Skip to main content

Tuff Baby

When Dave and Margi Grow decided to make the switch from their Columbia 50 sailboat, Stampede, to a cruising powerboat, they decided to aim for a rugged and practical family cruiser. Sailing had always been a passion, and Stampede was the latest in a series of sailboats that included a 1939 Sparkman & Stevens wood ketch.

This time around, however, they wanted shallow draft and a low maintenance exterior. They also wanted a very strong boat. Dave and Margi's goal was for an indestructible boat they could cruise year-round, using the boat as a portable second home rather than buying a condo somewhere down south. The couple likes to explore islands, snorkel, fish, walk sandy beaches, and meet people and cultures that exist off the beaten track of paradise.

Nearing retirement as this project came together, they had run a successful cattle ranching business in Rensselaer, Indiana, and in Costa Rica. With more time available, they became general contractors for this custom boat project, with all its challenges, figuring they could get precisely the boat they wanted, within their projected budget.

Tuff Baby is the result of this effort.

Northwest Heritage

Designed by naval architect John Simpson of Vancouver, British Columbia, Tuff Baby is from a design with roots in the Canadian fisheries. (See sidebar for Simpson's design comments.)

Tuff Baby was built in aluminum by Anderson Boat Works of South Haven, Michigan. The yard is near the prestigious yards of Broward, Palmer Johnson, Tiara, Burger, and Cruisers. It's safe to say there's a lot of boat building talent in the Midwest.

Andersen Boat Works' Dave Andersen agreed to build the robust vessel for the Grows, but asked Dave and Margi to help manage the additional crew demands. As it turned out, this kind of unusual boat project fascinated many of the tradesmen in the area, and welders, woodworkers, and fabric specialists came to South Haven in their off hours and on weekends from the mega yacht yards. They all wanted to be a part of Tuff Baby's creation.

The 40-foot, unpainted aluminum hull is strong but fair, and a high level of finish is evident throughout the boat.

There are two tunnels incorporated into the stern to allow a shallow draft of just three feet, even with twin 24-inch propellers that will drive the boat at a 14-knot cruising speed. A center keel extends down to further protect the propellers.

Margi selected a yellow Awlgrip finish for the topsides. She calls it "chiffon yellow," although Awlgrip officially lists the color as Fighting Lady.

A Project And A Half

Dave Grow was successful in bringing some carpenters to help with the boat's interior, but now admits he was a little naïve about what would be involved. And none of the workers had any previous experience with the Baltek product used extensively to form the interior. Baltek is a cored substitute for plywood. Dave says, "It is half the weight, twice as strong, and four times the price of regular marine plywood."

The project took three years from start to finish. That's one year longer than expected. South Haven bustled with workers during the build, and the off-hour camaraderie developed into a magnet for interested people, many of whom would regularly stop by to check on the progress of the boat.

Tuff Baby

This boat is clearly intended for extended cruising by two people. There is a nice master stateroom, a large head, and the saloon is roomy without being overly so. Just enough for two.

Dave decided to eliminate the lower helm station to increase living space, so all controls and communications gear are up on the fullyenclosed flybridge. The Grows reasoned the upper bridge is where they always run the boat, and they prefer to travel on fair weather days.

The current plan is to cruise south to the Bahamas, Costa Rica, and Panama. They may visit the Turks and Caicos as well, and also allow for the possibility of shipping Tuff Baby to Europe for extended cruising on the continent.

All doors, windows, and ports are heavy duty Freeman Marine products. Do not judge this boat by its color. The builder installed the same 4-inch by 4-inch rubber rubrail as used on Ohio workboats.

Yet for all its seriousness, Tuff Baby looks to be a darn fine cruising yacht. The interior is truly luscious, and includes painted poplar overheads, varnished oak tongue and groove flooring. The boat has a simple, open, and very livable layout, proving once again that less can be more, especially for a couple with only occasional guests.

On Deck

The aft cockpit measures 8'5" long by 10'6" wide, and is suitable for fishing, diving, and lounging in the late afternoon. The bulwarks are 29 inches high, creating a sense of security, and it is easy to step up to the 18-inch wide side decks. A St. Croix davit system holds up the dinghy, and a swing-down transom door (much like a cattle car) lets the crew step down to the wide swim platform.

