Small bluewater sailboats, with their modestly sized rig and shorter waterline, can be a delight to sail for couples and single-handers alike. With more and more young people getting into cruising and the liveaboard lifestyle, it’s no surprise that small cruising sailboats are experiencing a comeback.
I’ve been cruising in Europe and the Caribbean with my husband Ryan for four years; first aboard a 26-foot Heavenly Twins catamaran and then on a Tayana 37 small bluewater sailboat designed by the legendary Bob Perry.
When it comes to choosing boats, I vouch for going small. And I’m not alone.
Many world cruisers – those who venture on long offshore passages, rather than staying by the coast – choose these seaworthy designs. Being comfortable at anchor or having a spacious cockpit for entertaining guests isn’t as important as staying safe while sailing.
Table of Contents
What Are Small Bluewater Sailboats?
When I say small bluewater sailboats, I mean boats under 37-feet long. This is the definition given by Lin and Larry Pardey in their book “Self-Sufficient Sailor.”
The Pardeys are icons of small sailboat cruising. Having sailed over 200,000 nautical miles and circumnavigated both east and westbound on their home-built, engine-free, sub-30-feet cutters, they are among the most recognized sailors in the world. They’re also known as “America’s first couple of cruising.”
But what are bluewater sailboats?
Small cruising sailboats need to have a solid construction that will withstand the test of storms, tall waves and strong winds. This usually means a thick, well-maintained fiberglass or steel hull and a rock-solid structure.
The underwater profile needs to be seaworthy. It’s best to look for a small bluewater sailboat that has an encapsulated keel, which is less likely to fall off in case of a collision with a log or container. A deeper draft also helps keep the boat stable in rough seas.
The small cruising sailboat ought to be able to heave-to easily in a storm when the crew is tired and it’s not as safe to be on deck. The rudder should be protected from debris, so it’s a good idea to choose a skeg rudder or a full keel.
The cabin needs to be well-designed with ample handholds, so you won’t be thrown around in big seas. The cockpit shouldn’t be too wide to wedge yourself in securely with your feet. Plus, a smaller cockpit drains faster when a wave washes in.
We chose a Tayana 37 for our small cruising sailboat, which features a fairly deep full keel, a super thick fiberglass hull, a moderately heavy displacement, two good sea berths and a small, sea-going cockpit.
The best 5 small bluewater sailboats for sailing around the world
There are a lot of great little cruising sailboats for sale that are capable of offshore cruising. Here are five of the best ones out there.
Albin Vega 27
This modest 27-foot sailboat has an excellent reputation as one of the best bluewater boats. Sailor Matt Rutherford was the first to circumnavigate the Americas solo on one of these little beauties. I’ve also personally met Denis Gorman, a Jester Challenger who took his Vega, Lizzie-G, the wrong way across the North Atlantic twice. He thought it was one of the sturdiest crafts you can get on a budget.
Capt. Bryan from YouTube channel The Adventures of Tarka bought his 1973 Albin Vega sight-unseen in St. Martin in 2017. He since sailed her from the Caribbean to the South Pacific, safely dodging some of the worst hurricanes that hit the islands in years. While sailing on Tarka was often a wet ride, Bryan absolutely loved traveling on her. It had everything he needed to live comfortably on a budget in paradise. Bryan had to sell Tarka in 2019 due to family matters; he was heartbroken.
In 2017, he decided to buy an Albin Vega 27 from 1976 to cruise around his home country. Pål says: “I’ve found a fitting description [of the Albin Vega]. A pocket-sized, go-anywhere cruiser. And that is what you can do with this boat: you can go anywhere.” It’s sturdy and can take anything the harsh Swedish weather throws at her, which makes it the perfect vessel for him. His boat is called Lyra and he’s had some great experiences on her so far – exploring remote locations, going on fishing trips and flying the spinnaker on a calm day.
Designed in Sweden by Per Brohäll in the 60s, the Albin Vega lines were inspired by the long keel and skinny beam of the Folkboat.
