Blue Water on a Budget: 5 Budget Cruisers for Crossing Oceans

"I've always wanted to sail to the South Seas, but I can't afford it!"
What these men can't afford is not to go.
-Sterling Hayden from Wanderer

I've read Hayden's quote countless times and I'm always left on the other side feeling inspired and full of questions about what I really want out of life. You can read Hayden's full quote in this blog post I wrote back in 2009. The premise of the quote is that a tiny budget and the lack of a shiny new sailboat shouldn't stand in the way of making cruising dreams a reality. Or to use more of Hayden's blunt words, "Which shall it be: bankruptcy of purse or bankruptcy of life?"

If you read any of the mass circulation sailing rags like SAIL Magazine or Cruising World you're left thinking that there simply aren't any suitable cruising boats available if you can't write a non-rubberized $X00,000 check. Want evidence? Here's a few of the cruisers recently reviewed in both of the aforementioned magazines:

Passport Vista 545 Center Cockpit: >$1,200,000
Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 409: $195,000 (base)
Arcona 460: $540,000 
Island Packet 360: $349,950
Catalina 385: $208,495 (base)

Of course the above are all new boats straight from the factory to your dock, however, even the brokerage market can seem daunting to an aspiring bluewater sailor on a tight budget. But don't pump your aspiration out the thru-hull with the bilge water just yet. What follows is a list of 5 proven bluewater cruisers that can often be had for less than $30k (If you've got more than $30k but less than $100k to spend, see my "Top Ten Favorite Bluewater Sailboats") .The caveats are that you'll be sailing an older vessel that will undoubtedly need some improvements and upgrades and you'll have to trade ultra-suede settees and air conditioning for vinyl and a windscoop smartly placed over your deck hatch. There are definate tradeoffs, but if you choose to heed Hayden's advice, these affordable cruisers will get you there. In the set of boats below, condition will usually trump an extensive equipment list or creature comforts.

Contessa 26: Quirky little Brittish boat with a big reputation. Commonly available between $10k to $20k.

Contessa 26


Albin Vega 27: Scandanavian tank with a devoted following. Lots available between $10k to $15k. See Cruising Lealea for a blog about bluewater voyaging aboard a Vega.

Albin Vega 27

Pearson Triton 28: Alberg design that's legendary among budget cruisers. See Atom Voyages for stories of a Triton cruising the world.  Currently there are multiple Tritons available on Yachtworld from $6,500 to $28,000. These often show up on Craigslist as project boats for much less.

Pearson Triton (from Bluewaterboats.org)

Southern Cross 28: A canoe-stern beauty occassionally found between $10k-$25k. Donna Lange used a SC28 for her epic solo circumnavigation.

Southern Cross 28

Alberg 30: A true "classic plastic" with several examples currently available on Yachtworld from $10k-$30k.

Alberg 30 (from Bluewaterboats.org)

Remember, the rewards from cruising do not have to be proportional to the cost of your boat or the size of your cruising budget. A $10k Triton and a million dollar Passport both share the same transcendent views in those far away South Pacific anchorages!

Can you tell which sailboat has this view
while anchored in Moorea? All of 'em!
For more great information and recommendations on affordable bluewater sailboats, I highly recommend John Vigor's Twenty Small Boats to Take You Anywhere and John Kretschmer's Used Boat Notebook: Reviews of 40 Used Boats Plus a Detailed Look at Ten Great Used Boats to Sail Around the World.

>>If you're ready to browse bluewater capable cruisers for sale, check SailFarYachts.com.<<

Build your own boat - Choose from over 500 designs

26 comments:

  1. Excellent post, I agree! I could never afford these boats listed in SAIL mag and truthfully wouldn't buy one if I could afford one. The 5 boats you have listed can take you anywhere with some minor "blue water" upgrades.

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    1. Also looked at 1966 Pearson Wanderer, They've got the right hull and start at around $6,500 up to 10k for a really clean one. I've been talking about doing this far to long. I currently reside in China and would love to take myself and my filipino future wife over to the states and sail down the coast all around the Gulf of Mexico and then head to the bahamas. Damn.. stop talking.!!!

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  2. Outstanding... Don't forget a liferaft & GPIRB will add around $6-8K to all of these.

    There are passel more in the <$50K range including some Cal 40s.

    Cheers - Tim

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    1. Good reminders, Tim. As many experienced folks say, your bluewater outfitting budget should realistically be about half of the purchase price for the boat. This varies, obviously, but the point is it's expensive to add all the offshore goodies like a liferaft, etc.

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  3. Thank you for this post and insight into the cheaper option of blue-water cruising. I am in the market for a boat and read avidly all comments, posts and mentions of possible boats that are out there.

    My budget is realistically around the £30,000 mark, though that is to have it ready to sail with all bells, flutes and whistles in place ;-)

    Keep up the good work. Loving this blog.

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    1. Darren - Thanks for compliment and being a reader here at SFLF. I'm always inspired by people who can look past the big fancy and expensive sailboats to still make their bluewater cruising dreams come true. Best of luck with your search for cruiser!

