Big boats have plenty of upsides. In most cases, they handle sloppy weather better than smaller boats, have more room inside and out, have longer ranges, and are generally more comfortable. But much like a big house stuffed with possessions and a high-upkeep yard, big boats also demand more effort and attention to run and maintain. Smaller boats are generally easier and less expensive to maintain, use less fuel, are cheaper to dock, have simpler systems, and are easier to run shorthanded. There are definitely trade-offs to downsizing, but some boaters are willing to make them. These four cruising couples recently went the smaller-boat route. Here’s what they like most about their new boats.
Loren and Ann Anderson, Aspen C120
Loren and Ann Anderson have owned a variety of boats, having made the switch from sail to power about 10 years ago when they sold their 44-foot C&C and purchased an Ocean Alexander 54. Today, the Seattle, Washington, couple cruises aboard an Aspen C120 power catamaran with their kids and grandkids, anywhere from their home waters up to Alaska.
“I’ve been boating since I was 12 years old,” Loren says. “Sailboats were my first interest, but eventually my wife and I simply didn’t have the strength and stamina required for raising and trimming sails. That’s when we switched to the Ocean Alexander 54, which was a great boat. We loved its heavy displacement, the massive amounts of stowage and all the room for our kids and grandkids in three staterooms, but eventually, we decided it was too much for us to operate, just physically too big for us to dock.”
Loren says he looked at boats for two years before purchasing a 2017 Aspen C120, which at 42 feet, 6 inches length overall and 22,500 pounds is almost 13 feet shorter and more than half the displacement of his motoryacht. “We found the Aspen C120 appealing because it offered more flexibility and is smaller, faster and more fuel efficient than our previous boat,” he says. “Before the Aspen, we had to set aside several weeks of time to cruise to certain areas because it took a while to get there and back. Now, I can load up my kids and grandkids and make a weekend out of a destination that used to take us two days to get to. The Aspen cruises at 15 knots and burns only 8.5 gallons per hour at that speed. It’s opened up all sorts of trips to us that we weren’t able to do previously.”
The boat sleeps six, and Loren says it’s easy to handle. “The one thing we find ourselves repeatedly missing from the big boat is stowage space,” he says. “With the old boat, we could carry everything we wanted. With this boat, we have to be considerate about what we bring along. Still, my wife and I have our own heads and personal stowage, so it works well for us.”
All in all, Loren says he is happy with the decision to downsize. “The biggest upside is that my wife and I can handle the boat,” he says. “That’s added at least five to 10 years to our cruising. If we’d kept the other boat, we’d already have stopped boating.”
Carl and Vicky Dalton, Ranger Tugs R-29
Carl and Vicky Dalton are self-described boat nuts. Carl has owned more than 16 boats, including the couple’s most recent boat, a 54-foot motoryacht. Today, they cruise from their homeport in Vancouver, British Columbia, all around the United States and Canada aboard their Ranger Tugs R-29, which they trailer from harbor to harbor.
“Of all the boats we owned, the 54-footer was the biggest,” Carl says. “We lived aboard her for eight years and cruised from Vancouver all the way up to Alaska. She was a fantastic boat for what we used her for, but we had cruising plans for the future that just didn’t fit with a bigger boat.”
His lifelong dream was to cruise America’s Great Loop, a 5,500-plus-mile route from Alabama to Florida, up the East Coast, through the Erie or Champlain canals to the Great Lakes, and back down to Alabama. “I looked into shipping the 54-footer down to Alabama to begin the cruise,” he says, “but it would have cost between $35,000 and $50,000, so we started looking for alternatives.” The couple fell in love with a 27-foot Ranger Tug.
“We saw one at a local boat show and immediately knew this was the boat,” he says.
“Shortly after we bought it, we trailered her east and launched in Alabama, where we started the Great Loop cruise. The whole trip took us about a year. We enjoyed ourselves so much, we trailered the boat down to the Florida Keys the next winter. There, we anchored out in Boot Key Harbor. The smaller, simpler package is just one plus of owning this boat. Being able to trailer it opens up a world of cruising opportunities few other vessels could offer. We don’t miss too many things about the bigger boat.”
