Thursday, 5 April 2012

Sailing Boat or Power Boat

Thinking about the kind of boat I need leads to the obvious question, should it be sail or power? Not  easy  to answer since I have owned and enjoyed both during my lifetime.

Power has some subtle advantages. Every scrap of cabin space is valuable if you intend to spend weeks rather than weekends afloat, and you can get significantly more accommodation within a power cruiser hull than within a similarly sized sailboat. One reason for this is to do with hull shape and another reason (I guess) is that you don’t have to worry about the mast, boom, shrouds etc. Whatever – I certainly enjoyed more living space on my Channel Islands 22 footer, than on my 24ft Macwester sailboat, despite the fact that the Channel Islander had twin inboard Volvo diesel engines packed on board.

The other advantage of a power cruiser, I find, is that steering and navigation is done largely from within a comfortable wheelhouse. Spray is something you look at rather than feel, which is no bad thing early in the year, if the spray has its origins in the English Channel or North Sea.

Power cruisers have their downsides though, especially for the mechanically illiterate like me. I used to cruise with my eyes firmly fixed on the dials, oil pressure and engine temperature, ears carefully attuned to the slightest modulation of engine noise, wondering what I would do if either or both engines decided to give up the ghost (it happened on one occasion).

On the other hand Sailing boats are slow, even fast ones are slow, but it’s a technology I can understand. I can’t fix an engine but I can tie a knot in a rope. But, while the technology may be simple, the process of sailing is more complicated. Account has to be taken of wind and tide. Allowances have to be made for leeway and at sea it is quite normal to point one way in order to arrive somewhere else. With a sailing boat you have to like being at sea, because that’s where you’ll spend most of your time.

Fortunately despite their lack of accommodation sailing boats are more comfortable. The pressure of wind in the sails makes for a much easier motion in a seaway. You might get wet but at least your teeth don’t get shaken loose.  With the engine shut down, all sea-cocks closed, and the sails full and straining I feel much safer than I ever did on a power cruiser. Sailing people, I find, talk of the voyage, the navigation, the experience of being at sea. Power boaters, tend to recount the speed of the trip, the time taken to arrive, the cost of fuel used and the quality of the restaurant dinner they enjoyed while the sailing folk were still fighting an adverse tide some thirty miles from the destination.

So, what’s it to be – power or sail? Well the answer has to be ….. ‘sail’, for one over-riding reason.  My aim is ‘simple sailing and low cost cruising’. When it comes to considerations of cost sailboats  win every time, unless of course you are a fully qualified and experienced diesel mechanic. The engine is by far, the most expensive item in the purchase price of a power cruiser, and all engines wear out at some time. Try and replace the engine and you may as well look for another boat. If, like me, you want the dubious security of two engines – well you double the cost.

For powerboat owners fuel cost is also a factor in determining the nature and extent of a cruise. For a sailboat owner …, well the wind isn’t exactly ‘free’ but to date I have never met a sailing person who limits the distance they travel due to the negative effect of the wind on sails. More likely, time constraints will be the limiting factor. Time isn’t an issue for me anymore – but money is!
Well, I think I know where I am going with this but – your comments and views really would be greatly appreciated!