Fish…or cut bait ?

Title photograph : Calstock UK.

Over the last 2 months i have been running 3 different threads of blog posts all in parallel, firstly the health related posts and then in the sailing posts one series based on a conventional deep keeled boat and a contrasting one about shallow draft boats. In this post, which i have been working on for weeks, i try to come to some resolution or conclusion and bring the whole thing together.

The 2 contrasting sailing threads represent the different sides of my own thinking about boats and what i want to do next in my sailing life.  Soon the health related threads will also split 2 ways as i combine my new fitness campaign with the mens health posts.    This post is a kind of culmination of both sides of the sailing threads but with added elemenst.  Firstly though today i want to briefly summarise the 2 different threads in the sailing posts as the case for each side.

Case 1. The deep fin, ocean going boat.

You could say that this is the standard approach to cruising and might be represented by anything from the thousands of marina-cruisers to a few adventurous ‘anchor-out’s’ for example Troy and Pascale with their youtube channel : Free Range sailing.     Here i am talking about a simple and basic, but well set up cruising boat.    The idea of the simple and basic but good sailing boat has many pundits.  Even the Pardeys were espousing the simple 30 footer as the most ideal long term cruising boat for the couple that wanted to go long distance without breaking the bank.         Today i keep up with the travels of one couple who have gone this way and are producing excellent video’s about their experiences : Pascale and Troy with their 30 foot sloop ‘Mirool’.   If you haven’t seen any of their stuff then drop what you are doing here and go over to Free Range sailing and have a treat.

Thirty feel is about right for a couple, a good offshore orientated boat of this size has the ‘legs’ to get you there.   A  good one will go to windward in a breeze and there will be just enough space for proper bunks, a workable galley and so on.  At that size it’s just about do-able on a tight budget especially for people like Pascale and Troy who are very self-sufficient at sea.       The limitations are about the same as my old Frances 26, mainly in that it needs a couple of metres depth ideally to sail and anchor in.  The 5 foot draft on the half-tonner which i have seen and featured is my real problem though in that it would stop us from getting into many of the places that we would like to visit.

We have looked at one boat that would do the job, the base price is low although the boat needs a total refit and lots of new gear. Buying the boat would be very committing in terms of budget as, by my best estimates, it would ‘cost’ an extra year of my working life to bring up to ocean specs and then we would need another year to put aside a cruising fund to deal with contingencies.  The ‘case for’ is that this would undoubtably make a sound long distance cruising boat that would sail well, cope with most conditions well, would carry the load and could be made decently comfortable as a home.  The case against is the amount of work and expense required to get the boat up to standard, the ongoing costs of replacing gear at that size and the hard limits of where the boat will go.


Case 2. The shallow draft and beachable cruiser.

The case ‘for’ in this thread is that with a shallow draft boat i can get into many of the areas that i want to access, especially for the time we will spend at anchor.  The ability to beach the boat level and safe, and then just walk ashore, is one of the major attractions of this kind of boat.  Already with the little Liberty i have discovered the sheer pleasure of getting into the shallow rivers and creeks of the west country and over in Brittanny.  Many of the places we have been are places that the deep fin keeled ‘standard’ cruising boats just can’t go and i think those places are the better for that.

The immediate problem with the case for the larger, long term, shallow draft cruiser is the lack of choice….i only really found 2 viable designs in days of searching. This is in huge contrast with the search for conventional cruising boats.    At that end i found 2 main groups : long and semi long keeled cruisers and cruiser-racers and then a larger variety of fin and skeg or fin and spade cruiser-racers.               In my notes here i have everything from the Twister 28 and Elizabethan 29 at the small end of semi-long’s, through several fin and skeg like the Javelin, the Contessa 32 and so on and then even more race orientated boats that could be back-converted.  All in all some 11 different designs without going weird and wacky and with several good examples of each on the market.   That is a huge contrast with the 2 lifting keel boats just about within my budget : those boats by the way are the Limbo 9.9 and the lifting keel version of the kelt 8.5.

