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Boats

The Betty Jane and the Tin Mullet

One of my boating buddies made a remark the other day that had a strange but true ring to it. "Bill," he said, "it seems like there's some kind of theme runnin' through your life these days—you got a boat that's an awful lot like your car." We'd been riding around for much of the morning in my silver Toyota Prius, affectionately known as the Tin Mullet, and now we were riding around in my freshly varnished Grand Banks 32 Sedan, affectionately known as the Betty Janet. "Huh, you might actually have a point there," I replied after thinking the comment over for a few seconds. My thoughts played out against the guttural thrum of a 135-hp Super Lehman diesel, an engine that, due primarily to its guttural thrum, reminds me of the old, gray-and-red Ford tractors I used to drive on farms when I was a kid up in northern New York State.

Of course, a Lehman-powered trawler should not even be mentioned in the same sentence as a Prius with a Hybrid Synergy Drive. The former represents old, precomputer-age technology—so old, in fact, that just about anybody with half a brain and a set of good socket wrenches can diagnose a relatively minor defugalty and fix it on the spot. And the latter represents 21st century technology that includes a whole host of computer modules, a high-falutin' Nickel-Metal Hydride battery pack, an inverter, and a seriously sophisticated interface between an electronically controlled internal-combustion engine and two reversible electric motor/generators. I mean, unless you're a trained Toyota technician with a laptop and a post-doctoral degree in mechanical engineering or an owner who's intent on nothing more than checking the levels of the vital fluids onboard, there's virtually no point in lifting the hood on a Prius.

But there is indeed one, fundamental juncture where the two forms of propulsion converge: operating efficiency. I know. I've read news reports about the Prius not delivering on its advertised miles-per-gallon numbers. These reports are Detroit-manufactured baloney, as far as I'm concerned. Having divided odometer readouts by dashboard-gauge-measured fuel-consumption numbers on my own vehicle, I calculate approximately 50 mpg for city driving, maybe slightly less on the highway. Economical? You betcha, at least by comparison with a whole slew of other vehicles currently out there.

The story's much the same for my trawler. According to the official fuel curves for the 135-hp Super Lehman, the robust little engine should burn slightly less than 2 gph at 1750 rpm, which is where I normally set my throttle to obtain a travelin' speed of 7 knots. Real-world performance tends to be even more impressive, if my experience serves. Based on calculations derived from many hundreds of miles cruising the Betty Janet, I'd say her Super Lehman consumes only slightly more than 1 gph to achieve a 7-knot cruising speed and an operating efficiency of approximately 8.1 mpg. Not even close to the Prius' economy, perhaps. But, like the Prius, exceptional by comparison with a whole slew of other vessels currently out there.

But here's the thing. Not only did my buddy's remark clue me into the rather obvious (at least when I stopped to think about it) similarity between my Toyota Prius and the Betty Janet, it also brought into focus some rather unusual goings-on I've noticed at my marina.

Three years ago, shortly after Betty first took up residence at the marina she now calls home, both my wife and I picked up on a laughable (at least to her, a BMW M Roadster driver) incongruity. The owners' parking lot at the time was ruled by big, brand-new pickup trucks and SUVs, with a few high-end sports cars thrown in. Moreover, all these vehicles were marshalled just abaft the transoms of a long, phalanx of sportfishing vessels that were uniformly huge, bristling, and gorgeously outfitted.

"Look," my wife said one morning. She was grinning and shaking her head at the Tin Mullet, humbly (and I do mean humbly) ensconced in a midphalanx parking spot: one lone Prius hunkered amid a vast array of Ford F-450 Super Dutys, Dodge Ram 3500s, Hummer H2s, Cadillac Escalades, and Porsche Caymans. "I'm tellin' you, Bill," she laughed, "you're either way ahead of your time or you're just plain out of it."

Well guess what! More than a month ago, long before my buddy (who's a trenchant observer of the marine scene, by the way) brought up the single most compelling similarity between my trawler and my Prius, I counted not one, not two, not three, but four Priuses (Prii?) in the owners' parking lot at the marina. Sprinkled in amongst the honkers and the screamers. Like wheat amongst the chaff!

The second bit of unusualness surfaced just after that. Not far from the slip wherein the Betty Janet dwells, there's a motoryacht that measures approximately 70 feet from swim platform to bow pulpit. She's a beaut, alright, and I've often admired her. So when her owner strolled by for a little talk on Sunday morning, I was all ears. "So what'll your boat do for speed, Bill?" he asked after we'd dispensed with the pleasantries. Once I'd told him (and he didn't seem that nonplussed at the turtle-slow nature of Betty's reported top end), he hit me rapid-fire with another, rather surprising question. "And about how much fuel do you burn at that speed...17 or 18 gph?"

When I forked over the news that 1 gph was more like it, the guy looked me in the eye for a moment, lower lip a-tremble, then staggered back like he'd just been bushwacked by Liberty Valance. "Holy cripes, Bill," he exclaimed, "I gotta get me one o' these things. I mean, really!"

I'm not sure, but I think he continued to mutter to himself all the way back to his boat.

This article originally appeared in the October 2008 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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