Top 10 Favorite Affordable Bluewater Sailboats

I've always said that my favorite boat is whichever one I currently own. Being able to call it "mine" makes it my favorite by default. My first boat was a $400 derelict that I loved (still love) deeply. And she loved me back. However, that doesn't mean there aren't other boats I love that I'd like to call "mine" someday. The following is my personal ranking of my favorite affordable (available for ~$50k) sailboats. I've rather arbitrarily set the price limit around $50k and called it "affordable" in hopes that one day one of these boats might fit my budget and help my family and I to sail far and live free. Also note that other than the top 3, these rankings change in my head almost daily and I really struggled to narrow the list down to just 10.  

As you peruse my list, you'll notice that they're all bluewater cruisers. You won't find any modern designs, fin keels, spade rudders, sugar scoop transoms, carbon fiber rigs, or plumb bows. What you will find are long keels, heavy displacements, tons of teak (Since I don't own them yet I don't have to varnish them!), many canoe sterns, and salty good looks. It's a shame that very few of today's manufacturers build a salty looking sailboat with true offshore abilitiy in a small, affordable package. Luckily I'm proud to be smitten by the treasures of a bygone era. As always, feel free to share your thoughts and your own list of favorites or others you think I should add to mine.  If you're ready to sell or shop for bluewater cruisers, visit my companion site at SailFarYachts.com.

Top Ten Affordable Bluewater Cruisers (according to SailFarLiveFree.com)

10. CSY 33: With a production run of only 57 boats, it's not surprising that many people aren't familiar with CSY's smallest sailboat. Her swoopy sheerline and sharp bow beckon me.  And just in case you thought all those new fancy deck saloon (DS) designs from the likes of Jeanneau were new and novel ideas, just remember that CSY built this little 33 footer way back in 1978.

CSY 33

9. Shannon 28: Walt Schulz, Shannon 28 designer and Shannon Yachts founder, has since moved on to bigger and more modern yachts like the Shannon 53HPS. But I think he did his finest work with the Shannon 28, just the second model ever offered from Shannon. She's the smallest boat on my list, but was just too seaworthy and beautiful to leave off the list. I love the reverse transom and transom-hung rudder.  And have you seen Shannon's craftsmenship? Just in case you think 28 feet is too few to offer any choice in cabin layout, Shannon gave you three options with names that speak of this boat's purpose: Passagemaker Layout, Cruising Layout, Offshore Layout.

Shannon 28 s/v Peace, completing a single handed transatlantic crossing

8. Valiant 32: How far into this list did you think you'd get without running into a Bob Perry designed boat? This one is like a mini-Valiant 40, which is one of the most well-known and proven offshore boats and a member of the American Sailboat Hall of Fame. Just like the 40, Perry designed the 32 to have classic looks you'd expect from a 1970's era world cruiser (canoe stern, etc.) but with a more modern underbody. She's got a long modified keel approaching the look of a fin keel with a skeg hung rudder. The Valiant 32 delivers vintage double-ender aesthetics without the sometimes sluggish sailing of a fullkeel.

Valiant 32

7. Fuji 35: There's just something about a clipper bow and a ketch rig that magically transports my mind to the South Pacific. And if you're going to make the long sail to the South Pacific, you might as well be coddled in a gorgeously warm and wood filled cabin like that of the Fuji 35. The Fuji 35 was also available with a cutter rig, but it looks perfectly balanced to my eye with a mizzen mast.

Welcome home (Fuji 35 cabin)

6. Alajuela 38: At first glance and without knowing the length, it might be easy to confuse the Alajuela 38 with the Westsail 32. But I assure you, she's a different animal.  She's really a closer cousin to the Ingrid 38, which I would have included if it weren't so similar. Have you ever seen a longer keel than that on the Alajuela 38? I bet she tracks like a freight train. And how about that massive rudder? This boat is the very definition of a "stout cruiser".

