I was thinking how so many of my friends have moved to the Dark Side in the last couple of years. While every situation is slightly different, people reach a point in their lives where they long for the trawler experience rather than the athletic challenges of sailing. It seems a natural evolution of the boating lifecycle, trading the simplicity and pleasure of sailing for the comforts and easy livability of a trawler.

But I also think the last 15 years have brought a lot of changes to mainstream sailing, as manufacturers do their best to accommodate the changing needs of their customers, an aging generation no longer comfortable climbing a mast, setting a whisker pole, or swimming down to clear a fouled prop. Those things are for younger people, the active and energetic fountain of youth. For young men and women, it is a big game and every bit is fun and exciting.

I recently sat in the Annapolis office of Seattle Yachts, on a cold rainy day the week after the hustle and bustle of an exciting Miami Boat Show. I was there to pose some questions to a couple of very experienced brokers, with as much wisdom as anyone else in the industry. Mike Titgemeyer and Dan Bacot are veterans in the recreational boating industry, and they experience the mood of the buying public daily, particularly when dealing with sailboats for sale. They have seen it all and yet somehow still find it exciting and fresh. People who love what they do are like that, and I find them a real pleasure to be around.

I asked them how is it that some senior sailors find ways to stay in sailing, resisting the urge to buy into the trawler world? Despite the appeal of the amenities of a trawler, many sailors continue sailing well into their 80s and beyond.

(Seen Below: Longtime sailboat builder Tartan Yachts has continued to refine their easy sailing capabilities.)

tartan sailboat 

Mike said it is all about lifestyle. Think about it. Young people get into sailing for a variety of reasons, perhaps to go racing. The athletic challenges of competitive sailboat racing can be quite addicting, and it is a very active lifestyle. Later, when they get married and start families, they might tone down the pace a bit but still find ways to take the kids out on the water. It becomes a family activity and the lifestyle they enjoy at home comes with them. Coolers filled with snacks and drinks and evenings spent in the cockpit grilling burgers after a day on the water make for lasting memories.

As the years go by, and the level of appreciation for the finer things in life increases, these same people now look for more comfort and accommodations. They bring their lifestyle to the boat.


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I remember a couple visited our boat show booth in Annapolis one year and the woman shared some of her own story. She said the lightbulb went off in her head when she got into the dinghy, leaving their anchored sailboat. As she rowed away, she had this aha moment with the sudden realization that she and her husband live in a lovely custom home, and here she was, rowing ashore with dirty laundry to find a laundromat. That no longer fit her idea of fun cruising, and they were at the show looking for a trawler.

But Mike tells me that some of the sailboat manufacturers have been listening to these conversations over the last number of years and decided to address the issues that drive traditional sailors out of the sailing world into other boat choices, complete with washer/dryer, air conditioning, and separate showers. Can they build sailboats that allow senior sailors to maintain their lifestyle that much longer? By building boats that are still enjoyable to sail but are also easier to handle, better equipped, and more comfortable for how owners want to enjoy their boats at this point in life.

(Seen below: The new Hanse Yacht models feature clean and easy-to-walk around decks.)

hanse sailboat deck 

Among the many changes we’ve seen boat builders make in the last 15 years are fundamental adjustments to hull shapes for improved hull form stability. The days of burying the rail on a skinny sailboat with pinched ends are over. People no longer want to live in a heeled sailboat. So, the popular monohull sailboats of today have more waterline beam for improved initial stability. They are designed to sail at a comfortable angle of heel, and this wider beam is carried from the wide stern to the bow. These fuller hull sections also allow large interior accommodations and wider side decks. And the lack of heeling is one reason sailing catamarans are so popular.

Speaking of side decks, some of the larger manufacturers, such as Beneteau, Jeanneau, and Hanse now offer walk-around side decks on their newer models. It is a simple matter to move from the cockpit to the side decks, not having to climb over high cockpit coamings or other structures to move forward on the boat. Cockpits used to be deeply recessed below the level of the side decks, but now they are level or even above the side deck, making it much easier to move about the boat. And with twin helms, the ability to move about the cockpit is unprecedented with no need to climb around people or tables. This really opens the exterior for lounging at anchor or moving about underway.

Deck layouts have also been redesigned for better ergonomics, and in the case of some boats, such as the Tartan 455, the raised pilothouse offers one level living. This new design is a fine alternative to a trawler and can motor at almost 10 knots.

(Seen below: The new Tartan 455 will be availalbe soon!)

 Tartan 455 sailboat

The tall, steep companionway steps of classic sailboats from cockpit down into dark interiors are gone. No longer is there the need to turn around to safely climb down or up this vertical ladder. Today, the transition from cockpit to interior spaces is either step through or perhaps a couple of ergonomically relaxed steps down into the interior, which are now much brighter, more inviting, and more contemporary. Dark finishes are gone. Modern, functional interiors are now commonplace, the traditional teak and holly sole replaced with low maintenance flooring.

