Used Boat For Trans-Atlantic On A Budget

Question: I am trying to buy a boat to go cruising with my family. Over the course of a few years, we will cruise in the Chesapeake and then the Med with a trans-Atlantic in between. My budget is modest (US$50,000 give or take 20%); however, the choice of boats is MIND BOGGLING!

Is there a site, or a person, or a process that you could share with me that helps one to narrow down the choices? Are there boats/brands from the last 40 years that simply must be avoided in general and all of the rest are more or less OK?

Answer: I think that it will be very difficult to get your goals met at the budget you have set. The key issue here is that you want to cross the Atlantic safely with four people. If you just wanted to coastal cruise or just wanted to cross the Atlantic with two it might be doable, but doing both is going to be a problem. Even if you could get a boat that is fundamentally seaworthy for that price, she will almost certainly be old and require substantial upgrade and repair to get into ocean ready condition, which will strain your budget.

Having said that, you might just mange to meet your goals by buying a good and strong old boat, possibly damaged, investing sweat rather than money and buying good used gear. To take this course you need time and a lot of experience maintaining sailboats. Also, keep in mind that you might end up with a safe boat, but she will be small, cramped for four people and very basic.

Ted Brewer designed Hullmaster 32, an example of an older but solid boat that could probably go to sea if carefully checked over and upgraded (this one is, though it’s not for sale)

As you look for boats, keep in mind that the vast majority of boats, particularly in your price range, are not something you want to take yourself and the ones you love offshore in. When looking at boats, be particularly careful of boats built during the production sailboat boom of the seventies; many were cheaply built then and are way past their best before date now.

It is hard to recommend brands, but an old Hallberg Rassy, Pearson (watch out, there are some poorly built ones around), Nicholson, Pacific Seacraft (probably too expensive), or Contessa might be types to look at.

With boats of this quality, it is likely that any that fit your budget will be old and worn, so a really good survey will be essential. The chain plates (Nicholsons had problems here), mast step, bulkhead attachments, rudder and keel root are all places where major trouble that can cost a lot of money to fix or sink you can lurk.

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Meet the Author

John

John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

21 comments… add one
  • Pete Gallienne Oct 3, 2010, 5:17 pm

    I was recently asked to find a boat under 30ft for man and his wife to go on a circumnav. I have done alot of research on yachts and designs as I was a boatbuilder and designer for 45 years. I found the right yacht for the chap and he followed my recommendations on the yacht bought it and has done many many miles safely. I am not saying that this yacht would meet everybody’s requirements but it does show that a well found and designed yacht can be safe and a good sailor. I have tried to attach the pdf I made for my client so hope you can see it. Regards Pete No it wouldn’t upload. If you would like to see it please e-mail me at moc.liamg@0461gsp and i will send it to you.

  • John Oct 4, 2010, 7:17 am

    I have written to Pete as follows:

    “I would very much like to see your report. I’m a great believer in small boats for offshore work, as long as it is the right small boat. Clearly you picked a right one and I would be really interested in which boat it was and the process that led you to it. “

  • Tim Mar 23, 2011, 12:35 pm

    Also look at the Morgan 382, 383, 384. They look a lot like the Hullmaster. All three are the same hull mold. They are designed by Ted Brewer and are sturdy. The 383 and 384 have taller rigs and larger rudders. Last built in 1985, will need some refit, but can be had for $50K, especially in these tough times. You should expect at least another $10K in upgrades.

  • David mitchell Dec 5, 2011, 11:49 pm

    Ted Brewer designed Cabot 36 is a great blue water cruising boat in your price range. Read up on the Cabot 36, you will be impressed. One for sale in NL for your kind if money.

    • John Dec 7, 2011, 8:36 pm

      Hi David,

      I took a look at the web site and it looks like a wholesome boat.

  • Allan May 22, 2012, 9:51 am

    I have been used to motoryachts all my sailing days and was persuaded by my wife to try a motorsailor giving us an idea of life under sail….we both love it and are planning an Atlantic crossing in the next couple of years (need to get some experience).
    The problem I have is there are so many yachts new and older on the market and I am not sure which would be capable of such a crossing. For example we both like Moody 44’s, 134 Grenadiers and Hallberg Rassay’s but generally the only ones we can afford are older. We see many Dufour 44’s, Bavarias, and Beneteau Oceanis which are newer and possibly better equipped. Can someone help please and point us in the right direction…
    Thanks Allan.

