Sailboat modifications for shorthanded, blue water passages

Discussion in 'Boat Design' started by misanthropicexplore, Sep 22, 2020.

  1. misanthropicexplore
    Joined: Apr 2018
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    Location: Upper middle Missouri River

    misanthropicexplore Junior Member

    A lot of people have this dream of sailing around the world or the like, and come to the forums (this one and others) with the idea of "saving a lot of money" by building their own boat, usually in accordance with some whackdoodle idea they have which has already been tried and discarded a few times a decade for the last 150 years, and usually because they think it will save them huge amounts of money. Universally the advice given is "Don't. In this day and age, you build a boat for philosophical or aesthetic reasons. If you are trying to save money and have a sailing experience, buy one the tens of thousands of serviceable but tired fiberglass boats out there, modify it appropriately for the journey, and use that." I've probably seen that answer a 100 times over the last 10 years.

    So my question today is this what does actually following that advice look like? If you want to become a full time cruiser, go anywhere boat, able to make long, blue water passages with 1-2 people on the cheap, what sort of boat are you supposed to buy? For sake of discussion, let's say you've already decided to save money by keeping the boat as as small, light, and simple as possible. Standing room is not, per se, a requirement, but not being stuck in a clothes drier for six months at a time is. (As one of the "small boat sails around the world" skippers called his experience.)

    Are certain brands in certain decades just lemons or will any major producer do?

    Length and displacement come with higher maintenance costs but modernity comes at a higher first cost. What's the sweet spot? If a 1960's fiberglass yacht is 27' long and 1990's one is 21', and both are in decent shape, which one is going to cost you more every five years of ownership? Is the difference between the handling of a 21' and a 27' different enough to be worth getting a boat 30 year older?

    Do fiberglass hulls wear out, or do boats get cheap because all the support equipment needs to be replaced, like sails, lines, and motors?

    Do aluminum masts have a cycle limit? After a certain age are they simply to old to safely use?

    What are these modifications? Taking out the inner pan so you can see the hull? (Like Yvrin did on a journey he took with a kid he was sailing with) Make it unsinkable and get rid of the motor? (Like Roger Taylor has on the different MingMings he's rebuilt.

    Is it easier to remove unnecessary weight and replace it with stronger structure in some brands than others?

    Many "Simple Sailors" (as Roger Taylor says) use junk rigs. In most boats this will mean a new, unstayed mast. People talk about doing such things with old masts, cut down. Who do you hire to do the number crunching for modifying an old mast that way and putting it on a boat it was never designed for? (It sounds like something most engineers would never stake their career on.)

    When are rig modifications like that required? Only for soloing? For high latitude trips? Only when the rig must be handled without ever leaving the cabin? What sort of modifications does it take to make a Bermuda something you can handle from inside the cabin?

    Regarding saving money, a swing keel and lowerable mast gets you in more places, some of which are cheaper to stay in, but costs more in maintenance. Tenders also add cost. Is it ever cheaper to have a simple boat and nice tender than a more flexibly used boat and simpler tender?

    How do all of these changes affect your insurance? Are highly modified boats insurable? How much can you change a old factory boat before the underwriter won't touch it?

    I'm sure there are a million other questions to ask, but I look forward to hearing all of y'all thoughts about this.
     
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  2. bajansailor
    Joined: Oct 2007
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    bajansailor Marine Surveyor

    Pretty much any fibreglass boat can be restored / refitted / rebuilt for ocean cruising - but will it be economically viable to do so?

    If you want to go sailing offshore, going up from 21' to 27' is a big leap - but the bigger boat will invariably be more comfortable, relatively, and be capable of a higher daily run sailed than the smaller boat.

    There are fibreglass hulls now that are 50 - 60 years old, and they are still working well. Hence yes, older boats do become much 'cheaper' when all equipment wears out - to the extent that sometimes it is difficult to give a boat away. Even if you can get a boat for nothing, it is still usually easier to buy a boat in reasonable condition for $X and go sailing now, rather than spending say $2X on rebuilding the boat that you were given free, to achieve the same result.

    I don't think so - again there are many elderly alloy masts still in use. They can corrode though if you give them the opportunity to do so. But if you look after them, they should last a long time.

    The sky is the limit really - have a look also at James Baldwin's page re the modifications he has done over the years to his Pearson Triton 'Atom' -
    Atom Voyages - In Search of the Unsinkable Boat https://atomvoyages.com/articles/improvement-projects/258-unsinkableboat-1.html

    I would say a cautious yes, generally - but again the sky is the limit here. You could rip out everything in the hull to a bare shell, and rebuild with modern materials including carbon to save weight, but you will spend a fortune (which you will never recover), so is it very sensible to be so extreme?

