I thought we were flying.
The bottom of the boat was firmly and properly in contact with the sea, but as I swung the wheel a notch to starboard, she banked a couple of degrees and soared through the turn. We were going fast-just about 30 knots-but not fast enough to fly.
It just felt like it.
The boat was a Coastal Craft 420, an aluminum yacht so well finished she has no outward sign of being a metal boat. We were zooming out of Howe Sound, just north of Vancouver, in search of choppy water in Georgia Strait.
I had motored through this area on my boat several years ago and knew the channel shoaled between the mainland and Keats Island, but Jeff Rhodes, president of the company that designed and built the 42-footer we were testing, said the tide was high and we were good to go.
And go we did, testing Rhodes' belief that the yacht performs as well at 7 knots as at 30. She does, but one should not drive a boat at displacement speeds after winging across the water like a gull seeking insects for dinner.
At 7 knots there was no sense of movement, and the muffled hum of the engines aft was so faint as not to exist.
With a slight nudge on the throttle, the boat began to plane at about 12 knots. Another push and suddenly she was tearing along at 25. The shoreline, known to all as the Sunshine Coast, was a green blur beyond the sea.
Aluminum pleasure boats are common in the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia, and they are rugged and durable craft. Usually built by commercial yards, they may resemble fishing and work boats launched from those yards. The Coastal Craft 420 is a yacht and looks like one, with a sweetly curving sheer, a comfortable flybridge, and a covered cockpit. Her helm station windscreen has a slight reverse rake (a hint of a workboat heritage), and rows of large windows open the saloon to a 360-degree view.
Unseen from a glimpse of her profile, however, are the technical innovation found in this and other Coastal Craft boats and the dedication to quality shown by the people who build them. Rhodes and his crew have blended the unquestioned strength and durability offered by aluminum when handled properly with yacht styling, construction, and finish equal to the finest on the market.
Coastal Craft yachts (30, 34, 37, 40, and 42 feet in length) are built in Gibsons, British Columbia, on Canada's Highway 101. The only way there is by sea, either aboard your own boat or on one of the B.C. ferries that link Gibsons with West Vancouver. (It's a nice voyage lasting about 40 minutes. Round-trip fare for car and driver: $46.35.) The highway leads north to another ferry crossing and finally, after about 70 miles, to a dead end at Lund, a crowded but accommodating marina and budding destination resort community favored by summer cruisers bound for Desolation Sound and other popular Canadian waters. Gibsons is at the beginning of remote British Columbia.
Pacific Northwest boaters know and enjoy Gibsons for Gibsons Landing, a waterfront district with transient moorage, gift shops, restaurants, antiques stores, and the like. The main part of town lies up School Road, a street so steep (a 21 percent grade) that trucks are banned. Most boaters, their legs trembling after one look, don't climb the mountain to the shopping malls found on top.
The Coastal Craft plant stands at the crest of the hill and, yes, there is another, less steep route between the waterfront and the town's business community.
Usually, boaters can count on finding chop and swells in Georgia Strait, often more than they want to see. But in my time aboard Rainy Nights, a recent Coastal Craft launch, we encountered only small swells and our own wake. The wake was more impressive than the swells, but not a challenge for the smoothrunning yacht.
It was a pleasant spring day after a wet and cold winter, and the idea of heading west to my favorite anchorages in the Gulf Islands across the strait or north toward almost unlimited boating destinations was tempting. But this was a business day, so Rhodes and I cruised in the strait a bit longer and then took Rainy Nights home
After eight years working as a tugboat skipper in British Columbia waters and additional years of commercial fishing and operating a marine service business, Rhodes began building boats in Gibsons in 1996. The company has delivered more than 80 pleasure and commercial craft (including small passenger vessels). Rhodes developed the design concept, and Bruce Cope, a designer, provided the detail work.
Coastal Craft normally has four boats under construction at a time, with a crew of about 40 employees. Rhodes and I walked through one fabrication building where a 420 was nearing completion and a 370, metal fabrication finished, was being readied for painting. Coastal Craft is a semi-custom builder and, while its boats share a common hull styling, interiors and final finish will vary.
