How do I choose the right cruising sailboat?

A typical cruising yacht in Norway. Photo by Daniel Novello

A typical cruising yacht in Norway. Photo by Daniel Novello

By: Daniel Novello, Editor of Scandinavian Mariner Magazine

Sailing is probably the best and most environmentally way to travel. Finding the right sailboat is one of the most talked about subjects in cruising circuits. It represents a big investment and will tie up substantial capital over many years. Researching a new yacht is rewarding and takes some effort to get right. 

- According to our ongoing survey 4 out of 10 say they will buy a new boat before sailing to Scandinavia.

The survey finds that 30,3% of the respondents own a vessel between 30-40 feet and 24,2% own a vessel between 40-50 feet. 

3% own a vessel between 50 and 60 feet. 

Of those who wants to buy a new yacht, 47,1% will chose a modern design and 52,9% will chose a traditional design. The survey does not specifically dive in to design criteria other than asking respondents to point to the top three priorities. 

82,4% says comfort has the highest priority when choosing a new yacht.

20,6% are focusing on price and 8,8% says speed is most important.

Other important criteria, says respondents, are stability (73,5%) and the sailplans ease of use (67,6%).

55,9% says self sufficiency is important.

A passage from mainland Europe or UK can be done relatively safe and uneventful to use a phrase from Eric Hiscock of Wanderer III fame. Our readers from the USA, Asia and New Zealand may differ since they sail long passages across oceans to get here.

The respondents are almost split in half between a modern and traditional design. That is interesting, because the right answer is probably in between the two, depending on your criteria. Read on below

Nautor Swan 66FD. Photo by Nautor.

Nautor Swan 66FD. Photo by Nautor.

What will you use it for and where?

Normally a question I don`like getting asked very much at boat shows. Of course the sales representative has undergone training and one key question is  that they first want to uncover some of your intentions before suggesting the right yacht. Another question the sales representative always wants to know is what sort of boat you sail today. That is to help him or her understand the budget range you are operating in. 

I once met a fellow who always said he owned a 66 ft Nautor Swan and was looking to downsize a little bit after his wife left him(!) The level of service he received was extraordinary.

Regardless of what you make of the sales representative, the questions are important. A strategic approach to the investment is not only a wise thing to do, but can save you a lot of money.

Climate requirements

Many seem to think that the weather is directly linked to latitude. It`s true that it is warmer in Kenya than in Sweden, but for Norway it is different due to a very well known ocean current. The climate of Norway is much more temperate than expected for such high latitudes; this is mainly due to the North Atlantic Current with its extension, the Norwegian Current, raising the air temperature, and the prevailing southwesterlies bringing the mild air on shore, as well as the general southwest - northeast orientation of the coast allowing the westerlies to penetrate into the Arctic.

The January average in Brønnøysund in the north of Norway is 14.6 °C (26.2 °F) warmer than the January average in Nome, Alaska, even though both towns are situated on the west coast of the continents at 65°N.

In July, the difference is reduced to 2.9 °C (5.2 °F). January average in Yakutsk, situated inland in Siberia but slightly further south, is 42.2 °C (76.0 °F) colder than in Brønnøysund. Weather forecasting in Scandinavia is now so precise and accessible that it is almost impossible to get caught in a gale.

Summerday in Filtvedt, South of Norway. Photo by Daniel Novello

Summerday in Filtvedt, South of Norway. Photo by Daniel Novello

For many, sailing to Scandinavia or the Baltics for the summer is a few weeks affair. Those sailing up the long and beautiful coast of western Norway and even further north, usually have more time or split their journey in half. It is perfectly common to leave your boat safely in Norway for the winter and come back to continue the next summer. Or almost anywhere in Scandinavia for that matter. 

In other words, you can safely sail almost any vessel to Scandinavia as long as its seaworthy. 

A future proof investment

After finding and purchasing your dream yacht, you are probably going to spend a few years in your home waters. It would perhaps be impractical to have a 50 ft steel expedition yacht if you usually sail on a lake in Belgium. At the same time, the Hobie Cat you sail from a beach in Brest may be a little uncomfortable on a long cruise to North Cape. So make sure your investment is future proof.

Refit an older boat?

Many who have refitted a yacht knows that in the end there was little money to be saved. Sure, the initial investment was lower, but total cost can be as high or higher than of a new yacht. Using a professional surveyor or an experienced boatbuilder is a must when purchasing a yacht for refit.

Remember, the last owner of the boat was often the least resourceful and was probably not in a financial position to maintain the boat. And, electronic equipment from a few years back is practically worthless. Compare it with that old Nokia mobile phone you have laying in the kitchen drawer. It is astonishing to hear that some yacht brokers on the second hand market advertises that a 10 year old radar is "modern-as new-very little use". Marine electronics and technology has taken giant leaps in the last few years and becomes old tech very fast.

