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Q&A: Tips On Buying A Used Boat For The High Latitudes

Question: We are looking for a used boat to buy, and wonder if you could give us any pointers. We plan to cruise the high latitudes and circumnavigate with two people. The features we are looking for in a boat are:

  • Full keel
  • 32 to 37 feet long
  • Cutter rig
  • Over 11 foot beam

Answer: If you were planning a standard tradewind circumnavigation, I would say that any good production fiberglass boat should be adequate, but since you have added the high latitudes to the criteria, this will substantially narrow the field. Generally, I would be looking for a metal boat, preferably aluminum, although that is not to say that you must buy a metal boat.

I would also suggest that you modify your selection criteria in several ways: First, drop the length and beam criteria and instead set a minimum displacement that you will be satisfied with. This change will give you more options and reduce the risk that you will buy a boat that is too short and beamy to be comfortable offshore (more on boat shape).

Second, I would drop the full keel criteria, since a boat with a moderate fin keel will generally be faster and more maneuverable with little or no sacrifice in comfort or tracking. It is a common misconception that full keel boats track better; tracking is actually a function of many other design parameters. Incidentally, my old boat, a Fastnet 45, tracked very poorly and the present Morgan’s Cloud steers like she is on rails—they are both fin keel boats. This is not to say that I would rule out full keel boats, only that I would consider moderate fins too.

Third, I would not worry about a cutter rig since I don’t think that the additional complications are necessary or even desirable on a boat below about 35,000lb (16,000kg) displacement. (I’m assuming here that you are talking of a true cutter in which the mast is further aft than a sloop and the staysail is used all the time when the wind is forward of the beam.) Note that I do believe that any offshore boat, regardless of size, should have running backstays to stabilize the rig and a removable internal headstay that can be set up easily to take a storm jib—both are relatively simple modifications to most sloops.

Whatever boat you settle on, make sure you get a really good survey and keep a substantial amount of money in your budget for a complete refit. To make many, perhaps most, used boats ready for the high latitudes you will be looking at new rigging and sails, and possibly a new engine, as well as substantial upgrades to most other gear. If the boat is over about ten years old, or has a substantial amount of miles on it, the steering gear and chain plates need a very careful look that should include complete disassembly. On fiberglass boats, be particularly wary of chainplates that are encapsulated in fiberglass and foam filled fiberglass rudders, both can hide metal corrosion just waiting to cause disaster. Keep in mind that bringing many older used boats up to an adequate standard for the high latitudes could cost you as much again as the boat and so a newer more expensive boat may be a better deal in the long run.

France and Holland are good places to start your search for a rugged metal boat. You could also look at really good quality fiberglass production boats like those from Hallberg Rassy, although the teak decks are a concern. You may wish to take a look here to get an idea of what is available.

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