No Need to Hurry - An Interview with A Cruising Sailor

“You don’t need to hurry. Take your time!  We are all used to planning our lives days, weeks, or even months in advance. But it doesn’t work that way on a sailboat." - Brandon Keepers

I've never meet Brandon Keepers in person, but I feel like we've got a connection and share a fair amount in common.  We've both lived in West Michigan.  We both learned to sail and cruise on Lake Michigan.  We both have a passion for cruising sailboats and helping others connect with their cruising dreams by sharing information online.

Brandon and his wife Dustyn are full-time cruisers who are currently exploring the Bahamas.  Brandon, along with his friend Andrew, also started a really useful website (Sailboat.Guide) for cruising sailors looking for a boat and those who are hoping to become cruising sailors.  I find both of those activities of interest since I have my own cruising plans tucked away somewhere in the recesses of my brain and I've been working for over a decade now creating SailFarLiveFree.com and SailFarYachts.com as useful resources for sailors.  I'm also interested to hear what it's like to be cruising right now (May 2020) during the Coronavirus pandemic.  And so, after exchanging a few emails and sharing a phone conversation, Brandon agreed to participate in the interview below in an effort to pass along some cruising experience and motivation.

SFLF: Tell me a little about your background and how you got into sailing and cruising?

Brandon: We both remember our first time on a friend’s sailboat: the engine cut off, and the wind and the waves were the only sound we could hear. Ten years would pass before we found our way into sailing ourselves and were able to feel that again.

In 2016, we sold our house in West Michigan and most of our possessions in preparation for moving to the Chicago area for my wife Dustyn to go to grad school. We knew that we wanted to travel after she finished course work. We imagined an RV road trip around the US, or AirBnBs in exotic destinations, or even backpacking across Europe, but living on a sailboat never occurred us. As we were soaking in the views in Traverse City, MI during one last weekend up north before we moved, I remember seeing a (in retrospect, very small) sailboat for sale. “A sailboat is only $5,000?. We should buy a sailboat!”, I thought and apparently said out loud. Dustyn assumed I meant “…someday”. We didn’t know how to sail, and had only been on that one sailboat. “Maybe we should learn to sail first?” she said, logically.

Sans sailboat and most of our possessions, we moved into an apartment in the Chicago area and fell into the bustle of daily life in the burbs. A year passed, and we were growing tired of the concrete jungle of the city. The nearest pure nature was a 45 minute drive away. We talked more seriously about our plans after we left Chicago and started exploring options. We took a few weekend camping trips, but just couldn’t imagine ourselves living in campgrounds.

Remembering our conversation about buying a sailboat, we found 3rd Coast Cruising, a sailing club in down town Chicago that offers the best view of the skyline and the opportunity to learn to sail. We signed up for a trial run, and immediately were reminded of that moment when the engine cuts off and all you hear is the wind and waves. We were hooked. We joined the club and went sailing almost every night after work, and twice a day on weekends. We learned from others in the club, and taught each other. Sailing with the convivial captain Jim Miranda, who ran the club, was a special treat that promised new learning opportunities often in extreme conditions, usually accompanied by badges like “Gale Chaser” or promotions to “Second Mate” status in the club.

Sailing in 35+ knot winds with 3rd Coast Cruising in Chicago

The sailing season came to a close and we helped move the sailboats down the Chicago river in November for offseason storage, but we couldn’t stop obsessing,  Evenings after work were spent watching sailors on YouTube, reading books about sailing, and studying for certification courses online. We spent Saturdays with 3rd Coast Cruising in the boat yard learning how to grind out and repair fiberglass. We did a weeklong intensive in the Gulf of Mexico with a captain over the holidays. By mid-winter we were boat shopping, and before spring had sprung we owned a sailboat.

SFLF: Where have you cruised from and to so far? What have been your favorite locations and stretches of the journey?

Brandon: Our first season we lived aboard and cruised around Lake Michigan. From Chicago, we went up the coast of Wisconsin to Door County, then across Lake Michigan to the Sleeping Bear Dunes area and spent time in Grand Traverse Bay and Beaver Island. The season was getting late, so we headed south to West Michigan, and eventually back across the lake to the Chicago area for winter. We loved our first season cruising Lake Michigan, and learned two things: 1) We wanted to see more of the Great Lakes, and 2) we didn’t want to stop cruising for the winter, which meant heading to the East Coast and turning south.

So the next season, we took the first weather window in June 2019, and crossed still-frigid Lake Michigan from the Chicago area to Saugatuck, MI. We spent the next few months working our way up the coast of Michigan, through the Straights of Mackinac, into the North Channel and around the northern shore of Georgian Bay. From there we entered the Trent/Severn Waterway in Ontario, crossed Lake Ontario to Oswego, where we entered the Erie Canal and headed down the Hudson River past the statue of liberty in New York harbor and into the Atlantic Ocean.