    I am sure that many of these experiments are done by 'trial and error' and intuition combined with all round sailing experience ('if it 'looks' right, there is a good chance that it is right - sort of...... :) )

    If you have a roller furling headsail, combined with an in-mast furling mainsail, it should be relatively straightforward to arrange for the control lines to be led to at least inside a rigid doghouse over the companionway - perhaps even inside the cabin itself (but then you need to find a way of sealing the entry points for the ropes when you get green water flying over the cabin)..

    I think it depends on the type of cruising that you primarily want to do - many boats are very good at doing specific things, like ditch crawling or voyaging to high latitudes, but very few are equally good at accomplishing both of these.
    I would have a simple boat and two practical / nice tenders, on the premise that as soon as you have more than one person on board, a second tender can be useful.. Also, you have a back-up if anything happens to one tender. If yours blows away one night because you didn't tie your bowline properly when you returned from the pub, or is stolen (very often the latter is blamed for the former), then you really don't want to have to swim ashore the next day to try to find another tender.

    If the boat is in good condition after all these modifications, and you get a surveyor to confirm this in a report, there is no reason for an underwriter to refuse cover for an agreed sailing area (so long as it is not a 'dangerous' area), but probably subject to 'conditions'.
    Equally, you might have a Hallberg Rassy in pristine condition, and you have a Yachtmaster Offshore (or Ocean even) certificate, but I doubt that any Insurer will offer you comprehensive cover for (say) a singlehanded transatlantic passage - they usually specify the minimum number of crew that have to be on board for this.
     
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2020
  3. Blueknarr
    Joined: Aug 2017
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    Blueknarr Senior Member

    Sailing other people's boats is far cheeper than owning your own.
    Next cheaper is joining a charter club/school.
    Crewing on a race boat is the absolute cheapest way to get on the water. Most yacht clubs host low key entry level beer can races. There's always room for a newbie.

    I have noticed an inverse relationship between a sailer's experience and how strongly whacky doodle ideas are held on to. Probably because most of them are complex semi-solutions to non-issue s
     
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2020
  4. sharpii2
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    sharpii2 Senior Member

    There are three major reasons older, "tired" GRP sailing "yachts" end up on the market for ridiculously low prices:

    1.) they become unfashionable. Many of them were built with at least some racing in mind. The last few decades has brought about much faster boats and left a lot of '70's and ' 80's behind.

    2.) their gel coat fades. This makes them look Shabbier than they really are. And since one of the main reasons for owning a "yacht" is to impress other people, once the looks are gone, it's time to move on to a later model.

    3.) They need some sort of refit or major repair. This is probably the biggest reason.

    But there's no reason for these three reasons to not be linked. They often are. First, the "yacht" is purchased new by a well-off owner. Second, it becomes seen as dated, and is sold often to someone less affluent. That person keeps it for a few years, but often doesn't maintain it. The gel coat fails and the rigging gets old. And maybe this owner gets tired of it. He/she sells it for a lower price.

    It is then bought by a "dreamer", someone who thinks he/she can afford its upkeep but really can't. At this point, systems on board start failing. And the "dreamer" can't afford to make the repairs.

    After a while the "dreamer" stops paying his/her yard bill, puts the boat up for sale, but no one buys it. The "dreamer" then walks away.

    The yard is then stuck with a very large object which they can't get rid of. Even if they repaired it and put it on the market, they would not get nearly what they put into it. What was once a "yacht" has now become a very expensive to own pleasure boat.

    These older boats, which often become "derelicts", sit around for years, until they are sawn up for scrap.

    A few of the lucky ones are encountered by "doers". The "doers" know exactly what they are getting into. They know this boat they are purchasing will continue to lose value, even if they fix it up. They know that they will have to make most if not all the repairs themselves, as they probably don't have the cash to pay a professional to do it. Often, the "doer" plans on doing something with the boat which is not practical with a later model. Sailing it across oceans is a typical example. If they own the boat free and clear, they don't have to insure it. They also don't have to make payments on it either. This suits them fine.

    They are now free to modify the boat to their requirements, then take off to sail over the horizon.

    Usually, they plan to live aboard. And many move in long before the upgrades and rapairs are completed. The boat becomes their primary home, even while it still sits on the hard, sometimes with huge holes in it.

    Read some Fatty Goodlander books. There are a number of YouTube videos that I am following which follow this storyline. They are well worth watching. I watch them myself all the time.

    Apparently, GRP is relatively easy to repair, even if it has cored construction. I saw one video where a guy was repairing a huge catamaran which was hurricane damaged. I watched him cheerfully saw away square meters of the outer skin to get to the delaminated and even waterlogged core. The inner skin was left intact to maintain the hull shape. The damage was quite extensive, but the boat ended up sailing away.

