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Last Saturday, my Captain Guy and I took my mother-in-law sailing.  It was a custom made day for it.  We motored around Clear Lake looking at all the zillion dollar homes before heading out into the bay, killing the engine, and setting sail.  It was a great day for sailing and there were lots and lots of boats out on the bay taking advantage of the light winds and cool weather.  My mother-in-law was thrilled with the outing. 

We like our boat.  The boat that existed when we purchased her is little more than a shadow of what we sail now.  What little bit left to put the absolute finishing touches on her is nothing more than piddle work.  The Hunter 31 is a thirty one foot racer cruiser.  What that means is that it has a fin-keel, a spade rudder, and a very round bottom.  The upside of a racer cruiser boat design is that they are responsive and reach hull speed in relatively light air.  The downside is that in an angry sea they will beat you silly and make moving around on the boat very dangerous if not all but impossible.  In stronger winds they heel over considerably with the same result.  And, that brings us to the issue at hand…a new boat.

Those who may have followed this blog will note that from the very start I have discussed how we never, ever intended this boat to be the boat we will cruise once we retire.  This boat was the coastal cruiser (racer cruiser) we picked to sharpen our already substantial sailing skills here on the Gulf Coast.  In addition, quite frankly, the boat we picked was also to ascertain that Captain Husband and I were compatible sailing together and for each of us to verify what each of us had claimed regarding our experience.  The Hunter 31 was a fixer-upper vessel that we completely restored and then further enhanced ourselves.  We conservatively estimate that, after expenses, we should easily be able to double our money when we sell her.  Nonetheless, regardless of how much we have restored and enhanced her, our Hunter 31 is still a twenty five year old Hunter 31 racer cruiser production boat.  There reaches a point that any further money we spend on upgrades are useless and will not be recaptured when we sell her…we are at that point.  The search is on for the new boat.

Yes, the search is on for a new boat…a straight up cruiser.  Now, sailboats are CE rated.  The rating goes like this:  CE-A – Bluewater ocean, CE-B – Coastal waters, CE-C – Inland waters, bays, and CE-D – Sheltered waters, lakes and such.  Our Hunter 31 has a CE-A/4 classification.  Technically, one could sail her from Clear Lake to any place in the world, in any sea…to do so would not be a good move.  For, regardless of what Hunter Marine might claim, the Hunter 31 is not a proven bluewater ocean cruiser…she’s just not made for it.  Chances are better than not that to take her into bluewater would result in a long float on a life raft hoping a freighter might come along.  Remember, when a sailboat breaks or is holed it sinks…it sinks very, very fast.  Check THIS  out to see just how fast.  Pretty impressive, huh?  Imagine there being just wo people aboard and no inflatable following you around and something like this happen when you are a week away from shore.  Needless to say, this is not something we’d prefer to experience several hundred miles from land…and this kind of thing happens all the time.  No, the Hunter 31 simply won’t do.

Our next boat will be a bluewater cruiser.  It will be built for the open ocean.  We are looking for a boat in the 45’-50’ or so range.  Generally speaking, cruisers have several distinct design differences from racer cruisers.  They are longer and wider, for one thing.  They also have what is called a full keel that runs down most, if not all, of the bottom.  Because of the full keel they generally have a larger displacement…they are heavier.  And, the rudder is attached to the keel and supported over its entire length.  The advantages are legion…they slice through the seas rather than are bounced around on top of them…the full keel helps the boats go forward and not slip sideways in an abeam wind…the rudder is protected significantly from damage…they are more rigid and less prone to oilcanning…they are more stable in angry seas and higher winds…and, because of all of these characteristics, they are exponentially more comfortable on long passages.  The downside…a good bluewater cruiser is very expensive.  As one can see from THIS LINK it is not unusual to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a fully outfitted and proven cruiser…even into the millions.  Another drag is that bluewater cruisers are generally slower in light winds.  Everything’s a trade off.

