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Skinning A Cat

Ever since I can remember, boats have fascinated me. During World War II, I visited my godfather at his summer house on Fire Island, N.Y. Even during the war, a few people were still sailing. At the age of four I was down on the dock mooching rides. In my family, only my brother and I cared about boats so we had to make do as best we could...and we did. Over the years we went to sailing camps, joined the sailing team and signed on as crew for races with friends whenever we could.

After college and military service, I joined the Foreign Service. I met and married my wife, Margarita, while serving in Colombia. Together we came to know the language, geography and people of many countries.

Every three or four years, of course, orders came from Washington transferring us to still another country. While we lived like gypsies, we loved our life. When we were occasionally assigned to Washington, D.C., rearing and educating five children left precious little opportunity to get to know our own country. Even so we always managed to have a sailboat, around.

And all during this time an idea was forming in our heads about getting to know our own country by sailing the inland waterways, rivers and canals of North America.

The Dream Takes Shape

Retirement from the Foreign Service led to work in the private sector, again overseas. Eventually it led us to find our home in Florida and another sailboat, this time an F-27, our first multihull. Daddy LongLegs was a fabulous boat. Fast, tough, a thrill a minute, she was very safe, but had very little in the way of creature comforts.

As the years went by we realized that we had better get on with the exploration of North America before we became too old to undertake such a journey. So we started looking at trawlers.

We looked at a bunch of them over a period of five years. We needed a boat that was comfortable, relatively economical to operate, something the two of us could handle easily.

We wanted full-time protection from Florida's sun, in a boat that could deal successfully with the shallow water on Florida's west coast- where, in the winter, the north winds tend to blow all the water out of the bays and harbors.

The boat had to have enough interior room so that the two of us could live aboard for several months at a time, without either of us contemplating divorce or homicide.

We kept looking for trawlers. We saw several that were very tempting, but we never took the bait. The boat would be too big, had too much draft, the interior layout would not do for some reason, it needed too much work, or it didn't have the gear we wanted. There was always a reason to keep looking.

Chartering Brings Focus

We chartered to get an idea of what trawlers were like. We found several things that we liked and disliked. The dislikes were:

Galley down. The ones we saw made Margarita claustrophobic.

Flying Bridges. I felt isolated. On a couple of occasions when we chartered we were frightened climbing up or down the flying bridge in rough seas, or when going through wakes left by other powerboats. Two steering stations seemed like unnecessary complication.

Traditional trawler layouts. The forward cabin became no man's land. Most of our friends use it for storage or a computer room.

Cramped engine rooms. When you are 6' 3" tall, cramped spaces lose their charm.

Teak decks. They are beautiful, but do not work in Florida because the sun shortly turns them to punk.

Those were our dislikes. But we were equally able to list the positive things we liked about trawlers:

The predictability. We could estimate to within minutes when we would arrive at a buoy or destination.

Their sea keeping ability. No more reefing and steady, flat decks were refreshing changes.

Lots of electricity. Trawlers have refrigerators that produce ice, also microwaves, toasters, automatic coffeemakers, completely new marine luxuries for us.

Generators. These gizmos mean air conditioning, washers/dryers, and unlimited hot water, even when you anchor out.

Relatively low fuel consumption. We would not have to sell any children into slavery to run such a vessel.

While my wife loves any excuse to travel, she found that my quest for a trawler was becoming a little bit tedious. After all, marinas and boat yards have a certain similarity about them. By the time you visit number 43, the thrill is gone.

So one day she said to me in wifely fashion, "You are going about this trawler search backwards. You already know after owning Daddy LongLegs that a multihull can be more stable and provide larger living accommodations.

"Surely, somebody out there is making a multihull trawler."

I replied, "Somebody might be making just such a boat, but I certainly have never heard of one." So, we decided to call the cruising magazines. Surely, if such a thing existed they would be the first to know.

Let's Find A Multihull Trawler!