We sailed up the Delaware River and into the Chesapeake Bay, and then made our way down the coast. We did occasional stints in the Intracoastal Waterway or, when the weather was cooperating, took 1-2 day passages offshore until we reached Florida. We crossed into the Bahamas after the new year in 2020, and have spent the last several months exploring the Berry Islands, Eleuthera, the Exumas, and now the Ragged/Jumentos Islands.

We’ve seen some amazing places, so it’s hard to pick favorites. The Great Lakes will always have a special place in our hearts. We love the Michigan shore and all the towns around it. We often tell non-Great Lakes sailors about the North Channel of Lake Huron and it’s abundance of beautiful, secluded coves and anchorages. It is one of the most surreal places we’ve ever been. Even in the crystal clear Bahamian water we occasionally miss diving into the cool fresh water of the Great Lakes! If your draft allows it, the Trent/Severn Waterway is a fascinating way to explore the lakes and towns of Ontario and see a bit of history through its 43 well-preserved locks and lifts run by the Canada Parks service.

Long Point Cove in the North Channel of Lake Huron

The Hudson River was a pleasant surprise. After exiting the Erie Canal and making the turn south down the Hudson, we re-stepped the mast and were eager to sail. “You can’t really sail the Hudson River” was a common refrain we heard from other sailors, but we sailed almost all of the roughly 150 nautical miles from Albany to New York City, only running the motor a few times to make it around a bend that put us straight into wind, or to ensure we had maneuverability while a large ship passed. The incredible views of the Hudson River valley—the cool morning mist, West Point on a warm and sunny fall day, the sunrise that lit up the The Palisades on one side of us and the distance view of New York City on the other—made this stretch one of our favorites.

The more remote and less crowded islands in the Bahamas—like the Berry Islands and the Jumentos/Ragged Islands—have been our favorite. They require you to be self-sufficient on your boat to be in these places, but the trade off is exploring the natural beauty that isn’t so commercially hyped, and occasionally having an anchorage or a whole deserted island to yourself.

Anchored at Double Breasted Cay in the Jumentos Islands, Bahamas.

SFLF: What's the endgame for you concerning cruising? Do you plan to cruise indefinitely or is there a destination or date you're going for?

Brandon: We intend to cruise “as long as it’s fun”. We don’t really have plans, but we have some aspirations. Before we left on this adventure, we chartered in Grenada and loved it. So when we cast off from Chicago, we hoped to sail our own boat from Chicago to Grenada, taking our time to explore all the incredible places in between.

With travel restrictions during the pandemic, it looks like we won’t make it there this year, but we are taking it a day at a time. We will likely have to come back to the US for the summer—and hopefully explore more of the Chesapeake and maybe head up the NE coast to Maine—and then probably cruise toward Grenada next year.

Beyond that, we don’t know.

SFLF: So what's it like being on a cruising boat during the Covid-19 outbreak? Do you feel safer or more at risk on your sailboat?

Brandon: It is bizarre and incredible.

In some ways, the pandemic hasn’t changed anything about our day-to-day life. We’ve spent the last two years learning to be self-sufficient, outfitting the boat with essentials like solar and a water maker, learning how to deal with emergency situations, and stockpiling months worth of food. Basically, being a cruiser is a socially acceptable form of being a “prepper”.

We are hunkered down in the Ragged/Jumentos Islands, Bahamas. These remote islands are uninhabited, with the exception of Duncan Town, a settlement with 15 people in the southernmost island. There are no grocery stores around, but we have been able to to get provisions and fuel delivered from Nassau via the mailboat that brings supplies to Duncan Town. While we are well-stocked on the necessities, we are out of a few luxury items like alcohol (liquor stores are considered “non-essential” during the current government shutdown in the Bahamas) and fresh goods that don’t travel well on the boat.

We are so secluded that we feel very safe. Our only interactions are with a group of boats that have all been here since the pandemic started, so we are able to forgo most of the physical distancing protocol that the rest of the world is observing. By sharing skills and supplies, we’ve been able to drastically increase our self-sufficiency: spearfishing to supplement our meat supply, trading essential provisions like water, bread yeast, and toothpaste, fixing critical equipment like a refrigerator and a computer, making moonshine to replenish the depleted alcohol supply, growing fresh herbs, loaning tools and parts, and giving haircuts. We’ve had our share of fun too: constructing a makeshift “yacht club” out of bamboo and tarps, group workouts/relay races, cooking meals over a fire, kite boarding, and just general shenanigans around a fire pit.

