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Old 24-08-2015, 21:09   #1
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Best Sailboat for Great Lakes Sailing

I've recently earned my Cansail Level 2 at the Fanshawe Yacht Club in London, Ontario and have the use of a Mirage 24 on Lake Erie. I've been out on Erie now 3 times, the first with our instructor and the second two times with other recent grads of the course. All I can say is....I'm HOOKED!!

In about 2 years, when my daughter graduates university, I'll actually have some disposable income again lol and have decided that I want - no, want isn't right - I NEED to buy a boat. Talking with a few more seasoned sailors at our local marinas, I've been told a few times that a Catalina 30 (or more) Tall Rig is my best bet. I've no interest at all in racing and the intent is to essentially use a boat as a cottage on water, affording my wife and I the ability to leisurely travel all over the Great Lakes or even beyond, should we gain the right experience to do so. Now I've learned enough at this point to know I have not learned nearly enough. But here's what I have figured out so far...

1. The boat can't be too big
2. There are times in life to be cheap. Buying a boat isn't one of them.
3. NEVER buy a boat without a very recent survey.
4. Take your time and get the boat you want, not necessarily the one that's in front of you.
5. Education, education and more education is key to actually enjoying boating, gained by training through courses and hands on experience.

If I've missed anything, please let me know. I'm very interested in advice from those of you who have gone through the process of getting a boat and about the pitfalls you encountered. In terms of training, I will be taking the basic navigation course this winter through the Canadian Power Squadron to start with and then further courses based on their recommendations.

So does anyone agree with the Catalina Tall Rig suggestion or are there others that merit attention?
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Old 25-08-2015, 04:36   #2
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Re: Best Sailboat for Great Lakes Sailing

It's a buyers market in Ontario now, I say anything you like from a known manufacturer and you can't go wrong as long as it passes survey.
Get on as many as you possibly can even if it's only dock side and check them out.
Make a list of things you need and things you would like onboard.
I was looking in your size range then broke up with the girlfriend, ended up buying a really nice C&C 25 one owner boat, 3 year old Yamaha 9.9, 2 year old Anderson self tailing winches, brand new GPS and tiller pilot, neither installed yet still in the box from the boat show. Painted the fall before I bought it, bottom done with 3 coats Interprotect 3 coats CSC anti-foul. All reciepts for all the service done, I mean all! Came with a file box full of paperwork. All for 4000$.
About 5 years left in the sails, they are 5 years old now.
LOL if you find one you like make the owner sweat a bit, far more boats on the market than potential owners now. The people from the boat boom in the late 70's mid 80's are retiring from sailing and selling off their boats.
I'm in Briton at the East end of Lk Ontario, every marina I've been in from Kingston to Toronto has a fist full of boats for sale.
Also keep an eye on Kijiji.
So far I have a grand total of a replacement jib sheet into it, didn't like separate sheets with shackels, prefer a soft shackel on a eye.
Oh ya bought a new DCS capable VHF, just because it was on sale mostly, old one worked.
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Old 25-08-2015, 05:17   #3
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Re: Best Sailboat for Great Lakes Sailing

Lots of Great Lakes Sailors on this forum, including myself.

Yes, I think something like a Catalina 30T is good for the Great Lakes.

There are some unique features about the great lakes to be considered when buying a boat.

You want good windward ability, especially on Erie and Ontario where westerlies are so common, you will be sailing upwind half the time.

Another consideration is draft, there are lots of shallow bits, including on Lake Erie.

The fresh water and short seasons means older boats are in much much better condition, to the point that you can pretty well ignore what salt water sailors have to say about maintenance cycles.

In the 70's Ontario was boatbuilding central, most of those boats are still in Ontario and cheap.

I think a Catalina 30T is a good concept for the Great Lakes, good size, suitable rig, but you might be better off getting an older locally built boat, depending on your budget of course, if you want something newish, then best bang for the buck may well be an American production boat.

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Old 25-08-2015, 05:20   #4
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Re: Best Sailboat for Great Lakes Sailing

Check out:
Used Sailboat Market in Central Canada
Used Sailboats in central Canada
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Old 25-08-2015, 05:49   #5
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Re: Best Sailboat for Great Lakes Sailing

Thanks for the replies!

