An open daysailer
that will carry me back to my boating roots
An open daysailer that will carry me back to my boating roots
“I, an eternal optimist and dreamer, take thee, fantasy of my sleepless nights, to be my toy. To have and sail you from this day forward, for better or worse, perhaps for richer, likely for poorer, through calms and storms. I further promise to repair and to maintain you and be faithful to you until death do us part.”
If words like these were in a boat buyer’s contract we’d be still sitting in our dinks, or lawyers would negotiate the maritime equivalent of no-fault divorces. Comparing boat ownership to marriage might smack of blasphemy, but as veterans know firsthand, having a boat and paying for it takes commitment. And if there’s no adequate return — however that may be defined — it ends in the owner’s “second-happiest day,” when the vessel finds a new home. There are countless reasons for this: changing lifestyle, troubles with the “other” spouse, dealing with the arrival or departure of children, trying something different — hopefully another boat — or working on that tee shot.
But if one isn’t cured of the boat bug, separation provides a good excuse to attend boat shows, with more in mind than just kicking fenders. More than 30 years of messing about with boats have resulted in a dozen dreams bought and sold thus far, and I know it ain’t over yet. The best I can do is try to avoid old mistakes while looking forward to making new ones. Here is how I’ll go about finding my Next Perfect One.
How will I use it? My days of serious racing are over, and cruising isn’t in the cards, unless someone starts building boats with walkthrough designer gardens with standing headroom for the first mate. That leaves daysailing and weekend gunkholing, which I did as a child and which shaped my tastes and preferences.
Go simple, go single, go now. I like solitary pursuits because to me independence and flexibility are dear. The last thing I need is having to dial for crew so I can go sailing. Of course, there are times when family or friends might want to tag along, so the boat should accept four adults in reasonable comfort while remaining easy to single-hand. That means all control lines need to be led aft, and the boat must have an easy jib setup, perhaps roller furling and/or a jib boom. Or no jib at all, like a cat-rigged boat.
Do I need an engine? Nah, that’s too much temptation to putter and pollute, plus it’s an expense in maintenance and fuel I don’t want. Besides, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as sailing in and out of the dock. I’m not against inboard engines. It’s just that I see too many sailboats playing powerboat, pushing water at 6 knots while carrying a stick above and a chunk of lead below the waterline. If internal combustion is the source of propulsion, I’d like to do 25-plus knots.
Where do I want to sail? San Francisco Bay, with its microclimates, offers a variety of flavors, from rough, wet and cold to nice, light and balmy. But there are other worthy West Coast and inland venues within easy driving distance, including the Sacramento River Delta, Lake Tahoe, Huntington Lake in the Southern Sierra Nevada, the Channel Islands, Columbia River Gorge or Puget Sound. Therefore, the boat must be easy to trailer behind a vehicle that gets more than 8 mpg, which restricts total vessel weight to about a ton. Hitting the road is also a flashback to my formative sailing years spent on light trailerable boats, because going someplace was as important as sailing.
What about gadgets? I like things to be easy, but that doesn’t mean I want to be lazy when I sail. Power winches, hydraulics and other conveniences are marvelous, though not for me. My principle is KISS, and that works best on a small boat. Before you label me a Luddite, I can agree to a jib boom, lazyjacks, roller furling and top-grade deck hardware.
What else is important? The boat needs to be child-friendly, so my daughter can either bring a couple of friends, pull strings or take the tiller if the mood strikes. (Note that it’s the tiller, not the wheel.) Also, I like to drysail because marina fees aren’t getting any cheaper and bottom paint isn’t getting any less toxic in the foreseeable future. And when it finally does, it’ll be less effective, which means more frequent hull cleanings by a diver and haulouts for bottom jobs, all pinching the budget that could be better spent on going sailing.
Apropos budget. Beggar or nabob, I believe sailing is for everyone, but I refuse to become a slave to my possessions. If I have it, I use it. If I don’t use it, I probably don’t need it.
So where does that leave my Next Perfect One? In brochure speak, she offers “simplicity, versatility, portability and low cost of ownership.” Throw in gratuitous qualities like “elegance” and “lively performance,” and you end up with … a thousand possible candidates.
To narrow it down a bit, I’ll scratch accommodations and the enclosed head, so it’ll be an open daysailer. While this might sound pretty pedestrian, it’s an opinion that was forged by reason rather than romance. Sure, I still love Folkboats, and woodies are marvelous, but the associated maintenance is not (yet) part of my leisure curriculum. And that’s the rub: No matter what kind of boating dreams we have, we still need to make the time to cast off. In my case, I found that going smaller and simpler works pretty well.
It’s important to note that the list here is a snapshot of my current daydreams. I reserve the right to change both the dream and list at any time, while carrying on my not-so-clandestine affair with the Nordic Folkboat, that sturdy and egalitarian classic that does so many things so well, except that it’s a bear to trailer and drysail. With this clarification out of the way, here are a half-dozen candidates that tickle my fancy du jour.
• A replica of a classic French design from the 1930s, the Tofinou 7m has a centerboard and a deep cockpit that’s surrounded with lots of teak and varnish. This elegant and representative vessel is suitable for single-handing or family sailing, but a displacement of 2,900 pounds requires an inboard diesel and a feisty tow vehicle. A starting price of around. $65,000 cuts into the lunch money, so it’ll be baguette, brie and a bottle of Côtes du Rhône. www.tofinou.com , www.rodgersyachtsales.com
• If looks and practicality must meet on a tighter budget — say, around $32,000 — the Sakonnet 23, a Joel White-designed double-ender with centerboard, deserves a closer look. Perhaps a bit on the sporty side, it’s a head-turner that will elicit comments and, as a bonus, will go on the road. www.edeyandduff.com
• Traditional looks paired with modern performance — made possible by a fin keel, spade rudder and contemporary rig — betray the Alerion Express 20 as a Carl Schumacher design. It’s the little sister of the popular Alerion Express 28, but size and weight make it possible to tow this one behind the family van. A large cockpit set up for single-handing and the simplicity of the concept hit key points on my list. www.alerionexpress.net
• The Harbor 20 is W.D. Schock’s rendition of the “modern classic” daysailer and is a local favorite in Southern California, especially Newport Beach. This one, too, covers most of the must-haves, such as ease of use, turn of speed, passenger capacity and portability. Like the Alerion Express 20, a Harbor 20 costs a tad north of $30,000, but well-maintained and equipped older vessels can be had for around half that price. www.santanasailboats.com
• The real classic in this lineup is the Cal 20, one of C. William Lapworth’s early design successes. This “little boat that could” went into production in 1961 at Jensen Marine Factory in Costa Mesa, Calif., which turned out up to a boat per day to satisfy peak demand. Production ceased in 1975, but the Cal 20 remains popular, and project boats can be snapped up for as little as $1,500. It’s still actively sailed in many fleets and even has bunks below, though that breaks my rule of no accommodations. www.cal20.com
• Finally, a step out of the box with the Wyliecat 17, a boat so simple, it makes a Laser look downright confounding. Designer Tom Wylie figured that an unstayed cat rig and wishbone boom eliminate a lot of gear that’s needed on traditionally rigged boats. As the smallest model in the Wyliecat line, the 17 has a fixed 400-pound keel that draws 3 feet, 6 inches, so it likes to live on a trailer. It’s priced at around $20,000, but the real savings is in things you won’t need to maintain or replace, like standing rigging or a headsail. www.wyliecat.com