How to identify interesting boats and sailors

I know nothing about this topic, so thought I should pass along this email from MR reader Edward Dixon:

Having benefited from your advice on restaurants, I thought I would pass on some simple tips for the identification of interesting boats & interesting sailors.

The method is actually a little like finding an interesting restaurant: most of the boats you see are more or less in the form in which they left the boatyard that built them.  You can think of them and their owners as being akin to chain restaurants.   These are the ones to ignore!

Watch instead for boats:
– Ignore anything suggested of a racing pedigree
– Equipped to sail. Two masts are better than one.  Gaff rigs and junk rigs are also interesting indicators.  The limited speed but unlimited range are attributes of sail that act as a sort of filder.
– extra hardware bolted on top, like a solar panel / wind-vane combination
– A complicated-looking wind-vane attachment bolted onto the stern indicates self-steering gear
– A cupola or dome, a little reminiscent of a turret on top of a WWII bomber somewhere on the coach-roof.
– Indications that the boat is a home-build – possible harder for you to assess

Boats with quirks tend to contain interesting people; often they have made Unconventional Life Choices, including of course long sea voyages, often solo.  They have often made extraordinary efforts to go to sea – I once met a man in late middle age who had crossed the Irish Sea in an easterly gale in a 17ft open boat he had constructed himself using (non-marine-grade) plywood, and who was engaged in a boat-based camping tour of Ireland.  This turned out to be entirely consistent with the rest of his history.

Interesting boat folk, like interesting restaurants, are out there to be found, once you learn a few heuristics.


I prefer the big gray boats with white numbers on the side and a landing strip on the top but that’s just me.

No sane person who’s ever spent a significant time onboard one of those would ever say that

One trip around the world on one was more than enough for me.

It must suck to join the navy because you watched Top Gun or wanted to be a SEAL and instead end up on one of those carriers or subs.

Don't the people who go to Top Gun get assigned to carriers?

As the gray boats that have the nice swimming pool at the back - for their hovercraft.

A guy who owns a yacht tells me the hos who hang out at the marina know who's got money by the size of their ship, the bigger the better. They flock to the biggest yacht. As for interesting sailors, I'm sure they would know that as well based on other clues.

Bonus trivia: in some circles, it's considered amateurish to refer to a 'boat', which is reserved for rowboats and submarines. I myself took sailing lessons and found though it was interesting, it's not for me, a bit too dangerous (capsizing is a problem with all sailboats; the minute the sails touch the water you're done for).

Hoes, Ray. FFS.

Ray, you're the best...

Boat owners are some of the most boring people out there.

My experience tells me otherwise. I have sailed widely all my life, been involved in boating communities and have known lots of the sorts of people that Edward is referring to. I find them mostly insufferable and often quite stupid. Boating is about beauty and grace and simplicity. All that crap piled on to an already ugly boat just makes for one of those eyesores I see all the time in my local waters. And the point of sailing is to, well, sail, and nicely designed racing boats do that quite well--I own a retired racing sloop and consider myself interesting and not at all the sort of blowhard who yaks your ear off on shore. And there is a reason no one builds ketch rigs (two masts) anymore. They are a pain in the ass.

I sailed for a time and I pretty much agree. And here in California, the adventurers were the ones that bought the least expensive, 30 year old, 40 foott long, boat they could find, and headed for Tahiti in short order.

That said the original author's list is humorously extreme, in a Blondie Hasler style.

I'm a life-long sailor who has only actually owned a boat (17-ft dinghy) for a small percentage of that time, preferring the time-honored tradition of sailing on OPB (Other Peoples' Boats) as skipper or crew. The bigger your boat is the more you become an engineer, electrician, plumber, carpenter, chandler, shopper - and the less you are a sailor. I'm glad i have friends who like to spend their time and money on all that...

The most interesting sailors have black headscarves, bottles of rum and some AK-47. You will meet them off Somalia.

But you may meet sailors with black headscarves, khat and hashish, and some AK-47s off the Horn of Africa.

But what about boats filled with beautiful laughing women?

It all depends on why they are laughing.

Equipped to sail. Two masts are better than one. Gaff rigs and junk rigs are also interesting indicators.

There is a sort of reverse snobbery associated with boats. Well, associated with a lot of things the Anglophones do. So boats is one of those areas where less is often more - at least among people who like to think they know about these sorts of things. A giant, white, mostly plastic boat? It can cost a billion but it is still dull. A small wooden sail boat? Much more interesting.

So let me agree with this. Although what is the Straussian reading here? Some communities are not known for their love of water. Does this make this entire thread a micro-hydro-aggression?

The second happiest day of one's life is the day one buys a boat; the happiest day is the day one gets rid of it. Big boats are like vineyards: they will "sink" the largest fortune. There's a woman, once married to a billionaire, who received an enormous settlement in their divorce. She sunk her entire fortune in a vineyard. Guess who owns that vineyard now?

Mark Zuckerberg? The Pope? Mossad? Queen Elizabeth? President Putin? Killy-the-Pooh? The Dalai Lama? The CIA? Or maybe a Politician Who Drinks?

Hillary Clinton? Nancy Pelosi?

This guy stripped an old 24ft sailboat the bare hull and build junk rigged sailboat with the mentioned "turret" and wind-vane for very high latitude 60 day cruising trips:

His talk about building the boat:

This guy is rebuilding a 109-year old English sailing yacht and has the whole thing on video. He is very interesting.

One of the best DIY projects of my youth was working with my father's best friend to build a pair of Sabots, a small dinghy class boat that lots of young people in Southern California got their first start on. My father had just designed a new sail loft for Lowell North who outfitted a number of America's Cup yachts and he provided a new state of the art nylon sail for our boats.

In restaurants as in boats (and ships). Avoid chains, puffed-up brands, strip malls, generic commodities, and mass-production. Seek out customization, iconoclasm, and hand-touches.

i.e. seek the small and individual and avoid the large and impersonal.

ergo: avoid Big Business.

Cowen instructs the rubes that Big Business is the best thing since sliced bread, but has never even tasted the Corned Beef Hash from Bennigan's!

Though you couldn't go past that 'Tower of Rings'!

Tyler, if you're always looking for ways to judge something by its outward appearance, without having any actual knowledge about it, you are very definitely a racist.

I don't really understand what this guy is getting at.

Tyler's restaurant rules are a way to triangulate for food quality and value.

What are these boat rules meant to triangulate? So some guy has some crap bolted onto his boat? That makes the boat "interesting"? Do we actually have any interest in the boats themselves here, or just the people that sail them (and all this bolt on stuff is just a clue that the sailor in question goes on long boat voyages). Are people who go on long voyages actually that interesting? Or do they just have a weird obsession? And granting that people with weird obsessions are a little more interesting on average, are "boat people" really people I want to seek out? Or is this just for, like, if I happen to be at a marina and in a talkative mood, who should I try to corner into a conversation? I guess I don't really understand who this guy is trying to advise, and to what end.

This is a very odd and inaccurate observation. People with old, junky, two masted boats are usually least interesting people in the sailing community. There are lots of people who sail around the world, and there are other ways to spot them.

A couple that worked hard on their round-the-world voyage, invested in a beautiful vessel, and has a purpose built machine is far more interesting than someone with a homebuilt duck-taped boat. I mean, come on! What a weird criteria.

No idea how this relates to restaurants. I'd rather have a well though-out, responsible, COVID-safe operation than junk-on-top-of-junk ops. That's just me.

Alex is writing another film review on some boat.

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