MODERN OFFSHORE BOATS
There is a certain group of sailors in any sailing crowd who cling to the old ways and scoff at the new. You know who they are and they will tell you in all earnestness that only full keel boats are suitable for offshore sailing and that you must have either a ketch or a cutter out in the blue water. They don’t trust autopilots, chartplotters or digital charts and insist that the government can turn off GPS on a whim.
Opinions are opinions and the grizzled old salts are as entitled to theirs as much as anyone. But the rest of the cruising community has moved on, evolved so to speak. This becomes obvious when you look at the fleets that depart every year in offshore events like the Baja HaHa, the Salty Dawg Rally and other cruising events. The vast majority of the boats in these events are production fin keel, spade rudder sloops of varying sizes, shapes and qualities.
The reason is pretty simple. With the exception of proven blue water boats from Island Packet, Shannon and Pacific Seacraft, there are mighty few builders who offer either full keel designs or traditional double-ended hulls. And few that offer their boats with either a cutter or ketch rig.
Many cruisers today are heading offshore with rudders that are either real spade designs or have partial skegs that protect the upper third. As you have read and know from experience, rudders and steering systems tend to take the brunt of bad weather and require strength and robust engineering, but also careful maintenance.
So, what are modern boats like in gales at sea? All modern boats are more active in a seaway than heavy displacement cruisers from a generation ago, but the level of activity is based in part on displacement. In big seas and bad weather, that means you often have to slow modern, lighter displacement boats down to ease the motion and take the loads off the rudder and rig. Without a cutter or ketch rig, modern boats have limited options for reducing sail area when the weather gets stormy. And heaving to in a very light modern cruiser without an inner forestay and a storm jib can be difficult, although not impossible.
The thing about modern cruising boats is they sail so well and so fast that even if you do have to slow down a bit, you are still making tracks. This allows you to sail out of harm’s way if given enough notice. And if you have roller furling in both the main and headsail, you have the ability to dial in just the amount of sail you want from the full sails right down to the UV patches on the clews, which can help take pressure off the rudder and steering systems.
ATN offers a unique storm jib for skippers who sail with only a single roller furling genoa. Called the Gale Sail, the storm sail is bright orange and has a sleeve at the luff that allows it to be hoisted around the rolled up genoa. For the one day in 50 at sea that you might need a storm jib on your modern sloop, this is an excellent solution. It makes heaving to much easier as well.
Well fitted out modern designs are almost all offshore worthy and carry ABYC and the European CE certifications, depending on where they are built. Sure, these designs are roomy homes afloat, but they can also knock off seven or eight knots all day long. And that puts a smile on your face, too.