After reading “The Big Attraction of Small Boats,” by George Sass, Sr. in the Nov/Dec 2012 issue of PassageMaker, I thought it would be interesting to share our small boat story.
In the early 90s I became interested in building a trawler boat for fishing the Sea of Cortez. My wife, Mary, and I live in Utah and have been boaters our whole married life. We began flying to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico quite often to enjoy the great fishing and the wonderful beach life.
Our usual trip included hiring a fisherman with a panga, fishing for eight hours or so, and heading to the beach. Usually we meet the panga guide at the dock at 0700 and fish till 1500 hours. The sun was brutal and the fishing was fantastic. One of the problems with this scenario was we wanted to do more than fish—we wanted to explore and hang out on the water.
The Mexican fishermen are really good at what they do. They love to bring back all the fish, both to show off to their competition, as well as to feed their families. Bringing back fish to the beach brings more clients.
Mary and I enjoy preparing and eating our catch as well as keeping some for the freezer when we’re on our own boat, but we prefer to catch and release in recreational fishing. The guides often went along with our wishes, but they weren’t always happy about it.
The time eventually came for us to bring our own vessel for cruising as our desire to maximize our hours on the water and satisfy our urge to roam the Sea of Cortez grew and grew.
We had owned several boats before, but none of them were a good fit for cruising and fishing the Sea of Cortez. At the time, I was a regular reader of every boating magazine I could find. Somewhere I picked up an issue of PassageMaker and became hooked on Bill Paralatore’s and Steve D’Antonio’s articles.
FAMILY FISHBOAT WANTED
I loved Bill’s idea regarding a homebuilt option, mostly because we could not find a boat that worked for us. The fishboats were too uncomfortable and the cruiser boats did not allow space for fishing. This always puzzled me, from a marketing standpoint. I couldn’t believe my wife was the only one who wanted a nice bathroom and a place to read out of the sun while her husband fished. Or am I the just the luckiest guy in the world and have a wife who likes to go out with me? We needed a family fishboat.
Boat show after boat show we saw the same stuff, so that made the homebuilt option very appealing. The only problem was we wanted to fish right now! I saw all the trawler boats that were dragged to the East Cape and I knew my wife was not going to go out in a 20-foot aluminum runabout.
I noticed all the 20- to 23-foot fiberglass deep-V hull fishboats as they trolled all day. They would plow through the water at 7 knots, the bow in the air at their most inefficient speed. Some even had to come in for gas at midday because the boat didn’t carry enough fuel. To refuel meant swimming out to your boat with 5-gallon gas cans through the surf to feed those inefficient boats.
THE LIST OF MUST-HAVES
Our criteria for the right boat slowly began to gel. Our boat had to be towable—both for Mexico and Canada, so that meant it needed to be an 8.5-foot beam or less. Eight feet would be better for Mexico because of the narrow highway. Fuel would also be an issue. I could buy diesel on the beach at the East Cape. It was delivered daily to the super cruiser hotel fleet by a tractor pulling a 500-gallon tank to the beach. With a 3/4-inch clear plastic tube that they pulled through the water they were able to gravity feed fuel from the tank to each boat.
With diesel fuel delivery available on the water, I would not have to swim through the surf to refuel. Of course, good fuel filtration is a must. Longer trips and overnighters would require being able to get out of the sun, and we would need a comfortable bed for reading, napping and sleeping aboard.
In 1997, I happened on a 2670 Bayliner Explorer with a “For Sale” sign in the window. The design was very appealing. The semi-displacement hull was optimized for our preferred trolling speeds of 6 to 8 knots. The boat had a Volvo 280 outdrive which would be excellent for launching from the beach. The engine was a 125hp Volvo, which seemed small for a 26-foot boat, but seemed perfect for our use. The engine was gas, but I hoped, with large enough tanks, that such a small engine would allow us a week on the water without refueling. The boat was in excellent shape and they were asking for $12,000. We made a deal and the journey began. I installed a 39-gallon aluminum fuel tank from West Marine along with a fuel transfer pump and we were off to test the boat.
Our first outing was an 80-mile trip down Lake Powell in southern Utah. The fuel consumption was not what we hoped for, but the boat was so smooth and comfortable. We were optimistic. Next, we planned a trip to Baja. We went through everything mechanical: compression tests, new points, plugs, filters, belts, bellows, etc. We bought spares for everything.
The border crossing at Tijuana was interesting. The Mexican border agent said he’d never seen a boat that big go down Mex 1. Hmmm, I was beginning to question my plan. Well, the 8-foot beam proved to be an excellent asset and the trip to Loreto proved uneventful in spite of the worthless surge brakes on the original trailer. Even with new brake shoes and the brakes functioning as designed they were not good enough for Mex 1.
Our plan was to hire one of our local fishing guides to drive my pickup and trailer to the East Cape where we would pick it up after fishing our way down the peninsula. We launched on the boat ramp in Loreto and sent our driver on his way. After spending the night on the hook and catching bait at 0600, the next morning we were on our way. The boat proved to be perfect for a 7-knot troll speed, so for the next five days and nights we were alternately lost and scared or euphoric over the whales and the fishing.