Distilling moonshine over a fire on a remote island in the Bahamas.

While our day-to-day life hasn’t changed that much, our thoughts are occupied by people back home, many whose lives have been drastically altered. These are strange times for all of us, but we feel so fortunate to be “stranded” with some great people in such a beautiful place.

SFLF: How are you finding your cruise?

Brandon: It has been amazing. We spent the last year exploring some of the most beautiful places we’ve ever seen. We skipped winter and freezing temperatures for the first time in our lives. The hustle and bustle of our former life is gone, which means we wake up each day and decide what we want to do that day. If it doesn’t get done, there’s always tomorrow. Of course, in this life we are constantly watching the weather and monitoring the boat’s systems, so it’s not all cocktails and sunsets, but there’s plenty of that too.

While our quality of life has been great, our hearts are also heavy as every place we visit we witness the challenges of local people to sustain their way of life, and the impact that we all are having on these beautiful places. We’ve seen so many towns that never recovered from boom and bust of past unsustainable industries, and many more that feel like the world just left them behind. We’ve seen reefs and oceans ravaged by pollution and over fishing, and heard the laments of the communities whose generational livelihoods are disappearing along with the fish.

Trash that has washed ashore at Man o’ War Cay in the Jumentos Islands

As we grow into this more self-sufficient and laidback lifestyle, we are often aware of our own impact on the world around us, our dependence on others, and just how privileged we are to be able to live this life. We try not to take it for granted.

SFLF: Tell me about Sailboat.guide and how it started.

Brandon: Sailboat Guide is a website to help you discover your dream boat. It was started by my friend Andrew Bredow and I in 2019 with the goal of bringing a more modern resource to the sailing community. We both have spent our whole careers so far working in tech, and we were looking for a way to combine our passion for sailing and software.

For me personally, Sailboat Guide started when we decided to go cruising. “Living on a boat rewires your brain, and when you come back, nobody will understand.” These words of caution from Captain Jim Miranda at 3rd Coast Cruising as we were preparing to spend our summer sailing around Lake Michigan proved to be prophetic. I worked for a Silicon Valley tech company, and was able to work while we cruised during that first season. But when we came back to land for the winter, I found myself less and less interested in holding my nose to the grindstone. I submitted my resignation and began readying the boat for our cruise south the next season. Andrew and I began exploring the market to find something at the intersection of sailing and software that was interesting and had potential to be sustainable.

Through our own experience, attending sailboat shows, and talking with fellow sailors, we feel like we’ve narrowed in on an audience that is underserved and growing: people buying inexpensive used sailboats and fixing them up. While new boat sales ebb and flow, there is always a plethora of used boats available for a reasonable price to anyone willing to strap on a dust mask and learn new skills. The previous generation of sailors have taught us how to “go small, go simple, go now”, and the YouTube sailing channel craze has made it feel attainable for any age and skill level.

We are building Sailboat Guide to help aspiring sailors find the right sailboat that suits their current aspirations, whether it’s day sailing, weekend cruises, summer getaways, or living aboard full-time. When they’re ready to say goodbye to their boat, Sailboat Guide can help them sell it. Over time, we also intend to make the process of buying and maintaining a boat more accessible, providing resources to help with the selling process, and guides for fixing and improving the boat.

If you’re interested, follow Sailboat Guide on Instagram or Facebook.

SFLF: What's your favorite thing about cruising? Least favorite?

Brandon: It’s impossible to describe the feeling of independence and freedom that we feel. We have enough provisions to last weeks/months, we make electricity from the sun, we make drinking water from the ocean, and we can move our home to a different beautiful spot whenever we want. It’s been months since we’ve seen a sign that said “no alcohol on the beach” or “dogs must be on a leash”. I don’t remember the last time I wore real shoes. These are freedoms that many people gladly trade for guaranteed comfort and security.

While our life on the boat is much simpler than it was on land, it’s also a lot of work. We wash our clothes by hand in a cooler. The harsh marine environment means something on the boat is always in need of maintenance. Getting mail and packages delivered is impractical and often impossible. Some days, you feel like giving it all up in exchange for ordering pizza delivery or going out for a hamburger and beer.

SFLF: What's something you wish someone told you prior to starting your cruise?

Brandon: “You don’t need to hurry. Take your time!”

We are all used to planning our lives days, weeks, or even months in advance. But it doesn’t work that way on a sailboat.

