Boat Size, Draft, and Performance

Dear Linda and Steve, We first heard about you two in the Mahina Cruising seminar given in San Francisco this past March by John and Amanda Neal. It was a great seminar and your books were prominently displayed and talked about during their seminar.

We are just about ready to take off for five or so years on a cruising journey which we hope will include the Med, Caribbean and South Pacific. More if time allows. I (Glenn) have been boating/sailing since the age of 12 and am now the ripe old age of 52. I grew up sailing on Puget Sound, the San Juans and Canadian waters and sail/race J-105’s in the San Francisco fleet. The two of us have chartered all kinds of sail and power boats in California, the Caribbean, and Mexico.

Because we understand that you sail on a 78-footer Beowulf, we thought you could help us with a dilemma we are currently experiencing. We are looking to purchase a boat in the very near future. Two boats are under serious consideration. One is a new Hylas 54. The other is a used Farr 63 built in 1999. Both are cutter-rigged, center cockpit pilothouse models. Both are loaded with the latest in nav and electronic gear. Both have in-mast furling mains and a bow thruster. My wife likes the smaller Hylas, thinking that it will be easier to sail shorthanded (just the two of us most of the time). I like the larger Farr which is a bit roomier, has a bit better sailing performance overall and will be more sea kindly with the longer waterline length. The biggest ISSUE is draft. My wife thinks the 9-foot draft on the Farr will keep us away from many tropical locations where we may want to anchor/moor the boat. I say the difference between the Farr’s -foot draft and the Hylas’ 7’2’" draft is negligible and that it would affect less than 5% of the places we’d like to go. For instance, we chartered a Hylas 54 in the BVI and barely were able to join other boats anchored on the south side of Annegada Island where the depth water was 8 feet. We assume the draft on Beowulf is at least 9 feet. Do you feel limited in where you can cruise??

Any thoughts or opinions would be greatly appreciated if you have the time to respond. We look forward to using your reference materials. Kind Regards, Glenn and Linda

Hi Glenn: The problem of draft is one with which we’ve wrestled for many years. There is no substitute for draft in performance. And there will be a huge difference in performance between the Farr and Hylas strictly because of this – both upwind and down (there will be other issues affecting performance as well, but draft is a biggy).

Beowulf drew 8′. When we were in the design cycle we looked at everything from 6′ to 10′. If we were doing a sistership today for ourselves (which we almost did), to be used on the Pacific Coast, with occasional trips (maybe once every three years) to French Polynesia, we’d kick up the draft to 9.5′ – because of the performance aspect. However, for more general cruising we feel that her 8′ was about the right compromise for us.

The 9.5′ of the Farr is not going to be an issue in most of the Caribbean, or the West Coast of the US, or for that matter in the tropical S. Pacific. And there are certainly lots of places in New Zealand where that sort of draft is not an issue. The East Coast of the US is a little more limiting.

The rub comes in risk factors. For example, there is a lot more risk cruising in out-of-the-way spots, where thin water is present but poorly charted. We’ve had several experiences over the years where, through foolishness, we got ourselves into difficulty but were able to extricate ourselves without outside assistance. In each case, had draft been a foot more, we’d have needed a tug (and if no tug was available we’d have left the boat).

Haul out is another issue. It will be more difficult to find usable haul out facilities with the deeper draft vessel, and blocking will be more difficult. This may or may not be an issue depending on where you are when you need the haul out.

Then there is the factor of heavy weather anchorages. In many parts of the world – tropical in particular – the safest anchorages are up a river. The rivers themselves are often surprisingly deep, but they seem to invariably have an entrance bar which must be crossed. These are typically around 6.5 to 8 feet.

Another thing to consider is the shape of the keel. If the keel is bulbed, then it is unlikely that you will be pushing it through soft mud across the river bar. On the other hand, if it is a very small fin, with a thin tip, and you have reasonable power and an efficient prop, you can push the keel through several feet (or more) of mud (we once pushed Beowulf through 3′ of mud – to a friend’s house up a river in New Zealand).

I have not specifically answered your question – sorry about that. I would say both of you are correct. From my perspective it comes down to the risk factors associated with the draft, and how you view these versus the performance pleasure (and this is a positive in terms of safety) that comes with the higher performance configuration. Most cruisers would opt for the shallower draft because they don’t care about the performance. That’s what Linda would want as well. From my perspective I’d consider the deeper draft boat. But if I were cruising full time, doing a circumnavigation, I’d rather have something more like 8′, assuming no bulb.

Assuming the Farr has a bolt-on keel, have you considered a different fin? Good Luck – Steve

Posted by Steve Dashew  (November 30, 1999)

2 Responses to “Boat Size, Draft, and Performance”

  1. stephen Says:


    I have read your book surviving the storm and have sailed extensively in an Alberg 30 but am making an offer on a C and C 40 and I was wondering what you thought of this boat. It does not have the highest stability rating but is below the 2.0 factor recommended for offshore use. I believe they were well built boats and I think that after adding running backs and an inner forestay would do well in heavy weather and offer the boatspeed necessary to outrun major weather systems.

    Thanks in advance.


  2. Steve Dashew Says:

    Howdy Stephen:
    I am not that familiar with the C and C 40, but if this is one of the older, moderate beam designs, she should steer better than beamier boats. The cutter stay and runners are always good for mast stability and storm canvas, but take care with adding weight aloft which hinders stability.
    Speaking of which, the stability screening index to which you refer should not be counted on for dangerous sea states – it is a minimum.
    Final comment on outrunning storm systems. Most low pressure systems move at 15 to25 knots, sometimes much faster (except for tropicals which typically are slower). It is doubtful anything in the size range we are discussing will outrun these type of systems.