Racing on a budget

In most ocean-racing campaigns, by far the most expensive prerequisite is, of course, the boat. While it’s true that almost anything that sails can also be raced, few skippers are likely to be satisfied if their boats are too slow or too cumbersome. This means that achieving even limited racing success when funds are in short supply requires careful planning and prioritization.

Choosing an appropriate venue in which to compete is obviously important — there’s no point in pursuing an Around Alone campaign if the budget can barely manage a Bermuda race. On the other hand, starting small in ocean racing doesn’t necessarily mean competing in a boat of less than 30 feet. Over the long run, what really determines affordability is the net cost of the campaign, taking into account the cash recovery when the boat is sold at the end of the day. Evaluated in these terms, a somewhat larger but much more desirable, and ultimately sellable boat may well end up costing less than a radical pocket racer. Historically, the sale prices of used raceboats have been pretty dismal, so finding one with good resale potential can make an enormous difference to the bottom line.

The used-boat alternative

With well-aged racers often selling for 10 to 30 cents on the dollar, it might seem obvious that the ideal way to race on a budget is to let the previous owner(s) absorb the big depreciation hit. Indeed, this sometimes works well, but there are some ugly pitfalls to watch out for.

First, determine whether that bargain boat is an antiquated design with substandard sailing qualities. For example, most racers and racer/cruisers from the 1970s through the mid-’80s were designed to the International Offshore Rule. This unfortunate design generation can be recognized easily by their exaggerated beam amidships, creased sterns (a transverse wrinkle in the aft run near the rudderpost), and often rather spindly rigs. Compared with recent designs, they are tender, cranky and relatively slow for their lengths.

Sailing equipment has a finite life span, so any older boat with a preponderance of original gear is likely to require substantial upgrading. This can range from the relatively affordable (new running and standing rigging), to major engine rebuilding or replacement, new self-tailing winches and other modern deck gear, contemporary electronics and, of course, replacement sails. (It’s very common to find that the extensive sail inventories aboard many used raceboats are thoroughly trashed and uncompetitive).

It’s worth bearing in mind that the cost of upgrading two boats of a similar size and condition will likely be quite comparable, even if one is a popular model and the other an odd-ball “special.” Hull insurance is normally a fixed percentage of the vessel’s market value, but the liability coverage usually required by race organizers may not be. Furthermore, some underwriters are disinclined to insure older vessels and may demand more frequent surveys to maintain coverage.

Narrowing the field

Ocean racing is rightly seen as severe service for a boat when compared with coastal cruising or even most passage-making. This is the reason why the phrase “never raced” so often appears in brokerage ads. In reality, however, there are plenty of well-built boats, including moderately priced production models, that can take a few years of hard campaigning in stride and still emerge in structurally sound condition. To ensure good resale value, the trick is to select among those makes and models that are widely perceived as rugged; that way a history of racing won’t be too much of a black mark against the boat.

Image Credit: Courtesy J/Boats
The J/109, at right, is similar to the J/35 from J/Boats, but the J/109 has extra sailing length, more sail area and a slimmer, more easily driven hull. The belowdecks accommodations, below, are less Spartan than those found on the J/35.

Here, in a nutshell, are the main determinants of good resale value in used racing boats:

1. Reputation of builder and/or designer.

Image Credit: Sven Donaldson

2. Popularity of the specific class or model: Buying into a thriving one-design racing class is obviously a boon when it comes to resale.

3. Racing success of the individual boat and/or its sister ships. Potential purchasers interested in racing often favor a proven winner, and even some non-racers prefer a fast boat.

4. Condition of the boat &mdash how well it has withstood the wear and tear of racing &mdash level of maintenance, and quality of any repairs.

5. Suitability of the boat for broadly popular applications, particularly coastal cruising and day sailing.

Sven Donaldson
accommodations belowdecks in the Corsair 36 are not filled with fancy woodwork, but the decor is modern and very low maintenance.

All five can be important, but the last is often crucial. If a boat can make a graceful transition from serious racing to casual gunkholing and day cruising, the pool of potential buyers expands enormously. If it can also become a viable ocean voyager, so much the better.

Two current examples

At the risk of offending any number of other manufacturers, I’ll attempt to illustrate the above points by profiling two newly introduced sailboats. The J/109 and Corsair 36 are promising prospects for relatively low-cost ocean racing once resale potential is taken into account. This is not to say that other boats won’t ultimately cost out as well or better &mdash only that I’m reasonably confident that early buyers of these two models won’t be taking a serious bath when it comes time to sell.

At 35 feet, the J/109 is virtually the same length as the popular J/105 (600 produced); but it is a wider, taller, and vastly more livable boat. The J/105 broke new ground as one of the first good-sized keelboats to feature a retractable bowsprit and large asymmetrical spinnaker as an integral part of the design.

Part of the reason why the J/109 looks like a safe bet for the budget-minded racer is the track record of its similar-sized ancestor, the J/35. Despite the economic uncertainties of the early 1980s, the J/35 sold 170 units in the first three years and 330 over a 10-year production span. The J/35 is still an active one-design, and holds its value well. Introduced at a base price of $49,900 in 1983, they currently sell from the low $40s to the high $60s. The conservative balsa-sandwich construction used for this, and most other Js, has kept the older boats stiff and generally competitive.

