Mikelson M440 LRCBy Capt. Richard Thiel
What boater doesn't think he knows how to design a boat? You spend time operating and living with boats for a large part of your life, and you believe you've got insight. In fact, you're sure you know what makes a good boat. If only you could get someone to listen—or better yet, actually build your better boat.
Julio Dongo felt that way. A native of Peru, he'd owned a string of boats including three Sea Rays and a 55-foot Tollycraft, which he took from Miami, through the Panama Canal, and down the west coast of South America to Lima, a voyage of some 2,000 miles. When he and his new wife Claudia decided to move to Boca Raton, Florida, and do some serious Bahamas cruising a couple of years ago, he had specific ideas of what kind of boat he'd need. An engineer, Julio approached the task methodically. Besides attending boat shows and poring over brochures, he says he cut out dozens of PMY boat tests and placed them in a binder so he could compare speeds, ranges, and fuel efficiencies. All this research led him to a buy a Mikelson M43, even though she's widely considered a "West Coast" boat.
Julio and Claudia loved their 43, but no sooner had they put a few hours on her than they thought they could make her even better. They felt that just a few key changes would turn a fine 43-foot convertible into a legitimate long-range cruiser that would appeal to East Coasters. The Dongos ran their ideas past Dick Peterson and Pat Sullivan, the principals at Mikelson, and to their surprise, the guys were impressed. So impressed, in fact, that they tooled an entirely new deck mold, implemented the Dongos' other ideas, and created a new model and a new division to market it on the East Coast headed by the Dongos. And so was born the Mikelson M440 LRC (Long Range Cruiser).
The couple's criteria for their ideal boat probably sound familiar to a lot of voyagers: a cruising speed in the 20-knot range with plenty of reserve power, a 400-NM cruising range at reduced speed, excellent engine and system access, a lot of stowage, comfortable accommodations for two plus room for two guests, and a boat that can be handled easily by a couple.
The M43 already addressed some of these issues. Like the 440, her V-drive design places the engines under the cockpit, yielding a number of benefits. Having all that iron aft enhances on-plane performance, reduces interior sound levels, and allows superb engine access via twin electrically opening 5'6"Wx4'7"L hatches (or a 2'x2' day hatch). When open, they expose not only the engines and V-drives, but the aft genset and steering gear, too. There's stowage here as well, but the big bonus is that the space beneath the saloon—the engine room in most boats—is available for additonal stowage. (It's accessed from under the stairs that lead down from the saloon to the accommodations level.) There's only one minor drawback: high freeboard. Since there's 4'6" from the aft coaming to the water, you won't be doing much tag and release, unless you do so from the standard swim platform.
The 71?2-foot-long cockpit is a key component of the Dongos' cruising scenario, but they felt it could be better utilized—especially in the tropics—if it were covered. The LRC's extended bridge not only provides a fully shaded cockpit that can be enclosed for voyaging in cooler climates, but also adds five feet of deck abaft the bridge seating that can hold a tender, liferaft, and other gear.
Because the couple plans on cruising without crew, safe and quick access to all parts of the boat's exterior is also important to them. The M43 already provides fine foot-wide side decks, continuous handholds, a high, extended bowrail, aggressive nonskid, and a flat foredeck and house top to ensure easy line-handling. What it lacks, at least in the their view, is easy and safe passage between the bridge and cockpit in any weather. A bridge ladder, they reasoned, was fine if you weren't in a hurry or loaded up with gear in a seaway, but what short-handed cruisers needed was an enclosed, molded-in stairway. And that's what the LRC has: six wide, comfortable steps to the bridge. However, the landing on the bridge is open, unprotected, and pretty close to the passenger helm seat, making me worry about an inadvertent step into the void.
That helm seat and its companion are Stidds, solid, comfortable, and placed for good sightlines forward and to either side. Looking aft is problematic, so the couple either spots for each other or relies on the standard CCTV cockpit camera when docking. Also cruiser-friendly is the LRC's three-pod helm. Arrayed in a kind of semicircle, it's one of the best designs I've seen on any boat. Everything is right there at your fingertips.
On the LRC "everything" includes an impressive standard electronics package that the Dongos feel cruisers will appreciate. It encompasses a Furuno 1943 Navnet GPS/radar; Raymarine ST60 Tridata depth, speed, log, and temperature indicator; three Icom M602 VHFs (bridge, cockpit, and saloon); Robertson AP20 autopilot; and a serial port on the bridge for connecting a laptop to the navigation system. In addition, our test boat also featured an optional backup Northstar 957 GPS/WAAS chartplotter.
Also electronic are the standard Twin Disc EC200 engine controls and, on our test boat, the optional Cummins 480C-E diesels. Nonelectronic 370-hp Cummins 370Bs are standard, but Julio feels most owners will opt for the 480C-Es, especially when they see the kind of performance they produce. I measured 24.7 mph and a range of 406 miles at a fast cruise of 2250 rpm. (Julio later told me that after the test, Cummins found a bad injector in the port engine, which may have cost as much as three knots and substantially slowed acceleration times.)
Attribute such stellar performance partly to Tom Fexas' efficient hull design, which also provides a short turning radius, good acceleration, and a moderate running angle that shouldn't change much, since the single 600-gallon fuel tank is forward of the engines but aft of the saloon, where it has minimal effect on trim.
The Dongo's requirement of comfortable accommodations is nicely served by the M43's plan, so the LRC's is basically identical. The main deck includes a large port-side settee with adjustable table from which there's a good view of the standard 27-inch Sony Wega TV in the aft starboard corner. The cherry woodwork here and throughout the rest of the interior shows the deft touch Taiwanese craftsmen are famous for, especially in the roll-top desk forward and to starboard and custom doors for the eight-cubic-foot refrigerator in the U-shape galley to port. More beautiful joinery is below in the forepeak master stateroom, port-side guest stateroom with right-angle bunks, and starboard-side head, which has doors to both the master and hallway.
Julio and Claudia are pleased with their creation and excited about their new company, LRC East Coast Trading, which will market the LRC and other Mikelsons on the East Coast. But they're already planning how to make Hull No. 2 even better. She'll have a larger swim platform, which will be able to carry a PWC and will be a bit higher off the water, and a new rudder-quadrant configuration with dripless shaft seals. Meanwhile, they'll be cruising Hull No. 1 between boat shows. What better way to come up with more design ideas?
This article originally appeared in the November 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.