The Best Sailboats for the High Seas?

Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 12:00AM - Comments: (19)

Reader Dominique Eustache gives a very convincing argument for adding the Morgan 43 to our tough boats list back in 2008. Eustache’s boat saw more than 50,000 miles during the course of his 17-year circumnavigation.

At the St. Petersburg Boat Show month last month, I had the pleasure of seeing delivery skipper and author John Kretschmer’s presentation on what he called “sailboats for a serious ocean.” I have reservations about any “ideal boat” list, but Kretschmer, who reviews boats for Sail Magazine and whose most recent book “Sailing a Serious Ocean” is available in our online bookstore, has the ideal background for this sort of work, and a list like this is undeniably helpful for wannabe cruisers who need a place to start their search.

I certainly wouldn’t limit my search to boats on such a list, but by paying careful attention to the pros and cons of each, you can find something that suits your own aspirations.

Here are the boats Kretschmer suggests: Contessa 32, Pacific Seacraft 34, Pretorien 35, Cape Dory/Robinhood 36, Valiant/Esprit 37, Prout Snowgoose 37, Alajuela 38, Privelege 39, Freya 39, Passport 40, Caliber 40, Baba 40, Hallberg Rassy 42, Taswell 43, Hylas 44, Norseman 447, Beneteau 456, Outbound 44, Hylas 46, Kaufman 47, Tayana 48, Hylas 49, Amel Maramu 53, and the Sundeer 60/64. For a brief capsule summary of each, be sure to check out his website.

The list is hardly definitive. There are plenty of good boats that aren’t featured, and some of these would be ill-matched for the wrong sailor—Kretschmer clearly pointed this out during his talk. I like how the list presents a good cross-section of the various shapes and sizes for a boat in this category. For example, Kretschmer includes the Prout Snowgoose and Steve Dashew’s Sundeer 60, boats that, notwithstanding their successful record at sea, fill an outlying niche.

If I were going to expand the list, one of the heavier-displacement microcruisers like those I blogged about would be a nice addition. Although I would be wary of promoting even the most formidable of this breed as well-suited for a “serious ocean,” John Neale of Mahina Tiare Expeditions includes one of them, the Dana 24, on his own list of recommend cruising boats. Neale’s much broader list of boats is accompanied by a very helpful discussion of design elements to consider.

What got me thinking about formidable cruising boats was our series of reports on sailboat construction, focusing specifically on structural details. Although there are plenty of excellent coastal cruisers on the market, once you start talking about offshore duty, scantlings (the dimensions for structural components) take on far more importance.

A few years ago we touched on this subject in our Mailport section, encouraging readers to suggest their own nominees for a list of what we called at the time, “tough boats,” vessels that were built to take a beating, requiring minimal care and upkeep.

Here are some of the boats that were suggested from our readers: Mariner 36, Cal 34, Morgan 43, Swan 43, Bermuda 40, Island Packet 26, Mariner 47, LeComte Northeast 38, Westsail 32, Dana 24, J/35, and the CSY 44.

I’d be interested in hearing of other nominees for this list, or other good resources for sailors looking for a short list of good offshore boats.

For those who are frustrated to find that their own ideal boat isn’t on anybody’s list, I wouldn’t be too miffed. The best line I’ve heard in a while on this topic came from Steve Callahan, the author of the survival classic Adrift, who gave a presentation at the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Show. When I asked Steve, who has sailed extensively on both multihulls and monohulls, what type of boat he preferred, he said, quite seriously. “Well, at the end of the day, the best cruising boat is the one that you are on.”

Well said.

Comments (18)

I am seriously considering the Pacific 38 built by Smiths Boatyard Limited, Whangarei, New Zealand. The available vessel was sailed from New Zealand to the West Coast. She is solidly build and very sea-kindly. Looking for previous owner-sailor who have experience the Pacific 38.

Posted by: Harry J | April 18, 2019 11:43 PM    Report this comment

I am seriously considering the Pacific 38 built by Smiths Boatyard Limited, Whangarei, New Zealand. The available vessel was sailed from New Zealand to the West Coast. She is solidly build and very sea-kindly. Looking for previous owner-sailor who have experience the Pacific 38.

Posted by: Harry J | April 18, 2019 11:43 PM    Report this comment

I found Kretschmer's listing interesting as it appears to be graduated by size with only 1-3 boats per LOA...a listing more suited to selling books than helping one select his/her offshore boat.

