It's going to be a couple of days before I get out of here - just take a look at the Buoyweather widget on the lower right of this page to see the current conditions. Oh yea.....time to sit back and reflect...
A while back, a good friend of mine and a reader of this blog told me she was interested in eventually getting her own sailboat, and indicated that she would wanted some advice. We haven't had the chance for that chat, so I'll give that advice here. This is done at the risk of annoying all the know it all sailors (just like me in other words!) who read this, here's my boat specific advice on the topic.
First, you need to decide just what you want to do, how and where you'll be sailing. I'm making one assumption here, and that's that you aren't interested in a dinghy type boat, but want a small cruising boat. For a beginner, I might suggest something along the lines of the Sirius at 22 feet, or the O'Day 23. These are attractive, well built boats, and trailerable as well. I cruised a friend's O'Day 23 down the west coast of Florida years ago and was quite impressed with it. The nice thing is that you can haul these boats out on a trailer, significantly reducing your costs for winter storage, or a marina during the season.
If you want to look at something just a big more serious, I heartily suggest the Challenger 23, or 7.4 as it was also known. This Canadian built boat was my first cruising boat, and nearly 800 of them were built. It has a solid keel at 3.5 feet draft, standing headroom at 5'10" and is built like a brick outhouse as it was designed as a small charter cruising boat for Nova Scotia waters. It also handles rough weather very well, and having been out in some 30 knots+ weather with mine, I speak from experience. You'll need a 130 or 140 genoa to get any real performance from it however, due to its weight. You can buy this boat all day long at less than $5000. It's trailerable, but you'll want to keep this one in a marina as hauling it in and out is a great deal more work than the previously mentioned boats.
In this same size range, the Grampian 23 comes in for some attention, and if you want a prettier boat with better performance, a Tanzer is a great choice. I just realized something interesting here - other than the O'Day, these are all Canadian boats so far. The Catalina 22 is also very well regarded in this size range.
Moving up towards 27 feet, you get into a lot of choices, and creature comfort increases in leaps and bounds as we grow in size. You've got the smaller C&Cs, Hunter and Catalina, plus the many older boat marques that have come and gone. There are lots of each of these on the market, it becomes more a matter of finding one that suits your pocketbook now. Some will have inboard engines, but many still will be outboard powered. Keep in mind, one of these boats needing some work can be had for as little as $1500 if you take your time and look around.
One special mention here - the Watkins 27. This boat is seriously underrated. I've sailed one, they sail fine, and they are well appointed, comfortable boats for their size. If you come across one of these, don't let the door to door soap sounding name put you off - it's one of the better boats of its size around.
The next step up brings me to my favourite small boat - the Catalina 30. Thousands of these have been built and if I ever again choose to have two boats, one north and one south, I'll get a Catalina 30 for the Great Lakes. This boat is blessed with lots of interior room, good sailing characteristics, and is a handsome boat as well. Because there are lots around, they come cheaply, particularly in the present market.
Enough for now - my next post, I'll discuss the decisions you should make before you go shopping - including the story of my disastrous first boat. Stay tuned folks, and if you have your own notions of what a good first boat is, email in your comments. Love to hear them.