A Model T Offshore Voyaging Boat

The Idea is Born

This is the post that started it all. Much has changed since I wrote it, but the core concept remains the same.

Note that all prices are in 2012 Dollars

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.

Smaller Boats

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 few 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$200,000 sail away?

I think 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 Adventure 40 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.

Anybody listening?

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Hi John,
I hate being the cynic that I am, but I’ve had it beaten into my consciousness too many times!

First of all, a company like Beneteau or Hunter could never produce a boat like the one you are describing. They will inevitably undersize the rudder stock to save $10, hang an aluminum casting on the stem with a 2″ diameter roller on it, or put cast zinc hinges on cockpit lockers. Awhile back I surveyed a First 447 (Beneteau’s premium line), a boat I’ve always admired because of the beauty of Frers’ lines. When i pulled up the floorboards i couldn’t help but burst out laughing. There was the mast base sitting on a piece of bent sheet metal, held onto the fiberglass floor frames with sheet metal screws. Boats from big volume companies are always designed by bean counters and marketing flacks. The drawings (we used to call them cartoons) may come from a famous Naval Architect, but the boat is built in a factory where the driving force is preserve the image but squeeze the nickle and pay the labor minimum wage.

Second, any yacht designer who has survived in the industry has done so by catering to what the market demands. Might I paraphrase a private conversation with Bob Perry, inventor of the Performance Cruiser? ‘There is no market for performance in a cruising sailboat— the only thing that sells is internal volume’! . Perry is the designer who has come closest to producing mass market sailboats designed for crossing oceans, but his actual voyaging experience is minimal compared to someone like yourself. As a result he could design a true nightmare of systems packaging like the Lafitte 44 and say it represented the ultimate development of his offshore double-ender concept.

The contemporary market for a modest sized purpose built voyaging boat has been tested by the Saga 43 and Outbound 44, and proven to be so limited as to be unsustainable. Limit it even further by a Model T approach, and even a low price and Beneteau marketing will not make it viable.

Finally almost everyone I meet who dreams about sailing away into the sunset already knows everything about what they want in their dream boat. They’ve learned it from a friend who once chartered in the VI, or by reading magazines or talking to yacht brokers. And it certainly doesn’t include a white Formica interior, no centerline queen berth, no stern swim step, small engine, and no electronic plotters and autopilots to sail the boat for them.


As I sit here at 0342 EST, with insomnia, I now have dyspepsia. While I would love to see a vibrant, enduring offshore cruising community supported by a boat industry conscious of and optimized to their needs, I think I am likely to see the planet reverse spin first. As I noted…insomnia and dyspepsia.

My grandfather was a Model T salesman before the prior great depression. Were he with us today, he would tell you they were junk. They were subject to the same line of design thought and construction execution as the prior correspondent describes for mass market boats. Ford was not committed to quality, they were committed to volume and high margins. ‘T” maintenance made Ford more money than their construction (that economic model still prevails in the auto industry). Novelty and envy trumped utility for years. My family’s had to be driven through water several times a year to keep the spoked wheels from falling apart.

While I don’t think the sailboat industry is in it’s death throes, it is seriously sick and will likely not see the 1980-99-like market conditions for decades, if ever. Today, we have good boat manufacturers dropping out of boat shows because they can’t make enough profit to pay show fees. We have others who can’t get bank floor planning for construction because they have hangars of unsold boats. Boat construction talent pools have evaporated and will not be reconstituted—the good guys have moved on to keep food on the table. While some believe this is temporary, others believe the glut of good boats in the used market will continue to steer dwindling buyers (however informed) away from new product for at least a decade or more. Other pressures make this optimistic.

Cruising associations are watching their memberships evaporate as the boomer wedge of sailors ages out and new sailors/cruisers fail to replace them.

Marinas are losing slip-holders and tax authorities are pushing for condos and shopping centers to replace them. The decreasing number of marinas are charging higher fees if they can get them, further discouraging the reinvigoration of the sailing community. On top of that, we have civil jurisdictions that have just about declared open war on people with enough independence and skill to use an anchor properly. The drive for marina and mooring revenue and the vilification of the independent sailor are on the rise. In parts of Florida having a cruising boat swinging on a hook makes one a bum—independent of all other considerations.

We are rapidly returning to the “if you have to ask, you can’t afford it” era. And fewer people are interested in asking because economics, family pressures, and a fading sense of adventure obviate against sailing. On top of that, we have a wave of young people coming who believe vicarious and virtual trump physical effort and direct experience (notwithstanding the stunt sailors who luck their way around the world). In discussing sailing with one I was told, “I’m never leaving 3G coverage, period.”

I was inspired by Slocum. He was required reading in my junior high school (Spring, 1963). Were Spray built from modern materials to proper scantlings as we understand them today and outfitted rationally she would cost ~$3-400K all up. Were Slocum to sail into any US port today with Spray, as built, he would likely be asked to move along and then prevented from doing so offshore (or at least made the subject of 20 seconds of droll head-shaking video coverage as filler for nightly news).

Form follows function and cost follows form and price follows market. When there is a sick industry and shrinking market for a particular function, production goes to zero (managed or otherwise) or form goes to perdition.

Part of me is saying hit delete and go to bed….nah


If we differ on this it is more on means than ends. The sailing numbers (SA/D, D/L, etc.) still apply for displacement boats. Offshore boats are still bought by the pound, and made by (often highly) skilled hand labor using toxic materials to varying degrees. The market does not produce quality offshore boats efficiently…it can’t and it won’t until there is sufficient demand to underwrite efficient production.

