I was once asked to take on the running of a pedigree cruising boat by an owner who didn’t have time to use her. Nice boat, good hull, strong rig, from the outside she looked like a really attractive proposition, but once inside…huge internal volume in the main saloon, round dining table with curved seats, three enormous double cabins, each with a head, and not one single dedicated, usable sea berth.
As far as I’m concerned, the term ‘liveaboard’ means a boat that spends a considerable amount of time at sea, not just in harbour. And that in turn demands that you can cook, sleep and use the heads in safety, and (if possible) comfort when at sea. Many modern designs focus on maximising the internal volume for in-harbour comfort and convenience, and in doing so many vital, tried and tested sea-going features are disappearing.
A classic example is the traditional ‘island’ galley design installed well aft near the companionway. Well ventilated, and with a niche in which the cook can strap and wedge themselves in, and with sinks along the centreline able to drain effectively on either tack. This is a basically sound, working arrangement at sea, the only criticism being that such galleys can lack worktop space. Modern designs (especially European ones) tend to go for a linear galley down one side of the boat, which does allow for more worktop area, but means that the sinks will be well outboard, and that (in some cases) the cook has virtually nowhere to brace against when at sea.
We have just such an arrangement on Pèlerin, which we improved by specifying much deeper sinks, to keep the water in them when heeled, as shallow sinks are hopeless, especially with this galley configuration. We also installed a really solid crash bar with strap at the cooker, and put pad eyes by the sinks and the main worktop, so that the galley strap can be used at all stations, and the galley slave can use both hands. It’s not always obvious but fore-and–aft movement is a bugbear with these galleys, so this has made for a much safer and more secure galley for the cook, and we feel we have a good workable arrangement.
Both Phyllis and I have posted before about the vital importance of safe sea berths, but this cannot be re-inforced enough. Berths should not be too wide, and be along the centreline of the boat, so you don’t suffer from a sudden rush of blood to the head when the boat is tacked, and must have a really high and well secured leecloth or leeboard. Personally I like the main seaberth to be in the saloon, where I can be up and on deck in an instant, if necessary, but if you have a round dinette type saloon, that’s almost impossible.
Another modern favourite is the heads right up in the bow, often amidships. How you use one in anything but the calmest conditions, I don’t know. Aft cabin heads are generally OK on one tack, but if the inlet is mounted too high up the bilge will draw air, leading to an inability to flush or an airlock. As we only have one head, we made sure that the inlet (which has an anti-siphon device installed) and the outlet were mounted on the bottom plate of the hull, and that works fine. We have installed a second grab handle in the heads compartment, right where it should be to keep you firmly in place when using the heads. Many modern boats have all internal GRP head and shower mouldings, which are easy to clean but wide open and slippery—the addition of grab handles can make a big improvement.
And that brings us to open plan saloons—wonderful in harbour but at sea there is a real risk of being thrown around. Grab handles ( if provided) may be too few and misplaced for practical use, so it’s always worth trying ‘the blindfold game’. With your eyes tight shut, move from on deck down the companionway and work your way to the forward cabin. You should be able to reach out and find a grab handle with one hand at all times—each handle should be just where you expect it to be. And if it’s not, then that’s where you put one, mounted really robustly, so that you can put your weight on it when in motion. Repeat this for every member of the family—height will make a difference, obviously, and kids are often overlooked in this regard. Try the same for the route to the heads, aft cabin or wherever you need. At the end of this exercise, you should be able to move anywhere around the boat, able to hold on securely all the way, even in the dark.
And as a final quirky thought, I recently read an account of an older crew sailing a big open plan yacht on a west-east transatlantic who were hit by bad weather and were being thrown around. They dug out some of their dock lines and rigged a cat’s cradle of ropes down below, and so were able to get around safely, and nobody got hurt as the ropes were soft and gave a little. Not what the designer and builder intended I’m sure, but maybe it’s a viable option if some decent pad eyes were installed in advance to rig the ropes to. That it should come to this, though…
Ultimately, it’s about what you plan to do with your yacht, and where you plan to go. If your sailing is limited to long holidays and weekends, then a modern design (with some improvements) might be just what you want. But if you plan to go offshore, then traditional interior design, proven over the years, has so much to recommend it, that I find it hard to understand why it is falling out of fashion.