Cruising Boats Underwhelm and Annoy Me

Cruising is a past-time I have nothing against, and given more time away from racing and family respo0nsibilities I would gladly cruise the sounds and fjords here or the finer stretches of the Clyde, Lorne and even the outer Hebrides. Howevver cruising boats often irritate me in themselves. 

The trype of boat I am talking about are those with a mast-head rig, preferably telegraph pole in felxibility, a monster high freeboard rather like a block of concrete flats laid on its side, and a cockpit about a tenth of the LOA, often mostly cocooned in blue spray hoods, sun awnings and wind cheaters. 

The whole premise of this type of craft, built in all forms of construction not just GRP, is that it is comfortable down below and manageable to sail. An aqautic caravan for the middle age-ed. A home from home which just happens to floats and occaisionally move around in a wind assisted manner. Safe. High up out of the water. 

Well all that may seem right about them to the layman or the casual sailor is absolutely wrong about them to the racing sailor. The masthead rig is most often accompanied by a short boom brandishing a puny mainsail while a rather deep, you could say beefy, genoa of at least 320% actually drives the boat. Which then becomes a bloody handful in a blow. Ah but rolling reefing-furling saved the day for man friday or wifey to go up and attempt a sail change long after it became obvious that they would not make it back to port in a seamanlike manner, and possibly not all, by carrying full sail. Only roller reefing headsails have an issue in that they push the centre of effort higher and more forward when you dont really want those two effects what so ever. Their mainsails can be awkward to trim and get any shape into, or out of, and they tend to flag around at a nasty high frequency when reefing in a squall or hoisting on anchor. In effect you have relinquished much of the control of a sail boat to a mediocre naval aritecht and a rolling drum on the bow. 

The drum on the bow adorns many racing boats of course, usually the simpler furling only type, but crusing boats have developed a plethora of functional armery, much the opposite of beautification. There are snuffers like a used condom above spinnakers, there are kebab grills hanging off the pushpit, there are windmills ready to chop your fingers off and there are all those nylon boat covers and often a tent with windows encapsulating the whole cockpit. Ugly adornments. Often yes to the benefit of the round-the-worlder or the transatlantic adventurer, but to the coastal weekend cruiser? Pah, it is like the monsters cave, festooned with old meal time lef overs. They break up what was left of elegant lines a yacht should have and clutter the eye. 

Getting underway or completing a tack requires more winching than a Fife colliery to get that nasty big Genoa to stand. Usually some overdressed figure in over sized red oiles, hood up, sweeps away at the winch with the self tailer engaged for at least 15 minutes,  not realising they could have done 90% with a couple of turns and some decent arm movements if the helm had bothered to feather up or take a slower tack. Once three quarters of the way in, said able seaman brushes their hair from their eyes and cocks their hood back over to look up at the leech and foot of the sail only to their dismay that they must work like a boxing kangeroo to get the last four feet in. 

Then you have embarking and disembarking. Said wonderful cabin has remarkable headroom. Often 12 feet of it if you were to believe some owners. This goes hand in hand with hull in the water but these days with plastic boats from Tom’s yard, it means bloody high freeboard. A grown man disappears into the long shadow cast by these of an evening, and then struggles to reach up to catch hold of the gunwhale and must stand on tip-toes to tie up the rubber dinghy. A ladder is most often provided, usually on the stern, where it makes for a bloody awkward place to clamber on board in older boats , as the stern is a meter off the water and often tossing three times the height of the waves on its pendulous extremity. Modern cruisers have broad bottomed designs with open transoms and a double hull style down to within a simpled footstep of the waterline. Sensible ideas stolen from racing boats.

Cockpits on cruising boats are often open topped chambers of torture by the making of all over body brusing. They have more right angles than a cubist painting of a french town, it seems they have tiered levels of hard corners to bump shins, elbows, hips, heads and shoulders on. a 40 footer may allow room for a standard crew to move around fair enough, but for our more modest and mostly typical sailor, condityions are so cramped as to render manoerving a wrestling match between helm and their two winch persons. Oops another six bruises-a-man in that tack! 

