When selecting a cruising yacht, you might think that bigger is better! Bigger boat means more space which means more room and more comfort, it's a no brainer. The problem is, as the size of the yacht increases, so does the complexity of everything on board.
At the 2016 Annapolis Sailboat Show, I boarded a 70 foot Hylas which the owners had purchased the previous year to go cruising. The owners then became ill and are no longer able to cruise due to health issues.
The yacht is certainly outfitted for ease of handling. All the winches in the cockpit are electronic, meaning you don't need to grind a winch handle but rather just push a button. This makes sail trimming very easy, as you simply need to coordinate which button to push next.
At this point, a 70 foot yacht is sounding pretty good! The yacht is so large it feels like a condominium apartment with sails and a keel! Then you start to look at the little details that begin to shine through.
The headsails are both roller furling, which keeps the deck clear and makes reducing sail as easy as pushing a button. The thing is these headsails are so big that a regular furling line would not be able to power the furler. Instead, the furlers are powered by hydraulic fluid which is powered by a central hydraulic pump. Should a problem develop in the hydraulic system, a manual winch backup is present at the furler. That is not the place I would want to need to go with that massive headsail flogging around!
The other striking leap in complexity came when I inspected the traveler and mainsheet system. Most travelers have a pulley system that leads to a cam cleat where it is locked off. If you need to adjust the traveler's position, all you need to do is grab the line and pull it in. The traveler can be pulled in by hand with a bit of force, but nothing drastic. On this 70 foot yacht, the traveler has its own dedicated winch!
The winch is a subtle way of telling you that the sail is so large and forceful that you need a winch to adjust the traveler. Now imagine jibing that massive sail in a safe and controlled manner? I'm sure it can be done but it will require a lot of winches and planning to execute in a safe and predictable manner.
While it may seem like a dream to cruise on the biggest yacht possible, keep in mind that the size of the rigging and complexity of the systems increases exponentially with the size of the yacht. As the complexity increases, so does the headache of maintaining all of these systems, as breakdowns will occur and the more you have, the more you have to break.
The moral of the story is go on the smallest comfortable-boat you can and go while you are young and healthy!