When you’re sailing offshore–Are you interested in price or cost?

Fountaine-PajotLearning Center

A client recently finished a passage on a Saona 47. Mostly it was a great experience–especially since he was coming from extensive offshore, monohull sailing experiences. Like all passages, his was not problem free, but the issues, were primarily not the fault of the boat, but inadequate commissioning and commissioning planning, and a lack of proper training and familiarization in advance.

What’s the difference?

These, issues handled properly, regarding commissioning, are exactly why ACY is so often praised for it’s perfection of the process. A manufacturer cannot make the boat perfect for every owner and every scenario–but your dealer can–if he cares and has the experience.

We offer prudent consultation and bring more resources to the table than available anywhere else. We are the number one dealer in the world. We bring our extensive expertise, experience and resources to  to your project–standard!

Manufactures build for a worldwide market. We plan your boat just for you!

You can cut corners on commissioning and get a lower price, but, in the end, as this owner found out, it cost him far more in the long run!

A customers description of the good, bad and ugly, and some answers…

Commissioning done right–simply…

Custom commissioning is one of the most important processes to incorporate in order to get your boat set up right for you. It’s a bit like the old carpenters saying, measure twice cut once. Here’s a simplified version of the process–lots more involved and many talented, staff and experts are involved, but here’s the process:

  • Phase 1: Choosing the right options and commissioning location based on your specific needs. We provide appropriate change orders, and links to on-line technical information. (More meetings may be scheduled as needed, but especially, just before the last date for changes, we’ll review all of the choices so far to make sure we got it right, or incorporate any last minute ideas you might have.
  • Phase 2: Meeting the boat on arrival and choosing where to locate equipment (fans, outlets, dimmer switches, TV, etc.), and have a first introduction to your boat the way it’s coming from the factory, while tweaking anything you might want to add locally.
  • Phase 3: Check out and sea-trials. We spend a day with you going over the operation of all of the equipment, best practices, answer your questions and review the file box of equipment manuals. The next day, we go over everything again during a sea-trial. Additional instruction or training, including ASA courses is available on your boat or sister-ships depending on the season/location.

What was great according to my customer. (On this Saona 47, but similar on other models)

I returned about two months ago from a transatlantic delivery of an FP 47, 5-cabin version.  There were four of us; skipper was the best friend of the owner.

The boat was really nicely equipped; standard 47 features plus dive compressor, 8 kW gen, 180 lph watermaker, washer, double cool boxes inside the galley and separate freezer and microwave just inside the slider as you head outside from salon, electric flush toilets, cockpit drinks cooler, and the expensive option–hydraulic dive platform off the rear (and was that ever nice!).  Each of us had our own double cabin with separate head.  There is storage everywhere; the in the floor spaces in the salon are great and hold an enormous amount–I was impressed with how the ship swallowed all those stores!  We provisioned for 25 days and needed just about all of it, as our passage from Canaries to Antigua required 23 days.  The reason for the rather lengthy passage was the absence of a downwind sail.  The owner had already shelled out heaven knows how much, but he figured chartering in the Caribbean would be fine with the jib and main, and I think he’s right, judging from the majority of the sailing I experienced there. (More on this topic later–much more!)

Issues from the passage (Note this boat was not commissioned by ACY, and the story is typical of many we hear.)

We go over the boat in detail before and after commissioning and offer regular informational webinars and factory tours.

Our boats don’t cost more because we charge more. In many cases the price may be less, as we substitute better choices of equipment for the standardized one-size fits all equipment offered by most dealers and manufacturers. The price for a boat set up properly may be slightly higher, but the cost is far less–it always costs less to do it right,  than to do it over! Haven’t you found that to be true?

See my discussion below as to how proper commissioning and set-up addresses these issues. (Customer comments and answers.)

Now to the design problems, as I will characterize them.  The absence of a backstay results in rear-swept spreaders that limit the runout on the main a huge amount.  If you run the main out, either with sheet or the traveler, enough to sail with the wind more than 2 to 3 points abaft the beam, the main butts up onto the spreader ends.  I noticed the chafing on the first day out; the skipper didn’t give it much heed, but a day later I directed his attention to two nice holes in the main.  When we reefed, we simply allowed the spreaders to work their magic on two new areas.  The spreader tips could easily be designed to allow some impingement on the main without chafing.  I can’t believe FP is not aware of this problem.  Not everyone starts out with a downwind sail, but downwind/broad reaches are normal and frequent points of sail.  We ended up duct-taping towels on the four spreader arm ends.  (Editor: this isn’t a MF problem, it’s a training and understanding problem–more below.)

