Let’s Make It Easier, Not Harder, For New Cruisers


Way back twelve years ago, when Phyllis and I started this site, our primary purpose was to help others, particularly younger people, realize their voyaging dream by sharing what we had learned, often the hard way. To, at least in a small way, refill the well of combined cruiser knowledge that others had so generously drawn from to help us as we learned.

AAC is now a business, but one that pays us considerably less than we could make slinging burgers, so helping others get out there is still much of what motivates us to put in the time and effort to keep writing and publishing.

To that end we’ve found that it’s relatively easy to zero in on the things that every voyager must know to be safe. But what Phyllis and I have been thinking about a lot lately is the other, and far more complicated, side of the coin. And that’s what this post is about.

You see, for those of us who have voyaged for years, it is very easy to confuse our justifiable pride in the skills we have mastered with the need for others to master the same skills. I know I have screwed-up big-time in this regard, but now I’m trying to do better.

Techniques We Don’t Need

For example, at various times in my life I have been reasonably good at:

But here’s a shocker for you: After a great deal of thought, I now believe that none of those skills are required to voyage offshore in a safe and seamanlike manner.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that, for example, it’s OK to buy a plotter and sail around just keeping the little boat icon in the white with no sense of where we are. Not at all, we still need to be navigators to be safe.

But what I am saying is that demanding mastery of the same tools and techniques that we used back in the day before electronic navigation systems is not the way to get more people out there voyaging, or even a good way to help them be safe once out there.

And that goes double when we are trying to help young people who have less time and money than we boomers enjoyed, not to speak of no hope for the defined benefit pensions and/or real estate value gains that gave many of us a financial safety net, which in turn made playing with boats a lot more viable.

So here’s something for us experienced sailors, and also those of you who are new to the sport who have just mastered a skill you are proud of, to think about:

If we sincerely want to help and mentor those struggling to master our incredibly complex sport of offshore voyaging, we need to be careful not to demand that they master unnecessary skills.

Techniques We Do Need

In fact, I would argue that by demanding all, or even some, of the skills I list above, we run the risk of actually making those we hope to help far less safe and competent—after all that, they probably won’t have the time, money and energy left to, for example, learn to:

The point being that since there is never ever enough time to do and learn absolutely everything, we must prioritize if we ever hope to see our protégés (or ourselves) leave the wharf as safe seamen.

Is It a Hobby?

One other point. Let’s not confuse our hobbies with what’s required for seamanlike voyaging. For example, if you are a crackerjack celestial navigator who can take and calculate a star fix in ten minutes, or a SSB expert who can talk halfway around the world at any time of day, no one has more admiration for your skill than I do.

And feel free to suggest to others that mastering these skills is a fun and rewarding hobby. Just don’t tell them they must learn them to be good seamen, because they simply don’t, any more than they need to learn what I know about photography.


If you want to add to the basic concept of this post, please leave a comment.

If you want to debate my classification of the above-listed skills as unnecessary, feel free, but please make your comment on the relevant post linked to above, not here, and only after you have read said post.

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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.

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95 comments … add one
  • Jo Oct 27, 2015, 10:50 am

    Two skills I really would have liked to know more about beforehand:

    Provisioning and stocking up on food and creature comforts reasonably
    Managing properly the expectations of the crew, including myself

    And although not absolutely necessary for safety, some basic “How to use those sails to move along” makes the hobby a lot more enjoyable.

  • leo elwell Oct 28, 2015, 2:27 am

    It’s leadership and making sure that you can read your crew and their comfort level so that you don’t scare them. Push them, yes, but don’t scare them. Good cockpit resource management so that if you miss something, the crew feels able to speak and be heard; all in the interest of safe passage. That does not mean decision by committee. And good provisioning that makes every meal gourmet. Not reheated IMP’s! And hitting the troughs just “so” the motion of the boat is the sweetest possible. I still see trims in the sails that are a new wrinkle, might be able to get another 2% out of the rig…

  • Dick Stevenson Oct 28, 2015, 6:44 am

    Hi John,
    Nice article and a thoughtful list of essentials that is good for all of us to absorb. Your focus is on sailing/seamanship elements which, of course, are a crucial foundation. Another element, little discussed in the literature, is the cruising relationship and how important it is to a sustained cruising adventure.
    Ginger and I were quite surprised at how stressful our first year living aboard full time turned out to be. We were experienced in regard to many/most sailing/seamanship aspects, but were not prepared for the amount of what I called “partnering up” that was required. Most land based life does not approach the intimacy, the overlap, the lack of space, the ongoing attentiveness that is part of the cruising life. Each usually has his/her own life, other people/work for gratification, distractions etc. This is even more powerful if you have “burned bridges” by selling your home and giving up careers as we had. When I wrote about a passage casually reporting that for 16 days, Ginger and I were on our own, never more than 40 feet apart, and usually within 15 feet of each other, more than a few friends responded (mostly men) that their marriage would never have survived that closeness. I wasn’t inclined to disagree as I am aware of the work that went into our first years to make that degree of “partnering up” possible.
    Most of us go out and stay out as couples. I would suggest that respect for your partner’s interests and limits are essential to new cruisers making a success of it. And please do not be taken by surprise if the first year (s) hold some (or a lot of) unexpected stress and challenges as well as great joy.
    My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

  • John Oct 28, 2015, 7:35 am

    Hi All,

    Good additional thoughts, thank you.

    Just to clarify, I did not intend the second list in the post above as being in any way complete, rather it is a list of examples of skills that I now deem more important than the first list.

    • Archie Oct 30, 2015, 12:03 am

      Great post John.
      I for one hope you will write that “complete” list someday!

      • John Oct 30, 2015, 9:47 am

        Good idea, I will put it on…the list!

  • Fred Hastings Oct 28, 2015, 9:43 am

    Hi, John,
    I’m a recent subscriber to your site and as a newbie to offshore sailing I find your thoughts and recommendations invaluable. Your latest post is a prime example. My wife and I just returned home after a two-week sail with neighbors and friends from eastern Maine to Sandy Hook, N.J., in their 48-foot, well-equipped sloop. We experienced a little of everything on this adventure—near-gale force winds for 16 hours in the Gulf of Maine, dicey night landings at offshore islands, and a brief grounding—to say nothing of the sun-filled days, tranquil harbors and the trip down the East River in Manhattan on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. We learned things that confirm everything you say in your latest post re interpreting the weather, reefing smoothly and quickly, snugging down in high winds, using electronic tools properly, docking effectively. While we fixed everything promptly, we were deficient in varying degrees in the other areas you mentioned, deficiencies that contributed to what anxieties we experienced on an otherwise grand fall sail. As you say, first things first.

    • John Oct 28, 2015, 10:39 am

      Hi Fred,

      Thanks for the conformation and good on you for recognizing that when stuff gets gnarly it usually indicates that improving one or more skills is a good idea. Or to put it another way, screw ups happen to all of us, no matter how experienced, the key thing is to learn from them like you have.

  • Roger Harris Oct 28, 2015, 9:51 am

    “There is never ever enough time to do and learn absolutely everything, we must prioritize”. Isn’t that the truth!

    I do think that a prudent mariner should be competent in elementary pilotage techniques (use of transits, lead marks, clearing bearings, etc.); dead reckoning; manual plotting; and tidal calculations. Those basic skills provide the grounding (no pun intended!) to get the most out of electronic navigation, as well as the redundancy that is so desirable in boating. And they don’t take a long time to learn: RYA Day Skipper Theory and Day Skipper Practical can be done in a mere ten days (total), hardly an insurmountable burden.

    The above is just my personal opinion: I for one don’t presume to “demand” that a budding sailor master ANY specific skills. Different people will have different priorities and interests, and that’s fine. One of the great traditions in recreational voyaging is that people have the right to go to sea in small boats with few if any formal training or qualifications.