The more I thought about this option the more sense it made. Our experience with multihulls had shown them to be a superior hull form for coastal and inland water cruising. In PMM I read several articles about stabilizing trawlers. I found the ingenuity that went into trying to make round-bottomed boats run flat intriguing. I read about lots of great engineering and the expenditure of tens of thousands of dollars.

The answer, it seemed, was to have two hulls for stability, a wide interior with a good layout, and no flying bridge.

We did not yet know where to start.

I cranked up my computer and went surfing on the net. At about the same time, one of our boating magazines came in. In both we found information on the Endeavour Catamaran in Clearwater, Fla. This company was introducing a 36-foot "Trawlercat."

I called Endeavour and asked for literature, which was promptly sent. My wife and I absorbed it. We made an appointment to see Hull #1 which was residing at the Vinoy Hotel Marina in St. Petersburg, Fla.

We asked one of our neighbors, who is an engineer and lifelong owner of motorboats, to go with us-because the simple truth was that we were sailors. We did not know anything about motor-powered vessels.

Upon arriving at the marina we met Endeavour's genial president, Bob Vincent. And then, when we saw the boat, we did what everybody else does when they see it for the first time. We looked under the bow to make sure it really had two hulls.

It was then that we discovered, much to our surprise, a demi-hull in the center.

"Is this a cat and a half?" we asked Bob. He explained that the demi-hull prevented the bow from immersing too deeply in waves.

When we walked onto the boat and went through the companionway, we could not believe this was only a 36-foot boat!

Bob explained that the Trawlercat had evolved from Endeavour's sailing catamaran line. We just could not believe the room, the open, airy and uncluttered layout. I could stand up straight without cracking my head.

With her wide beam, the cat had a huge cockpit covered with a hard top, yet the sides were canvas with screened, clear inserts that could be rolled up to let in fresh air. The boat had one steering station where the helmsman could see all the corners of the boat.

The galley was to one side but very much a part of the whole saloon with a porthole above the sink. The cabin bunks were huge, with a total of three queen-sized beds, all long enough so that my feet did not stick out from one end.

The Trawlercat had a propane stove with oven so that we would not have to run a generator to cook at anchor. The refrigerator-freezer ran on DC electricity. It also had a Cruisair air conditioning and heating unit, and space for a washer-dryer if we wanted to forego the optional second head, which we did.

The cat had a generator to run everything at anchor, if so desired.

There was a dedicated, full-sized shower stall, and room for a Village Marine "Little Wonder" water maker so we would not have to worry about water in remote places like the Bahamas or Dry Tortugas.

Our neighbor pronounced the boat, "Great!" His endorsement meant a lot to a pair of rookie trawler sailors.

Matching The Boat To Our Plans

We went home to think about this very attractive boat. First, we had to think about what we were, and were not, going to do with this boat. We planned to go up and down the Intracoastal Waterway, run the canals and rivers in the U.S. and Canada, and make the occasional trip to the Bahamas and Dry Tortugas.

We were not going to make long offshore passages where we would be at sea for days and weeks at a time. At sea the shipboard routine is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week until the vessel reaches her destination. We'd already done that in sailboats and gotten it out of our systems. We wanted a good inshore boat. She had to be able to take a sea, but not necessarily be able to stay at sea. She had to be able to stay out, but not necessarily offshore.

Therefore, shallow draft enjoyed a higher priority than huge water tanks. With a draft of only 34 inches, she would be right at home on Florida's west coast.

Next, the boat had to be a good platform for our grandchildren, now numbering five and increasing. My wife takes her grandmothering responsibilities very seriously. This cat has a huge foredeck for them to play on, yet it also has areas where we could keep the smaller ones fenced in. And there's ample space for a TV/VCR so they can look at their videotapes.

Endeavor's Trawlercat has davits so she could easily carry a sailing dinghy. (One of my duties as a grandfather is to teach the grandchildren how to sail.)