When we left, we had a plan for where we roughly needed to be each month in order to get far enough south for winter. Lake Huron by July, Trent/Severn by August, New York by September, Chesapeake by October, North Carolina by November, South Carolina by December, Florida by January. We roughly mapped out the miles and figured out that we needed to average 140 miles/week to achieve it. Self-induced stress of sticking to this timeline was the hardest part of the trip. When we got to North Carolina, we hauled out to do some boat work. After a few delays, and stress from the delays, we finally allowed ourselves to let go of the schedule and live in the moment.

SFLF: What's your favorite piece of cruising gear that you'd recommend for others?

Brandon: We took electricity and drinking water for granted when we were living on land, but on the boat in remote places, we have to make our own. So we couldn’t live without our solar panels and a water maker. We occasionally exclaim to each other: “We are making drinking water from the ocean and the power of the sun!”

We have two large solar panels (from solar-electric.com) that provide up to 630 watts of power, which is more than enough to keep our batteries topped up, run our refrigerator, charge our electric dingy motor, phones, and computers, and run the handful of other appliances and electronics that we use day-to-day. Most importantly, our solar panels allow us to run our water maker (Spectra Catalina 340z), which runs on our 12v DC electrical system and produces 14 gallons per hour of fresh drinking water from salt water.

SFLF: Is there anything you wish I would have asked?

Brandon: I’ve probably written more than you wanted for now, but if your readers would be interested in any of these topics, I’d be happy to answer any of them:

What piece of cruising gear do you wish you had? (Or: What’s your next upgrade?)

What’s it like cruising with a 65 pound dog?

Do you have guests on board? How does that work out?

What boat do you have? What do you love about it?

SFLF: Thanks so much for sharing some of your experiences.  If anyone reading wants more information, please leave a comment below or send an email and we'll make sure Brandon sees it.

If you like this interview format, check out some of the other interviews we've done here on SFLF:

Boaters and Floafers - Do They Pair Well Together?

"Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication." - Leonardo da Vinci

I like simple, clean design.  Cluttering something up with impractical features, trendy style elements, or technology for technology's sake usually isn't my way. So when I first saw a pair of Floafers show up in my Instagram feed (@sailfarlivefree), I thought to myself "Now there's a simple shoe that might just be perfect onboard the boat."  I also have to admit "Floafer" has a certain ring to it and is fun to say.  A floating loafer seems like a natural fit for a boating shoe.


Floafers says their brand brings fashion full circle by reincarnating functional footwear combined with modern day classic designs like the driving loafer. Created for the fashion savvy, outdoor loving, recreational consumer it was designed to fill a void created by the lack of enthusiasm for the outdated EVA market.  So basically, they seem to be aiming for a more stylish alternative to the original Crocs.

I've got a pair of their Country Club Driver in Asphalt Flame Orange that I've been wearing almost exclusively this week and have found them to be super comfortable.  The fit is slim, which is great for me, but might be tight in the forefoot and toes if you prefer wide shoes.  I also really appreciate the lightweight feel and ease of slipping them on, a "must have" in my list of boat shoes attributes.  Other boating friendly features include a non-marking sole, good ventilation, quick dry times, waterproof materials, and plenty of drain holes.  And oh yeah, they float!


If a floating foam loafer doesn't make enough of a statement for you while walking the dock, check out the Flamingo or Pineapple patterns available from Floafer.

>> Don't forget to visit SFLF's Gear Review page for more sailing gear reviews/tests. <<


Keel Types and What They Say about Sailors

"Let's talk about keels.  That is always a sure way to get someone's knickers in a twist." 
- Bob Perry, Sailboat Designer

A discussion about keel types is always fun among a group of cruising sailors, particularly in a cockpit while sharing sundowners.  Everyone has a preference and most keel types have a unique forte. I'm not going to dig too deep into design and technical aspects of keels since Bob Perry already covered that thoroughly in the guest post he did for me awhile back (Keel Design According to Perry).  What I am going to do here is briefly talk about each of the keel types I'm aware of for cruising sailboats and hit on some pluses and minuses as well as provide an example or two of specific boats for each keel type.

But first, what does your keel say about you?

The full keel calmly and confidently says "I like the journey more than the destination and am in no hurry to get there".

"I feel the need for speed!" remarked the 10-foot fin keel with bravado.

"I can adapt to just about any situation and scenario." said the lifting keel in a sophisticated tone.

The elusive twin keel comments that "I'm perfectly content to wait out this low tide right her on the mud flat".