  • Mark Oct 28, 2015, 9:52 am

    Thanks for the post.
    I joined the site recently and have been gradually crawling though the mass of info (which is a lot!). I must admit that the book on finding a seaworthy boat left me feeling a bit overwhelmed – used boats I may be able to afford take too much to re-fit, new boats don’t met spec, cyclic loading will destroy anything that I get working anyways! It all sounds a bit dire.
    Yet people get away with buying a used Beneteau and sail it across the ocean.
    Obviously luck plays a part in that, but they still get away with it where others get scared off.
    To date my own sailing experience was sailing lessons as a kid for a few summers. Crewing on racing boats for a few summers as a young adult. And then deciding to buy a small boat 4+ yrs ago to get back into it (after not being on a boat for >15yrs). I’m now on onto a bigger boat (still only 30ft), and gradually trying to learn the skills I’ll need if I’m going to make bigger trips when I retire. Little steps keep pushing new boundaries, and like a kid learning to drive I’m not the safest or most seamanlike in the process but the only way to learn is by doing.
    Good to know that I can ignore some of the stuff out there.
    Thanks for the info

    • John Oct 28, 2015, 10:35 am

      Hi Mark,

      Sorry about the negative tone of the online book, but the sad fact is that everything in it is based on real world experience and good engineering. The bottom line being that buying and equipping an offshore boat is really hard to do well and we at AAC just can’t do as many of the mags do and lie about that.

      You only have to look at the mayhem that ensues when a rally gets hit with even a simple cold front to see what happens when boats and crews are not properly prepared.

      On the bright side, it sounds to me like you are going about it in exactly the right way.

      • Mark Oct 28, 2015, 12:33 pm

        Ok – not sure how I mangled my own name!
        It’s not that this site is too negative – but offers some real world knowledge from some hard fought lessons. Just yesterday I was reading from the seaworthy boat article when an email came in from Sail Mag — a review of a 60 ft boat that is “great for day sailing, racing or crossing oceans” – I couldn’t help but look at the pictures and sure enough there was a 14ft wide salon with a single handhold down the center-line ceiling. I wouldn’t even know what to watch out for without the reading I’ve done here and elsewhere.
        In the end we all need to figure our own path – how much risk are we willing to take on and how much can we afford time/$ to manage those risks. At least I’m learning what the risks are.


    • Nick Kats Oct 29, 2015, 6:46 am

      The essence of Stein Varjord’s post, below, is spot on for you.
      This site, Attainable Adventure, is essentially a site for wealthy sailors. Many of the contributors have large boats. Lots of money to buy the Christmas list. North American sailors tend to need far too much technology – just look at any 20 American sailboats.
      Given these broad characteristics of AA it is easy to get intimidated & to think/do all sorts of unnecessary things, which may call for far more money, put off sailing for years, or permanently discourage.
      With these broad characteristics of AA in mind, you should be able to mine this site for the huge amount of practical info and be your own man.

      • John Oct 29, 2015, 8:33 am

        Hi Nick,

        I’m really having a hard time with your comment. Have you forgotten the Adventure 40? We have worked extremely hard on that project and scores of other articles to espouse keeping things simple and getting out there in smaller boats. (The Adventure 40 is way smaller than your boat.)

        Frankly your comment pissed me off.

        I think what happened was you focused on the fact that Phyllis and I have a larger boat and then extrapolated that to an incorrect conclusion.

        • Stein Varjord Oct 31, 2015, 10:20 am

          I may be wrong, but I actually don’t see Nicks post as criticism of the site. If I was to rephrase the point about AA being mainly for the wealthy, maybe this would seem more edible and maybe it’s what Nick meant:

          AA is about real blue water voyaging. For such a task, most people will require quite serious boats and equipment. Those interested will be interested in the very best stuff in existence. They might not actually be able to buy that, but they do want to discuss it.

          A significant part of the participants here are very experienced. They are not talking about the entry level gear but about what they have gathered bit by bit through a long life of ocean voyaging. If you want to go from zero to such a level overnight, you need to be wealthy.

          Most people, also the typical participant here, must gradually develop their platform. This site is a very good source of info no matter which speed you can move towards a healthy boat and gear to fit it.

          I guess this angle to the comment about wealth is less painful John? My impression of AA, by the way, is that the word “attainable” is fitting. Long distance sailing can be done with almost no knowledge and almost for free, but very few could live with the consequences of such a plan. Even though it’s very nice to know that it’s possible, it’s not a serious and sustainable plan.

          It’s very nice to go hiking in the mountains, live in a tent and mostly eat what you fish, etc, but very few would enjoy living that way for years non stop. Thus, cruising in that spirit is very “attainable” on the financial side, but still not at all attainable in the real way. The minimum cost and minimum skill route to ocean voyaging is an important entry point for new sailors, but it’s not a “place to stay”. Attainable must relate to something that a number of people actually would wanton a longer time scale, and then look for ways to make that realistic.

          That’s why I think this site is spot on.

          • Jo Oct 31, 2015, 11:14 am


            I have learned painfully, that often it’s cheaper to invest in quality directly than iterate through cheaper options until sufficient quality is reached. So if you can afford it, getting the good stuff immediately saves money in the long run.

            The real problem is to identify quality and not invest into brands. While quality benefits you, payingg for a brand is a waste of money. Unfortunately, brand-value and quality often are tightly mixed, so you need to pay for both.

          • John Oct 31, 2015, 2:34 pm

            Hi Jo,

            Good thinking. As we always say on our boat “we are not wealthy enough to buy cheap junk”.

            Or, better still, “only the wealthy can afford cheap boats and gear”.

          • John Oct 31, 2015, 2:39 pm

            Hi Stein,

            Lots more good points, and thanks for putting a better spin on it.

            Having said that, I don’t really think I misinterpreted “This site, Attainable Adventure, is essentially a site for wealthy sailors.” Although I would certainly admit I overreacted, but then I’m a big time believer in Colin Powell’s second rule.

  • ChrisW Oct 28, 2015, 10:26 am

    Having come to sailing and cruising from cross-country flying, I have a candidate for the top of your second list. Call it contingency thinking, Plan B making, etc. It is an extension of “there are plenty of old pilots and bold pilots, but there are very few old bold pilots.”

    Plans B include knowing when to stay put, when to turn around and go back, when to go somewhere else first, and how to derive value from others sailing advice without surrendering one’s own judgement — and how to keep ego and ignorance from killing you and others.

    • Richard Dykiel Oct 28, 2015, 11:02 am

      Hear, hear. I find that plan B (and C and D) thinking is pretty much running continuously as a “background task” in my mind whenever I cast off (and while at anchor too).

    • Steven Schapera Nov 1, 2015, 9:02 am

      Your comment reminds me of something a flying instructor told me years ago: “Taking off is voluntary. Landing is compulsory.”
      Its as relevant on the sea as it is in the air.

      • ChrisW Nov 1, 2015, 10:08 am

        Yep, and runway behind you is useless.

  • David Lyman Oct 28, 2015, 10:42 am

    Good list. To the last item “fix all the stuff that will break” I’d add a degree of medical knowledge and skill, along with a cool head when confronted with a medical emergency at sea, far from outside help. An article in Ocean Navigator magazine this month (which I wrote) addresses this particular cruising issue. As many of us sailing offshore are getting older, we are more apt to need to be face with medical emergencies involving our crew and ourselves. I’ll send you a PDF of the article, but you may already have the issue.
    David Lyman
    Camden, Maine

  • Steve Oct 28, 2015, 10:43 am

    While I agree with the gist of the article and most of the details, I am nervous about not maintaining a paper log, local charts and a mechanical compass as a backup to electronics. The root cause of my unease is the notion that all electronics could be lost while underway, for example, due to a lightning strike. If that were to happen, the paper log and chart, along with a working swung compass (and some means of estimating speed), would allow continued navigation with reasonable confidence (the ‘old fashioned’ way, not difficult either). Without electronics and no non-electronic backup system, how would the crew navigate? Is the chance of losing all navigation electronics now considered negligible? Giving up paper as a backup suggests that it is (or I’m missing something!).

  • Stein Varjord Oct 28, 2015, 7:39 pm

    Hi John.
    Thanks! The topic in this article is one I promote anytime I can.
    Ocean voyages seem impressive to the inexperienced. Many seem to think it’s like climbing a major mountain or going to one of the Poles and that one must be fearless and have mysterious abilities.

    What I try to tell is this:
    1. An ocean voyage CAN kill you, but living a normal life on land gives a much higher risk of sudden dramatic death.
    2. There is so much useful knowledge and skill related to ocean voyages that you will never be finished learning it all, but in about one day, you can learn enough to get you going quite well.
    3. Sailing is very easy. Even without that one day, you will most likely do fine most of the time, if you proceed with care and respect. Lack of knowledge and skills mostly mean less comfort and more cost.
    4. Probably the most difficult task you will be confronted with on your first ocean voyage, is to leave the pier and start the trip.

