Opinion on Blue Water Boats.

There is much controversy over what makes a blue-water boat, capable of crossing oceans in the worst weather. Some will argue that the latest production sailboats including catamarans can safely circumnavigate. Maybe, but I have my own standards as to what constitutes a blue-water boat. Here is a list of the features I think are desirable for such a vessel. I am no expert mind you, but common sense dictates my choices.

Full Keel: Soon or later all sailors will touch ground or hit something right beneath the surface. A full keel will resist the shock much better. It also protects the rudder behind it. Then there is heaving-to, a storm tactic full keel boats presumably perform much better. There has been instances of fin keels falling off, mostly on racing boats, but also due to poor maintenance, but why take a chance? Sure, a full keel boat will be slower, so what? I do not indend on ever racing, so safety takes precedence over speed. The argument that a faster boat can avoid weather might have some merit; until you get caught in a bad storm.

Material: Materials used in boat production are pretty good. Dagny is made of fiberglass and I have no problem with that. Maintenance is minimal. The hull is thick and solid. I would however prefer a steel hull. My previous boat, which I unfortunately didn’t get to sail much was plated with 3/16″ mild steel. The keel was made of half-inch plate. You could have hit a plastic boat with it and said “oops, sorry!” and not worry about any damage to your own boat. Same goes for dragging on rocks or hitting floating debris at sea. A steel boat can take a beating. Another major advantage is lightning safety. The hull is essentially a Faraday cage through which lightning will find its way to the water without burning a number of holes on its way. Not to mention keeping the crew safe inside. My next boat will most likely be made of steel.

Double-ender: That is open to debate. I like the way double-enders look. Norwegian rescue boats have a canoe stern. They went to sea to rescue other boats caught in storms. That alone is a good enough reason for me. It seems logical that a stern able to part the seas should be safer when breaking waves crash from behind. It may be argued that the lack of buoyancy negates that advantage. I would feel better with a canoe stern when using a drogue to slow the boat down. I may be wrong, but like I said, they sure look good!

Small cockpit: Big cockpits might be comfortable at the dock for cocktails, but they fill with tons of water in rough seas. Small ones drain quickly. I always evaluate cockpit size when looking for a boat.

Small ports: Huge breaking waves can break through large windows and leave you with a flooded cabin. No thanks. I’ll take a darker interior any day instead of vulnerable windows. Unfortunately bright interiors sell better, so current manufacturers seem to prefer large panes of acrylic or glass. I have seen new boats with windows and hatches looking so flimsy, I wouldn’t take them anywhere.

Samson post: Where did the Samson posts go? Few boats have them now, relying instead on cleats, which are clearly not as strong. I know I will be worried about anchoring with Dagny in a storm. The bow cleats do not look quite strong enough. Getting towed would be nerve-wrecking as well.

Low freeboard: Anything sticking out above the water line will be affected by wind and waves. I like pilot houses but it’s like having an extra sail you can’t take down. Huge waves can take a cabin out, as scary as that sounds. Dagny has a flush deck, which while a real pain when moving about inside is a safer design in rough weather, aside from the possibility of knocking your head on the ceiling. I will probably get a helmet to avoid getting hurt that way. Anything on deck is a liability. That is why I decided to glue my solar panels on the deck. I want nothing to stick out if I can avoid it.

Tiller: A tiller is the simplest way to move your rudder. Wheels imply gears, chains or ropes, which can break or get stuck. Losing steerage at the wrong time can be catastrophic.

Wind vane: Not mandatory I guess, but owning a blue-water boat usually means that you at least hope to cross oceans. Steering all the time is simply impossible for a single-hander. Electronic auto pilots always seem to break. I have watched documentaries on circumnavigations aborted because the auto pilot(s) failed. A wind vane is a mechanical device with few moving parts, making it much more reliable. Dagny came with a Fleming wind vane, which I am very happy about.

Heavy displacement: Is not always synonym with strength but usually means that more material has been used, resulting in heavier scantlings and thicker hulls. A heavy boat feels more stable. My Tahitiana at 32ft and 18,000lbs felt very solid, even sluggish, but that was a good thing for a cruising boat. Dagny is only 6800lbs but it isn’t especially light for a 26 footer and 51% of that weight is in the keel.

