There is something particularly satisfying about sailing your own boat, as the journey is often at least as important as the destination. Getting the right shape and trim of one’s sails, balancing the boat to steer itself, and moving through the water with grace and speed, the silent rush of the wind pushing the boat along as if on rails, is really quite fun and intoxicating.
Sailboats have come a long way since the 1960s, with the dreams made real by the voyages of Robin Lee Graham in the pages of National Geographic aboard Dove, Tania Aebi and her Contessa 26, and many British couples who circled the globe in a variety of wood and early fiberglass beauties. The Hiscocks set the stage for an endless series of books about world cruising by people living an adventurous life. Free-spirited people like Sterling Hayden, Sir Francis Chichester, John Guzzwell, and the Pardeys fueled the dream of cruising adventure. Blonde Hasler crossed the Atlantic countless times about Jester, his 26-foot Folkboat, proving that even cockleshell sailboats were up to the task. And who didn’t love the 1968 movie, “I Sailed to Tahiti with an All Girl Crew!”
Boat builders once flourished in this country, creating stunning sailing vessels of all shapes and sizes. The graceful Bermuda 40 from Hinckley in 1959 created a large fleet of owners who raced, cruised, and day sailed this classic yacht all over North America. Fiberglass boat building blossomed in the 1960s, as builders developed construction techniques that made strong, rigid hulls that are still around today. Everett Pearson’s 28-foot Triton was one of the first, followed by the Cal 40, and production fiberglass boat building came of age.
Racing rules had a tremendous impact of boat design over the decades, including IOR, CCA, and IMS. And while not all boats were built to race competitively, they prompted diversity in hull shapes, rudders, keels, and sail plans. The sailboat names are familiar to many: J/Boats, C&C, Pearson, Catalina, Columbia, Cape Dory, Tayana, O’Day, Ericsson, MacGregor, Nonsuch, and more. Most of these boats can still be found in marinas and boatyards around North America, thanks to the quality of fiberglass construction.
The modern performance cruising sailboat came along in the 1970s in the form of Robert Perry’s Valiant 40, which revolutionized the cruising sailboat concept from traditionally heavy, full keel designs. The Valiant continues to be popular today.
Then there was the phenomenon of the Westsail 32, a double-ended sailboat loosely based on Colin Archer’s Scandinavian lifeboats. The Westsail culture developed around a brilliant marketing program of “Westsail the World!” The dream to live aboard and enjoy the sailing lifestyle continued for years, despite the boat’s lack of performance. But it was safe and would get its crew around the world…eventually.
As result of economic hard times the world has cycled through, and rising petroleum costs, many of these once successful boat builders closed their doors, while others downsized, or retired their sailboat molds for a growing shift to powerboats. Sabre is one example of that shift from sail to power.
European builders and manufacturers began exporting their brands into his country in the 1980s, and now the recognizable brands include foreign and domestic companies. Beneteau, Dufour, Jeanneau, Hunter, Pacific Seacraft, Passport, Cape Dory, Cabo Rico, Hallberg-Rassy, Tartan, Morris, Swan, Moody, Bavaria, Dehler, and Hanse are among these sailboat companies, many of whom remain in production.
Most of these boat builders and manufacturers continue to use the newest technology, materials, and building techniques, with fresh designs to make boats that are faster, lighter, stronger, and easier to handle. Almost all these boats are still around, and one can find a nice example of any of them for a price that ranges across the full spectrum of varying condition.
The sailing world continues to mature, and companies have had to increasingly compete with other life pursuits. Potential buyers are no longer interested in minimal accommodations, difficult to handle sails and rigging, and boats that are dark down below and slow. They want to be comfortable, connected, and easy. The journey is still the appeal of sailing but not if it is slow, uncomfortable, or hard work.
The modern sailor wants a clean, low-maintenance exterior that does not require having one’s varnisher on speed dial. People want push-button convenience and easy-to-handle sails, rigging, and steering. And with the full complement of appliances and creature comforts, as well as modern electronics. Today’s heavy electrical demands require solar arrays, wind generators, generators, and lithium battery systems. And technology for each of these energy sources improves each year.
Today’s sailor also wants a more contemporary and brighter interior treatment, moving away from being inside a dark sailboat interior. So, many builders have responded by creating remarkably comfortable and livable accommodations that compete with other boat categories for comfort and live aboard convenience. This trend is refreshing and pulls the sailboat into the modern world. Wide, fast hull shapes with spade rudders, carbon fiber spars, synthetic rigging, integrated swim platforms, and creature comforts that make sailing easier, more fun, and more comfortable. And yet still provide the same wind-in-your-hair exhilaration and satisfaction whether one is out for the day or headed to a distant cruising adventure in the islands.
For those who prefer the journey over the destination, the modern sailboat offers maximum value and the ability to enjoy both the journey and destination in comfort and with a wonderful sense of accomplishment.
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