Although the keel is long on this small cruising sailboat, it’s not full length, which means she performs fairly well in light winds. The modest cockpit is small enough to drain fast but big enough for two people to sit comfortably on long passages.
The compact interior in this small cruising sailboat helps the crew stay put in rough seas, but offers decent headroom.
The best perk? You can find Albin Vegas for sale for as little as $9,000.
Thanks to her substantial displacement, the Baba 30 is a sea-kindly boat and is fairly stiff. She’s easy to heave-to and will take care of her crew in a storm. Like many Perry cutters, her best point of sail is on a reach.
She also grants more space down below than most 30 foot small bluewater sailboats offer. The charm and sturdiness of this little cruiser have to be her strong points.
Jordan and Randy from YouTube channel Learning the Lines specialize in boat reviews. They think the Baba 30 embodies the “go small, go now” mentality popularized by Lin Pardey. The couple love the vessel’s classic lines and functional design. Their favorite feature? The forward-facing hatch above the V-berth, which allows you to check on the anchor or the dock from bed.
Experienced sailor and journalist Jack Hornon writes on SpinSheet: “With practice and experience, the Baba 30 can be sailed comfortably and safely in conditions that would send many fair-weather sailors to the nearest shelter.”
Take a look at this video Paul Collister took while crossing the Atlantic from the Canary Islands to Saint Lucia. His Baba 30 effortlessly dealt with some pretty rough seas on the long ocean crossing.
The Baba 30 also offers a nice extra perk. According to Jack Hornon, she “continues to have one of the highest resale values of any boat of this type and size.” A quick look at Yacht World reveals Baba 30s from the mid-70s and mid-80s typically cost anywhere between $20,000 and $70,000. That’s pretty darn good, considering the Albin Vega is only 3ft shorter.
Pacific Seacraft 40
OK, this is not exactly a small or cheap sailboat, but it’s still fairly modest, compared to many modern monohulls and catamarans, which are often as long as 50 or 60ft. But I wanted to include a bluewater cruiser that would suit a family, so here it goes.
The Pacific Seacraft 40 was designed by W.I.B Crealock and was first built in 1997. It’s a double-ender with a great capacity that can handle heavy seas. It features a balanced rig that adapts very well to self-steering, which is crucial for long, short-handed passages.
Jordan and Desiree from YouTube channel Sailing Project Atticus have updated to a Pacific Seacraft 40 a few years ago because they wanted to buy a seaworthy sailboat with a large family-friendly living space. Since then, they sailed her from the US to Europe. They’re currently cruising her around the Mediterranean.
Desiree likes “how deep and protected the cockpit feels.” Jordan finds the helm setup to be perfect for single-handed sailing, which is very important for night watches. The guys also love the V-berth because it has been designed to offer more space for the feet at the bow and less for the head. This means there are steps leading up to it, making it very easy to jump into bed. This design feature is pretty unique for a classic bluewater sailboat.
This proven Swedish circumnavigator has become one of the most successful production boats since she was designed by Olle Enderlein in the late 60s. The full keel, center cockpit and solid windscreen make her one of the best small bluewater sailboats.
Although her hull is narrow and makes her a little rolly, she has a solid construction and is generally sea-kindly, if a little slow. Hallberg-Rassy’s tend to have bigger engines than required, so the HR352 has a 43hp diesel engine. This is one of the few older small cruising sailboats that features separate cabins – an aft cabin with a double berth and a main cabin with a galley, saloon, heads and v-berth.
Ryan and Kelsey from YouTube channel Abandon Comfort chose a Hallberg-Rassy 352 as their first boat because it’s a proven bluewater cruiser that is big enough to feel comfortable but small enough to keep life minimalistic. The guys found her to be extremely comfortable to sail and live on.
I couldn’t not include the Tayana 37 – after all, we chose her out of hundreds of small bluewater sailboats we researched.