And there are still the increasingly high overhead costs associated with environmentally sensitive construction that must be passed on to the consumer. As a market contracts, balance in these regulations is lost. Most of the used boats in today’s market could not be built the way they were and would cost 15-25% more then and now had they the present regulatory environment existed.

While you press for the market to supply a revolutionary Neue Tiefwasser Völker Boot we need to continue and expand your work to create informed demand for such a product in a broadly negative cultural environment. The cruising associations are no longer filling this role.

In the late ’70s Cruising World surveyed readers for the attributes of a good offshore boat (deep in a Virginia storage vault, I still have a copy). It would be interesting to query the equivalent demographic slice and see what the answers are today—if the equivalent “demo” can still be found.

I wouldn’t be part of the dialog if I didn’t think it had merit. You are calling for revolution. Successful ones require demand. Our Freedom 40 was a revolutionary boat (if one ignores sharpies), and in the absence of demand it became a quaint parenthesis with only carbon fiber sticks lingering in its revolutionary wake.

I will continue, as you, to look stimulate demand, but I fear we are preaching to a choir already to small to get the music changed.

Time to go buy groceries. The Bahamas call.

Dave Z

Hey John, et al.

I agree that a revolution is both necessary and overdue. Like any revolution, it needs theory and leadership. Great start, here!

For the revolution, I propose that we DO change the music:

– Design series (not just one size… small, medium, large).
– DIY potential (at a minimum, make bare hulls available)
– Client participation

One of the huge costs is labor. Another is the profit mandate… why don’t WE, the Volk, organize on a NON-PROFIT, co-operative basis? If we wait for THEM to do it, we’ll never see one for all the reasons listed (in comments to this post).

Tool-up around owner participation (labor). DIY benefitting from infrastructure, economies of scale, concentrated knowledge base and availability of more hands (from adjacent projects) at critical moments.

Some owners with deeper pockets won’t want to get their hands dirty. Others need a job to finance their dreams. Seems like perfect symbiosis, to me!

As to how many are out here? Hard to say, but there seems to be a rather huge movement of people interested, if only from the ‘voluntary simplicity’ side of things. Of course, this very movement tends them away from ‘the market’. If we want a successful revolution, we have to reach the revolutionaries in a way they can afford.

I see this as the heart of the Model-T or Volkscruiser concept (regardless of the actual implementation of the car or various volksboats).

Viva la RevoluciON!!

Dave Z

PS… I personally think that the FREEDOM 40 is, in many ways, an excellent design for the revolution. I would like to throw shoal draft into the wish list mix.

Viv and Mireille

John you started an interesting topic! While I agree with most of the replies to your yearning for a “proper” offshore boat and your own take on a no-nonsense offshore boat, there seems to be a missing link here – and that is the advent of new technology.

Sleds make it around the world in arduous conditions – singlehanded- canting keels, water ballast yes even fat aft ends! My idea of an offshore boat would be a fast modern hull with a sparse modern interior, twin rudders, adjustable keel and preferably aluminum. Ya did I just describe an OVNI? well it is one of my favs as it happens but I would prefer a more radical racing hull.
Out with the old designers – look for new young designers who have been out there and encourage a new breed of sailor by embracing modern cutting edge design. break out of the tupperware moldings mentality and build a simple, strong, fast boat.

As a side note, I was at the London Boat Show two weeks ago. Very disappointing. Nothing exciting to look at and too many “side shows” of non nautical items. It seems the economy is biting hard indeed at the heels of the yachting industry, as Chris pointed out.

But we must look to the future and a change of attitude towards sailing – away from the floating condo that is a sorry excuse for a sailboat and bring the industry back to building modern boats that actually sail far and safely and can be beached.

I would love to get back to long distance sailing but the lack of suitable affordable modern vessels keeps me in irons. Anybody got an old aluminum “sled” for sale?


Jean-François Eeman

Dear Viv,

The topic is very interesting.
A lot of remarks and comments are very sensesfull.
Yours are too BUT there is also a kind of contraction :
We all want boats which are as affordable as possible…
At the same time we want to see them at a boatshow on the hard in the middle of London… This represents huge amounts of money which in the end are paid by the final customer…



Hi Jean-Francois

That made me laugh – running my own businesses customers often told me about competitors products and said they’d seen their adverts – and why didn’t we advertise in the same way?

I then asked them who paid for those adverts…. And almost always they said the company – and as you’ve pointed out that just ain’t true.

Best wishes


Tom A

Hi, here in Europe Dehler is rebooting the Varianta brand as a no frills line.
In keeping with the model T feeling, an anchor locker is missing in the Varianta 44.
On the boat show in Hamburg, they told me one could anchor from the stern or cut my own locker.

Well, have fun



Hi John: Every one loves the boat they sail or should! There are many design that work and to each his own. Designing a model T cruiser is an interesting proposal but lets not consider model T engineering. The majority of cruising sailers are couples and considering the weight of gear, water, fuel,& food that people carry I have come to the belief that a monohull beteen 40 to 45 ft fits their needs nicely. I have no experience with multihulls and would be best not to comment. There are a number of used boats available fully equipped. The only downside can be the purchase cost and the expense of a refit. I have the experience of finishing two sailboats from bare hull and always had to fight to get fair pricing on the finishing materials and equipment. I have taken interest in Tom A’s comment on the Varianta brand and was very impressed. Their 44 ft. offered for 88,888.00 euro in a sail away less tax if applicable condition. Solid hull, class A, wheel, etc. To add the additional equipment would be the same what ever boat one would choose. Yes I would make modifications to suit my own crusing needs but they would not be to difficult. Lastly living in the US it would be a good reason to sail Europe and save the cost of shipping. George

Brian Lockett

Brilliant idea. I’ve always thought the new 44s designed by Pedrick for the Naval Academy and now the Coast Guard Academy were sensible (but not cheap) options.

