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Capnlindy 28-04-2006 15:17

How big is too big?

I am brand new to the forums and have many questions regarding every aspect of cruising and living aboard a boat. The number one question is, how big is too big? Let me add some background to this so you will consider the required need not a blanket statement.

I have no, zero, nada blue water sailing at this point in time however I do have an affinity with machinery and equipment, am very comfortable operating large complex systems and, would do what it takes to become proficient in the use of any vessel I sail. That said my idea of an RV is a class 8 semi tractor and a 48í trailer. With boosted controls two people easily fly airplanes of every size and, a boat with in boom furling, roller reefing and powered winches should do most of the grunt work? The boat would be crewed by two people myself and my other half. The plan is to either buy a boat in the Med or sail there via? From there cross the Atlantic and Panama Canal to either the South Pacific or Alaska.

We have been looking on Yachtworld at boats and the prices on boats in the 70-100í range are not that much higher the smaller boats. I am looking for an aluminum sloop cutter rigged with long legs under power and systems redundancy. I plan on using every aid to sail that we can, dual or triple nav and steering, dual autopilot and perhaps even diesel electric aux power with two or mere gen sets. I donít want to offend any traditional sailors but, I and looking at this with an eye to automation. Using every method available to sail safely and comfortably with a short crew while passage making is the goal. The boat would not dock in marinas as a rule, hence lots of water and power aboard.

These big boats offer a world options the smaller boats donít or canít and one of the most profound is systems integration and safety. I will probably stir up a hornets nest with this post and that is not my intent, I truly want objective advise on operating a large highly automated boat.


jemsea 28-04-2006 15:33


Your post will get a couple of responses I think...

My first thought is: Go charter a few times working your way up in boat size until it feels right balancing the aspects of sailing, that are important to you, with displacement/size and number of systems.

You will have lots of fun, learn a lot, and probably save a ton of money in the long run.

CaptainK 28-04-2006 16:04


Like what jemsea, said. I'd recommend chartering a boat. Get some experience being aboard a boat. And then after that. Go sailing as much as you can with other sailboat owners. Gain some experience. Even go to sailing school.

Then get yourself a 40 foot boat first. And work your way up. But, jumping straight to a boat. With a length of over 50 feet. I wouldn't want to be around you. When you're sailing!! You would have a very hard time handling that boat. Without the proper experience!! And with only two people on board. It makes sailing a boat that size difficult.

Now the only you could beat all of that, mind you. Is to specially equip the boat with more wenches. And other related equipment the would take place of the extra deckhands. But!!! You'll be looking at "alot" more money thrown on top of what you paid for the boat!!

So think very carefully about what you're considering?;)

Learn as much as you can. And make it easier for yourself and the other person that will be spending time with you sailing!!:)

Jon D 28-04-2006 16:20


There are a number of threads in the which boat category that talk to what you're asking. With enough money and experience a short handed crew can handle a larger boat. But you need both to make it work. Happy hunting

Capnlindy 28-04-2006 16:56

I am not advocating getting started in this size boat; I understand the building blocks approach to sailing like many things we learn. I do plan on getting a trainer boat to learn the ropes! The issue I pose is not for an untrained novice or a even a day sailor but for a couple that is well trained with good crew coordination. We will not have thousands of miles under our belts for a while and chartering larger boats will be part of the learning process but when it is all said and done is a highly automated boat of that scale doable for a couple. I have an ATP rating, you have to have logged 1500 hours just to qualify for that I do understand the need for seat time. I wouldn’t jump into an airplane and fly it until I was sure I could handle it under the worst of circumstances and my boating philosophy is the same. I don’t think they have Sim’s for sail boats but I do plan on systems failures challenges in my learning blue water sailing. The biggest boat I have sailed thus far has been a Columbia 22 and that was many moons ago.

The boats I have looked at in many cases state that all sailing functions can be controlled in the cockpit. Some of these boats are bigger then 100’ and they have under deck power winches with no or very few lines even running on deck. The sail handling is touch of a button if you will. I don’t know how much or how little of this technology has migrated into the smaller boat segment but it is common on many big sail boats. This is where my focus is on these boats; with competent skills are automated boats of any size out of the realm of a handling by a couple.