    A friend of mine grew up on a farm. At age 25 he bought a 26 foot “IF”, a well built boat but meant for day trips in protected waters. The first time he left the pier, the target was the Caribbean, and it was the first time in his life aboard any type of boat.

    Of course he got into trouble, like getting thrown onto a molo in Denmark crushing one side of the boat so he had to stay there over the winter to rebuild it. He has now sailed that boat across the Atlantic twice, and several times in other boats. He is a very competent long distance sailor that might never move ashore again. He would never have gotten there if he was told all he had to know and all he had to have before he even thought about leaving.

    His choices are different from what I’d recommend, but I think he illustrates that ocean voyaging is indeed not very dangerous, but doing it this way is probably uncomfortable and maybe expensive.

    One more illustration I think is relevant, even though it’s about bicycles:
    I worked some years for Trek bicycles. At that time “Freeride biking” was emerging. Kinda Alpine biking. High speed, huge jumps, crazy fun. There was an agreement that when admiring kids asked how much our bikes cost, expecting a huge amount, the answer should be in the line of: “Naaah, about 800 Dollars I guess…” The truth was normally ten or twenty times as much, paid by sponsors. Saying that would make the kids impressed, and think they could never do this.

    The truth was that a bike costing 800 would be just as fun, just not as fast, but speed was irrelevant for the kids and our target was to lower the barrier for entering the sport. The strategy worked extremely well and the sport exploded by means of quite cheap bikes.

    If we want to encourage more people to sail long distance, I think we need to demystify the “art” of sailing in the same way. I think we need a threshold that seems easy for anyone. It’s fun to learn every detail and to master skills extremely well, but we need to tell those with less knowledge and skills that less is probably just fine, if compensated with carefulness.

    Also, I strongly believe that boats are getting too big. Yes, a big boat is more comfortable, maybe even more safe, but the cost of buying and maintaining it increases more than the quality of life aboard improves, and the ability to get close to shore and interact with locals decreases much with bigger boats.

    The question is, though, do we actually want more people to crowd our dream spots? 🙂

    • John Oct 29, 2015, 8:48 am

      Hi Stein,

      Great comment, and I agree with most of what you say. Having said that, I think it’s really important to note that while some extremely adventures people can enjoy lurching from disaster to disaster as a learning technique, for most of us that’s just not very much fun.

      You only have to visit a cruising destination like Bermuda in the fall to see countless examples of the tragedy of broken dreams caused by poor preparation and training.

  • Marc Dacey Oct 28, 2015, 10:45 pm

    Two things I might add are quite disparate…until you injure yourself. The first is boat handling in all weathers. I haven’t been the first person to note that some ocean-crossers can be Nervous Nellies approaching a dock, and to this I credit a lack of the sort of boat handling and getting on and off the dock, powering against lines if necessary, that one does in an RYA course, for instance.

    Another really great idea, given the average age of cruisers to my eye, is a really good, marine-orientated first aid course. I happen to think that (as another reader commented) 14-foot, handrail-deficient saloons are asking to break an arm in a seaway, and if first aid is known, it may make the difference between sailing for the nearest port, or needing to be evacuated and perhaps an abandonment.

    Speaking of risk to life and limb, it was a rainy morning here in Toronto. Sixteen people were hit by cars. The sea seems safer!

  • Dick Stevenson Oct 29, 2015, 6:07 am

    Hi Stein,
    There is much you say where I agree, but as to the espousing of executing a “Tanya Aebi” (going offshore w/ few skills or experience), I would wish you to reconsider.
    There are rare individuals, very admirable in many ways, who can pull off impressive feats of adventure, sailing or other activities, with little training or experience, but I believe these people are very rare. They will do whatever they want, whenever they want, without outside urging (or the warning of “wiser” folks), and they very much march to their own drummer. The vast majority of us operate differently in the world and develop our adventures through incremental accrual of wise counsel and experience. Those who will go anyway, need no urging from AAC. The vast majority will benefit from AAC’s wise counsel.
    I agree that there are numerous stories (the magazines love them), such as your farmer friend’s, about those who have gone to sea in little more than a bathtub and have few seamanship skills, and we greatly enjoy their stories. We will never know how many others have started exactly the same way and we never hear their stories as they died at sea?
    I agree that ocean sailing is not rocket science, and that it seems impressive to the inexperienced. I disagree that offshore sailing is safe for the inexperienced. Many, maybe most, will muddle through, but that is hardly an argument that it is safe. And most skippers want company, often a loved one, (or crew) to whom there is an obligation to keep safe and who likely is less aware of the dangers and is joining the adventure on faith.
    Furthermore, like it or not (or want to access their services or not) there is a large support network of rescue services as well as fellow seamen to offer aid. This, from my point of view, insists upon a certain level of competence on the skipper’s part.
    BTW, with respect to your cheap bikes story: I suspect that few boats have given more pleasure to more people than the simple Sailfish/Sunfish and its brethren.
    Also, largely agree about your comments on larger boats, but I suspect John will weigh in there.
    And to answer your question: Yes, I would not mind, and might even like, “more people to crowd our dream spots” (maybe not crowd). But only if those people have earned their way to these spots. Or to put it another way, I do not want damage to my boat and danger to myself or my wife when a boat drags down on me in an ugly nighttime squall because they do not have knowledge and experience anchoring.
    My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

    • John Oct 29, 2015, 8:26 am

      Hi Dick,
      I agree with everything you say above. I particularly like your point that just because some (a very few) can get away with going to sea in inappropriate boats with little experience that does not mean that doing the same is a good idea for the rest of us:

      I have written about that here: https://www.morganscloud.com/2015/03/24/the-crazy-fools-that-dont-drown-2/

      Further, we only need to look at what happens when a rally full of inexperienced sailors in poorly prepared boats gets hit by a cold front, not even a gale, to understand that for most people proper preparation and training is the way to go.

    • Stein Varjord Oct 30, 2015, 6:31 am

      Hi Dick and John

      I definitely don’t recommend crossing oceans with zero experience. (Also mentioned that in the post above). I used this story as an indication that even that isn’t really too dangerous. But the main point was that he left on a major voyage without even speaking to anyone with competence.

      If he had spoken to such a person, he would most likely be told a lot and never have left. His life would have been completely different and a very cool guy, who is now extremely competent, would never have sailed the seas. He is a good example of what a low threshold means. I totally agree that he is not a good example of how it should be done.

      The reason I like this site is that it contains loads of interesting knowledge and loads of experienced people to evaluate it. I’m a nerd and love digging deep into knowledge. But most of my experience and knowledge related to boating isn’t increasing my safety much. It does quite often give me faster and easier sailing with fewer expensive mistakes, though. I do encourage newbies to learn as much as they can, for that reason. And also some of my enthusiasm for sailing comes from the never ending possibility to improve. That abundance of new is something I actually envy the newbies.

      I think the clue is that we present the vast amount of knowledge and skills one can have as a cool attraction. One of the reasons sailing is so cool. Newbies quite often perceive it as an entry exam. It looks as one needs to be vastly experienced before one can start sailing oceans and gather experience.

