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An Interesting and Affordable Cruising Boat Choice

Posted by on November 25, 2009

An email that arrived the same day as the one from the “What is a Cruiser’s Residence?” tip made me cut out this excerpt from the brand new 3rd edition of Capable Cruiser which has just arrived from the printer. It is from the chapter called “First Time Voyagers: What did they worry about that never happened?”

An Interesting and Affordable Cruising Boat for First-Time Voyagers

“I want to go cruising now, don’t have a lot of money. What secondhand boats should I be looking at?” This is definitely in the top-10 list of questions potential voyagers ask us. During our 2008 voyage-diagonally across the Pacific from Ventura, California, to New Zealand-we stopped in only two places were other yachtsmen gathered. But the array of cruising yachts we saw there made for an interesting study. Yes, there were a lot of recently built boats in the 40- to 50-foot range with price tags ranging upward from $300,000. We also saw five catamarans, mostly very new ones in the 45- to 55-foot range. But liberally scattered among the fleet of 40 boats that came through the marina in Apia during our three-week stay, and the 80-plus boats we saw in Neiafu, Tonga, where we spent another month, were affordable secondhand cruisers ranging from a very modest 20-footer through the 26- to 40-foot range.

What is affordable? Three young people were earning their way as they cruised in an Alberg 30 they had bought for $22,000. One soon-to-be-married couple had set sail in a 25-year-old Mariner 32 they had purchased “ready to cruise, windvane and watermaker included,” for $40,000. Among the sailors we interviewed were four with affordable secondhand boats: a Cal 40 bought six years earlier for $40,000, a Rhodes Bounty II purchased for $68,000, a Catalina 36 that cost the owners $75,000, and an S&S-designed Yankee 38 that seemed a true bargain at $35,000.

As mentioned above, every respondent told of spending 25 to 35 percent of the boat’s purchase price to make it ready for a voyage across the Pacific. The affordable-boat-fleet owners tended to be closer to 35 percent. Were they as happy with their boats as those who had spent far more money for newer boats? It may just have been our impression, but they seemed to be more content with their choice (i.e., not yet looking toward “the next boat”), more carefree, and less concerned about money. More of the sailors in this group went out to join the local fun races in Neiafu. All definitely had lower expenses, far lower insurance premiums. In fact, three of these couples had chosen not to sell their homes and put the majority of their resources into a boat. Thus, since their boats represented only a limited portion of their assets, they did not feel they had to carry insurance for crossing oceans.

So now we’ll stick our necks out and answer the question: Which boat would we look at if we were in the market for a secondhand ocean cruiser? We definitely did see one among that 2008 fleet that would serve our purpose if we were looking for a cruising boat right now. It was the Yankee 38. Why? It has the pedigree of a good team of designers known for making sure the boat and its rig are strong. It is designed to go to windward well, to heave-to using a deeply reefed mainsail alone. It is modest in all its proportions-i.e., no long overhangs, a good long keel section (sure, we would prefer a full-length keel with keel-hung rudder, but compromises must be made). It has a hefty ballast-to-displacement ratio. It also sports a big spread of canvas with sufficient mast height and J measurement to carry generous light wind sails. And, at 15,500 pounds, it is a nice size and displacement for a couple to handle easily. Finally, a lot of these boats were built,1 so not only did the builders get the bugs worked out, there should be a reasonable choice available on the secondhand market. The usual caveats apply. We wouldn’t limit our search to only Yankee 38s or Catalina 38s but would look for others that could meet the same criteria. In fact, the Tartan 38 and Hughes 38 come from the same designer and period and have almost the same dimensions, so we would include them in our search. But, more important, we’d demand that a very careful survey be done by a surveyor who does not know the previous owner or the broker who is handling the sale of any yacht we were interested in buying.2

click for a larger image

A boat we would definitely put on our list if we were shopping for a fast, dependable and affordable cruiser.
1. Yankee Yachts in Southern California built 33 of these exactly to the S&S design. Catalina Yachts then bought the molds and built an additional 366, with some modifications to the rudder and mainsail design.

