Growing up and learning to sail in New Zealand taught me many lessons. One lesson that stands out is that sailing is not just for the wealthy.
Kids learn to sail for next to nothing by sailing on friend’s boats or by joining a club and using club training boats. If you want your own boat and can’t afford to buy one, you build one. The wonderful thing about New Zealand sailing culture is that it is no different to rugby or cricket. It is open to everyone.
This may be why I don’t understand the push towards ever larger and more expensive cruising boats. They seem to be driven by design criteria that bear no relevance to the essential pleasures of cruising under sail.
That kiwi culture is in total harmony with the achievements of Moitessier and Wharram who turned the “yachting establishment” on its head by completing amazing voyages in simple affordable boats. They gave rise to a generation of dreamers who could now see the possibilities.
“It had to snatch these dreams away and place them back out of reach”.
No sooner was this “can-do” generation of home-builders underway, the “pleasure boating industry” sprang up. Marketing departments went into overdrive from annual boat shows to quid pro quo magazine advertorials, clouding the concept of escaping under sail with the very material adornments, even financing arrangements, we were escaping from.
It was almost as though the establishment would have none of this new found freedom and independence. It had to snatch these dreams away and place them back out of reach.
No sector is this more true than the cruising catamaran. Over the last twenty years, the catamaran construction industry has learned three major commercial lessons that have formed the range of craft we see available today.
Firstly, in the early naughties, cat builders were increasing efficiency and churning out boats. But they were running into a sales problem. They couldn’t compete with models built in earlier years that were readily available on the second hand market. These were models that refused to depreciate or die. Manufacturers had to take steps and sadly, as many surveyors and cat industry professionals will tell you, the post 2003/4 boats lack the construction quality of their predecessors. A form of in built obsolescence has taken over and that’s sad.
The second lesson came from the principle known as “economy of scale”. Labour constitutes at least half of the construction cost of a catamaran (any boat for that matter) and there are almost the same man-hours in building a 45 foot cat as there are in a 38. A builder can sell the 45 for almost twice the price of the 38 which equates to much better profit margins on bigger boats. No surprise then that marketing is directed at 40 footers and up. These are enormous boats, far beyond many of our needs.
The third lesson is volume. If the industry is to keep growing, how to make these boats appeal to a wider market? Charter industry relationships formed and flourished. Negative gearing, ownership and owner-use plans sprang up, entwining the financials with realising the dream. For many, this has become a clever solution to what has become an expensive problem and has lead to a boom in boat sales.
I’ve found that a bit of critical thinking goes a long way when you are trying to drown out the marketing buzz and listen to your inner voice. It’s useful to remember the ‘drivers’ that dictate the conversation we are having today about boat design, size and price, and contrast these with the reasons that attracted us to sailing in the first place. After all, sailing should be for everyone.
That’s why I sail,