Adventure 40—Reliability And Quality

JHH5_104618-Edit-EditThere is a saying that “cruising is the process of working on your boat in exotic places” and it’s distressingly true. Even buying a brand new boat does not fix the problem, let alone fixing up an old one. But I don’t believe it must be that way. Let’s look at how the Adventure 40 will be better than that.

The Goal

Here is my reliability goal for the Adventure 40:

  • You will be able to buy one for around US$200,000.
  • The boat will come to you on a truck fully offshore-equipped, with a complete, professionally written and illustrated, assembly and commissioning manual.
  • Any competent sailor with basic tool skills will be able to commission the boat in seven working days or less.
  • You will only need to add a hand held GPS, linens, and dishes.
  • After tuning (documented in the manual) and sailing the boat for a week, you will be able to sail the boat 30,000 miles around the world with only routine maintenance.

Impossible? I don’t think so. We just need to change some things about how the boat gets designed and built:

Designed For Task

Most sailboats built in the last 20 years were not designed to go offshore. Hell, a lot of them were not even designed to go sailing. No, they were designed to look good in a boat show with an interior to wow the dreamers who have never been outside protected waters.

How will we fix that?  We already have. Erik and I have used our combined offshore experience of over a quarter of a million miles to come up with a boat that is first, last, and all the time, designed to go offshore, and then those design decisions have been vetted and improved by the hundreds of offshore sailors that comment here at AAC.

No Options

There will be no options; none, zero, zip, nada. It is hard enough to build an offshore sailboat right if every one is the same. It becomes totally impossible if every owner is allowed to tamper with a proven and tested boat.


The boat as it comes from the factory will have what you need to sail around the world in comfort and safety, and nothing more. All the sails will be there, the lines, the self steering, the winches, the windlass and anchor, good sea bunks, reliable engine and great sea-galley.

But no electronics (remember the hand held GPS you need to buy?). No air conditioning, but great ventilation. No heat, but great insulation. You get the idea.

But Customizable

I’m not crazy or delusional. I do realize that almost no one will take off around the world with the base boat, even though they might have more fun if they did. So the boat will be designed to be easily customized by the owner or someone he or she hires:

  • An arch to take antennas, solar panels, wind generators, etc, with a great big wiring conduit leading to the equipment area. There will even be messenger lines in the conduit.
  • A huge equipment area next to the engine with mounting space for watermaker, big chargers, heater and all the other stuff that owners may wish to add.
  • Plenty of spare breakers on the electrical panel.
  • Spare spigots on the sea-chest.
  • Reinforced hard pads in the hull ready to take extra through-hulls and sea cocks.

When deciding what to included in the standard boat, we gave priority to items like the arch or hard dodger, which are relatively easy and cheap for a builder to do in volume but hard and expensive for an owner to do, or have done.


There is a pervasive assumption about boats, reinforced by the current state of the industry, that less expensive boats like the Adventure 40 must be poorly built and equipped with junk gear.

That does not have to be so. By eschewing foo-foo features and going simple—for example, tiller steering instead of the twin wheels supplied on some boats of comparable price—huge amounts of money can be saved that, on the Adventure 40, will be invested in great construction and making sure that the gear that is included is the best.

In specifying the boat we will be guided by the basic principle of the lowest possible total ten year cost of ownership, not a sticker price. I still think that we can get the boat in under US$200,000, but if she ends up at say US$207,000 because she has a really good engine and robust drive train that will go ten years and 10,000 hours with nothing but oil changes, so be it. Replacing a Saildrive that craps out in Bora Bora is going to cost a bunch more than that difference.


It really is no wonder that many new boats are a nightmare of poor design and worse construction. Think about it. Often, a builder, who has hardly ever been to sea, gets together with a designer, who has not been to sea much, and the two of them listen with rapt attention to the marketing/sales guys. This triumvirate designs a boat, often without benefit of an engineer.

