The Importance of Boat Selection
The significance of the sailboat selection process is not the same for everyone. It will differ based on things such as what your intended use is (weekend lake cruising vs. regatta racing vs. coastal cruising, etc.), how much you are planning to spend on the boat in relationship to what you can afford, and how many crew you will have in on your adventures. For us, this was a highly stressful process the importance of which couldn't be minimized. Why? Because we were planning to buy a true blue water boat capable of circumnavigating the globe on a budget of more than we paid for our house. We also knew that most of the time, it would be just the two of us sailing - so having a boat that we could single hand if one of us became incapacitated was of paramount importance.
At the beginning, we knew almost nothing about sailboats beyond the few Beneteaus, Hunters or Jeanneaus we had chartered from Windward Sea Ventures in Kemah, TX. Renting for a day or 2 here or there does absolutely nothing to teach you about what factors are important in selecting a blue water capable boat. So, being the research personalities we are, we dove into a two+ year process of reading online posts and books, watching YouTube videos, and visiting Yacht brokerages and talking to "experts". I could write a very lengthy blog just on the many different structural factors we considered (sloop vs. cutter vs. ketch; skeg protected rudder vs. spade rudder, full keel vs. fin keel, fiberglass vs. wood, teak deck vs. fiberglass deck, and on and on and on) and why we ending up concluding that the Island Packet was the perfect boat for us. But I won't. My husband will do a much better job of that as he had the research charter for structural and technical sailboat details.
What I will tell you are my top 5 lessons learned on the process and what resources we found the most helpful.
Top 5 Lessons Learned
1. Pick your yacht broker as carefully as you pick your boat. We found many brokers were not well informed on the needs of a buyer wanting to circumnavigate or had conflicts of interest (they didn't have the right inventory, so they tried to sell on how a sailboat in their inventory really did meet our needs). I'll never forget the broker who tried to convince us a 45 ft. Catalina was capable of what we wanted. Buyer Beware. There is a fact important to understand about the yacht sales industry. Unlike in the real estate industry, where a buyer's agent has a legally required fiduciary duty to put their clients interests above all others and regulations requiring minimum proficiency and education in the industry, the yacht sales industry is relatively unregulated and may not have a legal duty to place the buyer's interests above the seller. We ultimately decided to go out of state to Florida (where there are licensing requirements) to find a broker qualified to meet our needs. Thankfully, based on a recommendation from a mentor who had circumnavigated twice, we found Mike Fauser at Whiteaker Yacht Sales in Palmetto, Florida. He did a great job for us. Lesson? Find a broker with the experience to suit your needs and that other real cruisers recommend and trust.
2. Take what you read on sailing forums with a grain of salt. "It must be true I saw it on the internet." LOL, right? This holds true for sailing forums. You'll find many online commentators making definitive statements about boats they have no real experience with. They are just repeating stories they have heard / read. We were almost driven away from our dream boat by these false narratives based on one story that spread. However, there is one really good use we made of these sailing forums. We used them to compile a list of "common perceived issues". We then took our list to real experts: people who owned boats we were looking at and had cruised in them, people who worked on them, etc. Beyond that, admittedly, very valuable use case, treat online forum commentary with healthy skepticism.
3. Beware your own emotions. I've heard many cruisers say when you get on the right boat for you, you'll "know it". And that is true. You will have an attraction to and chemistry with a boat. To some degree, that will help you deal with all the work you will inevitably have to do on her. But we also felt that same "feeling" several times before we had thoroughly educated ourselves on the requirements we needed in a blue water boat. If we had made an impulse buy on any of those earlier boats, we would have regretted it later and very likely thrown down the toilet material sums of money trying to make them blue water capable and/or then finally realizing we needed to sell the boat and buy another. Additionally, even among true blue water capable boats... think about maintenance requirements. You will want to maximize the time you have to have fun on your adventure. Having a well built boat with the right make-up can minimize the time and dollars you have to spend repairing and maintaining her.
4. Find and talk to people who have circumnavigated. Cruisers by nature are a very open, helpful bunch of people. What you will learn from people who are living your dream (or who have in the past) is invaluable. Don't be afraid to reach out and ask questions. They will love to tell your their stories and give you advise. But once again... even here... treat this as expert input but not definitive requirements. You will find cruisers always love "their boat" and "their gear". There are many right answers out there that can work for you.
5. Read, read, read. There is a wealth of information on the internet from real cruisers out there blogging, from official sailing websites, YouTube channels published by full time sailors, books for sale from people who have completed blue water crossings and circumnavigations, etc. If you take advantage of all of these, you will likely will find yourself a better expert than many brokers you contact when you go to buy.
Resources We Found the Most Helpful
1. Mahina Expeditions Website. Wealth of information with lots of technical considerations and a recommended blue water capable boat list.
2. The book "How NOT to Buy a Cruising Boat". Not a definitive expert guide on what boat to buy and what to do, but a tale by a couple that was taken advantage of that gave me the appropriate level of respect for the care I needed to take selecting a broker, surveyor, etc.
3. Watching SV DELOS and Sailing La Vagabonde videos. Over 2 years of watching weekly videos, we picked up a lot of insights here and there that shaped our decision making process in our final boat selection.
4. Official websites dedicated to sailing topics: Practical Sailor, Cruising World, Latitude 38
5. Magazines: Sail Magazine, Blue Water Sailing
6. Yachtworld - The largest online repository of boats currently listed for sale
7. IPYOA.COM - Island Packet Yacht Owners Association. Don't make the mistake we did and not join until you buy. We should have joined when we decided to buy an Island Packet. The Facebook group is nothing short of amazing in their support and help.