Wednesday, July 23, 2008


We're boat shopping --again. When we bought Isabella in 2003, we thought she was going to be our cruising boat. But then we made the list of things Isabella needed before we could launch. Holy cow, the list was longer than my arm and more expensive than our house (not really, but truly $50K++). Besides, once we sell the store, I'm not that interested in working my ass off in a boatyard for 8-10 months.

The decision to get another boat was liberating, but since we accepted the possibility that we needed to change boats, the options got wider and wider, or more accurately, longer. We slept on Isabella for several nights to visualize living aboard. There are so many other factors that rob you of rest on a boat -- motion, storms, worrying about your anchor, strange sounds, night passages, wind shifts -- comfort is right up there on the priority list with buoyancy. When you're in bed and the conditions allow, you damn well want to be sleeping, not banging shoulders and twangling feet, no matter how romantic that might be on a weekend sail.

Six years ago when we bought Isabella, we limited ourselves to boats 35' and smaller. We feel that both of us have to be physically able to single hand our boat. Even minor factors -- like seasickness or a sprained wrist -- could take half our crew of two out of rotation. So I, being the weaker party, have to be able to handle the boat alone. When I've sailed boats over 35' , the scale of operations jumps just out of my confidence zone. Imagine going from driving an RV to a small semi truck. While you might manage the big rig fine under normal conditions, you have that nervous feeling that if anything goes south, you're out of your league.

For similar reasons we opted for a cutter rig.

A quick sailboat rig primer: A cutter has a single mast but three sails. All sailboats have a mainsail, the one behind the mast that swings back and forth on the boom, and a jib, which is in front of the mast and extends from the bow and up to meet the main at the top of the mast. From the side, it looks like a triangle cut in half vertically. A cutter has an additional small sail "cutting" between the main and the jib, in front of the mast and behind the jib.

Because of that extra sail area added by the staysail, a cutter mast is usually shorter and each sail is consequently smaller. The science of that means more "gears" or power options and easier handling for me, because a smaller sail filled with wind is less powerful. Imagine flying a kite. Fun. Now imagine flying a kite the size of a house. Exciting but dangerous. A few square feet of sail can add a crazy amount of load to equipment, lines and the people operating them. Frankly, huge sails and the load they create in heavy winds, scare the hooey out of me.

More on our shopping and boat philosophy later. For now, Isabella needs some sanding and varnishing sigh.

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