Skip to main content

A New Growler

LOOKING BACK ON IT, THE SIGNS WERE CLASSIC. WE'D MADE OUR WAY DOWN ONE PATH, only to find our needs had changed when we got there. And, as so often happens, other life factors changed as well.

For a few months, I stubbornly held on to the expectation that it was reasonable to incorporate new requirements while following the original path.

But reality eventually hit and it was time to face facts. Built as a workboat-tough photo boat and equipment testing platform, 28-foot Growlernow is for sale. A capable little lobster boat, she is perfect for someone wanting nofrills strength and robust construction, or a fisherman. She is every bit the workboat.

But after the past year, Laurene and I are in a new frame of mind about what we want in a boat, and after careful consideration we decided we could not do that on Growler.

And so goes the joys of boat ownership. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Quiet Please

Over the winter, we'd put Growler through a preliminary survey at Zimmerman Marine's yard in Mathews, Virginia. Steve Zimmerman's crew (which includes yard manager and PMM contributing editor Steve D'Antonio) evaluated the boat to determine what it would take to complete her interior and set it up as a pocket cruiser.

Critical to our overall plan was the need to reduce interior noise. As we got to know her last summer, we found the lobster boat hull seaworthy and comfortable on Chesapeake Bay, but the noise level was just too high for long days under power.

The engine space under the sole is open, offering no sound barrier between living spaces and machinery. Steve Zimmerman and Steve D'Antonio told us the ultimate solution involved removing the cabin sole, adding additional bulkheads, and sealing off every opening into the living spaces. But on a boat already built, this is quite a project. There were, thankfully, other ways to achieve a reduction in onboard noise.

The other thing we wanted was to complete the interior with a higher level of finish. For instance, the galley was roughed-in, but lacked a stove and fridge, and the white-painted counter could be finished with a colored laminate and hardwood trim. I know I planned the boat as simple as possible, so before Laurene got too deep into curtains and cushions, we needed some help determining how far to take this.

To give us some ideas of interior possibilities, Steve Zimmerman took us aboard several boats of his own creation, the Zimmerman 36. A Spencer Lincoln design like the 28-footer, the 36-foot hull is custom finished by Steve to fit the varied needs of owners. In addition to a core business in yacht refit and repair, Zimmerman Marine builds one Z36 per year.

We saw a Z36 with carpeting on the sole, which certainly would help reduce noise from machinery spaces. Another boat had a beautiful maple and cherry sole, constructed of hardwoods milled at the yard. The interiors ranged from traditional wood to light bulkheads with hardwood trim. Such possibilities are the forte of a custom-boat builder.

Steve told us we probably could get to 80 percent of what we wanted in noise reduction, but the cost would be significant.

As if to underscore the economics, another factor lurked in the shadows. Despite my fundamental desire to keep things bone simple, I represent only half of the equation. As we revisited our needs over the winter, Laurene made an argument against which I had no valid counterpoint. More comfort-driven than I, a romantic who once lived aboard a wood Tahiti ketch, she can easily separate the romance of being on the water from the desire for basic comfort.

Basic comfort on Chesapeake Bay in the summer is a case for air conditioning. Beyond day trips, this comfort system makes life aboard more pleasant-at times even possible-and it's difficult to argue against that. But air conditioning adds complexity, and to be self-sufficient, requires a generator. The equipment spiral quickly gathers speed from there. And on a 28- foot boat, where does one put such equipment?

The where-do-we-put-it argument aside, when we added up the estimated cost of noise reduction, then finishing the interior and installing additional systems, we realized we would have one very expensive 28-foot boat.

Reality Check

Laurene and I had a long talk on the drive home to Annapolis. What should we do? Should we continue on the path to finish the 28-footer, or are we kidding ourselves trying to fit so much in such a small space?

I pondered the same questions I ask others in TrawlerPort seminars. If we no longer wanted a boat simply for day trips and photo shoots, what exactly did we plan to do with it? How many people would be aboard, and for how long?

Obviously we had indeed outgrown our original concept for Growler. We were in the opposite situation of so many others who find themselves in a boat far larger than they can comfortably handle or really need. We now wanted a cruiser capable of taking us in comfort and safety to all sorts of interesting places. A bigger boat, but not much bigger. We are still years away from building that ideal passagemaker to cruise the world.

We continued this discussion of how nice it would be to have something larger, finished to a higher level, and with a true liveaboard interior for cruising. A low maintenance exterior, with more space and comfort, in a well-built boat able to run all day at 14/16 knots. I'm no speed freak, but time is an issue. And a yacht interior was a must.

We'd just spent a couple of hours on boats that ably fit those requirements. The Zimmerman 36 is 8 feet longer in a hull shape we already are familiar with, and know to be comfortable under way. Those extra feet translate into more interior volume, a better ride and the ability to house the necessary systems.

The model is only 36 feet long, yet with ample space for a saloon, head with enclosed shower, a complete galley and a single roomy stateroom. The dimensions also allow for suitable installations and good access to everything.

The finish work from this yard is exquisite, and its craftsmanship extends way beyond cosmetics. Attend one of Steve D'Antonio's seminars at a TrawlerPort and you'll see that it is the details, large and small, that determine the success of one's boat ownership experience. Done right, it's a charm-whether it's a seacock, cabinet hinge, electrical connection or hatch fitting. These folks know that if it isn't done right, problems are never far away.

A New Beginning

For these reasons, we purchased the next hull that Steve Zimmerman had open for completion. Zimmerman Marine will build us a new Growler, and hopefully it will be completed in time for the Annapolis Boat Show this fall.

With the Zimmerman Marine yard close enough for regular visits, you'll get to see the new Growler come together, something I'd planned from the beginning. As we select equipment, major mechanical components and other systems, even fabrics, you'll read and understand the associated thought process. Steve D'Antonio already has promised to provide insight into the more relevant technical aspects of the construction. How to properly install a seacock, for example.

The standard layout will work fine for us, and Steve Zimmerman is now leading us through the web of major decisions. The list is not as long as we least not yet.

An interesting twist to this project already has surfaced. As the boat does not have a flybridge or excessive beam, I've learned we can easily and inexpensively truck the boat to the West Coast for cruising the Pacific Northwest. That is exciting news, as this area of the United States and Canada is in my mind one of the best cruising grounds in the world. Our ability to transport the boat opens up tremendous cruising alternatives to a couple still gainfully employed with limited leisure time.

I'm confident we made the right decision about Growler, old and new. And even though we'll be boatless for this season, the wait will be worth it. Next issue I'll run through more details of the new boat, as we will have made some major decisions by then.

And for anyone out there who wants a compact 28-footer with the heart and growl of a lion, I know just the boat for you.