Your Vessel

What is the best cruising boat for the Caribbean?  Take your pick.  It boggles the mind how some of the vessels we see were able to arrive in the Caribbean in one piece. The entire cross-section of manufactured and home-built sailing vessels can be seen plying these azure waters. 

You will observe everything imaginable sailing or at anchor here.  Sturdy cruising boats, fragile racing boats, coastal cruisers, and even retired around the world campaigners can be found.  Monohulls make up approximately 90% of the cruising fleet with catamarans having about 10% of the boats.  You will find the reverse ratio of catamarans to monohulls amongst the charter fleets but they are rare for cruisers.  Why may you ask?  The simple answers are costs, facilities and beating to windward.  It is more costly to maintain a catamaran and obtain dockage for a catamaran than a monohull.  In the Caribbean they will charge you 1.5 to 2 times the normal cost for a slip in a marina, if they actually have any slips available to handle the excessive beam of a catamaran.  When it is time for the annual bottom job, a boat yard that has the capabilities to handle the extra beam will charge more as well.  Finally there is the issue of sailing to windward with a catamaran.  Catamarans do not like to go to windward.  They are uncomfortable in any kind of windward beat or seaway and the hulls work excessively in steep seas like those found between all the islands in the Caribbean.  Catamarans are great for the Bahamas or as a charter boat for a week in the islands.  However, if you want to cruise the Caribbean buy a monohull.

In St. Maarten’s lagoon the population of cruising boats at anchor represents a cross-section of the Caribbean cruising community.  The boats tend to be between 5 and 20 years old with fewer new boats represented.  Fiberglass dominates the hull construction with steel hulls a distant second followed by the rare wooden boat.  Sloops and cutters are the rigs of choice with ketches scattered here and there.  The manufacturers of boats anchored around us include, Island Packet, Contest, Tartan, Cabo Rico, Hans Christian, Amel, C&C, Taswell, Irwin, Beneteau, Morgan, Cartwright, Oyster, Valiant, Westsail, Moody and Caliber. Cheap, retired Moorings and Sunsail charter boats are also seen in various stages of preservation.  There are approximately 8 catamarans anchored amongst the 200 or so monohulls with Lagoon catamarans being in the majority of those.

The length of choice for cruisers and their vessels is about 40 feet.  American’s tend to have vessels in the 42 to 55 foot range while Europeans tend to have boats in the 36 to 42 foot range.  There is also a selection of larger, much older vessels that are found throughout the islands.  These older vessels are well used, beat up and older style sailboats from another generation.  While these vessels are well constructed they lack the shine and polish found on modern sailboats but they still float, most of the time. 

Every person sailing in the Caribbean (and back in your home marina) has their opinion of the best cruising boat for these waters.  All boats have shortcomings. Whatever your choice, make sure you know your boat and all its’ systems inside and out.  An unfamiliar boat in an unfamiliar setting like the Caribbean is a recipe for disaster.  The use of GPS, electronic charts and the verbage in glossy magazines lead one to believe that it is easy to sail in the Caribbean.  That is a lie.  You will need a well-found vessel and complete knowledge of her systems, strengths and weaknesses in order to safely enjoy your voyage.  Luck is always welcome but not something to be relied upon.  It is your ultimate decision, when purchasing and owning a safe cruising vessel that will lead to success or failure.  Your survival is literally at stake so make your choice a good one!

Handbook for Caribbean Cruising

Volume 1: Eastern Caribbean

Your Vessel