Show and Tell - Changes/Upgrades to Our Cruising Boat

One of the satisfying aspects of our early Trawler Fest events encouraged owners to share ideas and projects on their boats with other trawler owners. It did not matter what brand of boat, because we all enjoy seeing what owners do to their boats to make them better, safer, and more personal.

In the spirit of this entertaining and perhaps useful sharing of ideas, the following is a piece I put together when we got ready to sell Spitfire, our 2008 PDQ 41. I really liked the boat, even if it did not have the highest quality yacht finish. But she gave us a taste of an offshore-capable power catamaran, we learned the fun and economy of an easily handled power cat. Over time, we got to experience the best and worst of this hull form.

My biggest issue was the fuel system, both the delivery system and the tanks themselves. We spent a ton of money figuring this out and it took several companies to straighten out the fuel issues. A friend with another PDQ 41 told me he would lose an engine from lack of fuel if he was in a seaway with large waves and his tanks were only half full. Pickup tubes might be the cause (length and/or location), or the shape and orientation of the tanks. While that never happened to me, and we have been in some very nasty seas, that did not sound comforting.

But we liked so much about the boat, such as the best shower on any boat I have ever been on. Friends with a Fleming 55 simply loved using our shower when we had them aboard to cruise Florida’s west coast. Even nicer than what we have at home, although the environment might have something to do with that.

Visibility from the flybridge was fantastic and I ran the boat from there all the time, except in a downpour. We most often ate on the flybridge, too, helped by the wonderful stairway up from the aft deck (no ladder on this boat), so even at speed people could transition from one level to the other without the difficult gymnastics of transporting food, plates, and drinks up to the upper helm as with the pilothouse on a Nordhavn 62. I even considered enclosing it completely, like a Mikelson luxury sport fishing boat, it was that comfortable.

Best of all was the superb access to all systems. For a hands-on guy, it was terrific to be able to get to everything, which made work easier, from winterizing the boat to the many projects you will soon read about. There was even space in the starboard bow locker for a workshop. The boat proved the power cat concept brilliantly.

Here are the major projects that made the boat, and our experience, better. And of course most of it has nothing to do with what kind of boat it was...

We replaced the original 35-lb plow anchor with a 33kg (73-lb) Rocna anchor, a much more effective design and weight for a primary anchor. In addition, I added 60 more feet of 5/16 HT chain for a total of 110 feet, spliced into a nylon rode to complete the anchoring rode. This boat did not drag when the Rocna was set. Ever. The bridle we had made for us worked so well I never, ever, worried at anchor.

(On a side note, to connect the two lengths of anchor chain, I purchased a super-corrosion-resistant, figure-eight chain connector from McMaster-Carr. I purchased a connector sized for 5/16-inch chain, and with a working load limit of 5,700 lbs., it is much stronger than the chain. Part #33585T92, cost was $28.19. https://www.mcmaster.com)

In the starboard bow locker, where the Northern Lights generator sits on a shelf at waist level, we added a raw water washdown for the anchoring system. It included a high pressure 12-volt water pump and 50 feet of dockside water hose, enough to wash off the anchor, rode, even reach the dinghy in the davits at the stern. It has its own circuit breaker and was a better overall solution than those dedicated washdown systems that plug into a deck fitting. When you finish with the hose, it coils up and hangs from a hook along the hull inside the locker. All very handy and shipshape.

Also in that bow locker, we added a double plug 110VAC outlet to provide AC power for tools, as this large space is well suited for a workshop. The outlet proved very handy, and I spent a lot of time in this work space, comfortable with the large hatch open.

In the port bow locker, where the guest head holding tank was located, I replaced the standard Jabsco macerator pump used to empty the holding tank offshore. The Jabsco product proved problematic on the PDQs, as it does not self prime, despite its advertised capabilities, and tends to stop working when you needed it. I replaced this pump with a more expensive and higher quality Sealand diaphragm pump that not only self-primes, but is impervious to clogging. It can run dry, is rugged and reliable. A much improved and trouble-free system.

Most of the interior and exterior lighting was replaced with LEDs. Except for areas where lights are seldom used, if ever, such as the master shower, all incandescent or halogen bulbs were replaced with high quality Imtra LEDs, and I replaced entire fixtures when Imtra did not recommend a simple bulb replacement. This was very worthwhile to do, as it improved the overall reliability of the lighting, and greatly reduced the electrical demands as well as remove heat from vulnerable interior surfaces, such as the master berth bedside reading lights located close to the bulkhead liner.

I also installed Imtra LED rope lighting under the boat’s eyebrow, and tied into the ship’s courtesy light switch on the flybridge. This provides a cool look to the boat, and helped the boat stand out from distance. The rope lights created a distinctive appearance to the contemporary lines of the power cat.

An iPod interface was added to the boat’s built-in stereo system, so I could play music from an iPod/iPhone through the ship’s stereo, with speakers inside as well as on the flybridge through speakers in the radar arch. Of course, today everything is wireless.

