I am thinking about a new boat. As life changes, so does the mission statement. I have been lucky enough to go cruising in many parts of the world, and while it was always a rewarding experience, the rest of my family has moved on to other things. So, my opportunity to enjoy time on the water is more about my own experience and less about cruising as a family.
I think of my current boat and how well it fit my needs for the last number of years. A graceful day cruiser, the Hunt Harrier 25 is perfect for early morning trips into Annapolis Harbor, checking out who picked up a mooring and where they have been. Lots of fun times talking to people enjoying their morning coffee in their cockpit. It was my weekend routine for years.
But now I am more interested in making short trips around the Bay for a day or two. While I have been living in the Chesapeake Bay area for the last 30 years, I can’t really say I have seen the Bay.
I have more experience on the canals of Holland than on the hundreds of creeks and tributaries of the Chesapeake. I have tons more open ocean miles than on-water time on Chesapeake Bay. Funny how that happens.
Thinking of my own talking points about looking for one’s next boat, I consider the possibilities out there. Ideally, it makes the most sense to buy a new boat, one that will give me a decade of trouble-free cruising without needing a transmission rebuild, a refresh of rigging or ground tackle, or the dozens of projects that inevitably crop up on an older boat. While I like boat projects, I am more interested right now in reading a book in a quiet anchorage.
It is fun to sit with a blank piece of paper and make a list of the next “ideal” boat. I might even consider a sailboat as a possibility because the focus now is the journey, not the destination. I don’t need to blast down the waterways at 20 knots to get home, and I rather enjoy the challenge of sail trim, even in the fickle winds of the Bay during the summer.
Below: Production at the Tartan Yachts shipyard is in full swing with new models.
As I consider a solo cruiser, what would it look like? What kind of trawler would be big enough to spend a quiet weekend, yet not so big as to be an unnecessary handful? If I go the sail route, would I prefer the traditional inboard propulsion system again, or choose a boat with a saildrive and its many benefits? No alignment issues, no stuffing box or cutless bearing, less noise and vibration, and they have proven to be reliable if one performs regular maintenance. I have never owned one and admit I am curious.
Access is a huge thing for me, especially now, as I am not as flexible as I once was. I’m sure you can relate. Some things are just no longer doable, and I would be kidding myself to argue otherwise. I do not do ladders either.
Then there is the issue of quality, however one defines it. What level of quality am I looking for, or willing to accept? It is not a big stretch to see that the highest level of quality is most always also the most expensive. I have been on some absolutely fabulous cruising yachts and cannot imagine the true cost of owning that experience.
But is it really that black and white? Long ago I had a conversation about quality with the late Chip Shea of Mainship. I was in St. Augustine checking out the new Mainship 43 trawler. On the surface, comparing custom boat building with a production facility would seem an unfair comparison in terms of overall quality and workmanship. However, as Chip so correctly said, how many times must a craftsman climb a ladder into a hull to measure a piece of teak that is part of the yacht’s interior? At what point does he say it is close enough?
Compare that to production boat building where they craft all wood and metal parts from dozens of jigs and patterns, ensuring close tolerances and perfect fit every time. Which one represents higher quality?
While the higher price tag of a semi-custom Downeast cruiser might lead one to conclude that it represents the highest standard of gold-plated yachting, how does it really compare to any number of production cruisers of the same size and general layout that do everything just as well?
Below: Also built at the Tartan shipyard are Legacy Yachts, which are downeast-style boats with traditional Maine-style exterior lines.
When I climb through a boat to do a boat tour, I feel around corners and under flooring to inspect the finish work. When I look at a fuel delivery system, for instance, is it all properly sized stainless tubing bent in perfect harmony so that all lines flow like a piece of art, or are there well supported runs of fuel hoses? One takes far more time and costs more to create. But is it better? You have your opinion and I have mine, given that both work well and fit the current standards. The difference in price, however, may mean the difference between an actual buying experience and unobtanium fantasy.
It is not always so obvious, and details are often overlooked during a boat show inspection. The beauty of an engine room finished in gelcoat, as on a Hampton Endurance motoryacht, is prettier and more durable than any paint job, and will be so for years. It also shows an attention to detail beyond regular expectation. Just imagine the other hidden gems you don’t notice if the builder takes the time to do this in the engine room.
