Skip to main content

Where Did the Summer Go?

The end of the season is upon us, miles and hours piled on the new boat we looked so forward to, yet somehow never quite got finished.

Growler, our 28-foot custom lobster boat, remained a simple vessel during her first season, a result of my commitment to take it slow and get a sense of things before adding systems and complexity. And as PMM progressed this year, so did my many travels, resulting in little free time to gunkhole on Chesapeake Bay and beyond. Life just got busy. Sound familiar?

Well, we're ready to move forward.

Among many issues pondered over the summer, we decided we'd like to spruce up the interior. I suppose we could have had this done when the boat was built, but I took the commercial, minimalist route. A change of mind is my prerogative (along with a gentle nudge from my wife).

Summer Project

Electronics was the one area we pursued this summer, and here I wanted to try something different. Outfitting experts are in two schools of thought when it comes to selecting electronics. The first is the perception that no one company makes the best product in every category, whether it be radar, radio, charting, depth sounder or autopilot, so it's best to buy the finest product in each category regardless of brand.

The second school of thought embraces the concept that most companies provide a suite of family products, all designed to integrate both in appearance and function. Given the wide diversity in standards and protocols, a manufacturer is free to develop seamless, often proprietary integration, making for a much less complicated electronics situation for the boat owner.

Frankly, I admit to belonging to the first group, and I have a long history of buying the best equipment regardless of manufacturer. It has proven to be a successful strategy, although I have had to deal with a few integration issues, even though I wasn't a big fan of integration. But things have changed, and so must I.

So we switched camps on this one, and purchased most of our electronics directly from Raymarine in Nashua, New Hampshire. Raymarine produces a tasty suite of marine electronics, and their HSB (High Speed Buss) technology, WAAS GPS capability, Pathfinder radar and brilliant screen displays are found on many production boats.

I spoke with Keith Wansley, vice president of product line management, about which Raymarine products would be appropriate for our boat. Keith began with a case for an openarray radar, which really surprised me, given that every lobster-style boat I've ever seen uses a radome antenna. Keith enthusiastically explained that the performance of an openarray antenna is far superior to a radome of similar power and that target definition would be markedly better in heavy rain, fog and conditions of reduced visibility. He convinced me to select a 4kW radar antenna with Raymarine's RL80C daylight viewable, 10.4-inch color display. With two C-Map bays in the display unit, I have two of the three C-Map cartridges for Chesapeake Bay on hand at all times.

We also purchased a simple depth sounder (rather than a color fish finder) and an ST6000 Autohelm autopilot. The depth sounder provides simple reading below the hull, which is a helpful complement and cross-reference to the charting data on the plotter. The autopilot has proven to be a steady hand on the wheel and quite reliable, and well integrated into the positioning equipment. Raymarine's WAAS GPS receiver completed the package. I'm very happy with the performance of Raymarine's family of instruments, which work and look good together.

I also brought aboard an IBM Thinkpad 600 laptop running Nobeltec's Visual Navigation Series 6.0. There is great interest in comparing C-Map charting on the bright Raymarine display and the opposing chart information displayed on the laptop. There will be much more on this at a future date. After all, the primary function of Growler is as a testing platform, so using competing products side-by-side is the normal mode of operation.

Can You Hear Me?

For communications, we installed two fixed VHF radios, an ICOM IC-M502 and a Standard Spectrum GX-2350SB. Both radios are waterproof and have the Digital Selective Calling (DSC) feature, which ties into the GPS for position data in the event of an emergency. The Standard Spectrum radio also has a hailer and horn function.

To underscore the importance of antennas, I bought two beautiful antennas from Morad Electronics in Seattle. The antenna connected to the Spectrum is the same 6dB model used on the U.S. Coast Guard motor lifeboats, and the other is a high performance 10dB unit that has no peers in the industry. These antennas are awesome!

I installed them with marine-grade Ancor RG- 213 coax myself, including the soldered PL-259 connectors with silicone gel to prevent corrosion, so I think radio communications will be superior on Growler, even if we run across the Gulf Stream to Bimini on some future date or head offshore to Block Island from Cape May.

