One of the comments that came out of my recent article on the couple cruising the Caribbean (Catching Up With White Pearl) in their Hampton 55 was in response to my surprise that there are not more trawlers cruising the Caribbean. That reader felt strongly that the price of fuel is a major roadblock to anyone hoping to explore distant shores on a trawler.

He gave as an example the current price of diesel is $12 a gallon in Grenada. That is way out of context, however, as he referenced XCD $12, which are Eastern Caribbean Dollars, the local currency of these Caribbean nations. Its conversion to USD is $4.44, so the cost of fuel is not nearly as exaggerated as he worried.

But the discussion is bigger than that. And now with Russian sanctions and our country looking to source gasoline and diesel elsewhere, we will certainly see an impact at the fuel dock.

To balance my thoughts with those of experienced yacht brokers, I stopped by the Seattle Yachts’ Annapolis office and sat down with brokers Dan Bacot and Greg Gelmann. Just how important is the price of fuel in the scheme of things to people going cruising on a trawler or other powerboat?

“It doesn’t figure into the picture much at all,” Dan said, with Greg nodding agreement. “The cost of fuel is simply the operational cost of running the boat.” The cost of boating.

As we talked about their past and current conversations with clients and those looking to buy a boat for extended cruising, fuel economy simply isn’t part of the broker/client discussion. Dan said it has a lot to do with how they’ve decided they want to manage that cost. Do they want to go fast, or do they intend to go slow and smell the roses?

(Seen below: The Nortthern Marine 57 has a 2,600 gallon fuel capacity that allows for a 5,000nm range.)

northern marine 57

For sailors coming to the Dark Side, they may be quite comfortable going relatively slowly, as it fits their comfort level after years of motorsailing. (It is commonly agreed that most cruising sailors are under power 85 percent of the time anyway, so it is not a new experience for them.)

Taking it to an extreme, Dan points out that the guy who buys a Cigarette or Donzi couldn’t care less how much the fuel costs or how much they use. They live for the thrill and exhilaration of going fast. Step aboard a Donzi 38, with a pair of staggered Mercury Racing V-8s pumping our 1,720 hp. The thrill of going 80 to 100 knots is what these guys live for. Who cares if they are burning 128 gallons per hour!?!

The same is true for the big sport fishing machines that run out to the canyons for game fish. One can walk past many of these yachts in marinas and know they are capable of going through fuel at a rate that might make your head spin. How about 230 gallons at 44 knots...

(Seen below: Big sportfishing yachts, like this Viking 54, will have a range of around 400 nautical miles with a 1,500 gallon capacity, but they can hit speeds of 40 knots.)

sportfishing yacht 

While the above may not be your cup of tea, the point is that boat owners seek the style of boat that fits what they want to get out of boating. For some sailors coming over to power, slow is good, although I’ve met many sailors who decide, once they sell their sailboat, they are ready to go faster. I’m certain that is a major reason for the tremendous success of the Downeast cruiser market. Whether it is a Legacy, MJM, Back Cove, Eastbay, or any number of traditional looking, Flag Blue hulls out there that cruise comfortably at 15+ knots, this style of boat continues to be a big hit with ex-sailors. They enjoy the traditional look but want to enjoy a faster pace than they did under sail. Now they want to go places. It is no longer about the journey. It is about the destination.

A friend of mine has an Eastbay 43, after years of owning a large center cockpit sailboat. He recently brought his boat back up to Annapolis after cruising south during the winter months. He commented how they kept passing the same Ranger Tug, chugging along at displacement speeds. He said he would go crazy going that slow now, as it just doesn’t fit his current lifestyle of running fast for several hours, and then having the remainder of the day to explore a new destination along his route. It works well for them, much preferred to long days at six or seven knots.

The whole fast/slow discussion took center stage some years ago for a trawler dealer when the price of diesel fuel spiked, as happens every now and then. Grand Yachts Northwest, the Seattle Grand Banks dealer, wanted to quantify the cost of cruising, comparing its slower, semi-displacement “dependable diesel cruisers” to their go-fast, planing Eastbay models.

