Growlers is in the water! We are just now stepping into the various projects that will transform her from a working commercial boat into a perfect little cruiser-a lobster yacht of distinction.
The interior photos show the boat as she came from Kennebunkport, Maine, finished to a commercial workboat level, seemingly ready to go out and tend lobster pots.
Steve Law, builder of the Seaworthy 28, remains true to the working heritage of his boat, and most of these rugged and seaworthy 28-footers have, in fact, been built for commercial lobstermen. But Steve has also built them for charter fishing, picnic day use, and commuting.
And now, as a photography platform.
The most significant difference between Growler and working boats is the extended cabin and aft bulkhead with door. Most lobster boats of this type are open, giving the crew unlimited access to work. However, we needed greater weather protection for year-round use.
We chose Diamond Seaglaze windows and doors for Growler, and their heavy duty quality and fit are an excellent match. The hefty door is especially nice.
My initial request for a dry exhaust system got diverted during actual construction. As Steve Law extended the cabin-which was the first time, I believe, he'd done so- it became clear that fitting a proper dry stack system would be difficult, given the long run under the cabin sole to place the stack out in the cockpit.
So he ordered the necessary Deere engine parts to give the six-cylinder diesel a wet exhaust system. But he did install the Fernstrum keel cooler, arguing that we would now have a quiet boat, but with all the keel cooling protection of a closed cooling circuit. Some believe it is the perfect arrangement for both cooling requirements.
Sea Trial: Maine
Initial testing of Growler took place near Steve Law's shop in Kennebunkport, and she really proved herself. With four people aboard, the boat ran 23 knots at wide open throttle, around 2,600 rpm.
Jim Wallace of Bell Power Systems, regional distributors of Deere Marine engines, determined the sweet spot of the turbocharged PowerTech 6068 diesel in this particular boat to be around 2,000/2,100 rpm, giving Growler a cruise speed of 16/18 knots.
Jim and Steve Law ran the boat hard in the Atlantic Ocean, running full speed in rough seas to show how strong the boat is, and how well designer Spencer Lincoln knows how to design a boat going to sea.
Jim later shared his nervousness as the boat jumped off what seemed like 15-foot waves. Steve doesn't recall them being quite that large, but he chuckled as he remembered what had been a wild ride.
Engine/Running Gear Sea Trial: Annapolis
After she was back in the water this spring, Jim Wallace came down to Annapolis from Portland for a day on the boat, going through the engine systems with me, and for another sea trial, but on calmer Chesapeake Bay. (Steve Law will be down shortly to go over the rest of the boat and to answer any questions I have after running her for the first couple of months.)
Jim stepped aboard Growler, a big smile on his Maine face. "This sure is a pretty little boat," he said, "much nicer-looking than the rough workboats down here."
But there is nothing "pretty little" about the 1,300-pound, six-cylinder Deere.
Going through the maintenance checks, Jim explained that Bell Power usually adds oil level dipsticks on both sides of the engine, which Deere provides for when machining the block, making fluid checks easier for the owner. Two coolant thermostats are found on the side of the cooling manifold, not in front as often found. Jim cautioned that they open at different temperatures, a point worth remembering when ordering new parts.
Speaking of parts, I asked him what spares we ought to carry aboard the boat for normal operation.
"A spare impeller for the wet exhaust's raw water pump is a good bet, as is a gallon of antifreeze for the cooling system.
"Carry a gallon of multiweight 15/40W engine oil, spare fuel filters, and perhaps a spare belt for the front of the engine," he went on, pointing out the self-adjusting mechanism that automatically keeps the belt tight.
Jim tapped on the yellow engine as he continued the installation survey, an occasional grunt indicating satisfaction.
He went over the oil drain hose and valve, conveniently fitted to make changing the engine oil a much cleaner experience. In fact, Jim explained how it can be done by simple gravity feed into a large container placed in the bilge. We'll see in a matter of months.
The diesel had stopped the day before when we went out to take running pictures. It wasn't clear what caused air in the fuel system, but we decided to see if we could make the boat stall after a visit to the fuel dock.
