When most people think of sailing yachts, they think of bikini clad supermodels, sunbathing on a huge sleek yacht, being handed a cocktail by a white polo shirt clad steward. But that’s just rubbish. The reality is more like being contorted into a cockpit locker, covered in oil, trying to undo a seized bolt, so that you can sort the next item on a long (and usually growing) list of things that need fixing on your boat.
When most people think of sailboats, they also think that the cruising lifestyle is the preserve of the rich. This is equally just rubbish. For less than the price of a small hatchback car, you can buy a simple, rugged, little second-hand boat that can take you across oceans, and sit happily at anchor in a sunny bay while you snorkel and fish until your heart’s content.
Here’s a rundown of some of the boats we considered when we bought our first budget cruiser. There’s a common theme among them. They were all built in the 1970s, when it was cheap to make fiberglass boats (and so the hulls are thick and solid) and they’re all around or under 30 feet long. None of them are palatial super yachts, and none of them come with a steward dressed in a white polo shirt, but they are all more than capable of taking you on the adventure of a lifetime on the cheap.
This Swedish-built family cruiser has a loyal following, and an almost cult-like status amongst small boat cruisers. The 27ft yacht is capable of much more than her little size would let on, and one has even circumnavigated the Americas, including a trip through the infamous Northwest Passage!
The Albin Vega can be rather slow in light winds, but this is easily rectified with a nice big spinnaker.
Typical asking price: £8,000 for an early 1970s model.
You can read more about the Albin Vega on the Vega Association Of Great Britain website.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Based on the traditional nordic folkboat, the Contessa is a well-proven design. As well as being a great cruiser, this boat is well-known for its racing abilities, so it’s very satisfying to sail. It looks good and has a low freeboard and a narrow beam.
The Contessa 26 is quite spacious for its size, offering a big cockpit, which is perfect for having guests on day sails. There’s also a bigger sister, the Contessa 32, if your budget can stretch to it.
Typical asking price: £10,000 for an early 1970s boat.
You can find out more about the Contessa 26 on the Contessa 26 Association website.
Heavenly Twins 26
Now obviously we’re biased, but we think this is the best budget cruiser on the market. They have tonnes of deck space for a 26ft boat and have an outboard engine, so you can take it to the local outboard guy for repairs. They’re also tough as old boots and they’re practically unsinkable.
The HT might not be super fast, but if you don’t load it down with too much stuff (guilty as charged), then it can get up to 11 knots downwind. It also usually features a big square double berth (ours is as big as a standard double bed), which is perfect for long-term cruising.
Typical asking price: £11,000 for an early 1970s one in decent condition. We got ours for less than £10,000.
You can read more on the Heavenly Twins 26 on the HT And Cruising Catamaran association website.
Image source: Yachting Monthly
These hugely popular little boats had one of the longest production runs of any British sailing yacht. And the huge numbers of them that were produced mean that today they can he had for very little money. Although thought of as a bit of a floating caravan by diehard racing sailors, these boats will happily and safely plod along and many have circumnavigated.
Another great feature is the twin keels, which means that this boat can enter much shallower water, and be dried out in tidal areas – great for doing work to the bottom of the boat.
Typical asking price: from as little as £3,000 if you’re prepared to do some work on it, but more like £8,000 for a well-cared for one.
You can find out more about the Westerly Centaur on the Westerly Owners’ Association website.
There are lots of different sailboats out there to choose from; these are just the ones we had our eyes on when we were in the market for a cruiser. If you’re looking for a boat in America, then you’ll have a different set to choose from than these European boats. Whatever vessel you settle on, don’t forget to commission a survey on it.
A great place to read up on the best features to look for in a cruiser is the book Get Real, Get Gone: How to Become a Modern Sea Gypsy and Sail Away Forever by Rick Paige and Jasna Tuta. This is the first book we read when we started thinking of becoming long-term cruisers. It’s a great read for the aspiring sea gypsy.