The yard builds nearly every component on the boats it produces, including helm chairs and cabinetry, and it has its own upholstery and canvas shops. A few parts, such as stainless steel bow railings and aluminum mooring cleats (which carry the Coastal Craft name), are fabricated elsewhere.
Coastal Craft uses marine-grade 5086 aluminum plate: 5/16 inch for bottom, transom, and chines and 3/16 inch for side plates. Longitudinal and transverse framing is 5/16-inch and 3/8-inch aluminum; decks, deckhouse, and flybridge are 5/32 inch and 3/16 inch. All are joined using pulsed MIG (metal inert gas) welding.
Fuel tanks are aluminum, water tanks are stainless steel, and wastewater flows to a plastic tank. Windows and doors are by Diamond/Sea-Glaze, also a British Columbia industry.
Aluminum plate is computer cut by Specialty Metals of Kent, Washington, using water jets. Each piece is labeled with a part number and name. Plates are given etched alignment marks and forming lines to assure proper placement. Assembly of computer-cut panels and frames is swift and speeds the boat toward fairing, priming, and painting. Still, boatbuilding does take time, about six months from start to launch for a Coastal Craft yacht.
Rhodes said 7,000 hours of labor go into a 37. That includes 1,800 hours for aluminum fabrication and 1,300 hours of prepping and painting the boat. The remaining time is devoted to woodworking and interior finish.
A critical issue for aluminum craft is exterior paint. It takes special effort to make it stick well, and if it doesn't, intruding water can cause damage.
Rhodes said Coastal Craft assures a long life for its paint by carefully following procedures recommended by Awlgrip, from initial grinding through the final coats. During my visit, a two-year-old Coastal Craft 30- footer was in the factory yard for routine maintenance, and her dark blue hull still was flawless.
Careful preparation of the hull is most important, Rhodes added, to provide the proper mechanical and chemical bond for the first coat of epoxy primer paint.
Parts made from dissimilar metals (such as stainless steel rails and aluminum decking) are isolated to prevent corrosion that can lead to paint failure. In addition, the company emphasizes that owners must provide proper care for painted surfaces, particularly in critical areas.
Work crews were busy doing finish work on the 42. Painted surfaces were covered with protective sheeting to eliminate any chance of scuffing or scratching. The boat would be in the owner's hands in a few days.
Other than size, the major difference between the 37 and the 42 on the assembly plant floor is in the propulsion system. While both are fitted with two Volvo D6 diesel engines, the 42 has standard Volvo outdrives, and the 37 is equipped with Volvo IPS (inboard performance system) drives whose propellers face forward. The company launched its first IPS-equipped boat, a 420, in the fall of 2007.
The engines and IPS drives had not been installed when I stepped cautiously down into the 370's engine room. I was amazed at the size of the holes built into the bottom of the boat for the drive units. I was impressed, as well, by the presence of a company quality-control inspector conducting a final check before the boat moved to the paint shop.
To protect the forward-facing IPS drives from debris in the water (a common risk in the Pacific Northwest, where flooding streams carry trees to sea), Coastal Craft installs a welded, 12-inch, log-deflecting skeg ahead of the propellers. Based on a successful diverting device used on standard outdrives, it pushes debris deep into the water, forcing it below the props, Rhodes explained.
"Debris is a concern here, but I think we've addressed that with the skeg," he said.
In the bare and incomplete 37, the construction details were vivid. Each boat has three watertight bulkheads, and penetrations for wiring and piping are via welded conduits.
Putting the engines in the lazarette, far aft of the helm, distances the crew from the noise of the drive machinery. But Coastal Craft also quiets boats significantly with Soundown insulation in the hull, deck, and house and with anti-vibration tiles, polyurethane foam, and fiberglass batts. The effectiveness of these measures was obvious when we powered Rainy Nights up to 32 knots and a sound level meter registered 73dBA at the helm. At a more normal cruise speed of 25 knots, the meter indicated 69/70 A-scale decibels, and at a sedate 7 knots it reported only 62dBA. There is no need to shout on this boat.
Framing for interior cabinets, berths, and the helm area is aluminum, precisely cut and fitted to provide strength and a solid base for the finely finished surfaces, including cherry veneer over foam coring and solid woods.
