One of the things that I miss about my Contessa 26 is being able to easily reach over the side and put my hands in the water. I can reach the water from the deck of Idle Queen, but it is a bit of a stretch, and I have to put an uncomfortable amount of my body over the side of the boat, so I don’t do it. Instead, I use a bucket attached to a line to haul water to the deck of Idle Queen.
Besides making washing things over the side a little less convenient, there are other disadvantages to all that extra freeboard–like sluggish windward performance; more hassle getting out of the dinghy; and handling issues when the wind gets up. No matter how you look at it, anything that increases windage is a bad thing, and more freeboard increases windage in a big way. This has been known to designers for a long time, and is part of the reason why many old-school sailboats were so low to the water. When Sirocco had to ride out the remnants of hurricane Irene on an exposed mooring, she sat quietly despite the whipping gusts largely thanks to the fact that she sat so low in the water.
I have heard it said that higher-freeboard boats are drier, but that isn’t necessarily true, especially if you are interested in actually staying dry. Once the wind gets over about 20 knots, it will drive spray a long distance into the air–much higher than the deck on just about any small boat. There are other aspects of the hull design that make a bigger difference in how much spray gets thrown about, like the amount of flare; sharpness of entry; and whether there is a significant rubrail or not. Closehauled in 15-20 knots of wind, Idle Queen takes more spray across the deck than the much lower Sirocco. Dodgers, windscreens, or other shelters are more effective at providing a place on deck to stay out of wind-driven spray. People these days seem less interested in putting on their “oilies” and toughing it out…
It is amazing to me how just a foot of extra freeboard on similarly-sized boats like Sirocco and Idle Queen can make such a huge difference in how they handle and how they feel. The loads on dock lines and moorings are much higher on Idle Queen; windward performance is not nearly as good (though this has much to do with other differences in the hull shapes); and even the motion while seated on deck is less comfortable. That’s right–being higher in the boat amplifies the effects of motion. Try climbing the mast at sea if you really want to feel this effect. (Disclaimer: Only go aloft at sea if you can do so safely!)
A boat that is excessively low to the water will have the decks frequently washed over by waves, so there is definitely the potential to take the low-freeboard idea too far. My point is that once past a moderate amount of freeboard, the returns paid in dryness will diminish just as quickly as the negatives, like sailing around at anchor, will pile up.
Besides, boats that are low and lean just look sexier.