Again this is the very beginning of a long process, I want the feed back on boat handling at high gross tonnage and how that relates to a smaller boat. For example a Cessna 172 and a Boeing 747 are both airplanes but taxing them are worlds apart. This is the type of data I am looking for, what makes the 100’ boat with two sails; sail differently then a 30’ boat with two sails. I know the bigger boat has more mass and speed in the hull but are there other factors not withstanding the brute strength to pull sheets.

Thank you all for the input.


Pura Vida 28-04-2006 20:18

You may want to check out Stave Dashew's Sundeer series of boats. He thrives on the bigger is better principle and it has its advantages. Consider that if you are sailing offshore as a couple you will most often be sailing as single hander. With that said single handers regularly race boats to 100 feet and some single handed racing boats have exceeded 200 feet (Club Med). Best of luck.

Steve Rust 29-04-2006 08:32

I agree with Capt K. It is always a good idea to equip a boat with more wenches.:D

CaptainK 29-04-2006 08:44


I meant "winches" . Not (wenches) as in whores!!:) I was still at work, when I typed the post yesterday!!

Sorry for the spelling!!:D

But as for more wenches (Loose Women). Yeah, they would be cool to have around on a sailboat trip!!

Lightfin 29-04-2006 10:46


I took the stepup a few feet at a time approach. Started with Sunfish, then rented a daysailor on Cherry Creek Resevoir in Coloroado, then took some lessons in a Catalina 20 on Long Island Sound; then went with a friend several times in his Catalina 25, then chartered an O'Day 33', etc. , etc. etc. Our most recent charter was a 47 footer; and we've sprinkled in some catamarans along the way.

Candidly, I don't find boathandling a 47' that much more difficult than a 35', as long as one goes slow and thinks well ahead. Windage around docks does become more of an issue as you go up in size, but that's somewhat offset by the heavier weight making the boat slower to respond.

The more difficult issue as you go up in size of boat, is that everything else gets bigger and HEAVIER too. Manually raising the mainsail or an anchor and chain (if the windlass goes out) requires lots of muscle and stamina on the bigger boats. Furling sails and electric winches are great and make things much easier, but they get "stuck" and break down at inopportune times, so redundancy would be great, but expensive; which also means more maintenance and more cost.

I'm not sure how well the airplane analogy applies. My son is an airline pilot; he's in the process of moving up to 757's & 767's. He tells me the bigger planes are easier to fly/land/etc.

We're close to buying a bigger boat to live on when we retire in a few years. Almost bought a pristine 50' Gulfstar ketch that has furling for all the sails, electric winches, radar & lots of new electronics, etc. but I'm concerned about maintenance & costs, and all that goes with managing such a large boat.

We're also tempted by the Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 45.2, a GREAT sailing boat; but we're leaning more and more toward a 38' to low 40' catamaran. I like the "safety" and the ease of handling near docks and close quarters by having two engines; the shallow draft to be able to get closer to shore and snorkel sights etc. for anchoring; the ease of access to the water; and overall "living comfort."

I have no first-hand knowledge re: aluminum hull; but it appears to me that what you want; i.e. large boat, lots of automation and redundancy, is going to cost you a LOT more than $100,000 -- I'd guess more like a FEW HUNDRED THOUSAND to purchase and get set up, plus a few TENS of THOUSANDS PER YEAR for maintenance/repairs.

Good luck, and keep us posted on your quest and its progress.


SG 29-04-2006 11:57

We sail a J/160 -- mostly just my wife and I.

I admit that offshore (which we do occasionally), when you're alone at night in foul weather, the size of the rig can be more difficult if you don't think ahead.

There is a lot more power and forces involved -- literally, you can crush limb or have a severe concussive event if you don't take a bit of care in what you're doing with the forces involved with the sail area that you're carrying.

Having said that, I think that our J/160 is easier to sail than our Pearson 35 which we had twenty-five years ago. Our Sabre 42 was only marginally easier to dock than our current boat.

We don't have in-the-boom or in-the-mast furling (we use a Dutchman) with our large main. We don't run with the spinnaker at night offshore. We tend to reef early rather than later.

