Home Boat Owner and Buyer Articles

Boat Owner and Buyer Articles

Boat Buying and Ownership Wisdom

Desperately Seeking Apprenticeships

First published in Professional BoatBuilder Magazine

Several years ago, President Obama said that we need to be preparing all high school students for college. I cringed. In that scenario, how will we produce the roofers, carpenters, auto mechanics, and, of course, boatbuilders our society needs? I wish he had said, “We need to make sure all high school students have career options, be they college or vocational school.”

The sad fact is that high school vocational programs appear to be waning. Budgetary pressure and the allure of the digital-age illusion that every career can be carried out from behind a keyboard seem to be leading school systems and students down the wrong path, one that often brands “the trades” as somehow inferior to college. As many parents of college graduates now know all too well, a degree no longer guarantees…

Apprenticeship Training

Surveyors, How to Select and Task Them

First published in PassageMaker Magazine

It’s an unfortunate but all too familiar scenario.  A couple arrives at my boatyard with a boat they’ve recently purchase – often used, but sometimes new.  It’s their proverbial dream boat; they’ve done their homework, often having searched for months or years to find just the right model, year, or version.  With the survey out of the way and sales contract signed, they head for the boatyard with a laundry list of items to be installed, modified, or repaired in preparation for their cruise escape.

This list often includes such items as a new chart plotter and radar, watermaker, dinghy hoist, fuel polishing system, satellite television, new galley range and microwave, gelcoat or paint repairs, a flat screen TV, and so on…

Choose Carefully

Getting Back On Course

First published in PassageMaker Magazine

“Yeah, we don’t make the pump-we only install it. If it’s not working, you need to call the manufacturer, sorry.” How many times have you heard that as a consumer? If there’s one thing that sets folks off, it’s being told, in the face of a problem, what they need to do rather than offering the assistance they need.

That quote is one I remember all too well. It came from a boatbuilder for whom I was a dealer at the time. I was commissioning a new vessel that had been built only months before, and the anchor wash-down pump didn’t work.

Getting Back on Course

And the Survey Says… Nothing

First published in PassageMaker Magazine

“Steve, attached please find the reports from the engine survey and oil analysis, I hope they are more intelligible to you than they are to me, because I have no idea how to read them.” That line, from a client whose vessel’s engines were recently surveyed by two factory-trained mechanics, expresses a small element of frustration that echoes an observation of mine.

Far too many professionals in the marine industry are guilty of failing to provide to customers intelligible, plainspoken language that supports their observations, analyses and reports. In my work as a consultant for those buying boats or having them built, I’m subject to this all-too frustrating onslaught of information that is nearly useless to those receiving it. I often act in the capacity of translator, or worse, the one who identifies errors.

I was guilty of this until an engineer from the Smithsonian Institution enlightened me several years ago. He had retained me to carry out a series of inspections and recommendations for the Institution’s fleet of vessels. After submitting the first draft…

Engine Survey Reports Deciphering and Understanding

Technical

The Fundamentals of Digital Multimeter Use

First published in Cruising World Magazine

Not so long ago, the simple 12-volt test light was the tool to use when tracking down electrical problems.  Increasingly, though, the digital multimeter is used by electricians and do-it-yourselfers to diagnose a wide range of problems in the DC and 110-volt AC marine electrical systems.

Even if you aren’t sure how to use one, having a multimeter aboard makes good sense for two reasons: If you run into trouble, chances are that someone else aboard or nearby will…

Multimeter Series

Electrical Troubleshooting Guide

First published in PassageMaker Magazine

Make no mistake about it: There’s no way you can become an expert mechanic or electrician overnight. Top-flight, crackerjack marine technicians are few and far between, and the really good ones usually have two things going for them.