I spent five years researching sailboats prior to purchasing my new-to-me offshore capable boat. During that time I looked at more boats than I can remember (some are on Kretschmer's list) and built a spreadsheet of well over 3,000 monohulls in the varying sailing rigs they were offered (sloop, cutter, ketch, yawl), keel options (fin, inboard, scheel, swing), and sail area options. I then computed their ratios including Capsize Risk and Comfort ratios. Interestingly, I found that I could not trust the manufacturer's advertised SA/DISP ratio and had to compute them from the boat's I, J, P, and E lengths.

I am pleased to report all the boats on Kretschmer's list meet the minimum Capsize Risk ratio but there is a wide span from one end of this list to the other with respect to that ability and the Comfort (ratio) the crew will experience offshore when Mother Nature gets angry. Buyers would be advised to get their heads out of the cabin and more into the comparative sailing ability of their prospective selection before putting their money down.

~ ~ _/) ~ ~ MJH
s/v Destiny (Tayana Vancouver 42)

Posted by: MJH | March 6, 2017 12:16 PM    Report this comment

Michele and I have sailed our 41' Cheoy Lee (Pedrick 41) throughout the Apostle Islands for the past three years. She's 30-years-old this summer (the boat, not my wife) and has been in our family since 1999, providing 15 fun-filled years of sailing for my in-laws on Chesapeake Bay. Nobody would describe those years as anything but fair-weather day-sailing. But while she is built for a "serious ocean", Dave Pedrick's terrific design ensures that Morning Winds glides effortlessly in 5 knots of breeze and can point north of 40 degrees apparent wind when winds pick up a bit. While on Lake Superior, we've spent our weekends learning her many strengths and have enjoyed wonderful weekends hosting family and friends. Though we don't seek rough weather, it's great to know that when we come out of the lee of Oak Island, the winds pipe up to 30 knots, with a non-sailor at the helm, our overpowered cruiser puts her lee shoulder to the water and digs in. No round-up, no panic, just a bit of heel and some weather helm. After I rebalance her, I look around to see smiles all around with not a single panicked face. So, while I appreciate the speed, sleek lines and spacious interiors of the new boats, I truly don't think we are missing much as we weekend on our ocean cruiser.
As we prepare Morning Winds for our escape across the pond to Europe and beyond (kids out of college, nothing holding us back) we are confident she will serve us well. Everything about her prepares her for the North Atlantic - she's nothing if not strong, her cockpit is small, her 9' deep centerboard, modified full-keel and large righting moment should keep her on her feet in high seas. Her standing rigging is tall, stout and covered with quality hardware. Her large skeg-hung rudder and large quadrant make her track easily. Even her long shallow portlights are sized to stand up to a powerful boarding sea. Down below her teak interior is filled with hand-holds and her galley is large enough for two but small enough to prepare a warm meal in a bumpy seaway. Her nav station is spacious and well-appointed. Her wiring and plumbing are top quality and her Perkins diesel starts every time. Our only frustration has been her incredibly leaky teak deck; she leaks so much that we joke she will sink from the top down. A new adhered teak deck is going on this winter - yay!
In all, I cannot think of a better boat for our Lake Superior coastal cruising and our planned escape to places unknown. Thank you Mr. Pedrick and the Cheoy Lee boatwrights for providing such joy in this sailor's life.
Chris Hartnett
s/v Morning Winds

Posted by: Chris Hartnett | February 28, 2017 9:24 PM    Report this comment

I own a Mercator Mark 2, a Hardin 45 and partner in Heine Dole's Patronilla a 47' Cutter rigged fractional sloop. All are great cruising sailboats one is like sailing your home from port to port the other two are like driving your vintage Porsche.
Five kids and now grand kids - three of the five are sailors. We're getting the ready for a extended cruise from Seward Alaska to the Sea of Cortez.
Both the Mercator and Hardin are products of the late 70's and early 80's built to hardy specs, with a fascination for blue water.
High Seas? Alaska has High Seas! As a mariner by trade I see the best and worst the North Pacific has to offer, so the boat you choose to navigate these waters is as important as your skills as a sailor. What was forecast as an easy crossing in the morning can turn into a tumultuous uncomfortable ride by the end of the day. The last thing you want to worry about is the sea worthiness of your craft.
If I were to choose one over the other it would be the Hardin, only because I'm getting older and enjoy the amenities that the larger boat brings. She's solid and predictable in heavy seas, and trim's easily with her ketch rig.
Twenty years ago it would have been hands down the Mercator. If you're looking for a fast, stout, extremely well appointed (for a small boat) fun to sail world cruiser the Mercator won't break your pocketbook, and will serve it's purpose with out complaint.
Drew, I just want to add that for me the reason I began sailing in the first place was that I could see myself sailing off to sea the world at the age of sixteen. That vision hasn't changed over my lifetime. When you really think about it, far more time is spent dreaming and preparing for the adventure than actually experiencing the adventure itself.
The least romantic picture of a boat is flimsy rigging on a paper thin hull. I don't care how cheap it is. I would rather own an older seaworthy boat than a newer somewhat lessor boat.
Are either of these boats the best boat for the High Seas? Probably not there are always newer, bigger, and better. But for me each has their merits and are certainly sea worthy.
Because green seas happen, "If anything is going to happen, it's going to happen out there" Captain Ron.