I went through the boat and secured equipment, such as the TV in the saloon, to withstand the gyrations of the boat in rough seas, after we encountered horrendous seas crossing the mouth of the Potomac River in cross winds and tides. It is a nice feeling knowing you won’t hear a crash when you take a wave the wrong way. Big improvement.

I removed the standard saloon table (still on the boat, however) and replaced it with a smaller diameter table for a less restrictive seating arrangement. We usually ate on the flybridge, so this smaller table worked well for us. The larger table can be reinstalled easily when and if it is needed.

We added a central vacuum system, eliminating the need for storing a separate vacuum cleaner. We put the unit under the lower helm seat, and from this central location the hose reaches everywhere on the boat, including the flybridge. This is one of Laurene’s favorite upgrades because it is a powerful unit that helps us keep the interior clean, is easy to use, and works way better than a portable dust buster.

Many access ports were added throughout the boat to improve access into the spaces behind seats, arch, and other locations. This gave us better access to wiring and backing plates, and those on the flybridge allow access into spaces otherwise inaccessible.

The original VHF Standard Horizon radio was improved by replacing the standard 3dB antenna with a Morad 6dB antenna on an extension for better and clearer communications. I added a second Standard Horizon VHF on the flybridge, and it is connected to a Morad 10dB antenna that takes advantage of the stable and flat platform of a catamaran. These radios are very helpful when used together, with one radio set for Channel 16, while the other can be set for Channel 13 to monitor working tugs and ships while running in congested waterways or in fog. And the second radio is great for contacting another boat when traveling together.

We added a Seagull water filter on the flybridge, and it provided drinking water from its own faucet, as well as filtering the water that fed the icemaker. An access door in the flybridge made for simple access to the filter unit.

I removed the heavy Force 10 propane stovetop grill built into the flybridge countertop, and put a piece of Corian over top the hole left in the counter. The space we gained allows for a large drawer, larger fridge or even a drawer-style dish washer. The Force 10 grill did not have a cover for cooking a chicken or roast, and was more suited to filets and burgers. I bought a Magnum gourmet Newport propane grill and put it on a rail on the flybridge. Having a cover makes for a better cooking barbeque.

We added a standalone Garmin 740s chartplotter on the flybridge to augment the E120 Raymarine unit. While it provided a backup plotter, it had its own GPS and provided navigation information separate from the Raymarine network that linked upper and lower units. (Within an hour after taking delivery, we lost the E120 power supply.)

The Garmin was handy for another reason. As the Yanmar/BMW engines use the NMEA 2000 protocol, with the Garmin plotter connected to the network, we could display engine information to supplement the standard Yanmar engine instrumentation.

I put a RAM mount below the Garmin, to hold my iPad and provide power to it. The iPad is a very handy tool when running the boat, for navigation, instant weather radar, tides/currents and other marine and non-marine applications.

We integrated an ACR Class B AIS unit into the flybridge E120, so we used AIS for its obvious safety benefits. It has its own dedicated GPS and VHF antenna.

Another piece of gear that I loved was the incredible Kahlenberg horn system. It uses a small but powerful electric compressor and included an electronic control unit to send automatic fog horn signals when appropriate at anchor or underway. It was expensive but exceptionally high quality, much, much better than the electric horns normally found on boats under 65 feet, and which often rust in a few years.

I learned to love this horn when running in the ICW and slowly coming up to a sailboat also headed south. A number of times I could see the boat was from Montreal or Ontario, and the poor fellow or lady at the helm somewhat comatose from weeks of long days out in cooling and damp weather. Few folks in these boats have working radios standing by, so requesting a slow pass via VHF is difficult at best. But one toot from the Kahlenberg horn and this person always jumps up, fearing he or she is being run down by a Navy warship. I wave with a smile and we slide past in an orderly fashion.

These upgrades really came together when I brought Spitfire up Chesapeake Bay one spring day. The fog was thick as Maine when we left Solomons, MD on our way up to Annapolis. With radios tuned to Channels 13 and 16, the AIS naming all of the ships we saw on the radar, the Kahlenberg horn switched to underway foghorn auto mode, Jim Ellis and I were pleased as punch. I would call a ship near us, and he responded right away, knew we were Spitfire, our location and track, and no need to change course. I have never felt more comfortable in fog, with vessels talking on both channels, everyone making sure there would be no collisions that day. After several relaxed hours at 8 knots, the fog lifted and we cruised back home at 18 knots.

We added a second dedicated depth sounder, this went in the boat’s port hull. This proved to have many benefits on a catamaran. The networked sounder in the starboard hull displays depth on the E120 units. But having a second sounder with its own display means you have depth information in both hulls, and with a beam of 18 feet, these sounders are far apart. This is exceedingly helpful when running in a narrow channel, such as the infamous Rock Pile in North Carolina. It becomes quite clear when depths begin to vary between the hulls, indicating you are moving to one side of the channel or the other. While it was originally installed as a backup unit, it proved more helpful than we could have imagined.

When we replaced the house batteries we upgraded to larger capacity Trojan T145s. Their location under the flybridge steps made checking water levels a breeze.