      I’d clearly have recommended my farm friend, if I knew him then, that he used that same boat, but did a few minor changes to the rig and that he practiced sailing a bit in heavy weather. Otherwise, I’d happily send him along as he was. He’s a smart and very strong guy that never gives in, so his needs for preparation is less than others might need. Personality might actually count for more than skills sometimes…

  • Dick Stevenson Oct 29, 2015, 6:19 am

    Hi Marc,
    We have read numerous medical books and feel like the best addressing of maritime medical needs (emergency) is the Outward Bound Wilderness First Aid Handbook by Jeff Isaac.
    We also took his course which was sponsored by Ocean Navigator and it was terrific.
    His is a very pragmatic and sensible approach that is focused on giving attentive laymen a road-map to assess injuries for degree of initial concern and then the steps to take from this initial assessment.
    My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

  • Dick Stevenson Oct 29, 2015, 8:06 am

    Hi Nick
    The essence of Stein’s contribution, as I read it, is that sailing is “very easy” and that one should just leave the pier and go and learn ocean sailing skills on the way. I disagree with that as stated and elaborated on in an earlier post.
    Further, I strongly disagree with your contention that AAC is essentially a site for wealthy sailors. I would contend quite the opposite being true and a close reading of the articles will reveal that to be the case. My read on AAC’s focus is to get people “out there”, (wherever their there may be), through good skills and judgement, and not by throwing money into the project but rather throwing themselves into the adventure. I would have agreed in the past with your comments about American sailors, but my last decade in Northern Europe and the Med has led me to recognize that America does not have a lock on those who go to sea with little experience, lots of expensive electronic aids and gear, and large expensive boats.
    That some of the conclusions drawn by AAC are expensive, does not necessarily mean that AAC is a site for directed to wealthy sailors. A case in point may be the recommendation for Spade anchors. I would contend this recommendation is reflection good judgement and that the price is not a reflection that the site or its recommendations are only for wealthy sailors.
    Similarly, that many contributors have larger boats, should not be evidence of a bias towards the wealthy. I think it is quite fair to point out specific instances where you suspect bias. I am known to challenge what I see as John’s occasional BBB (big boat bias), but when doing so I am quite aware that the majority of the time John’s and the vast majority of AAC’s contributors, are espousing ways and options to go to sea in vessels of a wide range of sizes and budgets. (I am also willing to consider that I am mistaken, although it is quite unlikely, about a BBB on John’s part.)
    Along those lines, please be more specific about unnecessary things you refer to whose result is to keep people tied to the dock rather than going to sea. I am sure they are worth discussion.
    My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

  • Lynn Oct 29, 2015, 10:54 am

    It’s worth pointing out that ‘wealthy’ is a relative term, and a sensitive topic, at least in the USA right now. That said, when I happen upon great ideas here on AAC that I cannot reasonably afford, there is usually enough information on why something works to engineer a similar solution for my own use. I really appreciate that about this site. Without that additional analysis, it could be frustrating for a milllennial like me – I think knowing this is what prompted John to make the post in the first place, and I appreciate that.

    Also know that the Adventure 40 is inspired and an exciting project, but that price tag isn’t affordable for the vast majority of my peers or parents. That said, reading about it helps me plan many enjoyable engineering projects/upgrades, gives plentiful fruit for thought, and will be an excellent boat for many intrepid sailors.

    Thank you for a great website, good information, and many insightful comments!

  • Dick Stevenson Oct 29, 2015, 2:50 pm

    Hi Lynn,
    Well said.

  • RDE Oct 29, 2015, 3:04 pm

    Hi Lynn,
    As one of the early contributors to the Adventure 40 discussion, I’d certainly have to agree that for 99% of Americans and Canadians the A40 and the freedom to actually use it is neither affordable or attainable. In the US real wealth has not increased since the 1980’s, and currently 45% of the population reportedly have less than $1,000 in savings. An increasing portion of college graduates will never be able to accumulate enough savings to purchase a house let alone own a ocean cruising boat because of the burden of accumulated student loan debt. Even for the fortunate few with high paying jobs, rents in places like Silicon Valley and Seattle are un-affordable and commutes create 12 hour work days.

    If AAC is to really be about attainability in today’s world perhaps it should focus more upon what is possible with a 50k budget rather than a 250k budget. For example I see a 1977 Valiant 40 advertised that has had every upgrade (well, I’d throw away the 60# CQR!) that one would desire advertised for 50k. This is the same boat that Mark Schrader used to circumnavigate via Cape Horn except that it has modern hatches and portlights in place of the funky originals. Of course it will never be a “yacht” and your friends will look away in disgust, but once you learn to ignore the pimples the sunset will look just the same in Tahiti and the glaciers in Tierra del Fuego will be no less spectacular.

    • John Oct 29, 2015, 5:06 pm

      Hi Richard,

      No one would be happier than me if it we in fact that easy. But the sad fact is that the majority of people, particularly those new to larger boat ownership, who buy a boat like that end up spending at least the price of the boat again, and often twice that just to make it safe, never mind cosmetics and comfort items. Just ask poor stupid Bob.

      Sure the boat has upgrades…so did Bob’s boat, but that’s not what matters. What matters is that a boat that old may need a new rudder and new chain plates, or will have rot in the bulkheads…or rot in the deck core..or it might be one of the Valiants with big time structural problems because of fire retardant resin. These are not cosmetic issues, they are vital safety items.

      And then, when they come to sell said boat, they have a now 40 year old boat that’s worth…50K, so they lose their entire refit investment, plus inflation.

      They will also probably have several thousand hours of sweat in her to. And she will cost far more each year to maintain than a new A40.

      Given this, the reality is that buying an A40 and then selling after 10 years for say half price (probably adjusted up for inflation) is a way better deal than that 50K boat.

      Also, you will be able to get a loan on and insure a new A40.

      Bottom line, here at AAC we deal with reality, no matter how unpalatable said reality is, not pushing fantasy.

      Or to put it another way, I would be ecstatic if one could really get a safe offshore boat for 50K, but the only reliable way to do that is go really, really, small and even then it’s a crap shoot unless you are enough of an expert to reliably survey the boat yourself.

      Yes, very occasionally a person can get a great deal on a boat that some other poor sucker has really refitted, but we are still looking at a financial disaster and broken dreams, just those of the seller (like Bob), not the buyer—not something I want to promote.

      As long as I’m editor, AAC will never knowingly let people delude themselves into a financial disaster just to be a feel good site. I leave that to the magazines.

      (See this post for what constitute a real, rather than fantasy, refit.)

      • Ross Oct 29, 2015, 6:12 pm

        Have to agree with RDE in many respects. I’m in my early 30’s, living in New Zealand. Even though both my partner and I are professionals earning well above average income, there is absolutely no way we will be able to buy (or get a loan for) a US$250k yacht in the remotely near future.

        I realise resale value will be good on these — but you’ve still got that sum of money tied up for the period of time you own the boat — or you are paying interest on it. Not sure what interest rate we’d be looking at in NZ for a boat loan, but likely north of 10%pa. And you’re still going to need $100k+ to start with as a deposit.

        The A40 sounds great, I’d love one, but it’s probably not for your average younger couple. If we were to wait until we could afford such a boat, we would likely be waiting until retirement — too risky, in that we may never make it to retirement, or the dream may fade and never happen anyway.

        There are many, many 30-40 foot boats making the trip to/from NZ to the pacific islands and beyond every year — many of these worth significantly under 50k in todays market and the majority of them do not compromise on basic safety to do so.

        Of course, as you say, if you buy a $30k boat, spend $$k refitting/maintaining, you’re doing well if you can sell it later for $30k. But that’s boats/life. The Fastnet45 storty is an anecdote — and a valuable one for all to learn from. But anecdotes do not make rules, and there is no reason that one cannot get a good, seaworthy second hand boat for a good price — so long as the proper homework is done.

        • John Oct 30, 2015, 9:46 am

          Hi Ross,

          I would agree. Please see my answer to RDE below.

        • John Oct 31, 2015, 8:34 am

          Hi Ross,

          I agree that anecdotes do not make rules, but when you get enough anecdotes with the same outcome aggregated together they do make a warning that any sensible person should at least take into account before taking action. Based on the comments to this site and interviews with people who have done refits I would say that at least 50% exceed the initial budget and time allowed by 100%. If one then looks at refits by first time boat owners I’m going to guess that the disaster rate goes to 80% at least.

          As to those boats turning up in NZ that are worth less than $50K, I’m sure you are right, but how much do the owners have invested in them? At least double that I would say, at least for boats approaching 40′. Heck, just a new set of sails for said boat will run about $15,000. And keep in mind that most cruisers are, shall we say, economical with the truth, about what they have spent on their boats out of embarrassment.

      • Marc Dacey Oct 30, 2015, 5:23 pm

        I would agree with you with the exception of “Panama”, where recently fully updated cruising dreams go to die in divorce court. When we were looking for our boat, we saw many a prospect that illustrated a stark fact in the cruising lifestyle: even with a well-found boat lovingly kitted out, a lot of couples fail to work on their personal relationships, which, let’s face it, the sea is no place to test.