I think that a lighter, easily driven hull with a lot of form stability is probably supperior to a similar "heavy" boat which might appear to be more stable at the dock.

Size does help in certain situations (8-10' seas mean less to a large boat than a smaller one).

gosstyla 29-04-2006 12:35

I definitely second Pura Vida's comment, check out Steve Dashew:

You never know, you might decide power better meets your objective than sail. Steve, has some fairly convencing agruments (with back up data) that his current 80+ft "Unsail boat" is faster, more comfortable on passage, less expensive, etc. than his last 80+ft sailboat.

Capnlindy 29-04-2006 12:42

Lightfin and all,

That IS my point about airplanes, the bigger and newer they are the lower the work load. Automation has taken the drudge work out of many tasks and made the airplane safer and easier to fly.

I never put a price tag on the cost of the boats I looked at; they are far more then a few hundred thousand dollars. The cost of the boat and its upkeep are the trade off of paying for a land based home. This however redirects the focus. I am looking at boats based on long term use and the larger boats seem to have more hardy systems then their smaller sisters. I do know that nothing last forever and boats like airplanes are labor and cost intensive to keep. The boats that I am looking at in many cases are built to ABS and MCA certification, the redundancy is part of the build.

This points to another question; how much work do you perform on your boat and are the yearly repair cost constant or do they vary. I do a great deal of my own repairs on most things and I am not affraid to take on major projects. I guess this may be why I am not as gun shy of a larger boat as perhaps an owner at the mercy of a repair shop. I have a great deal of experience repairing and developing automated machinery so that does not scare me and I have resources to perform most types of repairs.

The age and type of use has a profound impact on what will fail or require repair or rebuild, what is a good time/age line on systems? How long is the standing rig going to last? How long is the steering or the windlass going to live, are these predictable time lines or as designed? While I read about all your war stories and high cost; it reminds me of many small plane owner who have the "shop" do all their work. I am NOT saying the cost to keep a boat are nil but there has to be a rather large spread between the DYI and have the shop look at it owners.

Thanks to all who are providing info and comments,

Moby Dick 29-04-2006 12:46

Because of the size, and even more so, the draft, a 100' boat will restrict where you can go. Mostly you will have to anchor too far out for my taste, or go from big harbour to big harbour (just as a 747 is resticted to major airports and cannot use a grass strip)

Also, I feel that the bigger the boat, the more 'remote' you are from the water. I just would not want anything over, say, 50ft as a gift.

SG 29-04-2006 13:11

Look at Steve Dashew's recent powerboat exploits...

Capnlindy 29-04-2006 14:11

I spent hours last night looking at Steve Dashew's web site; very impressive and informative. I have thought about power boats and his boat is very fuel efficient but, I guess power cruisers don't push my buttons like a sail boat! All sailboats in the ranges we are talking about are power boats as well and having a big stick that can push the boat faster then an iron genny using NO fuel is still a part of sailing that I like. I may be more inclined to motor-sail under poor wind conditions then a true old salt but having sails gives an option the power boater can't match.

I am well aware of the deep draft of a larger boat and that was why I said under most conditions we wouldn't use marinas. I guess you can look at this from another point of view, security and safety would likely be better at anchor. Many of these boats do draft 11-13' and that is a real concern in the many great cruising areas, some of these do have lifting keels. I don't know that I would want to moor at marinas very often for a few basic reasons; cost is a major reason, any large boat is going to pay dearly to park at a marina and boondocking is appealing to me. With a well planed solar system I could envision being rather independent for weeks on end. Remember most boats in this size class have very nice tenders to get to shore. Hearing about the parking lot rash many boats receive at marinas just reinforces the case for dropping the hook.

This industry reminds me of the RV market where the old campers were used to pop up tent trailers and the new user demand slide out rooms that house all the comforts of home. Technology is used to not only to increase living standards and safety but also to reduce cost. A electric winch may cost less at the size needed for a big boat then a traditional winch due to demand and the engines and gen sets are more widely used hence cost are lower. The point I am trying to make is that when you move to the size boat we are talking about parts become more standardized and perhaps less costly.


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