Buying a sailboat to sail the world in

a sailboat in a pretty bay at sunset
BUYING A SAILBOAT TO SAIL THE WORLD IN

Before we started the process of buying a sailboat to sail the world in we had no idea what to do or how to go about finding out, so we’ve put our sailboat purchase experience into an easy summary for those of you thinking of doing the same.

Budget

Sorry, I didn’t want to mention it but it is kind of important. Whatever your budget stretches to, knock around 10% of that off and that’s your real budget. The great thing about buying a sailboat to sail the world in is that there really is something in every budget. You may have to compromise on size, or go for something older that you may have to do some work on, but you will find something.

There is a sweet spot somewhere, not that I think we found it. You want to spend as much as you can on a sailboat while still having money left over for all the work that you will need to do on it. There is no such thing (unless you’re super, super lucky) as a ‘good deal’. Boats tend to be priced fairly. Cheaper boats may seem like an excellent deal until the survey shows they need the engine replacing, or the rigging re-doing. Accept that you will need to have work done and set money aside for it. And don’t be fooled into thinking that newer boats will be any less work. We have met people that have bought brand new boats only to be footing the bill for expensive repairs a month later. Boats are complicated and things will always fail. Make sure you have money to deal with it when it happens to you.

What do you want to use your sailboat for?

Is your dream to circumnavigate slowly, taking in everything you see, or do you dream of breaking world speed records and getting round as quickly as possible? Where do you imagine your main sailing grounds will be? Sailing in the Mediterranean for example will be a very different experience to sailing in the UK, or the Caribbean. Will you be living on your sailboat full time or will it be a holiday home? How many people do you plan on sailing with? Visitors don’t matter so much, but you will want enough space for all permanent or semi-permanent liveaboards!

Before you even start looking for that perfect boat try and write down these priorities. They will probably change through the process, but having a clear idea of what you want from your adventure will help narrow down your search and make sure you find the right sailboat for your needs. The sailboat we bought turned out to be nothing like the one we had thought we wanted. Through the process we realised that we needed something that was a home as well as a boat. At the beginning we thought we could live in anything as long as it was safe, but we would have been miserable living in something we hadn’t fallen in love with. Not all of your decisions have to be practical ones, this is your dream and dreams should be fun!

Hull Material

We could write a whole post just on this, in fact maybe we will! There are several main contenders here, we’ll have a look at two of the most popular-steel or fibreglass. But you may also want to consider wood, aluminium or ferrocement. All have their pros and cons and none should be ruled out until you have considered what it is you want from buying a sailboat.

Steel

We owned a steel boat in the UK. It was so strong that we would have had no concerns at all about collisions with rogue shipping containers or harbour walls. We loved the idea of a boat that was tough and we had experience of the maintenance and upkeep required of a steel hull. We also would have felt safer in thunderstorms.

A steel hull sailboat
STEEL HULLS ARE STRONGER

That being said, steel boats are heavy (and therefore usually slow) and they aren’t much fun to maintain in salt water. Be prepared for lots of angle grinding and many coats of paints to keep it from rusting. If you plan on your main cruising areas being hot ones then bare in mind that you will be living in a metal container. Steel gets very hot!

Fibreglass

There are different types of fibreglass hull, so again do a little reading! Production yachts such as Benetaus and Jeaneus tend to be lighter in construction, making them faster but also more fragile. That’s not to say they can’t cross oceans, but for us the decision to go for something heavier has given peace of mind when thinking of the unavoidable debris in the ocean. Blue water cruisers tend to be heavier laid, making them slower but tougher.

a sailboat at anchor
FIBREGLASS HULL

We thought we wanted steel but changed our minds after seeing how tough some fibreglass constructions are. We feel that we found the best of both worlds in our heavy laid GRP hull and are really pleased with our decision.

Which keel to choose

You’re probably starting to get the picture by now-there is no right answer. There are many different keels to choose from, all with their own benefits and negatives. I’ve only listed some of the more commonly found, but you will find a huge array of different keels. Choose what you think is right for you when buying your sailboat to sail the world in.

Shallow draft keel
SHALLOW DRAFT KEEL

Full keel

Full keel boats are generally considered better for ocean sailing (though for every argument claiming this you will find a million counter-arguments, so believe what you like!) Full keel boats are the most comfortable, and the rudder is fully protected. They are stable in heavy conditions and generally heave to well. But they are also slow and have hardly any control going astern.

Fin with spade rudder

There are the most common modern option, usually found on lighter displacement boats. They are generally faster with lighter steering, and steer well in astern but they can be harder to control in heavy weather. What put us off them is how much more fragile they seemed compared to boats with full keels. The rudder has no protection either.

Fin with skeg rudder

These are similar to the above but the skeg provides better support for the rudder, meaning less chance of damage. They can also be slightly slower and the steering slightly heavier.

More for thought

The other thing you may want to check is whether the boat you are looking at has a bolted on keel. We tried to steer clear of these as we hated the idea of that extra maintenance of something so critically important, but obviously if you check them carefully and often there is no reason why they should ever fail.

Our Kadey Krogen 38 has a very shallow full keel with two lifting boards. We have never come across another boat like it, showing how many different designs there really are! Again, she comes with benefits and compromises. We rarely have to worry about depth and have been able to go places that no other sailboats can. The prop and rudder are still well protected. She can also heave-to nicely. However if the boards and sails aren’t arranged correctly she does suffer from weather helm and we are a little worried about how she will handle in bigger seas.

