When I was asked to highlight five top affordable bluewater cruising sailboats, about 30 models popped into my head. How do you pick just five? You can whittle down the list by setting some parameters: boats that cost $250,000 or less when they aren’t much more than 10 years old, are under a half a million new, and are still in production in one form or another today. With these considerations in mind, here are my picks—five top choices for affordable bluewater cruising sailboats (in alphabetical order).
Caliber 40 LRC
The Caliber 40 design appeared in 1991 and through its evolution into the 40 LRC, remains a very attractive cutter. It has a fully encapsulated, elongated fin keel, and the ballast to displacement ratio is a very respectable 44-percent.
A cruising couple will find plenty of room below; water tankage is good (156 gallons) but fuel is only 46 gallons, which may need to be modified for cruising.
The T-shaped cockpit is roomy and excellent for entertaining, and also deep and safe at sea, with three large cockpit drains and high back rests.
The Hylas 46 is a cutter-rigged sloop with a center cockpit and a modern underbody.
These cruisers are low, sleek, and fast, with almost no exterior teak and a great multi-step transom for easy boarding.
Serious cruisers will find the Hylas meets their needs inside and out; the interior is outstanding with two cabins and two heads, and a nifty feature is the way the companionway steps swing out to reveal engine access.
Island Packet 420
Island Packet builds distinctive, full-keel boats that have almost a cult following. They’re solid glass, heavy cruisers that won’t set any speed records but will get you there in safety and comfort.
These sturdy, aft cockpit boats boast good water and fuel tankage, a nice two cabin, two head layout. Beneath the waterline, there's an optional shoal keel (4’ 6”) for skinny water destinations.
The 420 is not offered as a new build anymore, having been replaced by the 460/465, which carry on the Island Packet tradition of building solid bluewater boats that aren’t all things to all people, but have it all for some.
The Tartan 3700 is a design that has stood the test of time, and is still being built new today more than a decade since its launch. Although Tartan’s have been around since the 1970s, Tartan’s current designer, Tim Jackett, brought some unique features to the latest mix.
The 12’ 7” beam is carried well aft, providing good stability and plenty of room both above and belowdecks. For stress-free single-handing, there’s a self-tacking jib for when the wind is up and a 150% reacher on a roller furler which will keep the boat moving in light air.
Below, the Tartan 3700 has two cabins and one head with a stall shower. The saloon has the space of a much bigger boat and there’s a full-sized nav station which is perfect for long-distance cruising.
Valiants are tough as nails, double-ended, cutter-rigged sloops. Their traditional looks belie a nimbleness that more or less started the idea of a “performance cruiser.” Not much has changed on these boats over the years so going aboard is a bit like stepping back in time, which is exactly what appeals to many of their buyers.
Tankage (water and fuel) is pretty light, with both being under 100 gallons. However, the boats are extremely practical with little exterior teak, a very versatile aluminum toe rail, and a compact, ocean-going aft cockpit.
The design concept grew out of the hugely popular, Bob Perry-designed Valiant 40, and the forward cabin comes in multiple arrangements.
If you ask three sailors what the best cruising sailboat of all time is, you’ll get at least five opinions. These five were selected because they are affordable, recent, and in one form or another, still built. There are older and less expensive models that are still plying the water today—and newer and more expensive models that have taken cruising to a new level—but these five affordable bluewater cruisers certainly merit your attention.