2. For more on buying secondhand boats, see our book The Cost-Conscious Cruiser.

14 Responses to An Interesting and Affordable Cruising Boat Choice

  1. davidereed


    I see you like the Yankee 38 for cruising and have a picture of her above. You like several other boats, and I would like to know what you think of mine for cruising. She’s an Ericson 35, vintage 1978. She’s in good shape and I think as solid as a rock. I’m sure you know the boat, but a profile and specs are also shown at

    Thoughts, advice?


  2. chezr

    Any thoughts on a Farr 1020.. she was built in NZ – typically a racing/cruising yacht.
    We have installed a bimini, furling headsail with lazy jacks for the main.



  3. Emmet Wolfe

    The favorable comments on the Catalina 38/Yankee 38 are spot on. I own a 1986 Cat 38 and can attest to its sound construction and excellent sailing characteristics. The hull was designed to compete under the International Offshore Rule. This resulted in a tall “blade” mainsail, a well-tapered stern, and pronounced tumblehome. It is a sleek boat with a “yachty” look which people notice. It has excellent helm balance. It also has a big comfortable cockpit. The Cat 38 was used as the one-design boat for the annual Congressional Cup races in the 80’s and 90’s. Lighter boats are more popular for racing these days, so the 16000 lb Cat 38 is finding more popularity as a cruiser. Keel draft is a little deep for some areas but up here in the Northwest it makes a great cruising boat. We sail out of Port Townsend, WA. Lin and Larry – come on back to the Wooden Boat Festival again!

  4. Lin & Larry

    Interestingly, we were asked to deliver the very first Ericson 35 built after she raced from Los Angeles to La Paz. She won the race hands down. The builders team then offered to deliver her for free. So we delivered a Cal 40 instead. Still wish we could have sailed the Ericson as we heard she went to windward wonderfully.

    As for other boats mentioned, the very best boat for cruising is the one you own free and clear. None is perfect, our comments about the Yankee reflect only a starting point and an amazingly affordable boat for what you get.

    Take a look at our Cost Conscious Cruiser where we tell how one couple took a stock Cataline 30 and upgraded it then did some amazing cruising. But they did upgrade it and increase the rigging sizes and improved the chainplates etc.

    Not sure when next we will visit the Wooden Boat Festival, pretty busy with interesting plans here in the South Pacific. But Port Townsend has given us from very fine times in the past.


    • Mark

      Can I ask your opinion on a Catalina 34? I have a 1987 Catalina 34 Mk1, keel stepped mast. We have her in San Diego as a family cruising boat. I have been steadily improving her, recently adding a below decks autopilot. How would you feel about her as an offshore cruiser?
      My thoughts:
      I can increase water tankage.
      I can purchase a para anchor system.
      I need a trysail track and equipment.
      Do I need to intall an inner forestay for a storm jib or would a “gale sail” on the forestay suffice (too far forward?)
      We love the boat but I wonder how far to go in making her “blue water ready” – or whether if we decide to go crusing offshore we need to buy another boat?
      Opinions welcome!

  5. Daven

    Interesting that your choices were all in the 38′ range given that your two previous boats were both much smaller. My choices seem to be falling in the 30′ to 35′ range with the eye toward the same qualities ie. modest in all its proportions, no long overhangs, a good long keel section, and a hefty ballast-to-displacement ratio oh, and she has to steal your heart. Any comments or ideas. Incidentally I had the pleasure of visiting with you guys aboard Talesin at the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival a few years back, what a beautiful and well built boat.


  6. Lin & Larry

    Dave, we agree with you on size, but many folks would not feel they could go in a boat as small as we enjoy. We could enjoy the S and S 30 for ourselves. One good thing about the 38 is that thye are available at quite reasonable prices and many we have seen have been in quite sound condition.

    Thanks for your kind words. We still love Taleisin and are getting her ready for the Easter Regatta and a nice bit of cruising after that (to some of the more isolated coastlines to the south of us – not too far south though.)


  7. Tim Stinker

    Good day Larry & Lin
    Thinking about crusing home to Cairns Qld From Boston via Fetla in Shetland Ils(to see fmaily) and the Middle East.
    Have a 72 Irwin 32.5’Ketch in good sea going order.
    Q:Do you have any suggestions and comments.
    Thanks Tim T.

  8. shipscarver

    I am preparing my Cape Dory 27 to Puddle Jump. Any essential modifications (other than water storage and glassing the hull/deck joint)?

