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Old 21-09-2018, 01:42   #1
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Gut feeling on boat sizes.

So, the last couple of months I have been closely watching the Golden Globe race. I am watching because a local (to me) sailor is involved, and although I do not know him well, I have spoken to him from time to time, he has been very complimentary of my boat and likewise I have been very enamored of his various vessels, initially an S&S 40 and now a Lello 34.

Meanwhile, I am planning a 7 day journey from Adelaide to Hobart to cheer on the aforementioned sailor, sailing solo in my boat, out into the wilds of southern bit of the Indian Ocean

So as I prepare my boat for the journey, I have been watching the race unfold, and boat after boat has dropped out. In most cases it has been the skipper who has surrendered first (no criticism implied, they are more robust and enduring skippers than I believe I could ever be), but now the boats are starting to feel the strain. A second dismasting, following a string of minor gear failures.

And as I prepare my boat for the journey to Tasmania, I have also been walking past a boat that has a had a weird interaction with my life, first appearing as a discussion thread here on CF, when it was offered for sale in Tasmania (where I am heading) and then subsequently turning up in my actual marina in Adelaide, from where I am departing.

Now this boat I have been walking past is a very tidy Roberts 36. A handsome boat in good condition.

And as I walk past her, I increasingly feel that she is more robust and seaworthy than my significantly larger Swanson 42. And when I say larger, I mean MUCH larger. The Swanson is beamier and taller and massively more heavily rigged.

So WHY do I feel the little Roberts is more seaworthy? Is it watching similar sized boats plying their way around the world in the Golden Globe, or am I picking up something that the legendary Pardey's were trying to convey with their preference, I understand, for a boat around 35 feet?

Curious to what people feel makes a seaworthy boat. Am I picking something up about boats that are TOO big to be as seaworthy? Is there something about a compact and contained boat that makes it more robust. Or am I missing the point completely?

Matt'
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Old 21-09-2018, 02:23   #2
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Re: Gut feeling on boat sizes.

Dunno the answers to your questions but I remember the Hiscocks progressively got larger boats and at some time, they realised their boats were getting too big and reflected that smaller was better. Their first circumnavigation was in Wanderer III which was 30' (Sir Laurent Giles design).
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Old 21-09-2018, 02:35   #3
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Re: Gut feeling on boat sizes.

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Dunno the answers to your questions but I remember the Hiscocks progressively got larger boats and at some time, they realised their boats were getting too big and reflected that smaller was better. Their first circumnavigation was in Wanderer III which was 30' (Sir Laurent Giles design).


Hmmm. Begs the obvious question then... at what size did they turn back? Some reading for me to do.
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Old 21-09-2018, 02:43   #4
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Re: Gut feeling on boat sizes.

If memory serves me correctly their largest boat was a steel one around 45 feet long. Their age came into the decision, I think.
I think bigger is more seaworthy in terms of strength and ability to ride large waves, but a bigger boat will be more fatiguing for a lone sailor in some ways, more comfortable in others.
The vendee globe boats are 60' long and very seaworthy, even though they are out-and-out racers, but they are loaded with labour saving gear.
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Old 21-09-2018, 04:10   #5
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Re: Gut feeling on boat sizes.

I hear you, I small well found and sturdy vessel is very appealing and capable. For a long time now I've been thinking that the trend to bigger and bigger boats is flawed in many ways, and smaller more easily managed vessels have a lot of benefits.

Saying that the Swanson 42 is still in the managable size range in my opinion. And the size and weight has a number of benefits for living aboard and distance cruising.

Ive ended up going bigger than I intended myself. I was really looking for a 36-37 footer but ended up with 40 foot. But weight is another big factor and at 7.5-8 tonnes my new boat is no heavier than the 33 foot snowpetrel 1.
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Old 21-09-2018, 10:32   #6
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Re: Gut feeling on boat sizes.

There's also an element of matching the boat to her crew. I've always admired the minimalist "go small, go now" circumnavigators, but it seems like many of them are compact people.

