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Old 16-12-2012, 21:33   #1
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Largest size sailboat for a small guy

Hello
I currently own a Nicholson 32 for the last 15 years. I would like to go offshore down the Pacific coast in the next couple of years. My question is how large a sailboat could I handle? I am 5'3" and weigh 140 Lbs and am 60 years old. I have also had a neck operation and have less mobility than I would like.
With the forces involved could I reasonably handle a 35-38 foot boat?
My wife wants a larger boat with more interior space but I know this comes at a cost in physical work for the captain. My wife is smaller and weaker than I am and would not be much help if more muscle is needed.
What should I do??
This is becoming a big decision for me.
Hard to find a small boat with a reasonable interior area.

Please any ideas from some smaller guys who have gone offshore in 35-40 foot boats and their experiences?

Thanks so much, this is driving me nuts, as I don't want to buy the wrong boat that is too much for my body to handle.

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Old 16-12-2012, 22:40   #2
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Re: Largest size sailboat for a small guy

In my opinion, for what it is worth (which isn't much), there are 2 issues here:
1. Your abilities
2. How much money you can spend on making handling the boat easier

Only you know the limits of your own abilities, so I won't even comment.

Making boat handling easier:
1. Electric winches... particularly for halyards, the mainsail halyard in particular.
2. Furling headsail (or headsails)... for a cruiser, a cutter rig with a decent sized genoa on the forestay and a smaller jib or staysail on the inner stay
3. Electric anchor winch
4. Bow thruster
5. Good autopilot

Plenty of couples manage to double-hand big boats - as a couple of examples
a) My parents-in-law are live aboard cruisers on a 40 boat, in their 70's. They don't have any electric sheet winches, nor bow thruster
b) Jim & Ann Cate (regular posters here) live abourd their 47 foot boat, both of them are around 70

In the end, though, I guess the make or break is going to be your abilities and skills more than the boat size and set-up.
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Old 16-12-2012, 22:42   #3
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Re: Largest size sailboat for a small guy

I would charter a boat in the size range that you are considering to see how well you can handle it.

A lot of what you can handle depends on where you are sailing. High latitude sailing is frequently more challenging. I always found that sailing in the lower latitudes was easier. Less beating to windward where I sailed.

I have to admit, I like a catamaran because of its motorsailing abilities and stable platform. I am less tired at the end of the day because I use less physical energy just getting around the boat, and I have less bruises on my legs than I did in my Westsail 32 days. And if things are not going right, I can always motor or motor sail.

As you get older, you might want to consider a motorsailer or a catamaran to get the room you want and to have more options under power.
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Old 16-12-2012, 22:44   #4
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Re: Largest size sailboat for a small guy

Look at a Westsail 32. Interior volume is huge for a boat of that length. Lived aboard and cruised one for 4 years. Plenty of room in the interior and great storage. With the way the sail plan is set up, you can sail in almost any conditions from ghosting to gale with just four sails. A big 'bene' if you don't want to install roller furling. They are heavy and sluggish but will make respectable passages with minimal effort. Best thing is there are a number out there at less than $50,000, some way less, that are truly ready to go to sea.

Personally, I'd go with what you have. Things may be a little cramped in the Nicholson but the 32 is one hell of a boat.
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Old 16-12-2012, 22:58   #5
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Re: Largest size sailboat for a small guy

I am 65 and have been single handing a 40' cutter rigged boat for 18 years. I single handed 1200 NM north and south around Western Mexico for several years. I am big and strong but also very familiar with single handing. I have had back surgery, seven knee surgeries, dislocated or broken shoulders, elbows, all my fingers, and legs. I am a physical wreck but I still single hand every where.

My 110 pound wife firmly believes that extraordinary physical effort on a sailboat shows poor planning. When my wife is along she is just there to beautify the boat.

There is nothing about single handing a big boat that requires muscle or unusual strength. Once a boat gets to be as big as your 32 most of the sail and boat handling require the use of tools such as winches and blocks. There is nothing different about a bigger boat - just bigger and stronger tools. Single handing requires planning and forethought - not strength or muscle.

I've sailed from Seattle to San Diego four times - once with just my wife, who as I said does not like to struggle on the boat.

I am pretty sure you and your wife would have no problem handling a 40' boat along the US West coast. I know dozens of people who have done double handed or single handed trips up and down the coast.

One couple from Seattle double handed a 50' boat from Whidbey Island to Mexico on to Hawaii north to Alaska and then back to Whidbey. Both of them were under 5' 6' and less than 130 pounds.