The analysis yielded interesting results. The style of one’s cruising dictated which kind of boat made sense, not the fuel burn. As it turned out, the two boats were fairly equal. Cruising a Grand Bank 42 Classic at sedate displacement speeds produced a fuel burn of just one gallon per mile. Running a similar size Eastbay at 22 knots produced the same gallon-per-mile fuel economy.

This gallon-per-mile figure has held up for many years of my traveling on boats. Mi-T-Mo, a steel 65-foot Army T-Boat gets one gallon per mile, a Downeast cruiser also gets one gallon per mile at mid-teen speeds. So, given this reality, how important is fuel economy in the big picture of cruising the trawler lifestyle? Not much.

For those who want to be more specific, there is plenty of information out there to crunch the numbers. Full displacement trawlers get the best economy. Take a Northern Marine or other full displacement trawler yacht and its single engine will provide a steady cruising speed that yields between 1.5 to 2.5nm per gallon. That is pretty good for a large, comfortable yacht capable of going anywhere in the world. Slow down and it gets even better.

(Seen below: The Northern Marine 57, mentioned above, is powered with a single John Deere 325HP engine providing an efficient 8-9 knot cruise.)

john deere boat engine 

But Dan points out that most of his clients don’t go this route, as they prefer a semi-displacement trawler or motoryacht that has the potential to run at much higher speeds. This is considered important for when the weather turns sour, or they must reach their destination before the sun sets. Most of the time, however, these people cruise at displacement speeds, similar to the Hampton 55 PHMY in the article, but they can go 15 knots or more if the conditions warrant.

This explains the popularity of the Mainship, Endurance, Northwest, Fleming, Hampton, Nordic Tug, DeFever, Albin, and those other cruising powerboats that share the semi-displacement hull form. It remains the sweet spot in the trawler market for precisely this reason.

In addition, the inherent ethos of the trawler yacht is different than the typical motoryacht, and why it is the vessel of choice for most cruisers. The trawler carries a lot of fuel in its tanks, yet burns relatively little fuel under way. A speedy motoryacht carries a lot of fuel but also burns it at a high rate, enough that refueling may be a daily occurrence. The trawler crowd, especially those with full displacement yachts, can often go an entire season before needing to refuel. Hence it is the perfect choice for long distance, self-sufficient cruising. And that also explains why one won’t see a 32-foot Sea Ray or Tiara cruising the lower Caribbean from the U.S.

Hull efficiency can be interpreted differently by each of these variations of hull shapes, and each has it positive and negative elements. The full displacement, semi-displacement, and planing hull forms are well established in the boating world and a broker can easily explain the value of each as buyers develop his or her cruising plans. There is a fourth hull shape, the power cat, and in my experience, is outstanding in many ways, fuel economy (and subsequent long range) being one. There just isn’t much underwater surface to a power cat, so they run very efficiently through the water with reduced horsepower requirements.

Is there more to this story? Of course. But the reality is that for most cruisers, how much fuel they use only becomes a consideration to ensure there are fuel stops as needed. Actually buying fuel is just the operational cost of running a boat on an enjoyable cruise.

That is not to say that every trawler couple is carefree about the cost of cruising. One winter we brought our Zimmerman 36 down to Marathon in the Florida Keys to spend the winter months enjoying the warmth, smells, and lifestyle of these islands. I got to know all the trawler owners in our marina and at one point interviewed each couple to learn their story and cruising plans. One younger couple on a DeFever 44 hailed from the Midwest, living aboard with their huge German Shepard. Money was an issue with them, and they carefully watched their budget with concerns with fuel prices. It was a bigger concern to them than anyone else I’ve ever talked to in the trawler community. But they were not headed farther south and fully intended to stay in country as they continued to enjoy the trawler lifestyle.

Someone told me that during PAE’s Nordhavn 40 project to go around the world, the company spent more on satellite communications than fuel. Perhaps that puts it in perspective.

Arriving in paradise or Europe after two or three weeks crossing an ocean may require refueling, but I can assure you the concern is more about arranging for a fuel truck with clean diesel than fretting over the cost of the fuel itself. It was already considered and budgeted for when planning the trip. And it is well worth every penny for the rich experience it brings, along with lasting memories of a fantastic adventure.


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