One, they are usually natural-born gearheads—the babies who figured out how to escape from their cribs through a process of disassembly. They usually grew up to be the preteens who were forever asking questions…

Electrical Troubleshooting Techniques

Infrared Pyrometers and Their Many Uses

Since infrared pyrometers became readily available a few years ago, they’ve had a tremendous impact on the way boats are maintained and troubleshot. Because of their affordability, pyrometers are now accessible to everyone, from the skilled mechanic to the average weekend boater.

An infrared (IR) pyrometer uses the infrared radiation emitted by an object to determine its temperature. The variety of tasks an IR pyrometer can perform is…

Infrared Pyrometer Use

Aluminum Corrosion

First published in Cruising World Magazine

To better understand corrosion, check out a galvanic-series chart.  It organizes metals from most noble (most corrosion-resistant, or cathodic) to least noble (least corrosion-resistant, or anodic).  Depending on the source, the series might be organized with cathodic metals either at the top or bottom; the version included in the American Boat and Yacht Council Standards establishes…

Noble Efforts

Benefits of Shore Power Transformers

First published in Ocean Voyager

Shoreside power transformers have been used aboard recreational, commercial and military vessels for decades. Lately the trend toward their use has increased, and with good reason. Transformers offer users a variety of safety and convenience advantages over standard shore power systems that lack this valuable component…

Transformers

Oil Analysis

First published in PropTalk.com

Not long ago I read an article in a boating magazine entitled, “Oil Analysis Made Simple.” It struck a chord because as a trained oil analyst (what the industry refers to as a tribologist), I know from experience as well as formal training that oil analysis (formally referred to as fluid analysis, which also includes coolant, fuel, and hydraulic fluid) is complex and fraught with opportunity for sampling errors and misinterpretation of reports. No wonder the science of oil analysis is frequently dismissed by industry professionals as unreliable; in many cases they have reason to question the results…

Oil Analysis

Blisters and Osmosis

First published in Ocean Navigator

In the 16 years that I’ve worked in and managed boatyards, I’ve encountered few repair subjects that strike as much fear into the hearts of boat owners as that of hull blisters.To an extent, their fear is well placed; hull blisters, sometimes referred to as osmosis, are a serious problem that may, under some circumstances,weaken a vessel’s fiberglass laminate. However, one thing is certain:A case of hull blisters will compromise the marketability and value of most boats, just ask any broker.The validity of this devaluation is and will, no doubt, remain fertile ground for debate, primarily because experts continue to disagree about just how much osmosis weakens a laminate.Additionally, in my experience, the degree of compromise varies widely from boat to boat….

Blisters and Osmosis

Bilge Pump Systems Part II

First published in PassageMaker Magazine

The design and execution of a bilge pump’s electrical power supply are of undeniable importance. Electrical faults and flaws offer the greatest opportunity for a bilge pump installation to go awry. Some of these problems raise their heads even before a pump has been removed from its box.

Consider this: In the same way that bilge pumps are rated for capacity at “open flow”—with no resistance—they also are rated at “design voltage,” or 113 percent of nominal voltage. This means the outputs of 12- and 24-volt pumps are rated at 13.6 and 27.2 volts, respectively. In turn, this means that unless a charge source is present, the output of the pump will be less than its maximum rated flow.

Nearly all pump manufacturers follow this protocol; thus, the comparisons are like. But it’s important to apply this degradation when you’re trying to determine a pump’s overall capacity. As an example, let’s look at a 2,000 gph pump that’s operating at 13.6 volts and at open flow or…

Bilge Pumps II

Bilge Pump Systems Part I

First published in PassageMaker Magazine

“The sound of the engine changed slightly, which made me glance at the instruments. The tachometer needle rested limply at the zero mark, and the voltmeter showed about 11 volts. If the boat was trying to get my attention, it had succeeded. I slowed to an idle, handed the helm to a shipmate, and went below to check the engine. When I opened the compartment, it was as humid and foggy as a London street, and a faint smell of burning electrical components permeated the air. There was obviously a leak; I could see that water had risen to the level of the engine’s crankshaft pulley and flywheel and was being slung everywhere, including [into] the alternator, killing its charge capability and the tachometer output along with it.”