Another couple I know sailed their Norseman 447 from San Diego to Ft Lauderdale (10 years ago). Neither are particularly large people. They just left San Diego for Mexico and an opened ended trip to ???. He is 67 and just a year ago had a cervical fusion and a lumbar fusion. No mobility or strength but they are confident they can handle the boat.

Another set of Tacoma friends double handed their Lord Nelson 41 from Gig Harbor to New Zealand, Japan, Alaska, Seattle over a two year period. Big heavy boat and not very big people.

I can tell you stories about dozens of older couples, most in pretty poor physical shape, who have done very long cruises in 40' - 45' boats. These are all folks I personally knew and sailed with at one time or another.

Single handing requires planning and forethought - not strength or muscle.

PM me if you want to discuss this issue in more detail.

My web site contains dozens of stories about my single handed adventures on our Caliber 40.
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Old 16-12-2012, 23:36   #6
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Re: Largest size sailboat for a small guy

Quote:
Originally Posted by maxingout View Post
I would charter a boat in the size range that you are considering to see how well you can handle it.

A lot of what you can handle depends on where you are sailing. High latitude sailing is frequently more challenging. I always found that sailing in the lower latitudes was easier. Less beating to windward where I sailed.

I have to admit, I like a catamaran because of its motorsailing abilities and stable platform. I am less tired at the end of the day because I use less physical energy just getting around the boat, and I have less bruises on my legs than I did in my Westsail 32 days. And if things are not going right, I can always motor or motor sail.

As you get older, you might want to consider a motorsailer or a catamaran to get the room you want and to have more options under power.
Sensible advice.

Climbing around a heeled-over monohull is probably the biggest exertion you'll have sailing, plus running up and down the companionway 100 times a day. Much less physical exertion on a cat! On the other hand, if you aim to get in better shape and become more mobile. . .

I am a few years younger than you, and don't mind the climbing and running - good exercise which I always need. I can say, however, that I can barely lift my 100' x 1" long shore lines needed to restrain my 25 ton boat in tidal waters. It's not hard at all to tack, reef, or generally sail the boat (multitude of electric winches), but some items of gear do become too heavy to lift as the boat becomes larger. . .
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Old 17-12-2012, 01:19   #7
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Re: Largest size sailboat for a small guy

Your boat is very suited for ocean crossing. However, you will need to plan for your limited mobility, if it gets more restrictive while underway. I am not in a position to make you any recommendations, as I am unfamiliar with your boat's ease of sailing. Good luck!
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Old 17-12-2012, 02:43   #8
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Re: Largest size sailboat for a small guy

A cat would be good from a mobility perspective, but for any boat consider the following as labor savers, btw I am 25 pounds heavier than you and several years older. We manage a 40,000 lb 45 footer without difficulty except for the 17' spinn pole - carbon would be nice, but not at those prices.
Strong reliable anchor windlass
Reliable electric mainsail furling or at least electric halyard winch
Big winches, our primaries are Lewmar 65 and are wonderful. Electric would be fine too.
Good self steering, vane or electric or both with backups

Unfortunately none of this is cheap but look around for a boat that is well equipped. 35' should not be a problem.
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Old 17-12-2012, 03:10   #9
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Re: Largest size sailboat for a small guy

^ ^ ^ ^

I've sailed with this guy and his wife in challenging offshore conditions. They know what they are talking about.

I have a five foot tall, 110 pound wife. She's just under 40 and I'm just past 50 and a foot taller. We also have an 11 year old son and expect to be off cruising in a couple of years, i.e. when he'll be fit to stand daylight watches but not adult-sized or -powered.

I wanted a 45 footer, but the reality is that even most fit and younger "compact" sailor (unless you're Ellen MacArthur, I guess!), like my wife, cannot easily resort to leverage on more than a 40 footer because she can't reach or haul certain things on a bigger boat.

For reasons of simplicity we did not want to install electric winches, and so were led to a smaller, more easily handled boat. My wife can sail solo on our 41 foot cutter about as easily as she can handle our much lighter...but tiller-driven and with fewer mechanical advantages...33 foot '70s racer.

About 30 knots is her limit. Then I get called to haul this and seize that and to lash down the main. After all, I can reach around it, her not so much.

So I do agree there are fairly commonsensical reasons for "right sizing" a boat to the weakest (or least mobile) crew. Couples take shifts and both should be equally able to handle the boat single-handed in most conditions. After 25-30 knots, you might need both of you on deck, but that's not usually the case if you plan your weather routing with an eye to easy sailing (it's not like you are in a hurry.