They then find some suckers to buy the first boats. Generally the first ten boats are crap. After which, the builder changes everything (if they have not gone bankrupt) based on the anguished screams and warranty claims of the first owners…and the whole cycle starts again.

There is a better way:

  • A prototype Adventure 40 will be built.
  • Experienced sailors test the boat hard. And I’m talking really hard. Think the Bermuda One-Two or a sail from the UK to the Azores and back.
  • One or two families of four test the boat on coastal cruises including overnight sails.
  • The boat returns to the yard to have problems and omissions fixed.
  • Gear that has failed to perform is replaced with different gear.
  • Repeat as necessary for at least three months.
  • The specification, right down to the last screw, is documented and frozen.
  • The first production boat is built to that specification.
  • The first production boat is tested to make sure nothing went awry.
  • Production commences.

Quality Control

Obviously I can’t enforce this, but I’m suggesting to the builder that every Adventure 40 be built under the watchful eye of a quality control inspector who makes absolutely sure that the boat conforms to the detailed and public specification derived from the prototype.

And here is the most important point: The QC inspector, although paid from the purchase price of the boat, contractually works for and has fiduciary responsibility to the buyer.

Sure, this will add some cost to the boat, but not as much as you might think. Remember, the boat is standard and built to a detailed spec. Also, this is a mass production boat, so there will be economies of scale in the QC process too.

What About the Builder?

I can hear the more business oriented among you now: “What about the builder? Why on earth would he or she subject themselves to, let alone fund, this draconian plan?”

The answer is simple: Because there is a lot of money to be made according to the initial budgets we have done. I can tell you after a career in small business that the single biggest destroyer of profit, after lack of customers (we have that one cracked), is ambiguity. And what have we done with this plan? Removed most (you never get rid of all) of the ambiguity that bankrupts boat builders.


  • Warranty claim: Does the boat conform to the published and public specification? Yes: claim denied.
  • Missing piece of gear from delivered boat: Did the QC inspector sign off on the packing list when the boat was shipped? Yes: claim denied, call the insurance company that covered the boat in shipping.
  • No options and changes, the biggest killer of boat builders.


Do you have any suggestions to make this process even better? Please leave a comment, I’m all ears. 


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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.

128 comments… add one
  • George M Apr 24, 2014, 8:14 am

    Hi all,

    I’m not sure that tihs is the right place for this comment, but I can’t think where else it could go and it does pertain to quality, reliability and the 10 year cost of ownership v ticket price. No one has yet raised the issue of hull layup. The A 40 is to be GRP (eminently sensible for a mass produced boat), but there are a lot of variables in GRP construction.

    1. Will it be Epoxy, vinlyester or polyester?
    2. Will it be choped strand mat throughout or will it be cross laid woven rovings?
    3. If the former, will woven and unidirectional roving be used in high stress areas?
    4. Will the glass be E glass or S glass? (I’m assuming that carbon and kevlar are out as primary materials for cost reasons)
    5. Will kevlar be used for impact resistance at the bow?
    6. Will the hull be cored, and if so will the core be balsa, or some other material?
    7. Will bulkheads and furniture be fully glassed into the hull and deck or simply tabbed and glued?
    8. Is the keel encapsulated or bolted on?

    Answering everyone of those questions involves balancing strength, future maintanence requirements and costs, and ticket price off against each other.

    Ignoring ticket price I would answer the questions thus:

    1. Epoxy everytime for offshore cruiser. I recently bought a hanse 370 with epoxy hull. It had sat in the water for 7 years without ever being lifted, painted or dried out. It was totally neglected, and the hull was as sound as it was the day it was put in the water. If it had been a polyester boat it would have had the pox. Even such a boat with an epoxy shield would have likely have had the pox. Vinlyester is a good compromise, but for peace of mind and longevity it has to be epoxy.

    2. Choped strand mat as a base material. Its not quite as strong as cross laid woven roving but its more tolerant of errant load paths and easier to repair.