The boat also had to have comfortable quarters for our children and their children to spend the occasional night or two aboard, although we weren't contemplating other guests on board for extended periods. We remembered Ernest Gann's words to the effect that his boat parties 20, feeds six and sleeps two. The boat passed the grandparents' test with flying colors.

A Good Liveaboard?

The thought process continued. The next question was whether we could first live aboard for extended periods and whether we could operate the boat with confidence.

With 15 feet of beam and an essentially square shape, the boat has a lot of interior volume for her length. She felt a lot less cramped than many boats even 10 feet longer. She had lots of storage space with a huge lazarette, two huge hatches forward, three hanging lockers, drawers everywhere, plus the galley-area cabinets and two pantries-plus a small appliance garage.

She came with a fairly large Nova Kool DC refrigerator-freezer, so we could keep perishables, make ice, and yet not require running the generator all the time as we'd seen on other boats.

There were also five Bowmar opening hatches and eight opening port lights. She got high marks for comfort.

Sea Trials

We arranged with Bob Vincent to have sea trials on Hull #1. I hoped for a day with 15 knots of wind to see how the boat handled waves. The day was flat calm, so I had to be content with motorboat wakes. She seemed to handle them with aplomb, something our F-27 also did very well, a multihull virtue.

With 100 hp on a side, she was definitely an eight-knot boat, and fuel consumption was about three gallons an hour. But the two engines were capable of driving her at 12/13 knots if needed, allowing the boat to get back to port before sundown or run around a thunderstorm.

I especially wanted to see how well she handled with just one engine, because the catamaran configuration meant the engines were very far apart, farther apart than on a twinengine monohull. To my very pleasant surprise, she handled very well indeed. Another attribute came to light.

The height above the water came in at just 14 feet. What a terrific capability on the Intracoastal Waterway! How many waits at how many dozens of bridges would we avoid!

It also meant that we could use the Champlain Canal between Lake Champlain and the Hudson River, famous for their low, fixed bridges.

We checked the accessibility of the engines. To be blunt about it, I have yet to see an engine room in a boat of less than 65 feet that is a decent place in which to work, and in which one has comfortable access to all engine components. The best that could be said about engine rooms is that some are better than others. I vividly remember the leg cramps I got in the engine space of some popular trawlers because I could not set my feet.

Again, the Trawlercat was far better than average. The engines live under the queensized bunks in the aft staterooms. Each mattress neatly folds in half and stands along the side of the hull, allowing the removal of the plywood engine covers. The engines are right there, and with a little climbing around, all components are within reach.

In truth, having long legs and long arms is an asset with the Trawlercat.

Outfitting Our New Boat

We decided to buy a Trawlercat. Bob Vincent said that he had Hull #2 in the molds, and we could have her if we would let him show the boat at the Annapolis and Miami boat shows.

As for ordering the boat, initially my wife wanted to have a second head, thinking, as always, about the grandchildren. However, she talked to a number of women who had made the trip down the ICW. They all complained about the amount of time they had wasted in dirty and unattractive laundromats. She felt the same way.

So, as I looked forward to having a dedicated shower to avoid using the mold-ridden showers found in most marinas, Margarita was having similar thoughts about laundry. Vincent told us he could install a small washer/dryer if we would give up the second head.

It was the best decision we could have made. Our little Splendide 2000 washer/dryer unit has kept our clothes and bedding clean for the last three months without a hitch.

Next we thought about the helm station. We selected a Raytheon 220 VHF/Hailer because we knew that we would go to New England some day. New England has fog and we wanted an automatic foghorn. The 220 has that feature along with its loud hailer, which has also proved to be very useful.

Our friends told us not to skimp on the radar. They all agree with PMM articles on radar that power is good, and that open array antennas are the best way to go. We ultimately chose a Furuno Model 1942 6.5kW radar with a CRT display. Here we were going from never having radar before to one so powerful that we could microwave dock masters.

