Boat design, selection and setup for the rest of us

Black Jack

Super Anarchist
In his book, Thoughts, Tips, Techniques and Tactics for Singlehanded Sailing by Andrew Evans (aka Foolish) had some interesting thoughts on picking the right boat design and getting it set up correctly.

Many years ago when I returned to sailing and wanted to purchase a boat to solo/shorthand race I took a bunch from his short paragraphs on the subject recognizing that most of it was for an audience geared for those planning for the larger venue short handed ocean regattas. Most of us who often sail singled handed will only do (if we are fortunate) a small handful of long distance races leaving us to take the best of his advice to fit most of our needs. Interesting Evans opens his thoughts with the Cal20, Black Feathers*, proving anyone can solo sail anything if they are driven or prepared.

Evans wrote:

"When searching for a boat, the singlehander has a terrific advantage over the crewed boat owner. It seems that the most modern boats, those built within the past five years and thus the most expensive, are the least suitable for singlehanding. Older fiberglass boats, built twenty to thirty years ago, by their nature have the design features that are best suited to singlehanding."

The key features to seek out are:
1. Helm: Tiller rather than a wheel.
2. Cockpit: Small rather than large. The singlehander must be able to control all of the major lines while at the tiller, even if this means stretching forward with the tiller between his knees.
3. Mast: Strong and secure. When things go wrong, a singlehander will put far more stress on the mast than a crewed boat.
4. A single backstay without running backstays.
5. Below deck: Simplicity is best.

* Black Feathers: A Pocket Racer Sails the Singlehanded TransPac
, by Robert and Jeanne Crawford, iUniverse, Inc., New York. ISBN 978-1-4401-9196-1.
Crawford lists the advantages and disadvantages of small boats:

CRAWFORD'S STATED ADVANTAGES OF USING A SMALLER/OLDER BOAT (JOHN VIGOR'S ABSTRACT)
► Cost, of course. Everything to do with small boats costs less than everything to do with big boats.
► Maintenance is easier and cheaper.
► You can more easily handle sails, winches, spinnaker poles, anchors, etc.
► Smaller spinnakers make dealing with snafus a lot less traumatic.
► Boat handling under normal conditions is easier and more forgiving because the boat is smaller and lighter.
► Small boats are more responsive and more maneuverable in confined spaces.
► Small boats can be rowed, paddled, or sculled.
► In a singlehanded race, the skipper of a small boat has a better chance of sailing a boat to its potential, thus improving his chances of winning on handicap.
► Smaller boats are less intimidating and easier to understand.
► Because smaller boats respond more quickly to change, you can more readily learn better sailing techniques.
► Because they’re less expensive to start with, you can experiment with gear changes that make holes everywhere, without destroying the value of an expensive boat.
► You have the feeling of being more at one with the water you’re sailing in.
► Because small boats generate small forces, breakage of equipment is not so common.
► If your boat develops a leak, it’s easier to trace and fix in a small boat that has fewer areas of the hull inaccessible.
► You can’t hoard too much heavy “stuff” on a small boat because there’s nowhere to put it.
► Emergency repairs to spars and rudders are more manageable. (Crawford himself had to ship a spare rudder at sea.)
► Erecting a jury mast is much simpler on a small boat.

DISADVANTAGES
► Small boats give you a rougher ride in heavy weather.
► You may have to beef up a small day-sailer for ocean work.
► Small boats often lack headroom and interior space. They won’t offer luxuries such as a full galley with fridge, or a shower, or even a fixed head.
► They’re not as fast as larger boats — but, let’s face facts: even larger boats are slow, very slow, compared with other forms of transport.
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Taking these considerations seriously, it brings up our own choices intentionally chosen for singlehanded sailing and mostly for short course, day long or weekend racing with a hope of some day doing something much longer. Keeping in that spirit would you care to share the following -
  1. What boat have you chosen?
  2. What attributes on her really work for you ?
  3. What would you like to change on her?
  4. What compromises have you accepted?
  5. What is your monthly or yearly budget to keep her going?
 
