Die-Hard Sailboaters Switch to Powerboating
Two experienced cruising sailors seek happiness at the helm of a Marlow 57E.
How do life-long cruising sailors switch from a much-loved Beneteau 423 to a Marlow 57E motoryacht after just three months of boat shopping? We aren’t entirely sure ourselves, but we do know when the idea came to us. In the latter part of a two-month Exumas cruise in the spring of 2010, we were beginning to feel a bit cramped for personal space on Jade (the Beneteau 423) and started talking about getting something bigger. But we felt that a larger sailboat with a deeper draft and higher mast wasn’t really practical for our home cruising grounds on the west coast of Florida.
The answer seemed to appear to us at Cambridge Cay in Exuma National Park when a power catamaran picked up a mooring ball near us. We watched with envy as they lowered the dinghy with an electric hoist, ran their air conditioning off a generator, and romped around their enormous deck. The seed was planted.
Our objective was to find a boat that would be comfortable for up to six months for the two of us and our four-foot iguana (also named Jade) and be safe in heavy weather, suitable for gunkholing, and reliable enough to take us from Florida to Grenada and points south.
We spent the first month of our search focused on power cats. We loved the speed, interior space, shallow draft, and low fuel consumption, and we were prepared to deal with the challenge of finding dockage for the 22-foot beam. We looked at several power-cat designs and then chartered one in the Abacos, which we should add was the first twin-engine cruising boat that we had ever driven. In retrospect we were lucky to have some pretty crummy weather with winds in the 30-knot range and choppy water. The ride was not at all what we had expected. It felt like one sponson was going in one direction while the other headed elsewhere. We’re not sure what it would have done in a big sea, but decided we didn’t want to find out. Power cats rejected.
In the second month we looked at a couple of classic monohull trawlers, following the traditional path of many sailors. The cruising range, fuel efficiency, and solid construction were appealing, and even the eight-knot speed was an improvement over what we had averaged on Jade. However, we found the traditional interiors common to them a bit too traditional. We also thought that relying on a single engine was a little troubling and wanted to have the ability to kick up the speed if we needed to dodge ships and weather.
Next we looked at some planing-hull designs that were configured for longer-term cruising. The speeds were awesome, the interiors wonderfully contemporary, and the pod drives appealing for novice powerboat drivers like us. However the exposed props, and particularly the pod drives, seemed too risky for the type of island hopping we had in mind.
We were ready to shut down the search and keep Jade for at least another year when our exhausted broker, Lee Messina of Sarasota Yacht & Ship, insisted we look at a Marlow. It was love at first sight. After overcoming massive sticker shock, we ended up with a 2008 Marlow 57 Explorer a couple of weeks later. Newly christened Indigo cruises at eight knots with reasonable efficiency, but can also approach 20 knots if needed. We believe the Portuguese bridge, heavy construction, and keel-protected props will provide the type of robust protection we will need for extensive Caribbean cruising, while the warm teak interior feels like it will be practical and comfortable for us for extended periods aboard.
After owning Indigo for a couple of months we are hopeful, but not fully convinced, that we will be long-term powerboaters. The satisfaction of making a passage under sail is clearly missing, but the comfort, conveniences, and space are certainly positive changes. In the Exumas aboard Jade, we only learned about the BP oil spill five days after the event while having hamburgers and Kaliks at MacDuff’s. Now CNBC is streaming to our chartplotter. We wonder: Will playing the market while on the hook negate our entire reason for going?
Adjusting to the fuel consumption will also take a large mental change. The generator alone uses more fuel than Jade’s trusty 56-hp Yanmar. Next on our worry list is reliability. We carried spare parts for all the critical systems on Jade and knew how to replace them, but with two 700-hp engines, a watermaker, a generator, bow and stern thrusters, stabilizers, power steering, a washer/dryer, a dishwasher, and four times the electronics, just learning to operate these systems will be a challenge, and repairing most of them ourselves impossible. Will all of these new toys make us enjoy cruising more or just be an enormous burden? I suspect it will take at least a year to answer that question.
Lee Messina, Sarasota Yacht & Ship
Editor’s note: We will continue to keep in touch with Pat and Kat as the couple cruises on Indigo and becomes familiar with her systems and capabilities. Keep a look out for occasional updates in the pages of PMY and at pmymag.com.
This article originally appeared in the September 2011 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.