Full keel (and modified full keels): There was a day when full keels were the bread and butter of a good bluewater cruiser.  A full keel can provide good tracking and decent downwind performance for milk run cruising.  They also provide protection for the propeller and rudder and may be less prone to a catastrophic event like an open ocean keel separation due to a collision with an object floating just beneath the surface (think an errant shipping container).  I'm also a fan of encapsulated ballast, which is more common a full keel boats.  However, these designs tend to be found on heavy boats which can exhibit a hobby-horsing motion in certain seas.  While some salty cruisers will argue about the speed of a full keel boat until they are blue in the face, most would argue that many of today's other keel options will out perform a full keel on just about every point of sail. 

Pros: Good downwind performance and tracking. Rudder and prop protection.
Cons: Tend to be slower and have a lot of wetted area/drag. Often don't point well. Difficult to back-up under power.
Examples: Westsail 32, Baba 30

I'm not sure the make of this full keeler, but I spotted it
a few years back in Sturgeon Bay on Lake Michigan.

Fin Keel (and variants like bulb keels and wing keels): Fin keels are far and away the most common keel type on today's modern cruising sailboats.  I suspect this is because they generally offer good sailing performance and can be had in enough variations to fit many needs.  Maybe there's also a cost and/or production factor in there too?  In any case, fin keels tend to have good sailing performance to windward and can even make for a sporty ride, hence many racing boats use a type of fin keel (often a modified bulb or T-bulb).  Some fin keels are deep and narrow and offer very little drag.  Of course the trade off here is draft.  Deeper fin keels can offer greater performance, stability and in some cases better tracking, but you'll need to mind your depth finder and charts and may be very limited in shallow cruising grounds like the Bahamas.  Shoal draft fin keels and wing keels are compromises that attempts to offer some of the standard fin keel performance while reducing draft.

Checked your keel bolts lately?

There are also a variety of fin keel variants such as bulb keels, T-keels, and wing keels.  Bulbs put ballast low at the bottom of the keel for better balance and righting.  Wing keels are often seen in shoal draft versions of deeper draft fin keel boats.  The wing-shape keel allows for a shallow draft and more ballast in the keel while also sometimes providing additional lift from the keel wings.  While I know catastrophic keel bolt failures are rare, keel bolt maintenance and inspections are something important to keep current.  There are also a few fin keel designs that have encapsulated ballast and thus no keel bolts - the S2 11.0 comes time mind, but these designs are the exception.

Pros: The most effective keel for driving a boat to weather with minimal drag off the wind. Wide variety of types for many needs.
Cons: Vulnerable to groundings. Rudder/prop is unprotected. Some deep draft versions limit sailing locations. Keel bolts require inspection/maintenance.
Examples: Hylas 44, Pacific Seacraft 37

Lifting Keel: I've always found lifting keels on cruising boats interesting, probably because they're basically like a large mechanically operated centerboard that many people used when learning to sail on dinghies such as a Sunfish.  The advantages of a lifting keel are many, not the least of which is being able to greatly reduce both draft and drag by retracting the keel up into the hull.  Reducing draft has the obvious benefit of increased access to shallow gunkholes and harbors, but less obvious is the benefit of raising the keel when sailing downwind to reduce drag and increase speed.  I have some personal experience with both benefits having owned (My first boat!) a Helms 25 swing keel.  I could literally feel the boat accelerate downwind when I cranked the keel up.  Additionally, the boat's balance and center of resistance can be adjusted through the movement of keel.

The Southerly 49 draws less than 3 feet with the keel up and can sit down on a beach.
With the keel down, she draws more than most 4 footers (10 feet!) and sails very well.
Photos is courtesy of Paul and Sheryl Shard at Distant Shores.

One really cool aspect allowed by some lifting keel designs is the ability to beach the boat or let it dry out during a low tide with the keel retracted.  If you aren't familiar with this, check out the video Distant Shores did recently about beaching their Southerly 480 overnight in the Bahamas.  So what's the downside of a lifting keel?  The first thing that comes to mind for me is the added mechanical gear needed to raise the keel, such as a manual winch or a hydraulic pump.  Both of those require maintenance and could fail at in inopportune time...like the middle of the Pacific.  Another downside that I see, and this may just be me overthinking things, is the relatively large hole/s in the bottom of the hull need for the lifting gear and/or pivot bolt.  The less holes in the hull the better I feel.

Pros: Ability to adjust drag, draft, balance, etc.  Ability to beach the boat.
Cons: Additional mechanical gear to maintain.
Examples: Alubat Ovni 455, Southerly 42RST

Bilge/Twin Keel: This is the keel type I know the least about and have zero experience with, so bear with me.  According to YachtingMonthly, "There have been many design variations that come broadly under the term bilge keels. Strictly speaking, bilge keels are in addition to a long central keel, fitted near the bilge, where the hull turns from the bottom to the side of the boat.  Traditionally, these were non-structural, shallow and long, largely intended to reduce rolling. Twin keels, in contrast, replace the central keel entirely and the boat is structurally adapted to make these the main ballast-bearing hull appendages."