The walk to the foredeck is aided by hand holds on the deckhouse and a tall stainless steel railing rings the foredeck.

The bow is 64 inches off the water and includes a strong bow platform assembly for primary Bruce and secondary Fortress anchors. The look and finish is clean and will be easy to keep that way. A Maxwell vertical windlass is part of the anchoring system.

Two sailboat-style dorade vents provide ventilation into the forward cabin, and a 22-inch round Lewmar hatch keeps the master cabin bright during the day.

Tuff Baby's flybridge is fully enclosed for allweather use, although I suspect it may become uncomfortable for crew when running the boat in hot, rainy, or humid conditions. It will be interesting to see how this arrangement works out for the Grows after they've spent time cruising the tropics.

The boat's mast is hinged by the clever use of a truck's scissor-type jack-dropping the mast is easy work and provides a vertical clearance of 15 feet 5 inches.

The flybridge includes a full complement of electronics, radios, and a refrigerator/freezer holds drinks, as well as lunch sandwiches which Margi prepares at the start of each day.

Livable Interior

Stepping into the boat from the aft deck is a refreshing view of a contemporary interior treatment. The white oak-finished saloon measures almost 10 feet wide by 11 feet long, and is as inviting as a country cabin. Headroom averages 76 inches, and the open space is especially inviting due to a fold-up table that stores flat against the forward bulkhead when not in use. Without the table, the saloon feels much bigger.

Two long settees provide comfortable seating, and the port-side settee pulls out into a large berth for guests. (The starboard settee has one section that folds out into a lounge chair with footrest, a feature Dave incorporated by purchasing the guts of a recliner at a furniture store. Interesting idea, and is quite comfortable. Great for reading that novel at anchor.

The galley takes up the aft starboard corner of the saloon, measuring 5 feet 9 inches long in a U-shaped configuration that Margi thinks perfect for their lifestyle. Extensive use of tambor doors take full advantage of all space, and the galley's pantry storage is better as a result. Sink inserts expand the counter surface, and several large drawers swallow up utensils and cookware.

A stainless steel door opens into the galley's custom refrigeration system, reached from either galley or aft cockpit. The unit is roughly the size of an ice machine found in major hotels, and the lower freezer is enormous. Sufficient freezer space was considered necessary, given the Grows' ranching background. They will be able to rustle up some steaks no matter where they end up for the night.

Underneath the saloon's well-insulated sole are the boat's two Cummins 6BTA5.9M3 diesels, rated at 370 hp. Each engine has a double Groco raw water strainer, double Racor fuel filters, and an X-Change-R oil changing system makes short work of routine maintenance.

The engine room space offers a good view of the boat's robust aluminum construction, and is lit by rope lighting that rings the engine room for great visibility from the saloon hatches.

Forward Cabin

Down two steps brings us to the owners' cabin in the bow of the boat. The cabin is 11 feet long, and contains an island queen berth. Two hanging lockers provide his/hers clothing storage, and there is additional storage, in drawers under the island berth. Headroom is 78 inches in the stateroom.

Tuff Baby's head space is separated between vanity and mirror, and toilet and shower. The toilet and shower are together in an easilycleaned area, with the shower near the boat's centerline, and toilet outboard. The low maintenance finish will help housekeeping chores, while the sink vanity and mirror area is more luxuriously appointed.

The Grows find the layout to be a good use of space.

On Their Way South

We caught up with Dave and Margi as they were on their way to Florida from Michigan. They stopped in Annapolis to visit Fawcett Boat Supplies, a local marine chandlery that supplied a major portion of their outfitting needs.

Fawcett's Wayne Fisher helped them get acquainted in town, and I met them just before they headed off on a dream retirement cruise.

Dave and Margi like challenges, and tackling them together. Each is an important part of the equation, and they share responsibility and pride in their three-year boat project.

Asked why they chose Kodiak, Alaska, as their hailing port, Dave explained it was to draw attention to the boat's Pacific Northwest heritage.

We wish Dave and Margi bon voyage on this cruiser, their latest expression of talent, imagination, and hard work.

They successfully created the indestructible, shallow-draft vessel they were looking for. Efficient cruiser, low maintenance exterior, livable interior. Any way you look at it, this is one Tuff Baby!