I really enjoyed the fall shows this year. With lots of positive energy about the possibilities of the future, the mood underscored the excitement of people making plans about how they want to live when they allow themselves to dream.

My lasting impression is how the builders have really stepped up to offer great variety of choices so that there is a boat now for everyone. No matter where one sits along the boating spectrum, there are fine choices available to fit one’s lifestyle, plans, and budget. The largest builders from France and Germany, such as Jeanneau, Beneteau, Hanse, and their subsidiaries, offer just about any layout anyone could desire in a sailboat. Two, three, and four staterooms can be ordered within a specific hull, and the optional interior treatments are as varied as the accommodations. I don’t recall there ever being such a wide range of options involving so many variables. I believe Hanse recently publicizes it now offers over 100 different configurations for its Hanse 510 model. Such diversity was unheard of not long ago.

Hanse 510

For those who may have more experience and want even higher quality and finish than what is offered by large production boat manufacturers, there are many possibilities from smaller yards that are bound to please. One of the new models in the Tartan lineup could be the right boat, or one from Hallberg-Rassy, or from specialized yards around the world that build in fiberglass or aluminum. Take a walk through the latest Garcia, Malo, Outbound, Swan, Amel, or even an ultra-niche Boreal and you will find ideas, designs, and solutions that can take you safely to the farthest edges of our planet. Or just to paradise.

Yes, to see many of these beautiful yachts in one place is quite a spectacle. But not all the great yachts made it to these shows, as they are no longer built. Gone are Valiant Yachts, Hinckleys, classic Morris yachts, Island Packets, and dozens of other storied brands who have been absent for some years now. But for those willing to explore the used market, using the internet, an experienced broker, and all sorts of social media groups, one can narrow the search to find that rare gem, or explore building a new Pacific Seacraft from a company back alive and well in North Carolina.

And who can possibly ignore the explosion of sailing catamarans today? The number of sailing cats at the Annapolis show made a serious statement to the sailing community. If you have not been aboard a modern cruising catamaran, you are in for a treat, as things have evolved quite a bit from what you might remember. I saw huge catamarans with crazy accommodations intended for large parties in the charter industry. On the other end, I looked at cruising cats that provide true, wind-in-your-face sailing for just a couple, such as the new models of Groupe Beneteau’s Excess line. I cannot wait to sail the new Excess 14!

excess 14 catamaran 

Yes, the modern catamaran appears to offer it all, and the popularity of the multihull platform as a cruising boat is here to stay. It is also no surprise that so many YouTube sailing influencers are moving to cats. These couples did not grow up sailing, and the catamaran concept just makes sense as a cruiser and liveaboard home.

While my above comments are about the sailing market, the same is true for the cruising powerboat community, perhaps even more so. The sailboat industry continues its quest to attract people into the sport of sailing. The commitment to an active and successful sailing career has never been a casual endeavor. It requires a serious investment of time and on-water experience to become a safe and accomplished sailor with the necessary skills and experience to handle a sailboat well.

Not so much for those looking to buy a cruising motorboat. The ease, comfort, and “simplicity” of running a powerboat is an attraction to many non-boaters who want to enjoy life on coastal and inland waters, as well as older sailors and other cruisers. In fact, many new buyers are mostly interested in travel, and the boat is only a means to achieve that. Which explains why a large percentage of Great Loopers are not, nor are they planning to be, lifelong boaters. They only want to comfortably enjoy their 6,000-mile adventure around North America. After that, they will move onto other things.

(Below: Great Loopers Fred & Sidonia are currently enjoying the Great Loop in a Nimbus 405. You can read about their journey.)

boat for the great loop 

For the rest of the power cruising community, who are into cruising for the long haul, I dare anyone to walk into any of Seattle Yachts’ offices and not find a cruising motoryacht that would be a great choice for how they embrace the trawler lifestyle. When I visit the Annapolis office, it amazes me how many models I have right within this one company. I can choose a world cruising yacht that makes a majestic lifestyle statement wherever I go, such as a beautiful yacht from Northern Marine, Alaskan, Endurance, Regency, or Northwest Yachts. All are go anywhere, self-sufficient, extremely comfortable, and want for nothing. Or I can ratchet back to a capable cruiser that provides all I need for my upcoming boating plans, such as a Nordic Tug, Nimbus, Legacy, or Ocean Sport.

When I look at the fleet of today’s cruising boats, I am reminded of a recent conversation I had with a friend who cruised on his Fleming 55 for many years, then bought a Grand Banks Eastbay for more local cruising, and is rethinking his boating needs yet again. Jim is an accomplished sailor, racer, and cruiser, and has been in the marine industry for many years.

Jim tends to look at the boating industry from 30,000 feet, no doubt from a career of seeing the impact of boating as it used to be, is today, and where it will be tomorrow. He has his own version of what he calls “The Stages of Life as a Boater.”

To summarize his thought process, one starts boating by going out on the water with friends. It is the first time on a boat, and it is both pleasurable and full of possibilities. The person has a nice experience on the water and wants to get back out there as often as possible. This leads him/her to get a boat of their own. Perhaps it needs work, but it is affordable for where life is now, fitting in between other interests and life demands.