Unfortunately, I must report radio performance under way is as yet untested, except at the dock, and the reason points to a much bigger issue with the boat. Growler is one loud lobster boat. "What!?! Can't hear you!!!" Running the boat at speed, we measured 98dB at the helm, too loud for shouted conversation let alone radio communications. Indeed, a 98dB rating is almost what I routinely measure in an engine room on a motorboat running offshore.

This noise issue is one significant problem that must be fixed before we'll be able to enjoy Growler. Perhaps it is that most boats of this style have open cockpits rather than enclosed cabins, so boat builders don't realize the impact of noise beyond a few hours. It is really quite tiring.

Our Maine builder installed thick insulation inside the engine box, but nowhere else. I never realized how noise affects one's enjoyment on the water. Those gold-chained guys who run around in mega-horsepower, straight exhaust speed machines must be made of steel...or deaf.

There are many factors that contribute to extreme sound levels; expect a technical article on this in the next issue, as a matter of fact.

Get Thee To The Degaba System

Growler recently made the 100-mile journey south to Virginia, threading her way into Mobjack Bay and the home of Zimmerman Marine. Steve D'Antonio, whose PMM technical articles are widely enjoyed, is Zimmerman's yard manager. Steve Zimmerman and his craftsmen feel confident they can make a serious dent in reducing Growler's noise. It is a major step we're taking here, because if the noise issue can be addressed, we're going to proceed on many other projects that will make her into a tasty cruising boat with more comfort.

We have a list of ideas that Zimmerman Marine is now exploring, as well as adding their own suggestions. In addition to being a wellknown refit yard, Steve Zimmerman builds a bigger version of Growler's Spencer Lincoln hull, a 36-footer that is a real head-turner. The Zimmerman 36 is simply gorgeous, with an attention to detail that is truly astonishing. A walk through the Zimmerman 36 is simply not enough to appreciate the quality that is in this boat. These guys are intense.

Such construction details, many of them quite small and completely unseen by the owner, make a yacht like the Zimmerman 36 stand apart from the rest of the boats in a harbor. And I believe it is money well spent, as the overall reliability of a cruising boat is very dependent on the fine points of construction and outfitting. Whether it is a critical electrical connection or the nuances of a proper head or fuel system installation, quality and attention to detail really do make a difference in overall enjoyment by owners.

So we introduced Growler to Zimmerman Marine.

Where To Begin

Among the ideas on our list is a higher level of interior finish, perhaps with cherry trim, as well as fitting boxes over the instrument cutouts.

Another useful add-on is some form of fixed cockpit seating with storage. Folding teak table and chairs look snazzy and work great at the dock, but running at speed over a passing wake or into head seas upsets anyone so seated.

It turns out our golden retriever, Boomer, can't see out of the boat, as the cockpit gunwales are too high. Along with hating the high noise level, not being able to view the passing scenery keeps her in a constant state of anxiety. Fixed seating will give her a boost, literally.

I might argue that we're asking for trouble without a large primary Racor filter in the fuel system, upstream and separate from the enginemounted filter. Nothing runs like a Deere, except when fuel gets contaminated.

The boat could use a helm chair. Countertops could use some color, too.

My wife, Laurene, wants stainless steel stanchions and railing for security on the foredeck and a softer interior finish. And after a summer on Chesapeake Bay, she has put her foot down about air conditioning. I totally lost that argument.

The Zimmerman people will evaluate the electrical system as it relates to the additional demands of air conditioning, as well as installing a small refrigerator. Their recommendations should be presented soon, and decisions made.

It was probably inevitable that once the noise issue was under control, Growler would evolve from a simple photography platform and test boat toward status as a real cruising boat. I know there are many readers out there with similar boat interests, so this story will continue, especially as so much of what we have yet to do has much broader relevance on older, larger trawlers as well.

The Zimmerman projects will occur over the next six months. Growler is one strong, wellbuilt boat, and everyone agrees it is definitely worth this effort, even if Laurene already hints at a bigger boat.

All who have run Growler come away with a sense of confidence that she can handle the big stuff, well able to perform with strength and grace.

She just needs to learn when to be quiet, without losing her growl.

Reprinted with permission. Copyright 2002 © Dominion Enterprises (888.487.2953)