The Boatist

Sailboat Ownership, Translation Work and Tales of Minor Adventure

Retire early, be passionate, don't worry, die poor

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Downsizing to a Pocket Cruiser

tiny sailboat

Sooner or later sailors, specially solo sailors, with a somewhat large sailboat will face some harsh realities: 
   a) the need to downsize to a smaller boat
   b) life without a boat
   b) death

I prefer option a). I Can't imagine not having a boat, and death is a problem I'd rather worry about after I die. In contrast, planning to downsize to a smaller boat is obscenely titillating. 

Downsizing will give me the opportunity - and the illusion - to finally buy the perfect sailboat, in other words a boat perfectly suited to my needs.

Why do I need a pocket cruiser (ideally under 8 m)?
  • I'm tired of struggling to keep up with never-ending maintenance and costs
  • I can spend more time sailing instead of fixing
  • I can still continue with my yearly coastal cruise south
  • It's easier to sail single handed
  • It's more exciting - closer to the water is better (sometimes wetter too)
  • It makes it easier to step into and out of the dinghy
  • Docking is easier even on windier days
  • Etc. 
The process began when I fell in love with a Frances 26. 

Frances 26

The "Frances 26" infatuation lasted for a while, until it hit me that they're too slow for my solo cruising in Portugal where I need to sail between a number of anchorages ranging from 45 to 60 miles apart. Small classic boats, besides being generally slower, are also more prone to high maintenance because of their construction materials and age.

With this in mind, I started focusing on a sailboat offering a balanced combination of speed, ease of use, affordability and low maintenance. Before I knew it, I was salivating over an  Etap 21i.

Etap 21i

These boats are amazing. They're unsinkable and, astonishingly, can be sailed even after opening the bottom sea-cock and leaving it open. A family of 3 sailed an Etap 21i around the world and it only took 3 years, although they, like the boat, looked very compact in the photograph I saw.

etap sinking test
Four men (the other one is in the cockpit) aboard an Etap 21i after having opened the head's sea-cock, and this is as bad as it got. ~ Courtesy of Yachting Monthly
But...and there's always a you can see in the photograph, it has a maximum headroom of 1.4 m and about 1.2 m above the marine toilet. That didn't faze me at first, until I placed a 1.2 m mark on the wall above the toilet at home and tried using it while keeping my head below the mark. I'm 6 foot 2 and let's just say that in a rolling boat I'd most likely end up crawling around the floor with my pants around my knees. Next boat!

Next, browsing for something a bit larger I came upon the Jeanneau 2500, a well-built high-performance beauty. Headroom is 1.60 m and 1.65 in the toilet. So I went back to the bathroom at home and raised the mark on the wall to 1.65. Not bad at all. But like I said, I'm tall.

Production began in 2001 and the asking price for one with an inboard diesel is normally 25,000 euros or higher. That's still a hefty price for an 1.85-m-tall guy to pay for 1.6 m of maximum headroom. Next!

I then began looking at the Etap 26i, which appears to be a better deal with asking prices ranging from 27,000 (1995) to 35,000 (2003). It seems well worth the slightly higher cost for a much more spacious boat. At first I was discouraged because all the ones I could find are for sale in far-away ports. But, on second though, what could be better than starting out with a long leisurely cruise back to Peniche. To think of it, I bought Jakatar in Toronto, Canada, and sailed it here.
I try not to look at this photograph too much. 
And then there is also the Jeanneau Sun Fast 26, a bit cheaper than the Etap 26i but a good boat nonetheless. Food for thought.

The bad news is that none of this will happen any time soon. It will be at least a couple of years before I'm ready to sell Jakatar and before Jakatar is ready to be sold. In the meantime, I have a plan.


A friend has suggested that I should downsize to a 32 footer and then, lastly, to a 26 footer when I get older (old). But I'm a solo coastal sailor. A 26-foot boat has a good bed, a marine toilet, enough storage room for me, why would I want more space just for the sake of space.

I also considered something like a 1970s Invicta 26 with encapsulated ballast in running order with an asking price of €6,000. But then I began asking questions and doing the math: is the standing rig OK, are the 40+ year mast and spreaders OK and will they still be OK in 15 years, are the chainplates pitted, is the deck mushy, is the engine going to last as long as me? One thing you know for sure, it's narrow, gloomy down below and needing all kinds of TLC. So I'd be back to maintenance/refit mode, albeit on a smaller scale but the cost and time still add up. Nope, once around, big or small, is enough. I want to go sailing, not fixing.


  1. I wanna go sailing too!!
    I don't think you're gonna find head room in 26 feet. 28-32ft seems better. You're a big dude and you're gonna want to spread out. Plus the shock factor after moving from Jakatar. Have you put Jakatar up for sail yet?
    And you want a boat with character. Not a Tupperware!
    LOL with the "next!"'s

  2. A friend at the marina has a Beneteau 26.5 and it has decent headroom. Maybe you're right about the shock factor, but I'm getting damn tired of fixing, scraping, painting, paying... If I had your 33-footer I probably wouldn't be complaining. 6 feet makes a big difference.
    Anyway, I'm sailing to Nazaré soon for a haulout, the usual scrape-paint, pay, pay routine plus the 5-year mandatory inspection, pay some more. Maybe that's why I'm dreaming about a smaller boat. It'll feel good when I cut the lines and sail away, like it always does, even thought I'm only sailing to Nazaré, for now.
    Tupperware or no tupperware, 39 feet is too big for one person and I aint about to adopt a family to justify it!

    1. No, it's not for sale yet and probably won't be for a couple of years. Who wants a boat with a mast rash?

  3. Take a look at the Falmouth cutter, 22' on deck or her sister ship the Norsea 27'. a little more pricey, but a lot of head room and no problem crossing an ocean

    1. Thanks for the tip Jaime,
      The Falmouth Cutter is too small. The Norsea 27 is fantastic little ship and fast for its size. But I'm living in Europe now and second-hand boats from outside the EU have to be imported and certified with the EC label. A big headache. Importing Jakatar was enough, don't want to repeat that adventure. Fair winds.

  4. I have very fond memories of the times i have been down the coast stopping off at the fishing ports, and recall having the fordeck cleat pulled out due to wash by the fishermen in Peniche!
    Ever considred a Westerly Griffon or Konsort? Getting on a bit, but prices are very reasonable, and many re-engined and re-rigged. I do not have your height issue, but they are generally known for being adequate.
    Any good websites for tracking down a traditional fishing boat in Portugal? I should have taken the lines off the small lobster boat last time i was in Sines, but was in a hurry to go South.

    1. Being on the outer part of the transient pontoon in Peniche can be a "roller coast" ride a times, especially for smaller boats.
      I just looked at the Westerlies you mentioned, and I know the British made some very good sailboats. However, nearly all boats older than 1995 need will need some sort of semi-serious upgrading within the next 15 years. It's not just the engine and stays/shrouds...there's the deck coring, chainplates, rudder and rudder post, keel bolts.... I'm hoping to pass on the upgrading/intrusive inspections mission to the next buyer. Smaller, newer, sugar-scoop transom and way I go.
      Not sure what you means by "any good websites for tracking down a traditional fishing boat in Portugal". If you're looking for one look at or in the "Barcos" section.

  5. Forgot.....a Hunter Channel 27 might do you also!