        We ran the numbers at the time: flying down a surveyor and checking out half a dozen boats, one which would be delivered back north, was very close to the cost of buying a suitable boat in our home waters, bad karma discounted, of course. Our eventual choice was to refit ourselves so that we could learn systems and maintenance and not live with the choices of others, but financially, it was probably a wash.

      • Matt Nov 1, 2015, 4:38 pm

        The Adventure 40 will be inexpensive compared to many offshore yachts. She’ll still cost more than my house.

        Offshore sailing is a relatively pricey endeavour, and there are limits to how much you can reduce the cost without compromising safety.

        My advice to those who want to cruise, but are struggling with the financial reality of going offshore? Change your thinking, change your destinations.

        If you can only get a week or two off work at a time and have a sub-$30,000 budget, don’t get an offshore boat. Get a trailerable 20- to 26-footer and a ten year old pickup truck. The pair will cost you maybe six or eight grand a year to insure, fuel, store and maintain. You can be on a different waterway every week for years, and never have to deal with an ocean storm.

        If you can work six months on, 3 to 6 off, and can spend $50,000, then get a modest coastal cruiser and hop from town to town, a few days here and a few days there, meeting new people and visiting new places within a country or three of your home base.

        If you want to hang out in the islands but need to get back to the office after two weeks, then fly down, bareboat charter something suitable, swim and snorkel for a bit. Then fly home, and let someone else worry about hanging upside down in the lazarette with a pipe wrench and a shaft seal.

        Cruising doesn’t have to be about buying an offshore yacht and braving the North Atlantic gales. There are a lot of ways to get out there, not all of which are expensive.

        • Richard Dykiel Nov 2, 2015, 6:04 am

          That is great advice.

          • John Nov 2, 2015, 9:02 am

            Here, Here!

    • Jo Oct 29, 2015, 6:52 pm

      Hi Richard,

      I’m nearing 50 and need a few years more to work. Living in a landlocked country and unable to move, financing an A40 is a tremendous task for the next years but still a lot easier for me than refitting a 50000$ boat. It would eat up all my holiday time and I guess a year of my time once I can go cruising. Perhaps even turning a dream into a nightmare.

      With the option to live aboard a few years before casting off the lines for good, perhaps things would look different.

      As to the concerns about Americans being unable to finance the boat, please find an European shipyard. Living in Europe, this is a totally unselfish proposal, really!

      • RDE Oct 29, 2015, 8:45 pm

        Hi Jo,
        Not sure about how easy it would be to finance a boat in Europe for a Yank, but I suspect they would hear NO in several different languages! The USA is the land of credit/debt— one of the reasons why the median net worth is only about $37,000.

        Interesting statistic: The median net worth in Italy is over $170,000— five times that of the US. Seems that property is usually acquired through inheritance rather than through a mortgage loan—–.

        • Jo Oct 30, 2015, 2:42 am

          Going by the people I know, here in Europe we seem to have less credits running. And I guess a good part of the worth is the house or flat the family owns. As it isn’t really uncommon to live for 30 years in the same house and houses are build accordingly, this might explain it.

          Getting a bigger credit here in continental Europe is usually a lot harder than in the UK or the USA. Banks seem to take those Basel 2 etc. guidelines more seriouly. Thus people have less credits running and in the end accumulate more wealth instead off paying off the banks. So I guess, as an American getting a credit here would be even harder than at home.

      • John Oct 31, 2015, 8:23 am

        Hi Jo,

        A really good point about the huge time sink a refit represents. Buy a A40, live on it and put the saved housing costs into paying the boat off and the saved time into working and earning money to go cruising and an A40 is a lot better deal, and a great deal more fun, than buying some old boat for $50,000. Good to see that someone, other than me, can do the basic arithmetic.

  • RDE Oct 29, 2015, 3:11 pm

    Correction: same model as Mark Schrader— not the identical boat

  • David H. Lyman Oct 29, 2015, 5:08 pm

    Boat and Cruising Expense?
    I’ve owned and sailed 4 different cruising boats over the last 45 years, beginning with a 34-foot wood Alden sloop, to a Bowman 57, I’m now boat-less, but I still manage to go sailing. These days it’s OPB and OPM: other people boats with others people’s money. After years and a few USCG license upgrades, people now pay me to take their boats offshore. I get my fill.
    While yachting can be costly hobby, living aboard and cruising full time can be cheaper than living ashore. I did the numbers a few years ago while living aboard, boat schooling the kids in the Eastern Caribbean on the Bowman. Food expense was about the same as living ashore. Our energy costs were a fraction of what it costs to maintain a home in Maine, and there was no snow shoveling, snow tires, frozen pipes, or car expenses. But routine maintenance on the boat, with some hard time, was still cheaper, and we lived very nicely and had a grand family adventure for less than $30,000 for the year. The boat was paid for when we left.
    These days, when I consider the sanity of owning another boat, it would be a simple cutter, less than 40 feet, with the bare essentials. (There’s another list for you John.)
    I spend a day with Tania Aebi last month shooting a video for her. We were aboard her (new) Contessa 34, a larger version of the 26-footer on which she sailed around the world, solo, in the early 80s. Her larger boat, is simple and cost-effective to operate and maintain. She said she’s sell it to me when she finished her Atlantic Loop in 2 years. While owning a boat has it’s rewards and challenges, am I really to “go ’round” again? Instead of looking ahead to my next adventure, my friends ask why don’t I just hunker down here in Maine and write about the ones I’ve already had, or have ever dreamt of. I think on that for a while.
    David H. Lyman, Captain

    • John Oct 30, 2015, 9:43 am

      Hi David,

      I think you make a really good point that living aboard can be quite economical.

      For example many people assume that Phyllis and I are very wealthy because we own a 56′ boat. But the actuality is that we got a great deal on that boat because she is home built and then lived on her for some 20 years. Even today our shore base is small and relatively primitive. (We make that work because we have a nice boat to live on too.)

      The result is that our combined capital and expense outflow—our cost of living— over that 20 years were a great deal less that living ashore in a real house with cars etc.

  • Dick Stevenson Oct 29, 2015, 6:50 pm

    Hi John,
    I have been following Valiant boats for almost a couple of decades now and I know of no Valiant of the fire retardant resin era that was deemed structurally damaged by the resin problems. Cosmetically compromised, yes, sometimes big time, but not structurally compromised. The blisters are what have given some cruisers such a good deal: they have gotten a structurally sound cruising boat for far less money.
    I will follow up on my own research in this area and post it here, but I would wish you to print a retraction of your statement “Valiants with big time structural problems because of fire retardant resin. These are not cosmetic issues, they are vital safety items” or document these assertions.
    My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

    • John Oct 30, 2015, 9:02 am

      Hi Dick,

      As I understand it the blisters on the Valiants that were built with fire retardant resin deeply penetrated the laminate. To me that’s a structural problem, not cosmetic.

      Said boats required the addition of several layers of new laminate as part of the repair, not just a new barrier coat. Again, to me, that’s a structural problem.

      See this article at Wikipedia:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valiant_40

      Note the article says “Most authorities on the subject consider the issue to be cosmetic and not of structural consequence in most cases.”

      However I would suggest that said article is in conflict since I can’t see how one can say that a boat needs additional laminate in the repair and then say the problem was not structural.

      So, in summary, I stick by my assertion that the original problem was structural.

      Having said that, you are, I’m sure, better informed on how well the repaired boats have done, and I would bow to your opinion and research on that.

