We just left Peoria yesterday afternoon – after giving our last final exams of the fall semester – and headed southeast. Our first stop will be St. Simons Island on the coast of Georgia where we will look at a Southern Cross 31, a cutter rigged yacht designed by Tom Gillmer. Driving in the early morning sun on Interstate 75, Margaret interviewed Jeff, the edited transcript of which is below.
Margaret: What led us to take this trip to GA today?
Jeff: Well, we were trying to locate boats that we could look at while we were in Florida and we came across this new listing in Georgia for a Southern Cross 31, one of the boats on our list of possibilities. We decided the listing seemed to be a great value, so we decided to go a couple of hours out of our way to take a look at it.
Margaret: What are some of the things that make this boat a great value?
Jeff: Some of the equipment that it has on board, including the wind vane and some very new electronics. It also has a new main, genoa, and rigging. It is also a small boat, so it should be less expensive to maintain. And finally, it just has a great price.
Margaret: For some of our non-sailing readers, could you elaborate on the type of equipment that would make the boat a deal?
Jeff: It has a wind vane, which in itself would be about four grand.
It has a lot of electronics, which you would normally discount on a boat because they are typically older and therefore out of date and probably about to give up the ghost. However, in this case, most of the electronics have been purchased in the last year.
There is an AIS (Automatic Identification System) transceiver. This allows you to see all of the other boats that also have AIS in the area and know whether you are on a collision course with them or not. Because it is a transceiver rather than a receiver it allows the other boasts with AIS to also see our boat. Of course not every boat has AIS, but all larger commercial traffic will have it.
It also has an SSB, which stands for single side band, radio. Depending on propagation conditions it could allow us to communicate with other people who have an SSB halfway around the globe. So, the radio is a great way to get weather information, stay in contact with cruising friends, and get emergency information, especially medical information, if necessary. With an additional Pactor modem it could also allow us to send and receive email.
Rigging and sails are two of the most expensive maintenance issues on a sailboat. The rigging will need to be replaced about every ten years while cruising. Depending on how much you are using the sails, they might need to be replaced in just 3 or 4 years. And this boats’ rigging and sails have been replaced very recently.
Moreover, the boat has a stack pack main, which makes it a lot easier to reef. You reef as the wind comes up so that you are showing less canvas, controlling your heel and speed, making for a more comfortable and safe ride. Reefing is something that you do fairly regularly – as in a couple of times a day – and you often do it in challenging conditions. So, anything that makes reefing easier also makes sailing safer. It also makes it more likely that you are going to reef at an appropriate time because it is easier, which is another safety consideration. A stack pack has pieces of canvas on either side of the boom that helps capture and gather in the main as you lower it. If you didn’t have the stack pack the sail would be flogging at the boom and you would be struggling to gather it in, control it, and get some ties around it. The stack pack makes this process neater and more controlled.
Margaret: We have looked at a lot of 30-32 foot boats. What qualities are you particularly drawn to in the SC31?
Jeff: I don’t know if it has particular qualities that set the Southern Cross apart from many of the other boats of this size that we have been looking at. I certainly like that idea that the Southern Cross is a stout, full keel boat that at least 3 people have taken around the world. It gives me a lot of confidence in the design and build. I like that it is a cutter rig, but again most of the boats that we are looking at are cutter rigs. I like that it has a tiller because that simplifies the steering system and also simplifies the types of electric self steering that you use.
Margaret: Why are you partial to cutter rigs?
Jeff: Cutter rigs give you more options for the sail combinations you can have out. In strong winds and tougher conditions you can just put up the staysail, which moves the center of effort aft in the boat. It enables, or makes it easier to, heave-to and set up a Pardey-style para-anchor system. You can also fly the headsails wing and wing going down wind – a point of sail we hope to be enjoying frequently in the trades – which is a little safer than just a jib and main with a preventer. Having the second forestay also provides a little bit more security if you were to loose your main forestay.
Margaret: What type of accommodations might greet our readers should they choose to make a passage with us aboard a SC 31?
Jeff: They can sleep in the bilge. Seriously, the SC 31 doesn’t have as much room as many of the other boats we are looking at. But it does have two sea berths in the main salon, which would allow us to easily have three people aboard during a passage.
Margaret: How have you prepared yourself to inspect the boat? What will you be looking for while on board today?
Jeff: I probably have not prepared myself as well as I should have. I read quiet a few articles and blog posts and forum discussions about the Southern Cross. We also looked through a number of articles about what to look for during an inspection.
I am going to be paying attention to the condition of the engine especially. The engine is the one thing on the boat that concerns me a little bit as it is original. I am going to look for the overall condition of the boat and look for some of those things that I see as representative of poor maintenance or a lack of concern for the boat that I imagine is a sign of deeper underlying problems. I also want to check the condition and model numbers of a lot of the equipment, check the hoses and fittings, etc.
Margaret: What questions will you have for the broker?
I would just like to know a little bit about the history of the boat. To be honest, I don’t think the broker will be all that useful, but I am ready to be surprised. I’d like to know who the previous owners were and how they used the boat. The boat seems to be set up for long distance cruising, and I just want to know if it has been used in that fashion. I am kind of interested in why all of this equipment is new on the boat and, given that, why the current owners are now selling it.
Margaret: What concerns do you have about this boat?
Jeff: I am concerned about the engine. It seems to be original, and I just want to know what kind of condition it is in, whether it has been well cared for and whether it has had any major work on it. I want to make sure that the boat is actually as good as it looks, we have seen that Hallberg-Rassy that was a disaster but sure looked good in the Yachtworld.com listing (edit: for the life of me, I cannot find the blog post of other boat shoppers who posted additional pictures of what looked on Yachtworld to be a beautiful Hallberg-Rassy, revealing the boat to be in awful shape). I also have some concerns about whether we’re going to think this boat is big enough. I know that you (Margaret) seem to want a larger boat with more space, and larger boats with more space generally have larger sticker prices. There is a fairly big difference between a 32 ad a 40 foot boat in both size and price, and if we think that this size is acceptable then it will allow us to focus our search on boats that we can afford now. Where as if we are looking solely at the larger boats we probably can’t buy one for a couple of more years, and it will change the amount of money that we will need in order to feel comfortable cruising because of the higher costs of maintenance.
Margaret: What is your favorite part of road tripping across the South?
Jeff: Waffle House. And getting a “bless your heart” from the waitress at Waffle House.