Eventually, this growing love of boating becomes a bigger part of one’s life, and more time, money, and energy are spent on the boat, whether it is a sailboat, a fishing boat, a power cruiser, or simply a vessel to spend a day on the water. It is around this time that the well-known “two-foot-itis” infects the person. Every couple of years, it seems necessary to buy the next new model, next size up, usually with more capability, more complexity and comfort, and a greater commitment in terms of money, time, and maintenance. Dreams of world cruising fall into this phase.

At some point, and it is different for each person, but overall, quite similar, the move is towards more comfort. Whatever “world cruising” dreams were once held close, they have been satisfied on some level, and these people have done most all they wanted to do. If they own a large sailboat, by now the cockpit is fully enclosed with isinglass and canvas. There is no need to get to the sails and sheets, as they motor over 80 percent of the time no matter what.

If they come to the Dark Side, they continue boating for more years, now comfortable and safe enough for the grandchildren to spend time aboard, a happy family social center.

Those who graduate to a large modern trawler enjoy all the comforts of home. How great to be able to enjoy family and friends on many wonderful adventures in comfort and safety? Imagine spending a winter in the Caribbean. Memories that will last a lifetime.

(Below: The Northern Marine 57 offers long-range capabilities with all of the comforts of home.)

The last stage of boating life is when they find even this comfortable level of boating is harder than they like. The boat is too big, too complicated, and they need help more than they have ever needed before. It is time to downsize.

After a lifetime of boating, however, these people have an incredible bank of knowledge about all things related to boating, and they do not want to lose any of it. They hope to continue their passion, but in a smaller boat closer to home. Gone are the days of long journeys over the horizon, and if they still want to make an annual pilgrimage to SE Alaska, they have crew aboard. The long sail from Annapolis to a winter home in Hopetown in the Bahamas has become too much. The friends who helped crew on the trips these last several years are now no longer available…or interested.

When I compare these stages of life to what I saw at the boat shows, I am most heartened to see that all the bases seem covered. Clearly, there are groups of boats that fit each stage of life, and at each increment along the way.

Today is a golden time for boat buying, as the industry caters to both ends of the spectrum, well represented from a stage of life perspective as well as a generational viewpoint, and they are not the same thing.

But for all the reasons I say there have never been so many choices, I do see the industry lacking when it comes to sailboats that fit the aging sailor who has turned the corner. When it is again time to focus on the journey (close to home) rather than the destination.

I see (and identify with) a gap in the market that doesn’t cater to these aging sailors. Sailors who have had Little Harbor sailboats, Sundeer and Swan yachts, Fleming motoryachts, Grand Banks trawlers, and whatever…fill in the blanks.

What I did not see at the recent show were quality mini yachts that fit squarely in the minds of older sailors as proper yachts. I walked the docks, hoping to see an updated version of the Folkboat, the seaworthy little sailboat that could cross an ocean in a heartbeat. No matter if it only offered sitting headroom, it looked every bit a proper yacht as any 60-footer from the most distinguished yacht yard. Where are the Folkboats?

nordic folkboat

My friend Jim only stopped racing his Etchells a few years ago, and now looks for a Boston Whaler-type boat to enjoy the Chesapeake Bay around Annapolis. He may also consider a Harbor 20, the gentlemen’s daysailer proving popular at our yacht club. His days of running a big boat to Florida and the Islands are behind him, but there are scores of new cruisers ready to take his place on the ICW. Another friend finally said goodbye to his large Selene trawler, after years of cruising on it and his previous Sabre sailboat. In his case, there was also a line of interested people waiting to take his place, and his boat sold the first morning of Trawler Fest before the show even opened. The demand for a quality cruising boat is still hot.

For me, I would love to come across a new, modern Folkboat, a true little yacht that I could sail around Chesapeake Bay, or beyond. And which looks fabulous in any anchorage, even if its diminutive size attracts the attention of no one. It has been raced for half a century, sailed across oceans and around the world, much like John Guzzwell’s 21-foot Trekka. Yachts that are a far cry from the white plastic boats at the show. I never daydream of taking a J/22 to the Azores.

Nothing extreme, just high quality, and we can forgo complex systems and gear. The kind of small boat that tugs at one’s heart.

I also noticed I could find no modern interpretation of a plywood Thunderbird anywhere on the docks. This salty little sailboat, designed in Seattle for home construction in the late 1950s, was popular among Pacific Northwest racers for a long time. And what about the Frances 26, or the Contessa? Today these designs are 60 years old but fit the description of proper yachts. While the current 21-foot Mini Transit is seaworthy enough, who wants to spend an overnight at anchor up a quiet creek inside a sterile sandwich bag of a stripped-out racing machine?

Where’s the class, and where to store the glass tumblers for two fingers of Pusser’s Gunpower Proof Rum at the end of the day’s sail?

There was a retired writer in the Annapolis area who spent his later years sailing around in a green-hulled Sea Sprite 23. Where does one find one of those these days?

I have no intention of giving up big boat cruising but my eyes are on the horizon.

With everything I’ve said, it is clear there are plenty of boats around for most people who want to go cruising, whether in sailboats or cruising powerboats. There have never been so many choices, which is a really great thing. Go visit your Seattle Yachts dealer and see for yourself.

But there is a part of me that still yearns to find that one special mini yacht, just for me. Not with my family, not with friends, just me alone, solo.

See you on the water.


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