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Old 13-12-2017, 04:29   #1
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Full keel vs fin keel for offshore?

So I've been doing my research as best I can on the subject of boats for offshore. I've been combing through Atoms list for small budget cruisers. What I've noticed primarily is that 90% of these boats are either 3/4 or full keel. From what I can gather it's that a full keel handles better in poor weather conditions and has a better directional stability. However they're slower than fin keel and other types of boats and from what I've read more crampt. The other thing I've found is that they maneuver well in downwind conditions but handle poorly in windward conditions. Maybe not a big issue since crossing follows the trade winds?

In any event I'm just trying to understand the pros and cons of each and why one is favored over the other for offshore sailing?

The second thing I'm curious about is if I'm spending say a total of 60 days at sea and several months island hopping and coastal sailing. Should that be taken into factor as well or should I primarily focus on what's best for getting there?

Lastly the thing I'm taking into consideration is a lot of these boats (in my opinion) have very crampt and difficult to maneuver decks. Many of them like the Columbia 26 have multiple raises in the cabin and nearly no room along the edges to get from the cockpit to the bow. Where as it's predecessor the MK II has more of a Vega 27 deck design which is much easier to maneuver around on in a pinch without tripping over things. I'm a big guy with big feet so I want a deck I'll be comfortable getting around.

If you guys could help me understand the bigger picture it would probably help me in choosing a suitable boat.
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Old 13-12-2017, 04:39   #2
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Re: Full keel vs fin keel for offshore?

Folks recommended the Atom Voyages Site and the older full keel boats due to your budget.

Something like a Cape Dory 30 etc has plenty of deck space around the cabin much more than a Vega 27 as does my boat a Bristol 27.

Cape Dorys are usually a bit more expensive though.

Something like a Southern Cross 28 appears to have quite a bit of deck space also and has circumnavigated. https://www.donnalange.com/blog

You can get a nice seaworthy fin keel boat if you have the dollars ............
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Old 13-12-2017, 04:56   #3
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Re: Full keel vs fin keel for offshore?

Donít forget to factor in going astern .. most full keelers will make you look like a drunken sailor in ports particularly if there is any wind blowing across/on the bow. One learns to deal with it but this can get really annoying..
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Old 13-12-2017, 05:11   #4
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Re: Full keel vs fin keel for offshore?

Take this with a grain of salt, as my only circumnavigation has been in the bathtub -- however, from my imperfect experience, I think the smaller the boat, the better to have longer keels and higher D/Ls… assuming a desire to maintain reasonable load carrying capability. Our B24 (D/L around 380+) doesn’t sail uphill very willingly, but is more comfortable than you’d expect for a boat its length and once on a beam reach or slightly tighter, acquits herself quite handily. Our fin-keel (moderate) ODay sails uphill noticeably more cheerfully and is more nimble on the helm, but is far more sensitive to sail-balance if you expect it to self-steer long enough to open/pour your favorite beverage. Your attention to your ability to move about a small boat’s deck is well placed – there are many ways to achieve it, but enough foot-room and handholds are imperative or your trip forward can be more exciting/frustrating than it needs to be.
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Old 13-12-2017, 05:26   #5
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Re: Full keel vs fin keel for offshore?

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Originally Posted by Tidjian View Post
So I've been doing my research as best I can on the subject of boats for offshore. I've been combing through Atoms list for small budget cruisers. What I've noticed primarily is that 90% of these boats are either 3/4 or full keel.
The list you are looking at are small budget and therefore likely to be older therefore long keeled yachts.

Walk around any boat show today and you will be pushed to find anything other than bolt on fin keels, that is what the market wants. In decades to come that is what budget cruisers will be sailing around the world in, some manky old Bavaria with a 2m deep lead keel, lets see how that goes in the the Bahamas.
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Old 13-12-2017, 05:41   #6
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Re: Full keel vs fin keel for offshore?

Most full keel boats of old have a keel hung rudder, which I found forgiving when plowing into the earth on occasion. I never had cause to worry if the boat dried out. The cutaway forefoot allows for better handling.

