Basic Safety Requirements are concerned with the build of the boat. There are some wonderful boats, lightly built, that should probably stick to coastal cruising. Areas of concern include the hull strength of the boat, deck construction and deck-hull joint, strength of keel attachment, amount of ballast that ensures righting moment when capsized, condition and strength of rig and chainplates (deck-stepped masts can work, but keel-stepped is inherently stronger). Assuming your list consists of boats known for their suitability for cruising, Performance Comfort and Human Comfort are the oft-neglected areas to look at next. What is the difference?
Basic performance comfort is when the conditions under which the boat performs well match your ability to feel comfortable.
We once met a father and son who had just made an 18 day passage from Hawaii to San Francisco in a stripped down race boat. The son had made some concessions to comfort – bolted in a water tank, provided some pillows – but the boat’s amenities were spartan to say the least. Then the final day into California blew like hell. The son loved it – his eyes lit up as he talked about flying down the faces of the waves. The father however kissed the ground when they arrived and talked about being thrown about the boat in a most unpleasant fashion. The comfort level of the boat was a better match for the son, but after 3 weeks of this action even the son may have felt it necessary to batten down and take it slower. A heavy cruising boat will have an easier motion in a sea but even among cruising boats there is a tremendous difference in this motion. Ted Brewer calls this parameter “Sea Comfort Level“. The number can be found on the Characteristics of Cruising Boats chart if you’re interested.
I believe that another piece of “basic performance comfort” is maneuverability. Although it is often said that cruisers don’t need to go windward, clawing off a lee shore or trying to get into a safe harbor often require exactly this ability. I’ll call this “Windward Performance“. Windward performance is affected by the rig, boat shape, wind speed, and sailing ability of the helmsman. Get out in a few boats and try to get close to 90 degree tacks and see how different boats perform.
A third category of performance comfort level has to do with ventilation / insulation. Our first boat had insufficient quantities of either so we suffered the corollary – interior precipitation. It is not possible to stay comfortable when wet. We’ll call this “Ventilation“. For good ventialation look for opening ports, wind vents (with dorade boxes). For good insulation in the hull look for reflectix, spray-on foam, and other closed cell (armaflex, ensolite). In cold weather note that propane heating systems, when employed, dump a lot of moisture in the air. Diesel and wood-burning systems are dryer.
The ability to track well – mostly due to underbody shape and sail balance – will also enhance your ability to sail comfortably, maintain heading, and allow the wind vane to take the lion’s share of steering. This is “Tracking“. A full-keel gives the best tracking, but also the slowest turning maneuverability. A fin-keel, used on many racing boats provides inadequate tracking and inadequate strength, but great maneuverability. Many feel that a cut-away keel provides a good balance of maneuverability, strength, and tracking capability. Strength is also affected by the keel attachment with a keel integral to the hull being the strongest.
“Speed” is self explanatory. Although I claim to be among the proponents of Slow Food and Slow Sailing, I still think it is important to have a boat that can sail quickly and efficiently. You don’t have to use the speed all the time – just ask Fatty Goodlander – but it can help avoid bad weather if your planning goes awry. So I think these five characteristics define the most important performance characteristics:
- Sea Comfort
- Windward Performance