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kass

Member
Bound to be a fascinating thread. Thanks for starting it!

I bought my boat 'Zest' in early 2013 with the intention of taking part in the OSTAR, which I did in 2017 after extensive solo/double racing/cruising in the UK/France/Ireland/Portugal (Azores x 3).

1. A custom design by Rob Humphreys, build of strip cedar/epoxy in 1992.
2. Excellent strength to weight ratio, only bettered by carbon fibre. Great in light airs, or heavy airs VMG.
3. Would like to have the budget for better sails, running rigging, and energy supply but that's my problem not hers. Stripped out interior makes it easy to see what's going on with all systems, and quickly identify problems.
4. Stripped out interior makes tidy stowage a challenge. Feel a bit left out when surrounded by gaggles of Sunfasts/JPKs...but fun to beat them when conditions permit (see last weekend's results on RORC Cowes-Dinard)
5. Finger in the air estimate: $7200/year (not including race entry fees or club memberships)

photo of Zest in St. Malo this weekend with her pal Purple Mist, a Sunfast 3200 R2.
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mvk512

Member
65
11
So Cal
Long ago I was told by an accomplished singlehanded sailor: "Buy a boat you can sail closest to its potential for the duration of the races you plan to enter". Much of the advice in your post plays into that, but also things like how forgiving the boat design is to minor lapses of focus/concentration in longer races, the ability of a boat to sail to it's rating shorthanded... I ignored that advice and instead took the advice from another wise singlehanded sailor (may he rest in peace): "Life is too short to sail boats that suck. Get a boat that's fun to sail." I've been happy with that advice, though often beat to shit at the end of a race.

Current boat is a heavily modified Express 37. Prior boat (and a favorite) was a Santa Cruz 27. The SC27 was a joy to sail... lively & responsive and a blast to surf big swells. She could take a beating in heavy offshore weather, though the occasional cold water cockpit jacuzzi in mid-winter was not always fun. The modified E37 is a handful with a big fractional carbon rig, oversized main & chutes, runners & checks, short prod, oversized pole and both symmetric & asymmetric chutes... The sailing is glorious, though every sail change has the potential for catastrophe singlehanded as the wind picks up.

The rig is optimized for full crewed racing. Since I do more crewed racing than single/shorthanded, I'm not inclined to change anything right now. If I were to focus on single/shorthanded and my aging body... Some potential changes: smaller headsails only (possibly all non-overlapping), asymmetric chutes only (ditch the pole and get a bigger prod), under-deck autohelm drive, headsail roller furling and god forbid lazy jacks with a stack pack. FWIW, I switched to hanks for a year or so. There are pros and cons, but in the end I wasn't a fan and my foredeck hated them so we're back to a headfoil. I just need to reduce sail a little earlier in a building breeze offshore singlehanded.
 

Black Jack

Super Anarchist
I only own boats that appeal to me on personal level, sail really well shorthanded or crewed for even faster winning results and to enjoy numerous moments underway in solitude and when I putter a repair on them dockside or in serious modes while in the yard. My boats must be elegant, practical, grant a personal connection to my community and show a certain panache that seperates me from others that goes beyond hard dollars spent. I have been lucky to have a series of well founded classic sailing yachts that sail really fast with historical significant pedigrees that have deeply touched my sailing heroes.

