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.
Tested Tech or Innovation?
Of course, one of the ways to achieve cutting-edge performance is to employ cutting-edge innovations in materials or techniques. And that raises still another fundamental choice: Do you want a boat that lives in the comfort of settled technology? Or do you want to sail among the pioneers trying new things?
In half a century of composite boatbuilding, we’ve learned a lot. Solid structures of E-glass and polyester, sails of Dacron, rigs of aluminum and 7x19 stainless-steel wire, plus diesel engines and lead-acid batteries—all these technologies (among many others) are entirely predictable now. As a broad industry, we know their life spans, and we can identify the signs that indicate when it’s time to make replacements or repairs. But over the years, many innovations in boatbuilding design, materials, and techniques have come along to make sailing better. Cored hulls, better resins and reinforcing fibers, laminated sails, lighter and stiffer rigging, smarter propulsion and power distribution—all these innovations have been moving from the edges toward the middle for decades.
Among recent Boat of the Year contenders, we find fine examples from both sides of that question. The Leopard 38 and 44 (Best Multihull Cruiser and overall Best Import for 2010 and 2012, respectively) are Morelli & Melvin-designed cats built by Robertson and Caine in South Africa in close consultation with the folks who run The Moorings and Sunsail charter companies. What that means for these cats, in both the owner versions or the charter versions, is that these boats are built with a prime focus on the maintenance cycles—a vast database drawn from literally tens of thousands of charter days. Sailed from Cape Town on their own bottoms, these boats were honestly designed with the buoyancy necessary for all the conveniences and built with technology that’s been thoroughly tested over time.
For straight-up sailing, though, a different Morelli & Melvin-designed boat wins the plaudits of many a discerning sailor. Ask a roomful of pros what their dreamboat would be, and one name keeps coming up: the Gunboat. Beginning with the Gunboat 62 (Most Innovative, 2003) and followed by the 55, 60, 78, and 90, this line of luxury cats demonstrates what’s possible at the edges of boatbuilding design, materials, and technology. Epoxy resins, carbon-fiber spars, aramid rigging—these materials place the boat in a specialty zone when it comes to maintenance. But for those who are willing, there’s nothing so luxurious as the thrill of the power and speed that these boats deliver.
The innovations of a generation ago—asymmetric cruising spinnakers, cored hulls, deck-saloon layouts—have moved to the middle of the design box. Meanwhile, today’s builders keep trying things like hybrid propulsion (Lagoon), epoxy construction on a production scale (Tartan), and articulating transoms (Hunter) that could just break through the constraints of size and technology that others take as a given.