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The Sailor's Book of Small Cruising Sailboats by Steve Henkel - Book Review

A great resource for anyone looking to buy a small sailboat


Small Cruising Sailboats

The Sailor's Book of Small Cruising Sailboats by Steve Henkel

This is the bible of small sailboats: a compendium of reviews and comparisons of 360 cruising sailboats from 14 to 25 feet length on deck. The majority of the boats have a full large page with sketches of the boat, its profile, and its interior layout plus detailed specs and a narrative that includes the boat's history and best and worst features.

For anyone shopping for a trailerable or pocket cruiser, or even just daydreaming of one day owning one - or simply a connoisseur of small boats - this is an indispensible resource with a wealth of information in a small space. The amount of research that went into this compilation of data is staggering.

Steve Henkel
The Sailor's Book of Small Cruising Sailboats
International Marine/McGraw-Hill, 2010
412 pages soft cover

What It's About?

Following the opening chapter's explanations of the types of information presented about each boat, the next six chapters present detailed information about all the boats in different length categories. While the author admits it was impossible to find data on some sailboats, the book includes up to 90% of the fiberglass production sailboats sold in the U.S. Any boat not included is likely not to be very common in the market today.

The author used 25 feet as the cutoff as a standard for most trailerable boats. A few larger trailerable boats, notably the MacGregor 26 and Hunter 26, are not included - but the line had to be drawn somewhere. The book does include some heavier small sailboats that are not easily towed but still classify as pocket cruisers. It does not include sailing or racing dinghies like the Sunfish or Laser or other open boats that do not classify as cruisers. In other words, a boat needs a cabin with at least one sleeping berth to be a cruising boat, even if it's as small as the West Wight Potter 15, a popular pocket cruiser that has been sailed great distances.

A final chapter considers specific factors a prospective owner should consider when choosing a boat, such as different sail rigs, inboard vs. outboard engines, wheel steering vs. tiller, beamy vs. narrow hulls, deep vs. shoal draft, etc. (For more about determining what you need to decide is important for your own sailing, see also this checklist of deciding factors.)

Why It's a Good Book

Given that only a selective amount of information can be given for each of so many sailboats, the author does a great job of sifting through information most relevant to a potential owner. For example, the specs include data that is often difficult to find - such as interior headroom and a space index - but that can be very important to a sailor about to embark on a small boat. Henkel devised the space index as a comparative rating of usable interior space, for example, which varies widely in boats of the same length. A motion index rating is also calculated for each to reflect overall comfort of sailing the particular boat, a combination of many factors.

Perhaps most important is the analysis Henkel presents in his descriptions of best and worst features. Every boat owner knows there are trade-offs in every boat (creature comforts vs. speed, easy trailering vs. heaviness of construction, shoal draft for gunkholing vs. seaworthiness in heavy conditions, etc.) - and these are key factors to be weighed as one considers different boat models. Henkel is fair in his considerations, apparently having surveyed owner reviews as well as analyzing objective boat data.

While overall the descriptions of all boats are fairly objective and do not show author bias, the final chapter does helpfully offer his own evaluation. He chooses the 100 best small cruisers in eight categories: cruisers for a couple, cruisers for a family of four, cruisers for easy trailering and launching, cruisers for bluewater, and single- and two-masted "character boats," etc. The photos of these top 100 boats also make a nice "field guide" for identifying boats you see on the water.

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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