Blue Water Sailboats

I get asked often about what makes  good blue water sailboats. Here are some thoughts I’d like to share.

Ocean sailing on blue water sailboats is more than recreation; it is a learning platform, observation post, a transportation system for awareness, and a delivery system for blue_water_sailboatsunderstanding. Ocean sailing is often both physically and mentally demanding.

Ocean cruising aboard blue water sailboats can be one of the most miserable and enjoyable sports in the world, both at the same time. Ocean cruising people have learned how to manage their lives, including relationships and money, because they must. Ocean sailing presents real problems that require real solutions, that can’t be ignored. Life or death are the only two options.

Ocean cruising on blue water sailboats  is an educational opportunity that has rich potential for the development of knowledge, skills, and attitudes that are difficult to teach in the confines of the classroom. Ocean sailing in a blue water sailboat is a fantastic tool for honing individual and team skills. Blue water sailing is first, the most wonderful and liberating experience. But it has its own risks that require special care to avoid.

Blue water sailboats were used by the Greeks and Egyptians several thousand years before the birth of Christ. But designs have changes as have the sailors. Designers of blue water sailboats have taken how boats are sailed today into consideration, considering the extra weight and speed the boats will need. And yes, cruising sailboats are compromises in every sense.

Boats built for speed are much more fragile than those built for durability. But a boat’s seaworthiness has a lot to do with knowledge. Seaworthiness means something very different on sheltered lakes than on vast oceans.

When stability is compromised the boat is not equal to the conditions it is facing. Perhaps the following broader definition is closer to what modern designers aim for; seaworthy blue water sailboats that are able to recover quickly from a 180-degree capsize without serious damage and without sinking. Strong enough to look after herself while hove, free of violent, jerky rolling and pounding, well-balanced, docile on the helm, and easily handled at all times agile downwind and able to beat to windward, or at least hold her ground, in all but the heaviest of conditions. She must able to carry ample crew with good headroom and comfort, plus water and supplies, for extended periods and be capable of good average speeds on long passages.

In Principles of Yacht Design, Larsson and Eliasson note that the seaworthiness of blue water sailboats depends on its dynamic behavior in a seaway; and dynamic effects, naturally, are much more difficult to measure or predict than static effects. (Any boat may be turned turtle by a breaking wave with a height 55 percent of her overall length.

Images of  blue water sailboats conjure up names such as Heritage, Contessa, Fisher, Ocean, Tayana and Roberts. So what are the important features to look for in blue water sailboats?

Good attributes of blue water sailboats

  • Blue water sailboats must be pleasing to the eye. Can you love the boat–you know there will be issues with her, so she has to make your heart smile while you work through them and accept them or else you’ll get dissatisfied and grumpy.
  • 35′ – 40′ on deck. Big enough to be sea-kindly and safe in bad weather, yet small enough for one to single-hand if you had to.
  • Good survey. Sound condition and structure, and a dry boat. No need to keep everything wrapped in plastic.
  • Good ventilation. Air conditioning will not be a priority on the high seas.
  • Heavy displacement cruiser with a full keel and attached rudder. Able to take care of you in bad weather while you hunker down below.
  • Blue water sailboats must have an inboard diesel engine powered at not less than 3 hp/ton. Sufficient power to make your way motoring or motor-sailing when necessary, or to power up and get out of a tight spot.
  • Blue water sailboats must have a solid fiberglass hull. Easy to maintain and not laminated.
  • Fiberglass deck (not teak). Easy to maintain, and no leaks.
  • Plenty of accessible and well-ventilated storage. This will be your home, so you need enough room for books and other comforts, plus all the spares, tools, etc. for blue-water cruising.
  • Bulwarks with scuppers. Good solid footing while walking around the deck, and good drainage in downpours or shipping green water.
  • Strong through-bolted deck cleats. Strong attachments for docklines and anchor snubber.
  • Dual bow anchors, one with minimum of 200′ chain. Second anchor for storm conditions, and plenty of chain for normal conditions.
  • 100 gallon fuel tank. Enough to give you a range of at least 500 n miles under power.
  • Blue water sailboats must have large water tanks. Enough to last the crew 3-4 weeks without rain catching, or watermaker.
  • Small aft cockpit with drains and strong pad eyes for attachment. Comfortable and safe for whosoever on watch, and safe in a seaway, with ability to drain fast if much water is shipped.
  • Aluminum keel-stepped mast. Minimal maintenance and more support than deck-stepped.
  • Good handholds and foot space on deck for moving around. Essential for safety.
  • Good handholds and headroom below. Headroom for a 6′ person, and solid handholds for moving around below when the seas are up.
  • Sails: Jib with roller furling. Easy to handle from the cockpit.
  • Sails: Staysail that hanks on. Bulletproof system, no furling gear to jam, and easy to remove and switch to storm jib.
  • Sails: Storm jib. For use on the inner forestay (replacing the staysail) in storm situations–the Tayana 37′ heaves to well with this configuration.
  • Sails: Storm trysail with separate mast track. For use in a storm, without having to remove the mainsail. Also, useful for stability while sailing downwind.
  • Dodger, splash cloths, and bimini. Dodger with easy visibility forward to keep the wind out of the cockpit, and along with splash cloths keep crew in the cockpit dry when water is shipped, and Bimini to shade us from the tropical sun.
  • V-berth with double bed on one side, all berths accommodating 6′. Good space to snuggle, and comfort for tall crew.
  • Refrigerator. Minimal electrical requirements but yet enough space to keep stuff cool, a freezer would also be good.
  • Starting battery separate from house batteries with a battery monitoring system. Enough electrical storage to light and cool the boat, plus run our basic electrical equipment without excessive recharging requirements. Easy way to tell the condition of the batteries (input, output, voltage, status)
  • Autopilot. To relieve the helmsman when under power.
  • Wind vane. To relieve the helmsman while sailing without draining the battery.
  • Swim ladder. An easy to drop and retrieve swim ladder on the side of the boat.
  • Lee cloths for the cabin berths. Comfort and security for the off-watch crew to sleep below.
  • 3-burner propane stove with oven. Able to cook pretty much whatever you want.
  • Instructions for all the equipment. So you can figure out how to fix things, or find out where to go for advice and spares.
  • Maintenance record. To know how old the rigging is, what the service record is for the engine, hull, plumbing, and electrical system, etc.
  • Diesel cabin heater. To keep you warm on cold nights.
  • Life raft, MOB module, flares, fire blanket, propane and CO detectors, and fire extinguishers. Essential safety equipment.
  • Radios–marine SSB with ham bands and GMDSS VHF. Essential communication equipment.
  • Dinghy with motor. Ability to get around when at anchor.
  • Radar. Essential for navigation at night when near land, or in shipping areas, or of course in fog. Also a tremendous assist when approaching an unfamiliar harbor with a hard-to-find entrance, or entering or leaving an anchorage at night.
  • Wind instruments (vane and speed) and depth sounder. Depth sounder essential, wind instruments very helpful.

Related Reading

New listing – 1981 37 Tayana

Ocean Going Sailboats Part 1

Ocean Going Sailboats – Part II

More sailboat cruising at the ocean going sailboat blog


  1. says

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