Posted by: MacClancy | February 23, 2017 10:03 PM    Report this comment

What percentage of boats will ever sail more than 200 miles or so from harbor? What percentage of us, actually, really want to? I don't, I have no need. Unless crossing an ocean, it's easy to watch the weather and avoid any that demands serious toughness. The silly stories of coastal misadventures I read in the Sail are invariably the result of just plain sloppy seamanship--the "what they did wrong" list misses the underlying errors, and the "what they did right" list is generally trivial. So the flip side of the question is "just how wrong is a blue water boat for 99.6% of us?"

Hikers buy heavy leather boots, ignoring that skilled climbers wear sneaker-like approach shoes up the biggest mountains until they reach serious ice requiring crampons. Most of the bikes on the path are mountain bikes, though few ever see dirt, and road bikes are far faster and more comfortable on pavement. I've got to believe that the right boat for coastal sailors is lighter, more agile, more fun to sail, and less expensive than a boat suitable for crossing oceans. I know that although my first two boats were a bit more tender, they were far more fun to sail than my current cruiser.

We should celebrate what makes the best boat for 99.6% of us, the way we actually day sail and cruise the coast and bays. Something agile and fun, and never apologize for light construction and substantial sail area. Is a Humvee "better" than a Mazda 3 because it can navigate snow and sand, and so what if it drinks gas at an irresponsible rate? I don't think so. In fact it is a terrible car for the way we actually use them. The Mazda 3 is frankly far more fun around town for half the price and 1/4 the fuel. So while most of use would be (should be) embarrassed to own a Humvee, we would be proud to own a blue water boat, in spite of the fact that it is all wrong for us. I like my coastal cruiser.

At least that's the way I see it.

Posted by: Drew Frye | February 23, 2017 1:50 PM    Report this comment

Didn't Zac Sunderland circumnavigate in an Islander 36', in 13 months, at the age of 16?
Wouldn't that qualify the boat as well as the sailor?

Posted by: Roger | February 23, 2017 2:30 AM    Report this comment

Didn't Zac Sunderland circumnavigate in an Islander 36', in 13 months, at the age of 16?
Wouldn't that qualify the boat as well as the sailor?

Posted by: Roger | February 23, 2017 2:30 AM    Report this comment

Didn't Zac Sunderland circumnavigate in an Islander 36', in 13 months, at the age of 16?
Wouldn't that qualify the boat as well as the sailor?

Posted by: Roger | February 23, 2017 2:29 AM    Report this comment

Simply a "for what its worth" comment by a biased happy owner, I will nominate the Gulfstar 41' I bought this boat "Someday" in 1983, and have coastal sailed it over a lot of years, with total mileage roughly a circumnavigation, but rarely more than about 900 miles offshore between Vancouver Island and the southern boarder of Panama. Been at it continuously since retiring the second time in 2005.

The Gulfstar 41 is an IOR design excellent upwind, very capable on the reach but a bit squirely down. Very strongly built, and easy to sail when properly rigged. I have had it on an overnight off the Oregon Coast with sustained 50kts, and one gust to 80, seas officially reported to have reached 20', in an unexpected June storm. Lots of transits from Brookings, OR to Canadian and Washington Ports, as late as mid Nov. The boat has held course under power and sharply reduced sail every time. Greenwater over bow and down the decks has scared me, but the boat continued on. They have blisters galore, but I've never had one go through more than three layers, and 90 percent end under the first layer of mat. I've hit rocks, and once coral, with the keel, doing little damage other than to my self confidence. For club racers, it sail to its PRF, quite well, and only when I've blown a start, have I not been first to the first mark. Just my two cents.

