On a hot, steamy day in May 2014, my wife Sharon and I cautiously approached the public dock at Cayo Costa State Park in our chartered 42-foot Grand Banks trawler Buena Vista. The northeasterly winds were strong and worked hard at trying to push us into the dock. I positioned the boat so that the wind would do most of the work and alternated between forward and reverse on each of the two engines.
Inch by inch we crept closer to the dock until Sharon was able to step down onto the dock with one of the lines and temporarily secure the boat to a davit. I shut down the engines and joined Sharon on the dock to fully secure the boat. It was our first time docking with a twin-engine boat and, considering the strong wind conditions, it was surprisingly simple.
Four years earlier, in 2010, we had taken our initial training with Trawler School Charters out of Dania Beach, Florida. We were neophytes from the Canadian Midwest with zero experience in large boats and needed the training and experience before boat charter companies would allow us to take out one of their boats on our first cruising adventure.
Our training took place on a single-engine 40-foot trawler and took us down the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) into Biscayne Bay. There was something empowering about cruising past the skyscrapers of downtown Miami and the extensive dockyard where immense cruise ships embark for various Caribbean destinations.
The following year, in 2011, we set out on our first bareboat charter aboard a 32-foot single-engine Grand Banks trawler called Patience from Southwest Florida Yachtsout of North Fort Myers.
It was in Patience that we first visited Cayo Costa State Park and it quickly became our favorite spot during our cruises in the Pine Island Sound area. Accessible only by boat, it is a mostly undeveloped piece of paradise and is a reminder of what Florida used to be like before development. No cruise along the southwest Florida coastline should be complete without a stopover at beautiful Cayo Costa. Pelican Bay to the east offers an extensive protected anchorage with easy access to the Cayo Costa dock by dinghy.
When 2013 rolled around, we chartered the 34-foot single-engine Mainship, Quarter Moon (again from Southwest Florida Yachts). This time we ventured out of the protection of the ICW and cruised through the well-marked Boca Grande Pass into the Gulf of Mexico for a short while before returning to the ICW and heading north through Gasparilla Sound and Placida Harbor into scenic Lemon Bay and eventually anchoring at Englewood Beach.
This past May, we became more daring as our experience aboard boats grew. Sharon and I travelled 35 miles in the Gulf between Boca Grande Pass and Venice Inlet and then headed south on the ICW to Englewood Beach. During our 6-day charter, we docked five times including the fuel dock at Tarpon Point Marina in Cape Coral where Southwest Florida Yachts is now based. Having the two engines enabled me to have a lot more control of the boat and a lot less anxiety during docking.
Before our last charter, I had read about the superior handling of twin-engine trawlers compared to their single-engine cousins and that was one of the reasons we decided to charter Buena Vista. My only concern was that having the two engines would substantially increase our fuel bill. But I was in for a pleasant surprise.
In 2013, we cruised approximately 157 miles in Quarter Moon, equipped with a single 315-hp Yanmar diesel engine, and consumed 122 gallons of gas (1.29 miles/gallon). By comparison, in 2014, we covered about 129 miles in Buena Vista, equipped with two 135-hp Ford Lehman diesel engines, and only consumed 82 gallons of gas (1.57 miles/gallon). Our average cruising speed was roughly the same during both charters (7 to 7.5 knots).
As we look ahead to purchasing our own boat, we now know that we will be looking for a twin-engine trawler. And as we travel around the Caribbean, we will have greater peace of mind knowing that we have a second engine just in case!