The radar has proven to be an inspired purchase. We can pick up thunderstorms 50 miles out and work around them. It locates us precisely in narrow waterways where we have to stay either right in the middle of a channel or to one side. In addition it does all the usual radar things like allowing us to see through fog and at night. We never knew that radar was so useful.

For a GPS we chose a Garmin 135, which incorporates a depth sounder. It can display electronic charts, but we have not bought any. To begin with, the charts are very expensive, over $1,200 for the area from Punta Gorda, Fla., to Annapolis, Md.

Second, they are not nearly as clearly defined, nor as capable in my opinion, as the charts that come with the navigation programs for PCs. Taking into account that paper charts are necessary in any case, the electronic ones seemed like an awful lot of money. We passed.

We shall eventually buy a navigation program for our laptop (we already have a tides program).

The final piece of electronic gear was an Autohelm ST 5000 autopilot. It has proven to be reliable and user friendly. We use it all the time, even when we're traveling in canals.

When it came time to select our engines, we spent lots of time doing research and consulting with friends, neighbors and local mechanics. The diesels had to be in the 100 hp range, and turbocharged to be light enough for a multihull. They had to fit easily into the available space.

We chose Yanmar 4JH2-UTE engines for Maribo. They now have nearly 800 hours on them and have performed flawlessly. We consume just under 3 gallons an hour at just over eight knots. The engines consume no oil between changes. Frankly, I am ambivalent about the turbochargers. They require a bit more care in operating the engines and they require more maintenance.

At every oil change they are supposed to be cleaned with a special detergent called "blower wash." With the engine operating under high load this detergent is slowly injected into the air filter with a syringe. This means that somebody has to straddle the engine while it is operated under load at high rpms to inject the wash. This procedure naturally dictates that the boat be under way. If it were an option, I believe that I would have gone with naturally aspirated engines.

But part of the discipline of owning a multihull is that it does not like to be loaded up with heavy equipment and gear. Therefore, turbocharged engines have to be part of the equation.

We chose a Next Generation 3.5kW generator for electric power, which is based on a Kabuta 7 hp diesel engine. It burns less than a quart an hour. After some initial teething problems-our boat, after all, is the second hull-it has proven to be efficient, reliable, and easy to maintain.

Also on the electrical side of the house we installed a Statpower 1,500-watt inverter. It does a marvelous job in the morning with the allstainless steel percolator we bought for the boat. It will also run the microwave oven, the toaster and the TV in the evening.

Between the alternators on both engines, the generator, and shorepower every now and then, we have all the electric power we need. No, we cannot turn on everything at once, but with a little common sense, we can always arrange our consumption to fit our needs.

We had the builder install a Sony AM/FM stereo system with a 10-CD changer. This piece of equipment, with its saloon and cockpit speakers, is a joy.

The last piece of equipment we bought for Maribo was a 10 foot Trinka sailing dinghy, made by Mark Johannsen in Vero Beach, Fla. It is a wonderful rowing boat, takes a 3.5 hp outboard very well, is a good sailboat, and looks very salty in her davits.

In fact, she rows so well that we seldom go to the trouble of mounting the outboard. At least I think she sails well-we've spent so much time in canals that we have not had a chance to explore her sailing characteristics.

The best part about the dinghy is that it is beautiful. While our Trawlercat Maribo is a complete break with tradition, the Trinka is a product of it with her wineglass transom and teak trim. We are very satisfied with her.

Happy With Our Cat

In our travels we have found that the boat draws people like honey wherever we tie up. And people still react in the same way. They go to the bows of the boat, bend over and check to see if the two hulls are really there. Then they come aboard, and, as they go through the companionway, they still ask the same question we first asked Bob Vincent.

"How big did you say this boat was?"

As for some of the other common questions, I offer the following:

Is she really a good gunkholer? Yes, she is. Obviously, with 34 inches of draft, Maribo can get into places other boats can't. Yes, we can take a couple of shortcuts in our home waters that deeper boats avoid. However, we are very conservative cruisers and try to stay in at least four feet of water.