    • John May 23, 2012, 8:15 am

      Hi Allan,

      Unfortunately there is no right boat. All boats are compromises. The key to success is matching a set of compromises to your needs. This is not a trivial task and can’t be done well in a forum or as comments to a post. I would suggest that you contact Colin at Wave Action to help you. His fee will be a tiny fraction of the cost of a boat and can save you the expensive agony of buying the wrong boat.

  • Michael Jul 12, 2013, 11:46 pm

    If you are a numberhead like me you appreciate the fuzzy logic approach (http://public.fotki.com/lesterhel/crunching-numbers-f/crunchingnumberspage1.html?cmd=links_to_photo&pid=412435990), not to mention spending a lot of time on sailboatdata. Huge database of loa, lwl, etc., plus Pictures and Design Drawings. Put that together with the articles here at AAC, add Yachtworld and stir. Good Luck! P.S. Bob Perry also offers “dutch uncle” services for a reasonable fee. See adds in back of any sailing magazine.

    • John Jul 13, 2013, 9:23 am

      Hi Michael,

      All good suggestions, thank you.

  • Tob Oct 14, 2015, 12:58 pm

    Hi!

    Our budget and family configuration is similar. It’s a bit hard to follow the advice:
    “It is hard to recommend brands, but an old Hallberg Rassy, Pearson (watch out, there are some poorly built ones around), Nicholson, Pacific Seacraft (probably too expensive), or Contessa might be types to look at.”

    When I search for those boats on yachtworld.com with Region=Europe, some are not available here. If I search globally there’s quite a few of all the brands and models in the U.S. Contessa is too small for us.

    I have googled a lot, trying to compile a list of boats available here in Europe. The lists on the internet for “bluewater offshore cruisers” are mainly global or focused on the U.S. market – naturally – as it is a bigger market.

    Trying to build up my list of suitable boats, I would appreciate a lot a few tips on boats built in Europe or available for purchasing here (Firstly: Northern Europe, secondly: southern), please. What about Westerley Conway, Contest? Found a Contest in Northern Germany for around USD 50000. A Westerley Conway in the U.K., a bit cheaper.

    Also did as “Anonymous” suggested, searched for 30-35 feet steelboats in Region=Europe. Found a van de Stadt from year 2000.

    We are going to check out an HR Rasmus 35 in Sweden for USD 36 000, not bargained price so probably a bit lower. Looking good in the pictures they sent us. Not equipped for a trans-atlantic though. A 1971, feels really old, and doesn’t adhere to point 9 in your chapter “The Right Way to Buy a Boat…And The Wrong Way” in the online book “How To Buy an Offshore Voyaging Boat” – I find it ugly, looks like a motorsailor, but of course not a strong argument, the main thing is to get us to the Caribbean and back! Let’s say everything is in order, is it really adviceable to purchase and spend an additional USD 20 000 on this boat? New engine 1994. Here’s the ad:
    http://www.blocket.se/kalmar/Hallberg_Rassy_Rasmus_35_60114844.htm?ca=18&w=2

    Also trying to figure out whether a SSB radio is a must or a need. We have to skip satellite phone due to budget constraints, so I would really want to have SSB radio for Sailmail + downloading GRIB weather files underway over the ocean.

    Looking to purchase within a year and participate in ARC 2018. The prices have dropped since you wrote the article in 2007 so perhaps more realistic now, please?

    Thanks for a good site!

    Cheers

    Tob

    • John Nov 2, 2015, 9:00 am

      Hi Tob,

      Sounds like you are coming at a difficult problem in a sensible and logical way. Perhaps the most important piece of advice I can think of is that you will be better off buying a smaller newer boat in good condition, rather than a larger older boat. Going small is a double win when on a small budget because not only is the boat cheaper to buy, the upgrades and replacement gear are cheaper to0.

      Also, be very careful of older steel boats. It’s extremely difficult to survey them really well and if a bad rust problem is missed your entire plan will literally get scuttled. Many old steel boats are cheap for a reason.