The Sirius 35DS sitting pretty at low tide.

While twin keel designs have never really been popular here in the U.S., French and British sailors and builders still find them appealing.  The main appeal is clearly the ability to let the boat stand on it's keels and dry out in areas with a large tidal range.  This can be advantageous for underside inspections and working on props, anodes, bottom paint, cleaning the hull, etc.  However, my common sense tells me twin keelers trade speed and windward ability for this privilege.  Research says this might not always be the case.  In November 2015 Sailing Magazine tested the Sirius 40 DS in the fixed keel version (5.6') and the twin keel version (4.75'). The verdict? “Despite the extra weight and only 1.45m draft, we could not find any difference in the sailing performance and the height in the wind compared to the well-sailing fixed keel version”.

Another consideration for would-be twin keel sailors is the rudder configuration.  Some twin keel sailboats have a single rudder on centerline that is left exposed to potentially hazardous flotsam and jetsam.  Others have twin rudders inline with the keels that would seem to be a bit more protected.

Pros: Can dry out during low tide for easy maintenance and inspections.  Generally have a shallow draft that's good for gunkholing.
Cons: May exhibit rolling motion.  Slower and with less windward sailing ability than other designs.
Examples: Sirius 32DS, Westerly Centaur

So what does it all mean?  It means we as cruising sailors have a ton of considerations when thinking about our ideal keel.  Are gunkholing and easy, affordable maintenance a priority for you?  Perhaps consider a twin keel.  Do you want the best performance possible and the most miles-per-day on passage?  Better look for a modern deep fin keel.  Favor a thick, heavy hull with no worries about keel bolts or how quickly you move from place to place?  A full keel double-ender might be your ticket.  No matter your choice, someone in the yard is likely to strike up a conversation about your keel during haulout.

Have a keel preference or experience you'd like to share?  Write it in the comments below or share it with me via email.

>>  For more sailboat design writing and thoughts, visit my Sailboat Reviews page.  <<

A Closer Look at a Nautical Rivalry: Powerboat vs. Sailboat

"What you choose also chooses you."
-Kamand Kojouri

I've lived on both sides of this fence.  I was raised a powerboater and relished my time on the water with my family in everything from bowriders to express cruisers and flybridge motoryachts.  I always knew I'd own boats and spend a lot of my time aboard them, so when I became an adult with practically no budget, I had to improvise to get on the water.  Paying for fuel and maintenance on a powerboat wasn't in the cards or my meager budget.  Instead, I put an ad on Craigslist asking for a "free or nearly free" sailboat.  To my surprise, I had someone fairly closely contact me almost immediately.

There's nothing more expensive than a cheap boat, but I took my chances anyway and ended up with a 1972 Helms 25 swingkeel sloop that we named "Hannabel" after our first two daughters (Hannah and Isabel). She wasn't free, but the $400 asking price wasn't enough to keep me away.  I spent the first year repairing, rebuilding, and rigging that old boat in our backyard.  I sailed thousands of miles in my mind with Hannabel securely planted on her trailer and sinking into the weedy ground that was taking over our lawn.  It was the best $400 I've ever spent even before I wet the hull.  We spent the next couple of years learning to sail and cruising on Lake Michigan with our then small children and dog.  We eventually moved up to a 28-foot Irwin and then a Catalina 34 and went as far as Lake Huron's North Channel during a 1,000 mile adventure.  We've been to most of Lake Michigan's ports and count ourselves as competent sailors with over 12 years of experience earned through mistakes, calms, small craft advisories, and patience.  We've got plans tucked away in the recesses of our brains for cruising on a sailboat more extensively in the future (I put this statement here mostly as a measure of accountability for myself!).

The early days of living large and sailing slow on Hannabel.

But alas, kids become adolescents and near term priorities sometimes take precedent over long term goals.  We recently sold our Catalina 34 and have been enjoying our time between sailboats aboard a powerboat; a 37-foot sedan bridge to be more precise.  I know, I know.  I can hear the groans and voices saying  "I thought this was SailFarLiveFree.com and not MotorNearbySaveFuel.com", but in many ways it feels really good to come full circle and express my powerboat roots again.  In other ways, I still long for that special feeling that can only be had while being swept along the water under sail.  That's what this blog post is really about - the contrast between power and sail and the common bonds that they share.

