Category Archives: boat buying

Bluewater vs Production Part 2: What are People Really Doing?

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.

Yachtworld Sleuthing

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.

10-20 year old 32-39' boats on the market in WA (25 as of 1/8/15)

10-20 year old 32-39′ boats on the market in WA (25 as of 1/8/15)

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:

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.

Volvo Ocean Race boat.

Volvo Ocean Race boat. Photo:

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.

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 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