Jim went on to explain the fuel bleeding process, a matter simplified by having everything exposed, and short fuel line runs with minimal fittings. To bleed this engine, crack open both fuel filter vents (the engine comes with two filters), pump the one pump until bubbles stop coming out the vent, then pump the lift pump until resistance is felt. Shut the vents and you're good to go.
Jim mentioned that few owners realize that lift pumps can sometimes not work, if the driving camshaft in the engine stops on the high spot, rendering the pump useless. So if nothing happens after pumping the lift pump a short while, it may be necessary to turn the engine over briefly to reposition the camshaft.
As for fuel management, he had other comments. "Remember that if you draw from the port tank, you want to return to the port tank," Jim lectured.
"What you don't want to do is draw from the port tank and return to the starboard tank, because you'll suck all the fuel out of the one tank, and only use half of it. The half you don't use gets spit into the other tank. You'll run out of fuel in the supply tank much sooner than you ever expected."
When asked what might need special attention, or occasional tightening, Jim said there are no particular nuts or bolts to watch out for, or external lubrication points. And since the fuel system is totally enclosed, there should never be a fuel smell in the boat.
"However, if you hear any unusual noises, it is not uncommon for something to loosen up," he cautioned. "Your engine mount bolts, for example. If you hear noise, shut down, feel around, and check those bolts."
We started the engine. The boat really growls, with a healthy, deep-throated snarl. Lovely.
"This engine has the sound of an old Garwood or Chris Craft," Jim said after we paused to listen to the mechanical music loved by real gearheads.
"Deere is a big displacement, slow-turning engine, so we keep the exhaust big. Decibelwise, it's up there, but it's not an offensive sound.
"Other engines may create less noise, in terms of decibels, but people don't like them."
The running engine idles at 700 rpm, and a strong vibration shakes through the boat, easily removed by just coming off idle.
But idle she must, as putting her in gear- either forward or reverse-gets serious way on instantly. Gobs of engine torque easily spin the big, four-bladed, 24-inch-by-26-inch propeller. There is nothing little about Growler's running gear.
Peter Swanson, our new editor, asked rhetorically why there is only sound insulation inside the engine box, rather then under the entire cabin sole. It's a good question and perhaps one that will be considered for a later project. Maine lobstermen don't apparently need much sound insulation, so commercial builders have new issues when filling orders for pleasure boat customers.
The noise and vibration quickly disappear under way, and the boat is a nimble craft due to its huge single rudder and prop. I am thrilled with this boat's ability to turn, back and fill, and stop in one boat length.
Coming up to speed, Growler is really in her element, and much more comfortable than I am running at 23 knots. Things sure happen quickly at high speed. But even then she isn't burning much diesel, as the fuel burn is less than four gallons per hour at 16 knots.
Speaking of fuel, we did find out why the boat stalled during our photo session. The two flat, rectangular tanks fuel tanks are mounted so they slant down toward the stern, making sure the fuel pickups (1/2-inch off the bottom of the tanks) will always have a supply to draw from.
But the builder didn't count on us taking the boat out with so little fuel, then having the entire staff standing on the bow for pictures! The photographs reveal her down by the bow, enough to suck air and stall the engine. Mystery solved.
As I suspected, keeping the boat simple is going to prove difficult, and the list of projects is growing. My wife, Laurene, is much more excited than I expected, and figures she'll be driving the boat more than me! So she wants it nice and comfy.
Nevertheless, we plan to take things slow, and see how the boat is actually used before raising the waterline through equipment installations. Keeping it simple, the old KISS principle, is definitely a balancing act when also trying to make a comfortable boat.
We have no illusions of liveaboard cruising for extended periods, but rather occassional trips north and south to attend rendezvous events and perhaps a boat show or two. Month-long voyages to the Bahamas, New England, the Great Circle, and Southeast Alaska will have to wait for another time and place. Growler is for here and now-which should make it much easier to maintain a KISS attitude.
