From the salon of their 48-foot Hatteras trawler, AfterMath, Debbie Daigle and her husband, John, speak wistfully but without much regret about leaving their sailing days in the wake of twin props.
“We loved sailing,” Debbie, a retired school teacher, says of the couple’s years of owning a 30-foot Hunter in Connecticut and later, the Gulf Coast of Florida. “But it’s a lot of work for two people and we didn’t want to put in that much effort anymore.”
I will be the first to admit, when someone says they’re ready to “make the leap” from sail to power, I have to suppress bad thoughts.
Although I grew up around powerboats myself, I have for many years now been an irredeemable sailor. In our Caribbean cruising, however, we often find ourselves hanging out with what one friend affectionately refers to as “trawler trash.” Many of these people started out as sailors and can make a pretty compelling case for the switch.
For John – a boat broker before he and Debbie set off full-time cruising – the transition from sail to power was made easier by being steeped in the powerboats he sold. Prior to moving to Florida, the couple had also owned a small bow rider and a Boston Whaler before the Hunter, Solitude. “In the brokerage business, I had seen a lot of people trading in sailboats for power boats because it’s easier, less work,” he says.
Even so, after 15 years on Solitude, the couple couldn’t envision a jarring transition to one of the Sea Rays in John’s brokerage.
“Having sailed all those years, we were used to doing six knots,” John explains. “The idea of doing 22 knots at 60 gallons an hour and not seeing anything along the way didn’t sound that enjoyable.”
So, when it came time to retire and go cruising, speed took a back seat to priorities of comfort, elbow room as well as ‘paw room’ for their two canine crew members, Jake and Kirby. “We wanted more volume to put things in and to have a longer range,” John says. “We burn a couple of gallons an hour. When you offset the costs of sails every few years, it isn’t necessarily that much different. We can cruise AfterMath at eight to nine knots, but we typically run it at six, like our sailboat days. It’s laidback; it’s easy; it sips fuel.”
Another major advantage, John notes, is having the pilothouse to come in from the wet and cold.
He acknowledges that the transformation from sail to power is usually ‘age specific’. In other words, sailing is idyllic, at least some of the time; however, it also can be labor intensive.
For Tom Hale, a bum shoulder was one reason he started to consider a move from sail to power. When it comes to sailing credentials, Tom, 64, has more than his share. His family owns Martha’s Vineyard Shipyard, where he and his father collaborated on a series of designs, most notably the double-ended Vineyard Vixen 29. Tom later soloed at the drawing table on the 29’s larger cousin, the Vixen 34. As a youngster, his mother, father and siblings cruised New England aboard their Concordia yawl. Tom was later a regular on the Annapolis Wednesday night race circuit and spent more than a decade as technical director for the American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC).
With that much sailing in the blood, not to mention living in the sailing Mecca of Annapolis, it might seem a little surprising that he moved aboard a trawler, a Helmsman Pilothouse 38, Tadhana, with wife Cristina and the couple’s dog eight years ago.
Tom and Cristina were “motoring quite frequently” in their Tartan 30 as they cruised the Chesapeake and East Coast. “Often we found we were powering in no wind, or motor-sailing to make time to windward.”
There were other considerations. “We were planning to live aboard summer and winter on the [Chesapeake] Bay.” To that end, the couple wanted hot showers aboard, a washer and dryer, room to relax and easy access for the dog.
What about the numbers?
“Obviously fuel is more for the trawler, but when you look at the total cost of ownership, fuel is not a big deal.” Tom offers up a succinct comparison: “A trawler is a powerboat, but it is just a slightly faster sailboat that does not have to wait for bridges.”
The couple typically cruise at six to 7.2 knots. Although at faster speeds, fuel consumption ramps up dramatically, at their cruising norm, they burn only a few gallons an hour.
Other than that, Tom says, “Slip costs are identical. Mortgage cost is identical. Bottom painting is identical. Insurance is the same. Transient dockage is the same. Haul outs the same. Normal marine servicing is nearly the same. And, no sail inventory expense.”
John, on AfterMath, says he still misses “the exhilaration of just being powered by the wind. I have to admit, I loved the quiet of a day under sail and looking at the sails when we were wing-on-wing was always so beautiful to me.”
Instead of ridicule from his sailing buddies, Tom’s friends are envious.
“I can still sail and race on OPB [other people’s boats],” he notes. “Looking back on it, the switch [from sail to power] was predicated on a change of lifestyle: we moved aboard. The move was easy.”