The appeal of offshore voyaging is difficult to explain to land people who can’t imagine life without basic human rights like copious quantities of hot water and unlimited data. It can even be challenging to explain to fellow sailors who think the notion of spending days or weeks at sea is a form of waterboarding, some kind of self-inflicted torture.
But for those of us who understand, who relish intimacy with the untamed wilderness that is the ocean and embrace self-reliance and individual expression while accepting the dispassionate whims of Neptune, this is the good life.
There are two essential truths about this life: One, money does not matter. Cruising budgets and lifestyles reflect bank accounts with variously positioned commas; it’s the passages and landfalls that add up, not your investment portfolio. And two, a good bluewater sailboat — not necessarily an expensive boat, but a well-designed, solidly built, imminently seaworthy boat that is only limited by your moxie and imagination — is the key to successful bluewater passagemaking.
So, to that second point, I’ve compiled a list of interesting and affordable cruising sailboats for serious voyaging. A list of 10 sailboats for any purpose, much less world cruising, is sure to evoke outrage from strong-minded sailors, who by nature tend to be a bit opinionated. Stand by before hurling insults my way, and let me explain. I have decided to stay away from the sailboats we know by heart, the iconic old boats that usually populate a list like this: the Westsail 32, Tayana 37, Shannon 38 and Valiant 40 (the last of which, with a bit of searching, can still be found at or just below $100,000).
My list of some of the best liveaboard sailboats is eclectic and includes a mix of well-known and obscure manufacturers, but all the boats are linked in three ways: All are top-quality vessels capable of crossing oceans. They’re affordable, although in a few cases you have to look for older models in less-than-stellar condition to stay below $100,000. Indeed, in some ways, this list of used sailboats is a function of age; most of the boats were priced at more than $100,000 when new but have dipped below our self-imposed threshold in middle age. And finally, they’re all boats that I have encountered in the past few years in far-flung cruising destinations.
Love them or loathe them, Island Packets are everywhere. To some, the beamy, full-keel, high-freeboard hull designs seem quaint, to put it charitably. To others, the robust construction standards, roomy interiors and overall user-friendliness make them the ideal cruising boat. More than most, sailing vessels are compromises, and Bob Johnson and his crew at Island Packet were brilliant in prioritizing the needs of sailors. The IP 35 was introduced in 1988 and features a huge cockpit, an easy-to-handle cutter rig with a jib boom, and a clever, comfortable interior with the volume of many 40-footers. It might not be the fastest boat upwind, but the long waterline translates to good performance off the breeze, meaning the IP 35 finds its stride in the trade winds. In all, 188 boats were built before production stopped in 1994.
Don’t confuse the IP 35 with the IP 350, which was launched in 1997 and included a stern swim step. You won’t find a 350 for less than $100,000, but you will have a choice among 35s, especially those built before 1990. With two nice staterooms, the 35 is ideal for family cruising. I know of a couple of 35s that have completed the classic Atlantic Circle passage. It’s perfect for a sabbatical cruise because it holds its value and there’s a ready market when it comes time to sell.
Prout Snowgoose 37
There’s no room for discussion: Catamarans are crossing oceans, and many sailors are choosing cats for world cruising. My last visits to the Azores and Canary Islands, the classic Atlantic waypoints, proved the point. I’m not much of a statistician, but by my count, at least a quarter and maybe a third of the boats I saw were catamarans. There would be more on this list, but they are just too expensive. Finding a quality catamaran for less than $100,000 is tough. One boat to consider is the classic workhorse multihull, the Prout Snowgoose 37.
When the Snowgoose 37 was launched in 1983, English builder Prout & Sons had already been in business for nearly 50 years. The 37 was an updated version of the Snowgoose 35, one of the most successful cruising cats ever. In 1986, the 37 was updated again; the Snowgoose Elite model included more beam and interior upgrades. These models are challenging to find for under $100,000, but it’s possible. A quick glance at yachtworld.com shows several of both models available for less than $100,000. Again, the strong dollar makes European boats an excellent value.
The Snowgoose 37 is not sexy like go-fast cats, and not roomy like modern cruising cats. It is, however, seaworthy. Of the 500 built, many have circumnavigated. Older boats have solid fiberglass hulls, and more recent models are solid glass from the waterline down and cored above. The cockpit is rather compact by catamaran standards, and the bridgedeck is solid (no tramp). Many 37s and all Elites were rigged with staysails, a big plus in heavy weather. The masthead-rigged Snowgoose 37 can be sailed like a monohull offshore, and it’s quite nice not having a huge, roachy mainsail to wrestle with in a storm. With a 15-foot-3-inch beam for the 37 and a 16-foot-3-inch beam for the Elite, it’s easy to find affordable dockage and yards for haulouts. Most boats have three double cabins, making the Snowgoose 37 an ideal family cruiser.
