Thursday, March 1, 2012

A Review Of Sailboats and How We Came To Our New Boat

After four months of searching for a boat; after looking online at hundreds, if not thousands, of listings; after meeting with six brokers and visiting dozens of boats; we have a new boat.

It was hard to consistently convince brokers and folks we met that we didn’t want the typical Mediterranean type of sailboat: A Beneteau, Jeanneau or Bavaria. People here love those boats with their large cockpits, spacious cabins and light weights. But they just aren’t built robustly enough for bluewater cruising.

A Bavaria "Cruiser 36" straight from their website. Wow, I didn't think it would that easy to find an example of how ugly her lines are.

When we insisted on a bluewater boat, the Med sailors immediately blurted: Halberg Rassy. To be sure, they are fine boats. We visited one. They are heavy and well-built with lots of solid teak inside. But topsides, they look more like your standard Chlorax bottle than a traditional boats.

When we insisted that we want a traditional-looking boat, the Med sailors immediately blurted: “Oh you mean a Colin Archer type.”

In Europe, any boat that is fat, heavy and double-ended (like the Hans Christian) is called a “Colin Archer type.” Most often, when someone asked us what kind of boat we once had, we got a blank stare when we answered, “Hans Christian.” Eventually, we learned to add, “A Colin Archer type.” Eyes would brighten, heads would nod, and acknowledgment would ensue. “Oh sure, sure. A Colin Archer type.”

Here's a beautiful Colin Archer design. Heavy, double-ended, and this one with a stately pilothouse.

I know I’m using a broad brush right now and painting all “Med sailors” as parochial. But underlying my fun is a more interesting phenomena: that each region of the world has its preference not just for traditional types of boats, but even more modern designs.

Jennifer and I, for instance, had no idea that bluewater boats just are not favored and hard to find here in the Mediterranean. Who would have thought? Nor did I know a darn thing about the most common cruising boat here in Turkey: the gulet.

A Turkish gulet can range in size from 20 feet to over 100. The smaller ones (above) are the old traditional ones. The larger ones (below) are fancy bastardized versions made to accommodate as many staterooms as possible and offer an elegant and romantic way to experience the Aegean islands. 

When I offered to write an article about it for an American sailing magazine, the editors wrote back to say they would have to research what kind of boat that was. Admittedly, the magazine focused on the traditional American sailboats, but still, it points out how different styles, tastes and designs are all around the world.

Who among us, who know what a junk is, doesn’t remember learning of this odd boat and even odder name which still forces us to stifle a snicker every time we talk about one?

Quite a nice photo of a Chinese Junk. The sails are often this shade of color.

During our search, some of the common names we narrowed in on were: Tayana, Westsail, Slocum, other Hans Christians, Formosa, Cheoy Lee, Bruce Roberts, Taiwan Clipper, Vagabond, Ta Chiao.

We toured several Nauticats, which are pilothouse boats. We didn’t like that the pilothouse itself took up so much space without offering well-design usage in return. It was just a lot of wasted space.

A Lord Nelson presented as a viable candidate for a while. And so did a Polaris. Both are quite similar in weight, style and structure to the Hans Christians.

We had a few basic criteria for a boat:

1)  It had to have a large galley. Preferably u-shaped. The worst galleys were what we called “alley galleys;” the ones in a narrow hallway leading back to an aft stateroom.

2)  It had to have an accessible engine. Having drifted in the Hudson River replacing fuel filters and wallowed in shipping lanes while replacing an alternator belt, I have a well-founded preference for quick access to the engine.

3)  The boat had to look traditional. This generally meant that we preferred teak decks to fiberglass ones. We preferred metal cowls to plastic. Reverse transoms were out. Double-enders were in. Bowsprits made up for other ills.

4)  The masterberth had to have a backrest. Jennifer and I enjoy sitting up in bed, reading or doing the crossword, or sharing the laptop between us to watch a movie.

The last criterion was the most difficult to satisfy. In fact, it was so difficult to find a masterberth with a backrest that about 98% of the boats were knocked out of the running from the get-go.

Mathias sleeping in the pullman berth of our former Hans Christian 33. Note crossword. Note perfectly placed reading lamps. Note the sweet pouch hanger which Jennifer made. Note our Ugly Dolls. In shot below, you can see the curtains Jennifer made for the berth.

