How to Buy a Boat: Your Own Elegant Compromise
If you’re shopping for a boat, start by thoroughly disrupting your own assumptions about what constitutes the best one for you.
The Middle or the Edges?
In the 1970s, that heyday of production-sailboat building, we saw the great flourishing of yacht-design compromise: boats that raced and cruised, slept six, crossed oceans, and fit into a 35-foot slip. CCA racing rules begat the long overhangs on legendary cruising boats from Pearson and Rhodes and Columbia. The exaggerated tumblehome on some “cruisers” from C&C and other builders doffed a cap to the IOR racing rules. And while the subsequent 30 years have brought plenty of refinements, still the legacy of that first generation of full-scale production sailboats poses a crucial question: Do you want a boat that lives near the middle of the design box; a cruiser with full living accommodations that’ll let you do some club racing; some lively daysailing; some overnighters; some ocean passages? Or do you want a boat that boldly lives near one of the edges of the design box, a boat that deliberately trades away one or several criteria for full-stop excellence in another? As you scan the field, keep this in mind. Particular boats at the middle or the edges will exemplify elegant compromises. The key is finding the ones that really fit you best.
|Beneteau Sense 50. Photo by Billy Black.|
A look at Beneteau’s range brings the point home. The world’s most prolific sailboat builder offers one line, now called Oceanis, that deftly exemplifies the middle of the box, addressing such elements as displacement, sail area, hull form, and layout with a moderation that appeals to many sailors by allowing the boats to be used in many different ways. Recent BOTY winners in this category include the Beneteau 34, 40, and 49.
Meanwhile, the same builder offers two other lines that pointedly diverge from the centerline for more focused use. The Beneteau Sense 50 (2011’s Best Full-Size Cruiser), with it’s spacious, single-level layout on a wide hull form, invites a particularly social kind of cruising while turning away from straight sea berths, high bridgedecks, and small cockpit volumes—those design elements that traditionally telegraphed “offshore voyager.” And on the other side of the aisle, Beneteau’s First-series designs have traded away some of the cruising comforts of the Oceanis line for greater horsepower—and taken firsts in international regattas in the bargain.
We can see the same middle-vs.-edges difference in boats from other builders. Take the Catalina 309 and the J/95, two 31-footers that each won BOTY’s Domestic Boat of the Year award when they were introduced. The 309, like its award-winning bigger siblings, the Catalina 355, 375, and 445, exemplifies smart thinking from the middle of the box: full standing headroom, ample private sleeping cabins for two couples, complete working galley and head, plus tankage for a 200-mile motoring range.
The J/95, by contrast, trades that standing headroom for a low profile in a boat whose centerboard and twin rudders let you deftly sail into 3 feet of water. Designed by J/24 creator Rod Johnstone, the J/95 isn’t meant as a vacation home or a class racer like many of its siblings (including the J/133 that won Best Performance Cruiser in 2004) but rather as a fun, easy-to-sail weekender that does what it does emphatically well: take you daysailing, perhaps with a grandchild or two, right up to the shoreline.