      One other small point. Assuming you have to buy and install it, an Irdium will be way less expensive, even with the air time charges, than an SSB and modem—probably less than half. Particularly since a lot of people are selling their Irdium hand sets at a good price to buy Irdium GO.

      See this post: https://www.morganscloud.com/2014/07/04/ssb-or-iridium/

      • Craig Nov 3, 2015, 4:37 am

        I agree with John’s point on going small but for extended cruising with a family I would add the following disclaimer based on our experience…

        – Be realistic and honest about what is actually is an acceptable size/comfort level for your individual family.

        We bought a small( 35ft) boat and have enjoyed cruising in Australia with our 2 small children, but now as we look at look at ocean crossings we have come to the conclusion that we need to move up a size bracket. The clincher for us was that at 35ft we would struggle to have the room and tankage for additional crew on major crossings.

        Craig

        • Marc Dacey Nov 4, 2015, 12:29 pm

          We came to a similar conclusion. It really depends on where you want to sail, your level of fitness and how much money you have to put into the concept of self-sufficiency (adequate stowage, watermaker, solar and wind, etc.). I helped to haul out an Alberg 30 yesterday, a comically tiny boat with which to make a circ with 2015 eyes, and yet many have. Around 40 feet seems to be the sweet spot for us and many others, but then we want to make tying up to a dock a rare treat (unless it’s free!), so, perhaps ironically, we are putting money into great and extensive ground tackle from an aversion to “per-foot” fees. Decisions like “more tankage” invariably have a cascade effect, I am finding, on most of the other variables involved in selecting an appropriate boat. That said, Australia makes some great cruisers. I like the Adams 40 quite a bit.

  • craig Nov 2, 2015, 6:36 am

    Hi Tob,

    We are also a family looking for our next boat in Europe with a plan to sail her to Australia.

    I sympathise with you that a lot of the readily available often ‘googlable’ examples of boats and brand advice on suitable boats can be US centric.

    In a HR Rasmus you will certainly find a design that is capable and it will I believe be down to the individual condition of the boat as well as it’s suitability to your family’s style of cruising.

    For our part we are focused on Moody 425/44s. I am unsure about the earlier Moodys but in general we have found them to be both capable and very good value designs when compared to their much acclaimed (and accordingly priced) swedish competitors.

    I would also if looking in Europe consider some of the earlier examples of Jeanneau’s and Beneteaus. Far more solidly built and suitable for offshore than the modern offerings from these builders.

    Try also asking around on UK based sailing forums such as YBW where you will no doubt receive some good advice.

    We may see you in 2018 for the ARC.

    Best wishes,

    Craig

  • Tobias Nov 4, 2015, 7:09 pm

    Hi!

    Thanks för your answers!

    We bought a Norlin 37 a few weeks ago. The surveyor (a famous one), recommended it to make a long story short. Although old (1974), it has been minuscule maintained, rigging updated etc etc and she is partly fitted for offshore cruising. Not fully though so will be delving into lots of articles here.

    Also reading Beth Leomard etc.

    Just to clarify, I don’t have anything against the market being U.S. Centric. It is the way it is. 🙂

    I took the SSB certificate but I am biased towards iridium. Too much hassle with SSB. Would want a SSB receiver though.

    Cheers

  • Paul Clayton Apr 12, 2017, 9:32 am

    One way to save a lot of money on your refit is to do it in an area where costs are low and expertise is high. I’ve found the Morehead City-Oriental NC area to be one of these places. The competition between yards is intense as there are several very high quality options (John and Phyllis, remember Bock Marine?) Haulout costs, blocking, hill time – all the ancillaries are cheap. And because Oriental is such a sailing center, there are lots of skilled craftsmen working in the local yards. The cost of living in this area is low, and wages commensurately so. There is no doubt in my mind that you can get good work done anywhere along the Atlantic Coast, but the sheer cost of labor, land and taxes in New England and Florida makes it expensive to run a boatyard there. I know it is not an option for everyone, but if you want to live on your boat in a yard while you do a refit, Oriental is the place. One more thing. The winters are mild, the yards are not busy at that time of year, and the craftsmen can take the time to do jobs right.

    • John Apr 13, 2017, 8:05 am

      Hi Paul,

      Sounds convincing. As you say we had a good experience at Bock Marine.

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