The Tayana 37 was designed by Bob Perry in the late 70s and has since become one of the most successful semi-custom cruising boats. You’ll see them sail in all corners of the world. The traditional canoe stern, bowsprit, and teak galore both on deck and down below make her a beautiful small cruising sailboat.
She is one of the most sea-kindly monohulls out there with a full keel, a 3.55m beam and a well-balanced sail plan. Most Tayanas are cutters, but a few ketches were built too.
Ryan and I cruised our Tayana 37, Skua, around the Mediterranean and from Europe to the Caribbean between 2018 and 2020. Having lived on a tiny 26ft catamaran for two years before buying Skua, she felt absolutely huge.
She was also stunning; every time we jumped in the dinghy we would turn around to admire her classic lines. But most importantly, we always felt safe on board her, no matter the weather. We encountered a few storms along the way – in the Mediterranean and on the way to the Canary Islands – and we never felt in danger. She was also very easy to heave-to, which is handy for non-experienced sailors like us.
There’s an extra perk to the Tayana 37: there is a passionate owner’s association, so finding information about the boat and getting in touch with fellow owners to ask for advice is easy.
Why Go For a Small Bluewater Sailboat?
The biggest reason to go for small bluewater sailboats is obvious: budget. We didn’t have the cash required to buy, moor and maintain a big bluewater sailboat, so we naturally went for the boat we could afford.
Not everyone can compromise though – many people decide they want to buy big and make a twenty-year plan to save towards their dream boat. I personally find this a risky tactic, because you don’t know what will change in the next five, ten, or twenty years of your life. You may lose sight of your dream, or fall ill.
I had a few wake up calls – losing a friend and getting two cancer scares – before I realized we needed to go cruising as soon as possible.
This is reflected in the Pardeys’ famous motto: “Go small, go simple, go now.” A small sailboat will allow you to set off and start living your dream quicker.
The Pros and Cons of Small Bluewater Sailboats
Let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of choosing a small cruising sailboat for sailing around the world.
- great for novice sailors
- the smaller rig makes it easier to handle underway
- ease of maneuvering in harbors
- easier to set up for single-handing
- less expensive and time-consuming to maintain
- cheaper to moor or haul out of the water
- simpler systems means less can go wrong
- inexpensive upgrades, including sails
- easier to find a spot in a marina
- slower passages
- less stable in rough seas
- less space and privacy, especially when taking extra crew on
- less storage for food and water
- less tankage
We do value speed and comfort, so when we chose our second sailboat we went for a heavier displacement hull and a longer waterline, which makes for a more sea-kindly, fast and stable vessel than our bouncy little catamaran.
She can also carry over a month’s worth of provisions with no impact on her sailing ability.
What to Look for in Small Cruising Sailboats
When looking for a small bluewater sailboat to cruise on, it’s important to make sure it comes with:
- space for solar panels or a wind generator
- at least one sea berth where you can install a lee cloth
- space to store provisions and water (or a watermaker)
- space for batteries
You will need to be self-sufficient when offshore or in remote locations, which means having enough energy to run your electronics, a good amount of provisions and water, and being able to sleep.
It’s a plus if it comes with:
- a well-sized modern generation anchor
- a wind-vane
- more than one steering method (for example, an emergency tiller)
- a good sail inventory
- a reliable windlass
But you can add these extras to the gear yourself once you buy. We were lucky – our new boat came with most of these.
Learn about the pros and cons of a sailboat with two masts in this detailed post.
Conclusion on Small Bluewater Sailboats
As you can see, there are a lot of budget boats out there for sailing around the world. There’s been a comeback in the market for these bluewater boats as more young people get into cruising.
The pros of a small sailboat are the price, maneuverability and simpler systems.
The cons are slower passages, less stable in rough speeds, and not as much space for additional crew.
Best of luck with your search for the perfect small bluewater sailboat! I hope you can untie the lines soon.
Other sailing stories you’ll love:
- 5 worst things about living on a sailboat
- How to pick the best sailing catamaran
- The best marine toilets for a sailboat
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