Our 31 footer seemed built for my 5'2" partner. She could handle all the sails easily and fit into every crevice. I had to ask the "boat gremlin" for help getting gear out of the less accessible holes to save my knees and back. On our 43 footer, the roles are reversed. She needs a stool to get into the fridge and, more seriously, has a hard time reaching and flaking the mainsail. Our new mainsail is going to be much heavier than the current one, so I suspect we'll need to add a boom crutch or something.

While I subscribe to the idea that you shouldn't be reliant on mechanical aides to perform your sail handling, there's a big difference in what's comfortable for a young person and an older/smaller person. Since the size of boat is tied to people's budgets, usually the older folks have the largest boats and many end up needing crew for offshore passages. We'd buy a larger boat tomorrow, if we could afford to maintain it properly. We can't.

Not sure why a larger boat would be less seaworthy than a smaller one, unless it's under-crewed or poorly built/maintained. Maybe part of the problem is sailors buying boats too big for their budget. I've seen plenty of gorgeous, 50+footers with lavish accommodations, but crappy sails, undersized gear and gaps in inventory (like no downwind sails).
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Old 21-09-2018, 10:52   #7
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Re: Gut feeling on boat sizes.

I don't think it's size but rather design. I owned a 36' Cabot that I felt would be better if doing things like the going around the Horn or down into the Roaring 40s. I don't think I'll even consider any of that in my Morgan. The Morgan though I think is a better boat for the tropics as it has more room for toys (like scuba gear) and such. Yes the morgan is slight larger but its more the design focus that I feel makes the difference.
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Old 21-09-2018, 11:02   #8
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Re: Gut feeling on boat sizes.

My approach to cruising has been to go with the smallest boat me and my partner can live with. But an essential factor for us is having a sea worthy craft that is set up for long-term remote cruising for two. Our current boat pushes all the right buttons, And the fact that our Rafiki is 36í 9Ē, which is exactly the same LOA as Slocumís Spray, is a nice factoid.

All things being equal, I think size does matter, and bigger is usually a positive factor. But there are many, many other factors that go into what makes good sea boat. Itís quite easy to have a smaller boat be more sea worthy than a larger one.

It comes down to the design and the build quality. Size is only one factor.
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Old 21-09-2018, 11:29   #9
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Re: Gut feeling on boat sizes.

Economicaly, smaller boats means much cheaper, to own, and operate. On the other hand, larger boats used to be physically more demanding to operate safely. But electric winches, mainsail furlers, electric windlass, electric autopilots has simplyfied the safe operation of a sailboat, in all conditions. Divided rigging like ketch was intended to reduce sail area to a more manageable level. Now, ketch, schooner rigging are rarely seen in modern design, for a good reason: Large sail area handling is not anymore a problem. And, in ultimate conditions, a larger boat will be less prone to capsize.
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Old 21-09-2018, 12:23   #10
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Re: Gut feeling on boat sizes.

A large boat experiences FLEX in the hull as it rides the waves. The hull does actually bend and move, which affects all the rig and structure below.

The larger the boat, the greater the flex.

A smaller boat is much more rigid. The forces smaller. A small boat is like a cork on the ocean. A cork can survive anything. A big boat breaks apart under the strain.

So although a smaller boat may be less comfortable, IMHO it is inherently safer, structurally.
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Old 21-09-2018, 12:36   #11
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Re: Gut feeling on boat sizes.

I've sailed many boats in the 40 to 60-foot range. They are comfortable, stable and generally have a good motion at sea. However, my criteria for a boat would be the largest boat that you can safely and competently sail in gale/storm conditions. That 45-foot/20K pound plus displacement boat in 10-15 knot breezes is surely a dream sail but what about when the wind goes to 30K plus with growing seas . . . can you safely reef the sails? Is the helm comfortable when your autopilot is not holding course? Can you hand trim the sails if your electric winches fail? How easy is it to come about in big seas and wind? Can you douse the sails easily in a worst case scenario? etc., etc. And, with every increase in boat size, the costs rise proportionately for insurance, maintenance, marina/dry dock fees and man-hours needed for simple tasks like bottom painting and hull waxing. My take is to buy the smallest boat you can safely handle in ALL conditions based on experience and physical ability. Only you will really know. Good luck and safe sailing . . . Rognvald
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Old 21-09-2018, 13:24   #12
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Re: Gut feeling on boat sizes.

