Q&A: Limited Production Run Of Aluminum Expedition Sailboats

Question: I have this notion of building a modern expedition (aluminum) fast cruiser that would include many of your ideas/opinions, not necessarily because they are your opinions but because you and I have reached many of the same conclusions. In considering a project, the thought has become, not to build ONE, but to build a number of hulls (to amortize some of the costs). Can you make any estimate as to what the depth of the market might be for such a boat?

Answer: It’s an interesting idea, and in fact one we have considered from time to time ourselves. I would guess that there might be a market for several boats, maybe half a dozen. The problem is that the potential buyers tend to be very experienced ocean sailors with their own very specific and different ideas of what will make a good boat. For example, Polaris and Morgan’s Cloud are radically different but still both great offshore expedition boats. We would not build a Polaris sister ship and I’m sure Michael and Martina would feel the same about Morgan’s Cloud. So the difficulty is to come up with a design that would appeal to enough buyers to work economically.

Having said that, it has been done. For example, some French friends of ours just completed a limited production run of three high latitude expedition boats. But there have also been failures such as the Labrador 40, one of which was built and aggressively marketed some years ago, but with no additional takers, at least as far as I know.

To make this work I think the person who conceives and promotes the boat will need to have an established and long term record of successful expedition voyages, both to have the experience to make the correct design decisions, and to have the credibility in the market to successfully sell the result. Also, the boat should be designed by a mainstream and successful marine architect, since I think that a relatively unknown designer may have been part of the Labrador 40’s problem.

Probably the best model for such a project would be Steve and Linda Dashew’s two limited production runs: the Sundeer sailboats, built in the nineties, and their offshore expedition motor boats, in production at the moment in New Zealand. However, Steve and Linda are a hard act to follow with their combination of huge smarts and 250,000 miles of experience with the credibility that confers.

In summary, boat building is a tough business and expedition boat building perhaps doubly so.

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Meet the Author


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.

4 comments… add one
  • John Feb 2, 2010, 3:46 pm

    Check out the Boreal 44 if you’re looking for a great aluminum expedition sailboat.

  • Nikolas Jun 6, 2018, 10:18 am

    Some smaller interesting ones:

    Li yachts project (40 foot aluminium pilothouse centreboarder), don’t know if that will go through – http://li-yachts.com/

    Berckemeyer Arctic 39, which has a doghouse, fixed keel, oil stove and large tanks as standard.

    • John Jun 6, 2018, 4:27 pm

      Hi Nikolas,

      Always nice to see new ideas being floated. That said, the problem is always in getting to enough hulls to get the price to an even semi-reasonable place.

      Also the Li, with no Diesel engine is going to be a niche product at best since there are few people who want to try the high latitudes in a boat that can only motor for an hour or so followed by days to recharge. Might be practical in the Caribbean where there’s plenty of wind, but we often get days of calm in the high latitudes, often followed by a gale or even storm. It will take a patient and resourceful person to cruise this boat there.

      • Nikolas Jun 6, 2018, 6:07 pm

        Errr.. yes, agreed, I sort of assumed they would give in and offer a “diesel Li” to get things going – if they get that far.

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