Alajuela 38

5. Tayana 37: The Tayana 37 is the second Perry-designed boat to make my list, and deservedly so as many far-flung anchorages around the globe have hosted a T37. This boat is in many ways Bob's answer to the Westsail 32 phenonom of the 1970's. While Bob Perry himself thought the ketch option added speed and balance, I like the look of the more common Tayana 37 cutter. There were a lot of these beauties produced (~650) so finding one with a price and configuration to your likely shouldn't be a problem. Heck, there's a even a pilothouse version for those who sail in cooler climates.

Tayana 37

4. Pacific Seacraft Mariah 31: Here's another boat that seems to be a response to the Westsail 32. Pacific Seacraft (now under new ownership) still produces some very desirable bluewater cruisers today, but the Mariah (not to be confused w/ the current PSC 31)  is vastly different than her modern day siblings. Pacific Seacraft co-founder and Mariah designer Henry Morschadt put together what was known in the 1970's as "the most expensive boat of its size" but now represents somewhat of a bluewater bargain. Even today the Mariah is still thought of as one of the best built, sturdiest bluewater boats around. This reputation is largely due to the 3 inch hull thickness at the bilge and 1 inch thickness above the waterline. If you've ever replaced a thru-hull fitting on your own boat, you'll understand that 3 inches of fiberglass is insanely thick. No one wants to run aground, but you couldn't find a boat better built to take a hit with her full keel, transom hung rudder, prop aperture, and that thick hull.

A good look at Mariah 31's transom hung rudder

3. Westsail 32: This boat is already legendary in this blog post, let alone to the cruising community. In 1973, Time Magazine ran a feature about the cruising life with accompanying photos of a Westsail 32 somewhere over the horizon. The Westsail Corporation smartly coined the phrase "Westsail the World" and the cruising boom was on. If you dreamed of remote palm-covered islands and had the gumption to act on your vision, the Westsail 32 was your ticket to paradise. The Westsail's design pedigree is strong with the likes of William Atkin taking credit for the hull's inspiration and William Crealock (of Pacific Seacraft fame) getting credit for the deck design and layout. This is the Tiger Woods of cruising sailboats: You either love the Westsail 32 or hate it. Many criticize it for being unnecessarily slow and heavy, mocking it with the "wet-snail 32" moniker. But I dare say Westsail fans far outnumber the critics. The 32's seakeeping abilities, strong construction, and reputation for safe passages is nearly unmatched. Remember the movie The Perfect Storm? If you recall, there's a brief mention in the movie of a true story about a sailboat that was caught in that perfect storm, yet somehow survived after being abandoned by her crew. That boat was the sailing vessel Satori, a tough little Westsail 32.



The Westsail 32's full keel means business (photo by johantheghost)

2. Baba 30: You guessed it, another Bob Perry design. I promise I'm not on Bob's payroll. I just can't resist his double-ender designs (see Bob's guest post on my blog here). The canoe stern, deckhouse, bowsprit and long keel are SO perfectly balanced. Whenever I see a Baba on the water or at the dock, I can't turn away. The Baba 30 is very nearly my perfect boat. She's drop-dead gorgeous inside and out. She's built tough as nails. She sails very well. She's "affordable". So why isn't the Baba 30 number 1 on my list? I'm a realist and if this is suppose to be a list of boats I might one day actually own, well then I'm gonna need more cabin space for those cruises when my then grown daughters come to visit mom and dad. The Baba 30 is really a couple's boat, not necessarily a family boat. Of course there's always the very similar looking Baba 35 or Baba 40, but now we've officially left the land of "affordable" bluewater boating.