The above excerpt, part of a missive sent to me by a client, graphically details the aftermath of a comparatively small leak caused by a failed stuffing box injection hose. I had been planning to write an article about bilge pumps for some time, and this note leant a new sense of urgency to the task.

When it comes to bilge pumps and their associated wiring and plumbing, many face a challenge that can be characterized as the “you don’t know what you need until you need it” scenario. Though it may seem difficult, there is a way to avoid this problem. Like most systems related tasks aboard a well-found cruising vessel, it simply requires a bit of planning and…

Bilge Pumps

 Diesel Fuel Tank Design

First published in PassageMaker Magazine

Fuel is of little use if it can’t be safely and reliably stored and transported from the vessel’s tank to the equipment that craves it: engines, gensets, wing engines, heating systems, and so on.  The guidelines set forth by the American Boat & Yacht Council concerning the design and installation of fuel tanks, plumbing, filters, and associated gear leave little room for interpretation.  The boatyard that I manage and many other boatbuilders follow these guidelines to the letter, but, regrettably, not all yards and builders do.  The fuel equipment on many boats that i inspect violates these important standards, often on several counts.

There are a number of desirable and necessary design features that should be incorporated into nearly every fuel tank. Integrating these features at the design stage, rather than adding them after the tank or…

Diesel Fuel Tank Design

Cruising

Alaska: The Undiscovered Country

First published in Yachting

It’s hard to make a whisper sound like a scream, but as our tender hove-to in Takatz Creek, my friend Tim managed to do exactly that. “Bear!” he rasped as loudly as he could without shattering the sounds of nature all around us. “There’s a bear right there!”

This part of Baronof Island in Alaska is home to the kind of raw nature that could make any human feel small, even without the 3,500- and 4,500-foot tall mountains that surrounded us on three sides — the type of place where, admittedly, I should have been paying closer attention. In that moment, I was mesmerized by the creek, which was teeming with salmon. I was watching them surface and surge upriver, right before I fixated on the majestic…

Alaska

Under Power in the Frozen North

First published in Ocean Navigator

Migration’s stainless steel-clad stem came to rest gently against the polar ice pack, a mere 520 miles from the North Pole. To memorialize the moment, I photographed the GPS display’s latitude readout: 81° 27.7’ N. The crew shared a round of congratulations and posed for a photo on the bow, it being that much closer to the pole. While there were leads that would allow us to venture further north, the vessel’s master and crew agreed that we would go no further; we were confident we had set a record for the highest northern latitude achieved by a fiberglass power vessel, and would ask no more. With a fiberglass hull, regardless of its heft, we were tempting fate amid this much ice. Shortly after turning about and pointing our bow southward, however, our jubilation turned to dread as it became obvious that our plan was flawed: The path we took through the ice was…

Under Power in the Frozen North

I’ll Never Forget the Day… I Cruised to the Edge of the Ice Pack

The ice field that stretches out before the bow elicits in my heart a sense of dread. It’s the first time during the passage, in which I am to circumnavigating the Svalbard Archipelago, that I have any concern for the safety of the vessel, or myself. I’d signed up for this voyage because I have an unquenchable passion for high latitudes; it’s a yearning that has taken me to Antarctica, Greenland, Iceland and now the most northerly continuously inhabited island chain on Earth, Svalbard. I now wonder if I’ve gone too far…

Six hours after leaving our anchorage at Kinnvika, Migration, the Nordhavn 68 I’m aboard, is in a grey fishbowl. In all directions, a pewter sky meets a slategrey sea like a seagoing treadmill. We keep passing the same featureless scenery. There are no large landmasses; we’ve gone off the chart, literally, and are forced to switch software, though it’s hardly necessary because on our present heading, save the ice, there’s nothing between us and…

