A Survey, a Comparison, and a Cool Trick to Learn

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Last week I attended the survey and sea trial of a boat being considered by friends. Life long sailors, the couple want to make the transition to a trawler, something that happens a lot these days as many advance in age and want to stay on the water.

The boat is a 2007 Mariner Yachts International 37 Pilothouse, which at the time was marketed as a Seville 37. The single Cummins QSB diesel is more than enough to cruise the boat at trawler speeds and beyond with a top speed in the mid-teens. As we found in the sea trial, something was keeping the boat from reaching that upper speed, and when the boat was hauled, there was some concern that she was over-propped, with a 24-inch pitch rather than a 21-inch pitch on the current model.

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Today the boat is built by Helmsman Trawlers, based in Seattle. The company owner, Scott Helker, owned a Seville 37, in fact, the very same boat that Bob Lane wrote about back in 2006. He is a former submariner, and uses his knowledge and boating experience to produce a better boat today. Paul Burbach represents the Helmsman line in the Chesapeake Bay area, with offices in Stevensville, MD.

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What struck me about the boat was how nice the layout was for a 37-foot boat, although now it is called the 38E Pilothouse. The boat has a raised pilothouse with a small settee and table, with opening doors on each side. Down a couple of steps to the saloon, you find a compact but nice galley, another settee and table, a day head, and a big sliding door that leads to the covered aft cockpit. The boat has a forward stateroom and ensuite head.

Engine access is very good as saloon and pilothouse hatches lift off to provide all around access when you step into the space. This boat has a 6.5kW Onan generator, also easily accessed.

 One of the engine access hatches removed over the Cummins diesel. Note the day head to the left with molded steps visible to the flybridge. The survey continued and I stayed out of the way.

One of the engine access hatches removed over the Cummins diesel. Note the day head to the left with molded steps visible to the flybridge. The survey continued and I stayed out of the way.

Having such separation of spaces is a very nice feature on a small boat, compared to all activities centered around a settee and table in the saloon. Not having a second stateroom affords such an arrangement, compared to a Monk 36 or any number of similar trawlers. Most couples don't need a second stateroom while cruising, so having additional and separate living spaces is a worthy tradeoff.

 There is even room for a wonderful Ekornes chair in the saloon. I have slept countless hours in these chairs on passages over the years, and the brand has long been a popular choice on Nordhavns of all sizes.

There is even room for a wonderful Ekornes chair in the saloon. I have slept countless hours in these chairs on passages over the years, and the brand has long been a popular choice on Nordhavns of all sizes.

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While most folks would drive the boat from the pilothouse, it also comes with a flybridge. In many ways the layout arrangement seems like a mini Fleming 55.

 The boat has a roomy flybridge and boat deck, although I would be in the pilothouse when docking as the sightlines are much better.

The boat has a roomy flybridge and boat deck, although I would be in the pilothouse when docking as the sightlines are much better.

I left before they went out for a second sea trial, and I don't know the results of the survey. So rather than go into those details, what peaked my interest was when Paul Burbach said he has a new 38E Pilothouse at the Stevensville office, and invited us to come take a look. That would give us a view of the same boat after 10+ years of evolution. Is the new boat much different than this original model? Is it improved in key areas?

We plan to take a look, hopefully in the next week or two. I think that comparison might offer interesting insights, hopefully with examples of how the original design evolved with input from its owners.

 Helmsman Trawlers' Scott Helker inspects the propeller's markings for size and pitch. Note the smaller prop nut is properly installed, ahead of the full prop nut. Nice to see it done right. Now look at the propeller and imagine it begin turning in reverse. In addition to moving the boat backwards, its large blades will claw sideways in the water, pulling the stern in that direction as well. That is prop walk.

Helmsman Trawlers' Scott Helker inspects the propeller's markings for size and pitch. Note the smaller prop nut is properly installed, ahead of the full prop nut. Nice to see it done right. Now look at the propeller and imagine it begin turning in reverse. In addition to moving the boat backwards, its large blades will claw sideways in the water, pulling the stern in that direction as well. That is prop walk.

Stay tuned for that, but in the meantime, I want to share something that routinely comes up when people consider a trawler. How easy is it to handle a single engine boat versus the assumed advantages of twin engines? I’m not going into that debate right now, as it has been well discussed in other posts and numerous articles over the years. 

But I do want to share how an experienced boat operator can maneuver a single screw boat in such a way as to run in a straight line backwards when viewed from the dock. And that is the classic “Back and Fill” technique of boat handling. Bigger trawlers especially have huge rudders and propellers, and these can be used to great effect when maneuvering in close quarters.

Let’s assume your boat backs to starboard, a function of the prop walk from the propeller. Most all single screw boats back to one side or the other. When you put the boat in reverse (at idle) with a centered rudder, you’ll notice the stern has a tendency to go to the right or to the left, to starboard or to port. This is called prop walk and you can use this to your advantage.

Turn your steering wheel hard over to starboard and leave it there for the duration. Stay at idle for the entire maneuver as well. First, put the boat in forward for a couple of seconds, then back to neutral, just long enough to get the bow moving to the starboard, and the stern swinging to port. The thrust from the big propeller against the rudder should make the turn happen fairly quickly, even at idle speed.

Now put the gear in reverse. You’ll notice that as the boat begins to back up and build momentum the stern slowly moves back towards to the centerline and then to starboard, a result of the prop walk. Back to neutral.

Put the gear in forward again, and the stern moves once again back to the centerline then slightly to port. The trick is to only use forward gear long enough to move the stern to port, helped by the propeller's thrust on the hard-over rudder, and not cancel your momentum backwards. Then back into reverse and so on.

You repeat this forward and reverse drill as the boat continues to move backwards. While the boat may not be backing precisely in a straight line, it certainly seems so to the casual observer, the momentum of the boat taking it smartly down a fairway or wherever. Everything in slow motion, and your track is really a slightly wavy line of movement backwards. With practice this swaying movement can be reduced to the point where it is hardly noticeable. Using forward thrust on the rudder requires much less time than reverse as it is only used to correct the action of the reverse prop walk.

Even a big, heavy displacement trawler will appear to back up as if on rails. It is amazing to watch when it is done by an experienced trawler owner. When I first learned to do this on Growler, our Zimmerman 36, I got very comfortable backing into a slip or down a narrow fairway, as long as I could see behind the boat, without needing the bow thruster. Same on a Krogen, Nordhavn, single Grand Banks, and any number of other single engine trawlers. Kind of a cool skill to have in your tool bag.

 So go out and try it sometime on a friend's single screw trawler and put a smile on your face!