Matt Marsh

Amen to all that, John. I, for one, would rather forego the exotic hardwoods and the $120,000 nav system (yes, I did see one with that price tag recently, described as a “good value” by the magazine reviewer…) in favour of a beefed-up rudder, reliable oversized windlass, more money in the bank, and other *ahem* useful things.

This isn’t what “the market” wants, though.

Yacht builders are mostly low-volume outfits, so if they want to make a profit, they have to strive for high margins. That means targeting wealthy clients with luxury features that can carry a fat markup.

Clients who have that kind of money are, more often than not, busy with shore-based businesses. They don’t cross oceans; they use the yacht for short vacations or to entertain guests.

Those who do cross oceans on less-than-astronomical budgets have a worldwide glut of used boats available for refitting. It’s hard for a builder to compete against that.

I would love to design and sail a boat like you describe, John. (I already have a heap of sketches for such a thing.) I’d love to see a builder bite on this idea and run with it. But I have absolutely no idea how you could get buy-in from Marketing and Accounting on such a project, when there are fatter margins to be made selling coastal luxury barges.


I’m on the opposite side of this issue, but in a way that differs from other commenters. I bought my first boat at 23 years old and it was lovely but too big at 43′ on deck and 50′ overall. I’ve downsized twice and my current boat is a 1961 Chesapeake 32 (lines somewhat like a Cape Dory) bought for $11,500. I have put about $20,000 into it since then for safety and comfort upgrades.

The insistence on new boats is confusing to me, as is the insistence on size and speed. Your criteria for a Model T cruising boat sounds more like a 60s-era Buick LaSabre or Ford Galaxie – cheaper than the Cadillac DeVille, but still far more monster than necessary.

I’m doing the equivalent of driving cross-country in an old Bug, but it’s going to get me off the continent (and out of 3G range – wink) and, hopefully, to all the most wonderful waters of the world. I started ignorant and made some dangerous and uncomfortable mistakes in the beginning, but going small has made everything easier for me, not harder.

On my boat, I come in under the size to need a Certificate of Competency in Europe, among other benefits like correspondingly smaller parts when something must be fixed or replaced and ease of finding slips. (Berthing a 50′ boat in the San Francisco Bay was an exercise in lack of options).

I’m also grandfathered out of a lot of environmental regs, though I’m enough of an environmentalist to take better care of the water than I’m legally bound to. That’s another good feature of old boats – keeping them from deteriorating and being scuttled, wasted. Why put a bunch more chemicals in the world when there are so many boats out there already?


John, you make some very good points, most of which I agree with. However, I find myself very much in Dena’s camp. When I began voyaging, in the mid-sixties, most cruising boats were in the 25-35 foot range and most cruisers were young with negligible cruising budgets, as opposed to today’s cruisers, most of whom are WOOFies [Well Off and Over Fifty] in large boats equipped with every gadget known to man.

I sailed from the Caribbean to Australia on a 35′ boat with only a single 6-volt battery to power the compass light and no way to charge it other than taking it to a service station when reaching port. Later, we installed a milliwatt solar panel composed of Bell Lab’s rejected Telstar satellite solar cells. I think this must have been the first solar panel on any vessel. We had a 15 horsepower outboard engine and 10 gallons of gasoline. The only instrument onboard was a VDO mechanical Sumlog. It was a fantastic trip!

Thirty five years later, my son bought a 1963 Leuders 33. It was ten years older than he but affordable. He spent a year upgrading it by himself and then spent another year cruising the Caribbean before selling it to return to graduate school.

The objective should be the cruising experience and not waiting until you have the “perfect boat”.


I agree a wooden boat and a wooden mast would be prefered!

Look out one day it is going to hit you. Tell me when you have seen it. The future!

Oceanis 45


Boy you have really got them going now!
I thinking at the moment one can buy a new blue water cruiser that is in the 45 ft range, a better design, stronger and cheaper than back in the late 1980’s and early 90’s in. Now it is all one persons values and what they prefer of course. But in 1992 one could buy a Mason 44 stripped as all new boats come for under 500K price $499,999.99 US. Mason advertised it as the best blue water cruiser for under half a million and they were most likely right. As of this moment You can buy new a couple of the French designed aluminum centerboard boats for around 420K US dollar and that is pretty bare boned just like the Mason was. When you take in 20 years of inflation some of the modern designed boats are really a great price. Not everyone wants a modern design, I was one of those sailors until just a few years ago so I understand. Some blue water boats are better built today and cheaper than 20 years ago so I see no reason that other companies could not do the same. Does this make sense or am I way off base?