Ah but cruisers would all go to sea and brave a pooping with their tiny cockpits and high transoms. Once filled however, you then have a salt water immersion tub for several hours until it either drains or the extra wegith up high helps roll the boat over into a capsize. Who are these boaters kidding? You are most likely, statistically, not to go out on ocean crossings in a 33 footer. You are unlikely to be caught out during a passage by a 77 Fastnet storm. You will have scuttled into a harbour and be enjoying either your cabin or more likely, the local licensed hostillery.

Which brings me to this. Do you really want to stay in said capacious, airey, cathedral like interior of a cruising boat in bad weather? Will you be enduring 14 or more hours of darkness in your excursions? Will you ever have a dinner party for 25 round the cabin table? Would you not rather have a lovely, long open cockpit? A place all your crew can sit in personal space, on rounded comnbings of an evening, and with lower freeboard, the boom tent makes for an impromtu al fresco mesanine deck, scoutish and half in half outdoors as is so trendy amongst Scandinavian architects these days. Sleep under the stars why not, on acres of level white cockpit floor. When you do require to take your slumbers away from the weather, you experience a roof over your head, a soft bunk under you and a sleeping bag around you in any case. Plush teak and mahogany interiors are butter on lard when you have a cabin and crawl in after a long day’s passage. When the weather does get all summer british, then will you really be reading books and stayingin said roomy cruiser cabin? Or will you be wandering along the pontoon to show off your yachty credentials in Falmouth or Oban high street? Sitting in a pub seeking converse with the land lubbing unwashed? Dining on langustines in a finer restaurant, or sulking in doorways devouring fish and chips? 

THis is the reality of cruising. You want to be outdoors, all of you, enjoying the scenery and learning about sailing, without playing twister when you gybe or back to back elbow boxing when you tack. When the weather closes in, you are no longer at anchor in some hidden away cove, you have planned ahead to provision and stretch legs from a Marina or council pontoon. For summer sailing inshore and in the minches, your finely attired cabin is highly superflous and only invites youngsters to use up their gigabyte allowances in what is home-from-home after all, heads burried in mobile or tablet.

The cry of ‘twithy and unweildy racer requiring a crew of several dozen men for her forty feet’ rings in my ears. Silly light boats, far too flimsy to take on that force three  chop we had out of Hamble the other day. Quite nasty it got when a sqaull of ooh, 22knts came through. Dear friend, you do not need to beman a racing boat with rail meat amounting to several tons on the windward gunwhale when cruising. You sail three or four up with a working #3 or even storm jib up, and a reef in the main, with the backstay hard on and the sheet down the traveller until it lulls down a bit. You crack off the wind and watch the log go up and the nautical miles fly by. In a word, you have control. You can sit in the cockpit and depower the wole boat by a simple twitch on the traveller line. 

There is something wonderful about crusing a performance boat. For its day the sigma 33 was a fast production 33 footer. Still a popular one design, I sailed several Cork Week national champs on one. One year we had a nasty top of no 1 weather and some grey days, with then a nice no 2 or 3 day coming in, and much sweating over winches on the run as we galloped towards the leeward mark amongst the top third of the fleet. In fact we toiled all week and the fastest recorded speed was 8.1 knts off wind. The weather became more clement for our delivery home, a brief window before our blustery encounter with Lucifer light but that is another story. In the bay of Youghall we picked up a school of dolphins, babies in tow, playing with the rudder as we sailed under spinnaker, and dancing on the bow much to our amusement and theirs. The wind was picking up a bit from its rather sedate start, and when I glanced on the log I was taken aback and had to check it against the GPS track. 9.7 knts. All week we had strived and panted and belted the boat and here we where, relaxed as larry is happy caning along on a flood tide up the Irish coast!

Uffa Fox was a great proponent of racing boat cruising and all his designs I know of which had accomodation, were pretty much elongated ff15s with a forecastle desing to a low cockpit. There are plenty good racer cruisers which will add that level of control and skill to the yachtsperson developing their skills for crusing and covering leagues under the hull to make for more ambitious holiday itineries. But the wide expanse of a racing cockpit on a fine evening or even night passage is really my cup of tea. A boat which balances well and is easily driven when light crewed, and points to high doh when a little weighted up with animated ballast.