The Corbin 39 is not as well known as it should be. It’s a capable bluewater sailboat cruiser with many impressive voyages logged. My Quetzal spent several weeks moored alongside a handsome 39 in Corfu that had sailed around the world, and I also spent a winter in Malta in the same boatyard as another 39 that had recently crossed the Atlantic. A canoe-stern, flush-deck pilothouse cutter, the 39 was offered with either an aft or center cockpit. Designed by Michael Dufour and constructed by Corbin les Bateaux in Canada, hull number one was launched in 1977. Built in various locations in Quebec, 129 boats were launched before a fire destroyed the deck tooling in 1982. A new deck with a larger cockpit was designed, and 70 more boats were laid up before production ceased in 1990.
The rub on the Corbin 39 is that the majority of boats were sold as kits with owner-finished interiors. Kits varied from just hull-and-deck to “sailaway,” with everything fitted except the interior. Only 15 boats were finished at the factory. Not surprisingly, the interior quality is unpredictable, from rough-hewn lumberyard specials to beautifully handcrafted gems finished by marine professionals. The difference is reflected in the price. A nicely finished, well-equipped model from the mid-’80s typically sells for between $60,000 and $80,000.
The hull shape features a long fin keel and skeg-mounted rudder. The hulls are heavily laid up and include Airex coring. Early decks were plywood-cored, but most boats have Airex in the deck as well. Ballast is 9,000 pounds of internal lead, translating to a 40 percent ballast-to-displacement ratio. The wide flush deck is spacious, and the sleek pilothouse usually includes inside steering. Massive double anchor rollers are incorporated into the bowsprit in later models. Most boats include a double-spreader spar, and almost all were set up as cutters. There’s plenty of freeboard, which becomes obvious below. While interior arrangements vary considerably, there’s a lot of room to work with. I prefer the post-1982 aft-cockpit 39s; they’re generally of a higher quality than earlier boats.
Cabo Rico 38
“The Cabo Rico 38 hull shape is the one in which everything came together best,” wrote Bill Crealock in his design notes. He might have changed his mind later in life, considering that the Cabo Rico was introduced in 1977 and he designed many boats after that, but few will dispute that this 38-foot cutter, built in Costa Rica, is flat-out beautiful. From the clipper bow to the sweet sheer to the abundance of honey-colored teak, the Cabo Rico 38 is a boat to inspire the most practical among us to quit their job, buy this vessel, and head for the South Pacific.
Not surprisingly, many people have done just that. Cabo Rico built 200 full-keeled 38s, with most of the production occurring in the 1980s. There’s always a selection of boats for sale for less than $100,000. Cabo Rico was an outlier among manufacturers of the time, building serious cruising boats in Central America instead of Taiwan, but quality control was always excellent. The full keel is slightly cutaway, and the rudder is attached to the trailing edge. The prop is in an aperture and totally protected, but not well suited to backing into a slip. Full-keel boats may make some younger sailors cringe, but the CR 38 has a very soft ride in rough seas and heaves to effectively. It also has a solid fiberglass hull with a layer of balsa for insulation. Sometimes it’s noted that the hull is balsa-cored, but it’s not. After about hull number 40, lead was used instead of iron for internal ballast. The deck is balsa-cored, however, and there’s a substantial bulwark. Items to be wary of are the teak decks (most 38s have them) and the fittings supporting the bobstay.
A true cutter rig, the 38 has just under 1,000 square feet of working sail area and performs better than most people suspect. The staysail was originally set on a boom that cluttered the foredeck and limited sail shape. Many boats have been converted with furling staysails sans the boom — a nice upgrade. When the wind pipes up, the 38 tracks nicely with a reefed main and staysail. I encounter 38s all over the Caribbean. They’re easy to spot; they’re the beautiful boats in the anchorage.