    3. At the chain plates there should definitely be some unidirectional reinforcement.

    4. S glass because it is a good deal tougher than E glass.

    5. If S glass is used then maybe just an extra layer or two forward is sufficient, but if the hull is E glass then ideally one would want better impact resistance forward than this can offer without resorting to very heavy layups and there is an argument to be made for kevlar forward.

    6. For strength, weight, thermal insulation, etc the hull should be cored. I know a guy who had a polyester, E-glass balsa cored boat of about 10 years old where it was found that moisture content in the balsa was very high. I think I remember him saying that the boat was a quarter of a ton heavier than it should be because of this. The balsa hadn’t begun to rot thank god but that is a risk. No end grain Balsa! For impact resistance one wants linear foam, but with a strong layup maybe multilinked foam will do.

    7 All main bulkheads at least should be glassed into the hull. Ideally the bulkheads at the aft and forward ends of the saloon should be composite and watertight. I realize that on the A40 that would probably necessitate either a sail or V drive on the engine, along with an access hatch on the cockpit sole and so may not be doable. Moreover, without the saildrive and with the rudder transom hung there is less that could lead to flooding of the boat back there, but the forward bulkhead should not be difficult to specify as water tight.

    8 Encapsulated keel everytime.

    “Hmmm what are those damn rust streaks at the hull keel join telling me? Is it just rust from the top of the keel or has the water penetrated to the bolts and if the latter have the bolts lost their integrity yet. Damn we’ll need to drop the keel to check because there is no other way of checking. ” “Ok that will be 500 dollars please.”

    “Damn we hit that rock hard, any water coming in? No. Are the keelbolts all ok? What do you mean you can’t tell! Oh darn we’ll have to get her lifted and drop the keel again.”

    And on and on. The problem is that stainless steel keel bolts don’t rust to tell you their done, they get crevice corrosion way down where you can’t see and the first you know about it is when your keel has fallen off.

    All but how I would answer the second question would increase the cost of the yacht and yet all the answers I gave increase strength and resale value and decrease maintanence costs and hassle. The hull I describe is probably on the older of 2 to 3 times as expensive to build as a conventional E-glass, balsa topsides, polyester build. Yet it is a GRP hull. So does quality and reliability include the hull layup?

    • John Apr 24, 2014, 10:31 am

      Hi George,

      All really good points that Erik and I have spent quite a bit of time discussing. Having said that, it’s a bit early to get into the specifics of the engineering since we are only the second time through the design spiral, so I will confine my thoughts to generalities:

      A core concept of the A40 is that we are going to save money by keeping the boat simple, and then spend that money on great structural engineering. For example, the boat will have tiller steering and an outboard hung rudder which will save several thousand dollars over a wheel and spade, enough to fund most of the hull improvements you mention, maybe all.

      The interesting thing is that good construction and upgrades like epoxy are surprisingly inexpensive on a mass produced boat of this comparatively small size. In other words, throw out one foo-foo feature and you get a lot of strength and longevity in return.

      The other thing is that the prototype boat will be subjected to an unprecedented testing process and I assure you that Erik, her designer, who is also a fully qualified engineer in his native Holland, is going to make very sure she passes. This is a guy that designs and engineers commercial pilot boats for a living, where busted is not an option.

      • George M Apr 24, 2014, 3:28 pm

        Hi John,

        I don’t mean to rush you on the scantlings. I guess I’m just having a hard time getting my head around the idea of a boat built to such a high spec that costs less than half what a “quality” competitor would cost not built to anything like that spec.

        For instance, the Halberg Rassy 372 costs about 430K dollars for a cruise ready boat. This is probably THE top of the range european cruiser equivalent to the A40 (maybe the Malö 37 could be counted there also but its roughly the same price and build spec). The HR 372 is 16500lb lightship displacement. It has an E-glass, Vinlyester, closed cell foam cored hull with a lead keel attached by stainless steel bolts. Now imagine that the A40 (18000lbs) is built with an S-glass (3x cost of E-glass for equivalent strength but 60% of the wieght) Epoxy (At least 2x cost of vinlyester) closed cell foam cored hull with a lead keel attached by bronze bolts (5x the cost of stainless steel bolts but will not corrode under any circumstances) and winds up with a cruise ready ticket price of less than half that of the smaller, by both length and weight, HR 372.