Lane Finley

This is a great discussion topic and like many of you, I have spent hundreds of hours designing the ultimate, cheap, offshore cruiser. There is a “problem” that has not been mentioned so far, which I believe has been the major factor forcing boat builders toward the glitzy side of fit-out; that is our very lovable female gender. Obviously, Viv and Dena (above) are exceptions to this and I know many other keen cruising woman as well. But for the sake of this discussion, it is mostly us men that want to go cruising and many would be willing to go in a cheap boat without the creature comforts if necessary if we could convince our partners to join us. We all know the saying that it is the wife that buys the boat. Let’s face it, they are giving up a comfortable life in their land-home where the grandchildren can easily come for a visit just so (as they see it) their husband can chase a “silly man-dream”. This dream life in their mind consists of bouts of sea-sickness, extreme loneliness, rough weather, rolly anchorages, cramped space, no bath tub, cramped “kitchen” and no laundrey facilities. So when they finally relent to purchasing a family boat to go cruising, they put in for a few compromises. These compromises are what have driven our boat builders and designers down the path mentioned so well by other comments in this post. Accomodating these compromises has led to large interiors with lots of cabins (for the children and grandchildren that will rarely show up anyway) and no deck storage, to name only a few.
I spent this last cruising season in Vanuatu and New Caledonia and was amazed at how many single-handers there are now. A lot of them were young guys (50’s and 60’s) that decided to leave their partners at home and follow their dreams without them. For much of the six months away I found myself in the same position as my wife doesn’t want to do passages any more. I believe that single handed cruisers are a growing market. Perhaps there is still hope for the ultimate, cheap offshore cruising boat afterall! Perhaps that’s another post.


Hi, Lane; Thanks for the comment. I think you’ve raised a really interesting and important issue here. It’s really got me thinking. In fact, I’m in the process of writing a post on the topic, which we’ll be publishing in the next week or so. Thanks, Phyllis


If we are talking boats that were made for true blue water cruising, advertised as such and from 40 feet 45 feet. Does anyone know of a boat described in the above sentence in the last 25 or 30 years that sold new for under 500K? I can only think of the big Westsail.
A builder would have to have slaves working to build a blue water boat over 40 feet for the price of an Oceanis 45 in this day and age. How many months does it take even the most modern yards to build a blue water production boat , 13 maybe 15 months?

Scott Kuhner

John, the biggest mistake that young people make is in believing that they need a 45 to 55 foot boat in order to sail around the world. That is all bull foisted on us by the marine industry. Kitty and I spent four years sailing around the world in the early 70s on a 1963, 30 foot Allied Seawind ketch. She had no electronics, not even a depth sounder; we used a lead line. We also navigated with a sextant but did have a Zenith Trans Oceanic short wave receiver to get the BBC time checks. We had a manual windlass with 300ft of chain. The boat was very solidly built and we had re-rigged her in galvanized steel for a cost of $60. Just to illustrate how seaworthy she was….and still is, we put 38,000 miles on her and then sold her to a couple who spent a year cruising the Caribbean. Then they sold her to a man from Chile who has since sailed Bebinka two and a half times around the world and around Cape Horn twice. No you don’t need a modern 45 to 55 foot boat, you just need a strong well built one. Don’t forget that the safest thing on the sea in a storm is a light bulb. It just bounces on the top of the sea. You just want to make your boat as strong and water tight as a light bulb.

Nick Kats

Your approach is right on the money.
In the last few decades cruisers have stretched out until 40′ or 45′ seems to be the absolute minimum length required.
Ditto equipment – more & more options become necessities.
Expensive boat, toys, gizmos.
Half a mil, for goodness’ sake.
Great & famous cruisers of 50, 75 yrs ago would now be scorned. Hiscock’s boats, the Snark, the Spray, Tilman, Teddy, all of these would be rejected by most of today’s cruisers.
The cruising world is suffering from an increasing materialism.
I think that the cruisers of 50-75 yrs ago were far more interesting & fun than today’s cruisers.
Much simpler.
More adventurous.
More community.
The dinky old 30′ fiberglas boat with an outboard motor that showed up in the Azores was full of fun & adventure & joy.
Most of the cruisers docked at Horta were expensive 50 footers loaded with options. They were no fun at all – no community, all private parties, loaded for money, instant aristocracy.
Guess which got my attention & respect?
Big picture: you can cruise with a lot of money. But you can also cruise on a shoestring.

Paul Mills

What a great thread!

When looking for our boat I went through a lot of what has been described above. I came close to buying a Freedom Pilothouse 39, and still love them as boats, for me the 5′ draft was the killer. In the end (and after taking a very large gulp) we settled for a new Ovni 395, with the wish that she had a few of the pilothouse features…. . It’s true that new boats are expensive, my hope is that Ovni will keep its track record of low depreciation – or that I keep sakari for so long that I don’t give a damn 🙂

I completely get the whole simplicity thing, and have tried to use some aspects with Sakari. One decision, counter to this, that I am somewhat ruing is going for power hungry and noisey eperspacher heating.

Dena, I appreciate your thoughts and the Atom URL (there’s a few hours thought provoking stuff….) . In the UK some years ago we had the Yachting Monthly Offshore 38, which like some of the stuff above failed to catch on – despite many, many ‘this is the kind of boat we need’ type comments.

I guess that at the end of the day it’s as much about the Oceans sailed as the boat you sail them in!


Ps Chris it’s 0446 here in the UK, Attainable is good use of undesirable awake moments 🙂

John Lundin

Thanks John, for triggering this timely and complex discussion.

I like to think I’m in the target age for this discussion, but at 38 maybe I’m also getting old. I’ve come to the understanding that the boating industry has virtually dissolved – due in equal parts to the struggling economy, demographic shifts, manufacturing costs, consumerism and apathy.

