Clever Craft: Coastal Craft Combines Taste, Technology

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It’s a secret I’ve tried to keep from my editors, albeit unsuccessfully: I revel in the opportunity to visit boatbuilders and their shops, and I especially enjoy the process when it involves those who employ unique materials, processes, or skills.

Thus, when the opportunity arose to visit the folks at a small builder in British Columbia, one whose products I’d seen and, up to this point, admired primarily from afar, I leapt at the chance.

I’d spent about a half an hour aboard a Coastal Craft at the Seattle Boat Show a few years ago. Based on what I knew, or what I thought I knew, I had already formed the theme of this story even before I boarded the first flight for Vancouver: “Aluminum boatbuilding at its best, outstanding craftsmanship married to elegant design.” I wasn’t disappointed; Coastal Craft vessels are among the finest built and prettiest aluminum alloy vessels I’ve had the pleasure of spending time aboard and sea trialing. However, I was entirely unprepared for what awaited me inside the series of immaculate shop facilities, located in the quaint, waterfront town of Gibsons, British Columbia.

Technology—if ever there was a buzzword in the world of boatbuilding, surely this is it. It seemingly holds the answer to so many of our woes afloat, from navigation systems to bilge pumps, all can be technologically advanced and improved, at least when compared to paper charts and buckets, right?

Still, technology can be both friend and foe, depending upon how it’s installed by boatbuilders and yards, and used by vessel owners. Case in point, on my way to visit the folks at Coastal Craft, my over-the-road GPS took me through a residential neighborhood just south of the ferry terminal for which I was bound. It was lovely, scenic, and picturesque to be sure, and as an added bonus, I stopped to capture some images at what appeared to be a seldom-used rail crossing, as it wended its way into a mixture of vibrant fall foliage and ethereal mist.

On the downside, I was lost. As it happened, I had forgotten that I couldn’t find the exact address of the ferry several days earlier, so I entered one that was “nearby.” Once I realized what I’d done, I doubled back. As I did I drove under a huge sign directing me to the ferry, which I’d completely ignored, all in the name of blind trust in technology. Similar stories of errors made by both mariners and aviators are legion—some have lived to recognize their faults; others have not.

That ferry left without me. However, there was another, making my technology gaffe forgivable, and the delay gave me the opportunity to sample some wonderful seafood chowder at the Olive and Anchor café in Horseshoe Bay. Technology can, when properly and wisely employed, be a force for good in the world of boatbuilding.

When I finally arrived at the offices of Coastal Craft, my first stop was what I referred to as the firm’s “war room,” the place where I surmised that ideas were hatched, discussed, and critiqued, where new designs were planned and created, and systems specified and detailed. Meeting with the company proprietor and founder Jeff Rhodes, and his two technology specialists, Scott Tilley and Garry Mulligan, I was given a virtual run-through of the current vessel offerings and their systems: the 400 IPS, 450 IPS, 560 IPS, and the newest model, the 65 (all are powered by Volvo pod drives), hull number one of which was still under construction.

The demonstration used everything from hard copy drawings, sketchpads, and diagrams to LCD screens, iPads, and iPhones. I was soon taken aback by the realization that Coastal Craft’s vessels are among the most technologically complex I’d ever encountered—truly cutting edge—and I was just as quickly rethinking my theme for this story. It was no longer just about finely built alloy vessels.

COMPLEXITY AND CONTROL

I recently wrote a column entitled “When Comfortable Equals Complex,” in which I described the acceptable balance between intelligently designed, well-engineered, and properly built complex vessels, and the comfort and amenities they offer their owners. At that time I had no idea that such production vessels existed, however, I was now being indoctrinated in the details of precisely how this is done by those who were building them.

Coastal Crafts are equipped with the E-plex digital switching system (See Digital Switching: A High Bar) and a Faria Maestro computer and touch screen, which essentially provide a means of control for most of the vessel’s major and minor systems, from lighting and pumps to heat and air conditioning, via a permanent touch screen as well as wireless remotes.

Variations on the theme are nearly endless, with a combination of lights, dimming features, alarm parameters, on/off indicators, etc. It’s all very customizable. IPhones and iPads can be used to access and control the system while aboard. The system can also be accessed remotely, from anywhere in the world where Internet access is available, in theory, to both control any component within the E-plex system, and access onboard cameras and monitors for tankage, battery voltage, bilge pumps, smoke alarms, and more.

Because interconnectivity is important for this to work, the system also provides for such connections via the Maestro PC (a computer specifically designed for marine use), enabling the vessel owner to communicate with the Internet via cellular, wi-fi, or satellite connections. E-plex also provides a “watchdog” component for security monitoring using motion sensors, as well as hatch and door indicators. It even alerts you in the event the dinghy is untethered.

Onboard AC power is supplied via a variety of potential shorepower inputs—a 12kW generator or via two Victron Quatro 10kVA inverters. As one might expect, or hope, on an advanced vessel such as this, the application and integration of these systems is designed to be as seamless as possible, what Rhodes refers to as an integrated “Steve Jobs approach.” The vessel is capable of accepting a variety of shorepower inputs, from 15 amps at 120 volts, essentially a common extension cord, up through 50 amps at 240 volts. Incorporating, among other components, Charles Iso-Boost transformers, it is resistant to high and low input voltage; it can boost the latter, as well as correct reverse polarity.