Although I currently own 2 Mull 30 sisters 6 years apart in the beginning of the IOR development of the late 60s and early 70s. They were part of the San Francisco yachting scene that ushered in IMP and Improbable and launched the careers of many designers, builders and yachtsmen. These super sisters are similar in many respects with changes that concede to changes in build technology, balance and speed efficiency. They do have massive masts with single backstays, oversized rigging and use hanks on sails. One from 1966/7 Lively Lady is an outstanding yacht from American Marine built of full length mahogany stripped planks, with lightweight mahogany frames and cedar joinery. She was considered very fast in her day with SORC races won including the Miami to Nassau run taking a first over Windward Passage. The other one was built in 1972 by Hank Easom, she is highly constructed cold molded vessel with fiberglass sheathing that includes the engine box directly balanced over the keel; she is a dream to sail alone. Both are a blast to sail; almost like dinghies. Both sisters have massive traveller bridges that sit forward of the hatch on the cabins enabling a clear cockpit and easy trimming by the helmsmen. The cockpits are enclosed, very dry and balanced extremely stiff with very high ballast ratios; near perfection for the San Francisco bay for windward and leeward runs allowing me to make the upwind mark first.. The "new" sports boats that weight almost 1/3 to 1/2 less plane or surf faster than me which hurts my overall finishing times in comparison. Over the last 2 years, my friends and I have enjoyed solo single handed match against each other racing in the estuary, in SSS races as well taking on challenging others in crewed races. Both are complete with a few things to finish to make them even better. Pretty Penny has a slight advantage with the Yanmar over the outboard that Mull 30-1 has.
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1. I worked hard to have ready the 1972 Easom Mull 30, Pretty Penny who rates a PHRF of 150 but instead my business and life got really busy. My attraction to travel and motorcycles hinders this passion of mine. I currently sail about 6 to 8 days a month year around. I have no doubt she is more than capable of sailing the single handed Transpac, Double handing PacCup or even doing a meandering west coast, Canal to Europe cruise. I feel secure in her ample simple cockpit and with her high ballast ratio I can be more fearless in a blow. She is an upwind freight train that can outpoint most all modern racers. She is the boat to keep for sincerely practical reasons and an edge to better singlehanded/short handed sailing.

2. I am a huge Gary Mull fan boy and have been since I was 7. I look at other boats but find I come back to the same conclusion that these boat tickle me right. The boat is so simple to sail fast, an out of the box short handed secure boat. There is so little clutter in the cockpit. the mainsail is a dream to manage once up and do not need to reef until we start to see force 6/7 winds. When others get knocked down, I keep trucking fast. I can sail any where and on a given day am faster that most.

3. I have always kept up with my boats myself. I find my frugality gets in my way to often when dialing in dollars for extra speed farkles. I do love working on these boats and feel confident that I am ensuring they will remain great for years to come. I bought new races sails this year but do not use them. I am eyeing a new topside paint job which is going to cost me more than double what i bought the boat for two years ago but since i blew the budget on sails i am baulking at the moment. I do not like the main sail rope which makes for a headaches nor plastic sliders on the new sails - the lazy jacks I made for them work but it is not ideal.

4. I have accepted the well balanced over keel engine box design that takes a good deal of space. It is really smart but with drawbacks. It is a pain to get around and takes up volume in the spartan but refined cabin. The headroom is 5'9" and I am 5'11... The spartan set up works but it does mean that there is less real storage. I have to get clever about the way I hold extra sails and stores. The dry bilge is shallow leaving nowhere under the boards to hide or store those things that just need to be tucked out of the way.

5. My yearly budget is about $7200 which 3100 for dock fees, supplies run about 500, rigging and extras 1000, a reserve of 1800 a year to be spent on future sails or yard bottom jobs. I am figuring a half DIY yard bill of 6k for the new 2 part topside paint job which will bust this year budget - it is one of those things i have to do...
 
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221J

Member
202
76
CT
My take:

1) The most important thing in a boat is to gain trust it. Trust is not bought, it is earned over time by sailing. After sailing, fix and optimize mechanical things and figure out how you can improve yourself too.

2) Know your boat. Know what it can do and know what it can't do. Take advantage of what it can do and do not attempt to do what it can't do.

3) My boat shall have standing headroom below. I don't want to have to look at my feet while moving around.

4) The boat must be a capable sailing vessel. It must point well and generally have a turn of speed. The engine must be an able backup plan when for whatever reason sailing is not a good option. I like to get places. There must be enough safe stowage that if the boat goes into an extreme heel angle that when it rights itself the stowed items remain in place. The transom must be open so that drainage is never a problem.

5) The boat systems must be manageable. All sails have to be small and light enough for me to deploy from below decks and retrieve. Small exception for a main on cars or lugs and an rf jib. Halyard, sheet and anchor loads need to be within my capacity. The rig and sailplan must power up and depower to limit sail changes.