Here in Seattle we still have a relatively strong industry for commercial maintenance and utility work. But most of the new sailboats on the market for our very limited sunny season are better suited for the Med or Florida. Some 20 years ago, a real PNW boat looked like the Sceptre or Amazon with inside steering. For the last few decades the boomer demographic powered a thriving marine industry providing innovative designs and an abundance of production. Now, it seems we’re holding on to the coat tails of that era.

Sailing has the biggest barrier to entry I can think of, and there’s just about zero resources to truly inspire people to get on the water. For those that do get out, the media says we need SSB, AIS, Radar, Satellite Weather, Chartplotter, Epirb, Liferaft, etc, lest our sunny daysail end in tragedy. Caution is the sailor’s wisest companion, but things are keel-side-up in boat world – as you so clearly point out. Those of us who do jump aboard, are then supposed to buy a paper-thin, grande derriere, tender boat of marginal quality and fill it to the brim with expensive gadgets. (Isn’t there a similarity to how we’re supposed to indenture ourselves to big mortgages, fancy cars and gadgetry as landlubbers.)

I believe it takes a lot of effort these days to break the demands of consumerism and embrace sailing. Among my community of sailors I’d say we’re a bone-headedly independent lot who don’t have much interest in cruising club rendezvous’ or plugging the financial thru-hulls of the racing clubs. Few are interested in actually buying that Model T, since there’s no shortage of well-appointed boats hitting the market these days from retiring cruisers. The real trouble will come in 10 or 20 years, when the dearth of present-day quality new construction leads to a lack of suitable boats for coming generations of sailors.

Despite the broad swipes above, I’m really interested in the concept of a Model T – but it must be designed for high-latitude sailing. (Isn’t that why we’re here at this wonderful site!) I want an interior where I can sort climbing gear and stash skis without worrying about scratching up a mahogany showpiece. Give me a metal hull for collision safety (groundings, wood, ice), a strong rig, a sheltered spot to keep watch, insulation and simple heat, good tankage and storage, reliable machinery, simple nav gear and sensible safety gear. Can we call it Model X?!

To find our Model X, we’ve come to the conclusion that we have to stick to the used market since new construction is unattainable for us and the production market doesn’t deliver (with the exception of the beautiful Boreal’s!). I expect we’ll settle on a 15-20 year old steel boat that will likely need some level of refitting to get her ready.


A LOT smaller, if you are more than a little bonkers!

Viv and Mireille

Maybe we could constructively consider what it actually costs to build a boat suitable for off-shore cruising – to ask the question why it costs $500K to put together a functional boat? Let’s break this down into component parts – hull/deck, mast/sails, hardware engine etc and figure out the cost. Maybe we will come up with an answer that will go to a technical college as a project for design and construction (metal hull please). If we want to encourage youth and new sailors to go offshore then take the bull by the horn, put our collective experience on the table and come up with a design for $250K sail-away.

peter loveridge

I don’t have a lot of enthusiasm for these large boats. they are difficult and expensive to put in marinas or on a slip, and taking one through a place like the Georgia ICW is a nightmare. Ours is a 30 footer that I did a lot of the building myself. It cost $70k 21 years ago and I’ve since spent about 20k on maintenance. The difference in cost between what everyone thinks is essential ( 45 feet and $400k) and my little tub would finance 2 decades of high end cruising. Yes its small, but we spent a year on board and only slept off the boat for 4 nights, and yes its slow, 120 miles is a good 24h run, but even the expensive ones likely only do 180. As we live in an area of foul weather and lots of fog, I do have the sort of electronics I would only dream about when I was young, but these days they don’t cost that much. I have a freezer, oven and a fireplace, which many of the boats we have met don’t have. I can’t beat to windward against a 25knot wind for a day and a half, but I don’t really want to, and its not necessarily comfortable on a big boat either. What is missing from the market is solid, reliable boats about this size, but there are plenty of older ones that with a bit of tlc can do the job


Interesting thread and like always totally different trains of thought on subject.
I’ve owned business with lots of employees but I would no way understand man hours in building such a boat as the 40 footer you describe. But if built in a 1st world country I would think there could only be 4000 man hours and that is not much at all. Factory would have to be in such a place to receive and send materials and final product cheaply. Computerized machines to do all cutting and fastening which would mean a rather large loan to pay for equipment, who would take such a risk in such a market? Could it be done for under 225000 USA? Company would have turn out a lot of them to show a profit.
http://www.walkabout.it Maybe this is that company, I could not find a price range but looks like a very plain and simply built blue water boat.


OK, I’ll bite!

