Desirable Attributes of a
Blue-water cruising Sailboat

In doing our research prior to shopping for a sailboat that would carry us across oceans, we developed a list of desirable attributes to guide our boat search. These attributes are shown below--not exactly in priority order, although those listed first were deemed more important than those listed later--because for the most part they were integral to the boat and couldn't be added by later if they wanted. Callipygia passed this list with flying colors, and in all our travels we never saw another boat we'd rather have had.

A major resource in developing the list was the book by John Vigor "The Seaworthy Offshore Sailboat: A Guide to Essential Features, Handling and Gear." At the front of this book, there is a really neat 100-question test/quiz which gives you a quick determination of the blue-water seaworthiness of you and your boat.


  1. Affordable. Can we afford to buy and maintain this boat without borrowing or overextending ourselves financially?
  2. Pleasing to the eye. Can we love this boat--we know there will be issues with her, so she has to make our hearts smile while we work through them and accept them or else we'll get disatisfied and grumpy. [During our 4 years with Callipygia, we never saw another boat we'd rather have had.]
  3. 35' - 40' on deck. Big enough to be sea-kindly and safe in bad weather, yet small enough for one of us to single-hand if we had to.
  4. Cutter rig. Easy sailplan for reducing sail.
  5. Good survey. Sound condition and structure, and a dry boat. No need to keep everything wrapped in plastic.
  6. Good ventilation and no air conditioning. No thank you, we have no need for the noise or electrical requirements of air-conditioning, we'll settle instead for a few fans and good ventilation.
  7. Heavy displacement cruiser with a full keel and attached rudder. Able to take care of us in bad weather while we hunker down below.
  8. Inboard diesel engine powered at not less than 3 hp/ton. Sufficient power to make our way motoring or motor-sailing when necessary, or to power up and get out of a tight spot.
  9. Solid fibreglass hull. Easy to maintain and not laminated.
  10. Fibreglass deck (not teak). Easy to maintain, and no leaks.
  11. Plenty of accessible and well-ventilated storage. This is our home, so we need enough room for books (we had 24 linear feet) and other comforts, plus all the spares, tools, etc. for blue-water cruising.
  12. 6" Bulwarks with scuppers. Good solid footing while walking around the deck, and good drainage in downpours or shipping green water.
  13. 8 strong through-bolted deck cleats. Strong attachments for docklines and anchor snubber. [Callipygia only had 6.]
  14. Squared off coach roof/cabin top. Strongest configuration for a knockdown (which thankfully we didn't experience.)
  15. Boom gallows. Solid support for boom in a storm, and great extra handhold in cockpit or on deck.
  16. Dual bow anchors, one with minimum of 200' chain. Second anchor for storm conditions, and plenty of chain for normal conditions. [Callipygia had only 170' of chain on primary anchor (plus 200' 3-strand nylon line) but there were a couple of times when we wished we had another 50' of chain.]
  17. 100 gallon fuel tank. Enough to give us a range of at least 500 nmiles under power.
  18. 2 50-gallon water tanks. Enough to last the two of us 3-4 weeks without rain catching, or backup in case one tank gets contaminated or emptied.
  19. Small aft cockpit with 4 drains and strong padeyes for attachment. Comfortable and safe for whoever's on watch, and safe in a seaway, with ability to drain fast if much water is shipped.
  20. Aluminum keel-stepped mast. Minimal maintenance and more support than deck-stepped.
  21. Good handholds and footspace on deck for moving around. Essential for safety.
  22. Good handholds and headroom below. Headroom for a 6' person, and solid handholds for moving around below when the seas are up.
  23. Manual windlass. A bit more work for anchoring, but no likelihood of sticking in a dangerous situation.
  24. Sails: Jib with roller furling. Easy to handle from the cockpit.
  25. Sails: Staysail that hanks on. Bulletproof system, no furling gear to jam, and easy to remove and switch to storm jib.
  26. Sails: Storm jib. For use on the inner forestay (replacing the staysail) in storm situations--the Tayana 37' heaves to well with this configuration.
  27. Sails: Storm trysail with separate mast track. For use in a storm, without having to remove the mainsail. Also, useful for stability while sailing downwind.
  28. Dodger, splash cloths, and bimini. Dodger with easy visibility forward to keep the wind out of the cockpit, and along with splash cloths keep crew in the cockpit dry when water is shipped, and Bimini to shade us from the tropical sun.
  29. Folding mast steps. A great assist while going up the mast, and providing essential footholds while working up or on the mast.
  30. V-berth with double bed on one side, all berths accomodating 6'. Good space to snuggle, and comfort for tall crew.
  31. Manual bilge pump in cockpit and below as backup to the automatic bilge pump. Ability to manually empty the bilges from the cockpit.
  32. Refrigerator. Minimal electrical requirements but yet enough space to keep stuff cool, but no need for a freezer.
  33. Starting battery separate from house batteries with a battery monitoring system. Enough electrical storage to light and cool the boat, plus run our basic electrical equipment without excessive recharging requirements. Easy way to tell the condition of the batteries (input, output, voltage, status)
  34. Autopilot. To relieve the helmsman when under power.
  35. Windvane. To relieve the helmsman while sailing without drainingn the battery.
  36. Mast pulpits. Security while working at the mast. We didn't want all the lines coming to the cockpit, because we think it's important to get used to working at the mast--so it will be more familiar in those cases when something jams or otherwise goes amuk.
  37. Swim ladder An easy to drop and retrieve swim ladder on the side of the boat.
  38. Lee cloths for the cabin berths. Comfort and security for the off-watch crew to sleep below.
  39. 3-burner propane stove with oven. Able to cook pretty much whatever we want.
  40. Instructions for all the equipment. So we can figure out how to fix things, or find out where to go for advice and spares.
  41. Maintenance record. To know how old the rigging is, what the service record is for the engine, hull, plumbing, and electrical system, etc.
  42. Cabin heater. Keep us warm in cold nights or in the winter.
  43. Liferaft, MOB module, flares, fire blanket, propane and CO detectors, and fire extinguishers. Essential safety equipment.
  44. Manual and sea water pump in galley. Ability to pump fresh water if the electric pump fails, or seawater to minimize fresh water use.
  45. Radios--marine SSB with ham bands and GMDSS VHF. Essential communication equipment.
  46. Dinghy with motor. Ability to get around when at anchor.
  47. Radar. Essential for navigation at night when near land, or in shipping areas, or of course in fog. Also a tremendous assist when approaching an unfamiliar harbour with a hard-to-find entrance, or entering or leaving an anchorage at night.
  48. Wind instruments (vane and speed) and depth sounder. Depth sounder essential, wind instruments very helpful.
  49. Bug screens on portholes, hatches and dorades. Let the air in, and keep the buggers out.

 

 

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Bill Dillon (KG4QFM)
and
Pat Watt (KG4QFQ)
This page was last modified on August 9, 2009

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