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A Tribute to Art DeFever, 1918-2013

Arthur DeFever

Arthur DeFever, a founding father of the trawler lifestyle, died April 10 and was buried at sea. He was 94. It has been estimated that more than 3,800 boats were built to his designs.

At 17, the California native built his first boat, a wooden rowboat. He rowed it solo to Catalina Island. As a budding naval architect, DeFever began designing vessels in earnest in the 1950s. He designed long-range tuna fishing vessels, which were considered innovative at the time, and his commercial work informed his trawler yacht designs right up until the end of his life.

These tuna vessels proved highly reliable and seaworthy. They stayed away from port for weeks at a time, traveling long distances to Central and South America before returning safely with their catch.

In the early 1960s, Arthur joined the Offshore Cruising Society. At the time, long-range cruising in private yachts was virtually always done in sailboats. His friends suggested that he design a seaworthy cruising powerboat that would have sufficient range to make the long runs up and down the Pacific coast into Mexico or Alaska.

So Arthur designed several pleasure craft for that organization in the 38- to 54-foot range. These were deep draft, full-displacement, diesel-powered vessels that were capable of prolonged Pacific passages in comfort and safety. Many were constructed of wood at the Lindwall yard in Santa Barbara. Several still cruise the Pacific coast including Pau Hana II, 1960 vintage, owned by DeFever Cruisers members.

In the 1970s, fiberglass became the preferred hull material for boat building. In many of DeFever’s designs, single diesel power gave way to twin engines. He made appropriate modifications, but the characteristic swept sheer, high prow and displacement hull form were retained. The popular designs of the past quarter century share a distinctive profile, which is a source of pride for owners.

His popular designs include the Passagemaker 34, 40 and 43, the 44 Offshore Cruiser, 49 Raised Pilothouse, 52 Offshore Cruiser and 60 Offshore Cruiser. They are known for excellent sea-keeping capability, interior room and comfort. The Passagemaker 34 and 40 were manufactured at Jensen Marine in California, while the others were built by CTF in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, and more recently, by POCTA in mainland China.

During the mid-1980s, customers were asking for faster boats, and as a result DeFever designed the 51 POC (performance offshore cruiser), followed by the 47 POC, 53 POC and 57 Cockpit POC. All of these boats have semi-displacement hulls for increased speed using larger engines. These were built in the Sen Koh yard, Kaohsiung, Taiwan.

Several new designs are currently in production. The very popular Offshore 44 is in current production. It is also available with a cockpit and is known at the DeFever 49 Cockpit. The amazingly spacious 52 Offshore Cruiser, a flush-deck design, is also available as a 60-foot cockpit model. Plus there are beautiful raised pilothouse DeFever designs at 52 and 56 feet.

Read the July issue of PassageMaker, for a more extensive look at DeFever’s career as well as one of his most popular models, the DeFever.