My kind of math: Baba 30 + tanbark sails = boat porn

1. Han Christian 33 Traditional: This is the way a boat should look; like it's ready to take on the world and be your steady dance partner even in the sloppiest of seas. Remember the almost perfect Baba 30 above? The Hans Christian 33 Traditional sails in and adds to all that I love about the Baba with the addition of a very family friendly and liveable cabin layout. The HC33t features what amounts to luxury accommodations for an affordable bluewater cruiser. The forward cabin features a head, sink and full stall shower in the forepeak. That's followed immediately by a pullman berth (perfect for moms and dads!). The salon is just as functional and well thought out. Dedicated nav station? Check. Dinette with seating for 5? Check. Functional and sea-safe galley? Check. Fully enclosed aft stateroom with sleeping for 2? Check. All of this is presented with typical Hans Christian curves carved from hardwoods. On the outside she looks like a massive ocean canoe or Viking ship with a snooty bow and squat stern. The massive bowsprit supports the headsail, leaving room on the bow for the staysail. And look at those shin-high bulwarks around the rail! The underbody is equally beautiful. It features a long full keel with a cut-away forefoot and a fully protected prop and rudder. I dream about this boat. This boat has literally appeared in my day and night dreams multiple times. And I'm pretty sure the latitude on the GPS read 0 in every one of them.

So functional, so beautiful!
HC33t coming at you
HC33t sailing far, living free!

35 comments:

  1. Great post... Most of these boats are slow for their waterlines and, for me at least, speed is a factor in safe passagemaking due to the ability to avoid and dodge weather. I want the ability to easily make 7+ knots in all conditions. (I don't take this as a compromise to seakeeping.)

    One quirk of the HC33: The teak decks were fastened from the bottom up (e.g. through the deck) and the heads were then glassed over. (Not joking.) The tips of the screws pricking your feet is the first clue your decks need replacing. From my dock neighbors entire summer (3 full days per week) this is a truly massive problem to fix and delayed their cruising dream by a year.

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    1. timone - Great comments, thanks! I agree, there's a definate choice to make between speed and tank-like toughness. My personal preference for bluewater is a a heavy full keeler, though this may change with experience. Maybe I'm too wrapped up in the asthetics of these classic designs.

      Good tip on the HC33. I'm leary of teak decks on any boat due to maintenance issues and would prefer any of the above boats without teak decks.

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    2. You are on to something with these large dispacement boats. power or sail . they are the best

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  2. Great list! Not sure the HC33 meets your $50k criteria though. I have yet to see it under $75k in decent condition.

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    1. Hahn - True enough, finding a HC33t for $50k is a difficult proposition. But the boat is s so beautiful and so well made that I had to include it, even if finding a good one may mean spending $25k more.

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  3. Yes the Baba 30 would fit the Boat Porn listing ! I'll tell my wife that's what I'm doing as I sit with blurry vision @ 2am ! Looking at Porn !!

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    1. Agreed, the Baba 30 is really beauty. The canoe stern is perfectly in proportion with the rest of the boat and makes for a really sweet profile.

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  4. Our good friend has a HC33 and we have a W32. Its amazing how close they are in sailing ability. I think the W32 tracks a tad better and the HC33 is just a hint more nimble, but they are very close in our limited experience.

    We really love the HC33's pullman berth in the center of the boat but at the same time we don't enjoy the forward head nor do we like the table layout on the HC33 which requires a lot of people to get up if the person furthest in the booth needs to get out.

    Its a toss up between the HC33 and W32 about interior layout overall. We love the little quarter berth "room" in the HC33 but at the same time you sacrifice a lot of space in the engine room. The W32 gives you a lot better access to the motor. If push came to shove, I'd take the HC33's extra berth instead of the berth in the center of the W32 factory layout.

    The cockpits are very close in size (read:small). The HC33 has a rounded cabin top that makes sitting on the edges of it more of a pain, but the W32 requires drop boards or water will run into the cockpit.

    The W32 does win in price competition though. No comparison there.

    Just wanted to add some thoughts to your post.

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    1. Great comments, thanks for sharing Tate. It's always good to hear from someone who has hands-on, side-by-side comparison experience. I agree the forward head on the HC33 isn't ideal, but I do like that it has a stall shower. If price isn't an issue, maybe the real way to decide between the W32 and the HC33 is the size of the crew. The W32 might be the choice for 2, while the HC33 might be better for 3-4 based on having two private sleeping quarters.