-40′ LOA
-36′ LWL
-11′ beam
-6′ draft
-Balanced hull form, relatively deep V sections.
-Balanced spade rudder with oversized bearings and shaft.
-Sloop with detachable soft inner forestay rather than true cutter.
-Conventional double spreader rig, straight spreaders.
-DUX soft rigging, no turnbuckles or wire except on forestay.
-Roller furling on forestay only, tacked 24-30″ aft of stem head.
-Detachable Code O tacked to stem.
-Four sail inventory. Full batten main on low tech slides.
-All halyards and reefing handled at the mast with secure mast pulpits.
-No vertical bows and complication of bobstay etc.— 30″
bow overhang to avoid fouling the anchor chain.
-Tiller steering driven by Cape Horn wind vane and permanently mounted below deck small tiller pilot driving the servo rudder.
-25kg Rocna anchor, 250′ 1/4″ high test chain, extra 250″ rode.
-Manual windlass (like the good old SL 555 if you can find one).
-Chain pipe leading to chain locker 8′ aft of stem.
-100 gallons of water tankage under the cabin sole.
-30 hp saildrive motor mounted in watertight engine box to make it safe in case of collision with floating objects.
– Low companionway protected by watertight, gasketed entry door, facilitating:
– Permanent dodger low enough to look over the top.
-Trunk cabin tall enough to facilitate easily reaching grab rails and allow visibility from inside the boat.
-4″ high bulwarks if the bean counters will let you have them!
– No cockpit lockers for ease of construction and watertight integrity.
No exterior wood. No teak grab rails even if they are cheap.
– Entire area aft of companionway devoted to storage of sails, roll up dingy, snorkel & scuba equipment, and food pantry with wire baskets.
– Salon with two 7′ settees sized as generous sea berths with lee cloths and reading lights.
Forward facing nav/computer station with Ricardo automotive bucket seat or equivalent.
4 large dorades.
Insulated deck and cabin overheads for comfort in the tropics.
No refrigeration!

After all this is a Model T. If you want a Model U with wheel steering and refrigeration it will no longer be a Model T!

ps. By the time you select a reasonable grade of marine plywood and attach white formica it will cost as much as wood veneer. So why not have varnished Cherry bulkheads it you want them! Just no fake wood plastic veneer like we are seeing on half million dollar 45 footers nowadays!

Jean-François Eeman

Dear John,

I really wish you are right !
And if someone has the solution we would be the first to support, to contribute and help in the way we can…

But I’m afraid that Steve’s analysis is pretty close to the reality.
Several additional elements I see :
– If you can reach the target numbers in price, it will mean you’ll only reach it with a certain number of boats sold and produced… There is an element of risk and investment involved.
(One way to do things : I think it was in the US that a certain number of people gathered to buy on plan a certain of numbers of boats which they had build later in China cfr Flying Tiger)
– If you need to have a dealers network to sell the required numbers you have to include a margin for them…
– All of us on this website are passionate people. Nobody gets rich building the kind of boats we talk about here… But if you want the concept to survive and last everybody has to make a normal/decent living…
– The smaller the numbers, the smaller the price, the higher the margin which is required to cover unavoidable overheads. (Don’t underestimate overheads!)
– For me going to China, Brasil, Vietnam… is not (yet) the solution for this kind of projects. The numbers are to small and before you get the boat in Europe or US with a certification… (But here Lane Finley might say with very rational and realistic elements I’m wrong)
Moreover in these days you have to manage the risks of exchange rates…

I’m of an optimistic nature.
AND I do not want to take away any enthusiasm of anybody…
But there is also the reality, an different views on the same reality…

My optimistic nature and our roots :
As you can imagine : Because we have sailed a lot ourselves with little money (we really know what is to sail and live aboard on a shoestring) we have daily several persons asking our help and recommendations.
We try always to be helpfull, encouraging people to go out sailing.
What we always say to be people:
– If you really to want to go out sailing you can and eventually you will.
– Start from the beginning : a boat can be a nice and beautiful object (and why not !!!) but it is (also) a tool.
A tool to realize dreams.
Buy the tool adapted to your project. You don’t need an Indy car to drive two blocks…
A lot of the previous comments go in that sense and all those people are right.
If you cannot afford to tool adapted to your project, adapt your project… (as proven in the past going sailing in front of the Kerguelen in the middle of the winter with an open 40 might not be the best idea).
– Security is an issue. Putting your life at risk is one thing, putting lives of rescue teams at risk is antoher thing. The basic assumption and only coherent philosophy is that you should be self-sufficient/independent at sea…
– When you buy your boat, there are different ways of calculating :
Planning to go out sailing for a precise amount of time and sell the boat back afterwards is different from an approach where you want to keep the boat “forever”…
In the first case, the cost over the period is the right figure. There are many examples of “big” boats where the cost is very very low…
As Viv and other point out correctly, choose the right boat and it will keep her (nominal) value.
– How willing are you to do things yourself ? It is a key element…
Do you have the capacities to do things yourself ? Are you willing to ? Do you think it is fun ?
If you don’t think it is fun and if you earn more/hour than the cost of a yard, you should think differently…

As always, just A personal point of view amongst others, without pretending anything and open to discussion.

I sincerely hope this does contribute to the topic…



Hi John,
I think the Sundeer project, if all the details were known, might serve as a lesson about the kind of problems one might encounter rather than an example to emulate—.


Hi Jean-François,

A lot of wisdom in your comments.

My yacht building has been in Puget Sound, British Columbia & Hawaii. Built two 100’+ aluminum megayachts, production tooling for a 60′ cruising catamaran, etc. There are hundreds of highly skilled and unemployed boat builders in that region, and wage rates for skilled people are depressed into the 15-20 dollar range, but I can see no way such a boat could be built there. Virtually no local market, and huge distribution/shipping/ marketing costs to find buyers.

I have a whole library of stories about having boats built in China——. No thanks, I’ll stay retired!

If the boat has any viability it probably would need to be built in Europe. Perhaps Spain, Turkey, Eastern Europe, or even France?

Steve Dashew’s production run of15-20 Sundeer boats were 100% subcontracted to Tillson Pearson, a large volume fiberglass boat builder. The boats were delivered bare and all the systems and fitting out left to the buyer, with highly variable results as one might expect. They were direct marketed by Dashew without a broker or middleman, with a 50% down payment required which went a long way to paying for the contract price from TP. Great business model if you can get it! Only someone who had built a reputation through thousands of pages of publications and years of experience could pull it off, and that in a very different economic climate than we now face. In that same era I pre-sold three 60′ catamarans at a million $ each before we had completed the basic tooling.