Along the way, the Daltons met some fellow Ranger Tugs owners who upsized from the 27 to the 29. “I inquired about trading up, and they made me a deal I couldn’t refuse,” he says. “It’s slightly larger, but we can still trailer it. One of the best things about trailering is we can stay on the boat while we’re driving across the country. It’s just like an RV that we can put in the water when we’ve arrived at our target destination. We just love it.”
Carl says there are some things he misses about the big boat; he occasionally finds himself wanting a bit more space. “The biggest difference between the Ranger Tug 29 and our larger boat, aside from being able to trailer, is that it’s so much easier to find marina slips along the way,” he says. “Aside from that, the Ranger Tug is just easier to deal with overall. The systems are nearly identical, but there are not nearly as many of them.”
The Daltons’ cruising plans include returning to the Florida Keys and continuing to cruise in Vancouver year-round. “We’ve also thought about Mexico,” he says. “That’s the nice thing about this boat: We can take it virtually anywhere, and that opens up all sorts of cruising opportunities.”
Patrick and Stacy Kennedy, Great Harbour TT35
Patrick and Stacy Kennedy have owned and cruised a variety of boats—including a 35-foot cold-molded sloop built in Switzerland, and a Northern Bay 36 trawler—up and down the East Coast, from Florida to New England. While their newest boat, a Great Harbour TT35, isn’t that much of a length-overall downsize from their Northern Bay 36 trawler, the TT35 is less complicated and more utilitarian than any other boat they’ve owned.
Patrick, a retired harbor pilot, says a number of features made the TT35 appealing, but the simplicity of the systems spoke loudest to the couple. “We were looking for a boat that wasn’t so complicated, and all the systems on the TT35 scream simplicity,” he says. “The outboards are easy to access and require way less maintenance than a pair of inboards. There’s no diesel soot. There’s a composting head with no plumbing. The air conditioning is RV-style and is powered by an air-cooled generator or inverter that runs off batteries charged by solar panels, so there are no under-the-waterline through-hulls. Not one. My old 36 trawler may have only been a foot longer, but it was more complex, systems-wise, by a factor of 10.”
Other features the Kennedys like have to do with design. “The TT35 draws only 18 inches and is completely beachable,” Patrick says. “That’s perfect for the Keys and the Bahamas, where we plan on using this boat. It also only weighs around 6,500 pounds, so I’ll be able to put it on a lift at my dock. The boat is highly efficient. The two 60-hp Suzuki 4-stroke outboards can push the boat up to 17 knots, but 10 to 16 knots is the sweet spot.” The TT35 gets 2 to 5 miles per gallon at those speeds, according to Great Harbour, and has a 1,000-mile range at displacement speeds.
“We’re really looking forward to taking delivery in January,” Patrick says. “Great Harbour delivers the boats in two different places, but we might take delivery near Jacksonville, Florida, and then work our way south. We’re really excited about what we’ll be able to do with this boat.”
Milt and Judy Baker, American Tug 34
Milt Baker is a big fan of using the right tool for the job. When that task is cruising Maine and the Canadian Maritimes—or crossing oceans—his tool is a Nordhavn 47. For the Florida Keys, Baker and his wife, Judy, cruise their American Tug 34 from their homeport in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
“We had done at least a dozen trips up and down the Intracoastal Waterway over a lot of years,” Milt says. “At some point, it becomes more of a chore than fun, so we decided to look for a boat that fits better with our winter cruising in the Keys. That led us to the American Tug 34, which we bought in 2014. It’s the perfect counterpoint to our Nordhavn: It’s light and fast, where the Nordhavn is slow. The American Tug’s draft also is significantly less, which is great for the waters in South Florida and the Keys.”
The Bakers are also fans of the 34’s simpler systems. “The simpler systems are easier to diagnose and repair on our own, which was a big selling feature,” Milt says. “The 34 is such a great boat. There’s plenty of room for us both, and she’s comfortable both at anchor or at a marina.” Still, Milt says, the couple aren’t done with their Nordhavn. “That boat is perfect for what they designed it for, including crossing oceans, which we’ve done,” he says. “But it’s not ideal for hopping around the Keys or doing the Intracoastal Waterway, which is why we have the American Tug 34. We’re lucky to be able to have the best of both worlds.”
This article originally appeared in the February 2019 issue.