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  4. Please stop it! These budget cruisers are a well-fed thread of myth. They have been sailed by sailors up to the challenge of navigating the oceans with minimal gear, extreme discomfort and hopeful optimism. An average used production cruiser of 36 to 40 feet would be a more sensible bet. This choice of boat would require the same upgrades and attention as those old tiny classics like a Contessa. If you have ever been aboard a Contessa you will come around. If you want to cross oceans you will need $35,000 for the boat, another $12,000 in upgrades, boatyard expenses and new gear (like a windvane) and another $10,000 in cash reserve as you sail the world. Sell everything. You can do it!

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    1. Thank you for the experienced perspective, O Trader! I agree to some extent, but boat choices aren't also practical decisions. Emotion, history, "myth" and more all play a role. In any case, I think you raise some good points and I appreciated you sharing them here.

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    2. Doesn't cost of upkeep for a boat increase with the size of the boat? And not linearly?

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    3. Around the world in an Alberg 30 : http://www.sailingsalsa.com/

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    4. Sorry, that is not true. 24 foot boats have sailed the world safely and comfortably, and are still doing it. EPIRB's are ok, but not mandatory. Argh!

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    5. Sorry O Trader but I cannot agree. My wide and I sailed a Pearson Triton from Texas to Australia. It was great fun. We took 8 years doing it and met many boats under 30ft on our way. There is great beauty in keeping life simple.

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  5. I get sea sick. Would a submarine be a better bet for me? Or would I still get sea sick? As for crossing the ocean in a say 36 footer, once I get my sea legs would I still get sea sick? I was in Typhoon Karen back in the early 60's and was so sick I wanted to die.

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    1. Hi Joe. The sub will help with seasickness, but what about claustrophobia? At least that would be my concern!

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    2. LOL I wunder how fast your pet whale could drag it. ;)

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    3. every one can get seasick, there is a wave length for everyone.

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  6. There are so many good old boats that have or can cross oceans, some needing extensive mods, some not that many, that it really pays to do your homework. My old "sailing instructor", the late Jean LaCombe, had crossed the Atlantic no less than 5 times singlehanded in boats from 18' ( Hippocamp. a wooden double ender he designed and built) to the Lapworth 23 I was on. He also sailed a 21' Golif in an early OSTAR (singlehanded transatlantic race). He later designed and built a 25'er (Yang) that he cruised to Europe and back. Most people today think a larger boat is the way to go, but so do the costs. For a couple, boats from around 24' - 25' and up seem to have done the job. There are so many old fiberglass boats around I think a little work would make a lot of them suitable for long distance cruising. For those who get seasick, try sailing on a trimaran or catamaran, although they'll be perhaps more expensive. The old British Heavenly Twins 26 / 27 has circumnavigated for example, and has twin aft double cabins. Searunner trimarans, or Tri-Stars (31' and up) make excellent long distance cruisers too, even though most are made of wood. They have excellent safety records too. Know that the movement on a multihull can be somewhat different from a monohull... they tend to move more at the ends, but you'll never have a long roll as with some monohulls, or much of a hobby horse motion. You'll also have access to some very shallow areas that monohulls may not be able to get into.

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  7. I bought a southern cross 31 in Carolina Beach NC, for 8500 dollars, sailed it to Bermuda Antigua, Montserrat, Guada loop, back to Bermuda, and then on to Scotland, Ok the boat is now pretty trashed, and out of the water, but it was pretty trashed when I got it, its now just more trashed.

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  8. i love reading these comments. one day i will have 30ft cruiser

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  9. Damn. I lost my Catalina 27 in Hurricanne Katrina and have now just decided to replace it. Thanks for this post, it has me thinking.

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    1. Thinking is good! Hope you get to replace your C27 soon.

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  10. As a x commercial fisherman who used to curse at the sailboats and there dainty fenders i now love sailing and am planning a transatlantic crossing back to Scotland from Virginia hence looking at affordable boats to do the job. Thanks for the information.

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    1. Skote - Thanks! Best wish for finding just the right boat that checks the boxes and stirs your soul.

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  11. I am currently in the market for a Whitby Alberg 37 which I plan to sail with y wife and 3 year old around the world. These boats are the perfect blend of affordability and seaworthiness. They are beautiful and can be had well equipped for off shore cruising at under $55k (USD). Actually almost any Carl Alberg design will get you there beautifully.

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  12. Hello to all, a great sailing boat for me is the one that is all paid for, ocean going and that i can do 45 mph on the road with it. I sail a Albin Vega 27, there will be no other boat.

    David

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  13. I understand cats when they flip over can't be righted again very easily? But mono sailboats do right themselves again? I would think the mono sailboat would be safer. Especially with the world wide weather patterns changing so drastically now days. Do they make a blue water sailboat that if knocked down doesn't get any water inside the boat? And if the mono sailboat can float again after a knock down can one get away with no life raft? I hear there is an unsinkable sailboat made that the name starts with a B but it is very expensive? The danger of running into a cargo container or floating tree would be less if the hull was steel too, are they more prone to upkeep and maintenance or other trouble? Finally Sterling Hayden use to come back to the USA when he ran out of money and star in another movie. This way he could continue sailing. He had no money problems then. He was quite a guy and one of my hero's and his book is a good read.

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