This is the post that started it all. Much has changed since I wrote it, but the core concept remains the same, so I have left it up.
Lately, I have been thinking and worrying about how hard it is these days for newcomers to get into our sport, pastime, lifestyle, passion, or whatever you want to call offshore voyaging.
It’s not so much that it is that difficult to learn to handle a boat offshore. Take a good sailing course, maybe a Yacht Masters, do a few crossings with an experienced mentor, mix in a good dose of common sense, and you’re good to go.
No, the real problem is the difficulty in acquiring a good, safe and comfortable offshore boat at a price that does not require the buyer to be seriously rich.
The Old Boat Option
Sure, there are lots of old boats out there for sale at reasonable prices, but when you start to look for a decent offshore boat, the list gets shorter, a lot shorter. And then, even if they do find a good older boat, how does a newbie go about refitting it, which most older boats will need?
If they take it to the professionals, today’s labour rates will soon escalate the price into the stratosphere. Worse still, only a very small percentage of boat yards are capable of fitting out a boat for offshore sailing without very close supervision from someone with…you guessed it, years of experience offshore—Catch 22.
Of course the boat owner could do the refit work themselves, but to plan and execute a good cost effective refit generally takes…years of offshore boat owning experience—Catch 22 again.
A New Boat
If they want a new boat, the wannabe boat owner had better have deep pockets, really deep. It seems like half a million US dollars is the starting point for a decent new offshore boat in the 40 to 45-foot range.
Sure, a smaller boat is an option, but even a new well built 35-foot offshore boat will set you back some serious coin, and anyway, these days most people want the comfort and speed of a boat in the 40-foot range.
Wrong Headed Offshore Boats
And that brings me to the boat in the picture above, a brand new 21,000 pound Beneteau Oceanis 45 that is, in my never humble opinion, about as far from an ideal offshore cruising boat as it is possible to get. (I won’t go into the details of why, since Colin already did a brilliant job of that, see the link below.)
But There Is Hope
But here’s the thing, Beneteau lists that 45-foot boat for €171,000 or $225,000, which is half the price of a decent offshore boat of around the same size.
Now suppose Beneteau, or someone like them, went to say, Bob Perry, and got him to draw a really sweet offshore boat along the lines of the Saga 43. A boat with a long water line for speed, and moderate beam and symmetrical ends for sea kindliness.
And suppose they built the boat really simply, but strong, with none of the silly foo-foo features (in my opinion) of the Oceanis. They could also make it smaller, say 40-feet, say about 18,000 pounds. (Boatbuilding costs are scaled by weight, not length.)
The boat I envision would have a simple functional interior made from Formica-covered marine ply cut out by computer driven milling machines. There would be no drawers—you know what it costs to build a drawer? Don’t ask—just shelves. There would be no varnish or fancy trim, on deck or below. (You can make an interior like this very pleasing to live in just by putting up some photographs and posters.)
Lose the second head, the in-mast roller furling, the too big engine (30 HP would be plenty) and the twin wheels. Make that solid mainsheet arch into a hard dodger.
Keep the equipment simple. Do you really need a $10,000 electronics package for a low latitude circumnavigation or a cruise of the Caribbean? No you don’t. Two hand held GPSs (one for backup) will do the job for less than US$400.
The boat would have no options, none, zero, zip. And you could have it any colour you want, as long as it’s white. The builder could use an advisory board of experienced voyagers to come up with a specification that would meet most needs. The stamp of approval from that board would also help sell boats and persuade buyers to go with the minimalist gear list.
Well, I could go on and on, in fact I already have, but you get the idea.
A Model T Boat
I wonder, could we have a really great, very simple, mass produced offshore cruising boat for just US$175,000, or even $150,000, sail away? I think maybe we could. Kind of the Model T of voyaging boats. A boat for the more fiscally constrained future the world is faced with.
And that would be really great. I think they would sell a bundle of them—a lot more than they are selling of these just-another-big-assed boats.
A Game Changer
Say a couple of hundred of these boats got built in five years. That would significantly increase the number of new participants in offshore voyaging.
Many people would buy them as starter boats and then up-grade once they had some experience and knew that they really liked voyaging. But that would be good too since suddenly we would have a base of wholesome, relatively new, second hand offshore boats at very reasonable prices.
And that would make it possible, once again, for younger people to go cruising for a few years before getting “serious” about their lives: They could buy a good used boat for say $120,000, go cruising for a few years, and then sell it for not a lot less than they paid for it, since I believe a boat like this would hold its value well.
Hello Beneteau…anyone…someone…is anyone listening?