  9. Robbie Johnson

    Ahoy, Larry & Lin:

    I lived aboard and chartered in the San Blas Islands of Panama, the Panama Canal (Cristobal/Colon) and Costa Rica for 14 years. Best years of my life! What a fabulous place to hang out in a sailboat!

    During my stay, early 1970s through 1985, I met hundreds of cruisers transiting the Canal, and served as a line handler with more of them than I can count, including Eric and Susan Hiscock on their new steel Wanderer.

    The Canal is a great place to see what kinds of boats are making long-distance voyages and bearing up to the rigors of the sea. I saw more Tahiti Ketches transit than any other single design. And I will bet that you have seen many of them during your decades of round-the-world cruising. It’s definitely a boat design to be considered when contemplating long-distance voyaging on a tight budget.

    Designed by John Hanna of Dunedin, Florida (USA) in 1929, that 30-foot legendary wooden sailboat has few peers when it comes to total miles sailed! And many of those that passed through the Canal had no engine, just like Seraffyn and Taleisin.

    The Tahiti Ketch owners that I met were of every kind and nationality you could imagine. And for the most part, the owners built them themselves. They were a frugal lot, and salty as could be! French, German, Swedes, English, Norwegian, NewZealanders, Australians, and even a female Polish sailor, passed through the Canal with their Tahiti Ketches on their way to South Pacific adventures.

    I saw a sound, well-equipped Tahiti Ketch for sale in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands last year at an asking price of just $25,000! It is estimated that somewhere between three and four thousand of them were built all over the world. Never a production boat (all of this was before fiberglass), each was hand-built.

    I currently live aboard a steel version of Hanna’s Tahiti Ketch. Welded steel hull, steel decks, and steel hatches! Dry as a bone down below in the nastiest of weather. Simplicity itself: Gaff-rigged and not a single winch for halyards or sheets. Manual windlass for ground tackle, an Aries Wind Vane for steering. Comfortable as an old shoe! In a stiff breeze and large seas when others are becoming anxious, I’m down below having a cup of hot chocolate. She sets 695 square feet of sail including the gaff topsail. Not bad for a single-handing pocket cruiser, eh?

    Do you have any Tahiti Ketch owners in your family of sailing friends?

    Fair winds to you both,


    • Dana

      I’m glad to read your comments on the TK Robbie. I am about 2 months away from leaving California on a TK called Melita built by my dad in the mid 70s. The only negative things I’ve heard about Tahitis seem to come from people who don’ thave one and have never gone cruising in one. Slow is not a big concern for me but seaworthy, strong and able to take just about anything are more important criteria – as well as comfort. I am very much looking forward to setting off on my trip from California bound for Malta – the planning has been about 1.5 years in the making and finally I’m getting close. I hope to see other TKs along the way and perhaps even yourself.


  10. georgecferguson

    I have just as much of a desire to build my own wooden sail boat as I do to go cruising in it. Being able to transport the boat as well as sail it in the U.S. coastal waters, lakes, and rivers, and the Carribean is important. My wood working skills are above average but I’ve never done much sailing.

    The Maid of Endor by John Atkin is the boat I’ve selected to build for myself. Do you think I have made a good choice?

  11. mrostron

    Just to add my 2 cents worth…Considering FRP production boats: I like the Alberg designs. These boats are proven and sometimes available cheaply – especially on the East coast. My 1970 Alberg 37 is capable and has many great sailing attributes. Many of them have traveled the world. The Alberg 30 is well-proven, and the Cape Horn wind vane was designed by a Canadian who sailed his Alberg 30, Jean-Du-Sud, around the world single-handed.
    Here are a couple of relevant web sites:

  12. KoreyR21

    I’m 23 years old and extremely motivated to cruise early in life. My intention is to build my own wooden boat in the Falmouth cutter style together with my girlfriend. I would like to start walking the path to acquire the ability to build a beautiful boat like yours… Any advice on how to shape that path might be life changing for us:)

    I came to the conclusion early in my short sailing adventures that i hated engines and felt wrong sailing a boat that i only had to buy with money earned from unrelated work. AND THEN I FOUND LIN & LARRY. I’m inspired enough said

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