Posted by: Capt Chetco | March 12, 2015 4:21 PM    Report this comment


I'm very surprised to not find Cabo Rico's listed on any of these lists. They are certainly well built, have excellent motion on a heavy sea, are quick over the long haul, and have no wood in the bilge...

Posted by: zboss | January 25, 2015 8:56 PM    Report this comment

Glenwood - the Prout Snowgoose is a cat.

Posted by: Brent F | January 5, 2015 10:43 AM    Report this comment

The boats on the list are great boats. Those ratios , like capsize , L/D , SA/D ,etc. are all to important. Surprised that so many even large new production boats really only qualify as ccoastals at best when you do the calc's ( free online calculators ), and ultra low holding , water and fuel for their size tells this. My choice and associattes best choice , is the Shannon 43 , best calcs. and truly sea crossing worthy.

Posted by: John L | December 31, 2014 3:12 PM    Report this comment

I believe any boat can sail any body of water given favorable conditions; the latter being the deciding factor. Boats that may qualify to "sail a serious ocean" (they are all serious) must be able to take a beating and be forgiving in the worst of times. If you start with a good design (look and compare ALL the ratios), add quality construction and responsible ownership, and end with good seamanship you stand a better chance of surviving those unfavorable conditions, mother nature's wrath.

~ ~ _/) ~ ~ Mike Hirko
s/v Destiny, Tayana Vancouver 42
Gig Harbor, WA

Posted by: MJH | December 31, 2014 12:48 PM    Report this comment

I'm 68 years old and I've only been sailing for 91/2 years. My first (and only) sailboat is a Passport 40, which I purchased without having the slightest clue about what I was seeking. (Needless to say, I'm delighted that luck was with me!) In the 91/2 years my wife and I have sailed her, we've been in the thick of two named tropical storms and once found ourselves in a gale that NOAA weather had failed to predict -- 50 kt winds and 14' seas. In all cases, the P40 made us feel incredibly safe and secure, as it simply hunkered down and felt more and more solid. Kretchmer's review of the P40 was one factor in my deciding to take the plunge, and I thank him for it.

Posted by: Jim M | December 31, 2014 11:08 AM    Report this comment

Admittedly, I am a little biased as the owner of a CSY 44, but this boat has performed very, very well in the somewhat rough conditions we have encountered. She performed perfectly in our worst, an overnight, offshore hop where the forecast "missed" the 8' confused seas and 15kts of wind without a creak or a leak. She would certainly take more abuse than we would or could. The prior owner was caught offshore and sailed her through TS Gamma in 2005..... It's comforting to know that your boat is able to deal with the unforeseen or unforecasted since that will eventually happen to everyone who goes away from the shore....

Posted by: Brett P | December 31, 2014 8:45 AM    Report this comment

As usual with Practical Sailor, this article completely ignores catamarans. Most catamarans delivered to the US from overseas come over on their bottoms. I took my new 2011 Lagoon 380 into heavy seas crossing the Gulf of Mexico shortly after purchase and she handled wonderfully. We later experienced extremely rough conditions crossing several of the sounds on the east coast ICW. I LOVE to take her out on the Chesapeake Bay in winds up to 30 knots and, other than the typical cat "hobby horse" pitching, she handles great. Years ago, I had my first blue water experience on a Gemini 105Mc crossing the Pacific. We hit a storm 1000 miles from anywhere with huge seas that destroyed our outdrive but we sailed through it otherwise unscathed. The long running joke with cats - that you can sail anywhere as long as you sit your glass of wine on the salon table - has an element of truth to it. Try that on your monohull...

Posted by: Glenwood C | December 31, 2014 8:44 AM    Report this comment

I wonder what percentage of yachts ever see a serious ocean. My impression is that a minority ever leave the slip, only a portion of those if a small craft advisory is forecast, and a only few of that subset have ever left sight of land.

And yet most sailors want an ocean-worthy yacht. Well, I have a sturdy coastal yacht (PDQ 32), and she is all I will ever want. Is she sturdy enough for serious work? I've seen green water over the cabin a few times and she shook it off with confidence. But I'm simply not interested in crossing oceans when there is so much coast to explore.

Posted by: Drew Frye | December 30, 2014 5:48 PM    Report this comment

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