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Spurr's Guide to Upgrading Your Cruising Sailboat

Spurr's Guide to Upgrading Your Cruising Sailboat

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by Daniel Spurr, Bruce Bingham (Illustrator)

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Is your boat ready to go cruising?

Just about every sailboat—used and new—can make a good cruiser, but only if the hull-deck structure, rig, and systems meet certain standards. Spurr’s Guide to Upgrading Your Cruising Sailboat tells you what those standards are, and gives you all the help you need to refurbish and upgrade every structure,


Is your boat ready to go cruising?

Just about every sailboat—used and new—can make a good cruiser, but only if the hull-deck structure, rig, and systems meet certain standards. Spurr’s Guide to Upgrading Your Cruising Sailboat tells you what those standards are, and gives you all the help you need to refurbish and upgrade every structure, surface, fitting, and system on your boat—stem to stern, project by project.

This all-in-one guide leads you step by step to a seaworthy, crew-friendly boat with top-notch cruising performance. Not only will you learn what to look for when you buy a new or used boat, you'll also learn how to reinforce your boat’s hull and structural components, redesign and replace rigging, upgrade electrical systems, and much more. Special features include:

  • A detailed survey of 70 used and new fiberglass sailboats best suited to offshore sailing
  • Gear and equipment recommendations by brand name
  • Construction details and other essential features of a strong, safe cruising boat
  • How to make critical repairs to the deck, hull, bulkheads, blisters, and portlights

Product Details

McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing
Publication date:
Edition description:
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Product dimensions:
8.52(w) x 10.86(h) x 0.89(d)

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The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

Copyright © 2006Daniel O. Spurr
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-07-145536-7



The Anatomy of a Cruising Sailboat

Murray Davis, founder of Cruising World magazine, had a saying that there is no such thing as a bad boat, just one marketed deceptively—namely, a coastal cruiser billed as a blue-water voyager. A slightly skeptical Nick Nicholson, when he was editor of Practical Sailor, added his two cents by saying, "Yes, and there is no such thing as a perfect boat."

Me? I think there are indeed bad boats (Murray, like all publishers, had to worry about advertisers). And a portion of this book is devoted to telling you how to avoid them. I do agree with Nick; there's no perfect anything, unless maybe it's a Ferrari Testarossa.

My first boat was a Snipe, a 15-foot (4.6 m) daysailer. She was a great boat to knock about Michigan's small inland lakes, and on several occasions I packed her with a tent, sleeping bags, and camping gear and cruised across the frigid waters of northern Lake Michigan to Beaver Island and the Manitous. Maybe not too smart, but, hey, you go with what you've got. The Snipe, one of the most popular one-design classes of all times, was not intended for open-water sailing, nor was the 13½-foot (4.1 m) Tinkerbelle that Robert Manry sailed across the Atlantic in 1965. Not all stunts end up so happily; others, like Bill Dunlop and his shoebox of a boat, have disappeared at sea. More so in small boats than in big ones, safe passages require a well-fit boat, good seamanship, an eye to the weather, and two shots of good luck.

Because successful ocean passages are made in such a variety of boats, it follows that there is no such thing as the "ideal cruiser." But, just as ancient Greek philosophers sought the perfect form of beauty, we are inclined to believe that somewhere there exists a perfect boat, one that sails well, gives us all the room we require, and pleases our senses as we look over our shoulders rowing toward her in the dinghy.

In reality, every boat is a compromise, not just in design but in personal preferences. What satisfies one man or woman appalls the next. I remember once standing on the docks of the Newport Boat Show watching Steve Dashew sail one of his new Sundeer 64s into the harbor. It had a long pilothouse and a low-aspect ratio ketch rig with big-roach, fully battened sails. I thought to myself, "How practical, and in its own modern way, how handsome." The guy standing next to me suddenly blurted out, "God, I've never seen such an ugly boat."

Take multihulls, for instance. Either love 'em or hate 'em. But catamarans and trimarans successfully cruise around the world. No, they don't have the classic beauty of a monohull with long overhangs and a sweeping sheer line, but they're fast, spacious, and nearly level. You also can find motorsailers tied stern-to in Papeete that have made seamanlike passages from Southern California. Fin- keel, spade-rudder racers have passed beneath the five great capes, making circumnavigations at breakneck speeds. And floating gypsy voyagers have lumbered among the islands in heavy-displacement tubs, finding pleasure and security in their turtle pace, even though their vessels may be hard pressed to claw away from a lee shore.

