Dear Reader, please imagine that you had contacted me, and that consequently we are sitting in Eolian's cockpit on a warm spring afternoon, sipping beers. Here's what I would say:
I'm sorry but I cannot answer your question without a lot more information.And now that we're done with that second (third?) beer, I'd tell you to go look at boats. Look at lots of boats. Look at boats that are in your parameters, and boats that are not. The seller (whether broker or private) wants to show you their boats - take advantage of that. Sit aboard and imagine yourself under sail. Feed the dream.
First, you ask for the best small sailboat... what is your definition of "small"?
Next, what is it you see yourself doing with the boat?
- Do you have a particular size in mind? How did you settle on this size?
- Are you looking at a particular price ceiling? What is it?
- Are you looking for a new boat? A used boat? Why? Are you willing to do a little work on the boat? (You had better say "yes" to this question - whether new or old, boats all require work...)
- "Small boat" could imply trailerable. If this is what you have in mind, do you have a rig capable of pulling the boat (Accords and Camrys need not apply)? Do you have a place to store the boat when out of the water? The disadvantage of a trailerable boat is that a fair amount of time (roughly an hour) needs to be spent rigging the mast and transferring everything from the towing rig to the boat before use. But it does enlarge your cruising grounds considerably - The San Juans are close when you are traveling at 65 mph.
Does the simplicity of sail power appeal to you? Or do you enjoy all the bells and whistles?
- Day sailing? Where?
- Cruising? Do you want to overnight on the boat?
Will your boat have a motor?
Finally, what do you mean by "Puget Sound"? Are you talking about:
- Outboard or inboard?
- Gas or diesel?
And the items are interrelated too. The price of the boat is going to directly reflect its condition (are you willing to work on it?), the included gear and systems (simple or complex?) and intended use (day sailor, cruiser, racer). Trailerable boats will not need moorage, thus saving that cost, but at a cost of time required to rig and derig at each use. And you will have to pay for, license and maintain the trailer.
- Day sailing on Lake Union?
- Lake Washington?
- The Sound itself, above the Tacoma Narrows?
- The South Sound?
- The San Juans?
And now that you have answered, "Well, all of them!" to some of those questions, then I must say that you have some further contemplation before you are ready to make a purchase. No boat is going to be good at racing, cruising and day sailing, for example. You really do need to prioritize things. A boat that tries to be all things does none of them well.
Come back again when you have done that - we'll have a lot more decisive conversation then. And more beer.