  • RDE Oct 29, 2015, 8:31 pm

    Hi John,
    A few thoughts:
    1- “Owning” a 200k boat purchased with a typical 20-25% down payment isn’t ownership, rather it is debt slavery. It is very difficult for someone with the median US income of 55k to ever escape from that hole and actually go cruising until the boat is paid off a decade later even if they do manage to qualify for the loan.
    2- As Ross points out there are many boats out cruising successfully which are worth less than 50k. Much of the best information in AAC has to do with recognizing priorities, and the successful budget cruisers have internalized that approach. Hence my suggestion of a discussion of what is possible on a 50k budget. However you dismiss that as pure delusion that will never be permitted on AAC. I respect your opinion that is consistent with your experience and the challenging style of cruising you have chosen, but it doesn’t necessarily represent the choices available to most of the world.
    3- I know your experience with the Fastnet 45 left a sour taste, but a sister ship cruised through the South Pacific from the south island of New Zealand to Alaska for seven years with the bulkheads creaking and moaning. Just sold for under 45k equipped with the best of autopilots, wind vanes, standing rigging and other gear. From the standpoint of priorities— keep the water out, the mast up, and the keel off the hard stuff it was an adequate tool for a decade of cruising. Certainly no Boreal or aluminum Morgan’s Cloud, but I suspect if the proper priorities were followed today in upgrading the rudder and chainplates she could do it again.

    ps As Dick points out, you are mistaken about the structural adequacy of Valiant 40s with fire retardant resin. And in a broader sense, there are structural problems that compromise safety— chainplates, mast base, standing rigging-rudder— and others like wet balsa core in decks that may compromise the stiffness of the boat but won’t sink it. Give me a well designed boat with all the mission critical items in order and leaky teak decks over a wet balsa core and I’ll go to the nearest mobile home supply store, buy ten gallons of white rubberized roof patch and some sand, slather a few coats on and sail it for years until I get the urge to be yachty.

    “The years thunder by. The dreams of youth grow dim where they lie caked in dust on the shelves of patience. Before we know it, the tomb is sealed. Where, then, lies the answer? In CHOICE!”
    Sterling Hayden, Master of the Schooner “Wanderer”

    • John Oct 30, 2015, 9:10 am

      Hi Richard,

      Lot’s of good points that I agree with. I think you and I are closer on this than one might think.

      In the last three months, I have talked to two potential writers who have experience of going to sea in very inexpensive boats in the hopes of getting their perspective. Stay tuned.

      On the other hand, by shear coincidence, my next post is about a very smart couple that had a truly horrible wealth destroying experience with an old boat.

      So in summary, yes, going to sea for $50,000 can be done, but it’s not easy and has substantial risks attached, both financial and physical. I hope that here at AAC we can help people successfully navigate those risks.

      • Robin Nov 3, 2015, 1:19 pm

        Oh, looking forward to that! That’s been the path I’ve followed with my 40 year old boat…

  • Richard Dykiel Oct 30, 2015, 10:23 am

    All I can say at this point, is that you are fulfilling extraordinarily well the goals you set yourselves in running this website, and that it is both a joy and an education to read your posts, and the spirited comments of your experienced (and less experienced) readers. Keep the debates coming!

    • John Oct 31, 2015, 8:18 am

      Hi Richard,

      Thanks very much, I needed that, particularly since I found being accused of running an elitist web site rather more difficult to take than I probably should have.

      • ChrisW Oct 31, 2015, 11:36 am

        I’m not sure how this thread migrated from sailing skills to the micro-economics of cruising boats and cultural profiling and site bashing. If I were smart I wouldn’t write this.

        There are some axioms where engineering is concerned which taken at the whole sum up to specialized things, done well, are expensive.

        The function we seek to employ is sailing safely across broad expanses potential environmental hostility. Done well, the boat and crew arrive without accident or incident or the need for salvage.

        Well, form follows function — Cost follows form and production volume — in the absence of a disruptive technology (such as Al was) cruising boat form expands by the cube as a function of length and cost goes right along with it. As far as production goes, on a world scale this is a tiny, shrinking market.

        Any attempt to escape from these bounds raises risk. Risk is no respecter of nationality or economic station, and at some point it kills — dreams first and people next.

        • John Oct 31, 2015, 2:33 pm

          Hi Chris,

          I love reading the clearly reasoned output from an engineering trained mind. Thanks.

      • Richard Dykiel Nov 1, 2015, 10:04 am

        It’s a pity because both sides of the argument are sides of the same reality. If you are young, and/or have little money, and have the dream then yes there are cheaper alternatives to the A40. But this entails risk or less comfort, like you have explained in previous very detailed posts. If you are young or reckless, and think yourself immortal, then yes, you can sail with little or no experience, nobody’s gonna stop you from endangering your lives and that of others that may have to go save you.

        There must be a reason why people prefer utopias than the hard economic reality: given the rationale of the A40 design goals, again very well explained at length in this website, then 200k is a very good price compared to production boats of the same size. People building them need a living too.

        • Jo Nov 1, 2015, 10:49 am


          The A40 isn’t the first try to make the dream of sailing affordable, but it seems that the reality was never really popular.

          For example, a few years ago Hanse tried with the Varianta 44 to offer a 44 foot inshore cruise for just 100000€. Selling and ordering via internet with configurator, no wood panelling , no navstation in the cabin, utilitarian layout. Some of the approaches sound familiar to the stuff posted here about the A40. But it seems, the boat wasn’t really a success. Does anyone know how the boat sailed and how well it worked?

          • Richard Dykiel Nov 1, 2015, 11:17 am

            44 feet?!? People on a budget should think about downsizing… Oops, did I just make an elitist comment? 😉

          • John Nov 1, 2015, 2:10 pm

            Hi Jo,

            I talked to a guy that owns the prototype Varianta 44. He says it’s a great boat that he really enjoys.

            I think there were two related reasons it did not do well:

            • It did not have a clear mission: not suitable for cruising (no viable anchor handling, for example). Not tricked out for racing.
            • There was no clear explanation of what the boat’s benefits were. Boat builders are really bad at to doing this. Also, buyers tend to discount anything that a boatbuilder says about their product as sales BS.

            On the other hand, the A40 does not suffer from either of these problems.

  • Eric Klem Oct 30, 2015, 2:01 pm

    Hi John,

    In my opinion, a lot of debate that goes on as to what gear and skills are necessary is related to a difference in planned usage and risk profile. For example, I would happily sail a heavily used 1980’s Pearson 30 from New Brunswick to the Bahamas given enough time, a fairly watertight deck, decent reefing, a decent engine and good ground tackle, a trip of well over 1000 miles. On the other hand, I would never dream of sailing that boat across the North Atlantic to Europe. For me, the difference is that one trip is basically day sailing with good weather information just in a new location each day and the other trip has a moderate chance of seeing pretty severe weather. Some people would call both trips bluewater while others like me would not. Also, other people may have a different risk profile than me and feel that the chosen boat is appropriate for neither or both trips.

    Regarding buying a cheap boat and refitting it compared to an expensive one that needs nothing, it really depends on who is doing it. I would never recommend the cheap boat that needs major work to someone who has never owned a boat before or someone who is not highly skilled with ample free time. I also believe that everyone should get a reasonable starter boat for coastal cruising unless they have an extremely strong background that somehow doesn’t involve having already owned a boat. This relatively inexpensive starter boat will let the person gain skills both sailing and maintenance while sailing coastal and figuring out what they really want to do with a boat and what boat would be appropriate. In general, I believe that your recommendation for paying more money for a boat that needs less to meet their risk tolerance is probably correct for offshore boats but there are people who make it work the other way.

    It would be interesting to know what path most people take into offshore sailing and what the real issues are.


    • Jo Oct 30, 2015, 2:54 pm

      Hello Eric,

      I don’t know about most people, but here’s mine:
      Some inshore and offshore amateur racing as crew (mostly ended up on the foredeck)
      A few deliveries
      When I had my miles did the yachtmaster (needed in Europe to charter a boat)
      Co-owner of a 35 year old 27 footer and having fun on it with the family in summer.
      Next project is how to retire to cruising with my partner in a few years.

      • Eric Klem Nov 2, 2015, 2:22 pm

        Hi Jo,

        That sounds like a very good start. You clearly have enough experience to have a handle on what you want to do in sailing which is half the battle in my opinion.

        In my case, I had a strong background working aboard boats both full time and shorter stints like deliveries as well as some time in a shipyard. This meant that I was comfortable sailing, inspecting and working on boats but my wife and I really didn’t know how we would end up using a boat when I made the transition from being paid for sailing other people’s boats to paying for it. Her background was a lot of small boat sailing including some dinghy racing but her only larger boat and longer distance experience had been when she joined me. When I finished grad school, we bought a Cape Dory 30 knowing that we would be happy sailing it around New England or as far as the Bahamas depending on what we decided but also knowing that it likely was not a terribly long term boat for us. After a number of years with that boat, we finally felt that we knew what we wanted for this period of our life (until retirement meaning that we have limited time away) and we bought a Canadian Sailcraft 36T. We are extremely happy with the boat for the way we use it but it is very unlikely we would have ended up with this model if we hadn’t first owned the 30’er to figure out how we like to cruise.

