Running a sporty planing boat at dead slow ahead for 23 hours nonstop?! I know it sounds plumb crazy, but I'm hoping that once you understand my strategies and the results, you'll conclude, "Yeah, crazy like a fox!"
Here's the scenario. Last summer I persuaded Island Pilot president Reuben Trane to bring his latest 395 demo boat up to my home harbor of Camden, Maine, and drive my car back to his homeport of Essex, Connecticut, where I'd return Shanghai Baby a week later. I had two goals: one, to give the Island Pilot "fast trawler" concept a serious test, and two, to give the dream of semiretired, long-distance cruising with my nautically inexperienced spouse a serious reality check.
I wasn't worried about the boat. I'd not only checked out the Island Pilot at shows but had carefully browsed the company's Web site and read Capt. Richard Thiel's PMY evaluation ("I/Opener," December 2005). Here was a boat designed and equipped for going places, a deep-V that could cruise at 26 knots while burning about a gallon per mile. Given some flat, friendly summer seas and a full 400-gallon load of fuel, we could have blasted the 275-nautical-mile shortcut route to Essex in one day without stopping. But blast is the relevant word there. Regardless of hull design or sea state, hour after hour of high-speed vibration and noise will leave any boat's crew tired and tense, perhaps mine in particular.
My dear wife Andrea was not born with that water-loving gene, not to mention the need for speed, that so many boaters share. Prior to Shanghai Baby she had never been out of sight of land on anything smaller than an ocean liner. Plus she's endured years of war stories about my youthful adventures afloat (and deliveries gone awry) and has noticed my penchant for books and articles about marine disasters. (Hey, other skippers' mistakes can be almost as educational as your own.) At any rate, just getting on a boat makes Andrea a bit tense, and that was my real challenge. Could I put together a trip that might end up being the preface to further voyaging? It was a tall order, but then again I've learned a lot about how not to cross the Gulf of Maine from some 50 passages over 35 years.
There are several possible successful strategies, especially in a fast boat, weather always being a prime factor. For instance, we could have reversed the technique Trane and his wife Cheryl used coming north: fairly short, fast hops, mostly in the morning before the summer sea breeze kicked up a chop. Afternoon walks around, say, Portland, Maine, and Marblehead, Massachusetts, along with peaceful nights on a mooring or dock would have been fine. But my choice was the 165-mile straight shot from Camden to the Cape Cod Canal, both to create more time before and after that leg and to give Andrea a real voyaging experience. Further planning it as an overnight trip at displacement speed meant relaxed running, a significant fuel savings, and a chance to see dusk and dawn over the ocean.
So we spent two days aboard Shanghai Baby right in Camden, learning where things were, how to cook aboard, getting our docking chops down, even making like visitors maneuvering around the August densely packed but beautifully boaty inner harbor. Then we let another day pass while waiting for a better forecast—much easier to do knowing that those 26 knots were there if needed. We also welcomed aboard Richard Itkin as mate, an inspired choice, as he's both Andrea's beloved big brother and a retired nuclear submarine captain.
Thus it wasn't until the late morning of the fourth day that we hoisted Shanghai Baby's tender up onto its cockpit-top chocks and headed down Penobscot Bay. We did show Rich how the Island Pilot's twin 350-hp Volvo Penta diesel DuoProp stern drives could pop her onto plane and turn her like a sports car, but then—with slight regret on the boys' part—we backed down to a near-idle speed of about 8.5 knots. Climbing the flying-bridge ladder, making sandwiches, laying out routes on the chartplotter were all easy at that pace, and by the time we passed through Monhegan Island's open-at-both-ends harbor, we were in a displacement-speed groove. Shortly after the island dipped under the horizon, the sun set over an equally empty western horizon, the sea went even flatter, and we were pleasantly alone except for a few ships and fishing vessels, all easily monitored by eye and with the boat's radar.
This article originally appeared in the July 2007 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.