’Tis the season. Well, it’s a little past the season, but even so, I’ve been looking at sailboats again. And the question is: do I want to go for a big boat in the off-chance that we’ll do a long coastal trip, or do I want a small, easy to maintain daysailer that’s also easy on the pocketbook?
The choice of used sailboats on the Internet is staggering. And unless you have some criteria for choosing a boat, the whole shopping thing just gets completely confusing. For example, the first choice you have to make is whether you want a multi-hull boat or a monohull. If you go with the multi-hull—like a catamaran—you can expect to pay about twice as much as you would for single-hulled vessel of roughly the same size.
I like the idea of a catamaran. The main cabin sits on top of the hulls, which means your living room is much bigger and has lots of windows, so it’s a lot brighter, especially on long voyages. Cats don’t tip much in the wind, either. And that means kids and sailing newbies like the experience a whole lot more. And then there’s all that extra room below-decks in those two hulls, which usually accommodates four bedrooms and two bathrooms, plus lots of storage. Plus cats are often more than twice as fast under sail as their single-hulled cousins.
The downside? Well, I mentioned expense. Two hulls mean more materials and more cost to build, and there’s also the business of having two motors, one for each hull, adding to the cost. And then there’s the bad weather issue. Although there’s a lot of debate, catamarans have a reputation for flipping over in big storms—and staying upside down, unlike monohulls that tend to roll over and pop back upright with their deep heavy keels acting as counterweights. So a lot of folks consider monohulls to be safer.
Most people pick single-hulled vessels for two reasons. There are lots more of them, and they’re less expensive. So, if that’s the way to go, what’s the difference between a small boat and a big one besides the obvious cost-per-foot? Well, although big boats offer lots of room and amenities, they’re a much bigger commitment in terms of maintenance, portability and storage. Big boats are harder to trailer and get in and out of the water than small boats. So little boats are just a whole lot easier for the do-it-yourselfer.
And then there are the differences in design. Do you want a racing boat or a cruiser? Do you want to go off-shore in the deep scary water or mostly use it as a sunny day, fair weather friend? Do you want to sleep on the boat, party with the family or just sail it alone (leaving the wife and kids at home because they’re bored on board or simply hate the whole seasick experience)? There’s a boat design to suit just about any set of wants and needs you could imagine.
Which also means that there’s no boat that has everything rolled into one design. So every boat is a compromise. You’ve got to trade off some features to get the ones you want. Want a super-safe ocean-going boat? Well, it’ll need a heavy keel and solid construction so it likely won’t be that fast. Want a super fast boat? With its lightweight construction you can bet it won’t be the safest boat in a heavy gale.
I like this sailboat design analogy because it’s a lot like life. Life is all about compromise. If you want to live on a farm for example, you don’t have all the social amenities of the big city. If you live in a small town you don’t have nearly as many options as you would in a big city. And if you live in the city you have to keep all of your stuff locked up and you have less access to nature.
All of which leads me to consider the compromises we make to live here versus the benefits. One of the compromises in living in a pretty seaside town is dealing with its economy, which is based on tourism—since the traditional fishery has all but vanished. But that means I have to share my pretty town with 100,000 strangers every summer—including the few thousand bikers who’ll roar into town on their noisy contraptions next week to tickle the inner biker child of a few of local attraction managers and retailers.
But perhaps I’m minimizing the real compromises. Living in Charlotte County is fraught with compromises, whether one was born here or not. The limited range of opportunities can sometimes create a ‘musical chairs’ effect where people will do almost anything to compete for that one remaining opening. And then there are the constraints that are multi-generational—the “have” families on one side and the “have-nots” on the other.
Simply put, unlike the widely diverse monohull sailboat market, there isn’t a lot of choice out here. All in all, it’s a great place to be a government worker, healthcare provider or a teacher—or the inheritor of the family business.
But for those of you—especially young people—whose designs don’t quite fit here, there’s big old ocean of opportunity waiting for you out there. And you can always come back for a visit (despite the motorcycles I hear it’s a pretty good place for a vacation).
The choices and compromises may be more important than you think.