Tayana Vancouver 42
Ta Yang, builder of Tayana sailboats, has been building capable cruising boats forever, it seems. The Robert Harris-designed Tayana Vancouver 42 has been a mainstay of the serious cruising fleet since the day it was launched in 1979, and is still in demand today. The company built 200 boats, mostly in the ’80s and early ’90s, although a few V42s were built into the 2000s. With a bit of digging and some haggling, you can find boats for less than $100,000, but they’re likely to be older models. As of this writing, yachtworld.com has eight V42s listed, with three asking less than $100,000.
I’ve encountered the V42 all over the world, and in my yacht-delivery days, I had the pleasure of delivering a couple of 42s up the East Coast and down to the Caribbean. The double-ended hull shape with a fin-skeg underbody is stiff and seaworthy, if not wickedly fast. Considering the rugged construction, with a solid fiberglass hull and balsa-cored deck, nobody has ever accused Ta Yang of going light on its boats. Ballast is internal iron, a massive single casting that weighs in at 11,800 pounds. Ta Yang has evolved as a builder, and later models included upgrades like vinylester resin and larger Yanmar diesels.
A true cutter, the V42 has a double-spreader rig and is heavily stayed. The seagoing deck is cambered to shed water. Teak decks, with all their virtues and vices, were common; I’d look for a boat that’s been de-teaked. Like the Corbin 39, the V42 came with either a center or aft cockpit, although most boats were aft-cockpit models. The aft cockpit is deep and secure, if a bit tight due to volume sacrificed by the canoe stern. The center cockpit is cramped but offers excellent visibility. The interior is lovely, with exquisite Taiwanese joinery. Although interior arrangements vary because Ta Yang encouraged owner input, across the board, this is a friendly boat for living aboard. The aft-cockpit model includes one head and a traditional layout with excellent light and ventilation. The center-cockpit model features a large owner’s stateroom aft.
Wauquiez Pretorien 35
The Pretorien 35 does not pay homage to tradition. The Euro-style low-slung wedge deck and flattish lines were thoroughly modern when the Pretorien was launched in 1979. Sure, there are IOR influences in this well-proven Holman & Pye design, including a slightly pinched stern, cramped cockpit, and a high-aspect, short-boom mainsail that results in a large foretriangle. But a small main is easy to handle offshore, especially in squally conditions, and a large poled-out furling genoa provides a low-stress way to cross oceans. The test of a design is revealed long after the launch, and the Pretorien has aged brilliantly. It’s often mistaken for a Swan or Baltic. Famed voyager and author Hal Roth chose a Pretorien for his last boat.
Below the water, which is what really matters at sea, the Pretorien pushes the right buttons for serious sailing. A fine entry provides enough of a forefoot to prevent pounding in lumpy conditions, and as on the Valiant 40, the fin keel incorporates a stub to which the external ballast is fastened. The rudder is mounted well aft for excellent steering control, especially on a deep reach, and is tucked behind a narrow but full-length skeg. The Pretorien displaces 13,000 pounds, of which 6,000 pounds is ballast, translating to a stiff, seakindly boat.
The construction is superb. The solid fiberglass hull includes longitudinal stringers that stiffen the panels and encapsulate the bulkheads. Tabbing and fiberglass work is first-rate throughout. Wauquiez was one of the first builders to use solid laminate beneath high-load deck fittings. The side decks are wide and, with the chainplates well inboard, easy to navigate. The interior arrangement is conventional, but ample beam amidships helps create a surprisingly spacious feel below.
There were 212 Pretoriens built during a seven-year production run, so there’s usually a good selection of boats on the used market. Today’s strong dollar makes European Pretoriens an excellent value.
Gulfstar had a terrible reputation in the early ’70s: It was infamous for producing wide-body motorsailers with tiny rigs and chintzy Formica interiors. Company founder Vince Lazzara was adept at reading market trends and upped his game in the late ’70s and ’80s. Lazzara, who also founded Columbia Yachts, was a veteran of the production-sailboat wars and realized that buyers were demanding high-quality boats that sailed well. The Gulfstar 44 was launched in 1978, and 105 were sold before the company started producing the Hirsh 45 in 1985.
Some mistake the G44 for a Bristol, and it has a similar profile, right down to the teak toerail and raked cabin trunk. A sleek center-cockpit design, the hull shape features a 5-foot-6-inch fin keel, a skeg-hung rudder and moderate proportions. I know the boat well, having delivered one from Bermuda to Annapolis and another from Fort Lauderdale to Boston. It has a nice ride in lumpy seas and powers up when the big genoa is drawing on a reach. The construction is typical of the time, with solid fiberglass hulls and cored decks. Gulfstars were known to blister, and it’s likely that any 44 you find will have had an epoxy bottom job along the way — and if it hasn’t, it will need one. The keel-stepped spar has an air draft of 55 feet. Some owners have modified the sloop rig with a staysail. The cockpit is roomy, especially for a center-cockpit design, although there’s not much of a bridgedeck. All sail controls are led aft. Lazzara was an early proponent of this feature, and the boat is user-friendly overall.
