Many of the semi-custom or higher quality sailboat builders have trended towards creating more center cockpit yachts. Larger production companies have continued to build aft cockpit vessels with an eye on the ever-expanding charter market. While some, like Swan or Outbound build aft cockpit yachts of exceptional quality. There are benefits to both types of cockpits but the trend towards building more boats with center cockpits is evident at boat shows around the world.
While pinpointing the first center cockpit sailboat design is difficult some of the first boats built in larger numbers were the British built David Hillyard designed 9 tonners. The modern German Frers or Bill Dixon designs are certainly more refined than these carvel planked boats but the premise and goal of these designs, built seventy years apart, is the same. David Hillyard created strong boats with the idea that people could live onboard and cruise with more comfort. Today’s buyer is often looking for this same recipe. Equally comfortable and private, forward and aft cabins were the hallmark of early center cockpits and continue to be a driver of this design type today.
For many years detractors of this design type pointed to the high cockpit combings, reminiscent of wedding cakes, and the inevitable enhanced motion of being higher out of the water. During the years that Morgan and O’day forayed and indeed led this part of the industry it was easy to stand by the sleeker aft cockpit boats. Winches were in easy reach some people even rightly espouse the benefits of being able to reach a piling or dock cleat from the helm.
Great American yacht designer Ted Hood used his vast sailing knowledge and distinct eye to make center cockpits that were not only aesthetically pleasing but also more functional. Much of his work acts as the foundation for the way center cockpit yachts are drawn today. The general trend to increased freeboard and overall length has also made the center cockpit yacht as attractive as their aft cockpit cousins, while also giving cruising couples and families several clear advantages.
Fully enclosed cockpits with either mosquito screening or clear panels effectively give center cockpit owners an additional cabin. While possible to create this space on an aft cockpit boat, center cockpit vessels are inherently suited for the versatile enclosures. Being able to dine at your large cockpit table on a cold day, with the warmth of the cabin below flowing into an enclosed cockpit, helps extend cruising seasons and allows owners to enjoy the scenery of every anchorage. The same is of course is true when anchored next to a Caribbean island when the “no see ums” begin biting at dusk. More useable living space is critical for modern, long-term cruisers, who have often abandoned life on land for adventures aboard sailboats that are often much smaller than homes.
Below decks the interior of a center cockpit yacht is vastly different from traditional aft cockpit vessels. Many have passageway galleys and almost all have large aft cabins. The salon is often cozier and on the most carefully considered center cockpits the machinery is easily accessed. These interior differences are generally preferences and there is no definitive right or wrong way to design a sailboat. However, builders such as Oyster yachts, Hallberg Rassy, Hylas, Discovery and Passport build center cockpit yachts for people who predominantly want to live onboard and cruise.
A large, private, full beam, aft cabin with an ensuite head can often extend the amount of time a couple spends on their yacht. Being able to retreat to a bright, comfortable cabin, that often has hull ports and an overhead hatch, helps even the most gregarious owners recharge. On many modern vessels the aft cabin is also the most comfortable cabin to sleep in while underway. Setting up lee clothes in the main salon will always be popular but being able to stay in your own private cabin on passages is certainly preferable. The aft cabin often is the deciding factor in whether people purchase an aft or center cockpit vessel.
Many center cockpit boats have passageway galleys. This galley set up gives the feeling of cooking at home and also creates additional access to the engine room and mechanical spaces. Being able to cook while another person does dishes or preps allows more people to be involved in meal preparations. These galleys are often proportioned in a way that makes them safe as well. The inboard side of a passageway galley often has opening cabinetry that reveals one complete side of the engine and gives easy access to seacocks or manifolds. Experienced cruisers know that the easier it is to work on mechanical issue the more time they can sail and the more money they will save.
Center cockpit yachts have been built decades but the refinements over years are making them more attractive to many cruising yacht enthusiasts. Aft cockpit yachts will always have a strong following for many compelling reasons but center cockpit yachts should be strongly considered by anyone considering a foray into a live aboard lifestyle. There is a perfect sailboat for every sailor and his or her unique preferences.