My own personal opinion is that folks over boat, over RV, over many things. The belief is bigger is better which of course isn't always true. When you are single handing a larger boat out on the "big pond" (Pacific or Atlantic), being alone isn't a big deal, but get into tighter waters with lots of islands, winds, currents, it can become an issue where more people is better rather than longer boats.

For me, if I were to do a major sail, I'd want an ocean going sailboat, built like a tank that can easy the physical stress of heavier waters. My personal favourite I assisted in sailing was a 37 foot CT built in Thailand
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Old 21-09-2018, 14:51   #13
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Re: Gut feeling on boat sizes.

Size the boat to the task at hand, and to the crew. We have a steel 40 footer, but with a roomy pilothouse. My wife can, up to 30 knots, work the boat solo. But she's just over five feet tall. So we got a boat with more "levels" than a typical aft-cockpit model and that gives the impression that it's bigger. But it's as big as she, and therefore we, can work.
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Old 21-09-2018, 15:27   #14
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Re: Gut feeling on boat sizes.

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Originally Posted by hamburking View Post
A smaller boat is much more rigid. The forces smaller. A small boat is like a cork on the ocean. A cork can survive anything. A big boat breaks apart under the strain.

So although a smaller boat may be less comfortable, IMHO it is inherently safer, structurally.
I think you've captured what I am feeling as I walk past that Roberts. In some ways, my Swanson now feels more vulnerable. Suddenly all the the comforts of the davits and the bimini and deckhouse look like vulnerabilities. The big slab sides of the boat feel like points of impact for waves.

And given the events in the Golden Globe Race last night, I think I will just go and hide under the sofa.

Seriously, they've been clobbered and one skipper is in serious jeopardy.

Thoughts are with him, if I was a religious guy I'd be praying for him now.
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Old 21-09-2018, 15:31   #15
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Re: Gut feeling on boat sizes.

This is an interesting topic. Here's my take. We own a 33 footer of about 7 tonnes or so with a little load on board that we know is a capable coastal cruiser that can handle some reasonably rough seas. Sure, it tosses us around a bit when it gets messy, but it has never felt like it is becoming even close to overwhelmed in the rough stuff. In fact, the most surprising thing I've noticed with our boat is how dry it is in the cockpit and on deck which I put down to the combination of centre cockpit design, high freeboard, hull profile and - last but not least - the lighter overall weight allowing the boat to easily ride up the waves rather than dive through them.


Nevertheless, this boat was our weekender and we always intended to upsize as we transitioned to full time cruising liveaboards. Fast forward to a not insignificant brush with cancer were the cure was almost as damaging as the disease, along with the realisation that growing older also means loss of strength and agility; we opted to keep our weekender and convert it into our liveaboard cruiser. Time and expense wise, it would have been far better to take a match and jerry jug of diesel fuel to it and just go buy something else, but that's another story.


Anyway, here's my long winded take. There's plenty of evidence that small boats can be sailed just about anywhere. Robert Manry's crossing of the Atlantic on his 13ft Tinkerbelle is about the minimum limit of what the average recreational sailor not out to intentionally set records has achieved. And then there was even that crazy guy that sailed a jeep across oceans. It's no challenge to Google numerous examples of boats 18ft to 30ft in length that have been sailed long distances. It seems to me that it's the combination of how well founded the vessel is, the crew's confidence in the vessel and their basic competence that matters most. Size is almost irrelevant.



But of course, size does matter. Big and heavy is more comfortable, can carry more people and stuff and can impress your fellow cruisers. On the downside, the bills are bigger, handling becomes more difficult and reliance on crew and/or power assisted systems increases. For smaller boats, you just need to invert the above points.



So I would conclude that if your gut feeling is that a certain boat will do the job you require of it, then just go with your gut. Your head though should ensure that the vessel is seaworthy in the sense that's not going to end up like the "Gilligans island pancake boat" the moment you head out into a 1m chop.
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