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  5. Downeaster 32' is a clear contender here, and also wins as most beautiful ;-D and very stable.
    Also possibly the largest interior per length? Great head room.

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    1. Agreed, the Downeaster is a real looker and a lot of boat for 32 feet, particularly given their value pricing on the used market.

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    2. I owned a Downeast32. Roomy yes,slow?, yes! Very slow. Had 7 people on her for an overnighter. Storage everywhere. Lots of rear deck space.

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  6. No mention of the Nor'Sea 27.... Should be on the list for sure. :)

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  7. Hello, I appropriate your reviews. Our family own CSY-33. Now a day, sailing is a completely new sport for me and I wasn't sure what to expect but I've definitely got the bug.
    thanks all, @Nadia Brightman :)

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    1. Glad to hear you're enjoying your CSY 33!

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  8. My wife is 5'9" and I 6'3". Which of these wonderful boats would have sufficient headroom and a nice sleeping double for a couple like us?

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  9. This is a great post. I just restored a little Hunter 25 and plan to sell it to get something bigger. It's nice to dream!

    I second the comment about the Downeaster. I love double enders and clipper bows. How about a Bayfield!

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    1. Thanks Dan. I like Bayfields (and other Ted Gozzard designs) too, but they're outside my top 10. Thanks for reading.

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  10. Bluewater Offshore Cruising Sailboat
    Bluewater Cruiser
    New French-built cruiser with a distinctly American look.

    Here’s an interesting design from Group Finot for Beneteau. I find interesting the fact that this design is not especially “Euro” in its styling. In fact, it’s sort of American looking and good looking too. So, let’s examine this profile in detail.

    The transom is traditionally raked as opposed to reversed. This eliminates the standard swim step we see so often. But Beneteau has countered this with a drop-down platform that extends about a foot beyond the transom. This platform is raised and lowered by block and tackle. A sliding flush-deck hatch covers the steps when they are not in use. This is an elaborate and very well thought out transom detail that will allow you to bring your dinghy up next to the boat without threatening the gelcoat on the transom edge.

    This traditionally raked transom really drives the look of this boat. It certainly affects the character of the sheer. I would have liked to see a bolder sweep to this sheer, but it’s fine as is. Note how the tip of the transom is at the waterline. This, combined with the short bow overhang, produces a long sailing length. I think the designers have done a good job of blending the deck structures with the hull.

    The D/L of this design is 183. L/B is 3.38, making this a moderately beamy boat on the lighter side of medium displacement if we choose 200 to be the middle of current D/Ls for cruising boats. The keel is a bulbed fin giving 5 feet, 11 inches of draft. Note the deep forefoot on this design and the straight line to the canoe body profile. All in all this is a handsome and moderate hull.

    The interior shows a two-head, two-stateroom layout with the galley in the passageway to the aft cabin. The galley is spread out fore and aft, but it looks to me like there is still plenty of working room. The aft cabin has a large double berth and symmetrically arranged lockers and settees. Why settees? Well, they look good and occupy volume that is not much good for anything else due to the shape of the hull.

    There is a head with shower stall adjoining the aft cabin. The saloon has a dinette, which to my eye looks on the minimal side. I suppose you could seat four for dinner if you had to, but it would be a tight squeeze. The forward stateroom has a double berth with the toe end cut away to make room for the forward head. I’m not sure how this berth would work for a couple. Obviously, the biggest advantage to center-cockpit boats is the separation of the sleeping accommodations. There is space below the cockpit for the engine room.

    Putting the cockpit in the middle of the boat allows the designer to place the mainsheet traveler at the end of the boom and place the traveler where it will not interfere with the cockpit layout. This rig is well forward and shows swept spreaders with forward lower shrouds. Unfortunately, the sailplan we have is not carefully drafted so it doesn’t do much for the look of the boat. The photos also show a staysail. This is a very nice looking boat.

