Copyright 2017 - Woods Designs, Foss Quay, Millbrook, Torpoint, Cornwall, PL10 1EN, UK
  • home built Flica 37

  • plywood Romany 34

  • lightweight 14ft Zeta mainhull

  • Strike 15 trimaran at speed

  • 28ft Skoota in British Columbia

  • 10ft 2 sheet ply Duo dinghy

  • 24ft Strider sailing fast

  • 36ft Mirage open deck catamaran

Boating is not just a hobby or a way of life for customers. It's also a business (a big one at times)

Agents, brokers and dealers get mega bucks for selling boats, typically 8-10% of the selling price. New boats garner even higher commissions. Even allowing for advertising costs, that's a lot on a boat that usually costs more than a house (and unfortunately means that agents make way more money than a designer does, for much less work or risk)

Agents take as much time selling a small boat as a big one, and advertising costs the same, for less reward. So, from a business viewpoint, it's not in their interest to try to sell smaller, cheaper boats. Instead they want to encourage people to buy ever bigger and more expensive ones.

Boatbuilders also want customers to buy bigger boats because they know that most people looking for a smaller (which usually means cheaper) boat will consider used boats first. One reason why the multihull yards in the UK have been less successful recently is because there are so many older, used Prouts, Catalac, Solaris, Heavenly Twins etc to chose from, boats that don't exist in any numbers elsewhere. Yet all have sailed round the world and made countless safe ocean voyages.

The traditional way boatyards use to attract new customers is to offer something bigger. To me that always seems a bit strange, if you have more money you don't buy a bigger car - if you did we'd all drive stretch limos - instead you buy a better quality one. But that's never been the case with boats.

So both agents and boatbuilders must always try to justify why you should buy a bigger boat and they tend to discourage people from buying smaller ones.

The extra space and performance you get with a bigger boat are obvious. I know from personal experience that small monohulls are uncomfortable compared to a similar sized multihull, so I understand why people want to go bigger. But a well designed multihull will easily beat a longer monohull, so if you have been sailing a 30ft monohull you shouldn't really need to have a bigger multihull. A 30ft catamaran will be faster and more comfortable than what you've been used to.

After the word "free" probably the next most looked for word is "safe" - or maybe "seaworthy" when it comes to boats. So agents make a big deal from the fact that a bigger boat is more seaworthy than a smaller one. Now on the face of it, that's obvious, with a few previsos, but how big does a "seaworthy" boat need to be?

The cruising heroes from the past, people like the Hiscocks, Slocum, Knox-Johnson, the Pardeys, all sailed much smaller boats than are commonly promoted today as the "smallest possible size for ocean cruising". They didn't get into trouble by doing so. The sea hasn't changed, nor have the distances between ports increased. Yet I understand that the average sized cruising monohull sold today is 47ft (14m) and that length is increasing all the time.

Many of the more recent multihull books and magazines claim you need at least a 40ft boat to be safe. 25 years ago it was 35ft, no doubt in a few years it will be 50ft. Yet the first catamaran to sail round Cape Horn was a 30ft Oceanic, and that was sailed by an inexperienced couple with their two young children on board. My 32ft Eclipse survived an extreme storm without capsizing or being damaged. A storm powerful enough to stop a 450ft US warship in its tracks.

Having said that, I wouldn't personally cross an ocean on any boat under 30ft, however seaworthy it might be,  because I think the motion will be too bouncy and the boat too uncomfortable. Equally my wife and I wouldn't want to cruise on a boat over 40ft. It's just too big to handle, the gear's too heavy, it's too much effort to maintain and clean, never mind being too expensive to buy and run.

Remember that typically a boat's real running costs are 10% of the purchase price. Also, remember that in the "good old days" people didn't need watermakers, SSB's, air conditioning to go cruising. You still don't need them. But fitting all those implies a bigger, more expensive boat, which takes longer to build and more important, means you have to work many more years before you can go off cruising.

So to my mind the optimum sized cruising boats are between 30-40ft, which of course is why I have so many designs in that size range.

One problem with concentrating on the expensive boats is that it implies yachts are elitist; after all, not everyone has 500,000 to spend on a new boat. So there is a big missed marketing opportunity. With no way now to "come up through the ranks" I think it is a self defeating policy by the agents. After all, how many cars would you see on the roads if the only ones you could buy were new Mercedes or Rolls Royces?