        If building to that level of quality is possible to that price simply by foregoing all the paraphernalia in the 372 (electric winches, lines led aft to helm, bow and possibly stern thruster, widescreen chart plotter, popup TV, washing machine, forced air heating, electric roller furling and windlass, microwave, refrigerator, wheel pedestal, etc, etc, etc) it would be a revelation. I’m not sure I can quite believe it. It sounds like a recipe for a boat manufacturer going bust (charging half as much for a superior quality, albeit less fancy, product.)

        It really makes you rethink what “quality” in boat building is. I can’t think of a single production builder that would consider building a hull to that spec. Hell, just specifying bronze keel bolts would be a unique sales argument. So far as I know, no production builder is prepared to put so much money into something the customer is never going to see and that will only be of value in the event of serious groundings or after 10 years of ownership.

        • Erik de Jong Apr 24, 2014, 3:51 pm

          Hi George,

          Building a hull properly is not that much more expensive. In the end, the hull structure is only 20% of the total cost of an average boat these days. So saving 25% on hull structure will only save you 5% on total building cost. When splitting that up even further, about half of the hull structure is material coast, the other half is labor (also depends a little on what construction method will be used). So cutting material costs back to half, will give you the 5% on the total cost of the boat.

          Now looking at the other end of the spectrum, the interior is almost half of all the work, and except for the layout, interior is not what makes an offshore boat a great offshore boat.

          It is obvious that the largest and least compromising savings can be achieved by deviating from the wooden and varnished interiors. Change wood to synthetic materials, and you can cut back the interior material cost by half. Stay away from having to varnish everything 6 times with sanding between the layers will cut labor down with more than half. Cutting back 70% of the cost of a portion of the boat that stands for more than half of the total cost, makes a boat 35% cheaper.

          The idea behind this project is that we cut back the non essential items, and upgrade the parts to a whole new level of quality. That is in our eyes important for a good offshore boat.

          The second “secret” is that proper prototyping will save a lot of grieve and misery during the first stages of the production process.

          Last but not least: we will only build the boat one way, no options, no choices. They will be all the same, cutting back on administrative costs which can save you as much as cutting back half of the material cost of the hull.

          Not all details are completely worked out yet, and the concept is still a work in progress that needs tweaking and third party reviewing, but doing it right in the planning stage brings the best ratio between savings and compromises. When it comes to reliability, integrity and safety, we will not tolerate any compromises.

          • George M Apr 24, 2014, 5:08 pm

            Hi Erik

            Indeed, one can only imagine how much the interior of the HR 372 cost and all that teak on deck. So I accept that there definitely are some easy and substantial savings to make. But let us say that the HR 372 is typical in terms of the percentage of the boat cost that is hull structure. Then the hull layup of the HR372 costs around 60000 dollars allowing for profit margins etc. Let us say that the materials cost is 30000 and the labour 30000. Now we imagine that working with epoxy and bronze keel blots adds nothing to the labour cost. I imagine that the stainless bolts of the HR cost in the region of 600 dollars (guestimate) so replacing them with bronze will add 2400 dollars to the materials cost. Using epoxy rather than vinylester will maybe add 2000 dollars. Lets say that material costs are then 35000 for the A40’s hull (E glass, closed cell foam core, Epoxy, lead keel, bronze keel bolts). So assuming labour is left unaffected we are talking about a total cost for the hull structure of the boat of about 65000 dollars. So roughly a third of the cost of the A 40 would be in its hull structure. That’s without introducing stiffer cores, using S-glass or introducing kevlar for impact resistance in the bow. That a lot more than the standard 20%.

