A Birds Eye View of Long Range Offshore Cruising

The first task of a long range cruiser is to become familiar with the basic ground. In other words, what are the essential books and resources of information that one needs to know about and have become familiar with. You need to know about basic boat design, not so that you can design your own boat but so that you have a clear idea of what the effects are of any particular design decision. It is my intention here to give you the pointers to what I have come think are the essential pieces of information.  The books are listed in the book section. There are several short documents that you should read. Just click on the links as you find them interspersed in my web pages.

In order to choose a specific boat to buy or build, one of the first critical decisions is the choice of hull material. In order to make that decision you should start by deciding which material you want, based strictly on technical factors. I believe that if you approach the subject from this angle you will come to the conclusion as I have that Steel is the best choice followed by Aluminum, Fiberglass, in that order; with Wood and Ferro Cement being last and a tossup. Now I know what you are thinking. But, I don't want Steel or Aluminum or whatever. My response is: start with the technical factors and THEN eliminate materials based upon other factors such as cost, longevity, availability, repairability, maintainability, etc.

As a practical matter if you plan to buy new, then maybe you can afford anything you want and can ignore the following advise. But, if you are going to buy used, then here is where things get real complicated.

Steel rusts and there are not a lot of Steel boats for sale. If there are 100 Fiberglass boats for sale, there will be about 7 Steel boats and about 1 Aluminum for sale at any one time. A Steel boat that has been carefully maintained and coated with the latest high-tech paints can be in excellent condition and the same can be said for Aluminum boats.  Fiberglass boats built after about 1975 that have used the newer and more likely to blister resins can be very expensive to repair, perhaps $10K to $50K for a 60' boat. Aluminum is tricky due to the care that must be given to the choice of ALL other metal used in the boat. This includes thru hulls, props, shafts, copper wiring, masts and fastenings.

Due to the lack of vessels in Steel or Aluminum and especially if you have special requirements like staterooms for 2 couples so that you can have enough bodies to do all the work around the clock, you will find that you are forced to consider Fiberglass, in spite of it's disadvantages. In any event, once you have decided on the material you should read as much as you can about it's use in boats, since if you actually buy such a boat you will eventually have to know how it is put together.

You may decide that all this research is too much trouble and that you are just going to go out and kill something, instead of being patient. You know the old saying about "doing in haste and repenting at leisure". You may find yourself repenting a long way from home without one one-hundreth the resources to help solve your problems. You can pay your time now or you can pay it later, but believe this, you WILL pay! Ignorance is a pile of corroded boat parts lying at the bottom of a steep cliff. We have all been there, done that. The trick is to quit doing it. The only way is to get educated. This web site material is dedicated to just that objective.

You can get this education by simple experience. In other words, make 10 circumnavigations of the world, getting a new boat at the end of each circle. In the meantime don't learn anymore than you have to. At the end of 10 trips, you should have the whole process under good control.  On the other hand, you could shorten the process by many, many trips. But, that will require hitting the books. It's all up to you. The first rule of a prudent seaman is: "Take care of the ship and it will take care of you".

If most people knew what they were doing, there would be very few of the present fleet of boats ever being sold, to go "blue water sailing". This argues that if you are planning to buy used, to be very careful about your choices.

So you have the material all figured out, know what you want. Now the problem is where to find it. And you thought you had done all the hard work. Finding the boat, picking a designer, or builder is actually the hard part.

If you live on the US West Coast, there is an awful lot of product on the East Coast, but if you buy there your journey has to start from there, because you either bring it around to the West Coast, near your home or you set sail for the adventure you had planned all along. The dilemma is that buying a long way from home with a continent in between leaves a lot of risk to be taken into account. In fact any boat bought or built a long way from where you are normally located entails a great deal of planning. If you consider this obstacle carefully you may come to the conclusion that you will have to limit your choices to those that are near by. On the other hand, you might just find a boat so close to your requirements and price, located in an awkward location that even that is not enough impediment to stop you. Everything is a trade off between  cost, convenience and usability.

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© Copyright 2003. Captain Michael P. Maurice. All rights reserved.