Buying a Boat: Long Keel or Fin Keel

The question whether a long keel or a fin keel are the better option for a blue water cruiser is heavily debated in the sailing community. And interestingly, there seems to be a correlation between the nationality of the owner and the preferred choice. While in many German and French forums, a (moderate) fin keel is the common choice, most Americans seem to prefer a full keel. Which is interesting, as the cliché of the American is to always go for the newer and faster option. But maybe bluewater sailors are an exception?

Let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of each kind of design:

Short Keel

+ generally lighter boat

+ faster in light airs

+ way better maneuverability in harbours

– less comfortable movements in rough seas

– greater danger of loosing the rudder (or even the keel)

– less space in the bilge

Long Keel

+ more comfortable movements in heavy weather

+ better self steering abilities

+ better protection of keel and rudder in case of a collision

– slower in light air

– harder docking and problems going straight in reverse

So obviously, both designs have their pro’s and con’s. I chose a long keel for several reasons:

  • I have a background as tall ship sailor. So I am used to slow boats that are hard to maneuver.
  • I value comfort and gentler movements in rough conditions. Here is a video (in German) of a test of boats from three generations. Guess which one wins?
  • I don’t think it matters to arrive two days earlier or later on an ocean crossing. So speed is not the most important factor (and good light-air sails can make a big difference as well…)

Buying a boat: What size do I need?

When visiting boat shows or walking along the pier at a marina in the Mediterranean, it is easy to get the impression, that the minimal length of a decent boat for offshore cruising has to be at least 45 feet.

Over the last decades, average sizes for ocean-going yachts have been increased significantly. When Ahora was build in the mid-60s, a 32-foot boat was considered a large yacht. Today, she is among the smaller boats in most harbours in the Baltic Sea, and certainly will be when sailing the Atlantic.

Where does this increase in size come from? One point is certainly the increased desire for comfort and space on board. Many modern yachts look more like floating vacation homes than sailboats. And of course, it is nice to have amenities on board like hot showers, microwave ovens, big flat screen TVs and large double beds. But shouldn’t sailing be about living a simple, adventurous life away from the comforts on shore? Sort of a back-to-the-roots approach?

I can not answer this question yet, and who knows, I might be longing for some microwaved popcorn in the middle of the ocean. But I know as well, that people have done amazing trips with small boats without any such frills.

In any way, the choice for me was easy: I simply can not afford a large boat. And I tried to go with the philosophy of Lin and Larry Pardey:

Go Small, Go Simple, Go Now

They have been sailing for 11 years full time on a 24(!)-foot cutter and later for many years on a 30-foot boat. They point to the obvious: Not only is the initial price for a small boat cheaper, but also the cost for maintenance and mooring. And when sailing short- or single-handed, it is much easier to control the flapping sails of a 30-footer in a gale than the ones of a 45-footer.

So when choosing to buy a Laurin 32, that was actually more or less the largest boat that I had on my list. I was mostly looking at boats under 30 feet. But the good reputation for the L32 for its seaworthiness and the idea to be able to take friends along for extended cruises let me choose this boat.



Buying a boat: Which Material to choose?

The first question when buying a boat is to choose the right material. Boats on the market are either made of wood, steel, aluminum, ferrocement or fiberglass. The goal is to find a material that is affordable, durable, and easy to repair and maintain. Here are my thoughts on this and why I finally settled for a fiberglass boat:


I love wooden boats (I once stumbled upon this quote: „If god wanted us to build fiberglass boats, he would have planted fiberglass trees.“). However, as I am currently about as far from the ocean as you can get in Germany, I wont be able to give such a boat the proper care and maintenance it deserves. Also, sailing a wooden boat in the tropics, as I would like to do, is a constant fight with wood-eating worms and deterioration on deck due to heavy UV-exposure. So for now, it is wiser to stick to another material…


Steel is a good compromise between price (there are plenty of dirt-cheap steel-boats out there) and durability (it is probably your best bet if you happen to hit a floating container or a reef). However, I am not very familiar with the material (i.e. I do not know how to weld), and I have no experience on how to check whether a steal hull is sound or rusted through below the cement in the bilge. So I decided against this option…


