Bluewater vs Production Part 1: What’s All The Fuss About?

“You need to think about whether you want a bluewater or production boat.”

It was July and I had just biked from Fremont to Shilshole during my lunch break and was sitting in a yacht broker’s office for the first time. I had decided it was time to buy my first boat, and had been eyeing YachtWorld (the Redfin of the boat market) for close to 6 months. I was sweating profusely from the bike ride over in the hot sun.

I had never heard these terms – bluewater and production – “aren’t all boats production since they were produced at some point?” I thought. I want both bluewater and production I thought – a boat that was produced to go to blue waters would be nice!

The broker talked for the next 15 minutes about attributes of bluewater boats – smaller cockpits, stronger build qualities, access to the hull without a liner in the way, skeg protected rudders.

By now I was a bit crestfallen because the boats he was talking about represent a very small percentage of boats – this narrowed my field quite a lot.

On my bike ride back to work I had a lot to think about. How would I identify bluewater boats, and would it be tough to find one in good condition in Seattle? And did I really need a bluewater boat to go offshore someday?

Over the next few months I redoubled my research efforts – reading dozens of blogs, a couple more books, and hundreds of cruisersforum.com threads.

Bluewater Boats

Quickly I found that bluewater boats *were* a thing, and several websites and books recommended them:

Bluewater boats are considered, by most people, to be the more strongly built traditional designs, usually custom built or built by hand in small numbers (this is what differentiates them from production).

A Hans Christian 38

Hans Christian 38, a classic bluewater boat

These boats are like a military Humvee – there aren’t many of them on the roads, they could roll right through a flood or hurricane and be mostly fine, and it’s going to be more difficult to park it. Production boats are like a new model Honda Civic or Prius – they’re cheaper, get good gas mileage, have all the latest technology, and there’s plenty to choose from.

But some people I talked to said traditional bluewater cruisers aren’t necessary to go offshore. That you could do so in a J/35C, Tartan 3400, or Beneteau First. There were those like “How We Got to Hunter”  that said even the most maligned production boats (on sailing forums) were suitable.

A Beneteau Oceanis 34

Beneteau Oceanis 34, a production coastal cruiser

When I asked one broker about windvanes (wind powered self-steering) and mentioned books I read saying they were an absolute necessity, the broker laughed. “I think the only people who have time to write sailing books must be those who haven’t owned a modern boat in a while,” he said. I take a grain of salt with any broker’s opinion, but what he said seemed to make some sense.

Seeds of doubt were sowed.

At this point I found this all extremely confusing. To an engineer, it makes no sense that some people were telling me one thing, and others were saying the exact opposite.

So far in my boat search I had looked at mostly classic bluewater designs – Bristol 35.5, Pacific Seacraft 34, Tartan 37, Passport 37. All of these had been disappointing though – either they were 2x – 4x the price of other boats their size+age, or they were rundown in terrible shape, or their design just felt old – like using a rotary telephone instead of a touchpad.

I went back to the drawing board and reconsidered the parameters of my search. To be continued in Part 2

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