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Circumnavigation: Which ship size makes sense?


Is it irresponsible to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a 25-foot folk boat? Two young Englishmen did it in 2007 as part of the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC). Her conclusion: “That was the coolest sailing trip of our life!”. Is it decadent to sail the world’s seas in a 65-foot yacht with all the mod cons, including air conditioning, multiple refrigerators, spacious cabins, and hot water showers? Here, too, we know owners who were satisfied with it …

In other words: the question of the right ship size for a circumnavigation or long voyage as part of a blue water voyage cannot be answered across the board. Rather, it is an extremely complex topic that depends heavily on personal preferences and factors. For example, while one owner wants luxury on board, another owner wants the running costs as low as possible. In this respect, it is extremely risky to devote yourself to this topic as part of a contribution. Still, I want to do this.

I would like to start by saying that on the one hand there is no magic bullet in this regard and on the other hand this article is only about the question of size and nothing else. So it’s not about the question of whether a short or a long keel is better or whether a middle or aft cockpit offers more comfort on a circumnavigation. However, these are all very important considerations when buying a yacht.

Anyone who takes a closer look at the topic usually stumbles sooner or later over an interesting thesis that every year causes smiles and lively discussions at our blue water seminars. It is:


At least with most of the sailors that we have met on our blue water trips, this sentence applies to some extent. If we take a look around the anchorages of the world, the older sailors usually also own the larger ships – and not infrequently they also have the larger travel budget. Which at the end of the day is mostly connected somehow.

In keeping with its age, our ship was 36 feet during the circumnavigation. A good size for us, as we could still operate everything by hand without electric winches. And by “us” I also mean “us”. That means that my wife was always able to set, reef or trim the sails on her own.

That creates freedom. So we don’t have to wake each other up at sea when the wind picks up and a reef is necessary. This is of inestimable importance, especially on nights with very changeable weather. It makes a difference whether you have to wake your fellow sailor for every maneuver or whether you can drive it alone. That is quality of life. Even more: it also creates security because it is actually reefed. Otherwise, many crews wait gust after gust to see if it might work without reef because the partner is asleep. An unnecessary strain on the ship and material.

On the other hand, it should of course not be forgotten that a large ship offers much more space. This is another point that should not be underestimated, as the importance of living comfort is largely determined by the space available. If we then consider how much time we spend at sea and how much time in port or at anchor, the subject becomes even more important.

Here is a simple rule of thumb:


In short: the longer the trip, the shorter the net sailing time and the more important the living comfort and thus also the question of the available space on board. And that in turn is logically related to the size of the ship.

And then there’s the speed thing. Of course, a large ship usually sails faster than a small one. It is not without reason that there is the simple rule: “Length runs!”. A larger ship also offers more security against the forces of nature. It makes a difference whether seven winds are experienced in a 29- or 49-foot ship.

My first ship was an international folk boat (said 25 feet). Then came an Olsen 8: 8 (29 feet). Today we are sailing a Gib‘Sea 106 (36 feet). You could say, so to speak, that we followed the rule with the foot per age.

The crucial point is that four winds on the following boat felt the same as six winds on the Gib‘Sea 106 today. The ship is wider and longer. The freeboard is higher. It’s only 11 feet of difference, but the ship is calmer in the sea and the waves feel relatively smaller.

During our circumnavigation of the world, we found that the 42 to 48 feet range is most common at anchorages around the world. This is a size that for most circumnavigators offers a very good combination of personal safety, enough space and a healthy approach to the forces on board. Although we have to say that the ships in the blue water scene are larger than on the Baltic Sea – where at 48 feet it is often too narrow in the smaller Scandinavian ports.

I observe another trend as part of my work on the annual ocean rally Atlantic Odyssey, organized by cruising legend Jimmy Cornell. Very large ships – between 45 and 60 feet – that are driven by crews who are still relatively young are taking part more and more. Their owners have mostly inherited or successfully managed a company and sold it and now want to spend their lives on a ship as comfortable as possible and see the world for the time being. The owners are increasingly relying on catamarans. In terms of space, this is an absolute luxury. Anyone traveling with a 50-foot catamaran is sailing across the world’s oceans in a 100-foot ship from the perspective of a monohull owner.

This is an interesting development, but in my opinion it only makes sense if you have the money to maintain such a ship. Because one thing must not be forgotten: buying a ship is one thing – maintaining it is another. As a rule of thumb, around 10 percent of the acquisition costs for the upkeep and maintenance of the ship can be budgeted for every year. Not to mention the mooring fees …

But back to the roots of sailing: We saw that things can also be very small in the South Pacific when we met a young Australian named Jamie. His boat was called POSSIBILITIES and the name of the ship said it was program. When we met the 32-year-old, he had already been sailing around the world for eight years in his 7.60 meter long ship. “I slipped into it after graduation,” he said. “Actually, I only wanted to be away for a year. My ship is 39 years old and there is always something to do, but it’s paid for and I’m on my way! “

It was much more comfortable on the 53-foot yacht of two sailors whom we also met on our trip. We spent a lot of time together – especially underwater while diving. Whenever we agreed to meet up to go diving, the two of them were ready to go to the ship within half an hour to pick us up. All they had to do was fetch everything from one of the cabins in the bow and load it into the dinghy. On the other hand, we first had to clear sail bags and bags from the aft cabin in order to get to our diving gear. When we came back from the frogs’ party, the two “53s” simply hung their diving equipment to dry in the wet cell in the forepeak. There was another bathroom on their “luxury liner”. On our “sardine can”, however, the whole cockpit was blocked with drying neoprene suits, vests, bottles and other diving accessories.

This is just one of many examples. We haven’t cleared everything to get spare parts or to bring more food to the surface from compartments under the ship’s bunks. Not infrequently we asked for more space – admittedly the whining was at a high level.

The connection between size and whining is also the other way around. He is known among yachties as:


This point is not to be despised. As the size of the ship increases, so do the demands placed on the systems on board. For example, the larger the number of feet, the larger the electric autopilot must be. While a relatively wear-free and energy-friendly wind control system is often used as an alternative on smaller ships, very large ships usually only sail with the electric version of the autopilot. It is not uncommon for the devices to be not designed for such a permanent load.

To clarify: with a crew of two who cover a three-week ocean passage, the autopilot usually runs 98 percent of the time. That’s around 500 hours of operation! And so there is hardly an owner who does not cursed the failure of the autopilot at some point on his journey. The situation is very similar with generators and watermakers – which, by the way, would name the top 3 most failure-prone devices on blue water yachts. But only by the way.

Back to the electric co-pilot. Due to the high power requirement, installing the autopilot usually entails the purchase of a larger battery bank and a generator to recharge the same. When it comes to energy management in particular, the consumption values ​​on large ships are completely different from those on smaller ships. This is a consumption curve that increases exponentially with increasing ship size. On large ships, completely different systems are required – starting with the bow thruster and the number of refrigerators to the electric anchor winch.

If you look at the multitude of components on board large yachts, this is probably one of the few moments when the sailing large landowners envy the small ship owners at least a little. With Jamie, the Australian, things were extremely straightforward. Quote: “I don’t have an electric autopilot or refrigerator. Less systems – less trouble! “

At the end of the day there is hardly an owner who does not come to the conclusion every day that his ship is simply too small. This is completely normal. We’re all in good company there. After all, we also need a new dream that we can cling to when the dream of being on the move has become a reality. 😉

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