        When we looked at our current boat, it was the 5th of that model that we looked at (and maybe 10th overall). The variability in the value of the boats that we looked at was staggering. Within a few minutes of being aboard the boat that looked the best on paper to me, I had discovered that a major structural bulkhead was rotten and that the fuel tank was full of water meaning that the almost new engine needed thousands of dollars of work. Of course, the current owner had no idea about either of these 2 problems. It took looking at 5 boats of this model to find one that was worth purchasing (one of the boats was in good enough shape for us but ridiculously priced and not willing to negotiate). It would have been very easy to make a terrible mistake in purchasing one of the others if I didn’t have the appropriate experience to evaluate it. Luckily, we got this experience either on OPB’s or on a much less expensive boat of our own.


        • Jo Nov 2, 2015, 3:56 pm


          You give me more credit bout knowing what I want than due. I’m glad that slowly I find out about the important things to me, like a decent bed that isn’t accessible only via the cussion or that I expect to run the boat mostly alone. Contrary to your situation, my loved one has no sailing background and I expect that sailing actively willl grow on her slowly. For now, sailing is a mean to getting there to her, but she isn’t unwilling. So to prevent frustration, I will start out as the driver and she will set the destinations. So I want to be able to handle the boat alone and see her help as a nice boon, not a necessity.

    • John Oct 31, 2015, 8:17 am

      Hi Eric,

      Very well put. I agree completely with all of your points. Thanks for bringing your costumery clarity to the issue.

  • Marco Oct 31, 2015, 8:28 am

    Hi John,
    My wife and I are 50+ Canadian newbies to sailing, with limited time and budget, who are aiming to realize a lifelong dream of sailing bluewaters. Your argument is even more true for us, who enjoy a short sailing season and higher sailing related costs in a small market. You can take courses to fast-track but still, seasons and money run fast. Intuitively, we focused on the elements you listed as needed, with the intent to learn the others while navigating, to fill the relaxing periods with some learning (exercising that grey matter…). Keep up the good work!

    • John Oct 31, 2015, 10:58 am

      Hi Marco,

      Thanks so much! It made my morning to know that at least two people got the point of my post and were helped by it. I was beginning to think that I must have done a really lousy job of writing it.

  • mike hiscock Oct 31, 2015, 8:31 pm

    Hi John,

    As a relatively inexperienced sailor, what I glean from your website are the tools to do risk management. What this site discusses is much bigger than the boats themselves.

    I would like to say “thank you” for making the experience of you and the uber-experienced contributors available to a group that might otherwise be grasping at deluded straws thanks to glossy magazines.

    I personally don’t see the elitist agenda, in fact before reading this thread I would have said it was the opposite.

    As a career military and commercial pilot, I live risk management and I know it when I see it. We may have different paths to cross the ocean, but your help will get us there safely.

    Mike H

    • John Nov 1, 2015, 2:16 pm

      Thanks very much, Mike.

  • Miami Phillips Nov 1, 2015, 8:46 am

    Oh this is fun! Nothing like a little elitist vs non to brighten up a rainy Sunday morning!

    As someone who has been sailing on and off most of 50 years – but never really “offshore” (Long Island through the Northern Caribbean and Pacific Coast) in boats that are pretty much what John and others warn you about… I’d say everyone is right!

    Now that I know how to fix almost anything because I have had to – Now that I have had that feeling of “Oh crap! Did I just buy a boat with a leaking hull to deck joint!” but also the feeling of watching everyone else driving over the bridge to work when I am going under it to cruise (albeit on beans and crackers) my thought is that different strokes for different folks as long as it doesn’t get you or some one else killed/seriously hurt.

    I would love to figure out how to get an Adventure 40 instead of rebuilding a 30 year old Irwin.

    But I can afford cash for the Irwin and make do for now and be out here.

    So for the record – I do not find AAC elitist at all but a very helpful site for getting serious knowledge about BEST practices from people who have been there/done that and it is very appreciated from someone who has been there/almost done that!

    Thanks for all the work John. Your success is reflected in the number and quality of the comments on every post!


    • John Nov 1, 2015, 2:15 pm

      Hi Miami,

      Thanks for the kind words and great comment.

      I think you make the a really important point: to do as you do on very little money and to do that safely and have fun too takes a lot of experience and a clear understanding of what the limitations of the boat are. Clearly you have both.

  • David H. Lyman Nov 1, 2015, 1:58 pm

    Boat Are Teachers
    My first car was a 1947 gray Plymouth coup. Best car I ever owned. Bought it for $50 when I was 14. Sold it to my brother for $100 4 years later when I was in college. The knowledge, skills and wisdom that car taught me are still with me. Old cars are great teachers for teenagers. You can actual work on them, learning how to keep them running. Can’t do that with today’s cars.

    My first really live-in boat was an Alden Barnacle— a34-foot wood sloop, also built in 1947. I bough her for $5000 and owner her, or she owned me, for 10 years—longer than many marriages. She taught me what it meant to have a relationship, human or boat. All relationships require your attention, time, love . . . and money. Now I didn’t have much money then, so could only have one relationship and it was the boat. I sailed that boat up and down the New England coast from Vermont to Maine. I learned about Gray Marine gas engines, rigs, pumps, sails, wood planking, varnish, paint, anchoring, radio direction finding, dead reckoning, docking, hauling out, rebuilding, how to fix things . . . The list goes on, and what I didn’t learn from that old wood boat, my next 3 boats tried to teach me.

    Today, I meet doctors, CEOs, retired couples with deep pockets who have purchased a life style without ever having lived the life. They have to hire guys like me to bail them out, deliver their yacht, oversee a refit, change the oil and filters, polish the fuel system, argue with yard over what the refit needs. There are times I feel like a gegilo, hired to love someone else’s boat, while they go back to work to earn money to pay me to do what they could be doing.

    If you are new to this boat life style, do not buy a $250,000 yacht, unless you hire an experienced skipper to go along with it. What you’d save in yard bills with a good skipper managing your investment, you can pay the guy, and that skipper will keep the yacht in good shape and teach you how to manage the system, sail the boat and keep you and the boat off the rocks and out of the Gulf Stream when a NE gale is blowing.

    If you love boats and the adventure they afford and the lessons they teach, buy a used sail boat for $20,000, fix it up yourself and go day sailing. After a while you’ll want to embark on a 2-week cruise Downeast. By that time, you’ll know enough to fix anything that breaks. This $20,000 boat need not be a blue water boat, for neither you nor the boat are ready just yet for an offshore voyage. That comes later.

    You don’t even need to buy a boat to get a taste of sailing offshore, and gaining experience. Go sailing with other people on other peoples’ boats. Hank Schmidt and his “Offshore Passage Opportunities” organization has been putting new sailors on boat deliveries for 15 years. I’ve had OPO crews on half a dozen deliveries from Maine to the Caribbean, many of them making their first offshore, 3-week, over the Gulf Stream voyage. Great way to be part of a crew, on a well founded boat, with an experienced, professional skipper. You learn a lot.

    Boats are about gaining experience, adventuring, exploring. They will teach you a great deal about yourself and how to manage your relationship with that boat, even with other people. A boat will help you decide if this is the life you want to live, and what kind of boat you want to own.

    Getting people into the cruising is not about buying the “right boat.” it’s about gathering experiences that will lead you there.

    A question for John: what’s the best camera to own?
    “The one you have in your hand,” has always been my answer. My iPhone camera now capture as many images and memories as does my DSLR. What was your first camera? Mine was a SpeedGraphic 4×5, with 2 film holders, allowing me just 4 images day. Taught me a lot.

    • RDE Nov 1, 2015, 3:15 pm

      David, you’ve hit the nail squarely on the head. A new Swan, Hallberg Rassy, Boreal or Adventure 42 is a lousy cruising boat in the hands of somebody who has only learned how to acquire the money to purchase it. The skills necessary to accumulate money are of no concern to the ocean, and casting off without knowing how to live in the real world where servants are not always at your command is a guarantee of failure.

      • John Nov 1, 2015, 3:38 pm

        Hi Richard and David,

        Hum, actually, surprise, surprise, I completely disagree.