Growler sure gets attention when we run through downtown Annapolis. Laurene calls her a "guy boat" because we just love to look at the no-frills, downeast lines. It will be interesting to see if we avoid traditional Mars-Venus battles, and if she will agree to keep to the boat's workboat heritage and dispense with an exquisite yacht interior finished in teak or mahogany.
We will soon install basic electronics, charging system, windlass and anchoring gear, and other equipment. Details-as well as highlights of the interior finishing-will be featured in the next several issues.
I've been thinking quite a bit about my custom boat experience, and several things are clear after this project. I've been in boating a long time, but I learned about myself from this custom project.
For one thing, I realize that I don't particularly enjoy making a lot of decisions from afar, especially with the nonstop demands of my life's other responsibilities. I expected to spend countless evening hours surrounded by equipment catalogs, but I was either on the road doing articles or simply involved otherwise mentally. That was a surprise.
So it was a good thing that Steve Law built our boat, and makes for a rather funny story.
As you may recall, Mad Dog Marine's Kent Morrow, based in Anacortes, Washington, got me into this project in the first place. He enlightened me about the value of a custom boat. (PMM, Sept./Oct. '00)
When we decided the 28-foot model was perfect as a photo boat, Steve Law came into the picture, as he is the builder of this particular hull. He operates a small shop nestled in the trees of Kennebunkport. (Give Steve a call at 978.764.6566 if you like this boat. See the earlier issue for contacts of other downeast cruisers.)
Toward the end of our negotiations, Kent told me that he and Steve were ready to build me a boat. I would be dealing with commercial guys who know how to build boats that go to sea, and I should let Steve have lots of latitude during actual construction. My small wishlist included dry stack, dark green hull, enclosed aft bulkhead, opening side windows, Freeman hatches, PVC rubrails, anchor platform, swim platform, transom door, sliding helm door, and engine in box. Leave the rest to him.
My developing view of this construction process, reinforced throughout the project, was that I should not expect much success convincing the builder to change the way he did things. Steve is as Maine as a blueberry pie and will build the boat his way or no way. It will be strong, and it will be seaworthy. That's the way lobstermen want his boats. Honest, good, and no glitz.
So that is precisely the way it happened.
The other day, when Peter and I took Jim Wallace to lunch, the story came full circle.
Laughing, Jim explained. "I saw a different side of it from you. Steve was always saying to me, 'I don't know, the owner hasn't told me anything.' He was frustrated on the other end for lack of information.
"He would have appreciated some input," Jim went on. "Basically, you were having a custom boat built. Had it been me or someone else, I probably would have sat down with Steve with a marine equipment catalog and said, 'I want this and this...' You're paying for it."
We were gentlemen to a fault. Steve was frustrated, expecting input from me, but he never called me about it. He knew I was busy. At the same time I thought I was doing him a favor by leaving him alone to do his thing.
Something else I learned about myself is that I probably would not have much cared what cleat he used, trusting that he knew better than I what worked and where it should go. So it worked out just fine in the end.
When I told all this to Steve Law, we both had good laugh. In some ways, I was the dream customer. As I said, I was lucky it was Steve Law who built this boat. I'm thrilled with the result, even the cleats. Thanks, Kent Morrow!
The lesson for me is clear. This custom 28-foot boat was nothing compared to a long-term project involving a big custom yacht. The enormity of such big boat decision-making, on so many different levels, is mind-numbing. Which makes it imperative that an experienced, quality builder is involved, or dedicated project manager retained for the duration.
If I pursue a large custom passagemaker in the future, I will absolutely be onsite or hire an experienced project manager. And it would be crazy to attempt such an enterprise while so heavily involved with other major commitments.
Which leads to another twist in my newfound personal knowledge. That project manager can worry about the shape of the fiddles, and determine the size, shape, and material for the head flooring. For now, anyway, it is simply too much detail for me, too many decisions.
Last fall, when I first wrote about the Growler project, I told of Kent Morrow's insistence of knowing how the boat will be used before getting too far into it. That is precisely where we are now, getting our feet wet with a new boat.
I know a couple of things already. I have tremendous confidence in the boat's rugged ability. And I'm going to try to keep the faith about keeping it simple.
Wish me luck!