So an original J/35 remains a decent candidate for budget racing; but for a variety of reasons, the J/109 now looks the more promising despite a ready-to-sail price in the low $200s. For now at least, both share a Performance Handicap Racing Fleet rating of 72, but the new Alan Johnstone design has extra sailing length, more sail area and a slimmer, more easily driven hull. With a large wheel instead of a tiller, runnerless fractional rig, retractable bow prod, and a snuffer system for the asymmetrical chute, it’s considerably easier to sail than its predecessor, particularly short-handed.

At 35 feet with a beam of 11.5 feet and barely more than 6 feet of headroom, the J/109 falls at the low end of the size scale for a sailboat that most contemporary buyers would seriously consider for cruising purposes. In terms of amenities, it’s also modest but generally adequate. The original J/35 had a decidedly Spartan interior, but the J/109 offers a decent two-cabin layout with private double-berth cabins fore and aft, and simple but extensive cherry woodwork. There’s a compact but well-equipped galley, generous nav station, and long settees on opposite sides of a big drop-leaf table. No question, adding the furniture has nudged the J/109 into the “real cruising boat” category, but for versatility and resale value, that’s probably all for the good.

Low displacement

Despite the extra luxury, displacement of the J/109 is only marginally greater than that of the J/35 at 10,900 lbs, thanks mainly to a lighter bulb keel with a lower center of gravity. Builders Tillotson Pearson Inc., of Newport, R.I., and J/Associates, of France, now use SCRIMP (Seemann Composites resin-infusion molding process) for all their production. This recent technology probably saves a bit of weight, but it is mainly beneficial because it improves overall laminate quality and eliminates the secondary bonding of critical structural components.

Somewhat more than a year ago, J/Boats Europe launched their first J/109, followed several months later by the first U.S.-built boat from TPI. About 130 boats are currently on order or delivered, putting it on track to surpass the sales of the original J/35 and possibly the J/105 as well.

As an ocean racer, the first European J/109 performed very nicely last season with several major offshore wins, including a particularly grueling Round-Britain double-handed race. Its design parameters are conservative enough to do well under the International Measurement System, as well as the International Rating Club, which largely fulfills the role of PHRF in Europe. It should also get a fair shake under Americap II &mdash basically a simplified derivative of the IMS.

In summary, the J/109 is a lively, up-to-date racer-cruiser that should perform well and hold its value. However, it’s obviously not the right boat for everyone. For example, some sailors are keen to explore the speed and excitement of an offshore-capable multihull &mdash something that’s only recently starting to be feasible without blowing major bucks on custom equipment and depreciation.

Big trimaran

At the February Miami Boat Show, I hitched a ride on the first production Corsair 36 &mdash a sizable folding trimaran that’s arguably the closest thing yet to a J/109 multihull in terms of versatility and broad market appeal. Since 1985, Corsair Marine, of Chula Vista, Calif., has built nearly 1,300 folding trimarans and played a lead role in bringing multihulls into mainstream sailing. The original F-27s as well as more recent 24s, 28s, and 31s are often resold at about the same prices that the owners paid new. Vacuum-bagged foam-sandwich construction and streamlined production techniques enable Corsair to put out a durable product that’s still light enough to deliver amazing performance.

Corsair describes the 36 as “engineered and designed with the serious bluewater cruiser in mind.” Quite a few of their smaller tris have also made successful ocean crossings. The 36 design is based on preliminary lines by Ian Farrier, who also invented the unique folding system common to all these boats and once played a major part in establishing production at Corsair Marine. Farrier has since parted ways with Corsair, and the final design is the work of company president, Paul Koch, and an in-house team. There are plenty of clever details, and they add up to a highly functional boat that combines spectacular speed with long-distance passage-making potential.

The main hull of a modern trimaran is narrow at the waterline to minimize resistance, cutting sharply into the volume available for accommodations. In partial compensation, the C-36 topsides flare sharply above the loaded waterline, and the cabins extend the full width of the hull because wide mesh trampolines take the place of a monohull’s side decks. The C-36 also gets away with a relatively high cabin thanks to a pair of raised helming benches built into the stern. A tall cabin allows the port-side dinette to be raised enough that seated crew can see directly out the side windows &mdash so can the cook who stands in the central walkway. There’s a spacious private head with shower, private forward sleeping cabin and another double berth aft in the under-cockpit/lazarette area. Don’t expect fancy woodwork (or for that matter, any woodwork), but the decor is modern, cheerful and very low maintenance.

The load-carrying ability of the Corsair 36 is impressive, boding well for the boat’s future as a long-distance racer and passage-maker. For a morning test sail in Biscayne Bay, we had 14 people aboard, totaling about 2,400 pounds. Even so, the boat short-tacked up a narrow channel, averaging 8.5 knots in a 10- to 12-knot breeze, while tacking through just about 90�. Sailing at about 110� true with main and “screecher” (a Code 0-style reaching headsail set from a furler), the Corsair achieved 14.5 knots in a puff that probably didn’t exceed 14. Judging from the smaller Corsair trimarans I’ve sailed, the ride upwind in waves should be relatively smooth and comfortable in comparison with monohulls of similar size.

A Corsair 36 weighs 6,000 lbs with standard rotating rig, lines and sails. Folded beam is 9 feet 10 inches, so it can be trailered quite comfortably behind a large SUV or pickup truck. Ready-to-sail cost depending on optional equipment should come in around $220,000. To date, the Corsair organization has done a good job at establishing one-design classes for their previous models, and there’s no reason to expect any less with the 36. All in all, a promising boat for getting into offshore multihull sailing with a better-than-average chance of recovering most of the investment down the road.

Contributing Editor Sven Donaldson lives in Vancouver, British Columbia.

By Ocean Navigator