The 420 and 370 may be built with one or two staterooms. Rhodes said the double is the most popular because it provides room for overnight guests and more storage space.
READY TO GO
Many builders deliver new boats that aren't ready to go to sea. Weeks, usually months, of commissioning work follow.
Coastal Craft boats are ready to go when they're launched. The stuff of usual commissioning is installed at the factory: heating systems, electronic navigation gear, watermakers, dinghy hoists, fuel polishing equipment. When owners step aboard they'll find dishware and cutlery in the galley, bedding in the staterooms, a dinghy on the flybridge, a liferaft, and fuel in the tanks.
Everything but groceries-I asked.
"We give a basket with a bottle of wine," Rhodes said. "After that, they have to get their own."
We drove from the Coastal Craft plant to a Gibsons Landing moorage to check out Rainy Nights. As we approached, her dark blue hull glistened in the light sun of spring. Her aluminum surfaces were extraordinarily smooth, with no evidence of welds or joints beneath the paint. The average dock walker would look closely and decide she was fiberglass. (Only a peek below decks reveals that Coastal Craft are metal boats.)
On the 420, a 42-inch-deep boarding platform serves as a back porch, with extensions of the hull sides reaching onto the platform. Stainless steel grabrails (all 1-1/4 inches) abound for easy support stepping from a float or a dinghy. The shorepower receptacle is mounted just above one vertical grabrail on the starboard side, and I could envision someone trying to use it for support while stepping aboard from a moorage float.
A transom gate, slightly off center, opens to the cockpit. To port is a lounge seat and to starboard is a storage locker. A stairway (not a ladder!) leads to the flybridge. One of the boat's three steering stations is on the saloon bulkhead, with full controls for engine, gears, and thrusters. One of the neatest things is a stainless steel Edson steering wheel, with a big suicide knob (a.k.a. knuckle buster). Knobs were popular for easy onehanded driving when I was in high school, but Rhodes says the Edson knob is helpful for backing into a moorage when quick course changes may be necessary
.A hardtop cover extends slightly beyond the transom. This may force a fisherman to think twice about how he hauls back to set a hook, because the pole may collide with the hard top. But its benefit of protection from sunny or wet weather is what counts most.
A sophisticated drainage system collects rain flowing from the upper deck and the boat's main decks and directs it into a collector that sends it overboard.
I also noted in the cockpit: a U-Line ice maker, waterproof speakers for the Bose sound system, a handheld hot and cold shower, and a washdown with fresh and raw water for boat cleanup.
Two steps on each side of the cockpit lead to 17-inchwide side decks that run all the way forward. Thirtyinch- tall stainless handrails and stainless grabrails on the side of the deckhouse should make passage safe in any weather. Sand-colored nonskid paint from Awlgrip coats the side decks and foredeck.
Unseen beneath the boarding platform is an accessory that may never be used. It's a reboarding ladder, in case someone falls into the water and must get back aboard with little or no assistance. Manufactured by Garelick, the ladder slides out of a tube fixed to the bottom of the platform. Steps fold out as the ladder exits the tube.
The ladder was installed as the result of a recent recommendation by the American Boat & Yacht Council calling for a reboarding system on new boats. The voluntary standard says a person in the water should be able to reach and deploy a reboarding device without assistance. Obviously, if the ladder on the 420 is to be successfully used, the person in the water must not be hypothermic and has to have the strength to use the steps. At the least, it gives a person struggling in the water something to hold while help comes.
Something I didn't see: saloons on Coastal Craft are ventilated automatically and continuously by a pair of Vetus solar-powered vents, and they are quiet. I didn't hear or notice them until Rhodes told me they were there.
THE INSIDE STORY The pair of D6-370hp dual prop Volvos sits below the cockpit deck. A hatch opens on struts to reveal the forward two-thirds of the engines, the fuel polishing system, and a fire extinguisher. There is sufficient space for routine service and maintenance.
The disconnect switches for the three Meridian AGM Group 31 starting batteries are in the engine compartment. Although the ABYC does not specifically prohibit placing disconnect switches in the engine room, we at PMM believe it is safer to install them elsewhere so that they can be more easily reached in the event of an engine room fire.