Let's start with the contrast, since I think many people go there automatically anyway.  Speed is perhaps the biggest contrast between powerboats and sailboats.  Of course it's all about perspective and as a sailor at heart, I feel like chugging along at 10 knots in a powerboat actually feels fast, but I can tell you that my powerboating buddies don't really consider anything below 20 knots much more than just a leisurely pace.  This may be over simplifying and pigeon holing a bit too much, but I'll go as far as to say sailors often favor the journey while powerboaters are more interested in the destination.  I have to admit, there are times when I simply want to be in port and putting the throttle/s down to get there faster can be appealing.  However, most days I'm more than content to while away the hours just bobbing slowly towards port at 3-5 knots.

This is warp speed in a sailboat, but merely cruising speed on a powerboat.

Having said that time on the water and enjoying the journey are fundamental to sailing cruisers, I've got to mention some of things that sailors do to occupy their time during the journey.  First, there's weather.  Obviously doing a deeper dive into learning weather prediction, weather patterns, and understanding how it all effects your ability to move from point A to point B is more critical to being a good sailor.  Sure, powerboaters are cognizant of wave heights and perhaps ambient temperature, but beyond that it doesn't often matter a whole lot when you can get somewhere quickly.  For sailors, understanding how the wind will change in direction and intensity throughout the day is very helpful.  Learning currents can also make the difference between a slow passage and a fast passage.  Even dealing with tides is sometimes more important as a sailor, particularly if you're sailing a deep draft boat.  The big picture is that sailboats are more at the mercy of the weather, both because they depend on it for movement and because they're often exposed to it for lengthier periods of time.  A powerboat can outrun the weather or even move against the weather, but that's not the case with sailboats.

Another difference is the technical aspects required to sail.  I'm likely to offend someone by saying the necessities of operating a powerboat largely consist of turning the key and working the throttles.  Of course there's more to it than that, but sometimes it really is that simple.  Not so with a sailboat.  There's plenty of lines that need tending to make a sailboat move efficiently (think halyards, sheets, outhauls, topping lifts, vangs, etc.).  And then there's sail shape/trim, apparent wind, points of sail, sail selection, and a myriad of other factors.  Don't forget about the safety gear that is common on sailboats but rare on powerboats like harnesses, tethers, jacklines, MOB poles, and drogues.  While mastering all of these isn't necessary to sail, doing so is a lot of fun and is part of what makes sailors feel like they are a part of the boat.

Plenty of lines pictured here on Bearly-A-Wake's mainsail and mast.

Is range important to you?  Do you care how far you can travel without pulling into port to refuel and restock?  Sailboats can theoretically take you farther for less.  Yes, fuel consumption and costs are part of this equation and can be a factor for choosing sail over power, but beyond that, sailboats, when rigged properly and run by a competent crew, can literally cross oceans and roam the planet.  There are some powerboats that can do that too, but they are few and far between and are all very expensive to purchase and maintain.  The trade offs are often speed and budget.

Lifelong sailors reading this might be wondering what's the draw to a powerboat other than getting somewhere quickly, so I'll tell you.  One of my biggest gripes about sailboats is small cockpits.  I've got a wife, three kids, and two dogs that all want to be outside in the sun and fresh air, which a powerboat often accommodates more comfortably with seemingly acres of padded seats and open space protected by tall bulwarks.  My experiences owning both power and sailboats also tells me most powerboats handle better around docks and marinas.  The extra horsepower and twin engines on many powerboat cruisers offers better control and quicker response if you know how to use them.  Backing a sailboat with a ~20hp single inboard engine spinning a tiny two-blade prop positioned between a big rudder and an even bigger keel can be a challenge.  It's a whole different experience in a twin ~300+ hp engine powerboat with big 4-blade props and no keel to fight your efforts to turn.  

All that cockpit and exterior lounging space is sure nice on powerboats.

If you've been aboard both a powerboat and a sailboat, you know that each has a very distinct motion.  For the sake of this discussion, I'm primarily talking about sailboats as a displacement hull form and powerboats as a planing hull.  For me, the motion of a sailboat slicing through the waves while heeled over is unique and gratifying which is why it doesn't take long for my sea legs to arrive once I've stepped aboard.  Every time we have someone aboard who hasn't sailed before, one of the first things they mention is usually something about heeling and the general lack of bow slapping.  Often they say something like "Is it suppose to lean like that?" and "Are we going to tip over?"  There's still plenty of motion in a powerboat, but it's more predictable and as you might expect it to be.  There's also that speed thing again, so some of the movement in a powerboat can become jarring in certain conditions.     
I could probably continue on about the differences and contrasts between types of watercraft, but what I've actually come to realize is that as sailors and powerboaters, we all share some foundational traits.  We all love time spent on and near the water. We all have the freedom to explore watery parts of the world where many can't.  And we're all passionate about our boats to a degree that land folk sometimes can't understand. 


