Aleutian 70, Global Surveyor

World tested cruising comfort, hurricane tested steel strength.

What is the best size for a cruising vessel?

Minimum size
This perhaps depends on the numbers that need to be carried.

A reasonable minimum for ocean cruising might be LOA in meters = 9 + Number of persons on board

A larger vessel than this minimum will be able to sail faster and keep going through a greater range of conditions. It will therefore be a more efficient tool for long distance sailing. It will also be more independent, being able to carry a greater amount of stores, water and fuel.

A larger vessel will be safer. It can be more strongly built. The thicker shell plating and number of watertight compartments will better withstand high-speed impact with whales, semi-submerged containers or in port, the loving embrace of a trot of Icelandic fishing vessels. It is also less likely to be capsized in rough weather, more likely to remain watertight, if it is inverted, and will more readily return to the upright. For personal safety higher guardrails can be fitted, which tip the crew back inboard, rather than somersaulting them overboard.

The laws of physics dictate that a larger vessel will not only have more room but will also be more comfortable. Its motion will be slower, and it will roll, pitch, and heave less. Under sail it will have a lower angle of steady heel. It will have greater freeboard leading to drier decks. Crossing the Atlantic I was in touch with a nearby 38' yacht. The owner was locked below decks being constantly thrown around, and despite still being in his oilskins, completely soaked with water squirting through gaps in the hatch boards. He described the experience as like being in a tumble dryer. Nearby all my crew were lounging on dry decks in bathing costumes, with drinks resting on the decks, and with all the hatches wide open. In the past 38' has been considered ideal for a couple. While it is true that given a level playing field a larger boat will cost more to purchase, maintain, and moor, adjusting the slope on that field can drastically reduce that difference.

Purchase Costs
The purchase price of a new vessel will vary as more than the cube of the size. A 60' yacht will thus cost at least 8 times more than a 30' one. A simple self-built yacht can cost far less. The steel required for a 60' yacht may only be 5000 more than for a 30' one. Purchasing equipment at trade prices can make 30-60% savings. Because there is less competition from other yachtsmen, as-new items can be purchased at up to 80% discount from Boat Jumbles. Similar fiscal creativity can similarly reduce maintenance costs. While it may cost 1000 to lift a large vessel out of the water to antifoul, it may only cost 25 to lean it against a harbour wall. In bulk antifouling paint can cost 5 per litre.

Mooring Costs
A larger vessel by being self-sufficient with a large seaworthy tender does not need expensive marinas, but can spend most of its time anchored for free. It has often been maintained that a larger vessel is much more difficult and requires more effort to both sail and manoeuvre.

A number of light displacement ladies have shown that it is possible for one person to not only adequately sail but also race a relatively heavy displacement vessel. Multiple roller reefing foresails and lazy jacks have greatly reduced the effort required to sail. An electric capstan can not only raise an anchor of any weight, but also can also adjust moorings and hoist sails. The substitution of brute force with seamanship and the main engine can mean that berthing requires no more effort than lifting a rope and placing it over a bollard.. All this is done on a more stable and upright platform, which is also less likely to be suddenly blown sideways when coming alongside.

  • A simple large yacht, can cost less than a small complicated one. It represents 'MORE' Safety, Comfort and Speed.
  • Other things being equal and when considering the whole range of marine risks a larger vessel is generally more 'seaworthy'.
  • Steel is the strongest, most adaptable and economic materials for hull construction. It is the first choice for many experienced blue water sailors. Its strength, workability and longevity is however, a function of plate thickness.
  • Large size allows the use of thicker plates and the inclusion of watertight bulkheads, without incurring the weight penalty, which would be unavoidable with smaller vessels.
  • With any number of crew, more internal volume means more live-aboard comfort, shelter, privacy and convenience, combined with less ship motion and heeling.
  • The vessel is comfortably and safely usable for a greater percentage of time in a greater range of weather conditions.
  • There is more potential speed available from a longer LWL.
  • There is therefore greater freedom, to sail further distances in less time and to more reliably return if operating to a timetable.
  • Where desired, speed can be traded for comfort and convenience. Thus a large cutter, comfortably jogging along under staysail alone, may easily out-perform a smaller yacht under full sail, covered with spray and with its lee rail buried.
  • The substitution of 'seamanship' for brute force, means that a large vessel can be sailed and berthed with no more effort than a small cruiser.
  • Extra convenience can be purchased if desired, in the form of furling sails, power winches and a bow thruster.
  • A larger vessel can carry more stores, allowing a greater range of operation, with less dependence on shore side facilities.
  • Financially a large vessel can, by being more fully utilised, be much more cost effective, than her smaller sister, particularly if syndicate owned.
  • A larger boat capable of carrying a rigid dinghy can be kept on a cheaper swinging mooring and when cruising expensive marinas are an option, rather than necessity.
Global Surveyor