Self righting: That seems a given with monohulls, but not always the case. I want to know that my boat, if it ends up upside down, will right itself quickly. Catamarans and trimarans when upside down will stay that way, the mast becoming the keel. They may float, but you can’t self-rescue.

Dagny has all of the aforementioned features, except for the steel hull and a Samson post. I feel pretty confident that she could take most of what the ocean can dish out, probably more than what I could take in any case. My first efforts will be to catch up with her and become as seaworthy, or salty, building experience until I feel comfortable undertaking long passages.

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Deck Painting.

Dagny came with an unpainted deck. The plywood had just a coat of Awlgrip grey primer. It was imperative to seal it right away. First step was to lay a couple coats of West System epoxy to make sure no fresh water could work its way into the wood. There was already a little bit of damage where the stanchion screws went through the deck.

Dagny's deck before painting.

Dagny’s deck before painting.

I chose Pettit EasyPoxy deck paint; not the two-part type, which I decided would be a bit of a pain to apply, but the single-part paint. With the help of a couple friends we sanded the wood and applied two coats. The boat looked so much better, but the deck was so slippery, I almost fell over a couple times.

For safety’s sake, I had to apply an anti-skid on top of the paint. I decided to use KiWiGrip, which is applied with a special roller to create a non-skid texture. Some people use sand mixed with regular paint, but The Frances is too nice a boat for such a treatment. The paint had to be lightly sanded of course, then cleaned with acetone, never a pleasant job. One gallon did not cover the whole deck, so I ordered an extra quart, which hopefully will be enough.

The result is pretty darn nice:

KiwiGrip anti-skid.

KiwiGrip anti-skid.

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Achilles LEX-77 Inflatable Dinghy.

Since I plan on anchoring out rather than spending a fortune in marina fees, I needed some sort of tender. Space is at a premium on Dagny, so an inflatable was the only possibility. Even a foldable dinghy would have been too large. I do not want anything on deck under way. My first thought was about Zodiac. Who doesn’t know the name? The Zoom 230 looked very good at about $600. I never buy anything without a lot of research. So I started browsing the web looking for dinghies… Some models seemed to cost twice as much for the same size boat. Maybe because they were made in China, but no, they were pretty much all made in China. Then I learned about PVC VS. Hypalon.

Most inflatables are made of PVC (polyvinyl chloride). It isn’t the same PVC as your garden variety pool implements, but a strong multi-layer material which can be thermally bonded by machines. Zodiac has their own version called Strongan™. It has the advantage of being cheap and convenient for manufacturing. The major issue with PVC however is the sun. UV radiation destroys PVC fairly quickly. For a dinghy used sporadically and mostly stored inside, no problem. If you plan on leaving it on deck or towing it, forget it.

Professionals and the military all use Hypalon (chlorosulfonated polyethylene synthetic rubber). It is not affected by the sun or most chemicals and lasts much longer in more extreme environments. Twenty years is a normal lifespan for a Hypalon boat, even longer. The only downside… Cost.

I thought long and hard about the dilemma. After reading a couple horror stories of PVC boats coming apart after a couple years spent outside, I decided to splurge on a Hypalon dink. Achilles makes all their boats with this material and gets good reviews. I opted for the LEX-77, a 7’7″ boat weighing 62lbs. The LS2-RU was a bit cheaper but did not have an inflatable keel. The LEX also has a plywood floor.

I do not have an outboard engine for it yet, but am pretty much set on the Yamaha 2.5HP. It probably wouldn’t plane with a 4HP anyway (3.5HP Tohatsu), so I might as well save on gas with a 2.5HP. The competition (Suzuki, Honda) is about 7lbs lighter than the Yamaha, and while it might be an advantage for carrying, I can’t help but wonder where the weight savings are…

The only problem with an expensive dinghy is worrying about it being stolen… Not sure how I’ll deal with the possibility… Suggestions are welcome…

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