Rhodes and I agreed to disagree on this matter. "I can see pros and cons to the location of the disconnect switches," he said in an email message. "At this time, I do not see any overwhelming evidence that would lead me to believe that relocating switches outside the engine compartment would provide any additional safety."
In a positive effort to improve safety, Coastal Craft installed fuel system valves outside the engine room. They are readily accessible in a belowdecks area forward of the engine room, adjoining the fuel tank. Flexible fuel lines, rated USCG A1, are used. Every valve is labeled as to its purpose: fuel delivery to engines, generator and furnace, and returns. The copper-based fuel barbs are separated from the aluminum tank by stainless steel fittings.
Coastal Craft puts major effort into fire suppression in the engine room. A heat sensor flashes an alarm to the helm if the temperature reaches 135°F in the engine compartment. The operator then may shut down the engines, investigate, and take action. Should that sensor fail to note the first stages of overheating, a Fireboy engine compartment fire suppression system automatically will take over when the temperature reaches 175°, stopping the engines, closing ventilators, and discharging chemical extinguishing agents.
Judging by the care and skill devoted to designing and producing the engine room, I would judge that fire is the one trouble least likely to occur, assuming that owners follow good operating and maintenance habits.
Rhodes said Coastal Craft's intent is to meet ABYC yachting standards. ABYC's list is an exacting one developed to assure safe and seaworthy boats, and Rhodes and his company seem to be on track toward full compliance.
This is a sedan-style boat, so the living space, galley, dining area, and helm are on the same level. It will compete with popular raised-pilothouse boats, in which the helm is forward and a few steps above the living areas.
Opening the door on the 420 creates a much larger space for socializing and easy moving by linking the cockpit and saloon on the same level.
Step inside the deckhouse door and the day/guest head is to starboard. In the twostateroom version, the guest sleeping area is to port and down a couple of steps. It has a queen berth and teak-and-holly flooring (as do other areas of the boat), a port for light and ventilation, dimmable recessed overhead lights and halogen reading lights, a hanging locker, a bookshelf, and a 15-inch TV.
The second (or guest) stateroom design creates an intriguing challenge in the saloon: a large, open, flat surface just aft of the settee. In effect, it is the roof over the stateroom. What does one do with that space?
Rhodes said some buyers display decorative items here (probably held in place with something like museum putty), while others create bookshelves. One smart buyer had the builder create a covered storage space for paper charts. The top surface could be used for plotting routes on a chart, with some kind of cover to protect the furniture-quality maple surface from sharp pencils and dividers.
The settee will accommodate four, and possibly a couple more, for a meal. Coastal Craft chose a new Ultraleather textured upholstery fabric for the settee. The table has a maple surface and cherry trim.
The galley is to starboard. Countertops are Avonite or Corian, and the cabinets are cherry. On Rainy Nights, the black countertop contrasted pleasantly with the rich tones of the lightly finished cherry wood.
Appliances include a Nova Kool refrigerator-freezer, a Force 10 propane three-burner cooktop and oven, and a convection microwave. Accessories include crockery and cutlery for six. Look farther and you'll find a compact washer/dryer, a built-in vacuum system, a 400-gallonper- day watermaker, and a satellite TV antenna.
Four Meridian 8D AGM batteries and a 3kW inverter support the boat's AC load.
The saloon has an elaborate entertainment center, including a Bose Lifestyle system with five interior speakers and a 26-inch LCD TV. Low-level LED lights illuminate cabinets and cabinet kick spaces. Overhead LED fixtures have brushed stainless trim.
Rainy Nights does not have a grabrail along the centerline of the saloon overhead. I think one is needed for safe movement in rolling seas. Rhodes said buyers make the decision on whether to install an overhead rail; the vote is about 50-50, he added.
The saloon seemed unusually wide, particularly with 17-inch-wide side decks. Then I checked the specifications: she has a beam of 15 feet 3 inches. That's why there's plenty of room for owners and guests to mingle comfortably.
