Thousands of articles are written each year about the “Perfect Boat.” Amazingly, thousands of these vessels exist, mostly owned by (luckier still, eh?) marine journalists. Thus, when a thirsty marine journalist needs more money to buy beer, he merely pens an article or two about the perfection of his well-found, Bristol-condition craft… and happily goes on his bender.
What about pig boats? What about boats that don’t sail any better than a half-tide rock? What about boats that make more leeway than headway – that are so ugly that shoreside landlubbers get ill just seeing ‘em sail by? What about those boats?
Let’s take a look at our present boat, as an example. We type these words aboard an Amphitrite 43 by Wauquiez (while awaiting Panama Canal transit). She is almost as wide as she is long; she has so much topside your ears pop climbing aboard. Plus, there’s the transom. It has more area than our storm trysail.
At first, as a joke, I glued two sets of reef points on my transom. Alas, during offshore gales, I wished those reef points were real and not fake.
The good news is that my boat has more room than a barn – which is exactly what it sails like!
Here is what happened: a greedy designer attended a boat show and realized that aft cabins sell. This is all well and good, and even true, but the logical extension of this thought is that larger and larger aft cabins sell better and better. My aft cabin, the one I’m typing in right now, is huge. I was bewitched by it. The moment I saw it, I knew I’d buy this boat.
It has a giant double bed, a chest of drawers, a dining table, a desk, a hanging locker, some shelves, a stereo, three ports, two doors, six windows, one giant cabinet, and a mammoth head/shower. Lotsa storage space, too. The hatch is big enough to pass a bale of hay through, should the owner desire to take aboard some ‘burlap seafood.’ There are nine cabin lights. Oh, and a wind speed unit so the skipper can check the weather without taking his head off the pillow. (Yes, there’s an upside down ‘tell-tale’ compass as well.)
Did I mention the on-passage dim LED ‘red night light’ illumination?
Or the fact that two of the aft windows are picture windows … nearly three feet wide?
Imagine the largest aft cabin you’ve ever seen … then imagine it on steroids … then picture that steroid version blown up still further … like a giant weather balloon … and my aft cabin is bigger still!
How do they cram all this into a 43-foot sailboat? The short answer: by making it a powerboat with masts.
Let’s start at the beginning: log canoes had ‘two bows’ and were called double enders. At first, if you wanted a bigger canoe, you wanted a longer canoe, trees being as they are. And, yes, the owners do tend to like to sit aft so the other rowers couldn’t see they weren’t rowing. Eventually, the canoe owners got fatter and fatter and fatter – and the double-ended canoes began to squat. Thus, transoms were born.
This, alas, created more weight along with the buoyancy – and required more horsepower. That, once diesels were invented, required more fuel. Transoms grew even bigger. Soon they were big enough to stow fenders in, then mothers-in-law soon thereafter.
My new boat is a ketch.
Thus, it has a mizzen. Normally, masts are supported by chainplates through-bolted into webs glassed into the hull. These webs would, alas, compromise the visual spaciousness of the aft cabin. That’s a no-no. So, they were hastily discarded. What’s the structural integrity of a mast compared to some wide-angle aft cabin photographs, eh?
Our mizzen mast is just snapped onto some eye bolts hidden under the headliner – and that’s that. “But the area around the eye bolts bulge upwards like pimples about to pop!” I complained on our test sail.
“Then don’t look,” said the broker breezily. “Let’s return to the aft cabin to talk price, shall we?”
Yes, I was putty in his hands.
Boats are getting more complicated with each passing day.
Most modern yacht owners love Mother Nature – so, of course, an onboard generator is required. Once the gen/set is aboard and running, air conditioning is installed … after all, Mother Nature’s thermostat isn’t exactly perfect. Besides, open hatches allow mosquitoes inside the vessel … not good.
Of course, if you’re going to live inside a small fiberglass air conditioned box, you might as well do it in the tropics. This requires a refrigerator, a freezer, and an ice maker – all the better to commune with Mother Nature while half-sloshed on martinis. To carry the extra weight, the transom has to be yet bigger. This requires a larger engine, which drinks more fluids – and the endless cycle of big, bigger and biggest continues.
Since the gen/set is running all the time, might as well install those way-cool underwater blue lights. These, of course, attract baitfish, which attract larger fish, which attract sharks who like to eat late night swimmers. Aren’t you glad your freezer is huge to bring the frozen bodies back to shore?
One of the primary reasons for going sailing was, once upon a time, to ‘get away from it all.’
Of course, while doing so, it would be crazy not to post it on Facebook – Why lead the life of Riley if nobody knows, right? Thus, you need a WIFI antenna, a booster, VHF, Pactor modem, SSB, AIS transponder B, and a Sat Phone – at a bare minimum.
There is, I admit, a temptation to leave off the rig on modern sailing craft. This makes sense. After all, those flapping sails can be a real annoyance if you’re trying to hear Mother Nature over the scream of your gen/set. But most modern designers resist, hard as it may be. They boldly leave the rig or remnants thereof – all the better to fly your signal flags from, to hold up your various antennas, and to steady the radar dome.
Obviously, shipboard electric power needs have grown faster than say, the national debt. (Well, almost.) Suddenly a single gen/set isn’t enough. There must be two, so one can always be down for maintenance. Areas of the vessel, which are seldom used … say, the deck for instance … should be covered with solar cells. And, since the engine is running almost continuously now and the sails are seldom unfurled, the wind generator becomes much easier to install. Should your main engine fail at hull speed, it will take a couple of moments for your vessel to lose way. You might want to have a towed water generator at-the-ready to reclaim this energy as well.
Then there are the wives, who favor commodious commodes. Marine toilets are now getting as large as swimming pools. Bidets are appearing. Turbo chargers routed from the engine into the head make powerful hairdryers.
If your vessel is primarily used around land, you can immediately plug into 110v, 220v, 440v and more… with yellow cords of ever-greater girth. The French canals are fun in this regard. You can have a generator truck pace you along the footpaths leftover from the pulling horses (urged on by yelping Schipperkes) of yesteryear.
As the human condition afloat is expected to assimilate to the human condition ashore, it is only reasonable that boats will continue to morph into houses, albeit, more watertight versions thereof.
So that’s my long-term retirement plan. I’m gonna sell my boat. But – thanks to a 12-volt marinized Sawzall manufactured especially for Harken –keep my aft cabin! I’m gonna be buried in it, like a totally spoiled modern Viking. YES! Imagine the lush, posh luxury on the River Styxx, no less!
Cap’n Fatty Goodlander has lived aboard for 53 of his 60 years, and has circumnavigated twice. He is the author of Chasing the Horizon and numerous other marine books. His latest, Buy, Outfit, and Sail is available now. Visit: fattygoodlander.com