Project X: Part 2

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I really struck a nerve with my Project X concept of an affordable passagemaker (see "Project X" PMM April '04). The response from PMM readership has been overwhelming, all supporting the idea of a boat that can be comfortably cruised long distances, yet remain within the financial abilities of a couple without a trust fund. Most readers who shared their own plans report that they although don't ultimately intend to circle the planet, they believe the characteristics of a boat capable of such a trip would be a darn nice liveaboard cruiser on a smaller scale.

I've started to define the requirements of such a vessel, and I want to approach this effort without expectation or preconceived ideas of where this will go. The boat might be a larger vessel of some vintage, perhaps even a workboat from the fishing or commercial fleet, or it might be new construction. It all depends on what we find.

Interestingly, our Electronics Editor, Jeff Hummel, hopes to buy a 76-foot 1977 Desco fishing boat he found languishing at the dock. The fiberglass hull is strong and capable, and the single engine boat carries a whopping 10,000 gallons of fuel. Jeff intends to gut the vessel and build a new house from deck up. A new diesel engine is part of the plan.

He will set the boat up for extended dive trips to the South Pacific's many WWII wrecks and dive sites, outfitting the boat for research and charter work as well as for personal use. The equipment includes dynamic positioning systems and a large crane to handle the two-person submersible that will go on board for charter dive exploration. And he expects to one day visit his roots in Scandinavia as part of a future circumnavigation.

Following mechanical work in Seattle, the plan is to move the boat somewhere else (possibly Mexico or South America) to finish the conversion and interior. In all, Jeff hopes to create his ideal passagemaker for about $250,000. We'll certainly be following his progress as the Desco is transformed from tired fish boat to rugged passagemaker. And there are 200 Desco sisterships out there, so his opportunity is not unique.

Most of us are not quite as adventurous and visionary as Jeff, nor as competent in undertaking such a project. Evidence of the risk involved can be found in Sally Bee Brown's article To The Finish Line, in this issue.

If Project X were to be a sailboat, then the Tahiti ketch and the venerable Westsail 32 both represent the kind of direction I envision. Certainly it might be more efficient (and expedient) to round the globe on a Swan 44 or a Beneteau 473, but the differences are appropriate for this comparison.

I once owned a Tahiti ketch, and it was a minimalist experience-gaff-rigged mainsail, no winches, no fancy interior. The engine was a single-cylinder, air-cooled Lister diesel. But years have passed, and today I am creakier in joint and mind, so my need-level of comfort is higher. But I do remember the exquisite simplicity of that boat.


The minimum specifications of a motorboat capable of a circumnavigation are perhaps somewhat debatable, but I think we can safely assume there must be living spaces for four people at a minimum. Standing watch on long passages requires at least four people, and five would be better. So let's assume we're defining an interior of two staterooms, with additional bunking available as the interior develops. I know from experience that any accommodations in a bow location will be largely unusable when the boat is driving into even moderate head seas. These are a fact of life in offshore passagemaking, so alternate bunk arrangements must be addressed, even if that includes the saloon sole or settee.

Having two staterooms also allows the owners to use the second stateroom as an office when it is just the two of them during local cruising. This seems reasonable enough, and indeed is found in many boats currently available.

I should point that out I am willing to accept a stateroom that is not a huge cabin, but enough for comfortable living aboard. I don't think the storage requirements for clothing and other items would be excessive, as this is not replacing my permanent home. A cozy cabin would be fine with me, as long as I'm not stepping over things and I am able to get everything stowed properly.

I believe it is also imperative to develop an interior that permits each crew member as much privacy as possible, even for married couples. Spending months aboard a small boat can easily create friction among even the most jovial crew and can turn a trusty and jolly fellow into a disgruntled and discontented beast after weeks of hearing the same stories or listening to someone sucking his teeth incessantly. An off-key whistler drives me insane, and images of boat-hook accidents frequent my off-watch slumber on such trips.

Each stateroom should have its own head and shower. Closequarter living demands some level of civilized spaces, and even a family of four would find a single head unacceptable.