Expect to add minimum 15% of the yachts total value in annual running costs.

Living onboard is different than being onboard

A cruise to Scandinavia takes time and should not be rushed. If you haven`t lived onboard a yacht for an extended period of time, consider moving the family onboard a week or two just to learn more about it. It may well be that the answer to which boat to chose next time will become evident during that stay. It will teach you about energy consumption and waste management. It will give valuable insight on storage capabilities and flow throughout the boat.

Comfort is key

Our survey reveals that comfort onboard is top priority for most buyers of new sailboats. This is not surprising and demonstrates that comfort rates above both speed and price. Comfort means different things to different people, but there seem to be some universal traits. In almost every industry you normally get what you pay for. As important, is to know what to pay for. 

Multihulls offers great space for some rest. Photo by Daniel Novello

Multihulls offers great space for some rest. Photo by Daniel Novello

Avoiding water and moisture onboard are high up on the list when it comes to comfort. A damp interior is not only uncomfortable for the crew, it is damaging for the entire boat. Electronics, cables, engine, interior, lining, carpets, linen and tanks are all going to corrode and rot. Keeping the inside of the boat dry and clean is vital. Absolutely nothing in this world is maintenance free. 

Look out for in particular:

  • How the yacht is designed and built. Is it made for offshore work or inshore sailing? Is it comfortable at rest where you are going to spend most of the time? 
  • Rig
  • Steering
  • Keel and rudder
  • How the hatches and other openings are constructed and fitted
  • Ventilation, both in port and offshore in heavy weather
  • What sort of insulation is used and if there are any thermal leaks or bridges.
  • How the windows are fitted and supported
  • Noise
  • How well all fittings are bolted or screwed to or through the deck and hull
  • Location and serviceability of engine, pumps, tanks and assosiated fittings such as filters and hoses 
  • How the deck and hull are joined 
  • How easy it is to clean the boat on the inside thus also revealing accessibility 
  • How well the bilge takes up any leaks and how pumps, hoses and outlets are mounted and how well the floorboards are fitted
  • How the mast passes through the deck or cabin top and its watertightness
  • Standing height onboard
  • Size of berths and thickness of mattresses. How well the underside of the berths are ventilated
  • Storage
  • Tankage
  • Ease of use
  • Manoeuvrability under sail and engine
  • Safety 
  • What is standard equipment and what must be supplied after purchase

A modern 40ft yacht is made out of tens of thousands of parts. A complete checklist is almost impossible to make. Both you and the sales representative would probably be retired by the time the list was completely checked off. Again, common sense and focussing on the essentials are important. 

Go small, go now

“Go small, go simple, go now” is a quote by Larry Pardy who alongside his wife, Lin, has spent a lifetime cruising around the world and written several great books on the subject. Their approach is a proven concept. Some people will spend so much time searching for the perfect boat that they may never even find it.

If you really want to go sailing, stop being a tyre kicker and get on with it. A smaller yacht is cheaper and often easier to sail. In many marinas you will often see the smaller yachts get more use. Going small and simple is a great way to lower the barriers towards sailing.

What brand of sailing yacht is best for me?

Some people are not interested in paying for design or a brand name. Others would not dare to purchase a yacht from an unknown builder or naval architect. There is some strength in numbers as well. A high volume production builder should have lots of experience and data to meet the consumers expectations well.

Custom builds are tempting for some, but will take time, dedication and add to the investment. Resale value can sometimes be lower as well. But, if you have the funds, I bet few things are more satisfying than commissioning your own design and build. What an adventure that would be!

Talk to other cruisers who have spent extended periods at sea. Read more books on sailing and cruising and spend less time in cruising forums in social media. Not that great advice can't be found in a sailing forum, but be critical to sources and level of experience of some of the members.

It is amazing how one wrongful statement in a yachting forum sticks to the collective memory for years. 

When you have narrowed down your search, visit the yards personally. On the Swedish island of Orust they open the yards every year for a boat show. In fact it is called "The Open Yard Show". There you get to go inside the production halls of yards like Hallberg Rassy and even talk to the experienced boat builders and ask anything you want.

Innside Hallberg Rassy Yard. Photo by Daniel Novello

Innside Hallberg Rassy Yard. Photo by Daniel Novello

Give the Naval Architect a call. Most of them love to talk about their designs. They are normal people like you and me and they have most probably gone through the same questions as you many times before. They are experts in working within the design brief, specifications and budgets and can be of great help.  

If you are contemplating bying a new yacht over the winter, we would love to hear from you. We would like to follow you in the process to document it and perhaps other readers can chip in with experience and advice along the way.