A Peek at Two Small-ish Deck Saloons

"The brain size of people who see big dreams is the same as yours."
-Vineet Raj Kapoor

It's not the size of your brain, but rather how you choose to use it.  To put that quote in simple boat terms, not all boats of the same length are created the same.  Length on deck is one thing, but interior volume and clever design are another altogether.

It wasn't so long ago that deck saloon designs were almost exclusively reserved for large cruising boats and even when they weren't, the proportions often looked off on anything smaller than 45 feet in length.  But what's the appeal of a deck saloon anyway?  Probably the most obvious is a flood of natural light to the cabin because of the raised saloon wrapped in windows that provides 360 degrees of viewing pleasure. There's also a nice single level flow from the cockpit into the cabin (Moody calls this "living on one level") like you'd find on most cruising catamarans. The deck saloon structure itself provides nice protection in the cockpit from wind and spray as well as some shade overhead from the coach roof, but it's not like you'll need it since DS's also often include an inside helm station for piloting in snotty weather.  To my eyes and senses, today's deck saloons feel like a hybrid between a monohull and a catamaran.

So with that, welcome to sailing in the 2020's and a pair of really well-proportioned and designed small-ish deck saloons from two European builders - the Sirius 310 DS and the Moody Decksaloon 41.  While both the 41 from Moody and the 310 from Sirius are each builder's current smallest offering, Sirius does offer a more direct competitor to Moody's 41 in the Sirius 40 DS, but I'm really intrigued by the little 310, so I'll focus there in this post.  But first, let's start with the Moody.

Moody Decksaloon 41: If you're a fan of Yachting World's YouTube channel and their great walk-throughs by Toby Hodges, you may have heard that Bill Dixon (Moody's designer) and Moody wanted to include many of the features and feel of the Moody 54 and 45 into a smaller package, thus the Decksaloon 41.  Bill once told me in an interview I did with him that the 45DS is one of his personal favorite designs. "It is the result of my many years of family cruising and living aboard. Why live in a cave? Instead, have a sailing yacht with great interior visibility and a deep, safe cockpit. All this in a boat that really sails fast."  While Bill was referring to the 45 with those comments, I'm guessing much of that applies to the new 41 too.

Moody Decksaloon 41 (Photo: HanseYachts AG)

With the sliding door on the Moody 41, you can easily open the cockpit to the saloon and create one large entertaining and living space, which seems like a really good idea while at anchor.  She also features a deep protected cockpit with twin wheels and side decks with tall bulwarks to make transits to the foredeck safe.  Speaking of the foredeck, check out the built-in sun pad and lounge seat above the large port that pours light into the master cabin below.  I haven't been aboard the Moody Decksaloon 41, but if it sails as well as it appears to coddle its' crew while docked/anchored, Moody will have a winner.

Notice the beam is carried all the way aft. (Photo: HanseYachts AG)


Siruis 310 DS: If you want a deck saloon cruiser that's on the small side but still has plenty of space for a cruising couple and occasional guests, there aren't many options.  However, Sirius offers the 310 DS to meet your needs and with 14 layouts available, you don't have to compromise on customizing the boat just the way you want it.  Each of the 14 layouts features a raised saloon and the bright, airy interior that DS's are known for.  The biggest decision you’ll have to make when considering which layout is best for you is what to do with the space beneath the saloon.  You can choose a second double cabin or dedicate the space to a work/storage area and a large head compartment instead. After that, you can choose forward cabin accommodations. There is the option of a V-berth, offset berth, and island or staggered berths.  Lastly, you can decide if you want a separate shower room.  That's a staggering amount of choices for any sailboat, let alone a 31-footer.

Twin keels and low tides are meant to be together. The Sirius 310DS has options
for twin keels, a lifting keel, or a fin keel.

I hope you're not dizzy from all the layout choices, because there are other choices to consider.  For example, what keel type do you prefer?  Sirius offers the 310DS with a twin keel, lifting keel, and shallow or deep fin keel. I'm not aware of any other new twin keel cruisers available for sale in the United States, so if you're itching to take advantage of free bottom cleanings during low tide, here's your ticket.

Normally a cruiser in the 31-foot range can feel like a compromise, like you're giving up space for more room in the budget or accommodations for something small and easily manageable, but the 310 DS seems to be much bigger than the sum of its' parts.

Living large with just 31 feet

I'm hoping to check out these unique sailboats sometime soon now that both are available for sale here in the United States.  What about you?  Have you been aboard either yet and what are your thoughts on DS's?  Leave your thoughts below in the comments.

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