A. This was a function of inadequate setup, but even more, lack of training for the skipper. More below.

A more dangerous failure occurred about halfway across and in the middle of the night.  The bolt holding the boom to the mast lost its nut and we were not far from having a boom-mast separation.  How can that happen so quickly?  Of course, the boom rides up and down, especially on points of sail to stern, and I admit we had no vang setup or other mechanisms to reduce the boom movement.  We used a preventer most of the time since we couldn’t run the boom out enough to assure that we wouldn’t have an unintended jibe if the wind changed suddenly. A. Again, lack of proper preparation. This is a known service issue that should be addressed by the dealer before heading off for offshore passages.

We had a slow, but persistent leak into the port engine compartment, possibly a result of FP’s watermaker installation.  This sent the engine bilge off with its abominable alarm on a regular basis.  We also had a leak in the starboard pontoon aft, and I think it was related to a valve leading to the A/C unit in my cabin.  There was water on the deck in the cabin, and closing the valve stopped it.  The seawater pump to the sink also ran continually, so we had to shut the saltwater sink tap off. A. commissioning issue–should have been a part of the commissioning check-list. ACY typically spends a full day checking the boat before the customer get’s here. Then we spend a day familiarizing the customer with the equipment and another day testing everything during a sea-trial with the customer. Then, if you still need more support, we put an ASA teaching captain to further familiarize you with your boat for as long as you need.

FP really should have as standard handrails leading down from the salon to both pontoons.  Honestly, how much would that be, and it’s simply basic safety equipment.  Holding on to the veneer or the cushions of the settee will leave nice dirt marks after a short while.  There should also be some means of holding on while traversing across the foredeck by the salon cabin.  The coach roof really doesn’t hack that. A. ACY commissioning program includes discussions, with many custom solutions available. We have handrails of all types on our extensive option list which includes MF and local options–but even more importantly–we discuss this in advance at our commissioning meeting.


There should be blocks on tracks on the port and starboard rails, too.  The jib is far too constrained in downwind conditions by the standard configuration.  We jury-rigged one on each side. A. ACY offers a host of solutions depending on sail configuration discussed (with sailmaker included in the discussion) 

More details follow…

My Discussion of issues brought up…

  1. Planning the boat in the first place, and planning for offshore passages take time. Who did this owner buy his boat from?We offer an entirely different level of planning than any other dealer I know of—that’s why we’re number 1 in the world.
  2. We do a lot of customizing and offer custom equipment for much of the equipment that we know is problematical—this includes the water-maker, for instance. We use a much nicer, automated version that pickles itself, among other features.
  3. We offer upgraded electrical systems—especially a major 110 V. upgrade, and other upgrades that are easy during commissioning, and problematical later.
  4. We offer a host of customized features, like handrails leading down to the cabins, but also on the cabin tops. We go over all of this in our commissioning meeting—other dealers simply don’t
  5. We do a multi-hour commissioning meeting to get the equipment right (As I said, often substituting better performing local equipment because we know about many of the issues having commissioned so many boats.)
  6. We do a multi-day check out of the owner, and shakedown of the boat to make sure all is good. This includes checking things like the gooseneck fitting, which can be pinned,
  7. We offer a host of combinations for offshore, downwind and light-air sailing—including enhanced chafe protection with sacrificial sail patches.

RE: Downwind sailing.

  1. Notice, to employ a true downwind headsail, might make sense for extremely long trade-wind sailing–where you might leave the main down entirely to prevent chaffing and because of it’s relatively inefficient downwind contribution.
    A more knowledgeable skipper might want to explore the advantages of considering his polars and VMG enhancements instead.

    We have a number of ways to create more forward leads for the Genoa to help prevent twisting and enhance off-wind performance—primarily this involves a second set of outboard sheeting.

  2. Catamarans, by nature, are designed to sail from Reach to reach, and not dead downwind. (This is true of America’s cup catamarans but also of the new generation of America’s cup monohulls–you don’t need to be on foils to take advantage of the lessons and enhancement to multi-purpose, reaching sails) You look at the polars, catamarans simply have much better VMG (Velocity made good) results when not sailed so dead downwind and this mitigates the downwind chaffing of the main, which can be helped with padding on the spreaders, and sacrificial chaffing patches on the main. This chaffing result is due to the nature of the rig, with no back-stay and more swept back shrouds, the main cannot be let out as far. But off-wind performance is also affected by the configuration of the hulls and keels—shallow keels with a wider chord are incorporated for maximum cruising versatility (Everything’s a trade-off, but this is a good one!).