Of the dozen or so full keel cutaway forefoot boats that I have cruised and delivered, I found their windward performance to be adequate, even when well loaded. They were very sea kindly and comfortable at sea. No, they did not point, turn, or perform like a fin keeled spade rudder boat, which bob on top of the water and can be uncomfortable at sea if not driven well.

Choose interior volume or exterior volume? I prefer interior volume in small boats and deal with the narrow side decks, and I am a large footed guy as well. My boat is quite large now, but I started with a '66 Cal 30, which was a fine, well balanced, forgiving boat. I still compare all boats to that one.

As a wise friend once told me: you get used to anything.

Choose the boat that ticks off as much of your list as possible, then get used to the rest.
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Old 13-12-2017, 05:43   #7
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Re: Full keel vs fin keel for offshore?

As noted by Pete you're looking at full keelers by virtue of your budget. They are older, slower, and more cramped, generally speaking.

The bottom line is that every boat is a compromise of some sort and you need to find the right compromise that works for your specific needs. As far as fin keelers vs. full keelers I would not consider that a big requirement one way or the other in your search. Yes, full keelers are ultimately safer in terms of groundings and rudder protection, and may be more "sea kindly" for a given length, but they have some serious drawbacks with respect to speed, pointing ability, and maneuverability. It's up to you to decide what combination of characteristics meets your needs.

FWIW, there are any number of fin keel boats that are very well behaved offshore, as "fin keel" spans a broad spectrum from purpose-designed offshore cruisers all the way to dedicated racing boats. My Valiant, for example, has great offshore manners. It has a deep forefoot, buoyancy in all the right places, and a big skeg-hung rudder. She goes to windward very well but loves rumbling downwind offshore. She is in fact the very design that put the first nail in the coffin of full keel boats during the evolution of offshore cruising boats.

A robust fin keel design is probably almost as strong as a full keel boat. A couple of years ago I was pushing up a channel at 6 knots and hit an uncharted obstruction, hard. Boat basically stopped dead, lurched forward, and slid over the obstruction. Subsequent detailed and careful inspection revealed a healthy dent in the lead of the keel but no damage to the joint, bolts or stub.

Personally if I were in your shoes and could find a fin keeler that met my other requirements I would go with it over a full keeler. Speed, pointing, and maneuverability have in my mind more overall benefit than the protection factor. But to each their own.
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Old 13-12-2017, 05:49   #8
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Re: Full keel vs fin keel for offshore?

Like so many things in our sport, there are different tradeoffs in this particular choice, and only you can decide what's best for you.

Note also that among fin keel boats, there is a great range of choice from very strong relatively low aspect ratio fins to very thin very high aspect fins, which simply cannot be made as strong as the first type.

A very small boat will, as someone mentioned, benefit from a long keel and heavy displacement in terms of seaworthiness and seakindliness, but then you've doubled the factors causing the boat to be slow. That would not be my choice, personally -- I would try to achieve the necessary degree of seaworthiness and seakindliness with size (at least 36') and then choose a boat with a medium aspect ratio fin keel for speed and weatherliness. But that's just my own taste and priorities, and you will have your own.

A particularly good small older boat which very successfully balances all these considerations is the legendary Contessa 32 -- moderate fin keel, quite fast for its size, but quite seaworthy. Unfortunately they are not that cheap, but that's the kind of boat I would, personally, be looking for, if for some reason I needed to buy a smaller boat.

Or a boat like Pete's bilge keel Moody 31, which will not go upwind like a good fin keeler, but which has many advantages of full keel boats, like less draft, plus even better behavior when drying out, without the weight and wetted surface of a full keel. For coastal cruising including exploring tidal estuaries and rias, you could hardly find a better boat than that. Again, it's a different set of compromises which will suit some people excellently but others not at all. And again, like the Contessa, unfortunately not cheap to buy.
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Old 13-12-2017, 05:55   #9
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Re: Full keel vs fin keel for offshore?