Gunboat has relocated production to US to save costs.


the Italian model T


Before starting that project I’d suggest finding someone who has raced an Open 40 or Open 50 and ask them if they’d choose the Open 50 to sail to Tahiti with their wife as crew.

Great fun to sail for an afternoon though.

There is a reason why kit boats are only built in New Zealand or OZ anymore . Hand finishing that interior alone will take as much time as earning the money to buy a used Valiant 40 with blisters that only offend the eye.

Twice as good an ocean cruising boat as the Walkabout to my way of thinking.

Scott Kuhner

RDE, I will agree with you: in my mind the Valiant 40 is one of the best cruising boats ever made. We have over 65 thousand miles on our 1975 V 40, including a circumnavigation. She is a very comfortable sea boat and is not slow. My best days run was 218 miles noon to noon while doing the Newport to Bermuda single handed race (but I admit I did have a little help from the gulf stream) We used to average about 150 miles/day in the trades with twin jibs poled out. to see a slide show of our circumnavigation in the Valiant 40, go to: http://www.pbase.com/akuhner/greatescape
or to see the circumnavigation on our 30 ft Seawind ketch go to: http://www.pbase.com/akuhner/bebinka
When you get there click on the first picture and then scroll down to read the text. Then click next at the bottom of the page.


Ciao John,
i m 100 % with you regarding the hull shape of this open inspired boat (see Pogo) and the proof is my new boat, that has a very ”traditional ,, hull shape;canoe body, moderade beam ,etc…
i did sail thousant of miles ,including a transat and a Drake passage on my best friend’s Cigale 16 wich is one of the first attempt to make an open 50 in to a cruiser and she behaved just like you describe above ,not to mention the sea-siknnes associated with the brutal motion, even using water ballast.
To be onest i must admit that was great fun to surf downwind
at 15 plus knots, but is not the thrill i m looking for when i travel with my wife
May be you agree with me regarding the interior of the Walkabout wich i consider a good choice for a model T kinda of boat.some details to be rewied

Jean-François Eeman

Hi John,

Great thread ! With a lot of very interesting feedback…

I do share your point of view…
One of the aspects you do not mention is the capacity to load/charge the boat…
On a offshore cruiser, very often, you carry a lot of stuff (tool boxes, gear, anchors…) . This kind of boats are not meant to be heavy loaded. As soon as you load (the rear of) the boat, the rear or the scoop drags into the water and that alters a lot of sailing properties of this kind of boats.

And PLEASE do understand me correctly : it is NOTsaying anything bad about them. It just a different concept for different purposes.
And having raced singlehanded, shorthanded and in crew with Figaro’s, Open 40, Class 40, Open 60 I can tell you they are FUN to sail… (but also wet and brutal)
Just like you say very sexy Indy cars…


The Walkabout looks interesting. I’m not sure about the construction (although my first Atlantic crossing years back was on a 31’6″ plywood sheathed vessel).

Composite or laminate construction produces a strong light hull but I question the hull’s longevity especially after a few dings and dents? But weight for weight could this (Walkabout) type of design work in aluminium?

I like many of the features that RDE has put forward but my only question to you is; why 4″bulwarks? Is the argument that it keeps water off the deck? In my thinking bulwarks trap more green water on deck in heavy weather? or is it just good for stanchion bases?

This is a good forum topic because; although it’s been covered many times in the past, it hi-lights new ideas and designs that I didn’t know about, such as the Walkabout.


Hi Viv,
To my mind bulwarks are to keep things on deck- mainly me. As long as the lee deck isn’t under water I’ve often walked along them to go forward. However for a Model T I doubt if the construction cost is justified, and they are one thing I’d compromise.

One thing I forgot to mention is that my Model T will have a heavy glass layup over a balsa core for cost savings, but resin infused using vinylester resin. When you infuse balsa it becomes a solid resin matrix, with none of the problems of foam core shear failure or balsa moisture penetration, however with a moderate weight penalty. Ring frames and longitudinals are infused with the skin in a one shot operation. Any molded interior components installed with secondary bonding are essentially non structural rather than a structural grid bonded in with sticky-poo a/la Beneteau.


Anyone find out what the cost of the Walkabout goes for?


you might want to take a look at

Tom T.

I like to think of the boat equivalent of an 1960’s era rebuilt International Scout, my favorite 4 W drive.


Thanks John, Jean Francois, RDE and everyone for a great thread.
I just read through the whole thing again maybe the 4th or 5th time I have done so. Maybe we are at the start of a Renaissance in what the sailors of this era we now live in are going to look for in new boats. Maybe history repeats itself like they say. Could, or is the industry being reborn in smaller, lighter, faster sailboats for world cruising? My last passage across the pacific a few years back there were a lot of 32 foot open stern and well built boats being sailed by young people across oceans. Some of these boats I believe were built in NZ and Europe. Maybe this is where the industry will find its nitch, back to the 1960’s, 32 to 37 foot the perfect size for the young and adventurous. I remember those days of sailing the S. Pacific and Indonesia on a 32 footer, an adventure in 1972 yes but with the new designs of today a way better adventure I’m thinking for the young. I owned a Rhodes Chesapeake 32 ft for years, still my favorite boat of all time, I miss her but there is no way I would sail her where seas can turn killer, she would survive but I’m not sure I would. I’ll stick with my new 44 and let the young be young.
I hope our young designers out there will continue to dream. Take that dream and boil it in a pot of reality and if the dream still comes out sweet, build it.

