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Old 10-01-2015, 20:24   #1
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Shoal draft or not

I want to sail both coasts of Florida, the Keys and across to the Bahamas. I have heard the waters are very shallow. Should I be looking at something like a Morgan 34 with a shoal draft/centreboard that draws only 3'3 or should I go for safety and better pointing with a 5' keel? Am I making too much of the shallow water issue? Should I go with the regular keel and just resign myself to towing a dinghy everywhere?

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Old 11-01-2015, 00:11   #2
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Re: Shoal draft or not

Yes, have a dinghy.

Basically, and this is an IMO thing, if you have deeper draft, you anchor out a small bit further. In the whole scheme of things, it is small.

But if you want to go to windward, every little bit of draft you can commit to that chore will make the corners of your mouth tilt up!


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Old 11-01-2015, 01:46   #3
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Re: Shoal draft or not

A couple of thoughts.
- In shallower waters, when the breeze kicks up (sometimes as low only double digits) the wave period is a lot shorter (and the tops break sooner) than in deeper venues, causing you to have that much more leeway. And in conditions like that, I'd say that you need all the more foil (depth & efficiency) which you can get.

- It's rarely wise to anchor with only a couple of feet under the keel, in case of/when the weather changes. Unless, say, you're up a river or somewhere where waves absolutely will NOT be an issue.
Even growing up sailing on the Great Lakes, with relatively shoal draft boats, we usually dropped the hook where there was a decent bit of water under us.

- If you fit out, & load up a mid-sized 3.5' draft boat for (extended) cruising, it's easy to turn that 3.5' to a lot more like 4'. Especially when friends come to visit (more ballast - luggage, stores, & people), as they're likely to do in such beautiful locales.

- From a math & design standpoint, centerboards stretch the word compromise. Not that I wouldn't have one, I have, plus there are some great designs out there with them. But when looking at designs, compare the racing rating of design X with a fixed keel, vs. it's sister with a centerboard.
It'll give you an idea of how well the designer managed the compromise. There are some which are great... I'm semi-eyeing one right now. It's just that she's covered in snow at the moment.

BTW, in case you're wondering about what I mean regarding centerboards;
- It's uncommon for them to add much to the RM when they're down
- The trunk, & especially it's slot are a BIG drag, or can be especially if the foil fills very little of the opening (up, and or down)
- A lot of centerboards have crap for foil sections, plus their angle of attack (and thus, lift) may be terrible if there's a lot of play in the pin to board fit

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Old 11-01-2015, 01:58   #4
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Re: Shoal draft or not

3'....5'...7'..... ? Regardless of your draft you will have the same outcome. There will be passages that are not open for you; anchorages that you can not enter; inlets that are unavailable. A five foot draft seems to be near the medium draft for cruisers poking about Florida and the Bahamas.
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Old 11-01-2015, 03:29   #5
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Re: Shoal draft or not

Just to play devil's advocate here. . . . For real gunkholing, shallow draft is everything. You'll get into anchorages others can't reach, pass over shoals that others have to go miles around, or find anchoring room in crowded harbors out away from the masses. You can explore miles of shallow water, like in Florida Bay, that's inaccesible to deeper draft boats. And of course you just have to make peace with lousy windward sailing . . .

With all that said, I would add that if you really want to go shallow draft, look at catamarans, not CB monos. Or check out some of the beachable monos like Ovni or Southerly.

Good luck. Whatever you choose, you'll have an amazing time.
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Old 11-01-2015, 08:06   #6
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Re: Shoal draft or not

Originally Posted by Merlin1111 View Post
I want to sail both coasts of Florida, the Keys and across to the Bahamas. I have heard the waters are very shallow. Should I be looking at something like a Morgan 34 with a shoal draft/centreboard that draws only 3'3 or should I go for safety and better pointing with a 5' keel? Am I making too much of the shallow water issue? Should I go with the regular keel and just resign myself to towing a dinghy everywhere?
You may consider a lifting keel (true keel with ballast, not a centreboard.
It will have the benefits of going well to windward, but added complexity of use and less space in the saloon.
Mark, S/Y Bat-Yam
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Old 11-01-2015, 08:20   #7
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Shoal draft or not

Good post Merlin, am watching this thread as well. Simple answers desired to the question of what's recommended maximum draft for accessing 70% of...
(1) the Bahamas
(2) Biscayne Bay
(3) Florida Keys
(4) SW FL coastal

First the facts from which we can base a good decision about available keel/rudder designs. Thanks in advance for sharing your voice of experience.
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Old 11-01-2015, 08:32   #8
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Re: Shoal draft or not