This one isn’t for sale although there is one locally that is. (Kelt 8.5)


Limbo 9.9


Of those 2 i’m not sure if the Limbo can be beached without beaching legs and something to support the hull at the stern…adding that kind of gear to a lightweight balsa sandwich hull could be a problem job.  In terms of my absolute requirements then we are down to just one viable boat in this category unless i add in small bilge keelers.  There are some very good lifting keel boats much higher up the ladder and they are all way outside my budget…the OVNI’s come to mind as does a centreboard version of the Freedom 35….but these are pure fantasy boats.

Ovni bow on sand _1a


There is perhaps a third way even outside a complete compromise boat and it isn’t just a different boat option although different boats are involved in my thinking.

Both options so far are primarily based around the idea that ‘bigger is better’ in terms of more boat speed when we need it, a wider sailing envelope and a more comfortable ie larger living space.  Both options might be do-able by committing about the same amount of budget…..both so far would need a financial input of around £12-13.000 to put on the water in a decent state.             That isn’t impossible although that would then create the problem of not having a standby cruising fund and not being able to do much else (financially) and an example there is that it would be a bare-bones project without the ability to do what i want to next which is film and sound recording to improve the blog. I would like to have another go at making this into a photography and writing blog better supported by film.  Whichever way i look at that it needs an investment in equipment and i am holding off on all of that to keep funds available for the ‘next’ boat.  In the wings is of course a compromise option which is to take a basically unexciting and workaday boat and just try to get the best out of it.

The third option is what i have called before ‘run what ya brung’ ….if you’re not familiar with that then it’s a biker expression and basically means making do with what you have instead of wishing for something ‘better’.    In this case it would mean accepting the compromises of the Liberty but with the proviso that the boat could be improved for longer term cruising and that the actual cruising could be supported in a different way, for example by having a vehicle near to the cruising ground and the ability to combine road trips with the overall sea journey.  In this regard i am very much thinking about France where it would be a really good contrast to get away from the boat sometimes, go inland and camp….there being so much of that country that we haven’t explored yet.

Anyone have any idea where this is ? (It’s in southern Brittanny)


You might well ask the question “haven’t we been here before”, and yes, we have and you might then also go on to asking something along the lines of whether the bigger boat or compromise  solutions aren’t the way to go.      Ok so….let me back up a bit and revisit 2 of the primary problems and look at those a bit more closely and see if we really can’t come up with working solutions or if not that then at least better compromises.     The primary problem with the Liberty as a long distance boat, and lets say that we are thinking about the French coast as a cruising ground is just that of getting the boat there.    From here, in a straight line, it’s a one tide trip down to my jumping off point and then something like a 24-30 hr trip across the channel to Roscoff.  I would only consider that trip in easy conditions and without a rush for time might not take the direct route but go via the channel islands anyway.    I have done the Plymouth-Roscoff route once in very light downwind conditions where the Liberty excels and it was still  a very tiring trip without a tillerpilot.  Strictly speaking the Liberty was out of it’s element during that passage although it coped well but it was the return trip that showed up the weaknesses of a small boat and it is that one passage (Guernsey-Salcombe) that pushed the pace on a lot of the thinking that has gone into these posts.  The second problem is that of living in such a small space long term.   Today i think that it might be possible to find compromise solutions to both problems.

