The Perfect Cruising Sailboat for Our Trans-Atlantic Tour
"We've sailed JAYWALKER 3,200 miles during the past two summers, all on the Great Lakes. In addition to daysails, we cruise 3 weeks, race Wednesday nights and do a few distance races like the Queens Cup from Milwaukee to Grand Haven. The boat has exceeded all our expectations.
Chances are that Bill and Judy Stellin, owners of the J/42 JAYWALKER, had a lot more fun than you did last month—and the month before that, too. The Stellins, from Holland, Michigan, took their long-distance cruising dream across the Atlantic in 2000, where they’ve been exploring the Med before they plan to head home and close their extended Atlantic circle in 2002. We asked the Stellins about the cruising life, living aboard, and what makes a good cruising boat.
What is your sailing background, and how did it lead to long-distance cruising?
How does the J/42 differ from the average cruising boat?
JAYWALKER is lighter, and sails a whole lot better, than the cruising boats we see every day. Most boats in the Med are in the 44- to 46-foot range and carry everything the owners own (many cruisers have no home on land, so everything they have is onboard). We still have a home, and because of our racing experience we have kept our boat light—she is still on her lines. JAYWALKER is equipped for crossing the Atlantic and cruising the Med, not for a circumnavigation. We don’t have a watermaker, miles of chain, or a lot of heavy anchors. We spend a lot of time in marinas, where it’s easier to go sightseeing and meet people, than anchored out. Still, we anchor out about 40 percent of the time.
Our passage times are much shorter than those of the average cruising boat—we sail and motor faster than most boats. We also sail much more than does the average cruising boat. Our Lake Michigan pattern of 60 percent sailing, 40 percent motoring holds true here in the Med. We sail in lighter wind and in stronger winds than most boats. Many cruisers expect to motor between ports, and if the conditions aren’t right for motoring they don’t go. We sail—which includes going to windward!
This is possible and enjoyable because JAYWALKER does it well. We are not afraid to go out in force 5 and 6 conditions. The J/42 surfs better than most cruising boats, does not hobbyhorse as much, and seems stiffer—I’m convinced that the SCRIMP process contributes to a stiffer hull in rough conditions. Because the J/42 is lighter and more easily-driven than most cruising boats, our fuel economy is better and we carry less diesel (we could have crossed the Atlantic with the standard fuel capacity and not the optional extra tank).
What has passagemaking been like in the J/42? What sails are onboard?
Passagemaking has been very pleasurable. The autopilot does all the work and we just trim sails, change sails every once in a while, and catch up on regular maintenance. We get plenty of sleep, and Judy’s meals are marvelous. We have a SeaFrost fridge so we have lots of fresh food and a big variety of menus. Navigation here in the Med is fun and takes up quite a bit of free time. The rest of our time is spent reading or sleeping. Our in-harbor berth is the V-berth, but during passages we use the aft cabin because the motion is easier and we can stay close to the nav station and in easy communication with the person on watch in the cockpit.
Because of the speed of the J/42 and the length of our coastal passages, we’ve only had a few overnight sails in the Med. We leave about 0900 and sometimes don’t get to the next port until after dark, but still early enough to avoid getting overly tired. If we only have to go 35 to 50 miles between ports, we will wait until the wind builds around noon do we can sail and not have to motor.
On JAYWALKER we carry a storm jib, 100% jib, 130% and 155% genoas, two mainsails (old and new), and two spinnakers. The jib and genoas are roller-furling, and all the working sails (with the exception of the storm jib) are made of laminated fabric. The idea that a cruising boat must be heavy and that cruising sails should be made out of sheet steel is very antiquated—and almost impossible to argue with those who have heavy boats and sails. We don’t even try anymore. We just say, “Eat your heart out!” as we sail by them and reach our destination hours earlier and in more comfort.
What have been the highs and lows of your voyaging thus far?
The Atlantic crossing was wonderful, especially the night watches, which were a great time to be alone with the environment. The stars and moon—or lack of both—made for unforgettable watches. It was grand, scary at times, and humbling.
The sightseeing and anchorages in the Med are also stupendous. Every new port is full of history and adventure, and the coastline is spectacular. The sailing is difficult, due to confused seas and unpredictable winds which can go from zero to 45 knots and back again in seconds. But by far the most memorable part of this cruise has been the people we’ve met. Somewhere we’d read that cruising is about people, and we can certainly confirm that.
As for lows, I can honestly say they have been few and far between. Early on, when Judy broke her arm on the passage to Bermuda and we had a rudder stuffing box leak, morale was very low. But that only lasted for a day or so. Every day since has been an incredible high. (By the way, the rudder stuffing box leak was our fault for not putting the stuffing in correctly. Since then everything has been fine, although the steering is a bit stiff—due to a possible overabundance of flax in the box and an overly tight clamp.)
What features of the J/42 have made living aboard fun or convenient?
Standard equipment on our J/42 included a SEAGULL water filter (made by General Ecology) and a Par shore-water inlet. Both have made living aboard much easier. Drinking water in the Med, especially on the islands, has been of very questionable quality, and the filter makes anything except salty water drinkable. We’ve never gotten sick from bad water, nor had our tank water taste bad. The shore-water inlet also makes life more convenient—we don’t have to fill our tanks and our water pump doesn’t have to run. The shore-water also goes through the SEAGULL filter.
The J/42’s big cockpit is very welcome—we spend a lot of time in it. The dodger and bimini give us about all the sun protection we need (only a few times during the height of the summer did we need the sun awning). Judy likes the aft head, which is hers, and we both like the Force 10 stove, the ventilation and screens of the cabin, the big V-berth, the brightness of the interior, the angle of the companionway steps, the handholds belowdeck (Judy is short, but the handholds are easy to reach), the port and starboard settees (great for stretching out), the deep sink (you can hit it with a beer can from the cockpit and the can stays in), the layout belowdeck, the deck layout, and the mainsheet location.
Did we leave anything out? In short, we like just about everything about our J/42. One last thing—the big, deep anchor well allows chain and rope to drop straight down from the windlass without getting tangled. The locker is big enough to hold not only the anchor rode but our folded-up 8 ½-foot Zodiac and some fenders.
Do you have any advice about choosing a cruising boat?
The best advice we can give to anyone considering a cruising boat is to, first, carefully and seriously ask themselves what kind of sailor they are, what is important to them, and where they expect to sail (what will the conditions be, most of the time). Acquire lots of experience sailing in all kinds of conditions so you know firsthand what is important to you and what is not. Only then begin looking for boats that satisfy your needs. Forget the hype and the advice of others who don’t share your concerns and priorities.
Second, buy a performance cruising boat. Think modern when it comes to construction and design. Heavy boats (aka “lead mines”) don’t sail when the wind is light—and that can be a lot of the time when you’re cruising the Med, Chesapeake Bay, or Great Lakes. If you want to motor a lot, buy a motorboat. Sailing is all about the sport of making a boat go with the wind, not avoiding it as many cruisers do. Avoid boats that require lots of maintenance or upkeep—exterior teak in sunny climates is a time, work, and money hog.
Finally, realize that many cruising boats today are designed and built for the charter market, where needs are much different from those of liveaboard cruisers. Avoid the kind of boats that are fine for one-week holidays but have no value for cruisers who will be making ocean passages and spending months, if not years, living aboard. A cruising boat is a big expenditure. Make the most of it by buying a boat that will do what you expect of it without a lot of fuss. Make sure that the boat meets all offshore insurance requirements, and buy the best quality and design you can afford.