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Originally Posted by Suijin View Post
. . .A robust fin keel design is probably almost as strong as a full keel boat. A couple of years ago I was pushing up a channel at 6 knots and hit an uncharted obstruction, hard. Boat basically stopped dead, lurched forward, and slid over the obstruction. Subsequent detailed and careful inspection revealed a healthy dent in the lead of the keel but no damage to the joint, bolts or stub. ..
This is a good point. There can be a lot of daylight between the strength of the keel of a boat built primarily for speed, or racing, with less consideration to strength, and that of a boat designed to be a robust cruising boat, even a fast one. Fin keels of the second type can be quite immensely strong.

Like Suijin, I've hit stuff with my fin (actually bulb) keel without damage. In my case, solid rock -- an uncharted rock in the Baltic. A dent the size of a coin in the 8 ton lead bulb was the only damage.
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Old 13-12-2017, 06:43   #10
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Re: Full keel vs fin keel for offshore?

I'm very bias towards fin keels but not skinny ones bolted to a flat spot on the bottom of the boat as some modern ones are. The concept that full keel boats won't sail well to weather is simply not correct, yes you might say that in many cases but not all. I did lots of beer can racing in my younger days and one competitor sailing a 28 foot full keel boat was able to out point half the fleet and consistently won his division, that opened my eyes. Conversely not all fin keel boats are fast, there are some real sea slugs sailing out there so you can't make general statements. A better way to access it is all things being equal a full keel boat is "generally but not always" less Weatherly than a fin keeler and because of the added drag is "usually but not always slower". Try sailing beside a Cape George cutter in the trades and you'll view the world differently, those full keel boats really reel the miles off in a good breeze.
Ok I'm still bias towards a well built fin keel boat because by and large they are faster, more Weatherly and much less of a handful when your maneuvering in tight spots. I also believe that when you start crossing oceans in little boats the additional displacement and direction stability, load carrying ability can work to your advantage in full keel boats. A Contessa 26 is a good example of a small boat that has been everywhere and done that with not much fuss.
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Old 13-12-2017, 07:21   #11
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Re: Full keel vs fin keel for offshore?

It's been alluded to, but I will just point out that fin keel boats designed to cross oceans have rudders that are mounted on skegs to protect them from damage. It's an important distinction from an unprotected spade.


It's a great design but I'm afraid well beyond the OP's budget. I'd stick to the Atom Voyages list from that standpoint alone.
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Old 13-12-2017, 07:34   #12
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Re: Full keel vs fin keel for offshore?

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It's been alluded to, but I will just point out that fin keel boats designed to cross oceans have rudders that are mounted on skegs to protect them from damage. It's an important distinction from an unprotected spade.


It's a great design but I'm afraid well beyond the OP's budget. I'd stick to the Atom Voyages list from that standpoint alone.
Yes a really well designed skeg is just fine but a really well designed spade can be every bit as strong or stronger and the spade will always out steer a skeg rudder. Some skeg rudders were so poorly built that the rudder was holding the skeg on. Not my words but the words of designer Robert (Bob) Perry. It's actually really hard to build a skeg that is truly strong. The mass produced spade rudders built today have had flaws in several of the builds, especially in the structure that supports the rudder and these boats should be very carefully looked at and possibly improved before considering them for offshore.
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Old 13-12-2017, 07:40   #13
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Re: Full keel vs fin keel for offshore?

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Originally Posted by Drew13440 View Post
It's been alluded to, but I will just point out that fin keel boats designed to cross oceans have rudders that are mounted on skegs to protect them from damage. It's an important distinction from an unprotected spade.


It's a great design but I'm afraid well beyond the OP's budget. I'd stick to the Atom Voyages list from that standpoint alone.
Right, I believe he was talking 10K or less........at one point anyway
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Old 13-12-2017, 08:14   #14
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Re: Full keel vs fin keel for offshore?

Could someone post a link to a clear "glossary with pictures" site for these different keel types?

Or give examples and I can google for pics.

I'm particularly interested in the ability to beach, go aground on purpose. But don't want to compromise offshore blue water passage strength/safety. Not concerned with speed so much, at least no racing.

Is a twin keel a subset of bilge keel type?
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Old 13-12-2017, 08:25   #15
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Re: Full keel vs fin keel for offshore?

Here's one I found

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