With the first problem, given that my intention was to get the Liberty to France, i waited for the light weather and downwind passage and my main problem within the passage is that i didn’t have a tillerpilot at the time, nor could i get the boat to self balance in the awkward swell so i had to hand steer for almost the entire trip.  The return trip was different in that i made made the decision to cross the channel back to Salcombe in much more difficult conditions (for the boat) when it might have been a better decision to leave the boat there until the wind direction changed.  Normal channel conditions would have given me reaching/broad reaching conditions and, a couple of weeks later, smaller tides and much less of a wind against tide problem. In short i made the classic sailors mistake of feeling that i ‘had’ to make the passage and in return we had a classically brisk wind against tide channel chop to deal with.                 At no time was the passage dangerous….just very uncomfortable.   Lets say though that we are now thinking about a longer term cruise where there isn’t a time pressure to get there and no pressure at all to get the boat back.  With those pre-conditions i don’t think i would feel the need to do one of the longest possible channel crossings in one go but maybe lazy-sail my way down this coast for a ways first and then only cross to France or the Channel islands in more ideal conditions.  Our model for this for example was our passage around Portland bill when i put us in as near exactly the right place in terms of tides, wind and daylight as possible and we had a hard but ‘easy’ day sail across Lyme bay….job done is how i described the day.   Once we get to France or the Channel islands for example we can say that we are in cruising/day sailing stance and that no passage after that need be more than a long day sail and that we shouldn’t have to think about offshore watch-keeping and so on.   We would need a contingency plan of one or both of us having to get back to the Uk quickly but that is hardly an issue anywhere in France…..last time i looked they still had excellent ferries (Brittany ferries really are good) and even short hop flights from the Channel islands.


The second problem needs some thinking about and that is how to maximise the functional living space aboard the little Liberty……i happen to think that it need a very clever use of the cockpit as living room in any conditions, so all-round rain cover and overhead sun shade especially for southern Brittanny which can be surprisingly hot and sunny.   We are both adept at living in small spaces in a camp-like environment although being stuck in a small space, boat or tent, for long periods in bad weather is always trying.       The boat does present some technical challenges of designing and making a cockpit tent and creating cockpit comfort but i don’t see any of that as being unsurmountable…..we do have a very good canvaswork outfit not far away.



Well, that’s about the final word (currently) in the 2 threads about the ocean going boat and the thin water boat.  It might also be the temporary end of my blogging for now as i haven’t actually done any sailing since parking Inanda at Calstock boatyard. I hope to be back on the water myself in the autumn once the summer holiday crowd have buggered-off.               I thought i would do this last post in the series to try and come to a sort of conclusion about everything i have been talking about in the 2 threads.   It would be neat to say that i have found the ideal boat by working on these posts but to be honest i don’t think there is any such thing as an ideal boat : just different compromises.  We found a boat that would have been a good bet for the offshore work but very limited when we get to the places we want to be.  The genuine shallow draft and beachable boats that could cope in offshore are so few in design and so few of them on the market that the choice is hardly there at all in a do-able budget.

So, let me now do what i said i would right at the start and try to come to some resolution or conclusion about everything i have been yakking-on about for most of this year.