            Is that in the right ball park? Can a 40ft hull be fitted out for serious cruising for less than 130K? Lets say one can do the interior for 20% of what the HR 372’s would cost and lets put that figure at 150K. So lets say the A 40’s interior can be done for 30K. Now we have 100K for the rig, the engine, the deck hardware and all the other services. Hmmm, I guess it can be done.

            Its just a bit strange.

            One is brought up to think that quality brands are what you should buy if you want excellence in engineering: i.e., if you want the best in hull layup, keel construction, etc, etc you have to pay for it by buying from one of the premier brands like (in europe) Malö, Rustler, HR, Allures, etc. Its just a bit odd to think of divorcing excellence in engineering from all the “luxury” we have been indoctrinated to think of as sure signs of its presence. Give me time, I’m sure I’ll get the idea eventually.

          • Jean-François EEMAN Apr 25, 2014, 9:38 am

            Hi Erik,
            Hi John,

            In the calculation here above, did you not forget to mention that your approach is one where you would favorize a direct contact and link between sailor/buyer and builder just like we do?

            No fancy brochures ?
            No boatshows 500km away from the seaside ?

            Those are sources of savings in your business model, is n’t ?
            Making sure the most money can go directly into the clients’ boat…


          • John Apr 25, 2014, 7:54 pm

            Hi Jean-François,

            You are absolutely right. I think that George will find his calculation come out better in favour of the Adventure 40 when we take into account that our plan, using this site as the main marketing tool, will keep total Marketing and sales costs to a very small number, I would guess less than 5% of the sticker price. Contrast that to the boats George mentions where I would guess (and it is just that) that total marketing and sales costs would make up as much as 30% of the total price.

    • George M Apr 24, 2014, 10:34 am

      Though I suppose if the keel bolts are screwed in from the top and easily taken out for inspection or replacement without dropping the keel, or if they are bronze and the keel lead, then a stout bolt on keel might be ok. But this again raises the initial cost of the boat (particularly bronze bolts). How much quality, reliability and ease of maintenance is it possible to build into of 40fter’s basic construction for 200K ?

  • Dave Benjamin Sep 1, 2014, 2:34 am

    I think the distribution model helps with cost savings as well. Eliminating the brokers saves not only on purchase cost but takes their commissioning process out of the equation. The A40 will be commissioned by the owner not a dealer.

    • John Sep 1, 2014, 8:08 am

      Hi Dave,

      Absolutly. I have been thinking a lot about the sales and distribution model a lot lately. There will probably be a post on that some time in the next six months. As you say, getting it right is vital to the success of the boat.

  • Drew Frye Dec 22, 2015, 8:28 pm

    I’m late to the thread, but…

    1. I love the notion of building a boat for function, rather than trying to cram in as many bunks as possible. Most boats would be better if they decided what they wanted to fit in, picked a length, and then added 4 feet without adding any additional stuff. Boats without big sail lockers make me cry.

    2. I get the “no options” idea, but give this is a northern boat, a few things come to mind (these stick in my mind because my boat was built in Canada, though it seemed like the builder had little notion of cold):
    a. Heat and AC. Running ducts later can be ugly. At least make proper provisions where they may be needed. I’m fighting that now; there is a carbon fiber structural bean in the way.
    b. Double glazed windows. Good insulation is fine, but without storm windows most of the heat loss will be windows and companion way. Good practice in any climate.
    c. Any winterizing should be possible with valves, not taking hoses off.


    • John Dec 23, 2015, 8:41 am

      Hi Drew,

      I quite agree on the merits of not filling all the space in a boat. Our own Morgan’s Cloud is a great boat to live and sail on because the builder fitted her with the interior layout for her 48′ little sister, even though she is 56′.

      On your second point, just to clarify, there is not, and never has been, any intent to make the Adventure 40 a “norther boat”. See the FAQ post.

      That said, a small bulked heater like a Taylor should keep her pretty toasty, but I doubt we can afford double glazing.

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