I am concentrating my searches in Ontario, Michigan and Ohio mostly. There appears, from what I can see, to be more used stock available in the U.S. but there's that pesky exchange rate to consider. However, if the right deal were to come along, I wouldn't be adverse to going over, buying it and sailing it home. And while I'd like to think we'll use a boat for the ultimate dream of sailing it out of the St. Lawrence and down to the Islands, I have to be realistic and know that we'll most likely use it 100% on our wonderful Great Lakes so that needs to be the criteria by which we decide which boat to go with.

As far as what features we'd want comes in, therein is my biggest dilemma; I simply don't have the boating experience at this point to know. I've been told, "You'll want this" and "You'll want that" but without spending time with people who have sailed for years, and getting out on their boats and seeing first hand what various accessories can do to make the whole experience more enjoyable, how does one know? I don't think they can. I can obviously see a benefit to a marine GPS with auto pilot, a depth sounder and a other instrumentation, but one fellow told me I just HAD to have motorized winches to take the sails up and down. Life just wouldn't be worth living without them. And I assumed he must know what he's talking about because hey, he has a boat, I don't....until I watched a video about how one can have the ability to easily furl the jib and main sails with the right set up.

So as I say, I am very interested in advise from those of you who've been down this road already. I'm all ears!
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Old 25-08-2015, 05:54   #6
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Re: Best Sailboat for Great Lakes Sailing

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Originally Posted by Jaguar001 View Post
Thanks for the replies!

I am concentrating my searches in Ontario, Michigan and Ohio mostly. There appears, from what I can see, to be more used stock available in the U.S. but there's that pesky exchange rate to consider. However, if the right deal were to come along, I wouldn't be adverse to going over, buying it and sailing it home. And while I'd like to think we'll use a boat for the ultimate dream of sailing it out of the St. Lawrence and down to the Islands, I have to be realistic and know that we'll most likely use it 100% on our wonderful Great Lakes so that needs to be the criteria by which we decide which boat to go with.

As far as what features we'd want comes in, therein is my biggest dilemma; I simply don't have the boating experience at this point to know. I've been told, "You'll want this" and "You'll want that" but without spending time with people who have sailed for years, and getting out on their boats and seeing first hand what various accessories can do to make the whole experience more enjoyable, how does one know? I don't think they can. I can obviously see a benefit to a marine GPS with auto pilot, a depth sounder and a other instrumentation, but one fellow told me I just HAD to have motorized winches to take the sails up and down. Life just wouldn't be worth living without them. And I assumed he must know what he's talking about because hey, he has a boat, I don't....until I watched a video about how one can have the ability to easily furl the jib and main sails with the right set up.

So as I say, I am very interested in advise from those of you who've been down this road already. I'm all ears!
He he he, power winches on a Catalina 30? I guess if you happen to be a very small child or very frail they might be useful.

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Old 25-08-2015, 06:03   #7
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Re: Best Sailboat for Great Lakes Sailing

What's your budget? I'd start with an older CS36 Traditional. Solidly built, all quality hardware. If you get a 30 you'll want a bigger boat in a year.
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Old 25-08-2015, 06:15   #8
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Re: Best Sailboat for Great Lakes Sailing

A couple of other things to think about. Winds on the lower lakes tend to be light in July and August so you want a boat that sails well. That is why people suggested the tall rig version of the Catalina. To get a sense of sailing ability do a search for PHRF ratings for the boats you are considering. For example a Cat 30T is 171 while an Olson 29, a more performance-oriented boat, is 105 - lower is better and don't worry about small differences. You would really notice the difference in performance of these two boats, but the Catalina would be much more comfortable as a cottage and easier to sail.

I would suggest that you buy a boat for the lakes. If you decide later you want to go to the Caribbean switch boats then (you will know more about what is what then too). The boat that is right for the lakes will not be great for the Caribbean and vice versa. A Bristol 33, which is a solid boat and would love the stronger winds in the Caribbean has a PHRF of 186. (Some pure cruising boats in the 30 foot range would have ratings over 200). You would end up motoring way too much of the time when you were on the lakes.

If the budget will allow it, you might want to consider a Nonsuch 30. Lots and lots of room, very easy to sail and better build quality than the Catalina, although the Catalina would do fine.
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Old 25-08-2015, 06:15   #9
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Re: Best Sailboat for Great Lakes Sailing

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What's your budget? I'd start with an older CS36 Traditional. Solidly built, all quality hardware. If you get a 30 you'll want a bigger boat in a year.
Coincidentally I see you have a Merlin. No bias in your advice

They are nice, I had a neighbour with one in Toronto. Conceptually the CS36 is very similar to a Catalina 30, just bigger.