I’ll Never Forget the Day… I Cruised to the Edge of the Ice Pack

On Top of the World

First published in Power Cruising

Surveying the vast, unbroken expanse of pure white as it rolls beneath the aircraft’s fuselage induces an almost hypnotic effect, and I refuse to take my eyes off it for fear I will miss some irregularity that offers a sense of depth or scale. We could be at 30,000 feet or 3,000 feet; it’s impossible to tell. I wait patiently — five minutes, 10 minutes; it’s spectacular, the breadth of it simply beyond imagination, and still nothing. Finally, a coal-black outcropping of rock: the tip of a mountain range sheathed in a two-milethick sheet of ice. This is Greenland, and I’m seeing the interior, a region gazed upon by precious few eyes.

I have a passion for high latitudes, and have done everything in my power to make my way to them for much of my adult life. I first became enthralled with these naturally beautiful and blissfully sparsely populated regions during a cruise to Newfoundland in 1996, while crewing aboard…

On Top of the World

Vintage Tugboat and Fishing Too

First published in PassageMaker Magazine

“Steven, I think you caught a fish!”

If someone had predicted just a few months ago that my wife, Sandy, would be addressing me with this phrase, I would have bet the family boat it could never come true. You see, I’m not a fisherman. No one in my family is a fisherman, and I come from a long line of men and women who were not fishermen.  Sandy shares a similar non- fisherman ancestry. As a result, we never taught our children to fish and thus assumed they would carry on the long and carefully preserved…

Perfect Union

Big Ship, Little Ship

First published in PassageMaker Magazine

I felt a knee-buckling thud and then heard an echoing scrape as the stem collided with a 50- ton, 30-foot-long chunk of blue-white ice called a “bergy bit.” My hand instinctively shot out, reaching for the ice-encrusted rail in order to maintain my balance. Endeavour shuddered for a moment as she regained lost headway through the frigid black waters of the Lemaire Channel, on the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula. This region, sometimes known as “the bottom of the world,” has a long and storied reputation for devouring ships and men. (See “Mother of All Passages” PMM June ’03 for the story of Sir Ernest Shackleton and his illfated Trans-Antarctic Expedition.)

Fortunately, this is a near-everyday event for a ship such as Endeavour, a 295-foot steel, ice-capable expedition trawler. Of course, this isn’t something you’d want to try with your trawler unless it was specifically designed…

Big Ship Little Ship

Call of the Wild

First Published in PassageMaker Magazine

When I ask folks where they intend to cruise (and I ask the question often), “someplace warm” is frequently their response. I’ve done my share of tropical cruising and it’s difficult to deny: The tropics instill a sense of calm and contentedness that is unmatched. The sun’s warming rays can be transformative. Wearing fewer clothes feels good, and being able to swim and dive at will is simply glorious.

There is, however, another type of cruising that few experience, cruising the high latitudes—in the boreal zone, and rarer still, the far southern regions.

“Isn’t it cold there?” they ask, and this includes my wife, an avowed tropical cruiser.

Indeed, in many cases the weather can be very wet, very windy and unpredictable, but it’s not always bad. For example, summertime in the Antarctic Peninsula was, in my experience, warmer, drier, sunnier and generally more pleasant than winter in…

Call of the Wild

The Mother of all Passages

First published in PassageMaker Magazine

“That do we, trawler cruisers, have in common with men like Robert Scott, Rauld Amundsen and Ernest Shackleton, famous explorers of the Heroic Age? Perhaps the Norwegian poet Henrik Ibsen put it best when he wrote: “There is always a certain risk in being alive, and if you are more alive there is more risk.”