How stable is she? Based on our experience so far, she is a lot more stable than a monohull. We have been in anchorages when the usual idiot in an express cruiser comes tearing through with his three-foot wake. Our boat bounces a few times and is done with it. The monohull trawlers around us roll around much longer before regaining their equilibrium.

In the right kind of beam sea, Maribo can have a rather snappy motion. But she does not roll as monohull displacement trawlers do. On the other hand, our boat is just 36 feet long. If the weather gets really rough, she will be thrown around. We were badly beaten up in Delaware Bay (isn't everybody?), with water coming completely over the boat and landing in the dinghy. The wind was 25-30 knots on the nose with the current behind us.

The boat pitched a lot, pounding badly at times. After we tied up in Cape May, N.J., I went below expecting to find water everywhere. Not a drop was to be found anywhere. What a pleasant surprise that was!

Is she economical to run? Three gallons an hour with two engines is pretty good economy. That said, we do have two engines which take twice as much maintenance, twice as many filters and twice as much time to perform routine maintenance.

How much storage does Maribo have? Do we have to provision differently than owners of a traditional trawler? We have a ton of storage. When we left on our summer cruise, we put all kinds of foodstuff on board.

We are still carrying most of it around. We find that we need to get to a market every 4/7 days anyway, to buy fresh produce, milk, fruit juices and bread. As for other provisions, we can carry food for a month or more with our two pantries. Our refrigerator continually amazes us with the amount of food we can store in it and the freezer.

How is the privacy? We think it is excellent because each aft cabin has its own door. The forward sleeping area also has a door and a louvered shutter that gives it great privacy. Is it better than a monohull? Probably so, because the saloon does not have the huge glass areas that the traditional trawler does.

What do you like best about the boat? My wife likes the openness of the layout, the linear galley with lots of storage and her washing machine. I like those things as well, but I especially like the helmsman's station with its superb visibility, the reliability of the engines and the effortless maneuvering they provide.

What do we like least? The opening windshield is not a complete success. To open it, someone has to climb up on the companionway behind the wheel to turn the latches. Closing the windshields is equally difficult.

With hardly any exceptions, we are very pleased with the quality of the boat and the equipment that Endeavour selected for it.

On a more generic level, I have come to dislike pumps with rubber impellers. Of the seven impeller pumps on board this cat, I have had to replace three impellers in the past three months. They are fragile, and, frankly, I am astounded that a $13,000 engine would have a raw water pump driven by an impeller that has to be changed every 600 hours. Come on, how often do you schedule a change of the water pump on your car? This is an area where I think the manufacturers should devote some effort.

How does Maribo maneuver? With two engines so far apart we can turn the boat on a dime. We have developed a system for locks in which I put a bow near a lock line so my wife can retrieve it, then I put the stern along the wall so I can grab the stern line.

With the boat's relatively low profile, she is blown about by the wind a bit less than her higher, more traditional trawler cousins.

How hard is it to find a slip? We have been living aboard for the past three months and never had any trouble finding a slip. Yes, she is a bit portly with her 15-foot beam. But Endeavour intentionally limited the beam to this figure. A more "traditional" catamaran would have had a beam in the 20/25-foot range. But with 15 feet we seem to fit right in with all the other powerboats.

It Was A Good Choice

Do we think we made a good choice when we selected the Trawlercat?

Yes, we obviously do. Our choice was made based on our experiences, our plans, our lifestyle and our opinions. Maribo has done what we wanted her to do very well, and proven herself to be reliable and comfortable.

Is she perfect? No boat is perfect. They're all a series of compromises and subjective decisions. I do not believe I would want to go to Bermuda in her, even though she probably is capable of doing so.

But for exploring the inland waters, rivers and canals of North America, she has few peers-and Maribo will continue to do very well on the west coast of Florida.