The interior sells the boat. It’s nicely finished in teak, and the layout is made for living aboard. The aft cabin includes an enormous double berth with an en suite head and stall shower. The main saloon is spacious and well ventilated, although beware of the plastic opening portlights. If you are looking for a comfortable, well-built center-cockpit cruiser but can’t find one that you can afford, track down a Gulfstar 44; you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Any list of bluewater cruising sailboats must include a Robert Perry design. I could have easily put together nine Perry boats for this list. The Nordic 40 may surprise some, especially because 40 feet is an iconic length, bringing to mind such boats as the Valiant 40, Hinckley Bermuda 40, Bristol 40, Pacific Seacraft 40, Passport 40 and others. The trick is finding a 40-footer for less than $100,000. Nonetheless, the Nordic 40 and its larger sister ship, the 44, are among my favorite boats.
Based in Bellingham, Washington, Nordic produced world-class yachts during its brief production run in the 1980s. Only 40 Nordic 40s were launched between 1982 and 1987, but they’re worth seeking out on the used-boat market. The 40 features the classic double-ended Perry hull shape, with a fine entry, a deep and powerful fin keel, a skeg-mounted rudder positioned well aft, and a reverse transom. Freeboard is moderate and the sheer line is subtle, but to my eye, with its double-spreader rig and gently sloping deck line, the boat is poetry in the water.
The hull is solid fiberglass and the deck is balsa-cored, with solid laminates below loaded-up deck fittings. Original boats came with Navtec rod rigging and a hydraulic backstay, but many have been upgraded by now. Sail-control lines are led aft to the compact but functional T-shaped cockpit. The traveler is forward of the companionway, allowing for a cockpit dodger. The Nordic 40 is nimble in light to moderate breeze but can also stand up in a blow and heave to decently.
The interior is well suited to a cruising couple. It’s really a two-person boat, with a V-berth forward and large C-shaped galley aft, with plenty of counter space and a huge fridge. It includes the normal deft Perry touches — excellent sea berths, a separate stall shower and generous tankage. If you do find a Nordic 40 on the used market, be sure to take a hard look at the Westerbeke diesel and the V-drive transmission.
Pacific Seacraft 34
A handsome, nimble and capable double-ender by legendary designer Bill Crealock, the Pacific Seacraft 34 is well proven, with scores of ocean crossings in its wake.
After the boat was first launched as the Crealock 34 in 1979, Pacific Seacraft introduced a fifth model years later, a scaled-down version of the popular PS 37. Though expensive at the time, the 34 was another success story for one of America’s premier builders, and hundreds of boats were built in the company’s yard in Santa Ana, California. There is always a good selection of used boats available for less than $100,000. Another nice perk for used-boat buyers is that the 34 is back in production at the reincarnated Pacific Seacraft yard in Washington, North Carolina, providing an outlet for parts and advice. The company is now owned and operated by marine archaeologist Stephen Brodie and his father, Reid.
The 34 blends traditional values above the waterline with what was then a more modern underbody, with a long fin keel and skeg-hung rudder. A bit hefty at 13,500 pounds of displacement, the design otherwise is a study in moderation, and drawn with a keen eye toward providing a soft ride in a seaway and staying on good terms with Neptune in a blow.
The hull is solid fiberglass, and early decks were plywood-cored before Pacific switched to end-grain balsa. The hull-to-deck joint incorporates a molded bulwark that offers added security when you’re moving about on deck, and a vertical surface for mounting stanchions.
Most 34s are cutter-rigged for versatility but carry moderate-size genoas instead of high-cut yankees for more horsepower off the wind. Down below, the layout is traditional, but the 6-foot-4-inch headroom is a pleasant surprise. The Pacific Seacraft 34 is perfect for a cruising couple.
John Kretschmer is a delivery captain, adventurer and writer, whose own boat Quetzal, a 1987 Kaufman 47, has seen a refit or two over the years. His latest book is Sailing a Serious Ocean: Sailboats, Storms, Stories and Lessons Learned from 30 Years at Sea, also available on his website.