Yesterday I was invited aboard a new 47-foot production boat. It was as white as a refrigerator—if a tad less beautiful. I stepped aboard on a folding transom/swim platform held onto said ‘offshore cruising’ boat with two small hinges that were screwed (not bolted, screwed with self-tapping screws) into the already beginning-to-pucker fiberglass. While the boat was only a month or two old, already this platform visibly wiggled at the hinges from the dinghy bumping it—once it touched a dock or seawall, the platform was (evidently) designed to snap off with little fuss and almost no damage.
Yes, in that sense, the vessel was brilliant!
This particular builder really loved screws—even the 60-hp turbo-charged Yanmar was screwed into the thin, bouncy-castle-type engine beds.
No, I’m not kidding. With only a dozen hours on the engine, it was already jiggle-drifting around its beds as the vessel tacked. A number of the self-tappers that were holding the diesel mounts down (well, kinda) were already spinning dizzily around for all to see.
The hull had hard chines aft, which pounded mightily in even small SUP wakes. (Lord knows how loudly those angled flat sections aft would pound offshore.)
The owner was quite proud of these easily-chipped-in-docking chines. He explained to me that they ‘cleverly’ allowed for two staterooms on each side of the cockpit to be wide enough for a bunk. Of course, these two coffins (actually, that’s not fair to coffin-makers) were so airless that you’d need to sleep with a scuba tank in the tropics if you wanted to breathe. This did not actually matter since the port cabin was filled with fenders, pool toys, and a swim ladder and the starboard one featured sailbags, paddles, ensign on a pole, and running rigging—all the stuff that would normally go in the deck and cockpit locker that
the boat didn’t have because of the brochure-friendly airless ‘staterooms.’
All the sheet and halyard winches were electric.
There was nary a winch handle in sight.
As I stepped into the cockpit, I noted the split backstays terminating at dainty stainless steel U-bolts—no heavy, old-fashioned chainplates to slow this rocket ship! Well, at least the backstay didn’t terminate into a flimsy pad eye that was screwed into the deck with self-tappers. Hooray for the U-bolts (which I prayed had backing plates).
Next, I was shown the gaudy twin cockpit color nav displays for the twin wheels. I’ve seen casinos in Los Vegas with fewer blinking lights than this cockpit. The nav ‘display-array’ was, I admit, a thing of beauty with its 120-per-second refresh rate—especially if you wanted to be absolutely guaranteed that all your navigational devices would blink out at the same instant during an emergency.
Was this retina display as cool as the refrigerator in the cockpit table or the large freezer in the galley? Hard to say—but the builder marketeer was certainly making his spending priorities plain to see—since it was rumored the keel was held on by chewing gum. (Actually, that isn’t fair—there were probably a couple of panhead self-tappers in the mix.)
“Note the iPhone recharging socket on the side of the cockpit unit,” bragged the owner. “They really thought of everything, didn’t they?”
I looked around but didn’t see any solar cells, wind, or water generator—too much clutter and practicality, I guess.
I will say I was wowed at the spaciousness of the main cabin. Damn, the ladies could play badminton while the boys shot eight-ball in the mammoth space! How did they do it, design-wise? One, no webs to hold up those pesky chainplates. Two, no storage anywhere—zero storage. And, three, no ceiling on the damp hull—just some exterior carpeting glued on (to give the mildew something to hide behind). And best of all—to avoid clutter, there were no overhead handrails to catch you as you fell across the vast space while heeled.
To soften the unrelenting glare of the plastic, the interior designer had glued up thin sheets of veneered chipboard in random places.
Down belowdecks it was, admittedly, light and airy. This was achieved by having many windows in the hull. Fine. And, needless to say, they didn’t want these windows to leak at the fastenings—so they had no fastening. Double clever! They’d just epoxied or 5200’d the Lexan on the raw fiberglass. This worked well, unless you walked a compressed fender down the topsides during docking—then the heavy Lexan (sans safety line) would go for an expensive swim.
But let’s stop being picky and get back to the important thingies: of course there was a compact, very thirsty dishwasher in the galley and an equally thirsty washer/drier sunken into the cabin sole—these folks didn’t want to work their fingers to the bone, did they? Hey, they wanted a vacation of a lifetime all the time, right?
To power it all was a tiny generator in a hushbox so hushed that I could not detect how to open it. And best of all, this compact, high-revving gen/set (its name was something like Fischer Price) was so cleverly tucked away under the floorboards that you could barely touch it with an extending boat hook. (I assumed you used sockets with extensions and binoculars while working on it?) While the floorboards were up, I asked the owner about a small plastic white box.
“The water tank,” he said.
“Are you sure?” I asked, attempting to hide my shock. “That’s tiny!”