For the moment, I am not going to specify whether the two cabins would be located together, as on many boats, or separated by the saloon or other living space, as found on a GB42 Classic. It is too early in the design spiral for such decisions.


Robert Beebe wrote many years ago about a theoretical two-year circumnavigation in an ocean motorboat. His basic premise was that at 7.5 knots, a power-driven passagemaker could make it around the globe in a bit over 6 months, leaving the other 18 months sufficient time for local cruising and living aboard. His itinerary includes several variations on routing, which is consistent with contemporary thinking, although current world events may dictate some latitude in passage planning.

Without any particular route in mind at this stage, it is fair to define a required range of 3,000 nautical miles at cruising speed, which includes enough reserve for long ocean passages. And if we need additional range, the boat can be slowed down for greater fuel economy.

As range is more important than speed for an offshore motorboat, that is as far as we can go at this point, as hull form, displacement and other details will develop as a result of combining the other design elements. Clearly, a large, beamy hull shape will have higher horsepower and fuel requirements than a smaller, thinner hull. All of the many essentials are connected and interleave into a variety of design solutions.

It is not always the case that more is better. When it comes to fuel, I don't think we need to go for overkill, just enough to do the job. It surprises me how many builders fill a hull with fuel tanks just because they can, turning the yacht into a ponderous creature that needs a huge engine to push it through the water. Project X needs sufficient range to make landfall, not enough to go around the world without stopping. I firmly believe that carrying enough fuel to cross the Atlantic and return is absurd and turns the trawler into a fuel barge. We want to carry only enough fuel for the longest passage (with some reserve).

While it is premature to specify actual fuel requirements beyond the required range, it is possible to address the water capacity of this boat. I think a water tank capacity of 400 gallons is a good goal, as we intend to have a watermaker aboard to keep the tank(s) full on ocean passages. Accepting the possibility of a watermaker breakdown, 400 gallons seems a sufficient and reasonable water supply. Let's assume we can find the space for it.

If I have my choice, the boat will have a single diesel engine in an engine room with access to all major systems. I cannot imagine undertaking a circumnavigation on a boat with a tiny engine room where I could not get around easily. And particular emphasis would be placed on superior fuel management.

Which brings up an interesting point: There is no question that the newest, electronically controlled diesel engines are cleaner and quieter and provide better performance than mechanically controlled engines. However, there is a new issue with such new technology. Electronic control modules and the related electronics cannot be repaired by a boat owner, so this represents a new risk factor in a singleengine installation. Should anything fail (or get put out of service by a lightning strike), it is very unlikely any of it could be repaired at sea. Bringing spare components seems prudent, but the use of new electronics adds a new risk element.

This new vulnerability does, in my mind, suggest a potential case for specifying a non-electronic diesel engine in a singleengine installation or for using two smaller engines. Even with twin engines, however, I would prefer a large, single propeller and a huge rudder that is well protected by a skeg in a deep keel.

Of course, this assumes we're not going with a power catamaran, although I suspect that a cat large enough for a world cruise is simply not a possibility in terms of affordability. But I remain with an open mind, although I did rule out a submarine....


Speaking of stable power catamarans, it is a given that some form of roll reduction must be included in the Project X package, as there is simply no way I'd attempt such a trip on an uncomfortable, rolly platform. There is just no reason for it these days, and I intend this to be a comfortable voyage, not survival training.

So does this mean flopperstoppers or active fin stabilizers? Either would represent a big investment. Fin systems work the best at cruising speed, but flopperstoppers are simpler and can be taken out of the water in calm conditions.

I might consider adding some form of sail rig, even though general experience suggests that this rarely works effectively. Even the relatively huge sail plans on Traveller and Passagemaker worked so poorly that subsequent owners took the sails off the boats.

Despite these concerns, I might be open to considering a low-aspect rig with some form of sail if it is easily handled, perhaps even a junk rig. Such a system might also be effective in assisting the engine when running downwind, as across the Atlantic from the Canaries to Barbados.

Another way to improve stability (which impacts roll) is to increase the draft. Fishing boats that routinely go out and stay out in all kinds of nasty weather are deep-draft boats, on the order of 8-plus feet for a 50-footer, and over 11 feet on some 60-foot boats. I remember talking to the captain of a Shetland Islands trawler, just before he left to go fishing in a raging blizzard without a second thought.

