Continued from Part 1.
The problem with the Bluewater vs Production dilemma is that most boats now-a-days are production boats – built in large quantity with standardized assembly methods because that’s what lowers costs and makes the most affordable boats (which is what most buyers are seeking). So if you want to look for a true bluewater cruiser, you’re limited to looking at the 1%, or at most 10%, of the market.
Most of them were built in the 80’s and 70’s. Which raises the question – if there’s still a demand for bluewater boats, why are they no longer being built?? Something does not add up here.
At this point I did some data gathering – Yachtworld searches for boats in each decade, sorted by brand and price. What I found was pretty interesting – there were lots of boats from the 80’s, a sizeable number from the 70’s, surprisingly few from the 90’s, and all the boats from the 2000’s (<14 years old) were quite expensive.
Another finding was that as the decades went up, the brands became predominately production models – the 90’s listings had *lots* of Catalinas, Hunters, Beneteaus, Jeanneaus and almost no models generally considered bluewater. However plenty of listings for production boats proclaimed themselves bluewater or offshore worthy – but I took this as more of a marketing ploy since bluewater has become a buzzword.
Why are there so few bluewater boats built in the last 20 years?
One possibility was that all the people who own bluewater boats built in the 90’s or 2000s are holding on to them and not selling, because they like them so much or are afraid they couldn’t find a better one. The other possibility, which I already mentioned, was that no one wanted bluewater boats any more – this didn’t seem plausible though given how many people are inquiring about them. The 3rd possibility was that maybe today’s modern production boats *are* bluewater boats. Maybe technology and materials engineering have advanced enough that modern techniques have made the techniques used in 70’s and 80’s bluewater boats obsolete and unnecessary!
What does the Internet have to say?
Next I turned to sailing Internet forums – the residency of experts, trolls, and armchair sailors alike. This topic had been debated many times:
- Sailnet – Production Boats and the Limits
- Cruisersforum – What makes a boat “Bluewater” capable?
- You Can’t Have Your Offshore Sailboat Cake and Eat It Too
- Sailnet – What makes a boat “Blue water” worthy
- CruisersForum – Are there any affordable bluewater boats built in the 90s?
Many of these threads never reached a conclusion and devolved into pissing matches over who had the more authoritative experience on full skeg rudders or some such. The one consistent thread was everyone said it’s more about the sailor + crew experience than the boat. But this was an empty platitude – it may be true, but it has nothing to do with picking the right boat.
Sure, a pro race car driver probably *could* drive a Toyota Corolla like a pro around a track, but would he *choose* that car for a 500 lap marathon?
Multi-million dollar racing boats like those used in the Volvo Ocean Race have features that are the polar opposite of most “bluewater” features, but they’re obviously sailed offshore. Yet most people would not choose to sail them across oceans without a full-time crew of very well experienced sailors.
A few people said something that kept nagging at the back of my mind –
If production boats aren’t bluewater worthy, then how did so many of them get to bluewater islands in the middle of the ocean?
What are people actually sailing to bluewaters in?
The truth is: the proof is in the pudding. Thousands of production boats per year are sailing across oceans to destinations like the South Pacific, Caribbean, Azores, Canary Islands, etc. They certainly weren’t flown in or shipped in. They were sailed there, usually by their owners and not a delivery crew.
One needs only look at roster lists for cruises like the the Baja Haha. Lots of production boats do that. Interestingly, if you look at cross-ocean races like the TransPac, you often find more racer boats which are *less* seaworthy than even the bluewater-worthy production boats that some people disparage.
In the end, my conclusion was it helps to know the features that matter for offshore voyaging, but finding a middle ground in well built production boats would provide the best value for the money.
Great article Patrick! As a matter of full disclosure, I have been a yacht broker since 1987 selling mostly offshore sailboats and been sailing since 1962. Fiberglass boat manufacturing was revolutionized by resin infused molding due to OSHA requirements to contain “off-gassing fumes” during curing that is a real health hazard for the workers.
This turned out to be a game changer for fiberglass boat construction reducing: weight, labor, materials, the caveat was tooling costs are much higher so multiple quantities of each model are necessary to offset the tooling costs. One other point is very few boats are built during recessions so you will see few boats build from 1990 – 1994 and 2008 – 2012.
I recently came upon passage data from the 2016 Pacific Puddle Jump, on the last page here: http://www.pacificpuddlejump.com/articles/16PPJRecap.pdf
A lot of very interesting data in it. The engine hours column in particular – there’s a huge divergence between boats that motored a ton (100+ hours, about 600 – 1000 miles) and boats that motored relatively little ( < 40 hours). Most of the boats that motored 100+ hours are on bluewater boat lists. Catamarans and performance boats (ex, the J/46) had some of the lowest motoring hours.
Also interesting is the "breakages" column – lots of failures in critical systems, mostly sail handling and engine.