It would have been much safer for these men to stay at home—all three lost their lives while exploring. Instead, they chose to leave the relative comfort and safety of civilization, venturing forth into the unknown. To an extent, we do the same every time we cast off the lines and leave the dock. We could stay home and play…

The Mother of all Passages

Profiles and Reviews 

Volvos and Ideal Windlasses

First published in PassageMaker Magazine

While my wife-to-be and I were still dating, she purchased what I would eventually come to revere as a venerable mechanical classic, a Volvo 240.  And not just any Volvo 240, this was the final model year from this line, the Classic. It even had a number on the dashboard denoting it as 950 of 1,600 built that year…

Volvos and Ideal Windlasses

Fleming 58

First published in PassageMaker Magazine

Duncan Cowie and Adi Shard, who oversee construction and operations at the yard in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, recognized this several years ago and polled owners of the 55 for their thoughts. They learned that many of them wanted a vessel larger than the 55 but not as big as the 65. The new 58 would be aimed at splitting the difference and be the first boat designed and built entirely by Cowie and Shard following Tony Fleming’s retirement from the company in 2008.

Among the changes suggested was to give the new model a fullbeam master stateroom amidships. Although Cowie and Shard could not ignore this important selling point, they continue to believe that the center companionway of the 55 and 65 is still more practical and offers the best use of space. Starting with a clean slate, though, allowed the company to offer the full-beam master stateroom as an option on the 58….

Fleming 58

Seattle’s Ballard Neighborhood

First published in PassageMaker Magazine

Granite countertops, cherry joiner work, stainless steel appliances, a big screen TV, a 750hp Cummins QSK 19, bulbous bow, and bow thruster; she sleeps six and cruises at 8.5 knots.

You might mistake this for a description of a custombuilt expedition yacht; that is, until you read the rest of the specifications, which include titanium refrigeration chillers, 65 and 150 kW generators, lots of stainless steel hydraulic plumbing, and an 18,000 lb. capacity, one of a kind, deck crane.

This vessel is in fact a fishing trawler, recently commissioned in Ballard, Washington. I spent about an hour aboard her while dockside, going through her myriad systems, and speaking with her owner, John Barry, and his commissioning contractor, George Hooper, of Hooper Marine. The builder laid up the hull, decks and cabin, painted it and then handed it over to Barry and Hooper, and they, along with their hired contractors, finished out the systems.

I stood on the dock after my tour and looked at Optimus, her flawlessly painted gleaming…

Seattle’s Ballard Neighborhood

Clever Craft – Coastal Craft Aluminum Boatbuilder

First published in PassageMaker Magazine

It’s a secret I’ve tried to keep from my editors, albeit unsuccessfully: I revel in the opportunity to visit boatbuilders and their shops, and I especially enjoy the process when it involves those who employ unique materials, processes, or skills. Thus, when the opportunity arose to visit the folks at a small builder in British Columbia, one whose products I’d seen and, up to this point, admired primarily from afar, I leapt at the chance.

I’d spent about a half an hour aboard a Coastal Craft at the Seattle Boat Show a few years ago. Based on what I knew, or what I thought I knew, I had already formed the theme of this story even before I boarded the first flight for Vancouver: “Aluminum boatbuilding at its best, outstanding craftsmanship married to elegant design.” I wasn’t disappointed; Coastal Craft vessels are among the finest built and prettiest aluminum alloy vessels I’ve had the pleasure of spending time aboard and sea trialing. However, I was entirely unprepared for what awaited me inside the series of immaculate shop facilities, located in the quaint, waterfront town of…

Clever Craft

MarineTec

First published in PassageMaker Magazine

I recall working on marine diesel heating systems during my early days as a mechanic. Back then, nearly all were of the forced-hot-air variety, and their upkeep and repair was a black art. It seemed for every hour they ran, they required two hours of maintenance. I also clearly remember a coworker who knew diesel heating systems very well regularly scoffing and cursing them. Somehow, though, he always seemed to be able to coax life back into them after they had stopped working.

