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Old 26-08-2008, 05:40   #1
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What's the most boat I can handle solo?

I'm still lurking here and thanks to all for the information, there's a bunch of it!

I have announced retirement, am sailing in races at the local yacht club as pick up crew, reading books, etc. Attending a week's worth of offshore school and nav is in the works as well. And of course I'm looking at the used boat ads which are beginning to make more sense and I'm starting to realize just what kind of boats will work for me.

However, due to circumstances, I have no mate to join me and no prospects. So...that being said, how much boat am I capable of handling?

I am aware that having all lines leading into the cockpit is a plus as is having a bunch of gages and little TV set doodads on the binnacle but I am not 25 and haven't been for over 34 years. Hauling away on sheets may aggravate old motorcycle injuries, I have to be cautious in that regard so I was wondering about how much boat would be too much for me?

(Used the search engine to find topics addressing this, to no avail...)
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Old 26-08-2008, 05:51   #2
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Hello, Pepys.

Here's some grist for the mill...

How big is too big?

Setup for Single-Handing a Sloop

Boat size and cruising question
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Old 26-08-2008, 06:05   #3
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Thanks for the info Hud3!
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Old 26-08-2008, 06:25   #4
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However, due to circumstances, I have no mate to join me and no prospects. So...that being said, how much boat am I capable of handling?
You're the only one that has the answer to this question. You have to remember that sailing single handed will not be like club racing. You do not do anything fast. There is seldom any need to move quickly, you think things through and execute slowly. Most sixty year old guys can handle a 40 footer without too much trouble. The only difficult part will be coming alongside without any help on the dock. Grinding sheets is not a lot of work as the bigger the boat gets, the bigger the winches are (or should be). Having said this, it's still advisable to start with about a 30 footer and move up as you gain experience and confidence. As for no mate and no prospects, perhaps your prospects will get better once you have a boat.
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Old 26-08-2008, 06:29   #5
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Rick's right, it depends on the individual. I single hand my 38 footer, but would probably not want to go any larger. I've only had docking problems once, and it was because of a misjudgment on my part. I could have pulled it off, if I had stuck with my original plan.
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Old 26-08-2008, 07:17   #6
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Hi Pepsys,
I’m even older than you, (Geez, that took some saying), and considering the exact same thing – how big to single hand? The difference is I’ve sailed big’uns and litl’uns for a long long time, many single handed, and pretty much know exactly what I can now handle. There is much conflicting criteria to consider when sailing alone, from your health, mentality (it can be lonely as well as frightening sometimes), mechanical aptitude (things breakdown all the time), right through to how much money you can spend to either buy a boat well equipped for single sailing, or equip one—and of course, sailing experience. Such things as bow thrusters, electric winches, roller furling and a big motor make all the difference to making life easier. I have generally found bigger is better, because in rough conditions the bigger they are the more they will look after you.
Read and inwardly digest those three articles Hud3 posted, they pretty much sum it up. And get out there as much as possible, and you will soon discover what is right for you.
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Old 26-08-2008, 07:59   #7
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I'm only 21(nearing 22) and I even find my 21 footer a bit too much to handle on my own. Granted, it doesn't have ANY helpful equipment other than a couple of winches and some bungee cords I've rigged up into an "autopilot"

My biggest problem alone though, is docking and undocking. I can BARELY do it alone in perfectly calm conditions, but given any sort of wind on my beam I'd probably end up just anchoring out and kayaking or swimming in if I had to do it alone.

As someone else said though, this is entirely up to you. You just have to find what you're comfortable with. Some people manage to sail 45 footers alone with the right helpful equipment.
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Old 26-08-2008, 08:13   #8
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sailing alone is totally a question of having the right equipment and set up. It has been done around the world in a 90 ft mono.

However, costs are also an issue, as above 40 ft it starts getting a lot more expensive. and berths are more difficult to find.
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Old 26-08-2008, 08:14   #9
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My biggest problem alone though, is docking and undocking. I can BARELY do it alone in perfectly calm conditions, but given any sort of wind on my beam I'd probably end up just anchoring out and kayaking or swimming in if I had to do it alone.
Usually at a marina you can wake up a dock hand or two. but if not don't do what I saw a guy at Marina Del Rey do a few weeks back in a Catalina 27.

Imagine sailing down wind in the side channel, turn right to a beam reach along the fingers and turning right head to wind to enter your finger.