This is stunning to me. I suppose if we had never had the luxury of the Hans Christian’s roomy pullman berth, we never would have known – and come to love – the benefits of its design. But now that we have lain in the lap of indulgence, we never again want to suffer the awkwardness and claustrophobia of v-berths, dark quarterberths, low-overhead aft staterooms.

Allow me a short tirade on the v-berth. It is a hold-over from the days of yore when cruising was new and all. Sailboats were for sailors and comfort was for wimps. Heads? Nonsense! Buckets were used. So, when berths had to be designed in, they squeezed them into the last undesigned space. But why design boats that way today? It leaves your head laying at an edge. You loose your pillow in the night. Your feet are entangled with your partner's. And the worst: you have to crawl over your clean bed to get to the dirty anchor chain locker. Ok, enough.

There is a Tayana design with a pullman berth, but in order to accommodate it, a quarterberth is sacrificed. We visited two schooners by the designer Daniel Bombigher, which I absolutely fell in love with. The Shpountz had a pullman-style berth, but unfortunately a tiny galley and it lacked decent storage. It was another case, where Jennifer and I had diametrically opposed feelings about the boat. But our feeling is that when it comes to living aboard, each spouse has veto rights.

Us aboard a Daniel Bombigher designed Shpountz, a gorgeous schooner. Men, buy one before you meet your wife. (Jennifer just read this caption and said, "You're already one up by having bought a boat before you met me. Don't get greedy.")
The only other boats we found with a pullman berth, a good galley, accessible motor, and a traditional look were ... quelle surprise: Hans Christians. The HC pilothouses have pullmans, but the 39 Pilothouse’s motor is below the floorboards. The 44 Pilothouse has a cramped aft stateroom and ridiculous aft helmstation from which you can’t see forward. One of the HC38 layouts has a pullman, but the galley is needlessly chopped up (to provide a second access to the salon bench.)

That leaves only the HC41, Molokai edition, and the HC33. We might have considered a 41, but we were spared the agony of deciding on this more expensive boat because none were available on the Atlantic. And that left us with the HC33. What is amazing about the 33 over the 41, is that it offers just about all the 41 does in less space. Except for the workshop. (Sigh.)

It has been a long, winding road to come back home. Cue Beatles. Mash in metaphors from The Wizard of Oz. Reference the Odyssey.

The 33 is the most intelligently designed cruising boat. Period. In 33 feet, you get a separate shower; two enclosed berths: a queen-sized master and double-sized quarter; u-shaped galley; a salon that can host a dinner for eight; nav station; and since the tanks are built into the keel, as much storage room than larger boats.

In Essex, MD, lies a HC33 by the name of Starlight. Last week, we put a deposit on her. In three days, we will pack up our belongings, leave behind this wonderful old stone house by the Mediterranean, and fly to Essex to begin fitting her out for our continued adventure.

We are excited to have a new boat. Frustrated about spending money we already spent on equipment and belongings we lost in the fire. We are nervous and anxious about the stress of working side by side, fitting her out, while living in a hotel room for weeks. We are happy to use this opportunity to visit with friends we haven’t seen in a long time. We are sad to be leaving behind friends we made here in Turkey. We are fulfilled by having gotten to spend the winter in this seaside ancient Mediterranean town. We are looking forward to visiting islands in the Aegean. And beyond.

Starlight, a Hans Christian 33. She lies Essex, MD, awaiting us.


judymac said...

she's a pretty boat....does this boat have the same designer as Dolphins? I wish you good winds sunny blue skies for sailing the Med?.....will you keep her name?

Barbara Costa said...

Very exciting! Not a soul can say you rushed into this! I'm in awe of your exhaustive research and that you stuck with what was important to you. So now tell us when you'll be in the Boston area, please!

Joel Gardner said...

Seeing the x Starlight, I would actually vote you keep her beautiful cream white hull. I know you want to make her yours, so reChristen her and call it a day. (And yes, I'm spelling it that way to call attention to the fact that it is superstition that changing a boat's name is bad luck; you already had yours!)

Uh, point of politeness: the people on the Bavaria 36 don't know their boat has ... unfortunate lines. In fact, they're enjoying a beautiful sail, even if for a brochure.

Wonderful news about the new boat.