Viv and Mireille

I was in Newfoundland a week ago and unbeknownst to me there was a 50′ Aluminum sloop sitting on the hard an hour or so from the city from St. John’s. It’s a NZ built vessel by McMullen and Wing Ltd 1988 vintage. The irony was that I only saw the listing when I returned to Scotland. At $230K+ it seems to be a good deal. For anyone interested it appears well equipped for adventures and can be found on http://www.ryc.nl

So it is right that many of the contributers to John’s blog say that there are older boats to be had – this one for example – that would be a great cruising boat for Northern climates.

But for me I am intrigued by the direction of this blog in that somewhere along the line there could be a (radical) business model that can produce the modern (but sea-kindly) offshore cruising yacht. I agree with all the experts out there that a “sled” would not be the most comfortable boat, but again some concession to speed and modern tech must be incorporated into a design, not only to embrace new technology for its own sake but to use it to reduce costs. Lightweight composite aircraft derived interiors, drive by wire technology to reduce wiring (with a manual over-ride system, called a tiller!) chain lockers on top of the keel or as close to (thanks RDE for that concept) retractable keel or wing bilge keels. Time to think outside of the traditional and to re-look at how boats have become so expensive?

This type of thinking happened in the general aviation industry and lead to new composite light aircraft with glass cockpits and other new technology and breathed new life into an industry that was on its last legs, there are now many successful manufactures of light aircraft out there that did not exist ten years ago.

Sailing is far less regulated than the aviation world, so there is more latitude to change the industry with less costly regulatory requirements to meet. Surely if I can buy a new fully equipped light aircraft for $250K then a 40′ yacht should not be such a challenge?

RDE has put forward a concept that might fit the bill, so can it be production built for less than $250K? or even as John suggested $175K? Sharpen your pencils…….


I was on the way through the thread intending to mention the Atom site, but Dena beat me to it. Especially read his articles about sailors who have done voyaging with below the bare minimum. They are very inspirational. A designer who stresses comfort, safety and economy is Tom MacNaughton. See http://www.macnaughtongroup.com/sovereig.htm for a 30 footer that looks very comfortable, spacious, economically built and easily maintained. Indeed, look at his 15-footer for world cruising. As we all adapt to a future of diminishing abundance because of diminishing cheap energy, things will go back to the old ways. They work. I have a friend here on Vancouver Island who grew up in the islands at the north end of the Strait of Georgia during the Great Depression and tells of her father making regular trips to Vancouver by 16 foot row boat, about 120 miles each way, for supplies. We are already beginning to stair step down in complexity and opulence, at least for the common man. As the simple boats like Atom disappear, smaller, simpler new boats will reappear, maybe made of, by golly, sustainable wood. And people will take appropriate cruises because they don’t know any better. As John Michael Greer recently wrote in his beautifully written blog, The Archdruid Report, if you want to know what post-peak oil is going to look like, look around. We’re busy adapting right now,. It’ll all work out. Just shift a few of those paradigms around.

Alessandro Suardi

Goodmorning everyone,
my name is Alessandro Suardi and I work in Walkabout Yacht as a product manager.
In a boatbuilder’s point of view, it’s necessary to define what is a blue water cruiser that can meet a wide sailors’ interests range.
Reading posts above it’s clear that a blue water cruiser has to be sturdy, reliable, easy to sail even windward and as comfortable as possible both sailing and at anchor. Obviously a yacht like this has to compete on market with US, France and Germany mass production boats.
Stated the above, I think that only composite (pvc or wood/epoxy) or aluminum are suitable for the purpose: they allow a one-off, highly customized building in an easy and cheap way.
The Walkabout Serie goes straight in this way, with the possibility to obtain a sturdy composite with carbon inserts in the “crucial” zones. This guarantee a lighter final weight compared to aluminum that allow, given the final displacement, to add lead in the bulb that means more righting moment available for better windward sailing.
A composite hull can be also repaired everywhere in the world also without electrical tooling: some spare glass cloth and some epoxy can easily replace almost every detail both structural or aesthetic. It’s also electrically and thermally insulated ad does not corrode.
Furthemore hull-deck and hull-keel joint are structural and built like this they restore the integrity of the solid hull, making the boat more safe, more rigid and more dry. Obviously it’s possible to have, optional, both variable depth keel and water ballast.
About hull design, David Reard draw a planing hull with a single chine that guarantees elevated average speed. That will reduce long passages time even by days and allows to run before the sea even under storm jib.
Watertight bulkheads located in the bow and just after aft berths guarantee high resistance to collisions. Bilge space from keel to the bow is watertight too, giving other collision protection.
Rudder stocks are well over rest waterline and however located the stern watertight zone, enhancing security.
Internal accomodation are roomy and highly customizable, to meet both couple and family needs.
Always trade winds!

Nick Kats

Bizarre discussion.

Make your Model T in India, China or Vietnam, cheap.

Lots of great tried & true bluewaters on the market for way under 175K. Westsail 32 & 41, Alajuela 38, Cape George 36, Saltram Saga 36 & 40, Endurance 35, Contessa 32, Nicholson 35, dozens of wood or steel Colin Archers 35-42′ in Scandinavia.