Thursday, January 17, 2008

Twenty Small Sailboats to Take You Anywhere

Cruising Boats Anyone Can Afford to Own

A lot of newcomers to the world of sailing and especially cruising and voyaging are unfortunately put off by the notion that sailing is prohibitively expensive and out of reach of all but the wealthy. This misconception is perpetuated by the glossy full-color advertisements in the sailing magazines for yachts costing anywhere from $100,000 on up to well over a million. The trend, in fact, in the yacht manufacturing business has in recent years favored boats in the 42 to 55 foot range, with an average price tag of around $350,000. Who buys boats like that, and who really needs that much boat? Do you have to have a boat that size to go cruising?

Of course not. Even families can get by with much smaller boats, and cruising couples and singlehanders can do with a whole lot less. In my travels throughout the Caribbean, I met lots of folks out there cruising on boats in the 30 to 35 foot range, and quite a few on boats as small as 20 to 25 feet. 26 to 27 footers are commonly making voyages all over the world. The real sailing literature (not the advertising-driven rags) is full of the accounts of voyagers who have circumnavigated and sailed to the ends of the earth on boats in this size range.

In future posts here I will include reviews of some of the books written by these sailors, but in this article I want to bring to your attention a book by sailing author, John Vigor, entitled: Twenty Small Sailboats to Take You Anywhere. All of the boats profiled in this informative little book fall into the size range of 20 to 32 feet, and all have been in production long enough that used examples in various states of neglect are out there waiting to be bought by sailors on a budget. Here are just 10 of the boats included in the book that meet John's criteria for capable small cruisers that can go anywhere - he qualifies this by listing strengths and weaknesses of each boat, and suggestions for modifications that might enhance seaworthieness and safety:

Pearson Triton 28

Albin Vega 27

Cal 20

Contessa 26

Westsail 32

Cape Dory 25D

Catalina 27

25' Folkboat

Alberg 30

Bristol 27

All of these boats can be found on the used boat market at a price that won't put you in debt for the rest of your life. And, of course, besides the 20 boats profiled in the book, there are many others out there that also meet the criteria for seaworthiness and affordability. The Grampian 26, Intensity, that I used to own is another good example. But for anyone not knowing where to start in their search for a suitable cruising boat, John Vigor's book offers some of the best advice available. You can read the editorial reviews and the many reader reviews of the book on Amazon. Check it out and see if you don't agree, and may you keep that cruising dream alive and not be discouraged by the price of new boats that you don't need.

(This article was first published in the Scott's Boat Page newsletter, 2004)


  1. How do you feel about the tartan 27, very similar to your list of boats. My tartan was built in 1970, she is in excellent condition. Any upgrades or modifications that she needs to circumnavigate with her?

  2. I looked at the Tartan 27 myself, and she has a lot of features I liked a lot - especially the keel/centerboard configuration that allows for shallower draft. I read an account somewhere of one crossing the Pacific. I think it would be doable to circumnavigate. I suggest using Vigor's other book: The Seaworthy Offshore Sailboat as a guide to what needs upgrading or modifying.

  3. You left out the O'Day Outlaw which is around 27 ft long and a weekender with gorgeous lines; the O'Day Tempest which is about 23'ft long and not quite as pretty but still a lot nicer looking than most. The Cape Cod Marlin is what I used to sail. It has an enormous deep 11 ft. cockpit with comfy seats and has pretty lines. Putting on a bowsprit cured the weather helm. Quicksteps are also nice I understand and pretty to look at with good sized cockpits. These may not be on your list because they are probably harder to find.

    Emily Harding

    goingforasail@yahoo dot com

    1. A large cockpit will sink you or cause other problems if pooped. It is not a positive attribute for a blue water sailboat.

  4. Emily,

    This is not my list, but that of the author of the book in question - John Vigor. Most small production boat were not designed with long-distance offshore sailing in mind. He picked those models that were built for this or could easily be modified or adapted. The "enormous" cockpit you speak of would disqualify a boat for serious offshore work unless it were partially filled in with something to reduce the volume.

  5. I should edit to add that the Cape Cod Marlin is available with a larger cabin and self-bailing cockpit. It is the daysailing version that has the 11-foot cockpit.

  6. American centric. Sigh!

  7. Of the twenty boats in Vigor's book, there are several that are built in countries other than the U.S.

  8. Think Flicka! Not as good as my Westsail 32, but very good, and also safe!

  9. what do you thuink of a Catalina 30' 1977


"A boat is freedom, not just a way to reach a goal."
Bernard Moitessier - A Sea Vagabond's World


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