In those days, the primary problem with diesel heating systems on the boats we serviced was that they weren’t used enough—both the boats and the heating systems. For forced-hot-air systems, lack of use was a deal killer. It nearly ensured that when fall arrived, the heat wouldn’t function reliably. These memories have remained with me, and so when I encounter a diesel heating system, I place high value on reliability and simplicity…

MarineTec Diesel Heating at its Best

A Well-Kept Secret – Cummins Reconditioning Program

First published in PassageMaker Magazine

I sat comfortably in a conference room at the world headquarters and marinization facility of Cummins MerCruiser Diesel (CMD) in Charleston, South Carolina, on a sunny April afternoon.  With me were Rob Dorfmeyer and John Wooldridge, PMM’s publisher and editor- in- chief, respectively, as we discussed the facility’s capabilities and CMD’s strategic outlook with several company officials, including President Alex Savelli…

Cummins Engine Remanufacturing A Well-kept Secret

The Fleming 65

First published in PassageMaker Magazine

 Traditionally, the boat tours I conduct for PMM are lengthy and detailed affairs. When reviewing a boat, I try to put myself in the shoes of a typical owner, using as much of the gear as I can in real-world conditions. If possible, I like to spend a night aboard, because that’s the only way I can authoritatively share my experience with readers.

Thus, when I received an offer from Tony Fleming, founder of Fleming Yachts, to conduct an extended sea trial—really extended, from Scotland to Iceland—aboard his own Fleming 65, I accepted without hesitation. Truth be told, because I have a weakness for high-latitude cruising destinations, it would be fair to say I invited myself on the passage, and Tony was gracious enough to accept my “offer.”

There’s an advantage to making a long passage with the founder of the company that builds the boat you’re reviewing, although it’s probably not what you think. Many would say the advantage is the founder’s, as he extols the virtues of…

Fleming 65

SeaKits

First published in PassageMaker Magazine

I’m a believer now.

A few years ago, SeaKits Inc. founder Barry Kallander approached me at Trawler Fest to poll me about an idea he had for a comprehensive vessel maintenance program. It was an all-encompassing package that aimed to provide boat owners with everything they would need to properly maintain the systems aboard today’s increasingly complex yachts.

Back then, I confess, I didn’t fully appreciate Barry’s vision for what SeaKits could and would become. Thus, I guessed the business had an average chance of succeeding in what is traditionally an unforgiving industry, particularly where start-ups are…

Sea Kits

Mercury Marine

First published in PassageMaker Magazine

When I began my career in the marine industry nearly two decades ago, many of the inboards, outboards, and sterndrive engines I worked on were manufactured by Mercury Marine of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.  In spite of the fact that I still have much to learn about the marine engines, I immediately recognized the quality of Mercury’s trademark black products…

Mercury Marine

The Italian Marine Industry

First published in PassageMaker Magazine

This is a first. In all the years I’ve been writing articles, I’ve always begun the process by making an outline.  What you are about to read i a departure from my usual method. I’m writing from the heart, not the head, in an effort to reflect the experience Bill Parlatore and I shared during our week-long visit to Italy, which we traveled literally from coast to coast.

While Bill tells about our visits to the various manufacturers and their facilities, I’m making a detour from my gearhead role to delve into the passionate, emotional, and creative side…

Italian Marine Industry

American Boat and Yacht Council; A look into this organization

First published in PassageMaker Magazine

While on an extended cruise aboard your vessel, we’ll call her Cherokee, you notice that the engine’s coolant temperature gauge has stopped registering. Being a prudent skipper and knowing that an inoperative engine instrument is an invitation to disaster, you point Cherokee’s bow toward the nearest boatyard to have it repaired. Fortunately, an experienced marine technician is on hand, and he quickly discovers that the problem is nothing more than a loose wire. The bill is small and your detour short.

The story, however, does not end here. The technician working at the away yard, we’ll call him Dick, reveals that, while investigating the failed temperature gauge, he noticed that Cherokee’s AC electrical panel is not “ABYC compliant.”…

The ABCs of ABYC