6) The boat must support my needs. I want refrigeration, hot and cold water, heat and redundant navigation instruments. These include a compass and sextant. It must carry tools. My berth must be dry. The cockpit benches must be long enough for me to lie down.

7) The boat should be neat, clean and tidy.

I don't subscribe to the theory that 30 year old boats make the best cruising boats. I am this way from experience with one Tartan 30. I really like the boat but I wouldn't trust it. It appeared to be well maintained but in 3 weekends of racing and one two week cruise, the spinnaker pole downhaul broke, the tiller snapped while close reaching with a spinnaker and the gooseneck cracked in half. Time takes its toll on equipment. I am ok with others exercising their right to choose these boats.
 

Black Jack

Super Anarchist
My take:

1) The most important thing in a boat is to gain trust it. Trust is not bought, it is earned over time by sailing. After sailing, fix and optimize mechanical things and figure out how you can improve yourself too.

2) Know your boat. Know what it can do and know what it can't do. Take advantage of what it can do and do not attempt to do what it can't do.

3) My boat shall have standing headroom below. I don't want to have to look at my feet while moving around.

4) The boat must be a capable sailing vessel. It must point well and generally have a turn of speed. The engine must be an able backup plan when for whatever reason sailing is not a good option. I like to get places. There must be enough safe stowage that if the boat goes into an extreme heel angle that when it rights itself the stowed items remain in place. The transom must be open so that drainage is never a problem.

5) The boat systems must be manageable. All sails have to be small and light enough for me to deploy from below decks and retrieve. Small exception for a main on cars or lugs and an rf jib. Halyard, sheet and anchor loads need to be within my capacity. The rig and sailplan must power up and depower to limit sail changes.

6) The boat must support my needs. I want refrigeration, hot and cold water, heat and redundant navigation instruments. These include a compass and sextant. It must carry tools. My berth must be dry. The cockpit benches must be long enough for me to lie down.

7) The boat should be neat, clean and tidy.

I don't subscribe to the theory that 30 year old boats make the best cruising boats. I am this way from experience with one Tartan 30. I really like the boat but I wouldn't trust it. It appeared to be well maintained but in 3 weekends of racing and one two week cruise, the spinnaker pole downhaul broke, the tiller snapped while close reaching with a spinnaker and the gooseneck cracked in half. Time takes its toll on equipment. I am ok with others exercising their right to choose these boats.

I agree with a lot of this. It seems that many would rather buy new than replace due to upgrading, deferred maintenance and fatigue despite the huge differences in costs. But for most folks stretching to spring for a new one is a day dream due to so many other things we can have or do so we are left with a pool of older well built tried and true racer/cruisers. Considering the cost vs returns of such things; what more modern choice do you think is equal what you had, as you used it and return on what paid for it and ultimately got in return despite this issues?

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Crash

Super Anarchist
5,215
1,113
SoCal
In my roughly 43 years of sailing I’ve bought 6 keel boats. At time of purchase they were:
7 year old 1980 J-24
5 yo 1985 Santana 30/30
16 yo 1984 First 30E
new 2004 J/109
25 yo 1984 S2 9.1
24 yo 1993 First 310

They all had issues, and those issue were not all directly age related. The Santana tiller snapped at about 7 years old, also the toe rails started leaking, and the bolt that secured fuel line to injector started leaking the sheared off.

First 30E spin pole bridle lines broke, cabin house fixed ports cracked

J/109 headliner separated from plywood panel it was glued to, bow sprit seal leaked (badly) and folding prop wouldn’t always open when going in to gear

S2 9.1 needed much new coring on deck, new tiller, broke a Jin halyard on a set (cost us a race)

First 310 chart plotter need a “reboot” at each start up to find satellites, galley faucet started leaking suddenly, raw water intake pipe cracked…

My conclusion is no boat is perfect, nor without issues. Newer boats are not any more immune to having issues than are older boats. All my boats got more reliable the longer I owned them and became aware of their particular weak spots/issues.
 




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