If one follows the link above they will find it is sorted by length.  But a close inspection of all of the boats will find that there is a significant range of prices that are not necessarily proportional to length.  For instance, there is a 55’ 1984 Nelson Marek boat there for $74,000 yet there is a 45’ 1981 Bristol for $209,000…so, you have a ten foot shorter yacht that is three years older costing almost three times what a much larger and younger boat does.  And, that, as they say, is the problem…it’s a minefield out there when it comes to buying a large cruiser.  In the above example, just what makes the smaller, older boat worth almost three times more expensive than the larger and slighter newer one?  The short answer is lots and lots of things…maybe.

All kinds of things affect the price of a boat.  One might have more sails in its inventory…or the same number but the sails are newer.  Electronics are a big expense…a marine or SSB radio versus full satellite internet access.  An old 4” GPS versus a new 16” touch screen GPS with a full complement of chart software adds to the price.  A 60 gallon freshwater tank versus a 200 gallon one…or a water maker is a consideration…same goes for a 75 gallon versus a 150 gallon fuel tank.  Comfortable below decks cabin with a large bed is a big one for us…so is a well designed and functional galley.  Life raft packs by themselves can run $8-10 thousand dollars, a hefty price until one thinks about their boat sinking beneath them.  EPIRBS (emergency position-indicating radio beacons) can be a $1,000 each.  Winches versus self-tailing winches versus electric winches are a big one…same goes for roller furlers versus hoisting the sails by hand.  A gen set is almost a necessity for the tropics.  The list is simply endless.

If my husband and I had an unlimited amount of money, believe me, choosing a first class proven bluewater cruiser wouldn’t be a problem…but we don’t.  And, that is one of the two approaches to buying one.  If one had the money, that we do not have, all they would have to do is go to a yacht broker, give them a list of specifications, and then sit back as boat after boat appears that meets the criteria…take them all for a sail and then pick the fastest, prettiest, most comfortable, and well maintained of the lot.  If only it was that easy.  If one is on a budget, as we will be, the other way is to research, research, and then research some more…then choose a boat that has the required and proven construction and hull design, adequate standing and running rigging, acceptable sail inventory, is generally in good operational condition, has a comfortable and functional below decks layout, and has been well maintained…and then refit it to our needs and requirements.  Along the way is, of course, the marine survey.  And, just like that…one has a comfortable, safe, stable, and proven bluewater cruiser.  Well…not exactly just like that

You see, we are in the very early stages of a very long ordeal.  From now until the end of next summer we are in the first phase of choosing the hull design and construction of the new boat.  After we decide what we want, we will then have to find a boat for sale that meets our other criteria and, that we can afford.  And, then finally, we have to outfit the boat like we’d like it.  This doesn’t happen overnight.  We are looking at it like this…one year of research and visiting local boats that are for sale, one year to isolate a boat we have researched and buy it, and then two years refitting what we have bought and learning how to sail it…four years, maybe, hopefully, a little less.

With the Hunter 31 we completely restored to a “better than new” condition.  The Hunter was completely gutted and everything was repaired, modified, or replaced.  That will not be the case with the new boat.  We will have fully operational systems and sound joinery to begin with on our cruiser.  When refitting a used boat one can expect to spend 50% or more over the purchase price…as an example, one can spend in the neighborhood of $50,000 refitting a boat that was originally purchased for $100,000……not counting our time and labor.  We expect to spend the majority of the refitting money on electronics and safety equipment, though undoubtedly some systems will have to be repaired or replaced.  

The upside is that most cruisers are either owned out right or are financed by someone who can afford to take a hit if they get disillusioned by their toy.  Some sailors simply say enough, and dump their boats on the market at cut rate prices.  Other sailors are going through a divorce and are tired of the wife or husband nagging them about a boat the other didn’t want in the first place.  And, yet others are so damn rich they are just tired of seeing the boat show up on their balance sheets and sitting in berth growing barnacles.  There are very good deals to be found in sailboats if one is willing to wait for them to come along…that’s what we did with our Hunter 31.  We can wait for a good deal…after all, we already have a boat, we’re in no hurry.

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