Some of us set off in a radical or otherwise unsuitable boat with a naïveté that later we find alarming.

But most of us survive, emerging, we hope, as Coleridge's "older, wiser man," a mariner not too ancient. Others engage in a diligent apprenticeship, owning progressively larger boats, methodically building upon a rudimentary knowledge until one day they realize that they do, indeed, know something about boats and seamanship.

During the learning process, I suppose most of us have taken inordinate risks. I sailed the Snipe across Lake Michigan when I was 22. Back then it was the only boat available to me, and I would rather have risked the drowning than denied myself the adventure. Today, I am older and more conservative. Since the Snipe, I've bought and upgraded many boats, including a 19-foot (5.8 m) Alacrity and a 17-foot (5.2 m) Silhouette (both British twin-keelers), a Catalina 22 (6.7 m), a Pearson Triton and a Vanguard, a C&C 33 (10 m), and a Tartan 44 (13.4 m). On these I've cruised the Great Lakes, U.S. East Coast, and Bahamas. Most were tough little cruisers, carefully fitted out and maintained as best I could. I tried to make them as comfortable as possible, installing cockpit dodgers, new engines, easy sail-handling devices, hot-water showers, and wheel steering. Remembering the simplicity of the Snipe, I sometimes still yearn for the thrill of putting to sea in a minimal boat, which would enable me to confront nature on a more elemental level.

But when I pause to reflect, I don't want to subject myself or my crew to any unnecessary dangers. Comfort—my favorite music on the stereo, a library of good books, a dry bunk, a glass of wine with my mate after a passage—has become more important. This is not to say I need these things to cruise, just that I prefer them that way.

This aging process has repeated itself in the souls and minds of sailors for centuries, and there is an accumulated wisdom there, a body of knowledge if you will, that is available to the men and women who wish today to learn what they can before they themselves set out. While most of this book concerns hands-on projects to upgrade a boat to satisfy this "body of knowledge," it also is sensible to begin with a firm foundation; that is, a boat with a reasonably good chance of doing the things we ask of it. Whether we choose to gunkhole down the Intracoastal Waterway, nose around the Caribbean Islands, or make long blue- water passages to the South Pacific, there are certain design parameters, which if embodied in the boat, will make our cruising more successful. And by successful I mean safer, faster, and more comfortable.


At the risk of sounding like my way is the only way, and with all due respect to the excellent texts on designing cruising sailboats, let's put forward a few cruising imperatives, recognizing, of course, that the designer has wide latitude in deciding how best to satisfy them.

Ability to Take the Ground Without Fear

Everybody runs aground. It's a simple fact of cruising. The more time spent cruising unfamiliar coastal waters, the more frequently you'll run aground. To avoid grounding would mean to avoid going anyplace new. If you live in constant fear of holing the boat or being unable to kedge off, you begin to place restrictions on the places you go and your pleasure is correspondingly diminished. This is not to say that every boat must be able to withstand pounding on a coral reef. But it should be able to hit sand and even small rocks without causing disabling damage. I'm not suggesting you should take inordinate risks, but things happen.

Full-length keels give better protection to rudders than fin keels. But the latter allow the boat to pivot easier if it's necessary to turn the boat around before kedging off. Keels with vertical leading edges won't allow lines or floating debris, such as logs, to easily pass underneath. Conventional wisdom has recommended external lead ballast, because its softness absorbs some of the impact of collision. But regardless of keel type, heavy ground tackle and a windlass for kedging off are essential cruising gear.

Ability to Survive a Knockdown

No one relishes the prospect of putting the mast in the water. And while circumnavigations have been made without knockdowns, it is a possibility (if not a probability) for which you should be prepared.

Gear commonly damaged by knockdowns are rigs and sa

Excerpted from SPURR'S GUIDE to Upgrading Your CRUISING SAILBOAT by DANIEL SPURR. Copyright © 2006 by Daniel O. Spurr. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Daniel Spurr is the editor at large of Professional Boatbuilder magazine and the author of seven other sailing books.

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Spurr's Guide to Upgrading Your Cruising Sailboat 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well written, easy to follow great tips. I will definatly keep it at hand for reference.