This is the story about a terrible boat, told to an audience of marine surveyors by the lawyer whose job it was to defend the builder of the terrible boat 12 years ago. The builder of the terrible boat was not a terrible company. Quite the opposite, it’s a venerable brand in the sportfishing niche, but the model in question was, as Jimmy Buffet once sang, “a big mistake-a.”
Because the builder is still in business under different corporate ownership, it is not being named here, but the story is worth telling in generalities because it offers an important lesson to anyone looking to buy a “fast trawler.” Plus, other than the original sin of bringing a bad product to market, the builder acted in good faith throughout what turned out to be an ordeal for everyone involved.
What was amazing about the story is that the lawyer telling it showed remarkable empathy for the people suing her client. To summarize her talk: The buyers got a raw deal and the defects in the boat they bought were incurable. In the end, the company took the boat back and refunded the $2.7 million purchase price.
She “porpoised” underway in the slightest chop. A “station wagon effect” pulled fumes and spray over the transom while running in head winds, resulting in a cockpit so wet that anyone sitting in it might as well have been undergoing an ice-bucket challenge. Water somehow got sucked into the engine room and saloon. Bow spray overwhelmed the flybridge, effectively blinding the pilot. And there were other issues as well, including a badly running engine.
For six months the builder struggled to find fixes—relocating exhausts, adding strakes, even retrofitting tunnels in the hull ahead of the props. No joy. The owner got fed up, sued, and the company settled. It also settled a separate lawsuit filed by another owner.
But what really caught my attention was a disclosure from the lawyer that did not find its way into the court papers. She said the boat would not get up on plane with full fuel and water tanks. The slide show of the boat underway, struggling to plane, was astonishing. The forward half of the vessel was almost completely obscured by a wall of spray.
Magazine reviewers had praised the build and performance of the terrible boat. One reported it going 27 knots, but, perhaps tellingly, expressed gratitude for the flybridge enclosure. Another reported 35-knot speeds, and was effusive in his praise for the boat's comfort and handling.
I happen to know both these writers, and neither is an imbecile, but I can almost guarantee that neither was experiencing the vessel with a full fuel load of 2,000 gallons and 400 gallons of water—more than 17,000 pounds. Standard practice is to conduct sea trials with tanks nearly empty, which doesn’t matter if someone is testing a full-displacement boat like a Nordhavn or Selene. Not so on a craft that’s designed to get up and go.
Moral of the Story
If you’re looking to buy a “fast trawler” and intend to go cruising, which means getting underway with full tanks, it would behoove you to ask that any sea trial be conducted fully loaded. It may confirm your choice, or it could save you from making a big mistake-a.