Such deep draft is seldom found on even large pleasure boats, but it can contribute to a vessel's comfort and motion at sea. It is one of the trade-offs to consider when thinking about an affordable boat. Deeper draft will limit our options in shallow water, but it is important to keep our mission in mind. We want an affordable passagemaker for a circumnavigation, not a boat to do the Great Circle Route, tour the ICW or transit the canals through Paris. We want a boat that is inherently stable offshore, one that's very seaworthy and has an easy motion.

The Nordhavn 62, for sake of comparison, has a draft just under 7 feet. It is a boat clearly intended to be at sea, not to gunkhole skinny waters. If we consider that our goal is to be able to do a trip along the same capabilities of a Nordhavn 62, then deep draft is not the curse it represents elsewhere. So if deep draft finds its way onto a smaller vessel, so be it.


This is one area where efforts to maintain affordability can easily be sidetracked. The reality is that a modern trawler yacht makes a lovely home, and it is natural to want to have all the comforts of home at home. This is one area where most women have a commanding presence. And we're thinking way beyond simply having hot-water pressure available. Today's boats have stateroom-controlled air conditioning and heat, washers and dryers, dishwashers, central vacuuming, electric freshwater toilets, cockpit showers, even home theaters with huge LCD screens...all of which make for comfortable living aboard and a happy crew.

Certainly, no one is suggesting the crew swelter in tropical heat or risk developing scurvy resulting from a lack of refrigeration, but perhaps some of these systems can be eliminated or stepped back a bit-from separate temperature controls in each living space, for example, to a single main control for the boat. And perhaps we should consider domestic appliances instead of more expensive marine-grade units. And are manual toilets out of the question? My favorite is the Lavac, an utterly reliable toilet and manual pump that defines simplicity and low cost. It is something to consider against the complexity and expense of a sophisticated electric vacuum system.

I recall the anchorage in Hiva Oa when we anchored among the many sailboats arriving from Mexico. The sailors had all hatches open to capture even the slightest hint of breeze, while we enjoyed air conditioning and cold beer in the saloon of our trawler, watching movies in the evening. No, I would not travel the tropics without air conditioning-not at this stage of my life-but I think we may be able to reach some level of comfort without breaking the bank.

As I've seen on commercial boats, there are alternatives to expensive, marine-finish yacht equipment. And it is a given that every system on the boat is deemed essential, or it does not go aboard.


As the list of "like-to-have" features of the boat comes together, I add a huge rubrail, a massive affair that protects the sides of the boat whether fenders are there or not. Most pleasure boats don't have a large enough rubrail. I want a BIG rubrail, several inches thick and wide. Wide enough to stand on, which also helps when docked in an area with diverse tidal flow.

Another requirement is proper dinghy storage and handling gear, especially if the boat winds up with a deeper draft, forcing me to travel greater distances from the mothership to reach local attractions. The dinghy issue always seems to be an afterthought on cruising boats, the owners forced to compromise in all areas of size, storage and handling, except on bigger boats. And on some trawlers, the hydraulic crane required to store the dinghy is a hugely expensive proposition. This is one area we can save some money to use elsewhere-if we're creative.

On another subject, I remember being in the cockpit of Beebe's Passagemaker and thinking that his midship cockpit made a lot of sense. Far offshore, an aft cockpit is not always a friendly place to spend time, the waves looming overhead, the motion demanding a tight fist on the rail. Every so often it is nice to go outside, but in a protected area of the boat. Behind a Portuguese bridge works well, but as in Beebe's design, a small, protected, open cockpit between the pilothouse and the aft cabin worked fine as well. It is something to consider.


I expect the letters and comments will keep coming in, especially from those owners who are out there doing the same thing for themselves. I've heard from a number of couples who want to share their own Project X, and I may even present their stories and affordable boats as we unravel this quest for an affordable passagemaker.

For now, though, it is time to share my thoughts with designers and builders, and see where this rabbit hole leads.