  1. All boats are a compromise….we know this.  The larger offshore boat would be good when it is doing it’s primary job and then not very good the rest of the time. To make it work well in it’s primary role would also be expensive just from the sails and gear required.   The small boat i have is great in terms of it’s low running costs and it’s ability to slip into places that are impossible with the big fin-keeler.  Its problem though is that it has a limited sailing envelope, especially offshore and isn’t really a viable space to live in long term as a couple. The other , slightly larger, lifting keel boats would be better sailing boats than the Liberty but have little advantage in useable interior space .      The real ‘compromise’ boats out there , for example the double and triple keelers might well do the job but they are generally pretty dull sailing boats in the way they are usually set up…..i want to come back to this at the end though.
  2. The second point is based on the question of what i want to actually do with my sailing now.  I do know that i want to explore far more of the ‘crinkly bits’ as the late Douglas Adams might have put it and i am much less enamoured with the idea of doing long thrash-y ocean passages.  To be honest i would rather do a short and navigationally challenging day passage and then be at anchor in a river, creek or difficult to access bay somewhere.  After that i would like to be able to leave the boat at anchor or on the mud and go off for a walk and explore ashore.  With that in mind one of the best ways to keep costs down and boat security up is to never use marinas and deep anchorages.  In the first case marinas are expensive for overnight stays and in the second that’s where most of the ‘idiot’ accidents happen with other boaters.  That cruising idea needs something that is a more comfortable home and a reasonable load carrier…..a 4×4 rather than a highly tuned sports car is one way of putting it.
  3. The third point is about how i want to live, at least for a while.   Although i have had plenty of miserable days afloat that was mainly due to being introduced to sailing via offshore racing.   Sitting-out the IOR race boat for hours, sometimes days, is something i intend to never do again.  Rather i would like to live a semi nomadic sea-gypsy life moving when i want to, at anchor a lot of the time, sailing, writing and exploring.   None of that requires a shit-hot sailing machine as mostly i will be able to chose my sailing conditions and what it requires more is a viable living space that sails ‘good enough’ to not be completely frustrated by.  The really good question is just how good, how much boat, that needs to be.  I don’t want to come back to specific boats but somewhere between 26 and 30 feet is just about enough boat to have a living space without breaking the bank.  The ‘boat’ needs to not an awful dog to sail and crucially must be able to dry out and beach….there are several ways of doing that.  The sailing performance i would say has to be equal to and certainly no worse than the Liberty and do remember that the little Liberty is weak in light weather upwind conditions and not ‘man enough’ in the harder stuff ….the conclusion of which is that many boats would be equal or better……especially if they were set up a bit better than the way many of them are as stock boats.    I will just give one example here and that is a local bilge-keeler that i frequently see out sailing.  That one is around 26 feet and i think a Macwester, one of the ‘dull’ boats i talk about.  In most conditions when we are going the same way we tend to get there within a few minutes of each other.  In light weather downwind i ghost past him and in brisk reaching conditions his longer hull and greater stability wins the day……how much more would i need when i know i could step-change improve the performance of that other boat.   The final point in this section is that many of the dull boats are that way because of their mediocre set up…..inadequately short rigs and old baggy sails for example and never a dedicated downwind sail in sight .
  4.  I would like to finish this section with a story/analogy.    Some of you here will be aware of Dylan Winter’s site ‘Keep Turning left’.  When Dylan started off on his round UK (slowly) trip he did so in one of the worst sailing boats possible…..the Mirror ‘Offshore’.  I was reminded of this last time i was down at the yard as the one that was there has been cut up and is now nothing but a pile of GRP panels waiting for disposal.  Much of the initial charm of Dylan’s work was due to him sailing such a crap little boat and getting so much out of it.  I liked his work with his version of my boat and really started to dislike his stuff once he was in the Centaur.   The ‘Slug’ as he named the Mirror really was a crap boat but he got the absolute maximum out of it and there is a powerful lesson there in taking a really bad boat and still having great voyages.   In my own sailing i see row after row of superbly equipped modern ‘perfect’ yachts that just sit in marinas or on moorings year after year going nowhere while it’s the small, lumpy, nothing special boats that are out there doing the miles…….so : fish or cut bait ?024                                                                                                                                                                     The final word, for now, is that i have taken all of this as far as i can given my current situation.  This post has gradually developed over the last few weeks during my post-op recovery time as a kind of time-out exercise and unlike most of my boat posts i had no idea where it would ultimately take me.             During this time i have done my best to explore and think through each aspect of what to do and how to do it as i think about each potential boat solution applied to each potential cruising poject.      For now i’m not going to do much except rebuild my fitness and then when i am more mobile get out there and see some boats.  The boat, whichever and whatever it is, will inevitably be a compromise and that matters less i think than how i set it up and what we do with it afterwards…the real journey begins there again.



1 Comment

  1. Once again, thanks for sharing your thought process on this Steve. If you were primarily solo then, as an unhurried sea gypsy making forays ashore, running what you brung would be the way to go. As you said, perhaps a custom built canvas full cockpit enclosure on the Liberty might give you the extra space you need as a couple? There’s one here for the LIberty 23 that combines with a sprayhood:

    Not going to get much change out of 2.5K though for both! More importantly its not for your boat, though I suspect it might fit, but you could get some design ideas to build your own as you again said. Perhaps worth buying the less expensive sprayhood and adding your own enclosure? For what it’s worth, I’d fish but remember I’m just some random bloke on the internet.

    Wishing you well for your continued recovery and the journey to come.


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