    Building a boat from scratch cannot compete in cost, time, or even practicality.

    But it can be justified for certain reasons.

    1.) to end up with the exact boat you want. You can either design it yourself, or get plans for a stock design you like. If you want to try something unusual, you can probably find a designer to work with you. That is, if your idea is the least bit workable. If you cannot find an experienced designer to work with you, this is a sure sign of trouble with your ideas. You can always go ahead and build the boat anyway, but you will be taking a huge risk. The early catamaran yachts were home-built, as well as a huge portion of the early trimarans. Experienced designers of that time did not think such boats were feasible.

    2.) Assuming you have the skills, you have much better quality control than you would have if you bought a boat built by someone else, years or decades ago, and mainly to make a profit. You can make key areas extra strong. You can go the next size up in rigging and fittings, such as blocks, winches and cleets.
     
  5. Will Gilmore
    Joined: Aug 2017
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    Will Gilmore Senior Member

    misanthropicexplore, I enjoyed reading your question and bajansailor gave a pretty thorough answer with regard to the dynamics and I certainly agree with sharpii2, that's how it goes.

    There are lots of great boats that have proven ocean and circumnavigation records. For one or two, the Flicka stands out in my mind. I've not sailed one, but they are well regarded for small, inexpensive, simple and capable ocean sailers.

    It isn't expensive to bring your reefing lines to the cockpit. As far as modifications to make a rig Bluewater long distance capable, I wouldn't suggest taking Sven Yervin's approach. Speed is a important to safety as self-righting. A boat that sails well and can shorten the time spent mid-ocean is a safer boat.

    Tender are nice and a cheap inflatable that holds one can work on a boat under 30 feet, I wouldn't know where the tipping point is between initial cost and replacement/repair cost, but a smaller boat, say under 21 feet, could tie up at the dinghy dock for groceries and sight seeing, then paddle or motor out to a mooring.
    There's also, usually a significant break in dockage fees for less than 30 feet.

    Of course, when a boat gets too small, it lacks room for redundant systems such as a second anchor or large fuel and water tanks. Extra sails, rigging and even building materials and carpentry tools have been known to become necessary in the middle of the ocean.

    It will be ingesting to see where this thread goes.

    -Will (Dragonfly)
     
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  6. misanthropicexplore
    Joined: Apr 2018
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    misanthropicexplore Junior Member

    I want to thank all of you for your fantastic answers so far, this was exactly what I was hopping for, and I'm also intrigued to see what other people have to say on the subject.
     
  7. misanthropicexplore
    Joined: Apr 2018
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    misanthropicexplore Junior Member


    Why 30>40'? I understand the benefits to a smaller boat and a bigger boat, but why is 30 - 40 feet the Goldilocks zone?
     
  8. Rumars
    Joined: Mar 2013
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    Rumars Senior Member

    Modifications all serve a purpose, meaning you need to define what you want a boat to do. A high latitude boat would be optimised differently from a tropics boat. Some modifications are purely subjective like unsinkability, a certain rig, etc. Production boats come as a happy compromise for a certain type of sailing. Usually you find a boat that was intended from the start for your type of activity and optimise the remaining 10%.

    You have three categories of costs: initial purchase, outfitting and replacement, operating costs.
    Initial purchase is more about the market and the specifc boats state. A smaller very well outfitted and maintained one is more expensive then a bigger boat in a poor state.
    Outfitting and replacement is not always tied to lenght and displacement. Electronics, electrics, plumbing, galley, general interior has more to do with the owner then the boat. You can have pressure water and AC on a 25ft boat and a bucket and jetboil on a 60ft one. The parts that are boat size dependent usually come in brackets. A 10hp diesel is not significantly cheaper then a 20hp diesel, rigging, sails, anchors, etc. will not vary much in a ten feet lenght range, and 3t displacement. How much of this systems must be replaced and how often depends on use, preferences and luck.
    Operating costs relate to boat size. Bigger motor means more fuel, more lenght costs more in a marina, more antifoul to buy, etc. This is where you pay for comfort, and you must decide how much it's worth for you to have those things. In real life for most cruisers this costs are actually trivial, they go under "cost of living".

    As for what to buy it depends on your preferences. Few designs (old or modern) under 30ft have a shower for example. Waterline lenght and interior space usually increase in more modern designs. Encapsulated keels are difficult to find in smaller modern boats. You need to find a boat that you like as she is, not one where you see the "potential" and spend money and time on useless modifications. If you don't trust boats with liners, grids and keelbolts, you buy one that does not have this features.

    1. What sailing do you imagine to do?
    2. What comfort creatures are important for you?
    3. What are your prefered boat features?.
    4. How much money do you have?
    This questions define what boat you get, and you must first know the answers.
     
