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Old 12-12-2021, 17:03   #1
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Power vs Sail

Hi. I have been boating most of my life, in small power boats, and mostly in small bodies of water. I have done a little sailing too.

With retirement on the horizon, my wife and I are planning to get a bigger boat and do some coastal cruising, with perhaps some trips to the Caribbean.

I have read a LOT of discussions about the advantages & disadvantages of power vs sail, and I don't intend to ask anyone to run over that again. But there's one factor I haven't seen discussed: How many "nice sailing days" are there? There has to be enough wind, but not too much, and of course stormy weather is no fun.

Am I right in thinking there would be more boat-able days under power?

I realize this depends on location. Our home base would probably be the Chesapeake Bay area.

Please let me know if this is just a stupid question for some reason, for instance, if the vast majority of days have sufficient wind. But when I was taking sailing lessons (in Buffalo NY) we ended up motoring a lot because there just wasn't any wind on many of our scheduled lesson days.

Thank you.
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Old 12-12-2021, 17:58   #2
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Power vs Sail

A reliable ocean going motor boat is a very expensive piece of kit. Whereas a sailing boat capable of ocean crossing is significantly cheaper.

These days most sailing boats have good engines and can quite happily make progress in light airs so in reality most sailing yachts are motor sailers.

Then there is heavy weather. A mobo will need both ballasting and potentially stabilisers to counteract the snap rolling whereas a sailing boat by virtue of its ballasted keel and the pressure on its sails will typically handle heavy weather better foot for foot.

But at the end of the day most owners that own sailing yachts because they want to sail Therefore itís not a trade off decision
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Old 12-12-2021, 18:14   #3
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Re: Power vs Sail

For passages, sailors have been planning their trips to leverage wind for centuries. Powerboats are just the opposite. It's hard to compare the two, though what GoBoatingNow says is spot on. An offshore capable trawler yacht is fairly rare and is significantly more expensive than a sailboat.

I spent about 5 years as a full time delivery captain based in San Francisco. I spent a lot of time heading north with weather more or less on the nose. Occasionally I'd get a southbound ride. Last trip I did to Florida was mostly calm all the down to Panama so a beautiful 14-day run. But...... Heading up the Caribbean sucked. Steep 8-footers up the Caribbean for 5 of the 7 day run from Panama to Ft Lauderdale. None of that is ideal for a sailboat.

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Old 12-12-2021, 18:14   #4
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Re: Power vs Sail

It's a good question. Everyone will have a different opinion. There are boats focused on sailing, boats that are motor sailers and of course those that motor only.

A performance cruising sail boat can sail more in light winds and from any direction (you will have to tack upwind). A motor sailer (what some call condomarans) doesn't sail as well and you will find you motor or motor sail often, especially up wind.

Depending on the motors in the two sailing boats a performance sailing catamaran is more likely to motor faster and should use less fuel doing it.

The performance catamaran will generally have less living space for a given hull length.

In reasonable conditions a performance cat can sail as fast or faster than a motor boat or motor sailer will cruise.

Short trips, I'd go with a power boat, longer runs or crossing oceans a sail boat. If you want the performance and space just buy a longer boat 🙂
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Old 13-12-2021, 06:18   #5
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Re: Power vs Sail

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Originally Posted by goboatingnow View Post
...But at the end of the day most owners that own sailing yachts because they want to sail Therefore itís not a trade off decision
I guess I don't have that gene! I love being on the water, and the method of propulsion is a distant second consideration. But I have not sailed that much, at least in many years.

Thank you.
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Old 13-12-2021, 06:50   #6
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Re: Power vs Sail

I too have had motorboats and sailboats my entire life... I am 7 years out from partial retirement (timing related mostly to children's college).

We are planning on a sailing cat... We will be slow cruising with almost no itinerary. We move when we feel like moving and when the weather window is favorable.

Thus our "good sailing days" will approach 100% for passage days. Does this come with the compromise of waiting weather out... of course.

Just a dream and a plan at this point. YMMV
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Old 13-12-2021, 06:53   #7
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Re: Power vs Sail

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Originally Posted by mvweebles View Post
But...... Heading up the Caribbean sucked. Steep 8-footers up the Caribbean for 5 of the 7 day run from Panama to Ft Lauderdale. None of that is ideal for a sailboat.
That wouldn't be pleasant weather for a trawler either - if that was forecast we would stay home!

