Looking for a smaller boat and to change the way you sail? Andrew Bray shares his downsizing journey

Downsizing. It’s what you do when your children leave home or when you retire. You decide to move to a smaller house and buy a smaller car. It’s also what many sailors do. That ocean-crossing 40 footer is never going to make a suitable boat for short cruises or daysailing, the cost apart, so are you just going to get something the same only smaller? Or make a radical change in the way you sail?

In my case my boats have ranged in size from 10ft to 42ft. Their growth might be arithmetic. In feet mine have been 10, 12, 14, 32, 36, 28, 34, 42 and now 26. Meanwhile their cost is more logarithmic, from a hundred pounds or less to multi-thousand.

My last boat, a Rob Humphreys-designed Yachting World 42 called Firefly, crossed the Atlantic twice, cruised the Caribbean for two seasons and, after I sold her, completed a circumnavigation. When I retired I decided that I wanted something simple, a comfortable daysailer.

Downsizing should also mean simplifying. Treat that word ‘should’ with great caution. Over-simplification doesn’t just make a boat easier to sail, if it’s overdone it might just also make it boring. Why not get a power boat and do away with all the faff of sheets, warps, halyards and the sails themselves and get accustomed to the whiff of diesel?

When I downsized I moved to be near the coast. In fact, I could hardly be nearer as my living room window looks out over Chichester Harbour. This was partly to be nearer my children and coincidentally my house is just a few hundred yards from where I first started sailing 60 years ago.

When I think of Chichester Harbour I think of shallow water, numerous mudbanks, fast tides and an area that lives up to its denomination as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. This was always going to dictate the type of boat I was going to sail, even though the end result is very far from my original idea of a simple daysailing vessel.

Andrew Bray took YM editor Theo Stocker sailing aboard Maggie May. Photo: Richard Langdon

A different vision

I mentioned my ideas to John Chambers who, with Tony Farrow, had built Firefly. ‘I’ve got just the boat for you,’ he said. ‘She’s called Maybe and is a little gaff yawl designed by Steve Dalzell.’ Neither gaff nor yawl were on my list of desirable features for my new, simple daysailer but when her owners, John and Jacqui Gormley invited me for a sail I couldn’t resist the chance to see to what extent ‘gaff’ and ‘yawl’ would fit into my mental picture of a daysailer.

Well they didn’t. Not at all. But what I hadn’t expected was, once I got used to all the many lines and halyards and sheets, just how much fun she was to sail. And isn’t fun what sailing should be all about? Maybe is 26ft 6in of fun, with simple accommodation, nice large cockpit and a turn of speed that has embarrassed many larger boats. Needless to say Maggie May, a near sister ship to Maybe, was commissioned and launched a couple of years later.

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It’s up to you when it comes to choice of boat, whether it’s daysailing or weekend cruising. If a local club champions a particular class then it would make sense to consider choosing that boat, but as you should know, when dealing with anything to do with boats, decisions are rarely logical.

Heart usually rules over head.

In my case the only logical decision I made was when I decided that I had no great wish to continue long distance cruising and ocean crossing. I wanted a boat that I could put to bed and then go home to my own bed. And if I still hanker for warm waters then there are many charter companies to choose from.

Firefly, a Humphreys-designed Yachting World 42, was Andrew Bray’s largest boat, commissioned when he was editor of Yachting World. Photo: Andrew Bray

Relish the fun

So, sailing should be fun. That’s a far more important criterion than size, type or where you sail. If you’re young it might be challenging and fun to bash to windward in strong winds for many hours. I’ve been there, on one occasion for five days in winds of Force 6 to a full gale. It was wet, scary at times, exhausting, running watches three hours on, three off, but ultimately exhilarating. Now I relish a fast, wet reach as much as I do a slow drift in the harbour, in the knowledge that I can go home afterwards to a hot shower.

2024 will be Maggie May’s 11th season. During that time we’ve only ventured outside the Harbour two or three times. That might not sound very interesting but Chichester Harbour offers many challenges and surprises of its own. In the first couple of seasons my complacency at having a centreboard to give early warning of shallow water was challenged many times, and running aground and getting off became part of the routine.

Running hard aground was more of a problem as the centreboard case got packed with hard mud and I had to get her lifted out to clear it. On one seriously embarrassing occasion we ran very hard aground in a fresh, following wind, on a dead run and a falling tide.

Maggie May – Andrew’s current boat activate white rule

Luckily a quick call on Channel 14 to the Harbourmaster and we were ignominiously towed off. I used to brag that ‘if you don’t run aground then you’re not trying’. I’ve since revised that to ‘running aground at all is bad news’. In the 2023 season we may have touched the mud a couple of times but never stayed there for more than a few seconds.

The shallow waters and mudbanks of the Harbour shift and swirl with the tides, especially during winter gales. The Harbour authorities do an excellent job with the withies and buoyage, regularly surveying and moving them as necessary, but eyeball navigation is a necessity.

Any Harbour charts are out of date as soon as the ink or the pixels are dry and it’s a careful eye on the depth sounder and signs of shallows on the water’s surface that give a better indication. Little wavelets and a change in water colour and weed growth are more accurate.

