembled it themselves) and a super insulated ice box. They were able to generate all their refrigeration power needs from two solar panels, and they had sailed almost around the world with this system.

As you cruise you are going to want to take trips into the interior of whatever country you are in. While in Venezuela we went up to the Andes. Nice to go from 80s and 90s to snow and 40s and fireplaces. Anyway, how are you going to keep your refrigeration going if you are on the hook? A holding plate unit will require someone to run your engine twice a day while you are gone. When our batteries were new and fully charged they could run our Adler Barbour for 4 or 5 days without recharging.


Fresh water can be an all consuming subject. Read the recent post on rec.boats.cruising about the month long cruise from San Francisco south. You'll learn to conserve even with a watermaker. We figure we used a total of about 8 gallons per day. To some of our fellow cruisers this was extravagant. About half was used for showers. We never showered or washed dishes in salt water. The best we ever did aboard "Down Time" was a trip to the Bahamas before the watermaker. We had four adults and two children and we went 10 days on 120 gallons. That time we did use salt water for bathing and washing dishes.

Almost everywhere you will have to pay for fresh water. Prices range form $ .10 to $ .50 per gallon and you may have to dingy it to your boat in jerry cans. There are many anchorages you will want to stay in for days or weeks where no water is available.

We would never go cruising without a watermaker. I would find a way to fit in the 110 volt AC rather than the 12 volt DC type. Our Power Survivor 80 was rated at 80 gallons/day. That's assuming 24 hour operation or 3.3 gallons/hour. This rating assumes batteries at 13.5 volts and a certain water temperature. Our actual output was more like 2.5 gallons per hour. I think I would have liked a 200 or 400 gal/day AC unit better.

(Now, in June 2003, there are DC units that consume half the power that ours did while producing twice the amount of water.)


I would install a nice big inverter so I could get AC anytime I wanted.

OK, that's the end of what we would have done differently in terms of equipping the boat.

So what does make the perfect cruising boat. Well if you already have one that might be the perfect one. We met very few people who sold a boat they already owned and bought a boat specifically to go cruising. Some did, but most (like us) took what they already had. Of course many people bought their boat with ultimate cruising in mind.

SSCA ran a survey and found that the average couple's cruising boat was 38 - 42 feet in length. We certainly fell right in the middle of that. Anything smaller does not have enough tankage or storage and anything bigger can be hard for two people to handle. I think things like electric winches and anchor windlasses will push up this upper end.

Oh, here's an aside. Before you leave, go to your local quick print place and get some boat cards printed. I have the stack we collected here and I am going to go through them and list all the types of boats we met. That will give you and idea of what other people take cruising:

These are examples of what we saw in the Caribbean. Of course you see much smaller and lighter built boats in the Bahamas.

Shannon 43, Norseman 390, Pearson 36, Marine Trader 40 (trawler), Endeavour 40, Vagabond 47, Bayliner 31 (that's right!), Tayana 37, Slocum 43, Pearson 424, Hans Christian 42, Freya 41, Vagabond 47, CSY 44, Pedrick Offshore 44, Brewer 44, Albin 31 (trawler), Tayana 32, Westsail 42, Baba 30.

We also saw boats by Freedom, Niagara, Mason, Cabo Rico, Pacific Seacraft, Alden, and Hinckley.

We did not see Cal, Catalina, Hunter, O'Day, and Beneteau.

Of course these are only the boats we remember. If you joined SSCA as we recommended, you'll get a much better idea of the boats people cruise in.

There's a huge range of prices here. The Shannon was custom built and probably cost $ 400,000. "Down Time" cost less that $80,000 when purchased and still less than $100,000 as outfitted. Many people had much less invested. We all went the same places and did the same things.

We also saw one-offs built of wood, steel, aluminum and ferro cement. We saw boats as small as 31 feet that had crossed the Atlantic. Notice that the list does not contain boats currently popular in the bareboat charter fleets. Think about that.

Cruisers can be a little cruel about boats whose quality they question. This may result in a play on the manufacturer's name. Guess where the name "Bendy Toy" comes form.

When you are considering size think about the following: For boats 30 feet and over each additional five feet in length increases the interior space by 50%. Thus a 35 has 50% more space than a 30.

So now here is my ideal monohull cruising sailboat.

She'd be 42 - 45 maybe as long as 47 feet with a pilothouse and be cutter rigged. All sails would be furling (preferably power hydraulic). She'd have a Boston Whaler or big rigid inflatable dingy and 25 hp outboard with some method to lift the dingy onto a cradle on the deck. Ground tackle would be a big (75 lb. or more) CQR with all chain rode and a hydraulic windlass.

One thing I didn't mention about "Down Time" was a clever design (or accident) in the deck which allowed us to catch rain water. "Down Time" had a raised cap rail all around the boat. By plugging the port scupper (wooden through hull plug or rubber ball) and opening the water tank fill (right next to the plugged scupper) we could catch most of the water that fell on the port side of the boat. In a tropical down pour this can be a huge amount. Some people rig awnings to do the same thing. But our method was sure convenient. I think I would want this capability in any future boat.

The engine would be at least 100 hp (maybe 130, probably Yanmar turbo). Fuel and water tankage would be at least 150 (maybe even up to 300) gallons each in multiple tanks. Generator, AC watermaker of course. She'd have a "day tank" for the propulsion engine. For those that don't know this is a small (15 - 20 gallon, enough to run a "day") tank mounted on a bulkhead in the engine room. You pump fuel from the main tank to the day tank. You run off the day tank. The advantage is that the day tank is gravity feed so you don't have to worry about lift pump failures or air in injectors. Engine and generator access would be wonderful. I'd love a separate workshop.

Layout below would be much the same as "Down Time". Exceptions would be a Pullman galley with a real freezer and an aft cabin with a queen amidships bed.

Maybe I'd even add a bow thruster! What do you think? Shouldn't cost more than $500,000 or so!

Actually our next boat will probably not be a sailboat at all. We are thinking of buying a trawler and doing the rivers of the US or maybe a canal barge in Europe. Many people who have made a trip like ours opt for a trawler as their next boat. The logic is if you spend so much time motoring to windward, you might as well have a motor boat.

I would like to try some cruising in one of the new big multihulls. They look really interesting. No one we cruised with had one. I think we'll try a charter.

Enough for now.

Jim & Diane

Send comments to: jkbarrentine@earthlink.net

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