Choosing a boat implies a choice of layout and size. It is a little easier than choosing a charter area, but not much more. But hey! That's what the fun is all about: preparation and anticipation! Your boat selection will depend on the number of people in your party, your budget, your and your crew's sailing skills, and your comfort level tolerance.
Note: This article deals only with choosing a bareboat.
Monohull or Catamaran
The debate has become very one-sided over the last years, since the catamarans have pretty much taken over the majority of the charter market. Of course, there are still plenty monohulls avaulable, though.
- The catamaran will provide you with considerably more room than a monohull basically everywhere on the boat: in the cabins, in the salon and in the cockpit, the latter usually being huge, since it spans over both hulls. A typical 45 ft. cat will have 4 large staterooms, with genuine queen-size beds, each with en-suite bathroom, and a salon/cockpit combination capable to sit and entertain 20 people. A 38 to 42ft. will have 3 staterooms and 2/3 bathrooms. The cockpit and the salon are on the same level, which enhances the feeling of spaciousness. There is ample headroom everywhere. The foredeck also has a big net between the hulls, which makes a great sun bathing area. As a result of this roominess, a catamaran rarely feels crowded as it is relatively easy to get some seclusion and quietness from other members of the party.
- Because of the cats layout configuration, you have full privacy in every room and you don't hear anything from one room to the other.
- The otherÂ majorÂ factor is that a catamaran does not heel and does not roll at anchor. This usually makes seasickness a non-event. Incidentally, it makes it somewhat safer for kids running around.
- A catamaran usually sails faster than a monohull on some point of sails (beam reach and downwind).
- Cats have a shallow draft, allowing you more gunkholing than a monohull.
- A hard-core monohull sailor once said: "When I sail a cat, I feel like I am driving my living room!". He meant that a cat does not convey the "real" feeling of sailing, with the "rail in the water" as they say. That is precisely because a cat does not heel, and a monohull does, sometimes a lot. So if you are in for hard, pure sailing, you will not get that felling on a cat. Only a monohull will give you the full experience!
- Lastly, a cat does not typically sail too well upwind (you said...motoring?:) and needs a different technique for tacking and anchoring.
Conclusion:Â If you are bringing with you a party of first-time sailors, or older people, or people who could feel apprehensive at sea, you definitely better off with a cat.
Layout: Number of People in Party vs. Comfort Level / Tolerance
Whether cat or monohull, It is your first consideration because it will determine your charter boat's minimum size and layout. If you have a party of 6, you know you need at least 3 cabins. Many charter boats have a layout that accommodates 2 additional people sleeping in the salon convertible settee. We do not recommend you do this, unless you don't mind the feeling of camping in cramped quarters for a week. Besides, you might run into some trouble when it comes to decide who will sleep in the salon! On the contrary, if you can afford it, we always suggest chartering a boat that has one more cabin than necessary. It can always serve as storage room for all that extra-gear, or as an additional quarter if someone wants to sleep alone during the cruise. It also increases your privacy (see below). If you have more than 4 people in the crew, we also suggest having 2 heads/bathrooms; 6 people for one head/bath is really inconvenient.
Always keep in mind that your layout choice will also affect your party's privacy. Typically, in a monohull boat, contiguous cabins are only separated by a plywood wall. Let's just say, without getting into details, that mostly every sound or word in one cabin will be heard in the next. Just so you know, OK? As explained above, catamarans do not have that problem.
Therefore... When you visit the charter companies' web sites, or browse the brochures, you will see all the layouts of the boats in their fleet. Some web sites even have "virtual tours" videos, but beware of the enlargement effect of the wide-angle cameras! Take your time "visiting" boats and in the end, determine which layout you and your crew will feel the most comfortable with. There is no mathematic answer to this, as each crew will have different tolerance levels for comfort or discomfort, privacy or lack thereof - an early 20's crew will not have the same expectations as a group in their 50's. Now, you can choose a size.
Size / Budget / Skills
Monohulls: 2-cabin/1-bath are usually in boats from 32 to 36. 3 cabin/2 bath layouts -the most popular- come in any size between 36 and 50ft. A 4 cabin/3 bath layouts usually requires at least 46/47 ft. up to 50ft. unless you charter a catamaran (see discussion below). A 5-cabin/4 bath will be at least 50ft.
Catamarans: the smallest (38 to 42) can have have up to 4 cabins and 2 to 4 heads. Note that the forward cabins are smaller. Cats 44 to 52 will have 4 large cabins with 4 heads and huge living space overall.
Obviously, the bigger the boat the more money you will spend. Of course the budget is shared between the crewmembers. This part is a no-brainer since you know what you can afford or not.
Now regarding the size, another limitation is your sailing experience -and your crew's. Handling a 38 ft. sailboat with 2 pairs of good hands is not a big problem when you know what you are doing... and you do, don't you? :) However a 50-footer - cat or monohull) is a totally different story, because everything is much bigger and therefore more difficult to control. It is not more complex technically, but the forces are much higher: get over-canvassed with a 120% genoa on a 50ft. and you will have to deploy a lot of strength to shorten sail. So the bigger the boat, the more you have to anticipate,Â the sooner you have to prepare her for a coming squall, the sooner you have to reef. Therefore, honestly assess your skills and your crew's and make your choice in consequence.
Equipment and Gear Considerations
- Anchoring equipment: All charter boats with reputable charter companies have a power windlass.
- Dinghy: In the Caribbean, all dinghies come with an outboard. But I had to pay extra in the Med to get it. So ask in advance. Oars are nice, but...
- Electronics: Most boats today have an autopilot, a GPS/chart plotter, a VHF, a radio/MP3 combo, and a wifi connection of some sort (not always free). Make sure you know what will be on your boat. Make sure to bring your USB cables for charging and listening to music.
- Other: In the Caribbean, you can rent a windsurf or a kayak to take with you, but those are optional and cost extra on bare boats.