Alvah Simon - Choosing the perfect cruiser
I believe the finest description of a cruising boat ever penned was by E.B. White when he wrote: "A small craft is not only beautiful; it is seductive and full of strange promise and a hint of trouble. It is without question the most compact and ingenious arrangement for living ever devised by the restless mind of Man - a home that is stable without being stationary, shaped less like a box than a fish, or a girl, and in which a homeowner can remove his daily affairs as far from shore as he has the nerve to. Close hauled or running free - parlor, bedroom, and bath, suspended and alive."
Running free, suspended and alive, a hint of trouble - no wonder we are helpless before their charms. That said, some are more charming than others; for that matter more suitable, more manageable, more affordable.
So, Jeanneau, Beneteau, Bavaria, Spencer, Elliot, Ganley... how do you choose? I wish I had the space to dissect and assess them all but, alas, I'll have to speak in general terms.
The perfect boat is just like the perfect spouse; it is the one you love, helplessly and hopelessly, because it takes a lot of love to accommodate the inevitable foibles and flaws. A boat has to speak to you at some soulful level, it has to hold your eye when you row away from it, it has to burrow its way into your heart so that, like a lover, you can't deny it anything it asks for, for it will ask plenty.
Next, the perfect cruising boat is the paid for cruising boat. At the core of the cruising lifestyle is freedom - physical and financial. A large monthly mortgage will follow you around the world like an albatross. All is idyllic in Bora Bora until you get that letter from the receivers of Bridgecorp saying, "Sorry, eight cents on the dollar." That sound you just heard was the death rattle of a dream. If paid for means a smaller boat, and older boat, a slightly delayed departure, it is well worth the sacrifice.
Next is simplicity, for while those of the "keep it simple stupid" school of thought are out exploring pristine beaches or sampling exotic cuisines, the gin palace owners are lined up, sat-phones in hand, in front of the local customs office hoping the circuit board for their multi-system electrical interface has finally arrived.
And lastly, the perfect boat is the boat you know - inside out, upside down, stem to stern. As a young sailor and nascent boat owner, I was in a shore-side pub fantasizing out loud about my next boat. An old salt turned to me and said, "Sail the one you have, Son. Sail the paint off the bottom, and the stitches out of the sails."
That intimate knowledge he encouraged me to develop of the hull, rig, systems, and sea-keeping characteristics translates directly into the safety, confidence, and happiness of the crew.
And that translates into miles and memories, glorious miles and memories.
Alvah and Diana Simon, now Whangareii-based, have been cruising for the past 20 years and have won awards for seamanship and for Alvah's writing and Diana's photography.