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Evaluating a coastal cruiser

Going coastal? You have abundant choices in boats Because coastal-cruising sailors are most often sailing on tight schedules, using their boats for only a day or two or, at most, a week or two at a time, the first thing they need to consider when choosing a new boat is its speed. Not that this is the only criterion, but the faster the boat, the larger your cruising ground. On a coast where harbors and anchorages are few and far between, a slow, heavy vessel will not prove much fun. Unless you live in an area where places to pull in are only a few miles apart, it is wise to look for something that can average at least 5 knots under both sail and power if it's a smaller vessel -- say, 32 feet and under -- and at least 6 to 7 knots if it's a larger vessel. Usually this means you'll be favoring a lighter boat with a fin keel and spade rudder over a heavier boat with a fuller underbody. Because coastal-cruising boats are not as likely to be caught out in bad weather for extended periods, their construction need not meet offshore standards.

Any of the popular mass-produced boats currently on the market should be more than adequate in terms of strength. Because coastal boats do tend to spend a lot of time tied up to docks, you may wish to focus on amenities. A substantial AC shore-power system is usually a critical item and will go a long way toward making your boat as comfortable as your home, allowing you to enjoy microwaves, hair driers, air conditioning, televisions, and other luxuries without installing such impedimenta as generators, huge battery banks, and inverters. Nor do you need big tanks. Capacities of as little as 20 gallons of fuel and 50 of water, given a mid-size boat between 30 and 40 feet, should be adequate in most cases.

Otherwise, what constitutes a well-equipped coastal cruiser varies by location. A boat based in colder, more northern waters will get a lot more use if it has a sheltered cockpit and a good heater on board. Likewise, a boat in the sunny south will need good ventilation and a good bimini to keep its crew happy. The same goes for the sail inventory. If light winds predominate, you will need a big genoa, probably a spinnaker or drifter, and a lightweight main. If your cruising ground sees a lot of heavy air, you'll need smaller, tougher sails. In all cases, you'll want a roller-reefing headsail with a sunstrip (so you can leave it bent on when the boat is idle) and a mainsail cover that is easy to put on and remove. The faster you can get under way, the more you will use the boat. Charles J. Doane Performance cruisers I've already urged you to favor faster boats over slower boats when shopping for a coastal cruiser.

Here's an even more radical suggestion: How about getting a boat that's really, really fast? For a certain sort of sailor, particularly one who likes to both race and cruise, the temptation to favor speed above all else will be irresistible. If you are one of these, you'll need to keep a few things in mind. Lesson number one: You can't have it all. There is a decided trend among many production-boat builders these days to enlarge a boat's accommodations at the expense of its performance potential. There are still several boats that favor the performance end of the spectrum, but that almost always means sacrificing accommodation space. The extreme examples here are the smaller coastal trimarans and catamarans on the market. These boats are a total blast to sail and can easily top 10 knots under sail, but the living space and amenities down below are definitely minimal -- though multihulls do have lots of deck space to play on. Faster boats (at least when it comes to monohulls) also tend to be deeper boats. This will limit your ability to explore shoal-draft cruising grounds. Lesson number two: Fast is more expensive.

Performance boats are often built of high-tech lightweight materials; their rigs and sail inventories are also more sophisticated. Many now sport retractable bowsprits that facilitate the setting of large asymmetric spinnakers. All this costs money. Such boats also tend to demand more maintenance. If speed is what most thrills you, you'll need to spend more time fairing the bottom and keeping it clean, overhauling winches, and so on. Lesson number three: If you want to race as well as cruise, be sure to do some research. Simply getting the fastest boat you can afford may not be the best way to find the best action. Check to see which types of boats are most commonly raced in your area so you can be sure of finding some interesting competition.


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