The helm, with a single seat, is forward and to starboard. A seat for two observers is on the port side. Rainy Nights was fitted with a Raymarine navigation package and a Big Bay 15-inch PC loaded with Nobeltec navigation software, but the most interesting tech device was the E-Plex system for monitoring and controlling almost everything aboard the boat. Using a touch screen, Rhodes called up a page that managed lights throughout the vessel. One tap and the saloon overhead lights were on; a very savvy piece of technology.
On another page, he tapped a "nav," and all systems were set up for starting and getting under way. A few more finger taps will allow management and surveillance of the AC/DC systems, start the generator, and manage the heating or air conditioning equipment. E-Plex can be programmed for specific needs; Coastal Craft developed the software in use on E-Plex in its boats.
We dropped into the open space beneath the saloon deck and found on a bulkhead an array of modules, the devices that do the work for E-Plex.
I looked aft across the top of the fuel tank. On the opposite end of the tank were fuel manifolds and filters, so we found our way there via another hatch and took a look. Coastal Craft made the fuel tank and, as required, added a label showing the date and place of manufacture and that it had been pressure tested.
The filters and manifold serve the Kabola furnace and Northern Lights generator. They were properly plumbed and identified, but the filter bodies do not comply with the U.S. Coast Guard and ABYC standard for fire resistance. (Filters in the engine room meet the standard.) Although retrofit kits are available, Rhodes said the company would switch to fully compliant filters on new boats and would install them on earlier boats as they come to the yard for service.
MORE, MORE, MORE The helm has another Edson steering wheel. The face is smoothly finished wood, but the back side has a soft, rubbery coating with finger grips. Very nice.
There is no door to the side deck at the helm, but that's not a major problem because of the full set of controls in the cockpit. Shoot your landing or aim at a mooring from the cockpit, not the helm in the saloon, and be available quickly if help is needed with lines.
Three steps down from the saloon lead to the master stateroom and split head (shower on one side and toilet and washbasin on the other). The stateroom has two hanging lockers and more storage beneath the queen berth and in cabinets alongside. Another TV set drops down from a hiding place in a cabinet.
Back in the cockpit, it's an easy trip to the flybridge via the ship's stairway, which opens on the bridge near the dinghy storage area. A dinghy hoist is opposite, and the radar mast and its hinged mast for the boat's antenna farm slope aft from amidships. The strength of two men is needed to lay the mast down, but an electric-hydraulic system is available.
Forward is the 420's "summer kitchen," as Rhodes describes it, including a sink with hot and cold water, a barbecue, and a refrigerator.
Three helm seats face the steering station and curving windscreen. ("We manufacture them," Rhodes reminded me.) The seats rest on a double pad welded to the deck; no screws penetrate the deck to create a pathway for leaks.
There's another handsome Edson steering wheel up here, too. This one is stainless steel with rubber backing, and it folds forward so the helmsperson can leave quickly and easily to help moor the boat.
While the view from the saloon helm is excellent, it is at its best from the flybridge steering station. With seats for guests, a refrigerator for beverages, and a place to cook a burger, what more could anyone want? (Besides the right weather, of course.)
THE FINAL WORD
The builder has launched eight 420s. They are wellbuilt yachts that reflect imagination and dedication to detail and should prove to be seaworthy and exciting cruisers. Their design bristles with good ideas.
Rhodes said many of the concepts incorporated in his boats come from buyers, "but we like to think we can work outside the box, too.
"The learning curve over four years has been very steep," he added. "There have been lots of new ideas."
The fully equipped 420 sells for $1 million. Add IPS and the cost goes to $1.1 million.
The urban myth of the boating world is that anyone who can pay $1 million or more for a boat doesn't worry about the cost of fuel. That may be true for some, but most of us do care about the price at the pump.
So, for the record, here's how the 420 drinks diesel. By Coastal Craft accounting, the boat averages about 3 nautical miles per gallon at 7-8 knots. At 25 knots, the expected cruising speed, she burns a gallon per mile, on average. With 400 gallons of fuel aboard, she has a range of about 360 miles (assuming a 10 percent reserve) at cruising speed.
Sales are from the factory-Coastal Craft has no dealers-and Rhodes said most buyers, who are about evenly divided between the United States and Canada, make the trek to Gibsons half a dozen times during construction.
"That's part of the attraction," he said. "It's nice for people to come to Gibsons to see what we do."