Significant reengineering took place on the boat’s Edson davit system, which is only rated for a rather wimpy 200 lbs. More than one PDQ has had these davits fail, some losing their dinghy as a result, usually in large following seas or conditions that get the dinghy bouncing around, not good with the additional weight of an outboard.

The original owner had additional fiberglass added to the davits bases as this proved to be a weak spot. But I added struts on both sides of the davit arms to handle a much more realistic dinghy/outboard combination, and absorb the bumps and stress loading of nasty wave action. I also replaced the absurdly small diameter lines that operate in the internal lifting system with sailboat blocks and thicker line for easier lifting and lowering a 10-foot dinghy with attached outboard.

I have been on too many boats where galley, head, and shower fixtures and faucets let out extremely hot water, especially underway, as the hot water comes from engine-heated water heaters. This is downright dangerous, and can lead to scalding burns in the galley and head, something of concern for crew and unsuspecting guests.

To eliminate this danger, I added Quick mixing valves to the water heaters, which combine cold water with the hot water coming out of the heaters, and dialed down to the 125-degree temperature we find at home. This is something I would recommend on all cruising boats.

As I mentioned previously, the fuel system was redone by Mack Boring to include large Racor 1000 fuel filter, booster fuel pumps (that back up the Yanmar on-engine pumps), and various design elements that improve the overall fuel delivery system. The system has proven to be a major improvement over the standard fuel system.

Overall, these upgrades brought Spitfire up to a new level of comfort and security, and improved life aboard. Every boat is a compromise, but many of the shortcomings can be managed or removed with a little imagination. And every year brings us new technology, new solutions, new ways to make our boats even better.

And for me that is a big reason why I love it, messing around on boats.

 One of the Imtra LED fixtures, this one in the starboard bow locker.

One of the Imtra LED fixtures, this one in the starboard bow locker.

 Added struts support a greater weight than the original Edson design. Note the blocks and lines for easier dinghy handling. Such davits are so easy to use and are one big advantage of a power catamaran.

Added struts support a greater weight than the original Edson design. Note the blocks and lines for easier dinghy handling. Such davits are so easy to use and are one big advantage of a power catamaran.

 The smaller table in the saloon allows for more comfortable seating and does not require people to slide behind a large table.

The smaller table in the saloon allows for more comfortable seating and does not require people to slide behind a large table.

 The ideal location of the house batteries under the flybridge step makes for easy maintenance and checking battery levels. These batteries have been replaced with taller Trojan T145s.

The ideal location of the house batteries under the flybridge step makes for easy maintenance and checking battery levels. These batteries have been replaced with taller Trojan T145s.

 The two radios, dedicated depth sounder and Kahlenberg horn controls to the left of the helm chair. The flybridge helm is a great place to run the boat in all but extreme conditions. A new cover protects all of these electronics from the elements.

The two radios, dedicated depth sounder and Kahlenberg horn controls to the left of the helm chair. The flybridge helm is a great place to run the boat in all but extreme conditions. A new cover protects all of these electronics from the elements.

 The updated flybridge area includes a Corian countertop, Seagull filtered water faucet, and access door to the inside of this large space. If the bridge was fully enclosed, this area could further configured for living on the flybridge. Without the grill, there is space above the fridge for a larger pull-out drawer to hold the many things we need for cruising, entertaining, and simply living aboard.

The updated flybridge area includes a Corian countertop, Seagull filtered water faucet, and access door to the inside of this large space. If the bridge was fully enclosed, this area could further configured for living on the flybridge. Without the grill, there is space above the fridge for a larger pull-out drawer to hold the many things we need for cruising, entertaining, and simply living aboard.

 The Quick mixing valve (Quick is an Italian company which made the hot water heaters on the boat) connects hot and cold water to more safely and efficiently manage hot water. Such mixing valves should be standard on every cruising boat.

The Quick mixing valve (Quick is an Italian company which made the hot water heaters on the boat) connects hot and cold water to more safely and efficiently manage hot water. Such mixing valves should be standard on every cruising boat.

 The Imtra eyebrow rope lighting is connected to the ship’s courtesy lights and makes it special when returning to the boat after an evening ashore. Being LEDs, it does not drain the batteries soalso is a pleasant sight when returning to the boat by dinghy in a quiet anchorage.

The Imtra eyebrow rope lighting is connected to the ship’s courtesy lights and makes it special when returning to the boat after an evening ashore. Being LEDs, it does not drain the batteries soalso is a pleasant sight when returning to the boat by dinghy in a quiet anchorage.

 Details of the Sealand diaphragm pump for the guest holding tank. It is a much better system than the original Jabsco macerator pump, which is prone to failure and which PDQ owners regularly replace.

Details of the Sealand diaphragm pump for the guest holding tank. It is a much better system than the original Jabsco macerator pump, which is prone to failure and which PDQ owners regularly replace.

 A view of the stern as Spitfire goes back in the water after spring commissioning.

A view of the stern as Spitfire goes back in the water after spring commissioning.

 

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