There are hundreds of thousands of boats out there, and very few of them sink because they are poorly made. That is not to say there are not often better ways to do things. The ABYC standards are an evolving work in progress to refine the construction of pleasure boats, and more builders see the value in getting their staff certified to build to these standards.
So, everything else being equal, how good is good enough? If two boats are compared, side by side, does it really matter to you if one has an edge in superior construction, materials, or workmanship? If you knew both would make suitable cruising boats, and serve well enough to travel wherever their owners want to go (in the real world, not a circumnavigation of the Arctic), would you be happy enough with the one which either spoke to your heart or fit your budget?
Here is a great example that one will see on most any boat, no matter if it is a sailboat or trawler yacht. I present you with two boats, each a year old, both out there happily cruising. Their owners made a temporary stop in Annapolis, where I had a chance to go aboard.
The first is a custom trawler built in New Zealand. The boat was a year old when I was first onboard, having traveled from New Zealand to Annapolis, via Fiji, Panama, and Nova Scotia...and dozens of other cruising destinations.
The two images show one of the raw water intakes and strainer for one of the diesel engines. Note that the strainer is above the waterline.
The top of the strainer is super easy to access, unscrew, and clean. It is also always full of water. This installation provides three important functions. First because it is full of water, there will never be a dry start of the engine, as there will always be water in the hose on the engine side of the strainer.
Second, it is easy to flush the engine with fresh water when stopped for more than a day or two, eliminating saltwater sitting in the cooling circuits, eating away at the zincs.
And third, it is easy to clean the strainer. This is the best of all strainer installations in my opinion. It is easy to fall in love with such attention to detail. Nothing is inaccessible, buried out of sight.
Now look at another source of raw water on a cruising boat from Florida. Dozens of sisterships are out cruising, and their owners are happy with the performance, comfort, and living space provided by this builder.
The boat uses a sea chest to supply raw water, which is a great idea, and I am surprised it is not more common. Seacocks (or more precisely in this case, ball valves) draw water in from the sea chest for engine and generator cooling, air conditioning, and watermaker. Attaching ball valves directly to thru hulls is a common practice and is found on thousands of boats.
But let me point out a few things. To begin with, the threads of the thru hull follow the NPS standard and are straight threads. Unfortunately, the threads of the elbows, ball valves, and other fittings use the NPT standard, and are threaded with a taper. That means the straight threads of the thru hull only engage the tapered threads a few turns before bottoming out.
This is a violation of current ABYC Standard 27.6.2, which states threads used in seacock installations shall be compatible (NPT to NPT or NPS to NPS).
The other important issue here is that I promise you that NONE of these assemblies are mechanically tight, as they are not designed to be positionable (i.e., facing a certain direction). To get all three of the ball valves in the foreground facing with their red handles aligned means that not one of them is screwed all the way into the tapered threads. Thread sealant is what keeps things together.
Also, if the handles on the watermaker or port engine valves were closed, and something heavy landed on them—or were stepped on—how much pressure on the handle would it take to cause the assembly to break the seal and unscrew? Would the ball valve unscrew or the thru hull spin in the sea chest?
There is another ABYC standard (27.6.1) that states the seacock shall be secured so that the assembly will withstand a 500-pound static force applied for 30 seconds to the inboard end of the assembly without failing. Given the length of exposed threads on the watermaker thru hull, I seriously doubt it would survive that static test. The narrow walls of a threaded thru hull are not designed for strength.
But now take a step back. What you see in this image is exactly what you find on many, many boats, which rely on that small screw collar to secure the thru hull onto the hull, rather than a bolted, flanged seacock with backing plate. It is easy and quick work to install the ball valves in this picture, versus the many hours it takes to install proper seacocks. Both approaches have worked for decades in the marine industry without serious loss of boats and life. So perhaps it is good enough. Something to think about.
(One nit here is that I would expect on a new boat, the builder would go the extra step and attached a waterproof, laminated label on each valve to state its purpose, rather than using a marker on the handle. That is a bit tacky in my mind, but at least the purpose is identified.)
So here we are back at the original question. How good is good enough? I can assure you the boat from New Zealand is beyond the means of most of us. But if you could live aboard, go cruising, or do the Great Loop on a boat that you could afford, and which perhaps was not built to the highest level of perfection, would you still enjoy your adventure? Of course.
And that is way better than pining away that the best of the best is out of reach and not go anywhere.
See you on the water.