But I hear what you're saying: bad days for sailboats are not just too little or too much wind, but strong headwinds.

Thanks.
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Old 13-12-2021, 06:59   #8
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Re: Power vs Sail

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Depending on the motors in the two sailing boats a performance sailing catamaran is more likely to motor faster and should use less fuel doing it.
The performance catamaran will generally have less living space for a given hull length.

In reasonable conditions a performance cat can sail as fast or faster than a motor boat or motor sailer will cruise.

Short trips, I'd go with a power boat, longer runs or crossing oceans a sail boat. If you want the performance and space just buy a longer boat 🙂
I am afraid both of those options are off the table for us. We are aiming for comfort, so I expect we will have too much 'stuff' for a performance cat to perform well. And I am also determined to go with a smaller boat - max 40 feet, ideally under 35.
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Old 13-12-2021, 07:03   #9
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Re: Power vs Sail

There are more good motoring days than good sailing days. Definitely.

However, the better a SAILING boat you get, with more ability for light air sailing, the more good sailing days you’ll have. Then it starts to become a lot closer.
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Old 13-12-2021, 07:05   #10
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Re: Power vs Sail

I very much appreciate all of the answers here. You have given me some thoughts and perspectives I had not considered.

One of which is a 'duh' moment for me: we can always motor a sailboat on windless days - which we would be doing anyway if we had a power boat. And we would probably burn less fuel motoring in a sailboat.

All said, I am now leaning towards sail - probably a cat - with the expectation we will motor (or stay home) on light wind days.

The only downside for me is I have to start climbing the sailing learning curve: I have a whole lot to learn before I buy a 30+ foot sailboat. But I think I will do my learning in a little day sailer. That sounds like fun anyway.

Thank you!
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Old 13-12-2021, 07:24   #11
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Re: Power vs Sail

I sailed across the sixies, largely in the Chesapeake, and then converted to diesel for retirement after a career on top of a mountain. Built a seaworthy trawler, which is almost an oxymoron on the commercial market. Trawlers stay under hull speed, so their fuel consumption is low - lower than a keeled boat, I would think. First, power boats have a bunch more space, with catamarans big enough to have a stand-up center cabin next. I was surprised by some observations when I returned to salt water.

The total density of use amoung all boats is low, but seems particularly low with sailboats that are not actually cruising port to port.

Lots of sailboats we met, particularly in the Bahamas, were under power on days I thought really good for sailing.

The work load on a power boat is far less than on a sailboat, although a number of innovations (powered self-tailing winches!) have helped.

And by the way, the Chesapeake is a gret place for short range cruising. Lots of ports, and you get the wind but not the waves from the Atlantic.
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Old 13-12-2021, 07:58   #12
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Re: Power vs Sail

tkeithlu - thank you - you have packed several valuable observations into that message.

One of which - paraphrasing here - is we should consider the extra work involved in sailing. We're in our 60s and my wife was not strong when she was young. I can't imagine her cranking winches or pulling on lines all day.

And I'll take note of your advice regarding mechanical objects!
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Old 13-12-2021, 08:42   #13
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Re: Power vs Sail

I somewhat disagree with tkeithlu about the amount of work needed on a sailboat. Yes, there is more tasks to perform on a sailboat than on a powerboat, but the effort doesn't need to be tiring.

I'm 66 and fit, though no where near a weight lifter. I know guys in their 70's who not only are sailing, they are also racing.

If you choose a boat properly equipped you will be able to sail her. If you find yourself performing a task that takes all of your strength, then you are doing something wrong.

leecallen: You are correct that learning to sail on a small daysailer is a lot of fun.
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Old 13-12-2021, 08:56   #14
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Re: Power vs Sail

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Originally Posted by Chotu View Post
There are more good motoring days than good sailing days.
I think that really depends on when and where you're doing your boating. At the low end of the wind spectrum, seas are calm, there ain't no sailing, and a mo-boat is in its element. Above that you get enough wind to sail, and low seas - sail or motor handle just fine. Add a little more wind and sea-state - the sailboat is in its element, and the mo-boat is a vomitorium. Rougher and windier, then neither boat is going anywhere.

The Chessie's a great place for either type.
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Old 13-12-2021, 11:03   #15
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Re: Power vs Sail

Of I was going to go to the dark side, Iíd do it at the helm of one of these babies.

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