I just returned from a trip through the Great Lakes, down the Intercoastal and then through the Exumas, Elutheras and Abacos with a shoal draft boat drawing 5.5 feet and had no problems with that draft. I have also done it in a boat with the draft of 6 feet 4 inches and though that doesn't seem like much of a difference, when cruising the shallow waters of the Bahamas the 10 inches does change your feelings entering some locations.
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Old 11-01-2015, 08:53   #9
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Re: Shoal draft or not

No doubt for the sailing your planning on doing I would go for the shallow draft. You'd be amazed at the cruising grounds the shallow draft will open up, like the bay side of the Keys.
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Old 11-01-2015, 08:56   #10
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Re: Shoal draft or not

To the OP, given your stated intentions I think you'd be well served buying a shoal draft boat. If, however, you have dreams or plans of venturing farther afield of those areas, you should consider the benefits of a deeper draft boat.

There are hundreds, if not thousands of square miles of water in the Keys and Bahamas that are simply inaccessible if you have a deeper draft boat. Yes in some areas you can anchor farther out and simply dinghy in, but beyond that raising a few safety issues in and of itself, there are still areas that are either inaccessible or impassable if your draft is too deep. For example, I don't think (I'm not positive) you can visit Harbor Island in the Bahamas at all if you have a 6' draft, short of anchoring off the west side of Eleuthera and taking a taxi to the landing and hiring a boat to take you across.

Ann's and Uncivilized's comments are spot on, but if you're only occasionally making passages and mostly island and cover/bay hopping, a shoal draft is going to be more of a benefit than a liability in the total balance of your activities. Only you can decide what makes sense for your specific purpose.
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Old 11-01-2015, 08:58   #11
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Re: Shoal draft or not

I sailed most of my miles in shallow water. I had a Morgan OutIsland 30 with a full keel and 3.5Ft. draft. I could go places other boats only dreamed about. Even with that small a draft, I ran aground all over the Bahamas. Same thing in Belize. I did watch the tide tables. so I never got stuck for long and never on any rocks. I was also never forced to sail to weather. If I could not possibly go to weather I turned on the Iron Jenny. I was always glad I didn't have one of those big long brakes sticking down so deep in the water. A full Keel with all the weight in it will give you almost as much surface area as a fin keel. Mac
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Old 11-01-2015, 09:48   #12
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Re: Shoal draft or not

I ran week long charters in the Exumas with a 5.5' draft sailboat for 5 winters. I am very adventuresome and wanted to take my guests to 'special" snorkeling sites and anchorages. I " blazed some trails " and bored some of my own channels through sand bars in order to give my guests what they wanted. Another thought about the Bahamas is that a lot of anchorages have a large 'surge' around the tips of the Cays and with 6' draft it is hard to sleep because of the rocking. After giving up chartering I was the private Captain of a 57' Lagoon which drew only 4'. It was awesome with all
of these spots and even more being easily reached. I an currently restoring a 1973 Irwin 32 with a centerboard and 3' draft, and I am looking forward to doing a lot of cruising in the Bahamas. As for the weather, you need to pick your day for crossing the Gulfstream and when you are there you can tuck into far more and better protected anchorages with your shallow draft.
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Old 11-01-2015, 10:31   #13
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Re: Shoal draft or not

I think that the equation of "what kind of sailor are you" plays in here, too. If getting in everywhere and exploring is your thing, then less draft is best. For some, getting in "close enough" may be worth the extra upwind degrees you add getting there.

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Old 11-01-2015, 14:01   #14
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Re: Shoal draft or not

We were able to get through Dry Straits between Wrangell and Petersburg in AK only because we had a shallow draft boat. In many, many anchorages in BC and AK we were able to get almost to shore without issue while other boats had to put out 250 feet of chain just to get a 3:1 scope. We are a flat bottomed beachable boat so resting on a soft bottom is not an issue when the tide goes out. If it is daylight it gives us a good chance to check for barnacles on the prop and rudder. We had a 7'8" draft before on a Jeanneau and hated it.
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Old 11-01-2015, 14:32   #15
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Re: Shoal draft or not

We just returned today from 11 days from Miami to Key West and back. We did fine with our (shoal) five foot draft but we had to be very aware of our route. And when a massive cold front kicked up the winds to thirty knots we were very limited to the number of marinas that had enough depth to accommodate us. We really preferred not to be on the hook with that much wind if we didn't have to. Since the winds were ENE the outside (Hawk's Channel) route offers few protected anchorages. We were pretty much forced to stay inside on the Intracoastal. Tides were low because of both the moon and the nor'easter. More nail biting over the five foot draft. We saw moments with literally six inches under us. We made it, never touched bottom and had a great trip. But I sure am glad we don't draw six.

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