Experienced Circumnavigators Build a Coastal Cruiser - Part 1
Story and Photos by Scott Flanders
I’m going to begin a series of posts on how we chose a boat to buy, our credentials to write what we feel is accurate information, the upgrades to take a Maine built lobster boat from a gentleman’s day boat into a serious small coastal cruiser, what items we chose for the upgrades, and what vendors we used. This will be posted on FollowingSeas in several parts to keep it from becoming overwhelming.
Credentials. I spent my entire working career in the boat business, including 8 years as co-owner of a boat building company that built 250 highly technical small fishing boats. My wife and I retired early and spent the next 14 years as full-time liveaboards on our Nordhavn 46, Egret. She is a single engine trawler, and we cruised coastal waters at first, followed by an Atlantic crossing to Europe. Ultimately we completed a high latitudes circumnavigation.
Upon returning to the U.S. from Italy in late 2011, we ran north and south from South Florida to Newfoundland twice, including a major voyage to Iceland via Labrador and Greenland, returning the same route the following year in 2014. As you can imagine we have become somewhat opinionated in our views. However, those opinions are based on many years of both vocation and nautical sea miles.
We sold our trawler in 2015 and spent a year living on land, but we quickly became restless, so we began our search for the perfect boat to coastal cruise a few months at a time during the optimal time of year.
Downeast Search Begins
I’ve always been a fan of Maine-built lobster boats for their looks and efficiency. My wife and I wanted a simple, economical drip-dry boat with a single diesel inboard and straight drive. We cruised in Maine twice before so we were familiar with the larger builders and so began our search. It’s a long story but we found a boat in Portland, Maine. However, on arrival it was badly misrepresented so we asked for our deposit back. A few days later walking the docks in Southwest Harbor (Maine) we found the perfect boat for us and a short time later it was ours, all 28 feet of custom build.
Now let’s get to the technical part of the story. Boats that have been kept in Maine by summer residents since they first launched are hardly used. Typically they are in the water for four months or so a year and the balance of the time they are on the hard or in a shed, which was the case with this boat. It had two owners, neither of whom used it very much. The original builder performed all maintenance and handling when it was hauled and put away for the winter.
Boats kept in Maine have two big advantages over boats kept even a little farther south. There is little sun degradation and the seawater has very low salinity. (Which is true on both ends of the earth, the equator being ground zero for high salinity and the poles having little or none.)
Typical Maine lobster boats have morphed in some cases from their working boat heritage to day boats for summer residents, which was the case with our boat. Our criteria was for a small, almost smaller the better, boat in perfect condition with specific must-haves. As I mentioned, it had to have a diesel engine capable of a reasonable cruising speed and a straight drive. It must be a good design and be well built. I should mention we didn’t even look at the other typical production, Downeast-style boats that are usually built to a price and have little resale on the back end. Custom boats cost more upfront but once the initial depreciation is over, it’s like storing money, not getting killed on resale.
Other than a diesel engine and straight drive, we wanted good visibility thru glass (not plexiglass), plenty of storage, an honest head and shower, a comfortable V-berth (this one had never been slept in), hydraulic steering, full length keel and a protected propeller, great access to all systems, quality electrical system, upgraded electronics, holding tank with macerator, a hot water heater, quality windlass, and a solid glass hull. This is perhaps a lot to ask when looking at older boats, but this one had everything on the list, as well as a bow thruster, swim platform, and an additional 4D battery for the house bank.
First, let me talk about the engine. Diesel engine hours don’t mean much to me, particularly if they are from a wet-sleeve engine. We put 16,000 hours on the Nordhavn's Deere-based engine and it never missed a beat in around 80,000 nautical miles. In the end it flew through survey.
I did an Internet check on this boat’s engine, a Volvo TMAD41, and came up with nothing but positive reviews. The most encouraging was a pair of these same engines used by a municipally in England, where they were replaced at 15,000 hours, then put into another boat and are still running some years later. This boat's engine only had 551 hours over 18 years of ownership, however, it was used every year then pickled until the following season. So the engine passed my judgment and the engine and gear survey came back thumbs up.
We wanted the hull to be solid glass and it was. As an additional bonus, it had been built in a 2-piece mold, which means when the two halves are married the centerline is super thick. Older cored boats, particularly with any type of wood coring, are a hit or miss prospect. Some older wood cored hulls still have their integrity, but many do not. As a result, resale is poor.
Protecting the prop with a full length keel was essential, as was a skeg-hung rudder. Our cruising grounds were to be the U.S. East Coast, Nova Scotia, and Bahamas. Many places in the Intracoastal Waterway have gotten shallow, the Florida Keys are shallow everywhere and we were looking forward to cruising the Bahamas in out of the way places where we couldn’t get to during the two winters we spent there in our Nordhavn. With a 3-foot draft we can go anywhere.
Good electrical is hyper important. There is nothing worse than chasing down an electrical issue when you did something else for a vocation. I have a pretty good mechanical background through various hobbies and boating over the years, but I am not well experienced in electrical systems. This boat has a good electrical system, the bonding is high quality with oversize bonding cable.
A major biggie in real life cruising is that comfort is essential. Multi-month cruising is not camping out. Salt-water showers with a spritzer rinse are fine for a weekend, but doesn’t cut it for anything longer. Hot water was high on our priority list and is difficult to retrofit in a small boat. We were thrilled that this boat had a hot water heater, heated by both the engine and shore power.
The boat carries 50 gallons of water in two 25-gallon tanks, quite a lot for a small boat. With miserly use that would last quite a long time.
Access to the systems are through a cabin centerline hatch with two full length hatches outboard of that. The centerline hatch over the engine is on gas struts and the two outboard hatches are removable. There is full length centerline hatch on gas struts in the cockpit providing access to the running gear and rudder post.
The electronics had been upgraded with a two-year-old Garmin plotter with a digital repeater unit. Both are NEMA 2000 spec so adding additional electronics would be easy. The radar was an older Furuno unit but it worked well. The boat also has a Guest remote spotlight, electric horns, triple windshield wipers, an ICOM VHF, and a bow thruster control at the helm as well as deck buttons.
Steering is done by a Wagner commercial grade, hydraulic 2-hose system. The skeg hung rudder is stainless steel with a heavy bronze rudder arm. The shaft log is bronze, a unique design I hadn’t seen before. It has a locknut as well as the usual gland nut. The outsides of both have raised knobs to loosen or tighten with a block of wood and a small hammer. There is no way to get a wrench in the space between the hull halves.
The bow thruster is Vetus and the windlass is a stainless steel chain/rode model from Lewmar.
Simply said, the boat was more 'big boatish' than expected when we first looked at it. We couldn't believe our good luck.
Now that you know what we were looking for, found, and the reasons we bought it, let’s look at the changes we made to turn this gentleman’s day boat into a genuine cruiser capable of multi-month cruising.
To be continued...
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