The cockpit of the boat was 7.5 feet by 5-feet and proved to be very crowded as we were fishing. We had fueled the boat in Loreto to lighten the load on the road (and to save money) and were now experiencing some engine pinging. This was limiting our speed to 7 knots as it only occurred above 2500 rpm.
The trip proved to be great fun and a huge learning experience. With this trip under our belt, I had a new list of modifications to make. After leaving the boat for a couple of years at the East Cape we realized we were committed to the long-range trailer boat concept. We also realized we were excited to go to Canada to fish.
The boat went straight from the East Cape to Harry’s Marine in Orange California to receive a heart transplant in the form of a brand new Volvo TAMD 22 P SX. This was an excellent combination.
In spite of dropping 20hp the boat seemed to perform just as well, with a phenomenal increase in fuel economy—at least at trolling speeds. From there, the boat went home to the shop where the interior was gutted and completely redone. Oh, Mary was really liking this part. So out with the old cabinets and in with the new.
We installed new upholstery, a new bathroom, a Sport Pilot Plus auto-pilot, a Wallas diesel stove, microwave, inverter with Trojan T105 batteries and a second Balmar alternator.
We also attempted to install a 24gph watermaker. While engineering the installation, the osmosis membrane proved to be too long to conveniently fit anywhere. Hmmm, the cockpit was also too small for fishing. So, after reviewing all the options and having seen ads regarding hull extensions done by North Harbor Diesel and Yacht Service located in Anacortes, I made a call.
KC in the yacht service department said, “Yes, we can do a hull extension on your boat. In fact, on any boat for that matter.”
TO CUT OR NOT TO CUT?
After doing some drawings in my office showing hatch locations in the new deck and drawings for a new water tank and fuel tank, as well as their size and location, we faxed the drawings off to KC so he could prepare an estimate. The estimate from KC was returned quickly and we had a decision to make. Were we going to spend $38,000 to cut a 24-year-old 1982 Bayliner in half and add four feet in length? Well, that decision didn’t take very long. We were off to Anacortes.
The team at North Harbor proved to be the best example of professionals you could ever have work on your boat. The carpenters, the fiberglass techs, the painters, the stainless steel railings installer and the shop who manufactured the tanks all provided work of the highest caliber. When we were settling up the bill, which ended up being north of $50,000, KC and I sat down and went over the changes and additions and I felt he was more than fair with the final total.
What we have now is truly unique. We have a 29-foot, 7-inch length on deck with an 8-foot beam which can be trailered anywhere. The boat gets 7nm per gallon at 7 knots. We also get 11mpg at 65mph behind the 3500 Dodge Cummins crew cab we use to tow it.
The fuel tanks hold 168 gallons of fuel, 39 of which is in a pre-filter tank which passes the fuel through a 12-micron rated filter with a water drain, then through a 6-micron filter before entering the 129-gallon main tank.
The main tank sends fuel through a Detroit Diesel double filter assembly with two 6-micron filters, the second of which is accessed by merely switching an easily accessible valve. Both filter assemblies have vacuum gauges and water sensors. The 62-gallon water tank with a 24gph watermaker is the greatest. It is so nice to have all the great tasting water you could ever want. The watermaker came from Aqua Marine in Deer Harbor, Washington, and the owner, Dan, was always very helpful.
The new trailer is a galvanized triple axle Easy Loader with electric over hydraulic disc brakes. We have launched off the beach in both high mountain lakes as well as in the Sea of Cortez. The boat is a 10-knot boat and we enjoy it. I know that is not fast enough for some people but it really has worked out well for us. The boat is very functional—you can fish for 10 days without refueling and stay aboard. The little Volvo engine has been bullet proofed. We now have 1250 hours on the engine and the oil still comes out clean when we change it every 50–70 hours.
EVERYWHERE AND BACK
We have been to both Canada and Mexico, boating across and down the Sea of Cortez. From Olympia to Nanaimo and every microbrew and chowder house in between. We’ve boated the entire length of Lake Powell—where, by the way, anyone can catch a boat-full of very nice striped bass. We are discussing trips to the Great Lakes and Vancouver Island. The boat is a magnet for positive comments, so much so that there are times it is difficult to get away from the admirers on the dock.
WAS IT WORTH IT?
So how much does something like this cost? If you were to factor in the value of your time spent on the renovation, I’m not sure you’d save any money compared to the cost of buying a boat. In fact, I know you won’t. But it is so nice having exactly what you want. It is difficult to purchase a boat that was designed for the masses, and actually have it work for something besides sitting at the dock. If you enjoy customization, you can end up with a very nice personalized boat at a reasonable cost.
Brent and his wife, Mary, are still land locked and working, living in Heber City, Utah, dreaming of spending more time aboard their custom boat. They have owned an electrical contracting business since 1986. They have two sons, a daughter-in-law, two grandchildren and two grand-dogs who all want to be on the boat at the same time. I guess you could say we're a close family.