    The windshield is fixed and, while obtrusive in the drawing, looks just fine in the photos. I’m not too keen on the wheel position. It is a bulkhead-mounted wheel offset to starboard, much like we see on cruising catamarans. This means you will sit in one position at the wheel without the benefit of being able to turn 90 degrees or change sides.

    This wheel arrangement does free up the rest of the cockpit and puts the helmsman securely under the dodger. A teak-capped bulwark adds a rich look to the deck.

    Beneteau’s boats always deserve a close look. The company obviously puts a lot of market research into its new models. In this case the company has given us a well-designed boat with some unusual features. This is one boat I’ll definitely board Beneteau Wave Rider 42CC at Annapolis.

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    1. I wonder if the keel will stay attached

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  11. Hey, I think a strong case could be made for Bayfield 32 cutters, beautiful boats and pretty bullet proof as well. speed is a bit of an issue! great post!

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  12. I single-handed a Bruce Roberts 31 (schooner-rigged) across the Atlantic and back . I was 70 yrs.old, the boat did the work. Also, list the Dreadnought 32 (Tahiti ketch in heavy fg).

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    1. I'm intrigued by many of the Roberts designs and metal boats in general, but I don't have any experience with either. The Dreadnought is another really cool and unique double-ender with a lot of character...often available for a bargain price. Thanks for sharing.

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  13. Yeah how about some feedback on the Alberg's. They seem worthy & affordable too. Please respond, thx. L

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    1. My first true-love in sailboats was the Pearson Triton 28, of course designed by Carl Alberg. As my experience and taste evolved, I began to prefer canoe sterns and slightly more modern designs. The biggest fault I can find with Alberg designs is that many seem to have very narrow beams, making them tight for family cruising. The narrow beams can also contribute to a tender boat. However, Alberg did a fine job of making his designs very sexy with swoopy sheerlines and long overhangs. The Triton, 35 and 37 are all capable and proven offshore boats.

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  14. The HC33 shown, Sabbatical. is for sale @ $95,000. Ouch.

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    1. Agreed, that's a steep price. I've seen 2 33t's that needed a little TLC sell near $50k. In general, the HC 33t probably has the highest average price of any in my list, but its' such a sweet ride!

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  15. You forgot the Allied Seawind 32 for $25,000

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    1. Good call! The Seawind II (32') is but one of several Gillmer designs worthy of any "best affordable bluewater cruisers" list. Others include the Southern Cross 28/31/35, Weatherly 32, Aries 32 and Roughwater 32. Perhaps it's time I write a sequel to this post to include the many good recommendations from the comments. Note - I did include the Southern Cross 28 in my post called "Bluewater on a Budget: 5 Budget Cruisers for Crossing Oceans."

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  16. there is one you may have over looked! tanzer 10.5 pilot house! not the fastest but with it's swing keel it is a fun wide nice sailing boat!! and great for the island's

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    1. I like the Tanzer 10.5, but is she bluewater capable? Definitely a unique look, in a good way. And Tanzer has a good reputation for affordable quality and decent sailing performance.

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  17. Could an old Irwin 37 MK I be upgraded so she can be blue water capable?

    If so...HOW?

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    1. I suppose anything COULD be upgraded to bluewater capable, but at what cost? The I37 is known for it's roominess and affordability, but not necessarily offshore capability or robust construction. Irwin's can be fine boats (I owned one for 5 years), but they would not be my choice for bluewater. If you're simply considering passage from Florida to the Bahamas, or some island hopping in the Caribbean, then there are plenty of Irwin's with that under their belt, but an ocean crossing or a run to Bermuda in an I37 should be carefully considered. For more info and specifics about the I37, try Jack Horner's review here: http://www.boatus.com/boatreviews/sail/Irwin37.asp

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