This fellah comes downwind at about 3 knots, rips a right turn to a beam reach, the boat decelerates to about 2.5 knots. and he has a choice. Straight ahead into the cement wall or turn upwind into the finger. he wings it around into the finger, leaps off the boat, runs to the front of the boat and plays human fender. Completely nutso.

I don't know why more people don't sail in under jib alone. at any point of sail you can just turn it off and have infinite control of your boat speed.

So Pepys - under sail you can handle a lot of boat. Get a good engine in it - a good sail handling system and go in under motor. No shame in that at all.
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Old 26-08-2008, 10:02   #10
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There are battery screwdriver style winch helpers now that take the graft out of sail hauling for us gentlemen sailors. They do the winch as well without having to pay for electrical wiring and conversions. The drive dog slots in just like a winch handle, charges off car battery voltage or mains.
Also have a good look at how you use the travellers, there's scope there for pre-setting often used positions.
And add grab handles as required to avoid painful tumbles.
It's not putting me off at all, though I am concerned at cat napping 24 - 7 to maintain a reasonable watch so I'm planning SIS radar to allow auto alerts, plus the battery / solar power to keep it running.
Water driven generators look to be easier to handle and more powerfull than solar when the sun lets you down.
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Old 26-08-2008, 12:39   #11
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winches to me are not as tough as raising the main and dealing with a big jib. docking can be tough for a single hander and danger of slipping or falling is always there. i would say somewhere between 34 and 38 is the range ... with anything over 36 being a lot of work especially if it is heavy displacement.
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Old 26-08-2008, 12:45   #12
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A skilled competent 60 year old sailor in fair physical condition can single hand a surprising large vessel in reasonable conditions and with proper equipment. If you carefully construct the hypothetical (sudden squall, jammed halyard, monster main sail, etc.), you can imagine a scenario where that same sailor might man-handle his way to a solution on a 27 footer but be exhausted and overwhelmed on a 45 footer.

Still, unless you plan on crossing oceans or engaging in frequent multi-day offshore passages, I would say that you can handle any size boat in bad conditions that you are truly comfortable with in good conditions. Coastal sailing, island hopping cruisers spend a great deal of time trying to avoid bad weather. If you're cruising and you, or the boat, or the weather isn't quite right, there's no good reason to move. Sooner or later you'll get caught out in bad conditions anyway, but probably not for longer than you can handle.

As others have pointed out, handling is much more than just raising and trimming sails. You must be able to repair, maneuver, dock, anchor, etc. as well. In the Bahamas, for example, there are many shallow anchorages studded with coral heads. The water is crystal clear and as long as the sun is not in your eyes these are easily seen and avoided - provided you have someone in bow giving hand signals to the helmsman. I have no idea how single handers enter such anchorages in 30+ footers, but they do it all the time. We saw a single hander on a 43' Gulfstar do it, but he stood in the bow with a remote engine/helm controller.

In the end you want a boat that is big enough to comfortably support your life style and carry your stuff. "Comfort" is personal to you, but small boat crawl-in bunks, ladder-like companionway steps, sit-down showers, small water tanks, and church pew settees may prove harder to deal with than big sails and heavy lines and anchors.
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Old 26-08-2008, 15:24   #13
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I made this decision thirty years ago. What is the largest boat I could reef single handed at three AM, dock alone on a blustery day, and carry all of the peanut butter I could ever use on a cruise? I chose a forty foot Searunner trimaran and am looking forward to another thirty years.
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Old 26-08-2008, 15:39   #14
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It's not so much the length of the boat but the shape of the keel and how the boat is rigged. A full keeled boat is going to stay on course while go to the forepeak and douse the jib. A ketch rig reduces the sail area and the halyard pull. Mast mounted winches take over the chore of hoisting canvas.

Probably the biggest chore one might face is hoisting an anchor with the anchor winch on the fritz. Josua Slocum sailed around the world in a thirty-seven foot boat with a manual anchor winch. He tells of spending one full night spend hoisting up a thousand feet of cable. Not something those of us with poor backs would want to do but it shows what a little determination and lot of patience can do.

The biggest challenge for you, at this point, is neither age not injuries but lack of bluewater experience and that is something which can be acquired.
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Old 26-08-2008, 15:44   #15
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Bigger boats are often easier to handle than small boats. I frequently single-hand my 60 ft boat, but it has a lot of electrical helpers - electric winches and main and jib furlers, autopilot, etc. The biggest problem is getting back into the slip as I can't get to the dock lines. Anchoring is automatic with an auto-anchor control on the windlass. I'm 61 years old.
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