Aluminum seems like the perfect material for a boat, especially if you do not care so much for the looks (but even then, there is always the option to paint the raw material…). It is strong as steel, light-weight and does not rust. Even though there are still problems like electrolysis, and welding aluminum is more complicated than steel, I would have probably chosen an aluminum hull, if I could have afforded it. Unfortunately though, such boats are out of my reach for now…


Ferrocement sounds like an odd material for a boat. Why would you use concrete, a material that sounds like the boat would sink like a stone. Surprisingly, the material has proven to be quite useful for boatbuilding, if weight is not such an important factor. It is rather easy to build a boat in this way, and many home builders in the 70s have done so. The problem with the material is, that it is almost impossible to check its soundness. Water entering through hairline-cracks and corroding the steal-reinforcements does not sound like a safe choice. This is reflected in the price of such boats. It is not uncommon to find 50-60 foot boats for 20,000 Euros. Tempting, but I would not want to take the risk…


So the remaining logical option is fiberglass. These boats are around for more than half a century now, and the material proved to be much more durable than anybody thought at the beginning. Of course there are problems such as osmosis or water-penetration and delamination on sandwich-cored hulls. But while these problems considerably lower the resale-value of a boat, I have never heard of a boat that sunk because of osmosis.

The Adventure of Buying a Boat

Now it’s official: I just bought a boat! But how did this happen? What was I thinking, and why did I buy this boat? Or even more general: Why did I buy a boat at all?

I have been sailing for the first time when I was three months old, on my granddad’s boat in the Netherlands. Then during my youth I spend most summers in Brittany, France, sailing my dad’s little dinghy and also my granddad’s boat in Holland. And in the wintertime, I immersed myself in books about adventures at sea, such as the travel narratives from German sailing legends such as Wilfried Erdmann or Bobby Schenk, but also tales of the great age of sail, such as the books by Jack London. For me it was clear that one day, I want to cross the worlds oceans on my own boat.

During my studies, other dreams became a priority. But when I got the chance to volunteer on the Schooner Zodiac after my studies, my longing for the sea came back with unpreceeded intensity. During the remainder of my studies, I spent more than 10 months in total working on board of different tall ships, including the Roald Amundsen and the Bark Europa, which brought me all the way down to Antarctica.

While I think that sailing on Tall Ships is a great way to learn about seamanship, one is always a part of a larger crew, and decisions on the schedule or places to stop are made by the captain, based on an often quite rigid sailing schedule. Buying my own boat would free me from schedules (apart from the ones dictated by the hurricane seasons).

Currently I am employed at a university in Southern Germany and working towards my PhD. During the first three years, I was able to save some money and finally made the first step towards my future adventures at sea. I bought a boat!

It is a Laurin Koster 32, built in 1965 in Malmö/Sweden.

Buying this boat was not an overnight-decision, but a long process of thinking, dreaming, researching and checking out various boats.

The first decision was the material: wood, steel, aluminum, ferrocement, or fiberglass. Here is the reason why I chose to go with fiberglass (although I also looked at boats of different materials).

The next question was, what size of a boat do I want. Here I explain, why I chose a boat in the 30-foot range.

Now there is the choice between long keel and fin keel. I decided to go for a long keel.

After having decided on these core criteria, there is still a huge variety of boats out there that would be a potential fit. I looked a quite a few of them, both in the north of Germany and in the south at Lake Constance.

While I was looking at an IW31 in Hamburg, I noticed another boat at the dock, which turned out to be the beautifully restored Laurin Koster Ariane. I had already read about this boat type and was impressed by how beautiful she was taken care of, but also how sturdy and seaworthy she looked.

Back home I scanned the adds on the type’s website and saw one boat named „Trixi“ in the north of Germany that was listed at a winter price that fit my budget. I contacted the owner and during my next visit in the north, I checked out the boat.