Let me begin by pointing out that long-distance sailing — my true joy in this sport — is no longer an option for my wife and, therefore, for me. Nor is single-handing. I used to race IOR on Lake Ontario, and we took it seriously. We were on the water at least two days a week between races and collected silver. But seamanship and sportsmanship became second to winning, and rule changes resulted in less-seaworthy boats.
I now like shorter passages — no more than two days and nights at sea. And I like boats that are seaworthy, seakindly, fast, strong, roomy and comfortable. She’ll be able to beat off a lee shore as well as heave-to on the offshore tack when necessary. You definitely don’t want to close on a lee shore. You want to be in control when running in nasty seas. For me, this writes off very light displacement boats with chisel shaped bows (less buoyancy forward) and wide, flat, buoyant quarters. I don’t like excessive beam; it adds initial stability but reduces seaworthiness.
A seakindly boat won’t exhaust the crew with abrupt motion, pitching, yawing or rolling. The helm will stay relatively tame in somewhat high, steep seas regardless of whether the boat is running (a tough one), beating or reaching. The boat should be dry with ample coamings around hatches and the cockpit, with freeing ports.
A fast boat may be able to keep you out of harm’s way. Speed, except for excessive speed in more extreme conditions, equates to control … and to fun. Strength should come from a combination of engineering and materials, rather than simply mass. Comfort means preparing and eating meals while under way, as well as sleeping comfortably under way. It also means entertaining when at the dock or on the hook. My boat will sleep four, feed six and seat 10.
I’m not sure a boat combining all these factors exists. But since all boats are compromises, here are some of what I consider essentials in my perfect sailboat.
1. My perfect sailboat has a flush deck with a doghouse for bad weather. It’s a strong design and gives more room below. She’s 37 feet overall, with a 10-1/2-foot beam and 5-foot draft (centerboard up in a cruising fin keel). Draft increases to 6 feet with the board down. A skeg-hung spade rudder is well aft for leverage.
2. Forward sections are U-shaped for a soft ride to weather. A plumb stem reduces pitching, and reasonably firm bilges provide initial stability. A flat run aft gives her offwind performance. Her waterlines are relatively balanced fore and aft.
3. Construction is vacuum bagged with epoxy resin. By way of chain plates, she’s belted with carbon fiber from side to side. She’ll have three stringers on each side for stiffness, and foam insulation fronted by cedar ceilings.
4. She’s cutter rigged with two sets of spreaders and will have lever-controlled runners. The cutter rig provides for flexibility in sail-setting with little loss in upwind performance and with advantages when easing off the wind. In dirty weather it brings the center of effort of reduced sails closer inboard and together. It reduces the leverage of a sail set on the bow. The main is elliptical, and both headsails are free footed. They set better and eliminate risk from a boom.
5. She’s moderately light displacement, with a sail area to displacement ratio of no more than 18. Her vertical center of gravity should be very close to her center of buoyancy.
6. She’ll point well enough to keep me off a lee shore in nasty weather and move well on reaches or runs.
7. A large electric windlass will handle two anchor rodes and rope/chain splices. I won’t throw my back out hauling anchors. She’ll carry two, probably three, different style anchors. There’s a bowsprit on which to mount the anchors and deploy rode.
8. She’ll have three sets of self-tailing winches (40:1) for halyards, reefing lines and topping lifts, all led aft through rope clutches and with cleats abaft the winches.
9. Primary winches are self-tailing (minimum 46:1), and each headsail will have its own self-tailing winch.
10. In light air, the forestay can be unhooked and moved aft to the mast. The chain plate for the forestay is secured to the hull, not supported by the deck; it’s stronger that way and won’t stress the deck.