  9. Blueknarr
    Joined: Aug 2017
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    Blueknarr Senior Member


    I'm short time now so short answer

    Original premise: extended low budget cruising for one or two people.

    20 footers don't have the room for the supplies and toys for EXTENDED periods. All right for a few weeks but not months. Loaded up they will sit well below intended waterline and will wallo around unable to get out of the storm's path.

    Fifty footers don't fit my concept of low budget.
     
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  10. Will Gilmore
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    Will Gilmore Senior Member

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  11. Rumars
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    Rumars Senior Member

    Just for the sake of discussion here are some of the features I would want in a "go anywhere" boat: hard dodger, soft bimini, windvane, electric autopilot, solar, small genset, hard and inflatable dinghy, hot water, air conditioning in marinas, diesel heater, shower, fridge, freezer, hull and deck insulation.
     
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  12. Will Gilmore
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    Will Gilmore Senior Member

    Tough list for a boat under 30 feet, but with careful planning and creative thought, I think you could do it. How about a steering vane? I've crossed the Atlantic with a steering vane. It did a great job.
    With fridge and freezer, why diesel heater? You might also want to add a wind generator and reverse osmosis water maker.

    -Will (Dragonfly)
     
  13. Rumars
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    Rumars Senior Member

    Definetly watermaker, I forgot about it. Wind self steering I mentioned. Wind and hydrogenerator optional. Maybe a composting toilet.
    It's such a conflicting list because the OP wanted "go anywhere". One does not need a heater in the tropics or AC in the arctic but if one wants to go both places on the same boat ... Fridge, freezer, are just convenient, one can cruise successfully without either. Even engine and electricity can be optional (not that I would advise it).

    Indeed there are very few under 30 boats that can have it all. Even if you manage it will be a hard squeeze and you must watch weight like on a multi and it all becomes overly complicated. Fortunately there is no need for the 30 limit. Just now we have a thread where a member bought a Tartan 34C for 1000$. It needs a lot of work of course, but it shows that good boats are cheap. Two guys just finished a 900 days circumnavigation on one and I doubt they can sell their fully kitted (for a milk run) boat for much more then 10k. Just the simple fact that you can work on the engine without beeing a contorsionist makes this model way better then most others.
    My current favorite for a under 30' cruiser is a Grinde 27, that boat is huge inside and has no overhangs to speak of, very fast for its length. It has no shower but one could be fitted if really desired.

    In the end it's more about the sailor then the boat, Webb Chiles circumnavigated on a Moore 24 and his only modifications were tillerpilot and solar panels. But of course it's fair to say he is not your standard cruiser.
     
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  14. Will Gilmore
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    Will Gilmore Senior Member

    And Webb's not a small guy at around 6'1" or 2".

    -Will (Dragonfly)
     

  15. misanthropicexplore
    Joined: Apr 2018
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    misanthropicexplore Junior Member

    I have a very specific idea of safety and that particular kind of safety is the most important thing to me.

    (1.) The safest trip is the one you don't make, but if it's too comfortable, save your money and get an apartment by the beach and a kayak, so the boat needs to provide only backpacking levels of comfort.
    (2.) The best way to not go is be able to stay a lot of places, so you need the option of shoal draft and beachability.
    (3.) Once you decide to go, the trip you have the most control over is the safest, so it needs to point highly.
    (4.) Once you are out there, you need get out of the way as fast as possible so it needs to be fast.
    (5.) You can't make safe decisions if you are exhausted, so it needs to look after the skipper.
    (6.) At some point, no matter how careful you are and no matter how good the boat is, you will screw up badly and the boat has to be strong enough to survive that.

    (1.) Suggests stripped down, simple boat.
    (2.) Suggests a flatish bottom, centerboard/swingkeel as well as swing rudder.
    (3.) Suggests a high efficiency rig.
    (4.) Suggests an unusually long narrow boat. (A planing form isn't an option because the ride is exhausting in bad weather, so the only way to get speed is long and narrow.)
    (5.) Suggests a hull shape something like the USCG 36' Motor Lifeboat.
    (6.) Suggests a monohull, multiple watertight bulkheads etc.

    All of my desired features are in conflict with each other. (Which, I suppose, is pretty normal.) Stripped down, simple boats don't have all the extra doohickies that a swing keel and high efficiency rigs require. Light weight, long, narrow boats don't have the mass or shape of a chubby lifeboat. Multiple watertight bulkheads don't make boats that are easy to live or camp in.

    To me, the perfect compromise would be something very much like a Montreal Canoe, decked, with a center cuddy, bulb keel daggerboard and a schooner rig made from common high efficiency dingy rigs. No one makes anything even remotely like that.
     
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