Very similar to a Catalina 30 would be a CS 30. If one prefers that size. I had a friend, single guy who lived aboard full time on w CS 30, also in Toronto.

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Old 25-08-2015, 06:32   #10
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Re: Best Sailboat for Great Lakes Sailing

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Coincidentally I see you have a Merlin. No bias in your advice


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I've also owned a CS30 in the past (1984). But you'll notice I recommended a CS36 Traditional, not a Merlin.

I used to visit the factory in Brampton every weekend while my 30 and later the Merlin was being built. CS boats were well built with quality components and have stood the test of time on the Great Lakes. Also there's tons of them around (except for Merlins ) so you've got a lot of choice and they're old enough now so the prices are not that bad.
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Old 25-08-2015, 06:46   #11
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Re: Best Sailboat for Great Lakes Sailing

Hi Jaguar, as others have said, there are tons of boats out there. Don't rush. If you can, I would spend time on other people's boats. Specs only tell part of the tale. Also, living on board (even for short periods) will help you and your wife figure out what you really need and want for space and layout.

Catalinas are good boats, so are C&C, Mirage, Tanzer, Aloha, CS and Nonsuch. There are lots of Bayfields, Grampians, Northerns, and Albergs around to in your 30' range. These might be a bit cheaper than the first group due to age, but a well-maintained older boat is often an excellent value, especially a fresh water boat.


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Old 25-08-2015, 07:04   #12
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Re: Best Sailboat for Great Lakes Sailing

Please update us on the results as you do your research - I for one would get some vicarious pleasure in hearing about it. My current state is one of convincing myself that I'm okay chartering for a couple of years, while regularly checking the "for sale on Lake Ontario" listings.

FWIW I personally would go a bit bigger than a 30' - that can feel a bit snug if you invite friends and it rains. Part of the reason I will charter a few times is to have the chance to try out different sizes and layouts.
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Old 25-08-2015, 07:30   #13
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Re: Best Sailboat for Great Lakes Sailing

I've reread your first post and see nothing about serious live aboard plans, I think 30' is a good size for a first boat, you can always get a bigger one in 5 years if you feel the need.

I am currently up to my ears in frustration trying to find reasonable dockage for my 35', driving an hour and 40 minutes to my boat (Ottawa - Gananoque). There just isn't anything available closer. If I had a 30' I'd be able to keep her right in Ottawa.

Of course Sarnia, Toronto, Port Dalhousie, Kingston (sort of) size won't be an issue, but on much of the great lakes, smaller is better.

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Old 25-08-2015, 08:16   #14
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Re: Best Sailboat for Great Lakes Sailing

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I've reread your first post and see nothing about serious live aboard plans, I think 30' is a good size for a first boat, you can always get a bigger one in 5 years if you feel the need.

I am currently up to my ears in frustration trying to find reasonable dockage for my 35', driving an hour and 40 minutes to my boat (Ottawa - Gananoque). There just isn't anything available closer. If I had a 30' I'd be able to keep her right in Ottawa.

Of course Sarnia, Toronto, Port Dalhousie, Kingston (sort of) size won't be an issue, but on much of the great lakes, smaller is better.

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I can see us living aboard for periods of up to 2 - 3 weeks or longer. Retirement is about 5 years away and we want to be able to lock the door and use the boat to travel the length and breadth of the GL's from Chicago to Quebec City.
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Old 25-08-2015, 08:19   #15
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Re: Best Sailboat for Great Lakes Sailing

I would disagree with points 1 & 2.

1) Get a boat that meets your needs. A common theme among cruisers is to get the SMALLEST boat that will meet your needs. While people will often move up to larger boats, you also have people who are afraid of their big boats or the costs drive them out of cruising. Big boats are expensive.
2) I assume when you say cheap, you are talking about money going out not the implication that you are buying a piece of junk (a good survey should help avoid that). I would suggest as the first large boat, keeping the initial costs down is a smart idea. I've seen lots of people not want to go "cheap" and wind up taking a blood bath when they buy the wrong boat new (or nearly new) and sell at a huge loss. If you buy a less expensive used boat to learn what you want, there is less risk and if you put a gouge down the side learning to dock it's a lot less heartbreaking.

I won't make specific brand recomendations. Most any solid seaworthy boat will do the trick. The lakes deserve the same kind of respect as the atlantic coast or the carribean. About the only thing that would make a boat less suitable to eventually cruise in salt water is if it has raw water cooling (seawater pumped straight into the engine block for cooling).
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