The same goes for the weather. In an area like this, even local forecasts are just indicative of the probable wind strength and direction. The wind bends, accelerates and falls away, affected by local land topography. Even a low spit can twist the wind by several degrees, and again, it’s a question of eyeball sailing. Looking for trees moving on land, the water darkening as gust or squall approaches and the sky for clouds that might herald a change in wind speed, direction or rain.

Maggie May’s diminutive size and shallow draught make her ideal for exploring Chichester Harbour’s shoal waters. Photo: Richard Langdon / Ocean Images

On one occasion, a few years ago, after an exhilarating fast reach down the Emsworth Channel in a fresh breeze, we decided to go back and do it again. The sky did look a bit darker and there were a few clouds but what happened next was completely unexpected and without warning.

A sudden and violent squall hit and laid Maggie May nearly flat. Freeing the sheets had no effect, she just lay there and then when the squall passed, popped up again. It was only afterwards, talking to another sailor who saw it all happen, that we realised what had happened. He said that it looked as though we had been hit by a mini tornado and a katabatic squall.

The voyage not the destination

Even when daysailing I keep a log, usually completed once I’m home, less for navigational purposes than as a narrative and a record of the day’s sail, illustrated with pictures from my phone and recording engine hours and keeping track of any maintenance needed. Because Maggie May is coming up to her 10th anniversary I totted up the number of days sailed over that period. I was surprised. It’s close to 300.

Chichester Harbour offers many miles of creeks, bays, beaches and coast to explore, all in sheltered waters. Photo: Richard Langdon / Ocean Images

I’m sometimes asked, ‘Don’t you ever get bored of going to the same places every time you go out sailing?’ This question misses the point entirely. The only thing in common on each day out is that it begins and ends in the same place. It’s what happens during that sail, not where it takes me, that matters, the voyage and not the destination. There are just so many variables from wind and weather to short tacking up narrow channels and negotiating fleets of racing dinghies that each day out is unique. And there is always a surprise, or several surprises, on each day out.

Typically we’ll sail south towards the Harbour entrance before sailing across, past the Winner Bank, and then down towards Thorney, Bosham and Itchenor Channels. Depending on the wind speed and direction we’ll then thread the moored boats in one of these, before turning round and heading back.

What had been a nice broad reach suddenly becomes a hard beat, with a wind against tide chop adding a bit of spice to the mix. On a few occasions we’ve anchored off East Head or in the Thorney Channel but usually we continue sailing.

Boats such as the Drascombe Lugger and Dabber are easy, simple day boats. Photo: Clive Marsh

Typically we’ll be out for five or so hours, with engine use rarely more than needed for leaving and entering the marina. We could go further afield, but there seems little point when
there is just so much variety on our doorsteps and bows.

If you are not yet convinced that smaller and simpler (here I contradict myself as Maggie May is far from simple) boats are perfect for downsizing then there is one more plus point: they cost less to run. This is just another reason why I’d thoroughly recommend simplifying and going sailing just for fun.

Swallow Yachts Bay Cruiser 26 is one of the yard’s larger boats. Photo: Graham Snook

The downsized cruising boat

Perhaps Maggie May isn’t everyone’s idea of the ideal weekend cruiser or daysailer, although she suits me well. The first thing to consider is whether you’re going to daysail, do some short-distance cruising or perhaps a little club racing.

For daysailing the Drascombe range is very popular as are other more performance-orientated boats like the Hawk 20, which is used by some sailing schools. In Chichester Harbour, as in many other places around the coast, gaff-rigged boats like the Cornish Shrimper and Crabber are popular for both daysailing and short cruises.

Both of these have active racing fleets in some parts of the country. If you’re used to sailing larger boats, anything under 25ft will seem to offer fairly rudimentary accommodation, although quite adequate for short cruises. Alternatively Swallow Yachts provide some surprisingly quick, pretty little daysailers and mini cruisers between 18 and 32ft.

Find a berth you can afford first, then buy a boat to fit it. Photo: Richard Langdon / Ocean Im,ages

Prices for Drascombe luggers vary enormously, depending on age. A new boat might cost in excess of £20,000, but there are plenty offered for sale below £10,000 and as low as £2,500. I found three Hawks for sale for between £5,000 and £9,000 whilst Shrimper prices vary enormously.

A new Shrimper 21 could be in excess of £50,000, whilst there are plenty of examples of older Shrimper 19s for less than £20,000.

If you’re planning to race, it would be worth your while to find out what the popular local classes are. These are often local quirks, from historic classes to production models, some of which will be better suited to cruising than others.

Mooring fees

There will be regional variation depending on location and type of mooring. A full-service marina berth will be many times the cost of a drying mooring, and mooring of all types are more expensive in popular sailing areas. As examples, in Chichester Harbour a deep water mooring for a 9-11m boat is just under £2,000 pa and for a 6-9m mooring around £1,600. You’ll need a good dinghy and outboard as well, although many areas have ferry services to moorings.

A marina berth on the South Coast will be around £6,800 pa for a 9m boat.

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