The user simply plugs the vessel in using one or both of the 120- or 240-volt shore cords, both of which are on Glendinning cord reel systems, using whatever adapters are necessary, and the Coastal Craft designed power management system takes it from there. “The boat knows what to do,” says Scott Tilley, Coastal Craft’s electrical specialist and lead designer of the system.

‘SWISS ARMY’ SHOREPOWER

Tilley describes it as “the Swiss Army Knife” of shorepower systems. When anything less than 240-volt power is available, then the system simply sends all incoming voltage to battery chargers, which charge the lithium-ion house battery banks, which supply the inverters, which supply all of the vessel’s onboard loads.

The inverters are also capable of load sharing with the generator or shorepower system, to carry momentary spikes during motor or compressor startups or when dock power is insufficient. Again, the folks at Coastal Craft emphasize the seamlessness of this approach. They’ve spent nearly two years perfecting, monitoring, and analyzing these systems to make them as hands-off, user-transparent, and reliable as possible.

Despite the fact that digital switching systems, such as the E-plex, enable builders to significantly reduce the volume of wiring that is routed throughout a vessel (along with the associated weight, especially important on planing vessels such as Coastal Craft), complex vessels will simply be laced with wiring, albeit of a lesser gauge. This represents a challenge for any builder to accomplish this neatly and reliably while ensuring that wire routing avoids the potential for damage. On alloy vessels this is doubly important in that the entire hull and cabin structure are grounded and therefore presents a short circuit risk in the event a wire is crushed, or its insulation is cut or chafed through.

To avoid this scenario, Coastal Craft vessels are built with PVC wire ways installed throughout. While that in and of itself is not unique, the manner in which they are installed is—they include access “windows” cut into the tubing, providing ready access and ventilation for the wiring within. It’s a small detail, but one I, as a former marine electrician, could not help but notice and appreciate.

Because all Coastal Craft vessels rely on Volvo IPS drives, joystick controls are ubiquitous. Aboard the 560 IPS—the vessel I sea trialed during my visit—there are four joystick-equipped control stations, one on each side of the cockpit, one in the pilothouse, and another on the flybridge. A Volvo tilt helm is also employed in the latter two locations, along with full Volvo electronic engine instrumentation, which is also displayed on the Maestro helm screens.

Vessel trim is controlled via a set of Humphree Interceptor Trim Tabs. Ideally suited for high-speed craft, these differ from conventional aircraft flap-like tabs in several ways. Among others, their range of motion is very small. However, because they move vertically rather than diagonally they create more lift with less surface area. The Trim Tabs use an electric servo control, which enables them to actuate extremely quickly—a full stroke, just under two inches, in less than one second—which means in automatic mode they effectively maintain vessel trim. Perhaps most appealing in alloy construction, they are made primarily from composite materials, eliminating corrosion and dissimilar metal issues.

NIGHT VISION STANDARD

Floating debris, limbs, and especially “deadheads” or large logs, are an operational risk for any vessel plying the waters of British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest. Many commercial vessels in the region rely on strong, resilient alloy hulls to protect them from such hazards. Coastal Craft vessels have that and another defense mechanism, FLIR, an infrared night vision package that is standard for all models to help those at the helm spot floating debris, along with a full suite of Garmin navigation and communication electronics, including radar, plotter, AIS, autopilot, and VHF, all of which are standard equipment.

Energy management and efficiency is important where any cruising vessel is concerned. Toward achieving that end, Coastal Craft vessels are equipped throughout with LED lighting, nearly all of which is provided by industry leader IMTRA. Entertainment systems include Intellian satellite TV, Sirius satellite radio (and weather), a Bose Lifestyle V35 entertainment system located in the master stateroom saloon, cockpit, and flybridge, which also includes a Pioneer Blu-Ray disc player, iPod docking station, and three handheld remotes.

When I first stepped aboard the 560 IPS I was immediately taken with the warm, cozy, and inviting interior, literally. While I was fortunate to have a clear, sunny day for the sea trial, it was still November in B.C. and therefore chilly. Heat aboard Coastal Craft vessels is provided by a Kabola diesel hydronic heating system. However, this is no ordinary heating system. In keeping with the vessel’s high-tech nature, and quest for efficiency, it’s of the in-sole radiant variety, making it a pleasure to take one’s shoes off before entering the cabin. Because it’s interfaced with the E-plex/Maestro system, a user can turn the system on or raise the heat before leaving home, on his or her way to the marina.

The engine room, which is located under the cockpit, and machinery space, located under the saloon, both rely on a fully automatic, temperature- and pressure-sensitive Delta “T” ventilation system. A separate and proprietary Delta “T” head ventilation system is also employed in the accommodation spaces.

TECH OR NOT?

Is technology really the solution to all of our woes afloat? No, and in some cases, particularly when poorly applied, technology can be the source of far more trouble than it’s worth. Simply put, high tech isn’t necessarily the answer and it doesn’t work for every boat.

Still, this is the 21st century and I am a strong believer that some boatbuilders will benefit from delivering the type of technology-derived comfort and security to which boat owners/buyers have become accustomed in their homes and automobiles. Coastal Craft appears to have risen to that challenge. “We try not to do too much at once; we try to get it right, stable, and reliable first. We have no ego, and a thick skin,” Rhodes says.

I believe success is sometimes a result of not knowing it can’t be done. There are folks in this industry who simply set their mind to doing something. They surround themselves with the right people to help them do it, and then they succeed, and often make it look easy. In essence, that’s Coastal Craft’s M.O.

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