Eight years in the making, a custom steel trawler far exceeds its owner’s needs.

Like expensive custom homes, building a large custom boat can be stressful. Design debates, change orders, delays, cost overruns, negotiations and renegotiations—these are the soul-sucking realities of a custom job. For Timothy Coffey, those problems proved trivial by comparison when the owners of Custom Steel Boats, the company building his 72-footer, were murdered mid-project.

At 68, Timothy Coffey says he may have finally found a boat he’ll stick with.

At 68, Timothy Coffey says he may have finally found a boat he’ll stick with.

All work stopped on Coffey’s project as the yard owners’ family coped with the loss and the children struggled to manage a business they did not expect to be inheriting so soon. According to Coffey, work on his boat stalled for nearly two years, but she was floatable.

“I hired a tugboat and took the boat to St. Augustine Marine in Florida, hauled it out of the water, put it in one of the sheds, and had St. Augustine Marine do painting work,” Coffey says. “[Then] I hired various contractors and carpenters to work on the boat and finish it.”

And finished she was, eight years after the work first began. Coffey acted as his own project manager while running his landscaping design business nearly a thousand miles away on Long Island. Coffey named the boat Edward J after his father, who died before the boat was finished. His dad was a 38-year New York firefighter who helped Coffey buy his first boat at age 7. It’s safe to say that the firefighter’s grown son is crazy about boats. Coffey grew up to serve in the merchant marine while also using a degree in horticulture to build a business catering to New York’s rich and famous.

Helm

In his lifetime, Coffey has owned sailboats and sportfishing boats. He’s owned eight Grand Banks and four Gulfstars (from 41 to 60 feet). He achieved one of his three transatlantic crossings aboard a Fisher 37 motorsailer, which he also owned.

“I’d pick them up, sell them and get another boat. It was boat fever. I’d always want another boat,” Coffey says.

I ran into Coffey in Cuba earlier this year, and he gave me a tour of his remarkable little ship. “Ship” is the right word. With 20 feet of beam, nearly 10 feet of draft, and 8,000 miles of range, Edward J was purpose-built to cross oceans. She also carries some unusual equipment on board.

Edward J’s main propulsion is a single 440-horsepower Caterpillar diesel

Edward J’s main propulsion is a single 440-horsepower Caterpillar diesel

Hundested Propeller

Originally designed for North Sea fishing trawlers, Hundested propellers allow blade-pitch adjustment on the fly. For example, you can use one angle of pitch for the load going with the Gulf Stream and another lesser angle for going against it. You can use one setting based on the vessel weight with full fuel and adjust for more pitch as the tank empties. The blades are adjusted with a 1-inch titanium rod that runs through the center of a 5-inch shaft. The correct setting can be determined from engine sensor readings, including exhaust gas temperature.

Hydraulic Get-Home

Of course, many larger powercraft use hydraulic power take-offs from a generator to turn the prop shaft in case of a breakdown. If the main propulsion, a 440-horsepower Caterpillar 3406, fails on Edward J, Coffey can operate both gensets and parallel their power take-offs to run the take-off drive. The shaft is harnessed to the take-off drive with a pair of beefy sprocket-and-chain assemblies. Coffey says this system can push Edward J at 5 knots.

Edward J rests alongside the bulkhead at Marina Hemingway in Havana, Cuba.

Edward J rests alongside the bulkhead at Marina Hemingway in Havana, Cuba.

Chemically Reinforced Glass

As you can see in exterior photos, some of the portlights are extremely close to the waterline. Coffey says the custom-made, “chemically reinforced” glass is actually stronger than the adjacent steel hull.

At-Rest Flopper-Stoppers

Edward J employs active stabilizers from Naiad while underway. It’s what she uses for stabilization at anchor that fascinates. Suspended into the water from port and starboard davits on the boat deck, water “windows,” which resemble Venetian blinds, open or close as the boat rocks. When an assembly is going down, the blinds open; when it’s coming back up, the blinds close, slowing the boat’s momentum. They are not a stock item.

“Any welding shop can make them,” Coffey says. “They’re not expensive, and they eliminate 90 percent of the roll.”

Windshield Clear View

The clearview system uses a heater and centrifugal force to clear rain and snow from the windshield.

The clearview system uses a heater and centrifugal force to clear rain and snow from the windshield.

To augment conventional windshield wipers, Edward J employs a clearview screen, commonly found on fishing trawlers. The system uses a heater and centrifugal force to keep ice, snow, and heavy rain off the glass. Coffey says it’s also useful for eliminating condensation during foggy days up north.

In addition to cruising his island playgrounds of Cuba and the western Caribbean, Coffey and his crew make frequent passages to and from his place of business in New York. He boasts of a recent 10-day haul from Panama to Greenport, New York, that left Edward J with enough fuel in its tanks to reach Ireland.

Coffey, who speaks decent Spanish, wants to cruise Colombia next via Roatan, San Andrés, and Panama. He plans to relax, fish along the way, and check out a new marina in Santa Marta, a port city to the east of Cartagena. The man with “boat fever” is loath to admit it, but at age 68 he may have finally settled into a more permanent ride.

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