        I see no reason at all that, as long as we can archive the reliability that we are striving for, and the owner keeps the boat relatively simple, a person new to offshore sailing who say takes a Yacht Master Offshore and does a few passages with others should not take off and go cruising in an Adventure 40 without spending decades sailing and owning other boats.

        As Stein says, offshore sailing really isn’t that hard, particularly if you focus on what really matters as advocated in the above post.

        What’s hard is keeping an old beat up boat, or an overly complex poorly built new one, from falling to bits around your ears.

        • RDE Nov 1, 2015, 6:49 pm

          Hi John,
          At least from my perspective it isn’t how much time you have spent sailing or how much money you have spent buying the perfect boat, but rather whether you have learned to be self reliant and mature in your decision making process. (and can fix stuff!)

          Incidentally, the scariest and most incompetent captain I have ever sailed offshore with had a 100 ton Yachtmaster ticket—–.

          If you choose an old beat up boat instead of an old boat that was better built than most new ones you haven’t learned the first principle of John’s Priority List.

          • John Nov 2, 2015, 9:09 am

            Hi Richard,

            Hum, I don’t think there is any such thing as a “100 ton Yachtmaster ticket”.

            I think that the 100 ton is a USCG qualification, and I agree there are a lot of incompetent people out there that have one (as well as very competent ones). Not surprising really in that it’s a multiple choice written exam—if you have a good memory you can pass it without any real idea of what you doing.

            On the other hand the RYA Yachtmaster is a practical exam on the water that pretty hard to game—you can either handle the boat under pressure, or you can’t. Of course it’s not perfect, but it’s a hell of a good start.

        • Marc Dacey Nov 2, 2015, 4:21 pm

          Having done ocean deliveries and daysailing now, I concur. A well-found boat at sea is generally safer and easier to sail than is motoring close to land where all the hard bits and traffic are.

    • Richard Dykiel Nov 1, 2015, 7:35 pm

      You made life choices and acquired valuable skills, good for you. But don’t look down on those who had a different life, contributed to society in other ways, and decided to pursue our dreams later in life. They will learn the skills later, or maybe they won’t be able to learn all that you learned. But their money finances the survival of the industry, and their money pays for services allowing people like you to continue financing their dreams. All roads lead to Rome, the short ones as well as the long ones.

    • Jo Nov 1, 2015, 8:11 pm


      But once you got your experience with the 20000$ boat to do cove-hopping in summer with romantic sunsets, a few deliveries for a taste of the big blue sea and now want to do more serious cruising, what boat will you get then?

      A Hallberg-Rassy or a Boreal you can’t afford?
      A Bavaria/Beneteau/Hunter with too many bearths and not enough storage and tankage?
      Some 1980 Hongkong- or Formosacruiser to refurbish, even if you already learned this isn’t how you want to spend your time?

      I would prefer an A40 any time, actually I’m waiting for the news where I can place my down-payment, assuming the boat will continue to develop in the right direction for me.

    • Douglas MacIver Nov 2, 2015, 1:52 am

      I find it disheartening when experienced, seemingly well-qualified, for-hire captains harbor this much disdain for some of their customers. Is this viewpoint something you’d share with paid attendees of your 8-hour “Offshore Passage-Maker” seminar?

  • Dick Stevenson Nov 1, 2015, 6:06 pm

    Hi John,
    This back and forth began in a post where you were making a case that buying an older boat and getting her ready for sea may be way more expensive than at first blush, and have unfortunate surprises (which, in general, I agree with). Older Valiants were first mentioned in another post as a good candidate, so you focused on them in your rebuttal. (* A brief history of Valiant’s short lived, but significant “blister” problem is below.)
    You wrote:
    it might be one of the Valliants with big time structural problems because of fire retardant resin. These are not cosmetic issues, they are vital safety items.
    I believe this to be a reckless and damaging statement not supported by even casual research.
    The reasonable reader reaction to such a statement would be that these boats could not go to sea safely without repair: if repair was even possible for such “big time structural problems.
    Your primary substantiation is to refer to a Wikipedia article where you quote it being written: “Most authorities on the subject consider the issue to be cosmetic and not of structural consequence in most cases.” That alone might underline that your contentions were damaging to the reputations about this series of Valiants. The “most cases” ending I consider editorial CYA as I can find no evidence of any case in almost 20 years of following Valiant’s happenings. Nor did the Wiki article refer to any.
    You then take the article you just finished quoting and debunk it by deciding for yourself that the article was confused and using for evidence that, because the repairs mentioned included additional laminate, therefore the problem being addressed had to be structural. This is where I think you were reckless as you and I both know that additional laminate is often involved in the repair of cosmetic blisters.
    Now we could get into a discussion of what is structural and what is cosmetic and where the line is drawn, but attend the following first:
    I have owned a latter day Valiant (not a blister boat) and followed the Valiant web site for the last 15+ years. In that time, it is a regular occurrence, to have someone post a query saying they have seen this terrific boat at this enticing price, but it has blisters. They often say they can live with (and/or repair) the blisters, but are really concerned about any structural issue. Most do much research and consulting. Bob Perry was reported to be one of the people consulted. As were numerous surveyors. None have ever reported concerns that the blisters are structural. No one has ever reported being turned down by their insurance company for structural problems. No report of a surveyor condemning a boat. And, maybe most telling, I would suspect that there are many hundreds of thousands of sea miles on these venerable boats over many decades with no reports that these blisters have proven to be structural.
    Nor have there been reports of surveyors or insurance companies saying the vessel is structurally compromised until repaired. The repairs reported accomplished over the years have focused on cosmetic concerns and cosmetic results, the return of blisters being the area of owner concern, and not any mention of the repairs being focused on structural results or concerns.
    I have in no way exhaustively researched this area but I have an ongoing and constant connection with goings on in the Valiant family. I would not be happy if there is found to be evidence or reports of structural problems in the “blister” Valiants, but I prefer to live in the real world and, so, I would like to hear about them. I will, of course, report them here.
    So, to my reading, you have maligned a group of boats that have suffered a significant cosmetic event, one that many, likely most, have gone to great strides and with varying degrees of success, to remedy. Most were initially very concerned about structural ramifications. I believe you to have, in attempting to make a broader point, in writing in your much admired web site, inadvertently done another injury to these boats and their owners that could have been avoided.
    My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
    For those who are following the back and forth between John and I, a bit of history that may be useful: (and I am not a historian, but I believe the gist is accurate)
    Valiants, early in their history (late 70s, early 80s) in a laudatory effort to make safer boats, (and following the lead of tank manufacturers for the military), began to use a fire retardant resin in their fiberglass. All went well until these vessels went to warm and hot climes and blisters developed in hull and deck. These were cosmetically a disaster and enough to destroy the company building the boats at that time. Later boats were made in Texas (and back to a tried and true resin) from molds bought from the bankrupt company and manufactured in a manner to build upon Valiant’s already impressive reputation and with an eye to building incrementally better boats.

    • Douglas MacIver Nov 2, 2015, 2:05 am

      Dick, you’re over-reacting to what appears to me as an offhand comment by John. I would guess that overall he respects Valiants given that the A40 is so similar to them.

      • John Nov 2, 2015, 9:17 am

        Hi Doug,

        You are right, I have great respect for the Valiants.

    • John Nov 2, 2015, 9:19 am

      Hi Dick,

      Thanks for the obviously well researched and useful information.

  • Dick Stevenson Nov 2, 2015, 9:15 am

    Hi Douglas,
    I suspect you are correct with both assertions.

  • David Lyman Nov 2, 2015, 11:09 am

    The USCG 100 ton license requires that you document 360 days at sea, underway, on type vessels for which the license is granted, before you sit for the test. A portion of those days at sea need to be within specified period, say within the last year.

    • John Nov 2, 2015, 12:13 pm

      Hi David,

      I’m aware of that, although only 90 days must be at sea:

      But that doesn’t alter the fact that the exam is not practical and anyone with who is good at multiple choice exams can pass it.

      Also, the position held during the sea time is not specified. For example I know a person who served as steward on a super yacht with almost no deck time who passed the 100 ton, not exactly a qualified mariner I would say.

      Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of great seaman with a 100 ton, but the qualification does not raise the general standard the way the yacht master does. The proof is simple: most of the world accepts an MCA/RYA yacht master.

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