Size of sailboat to sail the world in

Someone recently crossed the Atlantic in a barrel. No really, a large orange barrel. So size isn’t necessarily an issue. That being said, there are lots of things to consider when it comes to size.

Bigger sailboats are generally considered to be safer. They are more likely to be able to withstand bigger winds and seas and more comfortable in rough weather. When researching this area we found the general advice was to aim for something bigger than 30ft to cross oceans in. Having sailed on a 34ft boat I definitely felt less safe in slightly bigger seas than I did in our 38ft boat. As a rule of thumb, bigger boats will feel more stable.

buying the right size sailboat to sail the world in
BUYING THE RIGHT BOAT FOR YOU

The other factor to take into consideration is space, which shouldn’t be dismissed. Before we set off on our sailing adventure I thought space was a bit of a non issue. Surely I would get used to whatever space we ended up with. But that space, however big, is your home and your comfort. Make sure you can imagine spending days on end in that space. Where will you go for a little alone time? Will you be able to cook while your partner is having some down time? Will your guests have somewhere to change after a shower? These things may not matter to you, or they may really start to grate. Try to imagine living in the space before getting to the point where you want to throw each other over board!

Remember that a lot of marinas charge by size. If you plan to spend time in marinas (and sometimes you won’t have a choice!) then make sure the size of your boat won’t break the bank.

After lots of reading we came to the conclusion that something from 35-40ft was perfect for two less experienced sailors. It was still small enough to sail just the two of us (or for one of us to sail alone should someone be laid up sick!), but it was big enough to feel safe in bigger seas. The 38ft Kadey Krogen we now own is plenty big enough for two and possible to sail alone. I think if I could make the same boat slightly smaller I would, for an even easier sail, but it would make having guests to stay harder.

What rig do you choose when buying a sailboat to sail the world in?

As with anything on a sailboat, there is no right or wrong answer (though lots of very opinionated people will try and tell you there is!) There are three main types of rigging you will see and I’ve simplified what we learnt about them below though it would be worth reading up for yourself before making a decision.

Sloop rigs

The sloop rigged boats seem to be the most popular and we can see why. They are the simplest of the rigging arrangements and the easiest to sail for the less experienced. You only have two sails to worry about, which means only two sails to maintain as well. They also sail well to wind. However sloop rigs tend to have bigger sails (to compensate for only having two), which makes them harder to hoist and adjust on bigger boats.

Cutter rigs

Cutter rigs are similar to sloop rigs with the additions of another sail at the front of the boat (like a small Genoa). These boats give a little more versatility and apparently better upwind performance (though we are yet to find out how!) We wanted a sloop, but ended up with a cutter. There are things we love (like that the stay sail self tacks, making it much easier for us novices when taking upwind) and things we hate, like the fact that when we tack with the genoa out it gets caught on the stay sail and is much harder to sheet in.

our cutter rigged sailboat at sunset that we bought to sail the world in
OUR CUTTER RIGGED SAILBOAT AT SUNSET

Ketch rigs (or the very similar yawl rigs!)

We found that boats with a ketch rig tended to be older, and a little cheaper. People that own ketch rigged boats seem to love them, but to us it seemed like added complexity and we steered away from them. With an extra mast to upkeep and take up space on the deck we couldn’t see the advantage, but now that we live on a sailboat I can understand their appeal. Ketch rigged boats tend to have smaller sails, which make them much easier to handle. There are also more options for different sail plans in different weather.

Creature comforts

You haven’t given up your lives on land to be completely miserable. We are assuming that you’ve sacrificed a lot to be here, living your dream. Don’t make the mistake we very nearly did and discount your need for happiness because you were too worried about making practical decisions. We don’t mean off you go and buy a luxury yacht you can’t afford, we just mean don’t compromise on everything. Make sure the boat you choose excites you.

For us, we loved the bow sprit and the shallow draft. The romance called us and we could imagine slipping into secluded shallow bays and watching dolphins swim beneath us. Both of these things have been magical and added so much to our sailing adventure experience.

If you love cooking, make sure you take a really good look at the galley when buying a sailboat to sail the world in. Has it got the things you need to enjoy cooking on your boat-space, a decent oven, a fridge (or got the potential for these things).

Where will you be sleeping? If you’re squashed into a tiny bed in a tiny room that won’t get any air are you going to sleep well. Because we can tell you now, there are enough other things that will try and mess with your sleep, you really want to be comfortable in bed!

Does it have, or will you be able to fit, some way of getting power? How much fuel and water can you carry? How much storage space does it have? These little things will seem like very big things when you haven’t showered for weeks or have to enter busy ports every few days to fill up on fuel and provisions.

A final piece of advice when buying a sailboat to sail the world in

REMEMBER IT’S YOUR DREAM TOO

There is no such thing as a perfect boat. I very much doubt there is such a thing as a perfect boat for everyone. Accept right now that you will have to make compromises. You probably won’t end up with the exact boat that you thought you would and that will be fine.

Our advice for you when buying a sailboat to sail the world in would be to make a list now of all of your hard must haves. Do you feel strongly about the rigging? Write it down. Is space a priority? Write it down. Then as you start to research boats and go to see them (go and see as many as you can, and go and see some that don’t meet your requirements!) re-evaluate. Maybe you wanted a 40ft boat, but in reality you find a 36ft boat that is wide enough to feel really roomy. Or perhaps everything other than the rig is perfect so you decide you can live with a sloop when you wanted a ketch.

We really hope that you find a boat that will take you to the places you want to go, because ultimately that’s all it is, a vessel to get you from a to b. Keep that in mind and you might find the decision a little easier!

Anything to add? Comment below and we’ll add it to the post!

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