You might already have the right boat in a Nicholson 32, actually. Upsizing winches, replacing creaky sheaves, going to triple-block mainsheets, installing a bulletproof self-steering setup, installing better clutches and making the reefing simple and low friction are all going to enhance the rapid reduction of sail when you spot the squall line behind you. Bolting in handholds (I'm installing SS bath bars in strategic locations), using "galley belts" and cushioning a few corners can make lurching around the boat safer and less bruise-making, too. Timing is more important here than brute strength; you can tranverse the cabin safely by holding on and letting the movement of the boat swing you where you want to go.

You might consider too that a "smaller" boat isn't as small to you as it might be to loftier sailors. You don't have the complaints about head room, and you can stow more clothing in less space. In terms of boat economy, smaller sailors are cheaper to run.
Lastly, it's never too late to start a course of exercise to gain strength, particularly in back and shoulders and legs, the parts needs to brace and haul. Everything from free weights in the gym to yoga to squeezing soft rubber balls helps to boost strength, although you need endurance more than strength if you've made the changes in line and sail handling appropriate to a boat that is being used for passagemaking.

Hope this helps. Fair winds.
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Old 17-12-2012, 05:00   #10
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Re: Largest size sailboat for a small guy

Greetings and welcome aboard the CF, Banffguy.
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Old 17-12-2012, 05:43   #11
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Re: Largest size sailboat for a small guy

I'm going to echo much of Maxing Out said. A cat will get you more space with the same size sails. I can take my 85-year old parents out on blustery days and they can still walk about. My bad back isn't bothered by heavy gear. Though I'm occationally tempted to move up, I know that this is a boat I will be able to handle alone for many years, and yet is roomy enough for me. my wife, my daugter and a friend to spend weeks in.

Some folks have head room problems in smaller cats, but you have an advantage in small stature. My daughter is 5'2" and has full standing head room in places the designer assumed required ducking. She is also able to handle every task in all weather. Reach is not a problem.

Yup, you're going up in money, but resale values for good cats remain very strong; if you buy used and take good care of her you may see no drop in value, only the cost of upgrades and maintanance.

But the other thing is personal taste. You know, of course, that you are simply going to need to sail on some other boats.
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Old 17-12-2012, 07:44   #12
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Re: Largest size sailboat for a small guy

A larger boat does not necessarily mean you'll need to manhandle larger forces. I'm 55yrs 5'8" 145 pounds and have no problem singlehanding our Oyster 53. You just need to have the boat set up right, plan ahead, slow down the entire process and be aware of your abilities/limitiations. On a 53 foot boat weighing in at a portly 49,000 pounds, there is nothing that can be manhandled including docking procedures, sail trim or anchor hauling. I know some will argue "what if the automated gadgets break?" Well everything that's hydraulic or electrified, including the furling & winches and windlass, all have manual overrides just in case; and since your mind set on a larger vessel is much more slowly paced, using the systems even in the manual mode is very manageable. I've hauled in 60 meters of 1/2 chain and a 75 pound anchor using the windlass in manual mode before... it just takes longer.

I think in many cases bigger is better, since you will be less inclined to pull hard on that jib sheet, instead you'll use your electric winch and/or turn into the wind to lessen the load. Look for your next boat to be equipped with electric winches for the main halyard and the jib sheets to take the strain off your elbows and shoulders. If you decide to go larger and your wife's mobility is limited, also look for a vessel equipped with a bowthruster and with low freeboard; two items which will make docking the boat much easier.
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Old 17-12-2012, 16:24   #13
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Re: Largest size sailboat for a small guy

Quote:
Originally Posted by TacomaSailor View Post
---

My 110 pound wife firmly believes that extraordinary physical effort on a sailboat shows poor planning. ----
Love it. That's one to remember.
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Old 17-12-2012, 16:46   #14
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Some boats are heavy to handle some are not. Being old you can use a bit of technology. A cat was out of my price range. I went with a fractional rig with in mast furling. The ease of reefing keeps the boat on it's lines and sailing is smoother. The fractional jib reduces the amount of work (work=force x time).
Bigger is better but who needs two heads unless one is for the crew.
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Old 17-12-2012, 17:20   #15
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Bigger can be better. Up to a point. One hard limit for actual sailors is that you must be able to wrestle the largest sail out of the boat, bend it on, and then stow it. Mine are right at that limit. Any bigger and I just couldn't move them.

Note: Yes folks, those sails do need to come off the furlers and booms sometimes. Hard to believe but true!
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