“That’s the beauty of it,” he said, “with the water-maker, they don’t have to be big.”
I asked him what type of watermaker he had. He told me. I knew it well—all too well. For every ounce of water it produced, you had to feed it a hundred-dollar bill. I could rebuild that unit in my sleep—and had had to. Just the memories of the unit’s parts-hungry booster pump made me break out in a cold sweat. This unit alone might be keeping FedEx in business in the Pacific. I mean, this unit could eat more money than a drug addict with a gambling problem in Vegas… while dependably dribbling out enough water to brush your front (only) teeth with.
As mentioned, this was this fellow’s new boat. His old one had been 42-footer—which he sold because it was too small to have air conditioning installed. “You know how it is, Fatty,” he said. “I’m gonna live on her when I retire—air conditioning isn’t an option, it is a must-have amenity at the equator… am I right?”
“You don’t have to convince me,” I said, hoping it was a neutral-enough statement to go unnoticed. (I’ve never had any air-conditioning in my entire life because 1.) I don’t want to be cold and 2.) I don’t want to pump out warm air, fumes, noise, and pollutants into the air nor the ocean.)
Sensing my interest in the nitty-gritty techno details, he showed me the blinking, LED-dazzling electro panel.
“May I?” I asked.
“Sure,” he said.
I twisted and pulled the knob which allowed the entire panel to hinge out. Now I could see the guts of the system. It was pretty, very neat, and quite business-like. At a glance, I knew that the wires were color-coded to ABYC specs. It took a couple of glances, however, to be sure that, while the vessel was color-coded to ABYC standards, it wasn’t wired to them. In fact, none of the cables leading to any of the sheet winches or anchor windlass were tinned, marine-grade, double-insulated wire—the builder used cheap welding cables instead.
Welding cables are almost disposable. While they can carry a lot of juice when new, they can seldom carry it for long. If a welder gets a couple of years of dragging them around various job sites, he’s happy. And that’s ashore with no salt corrosion. Afloat in salt-laden air—well, the clock starts ticking on launch day.
I took a peek into the battery compartment. It was tiny. The vessel had about 20% of the battery capacity of most boats circumnavigating.
Yes, there are good reasons why a solid cruising vessel such as a Hallberg-Rassy cost three times as much as this big-dinghy-daysailer-on-steroids. And, of course, sails slower.
Okay, by now I’m sure that you get the point, dear reader. But the important take-away of this missive isn’t that I personally don’t think this was an ideal liveaboard boat to retire and circumnavigate aboard—it is that the owner does. He’s pleased-as-punch with his new vessel. And as a capitalist who believes in the free market, I can’t—nor should I—deny that.
He owned his previous boat for four years and sold it before it started having major system failures. He’ll probably sell this one within five years or so—unless he installs a very long extension cord on a reel to supply it electrical power.
I could be wrong—but I doubt it.
There was not a single tool aboard anywhere. If there was, I’m not sure he’d know how to use it. He seemed totally blown away that at 70 years of age, we still did all our own work—even (especially) in the Third World where labor is cheap.
“I didn’t think shipyards still allowed that,” he said in amazement.
“…some do,” I confirmed.
Of course, I’m somewhat old-fashioned. Or as my 70-year-old wife likes to delicately phrase it, “You’re an old fart, Fatty!”
Perhaps so. I grew up on a wooden schooner with cotton sails, solid wood masts, galvy rigging, kerosene running lights, and a hemp anchor rode that lifted a yachtsman anchor via a manual deck windlass. So, yeah, I’m probably a tad more techno-conservative than Josh Slocum or Ulysses.
And I think that chasing after convenience is a fool’s journey. I mean, why own an all-electric vessel with all the conveniences—and then pay to go to a gym because you are too fat to see your toes?
But boats are compromises. The spaciousness of this craft was at the expense of its storage. Ditto, its speed was achieved by compromising its cargo capacity and sea-kindliness. And all its ‘conveniences’ weren’t, really—not for the sailor who has to fix all that crap.
This was a boat built and marketed for someone who one day wanted to be a sailor—not for a sailor. This was a dock queen, plain and simple. It was meant to go from marina slip to marina slip; from shipyard, to dockyard, to bone yard.
I couldn’t maintain that sucker—even if someone else paid for the parts. And God forbid it ever whacks a dock, a reef, or another vessel—I have egg cartons that are stronger.
But each to his own. Occasionally, we’re anchored together in Langkawi or Thailand—and we raise a champagne glass to each while I think, “Air conditioning!” and shake my head sadly; and he thinks, “No air conditioning!” as he, too, is flooded with pity.
Editor’s note: Fatty and Carolyn continue to wrestle over a few grains of moldy rice—in lovely Southeast Asia.