It is now common to find a bow thruster on a 35-foot sailboat, making life easier and less stressful for close quarters maneuvering. Modern technology helps people continue sailing rather than seek an alternative or get out of boating altogether. And these owners want designs that allow them to invite another couple to join them for a day, a week, or more. No longer wanting to force guests into cramped, oddly shaped cabins, they desire guest accommodations equal to their own stateroom. This was simply not possible in older designs that shoehorned living spaces into narrow hulls. There is no interest in camping on today’s cruising sailboat.


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Which is why, above a certain length, owners can happily offer their guests a VIP suite every bit as luxurious as the master accommodations. Ensuite heads, separate showers, and all the storage and comfort one expects for a premium lifestyle experience. And with the raised cockpit design on some sailboats with wider beam aft, the increase in stern interior volume allows much better use of the space inside the boat.

But it is more than luxury interiors that make modern sailboats a good choice for the aging sailor. Technology in systems brings a safer experience, and one that is easier to use. The Solent rig is now more common, although Tartan Yachts calls their version the CCR (Cruise Control Rig). The Solent rig makes sailing upwind or downwind an easy proposition. Two headsails are mounted close together. The inner sail is a full-size working jib, while the sail ahead of it is a larger genoa. The jib is used for sailing upwind, while the larger genoa is unfurled for sailing off the wind. This rig has proven great for short-handed sailing and does not require the running back stays of a cutter rig.

Another improvement is mainsail furling. Many boats have in-mast furling gear, such as the superb Selden gear from Sweden, while others, such as Tartan Yachts, offer Leisure Furl in-boom systems with their carbon fiber masts.

Control and running rigging are no longer run along decks and across cockpits, making a multicolored tangle of lines that run to individual winches, clutter up the cockpit, and risk tripping crew. Now one expects to find a couple of electric winches to handle all the running rigging lines, which are neatly run under deck and cabin top to keep the clean appearance of the boat and reduce the tangle of lines.

These and other rigging choices allow a couple to easily sail a big boat without drama. And all these systems keep improving, such as the new Selden E40i electric winch with its motor inside the winch drum, rather than underneath the winch, so it doesn’t take up valuable overhead space in the interior. And Selden’s new SMF (Synchronized Mail Furling) system handles the mainsail with the touch of a button.

(Seen below: The Selden E40i electric winch has a 42 Volt motor is fully contained inside the winch drum body.)

electric winch

Other high-value lifestyle features include easily deployed swim platforms, well-designed davits for the dinghy, even hinged cockpit coamings that open out to increase lounge space in the cockpit.

In Mike’s and Dan’s experience, traditional sailors go over to the trawler side because they are not comfortable with these new sailboats. They don’t “get” them. Too many years of traditional shapes and finishes makes them uneasy with these boats and they are more familiar with the traditional style found on many trawlers. It feels more like what they are used to.

But for the rest of us, who want to continue to enjoy the greener essence of sailing, these new boats offer a premium lifestyle experience. And Mike and Dan insist it is all about lifestyle. Modern systems, continued innovation, easier-to-use sail management controls and handling, and comfort systems that make living aboard a wonderful experience. These all describe the modern sailboat.

Lifestyle elements are now part of the design spiral where they never were before. Raised salon layouts rival a trawler for comfort, weather protection, and livability. Raised cockpits and wide sterns allow for genuine aft cabins. Accommodations are an important part of the design rather than squeezed in later.

If you have not been on one of these modern boats that soften the experience of what was once a roughing-it kind of experience, you need to get to a boat show soon. You might be very surprised just how evolved sailboats have become.

As the three of us talked, I was reminded of how other things have changed in the decades I’ve been in boating. Back in the day, the dinghy of choice was an Avon Red Crest, a crappy little inflatable with wood slats in the floor. All inflatables back then were prone to leaks and failed seams, and I grew to dislike them. Even now, I am reluctant to own an inflatable dinghy, as every one of mine developed leaks at some point.

And the small diesel engine always seemed to be tucked inside the boat with no consideration for access and routine maintenance. Good luck if you could touch the stuffing box, without being twisted into a pretzel, let alone work on it. Such things were always an afterthought. Now we have efficient diesel engine saildrives that have none of the issues of the past. Flat running angle, generally good access, and a proven track record. The way to go.

I am looking forward to the spring sailboat show in Annapolis. I just love seeing the collective innovation on these new boats. Who knows? Maybe it is time for this old trawlerman to consider a new set of foul weather gear…


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