At the end of the day, trying to force the cat to sail in a zone that doesn’t suit it’s configuration results in less performance. Reach up, and jibe and the downwind VMG will be similar to a Monohull with a more conventional mast. Catamarans simply have such excellent reaching performance, that you adjust the sail plan for that. At our commissioning meeting, we include a meeting with a sail-maker for those more interested in downwind, light-air performance.

Most people don’t realize that by optimizing VMG you may sail slightly more distance, faster, and beat the traditional sailor trying to point as high as possible, or sail more directly downwind–anyone who has raced sailboats has an enormous respect and appreciation for this fact of life.

Downwind and light-air sails– enhancements.

  1. For passagemaking downwind, in some cases, a downwind spinnaker may be considered with either a sheeted in main, or dropping the main.
  2. Then there are a host of sails that better match the polars for efficient catamaran off-wind sailing.
  3. Here are some of the choices that we typically review with the sail-maker. The choices often come down to expense, expertise and priorities.  By the way, the orange sail is Asymmetrical spinnaker. This may be one of the best choices and can come with a top-down furler or a snuffer to make it easy for one person to handle.


A short discussion of polars and VMG.

The concept is easy.

Imagine you point your boat dead into the wind, what’s your speed? If you said “0” you’re right. As you bear away and adjust your sails to the wind, and as you increase your angle away from the direction of the wind towards your boat, your speed picks up, until it peaks out, somewhere in the reaching range–look at the polar. Then, as you continue to turn more and more downwind, the speed goes down again–at least in part, because as you go downwind, your boat speed in effect reduces the apparent wind speed that the boat feels, so with less power, you go slower. (The polars for all of our Fountaine Pajots are in our printed or electronic brochure).

Everything changes proportionately with higher wind speed, so polars need to show performance at different wind speeds as in the example. Now, we can improve the performance throughout the range by employing bigger or more efficient sails for the conditions. While this skews the results some,  the basic premise remains (Unless we’re talking about foiling boats!) Your maximum speed is going to be on a reach as you can see by the polar curve (left) in this example.

So, the reality is that we tack upwind, we don’t sail directly into the wind, to achieve the maximum speed as you can see by the polars. But, what many don’t realize, is that the same thing happens downwind. Dead-downwind is the slowest speed. The optimum is on a reach so we reach and then jibe to the opposite reach to optimize our VMG–that is Velocity made good. The fastest approach to our upwind or downwind destination is not a straight line, but rather takes into account the optimum speed for the particular boat and point of sail as shown by the polars for your boat, wind speed, and sail combinations.

Generally, for racing boats, you have a complete set of polars for different incremental wind speeds and sail combinations. Seldom is this information available for cruising boats, but if you can get the basic polars, you’re much closer to understanding your boats performance capability and you can have fun, plotting your own enhancements to your set of polars. Some of the new electronics have the capability of helping by providing the calculated function–VMG–on the fly!

Do cruising monohulls out-perform catamarans upwind?

The reason this misconception exists is because of a lack of understanding of the polar discussion.

If you try to point the catamaran as close to the wind as a similar sized, cruising monohull, it will make leeway–lots of it, depending on how much you “pinch” the boat. But, fall off a few degrees and yes, you won’t point as high-but you’ll go faster–much faster. Enough so that while you will sail a slightly longer course, you will get to your windward destination in the same or less time as your monohull friends. The polars are your friend! Get them, or at least understand the concept and then you can plot your own optimums for different wind speeds.

Oh, and the best overall, downwind sail? I hate it when people do articles and then are afraid to express conclusions. If you only have room or a budget for one light air, downwind sail for the widest variety of conditions, it should probably be an symmetrical spinnaker. Talk to your sail-maker about how you will really use your boat, and, of course get a snuffer to go with it to make it easy and safe.


It simply sounds like whoever sold this boat to this customer had more interest in making the sale, than adequately customizing the boat for the owner’s needs and style—or, the owner simply chose to not take advantage of expertise that is available. Doing it right, beats doing it over every time!

For a step by step walk-through of the process, check out this blog. So I ordered a new boat–now what?

A video, an experienced sailor comes back to sailing and explains his commissioning experience. VIDEO HEREDetailed blog testimonial.

The one common thread through the whole process was the great team at Atlantic Cruising Yachts.  There was always a welcomed calming effect emanating out of ACY, regardless of who I was speaking to.  It was clear that the team was very experienced and had done this hundreds of times, even though for me, it was my first. Much the same as the actual boat moving down the production line, as I progressed to each phase of the process, I was transitioned to the most appropriate ACY team member who possessed the skill set and experience to get me successfully through their respective stage and on to the next.” BS New Jersey

Eric  Smith, Senior Sales Consultant, Partner
More from Eric >> Boat Business Webinars, Videos, Blogs, Learning center and more.

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