I think a major source of confusion surrounding the suitability of today's mass-produced sailboats for extended cruising
is this CE rating applied to boats sold in Europe
. E.g. Jim gets a manual along with his Oceanis
that states the boat is suited for use not just in tough ocean conditions, but for unlimited ocean conditions - >4M waves and >F8 winds, signed off by the manufacturer, who in turn is compliant with the EU's RCD. That sounds not only official but also 'sanctioned' in some kind of objective, absolute way. OTOH common sense tells us the Oceanis has limits in what it can handle at sea, certainly lower limits than boats with stronger monocoque hull-deck structures, beefier deck hardware
, etc. But beyond common sense, it's fair to ask if even the buiders really believe these CE ratings, or if they are simply following the rules (which BTW they helped to construct in the first place).
I think the answer is illustrated by how the builders market their own products outside the CE/RCD European marketplace. E.g. read the 2005 CW BOTY write-up and notice how the boats' intended uses are described by their builders vs. what the CE ratings are for the boats Cruising World - 2005 Boat of the Year Winners Announced Hunter
may place an authorized 'A' rating on its new model but it sure doesn't describeabout model as unlimited ocean-capable, because it knows better. (In truth, the RCD was essentially created as a trade
barrier and reduces the number of non-EU builders who are willing invest the time & expense to get their boats CE rated. E.g. I'm sure no one thinks Valiant builds an inferior product for ocean sailing to one built by Hunter or Catalina
. Valiant simply builds fewer boats and so the cost of competing in that market vs. the expected benefit is too low).
Another misleading issue is this 'structural grid' system now in use by all the mass production builders, which is often touted as a high tech solution to structural integrity and an improvement over the previous generations of boats. Boat hulls & decks used to be joined and made into a complete monocoque structure via the attachment of transverse bulkheads, laminated into both the hull and deck. This did two things: it transmitted the rigging
loads (chainplates were attached to bulkheads and nearby knees) to a large portion of the structure (vs. localizing them), and it insured that a major loading on one piece of the hull-deck structure (e.g. a big wave landing on a piece of the trunk cabin
, or the racking and torquing experienced by the hull in a heavy sea) was distributed to a much larger part of the structure. Many of today's grid systems accomplish the former but do little to deal with the latter. (See the last para in Robbie's post on this point). There are grids and then there are grids; the designs TPI builds and the grid systems it assembles aren't going to be the same as Hunter's grid.
Yet boats aren't sinking right & left, so how can this manufacturing choice be 'wrong'? The answer IMO is that almost every boat sailed will, sooner or later, experience a heavy rigging
load, even if only for a short period. We all get caught out, sooner or later, in a thunderstorm or a squawl line, or have to beat back against a stiff headwind so we can get to the office the next morning...and so heavy rigging loads need to be accommodated by almost every boat. However, few of these boats go to sea for one continuous week, even once, when the boat is guaranteed to see a broader weather
cycle that includes some heavier seas. Almost none of these boats, even once, experience two or three weeks at sea while covering longer distances and seeing an even greater variety of stresses. Consequently, the builders don't need to build to that standard and everyone ends up happier as a result: the build process is quicker, easier and therefore cheaper on both accounts, the owner gets good value for his/her intended use, and a broader cross-section of the sailing public can afford to be invested in boat ownership
Just don't fall into the trap of thinking that 'modern' grid systems in all cases mean stronger monocoque structures, because they simply don't.