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How To Choose A Sailboat For Living Aboard
Thinking of living on a sailboat and cruising full time? Here are some things to consider when choosing a sailboat for live aboard sailing. My wife and I cruised for over three years on our own sloop in the Caribbean and here are some of the things we learned from the experience.
Choosing a Cruising Sailboat, Catamaran Or Monohull?
There are advantages of both types of boats for liveaboard's. First, a catamaran is more stable and offers easier access to the water than most monohulls. Catamarans are smoother to sail and you can actually sit at the galley table and dine in moderately choppy seas. There is the issue of "turtleing" or flipping over in very rough seas to think about. While this is a remote possibility it has occurred in very rough seas. Catamarans do not typically sail to windward as well as a monohull. A catamaran is also more expensive to berth in marinas. Fees for slip rental are usually about twice as much as for a monohull of the same length. Expenses and upkeep are for some a major factor when planning to live aboard a cruising sailboat.
One big advantage that catamarans have in cruising waters like the Bahamas is that with their shallow draft they are able to enter areas that deeper draft monohulls cannot. Much of the area east of Andros Island is off limits to sailboats with a draft of four feet or more but cat owners can sail into anchorages or make passages there. Catamarans can also typically sail faster than a monohull of the same length, making for shorter passages. Some have argued that the speed of which a passage can be made and getting out of the path of an oncoming storm faster, outweigh any possible dangers of capsizing and make for an overall safer cruising sailboat.
Many catamarans use a gasoline outboard engine for auxiliary propulsion. With the advent of new four stroke engines your fuel usage should be comparable to a diesel auxiliary. Gasoline does not store as well in the tropics however as it tends to evaporate and get gummy in above board tanks sitting in the sun after a few weeks. Outside of the U.S. and the Caribbean gasoline can be harder to obtain in marinas than diesel, which is used by commercial vessels. All of this aside there have been many circumnavigations made safely in catamarans and many happy catamaran live aboard cruisers. Catamarans are typically more expensive than monohull sailboats.
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Choosing A Cruising Sailboat: Monohull Advantages
Many cruisers prefer sloop or ketch rigged monohulls with a deep keel. A deep keel gives a more stable motion in deep seas and is safer for rough water sailing. Deep keels however can restrict you from many anchorages in the Caribbean, especially the Bahamas. Many Caribbean sailors choose a happy medium between deep and shallow draft. Monohull sailboats such as sloop rigged vessels are cheaper to buy used than catamarans and may be slightly cheaper to maintain than a catamaran. Monohull cruising sailboats can sail to windward better than most catamarans. Large beamed vessels, such as the Morgan Out Island, are an exception to the rule.
Marina fees are usually lower for monohull cruising sailboats.
Not all monohulls and catamarans are made or rigged for offshore sailing. Lightly rigged sailboats which are considered "coastal cruisers" such as some smaller models of Catalina, Hunter, Benetau and other models, should not be considered for serious blue water sailing. Lightly rigged racing sailboats are generally not rigged heavily enough, or of sufficient weight to be suitable for long offshore passages.
Onboard Options For Live Aboard Cruising
Whichever type of cruising sailboat you choose you will need to determine what kind of options you can afford to make cruising more comfortable. Refrigeration is something that some cruising sailors choose to forego because of the large expense of solar panels. wind generators and batteries needed to power marine refrigeration units. Plan on spending as much as $10,000 for a fridge plus solar panels, batteries and a wind generator to feed it. Another luxury that can make living aboard a sailboat easier is a water maker. Desalinization units can be quite expensive and require even more power to operate. Many cruisers opt instead for larger fresh water holding tanks, catchment devices and conservation. Before spending your "cruising kitty" on luxuries you should have all of the safety and navigation gear you need. You need charts, primary and backup GPS units, life slings, mast steps, extra sails, storm sails, radar reflectors, a good life raft, first aid kits, RADAR, an autopilot system and all of the spares, flares and extras you can carry.
Ultimately choosing a cruising sailboat can be a challenge and what you pick depends on a number of factors including the size of your crew, waters you plan to sail in and your budget and sailing preferences.
For a good book about living aboard a sailboat I recommend "All In The Same Boat" and "The Essentials Of Living Aboard A Boat"
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