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Long-distance cruiser and retired Navy Captain Greg Parker wrote the following essay as a letter to the editor in response to an article in the January 2013 issue. 

I picked up your Jan/Feb 2013 issue of PassageMaker off my coffee table yesterday and read the article “Whiff of Workboat” by Peter Swanson, which I had missed when I first looked through the issue.

"What is a trawler? (the discussion of the article): "A trawler is a motorboat with a full- displacement, ballasted hull that is economical enough and with enough range to make long-ocean passages." "Most trawlers have a 'whiff of work boat' in them." "Trawler is a look" "A trawler's style is never Euro." "If you are truly interested in a trawler — or let's call it the trawler lifestyle — your going to be operating much more in the low end rather then the high end." "A trawler is a recreational vessel reminiscent of a workboat above the waterline, which appeals to buyers wanting to cruise at slow speeds, at least part of the time."

As a consumer and a passionate practicing advocate of the lifestyle, I think the industry's professionals quoted in the article missed the mark.

I am in my seventies, a retired Navy Captain, with over 40 years of recreational boating experience in nine boats. Three were catamarans including Hobie 16 Hull #2 and a 65-foot Rudy Choi design with a 100-foot rotating mast powered with two 3116 Caterpillar engines. One was a 28-foot Stamas Sport Fisher. Two were monohulls, a Catalina 22 and a 28 custom designed racing Sloop. One was a planning hull convertible 3988 Bayliner. And two were trawlers, a 34-foot displacement hull and our current 64-foot Grand Alaskan (semi-displaced), picture attached. On two of these boats I participated in the design and construction, the 28-foot racing Sloop and the 65-foot Rudy Choi designed catamaran. Although I have enjoyed sailing and sailboat racing, since my first boat with cruising accommodations, the Catalina 22, I have been a cruiser at heart.

What is the trawler lifestyle? Quite simply, it is the sailors cruising lifestyle in a power boat.

What is the definition of a trawler? It is a power vessel that accommodates the cruising lifestyle.

What distinguishes a trawler from other powerboats? It must have the sea keeping ability and range to reach remote anchorages, provide extended living accommodations at anchor, and have the ability to carry, launch, and retrieve a tender. You can not accommodate the cruising lifestyle with less.

Catalina Sunshine lies at anchor along the Georgia coast.

Catalina Sunshine lies at anchor along the Georgia coast.

"Whiff of Workboat?" I don't think a boat needs to look like a workboat to be a trawler. However, form should follow function. A trawler, if you buy my definition of trawler, is functional boat which leads to elements of boat design that look workboat like, such as cranes to raise and lower tenders, accommodations on deck to store tenders, anchor accommodations, reverse windows, a pilot house, and walk around decks for line handling and docking, to name a few. Yes images do support dreams and much of the boating experience is dreaming. As Jimmy Buffet puts it "mostly dreams, mostly dreams."

Although I disagree with Jim Leisfiman's definition of trawler, which restricts this class of boats to displacement hulls, Jeff Leishman is an artist who has the most artfully of any captured the essence of a cruising powerboat with his "shippy" Nordhavn 62. Although Art Defever's, who I believe is the grandfather of trawler naval architects, work has less artistic flair, his stepped pilot house design with Portuguese bridge (which I have) has the classic "trawler" look artfully expressing its function.

This boat, not coincidently, looks like a Fleming and a Marlow. Both Tony Fleming and David Marlow worked for Grand Banks when Grand Banks first made the Grand Banks Alaskan with its Portuguese bridge in the 1960's. This boat was designed by Arthur Defever. When Grand Banks switched from wood boats to fiberglass and moved their yard to Singapore, they dropped the Grand Banks Alaskan design. Around that time both Fleming and Marlow branched out separately on their own, making refinements to the Grand Alaskan Defever design.

I suggest that the best trawlers are the most functional, and these functional elements look like a workboat, because form has followed function rather than a look that is an independent characteristic which defines a trawler.

"Wanting to cruise at slow speeds." Most all of us can get seasick in severe conditions. All of us have wives, or children, or friends that can get sea sick in less than severe conditions. Going slow in an unstabilized boat in even moderate beam seas in open ocean conditions, for long periods, can be uncomfortable to even ardent sailors, and sickening to others. Although power catamarans are better, they can still be uncomfortable. The ride at planing speeds in the same seas is much more comfortable.

Most boats under 50 feet are not stabilized. I suggest that it is not as much a need for speed that is attracting buyers to the fast trawler, it's the ride in a planing hull versus an unstabilized boat. Even with pills my wife would get deathly sick in our 34' displacement hulled trawler. She would not get sick in our "sail stabilized" sailboats or in our planing 3988 Bayliner at 16 to 20 knots. Even at slower speeds in beam seas the planing hull is more comfortable than the unstabilized displacement hull.

We bought the Bayliner because we wanted a planning boat that had the most accommodations we could afford at the time. We then added a cover to the cockpit to carry our tender on top and a crane to lift it there, added 250 gallons of fuel under the "V" berth master, to extend our cruising range (and balance the tender's weight), and 400 feet of chain. We ended up with a fast trawler (by my definition) 14 years ago, before the industry started making them.

With our "fast trawler" we traveled the northwest through Canada down the Pacific Coast and into Mexico, with 10 years of trips to Catalina Island in between. For the last three years we have had our Grand Alaskan, a stabilized trawler, on the East Coast traveling between Nantucket and the Bahamas. Although we have 2-800hp Caterpillars, we are not in a hurry and 9 knots stabilized is the right speed for us, except when transitioning severe tidal conditions like Hells Gate, or pulling off a shoal on the ICW (the extra power is very helpful), or outrunning a storm to a safe harbor, or making up lost time to meet friends or catch a plane, or out maneuvering pirates (fortunately no experiences yet).

We can achieve 18+ knots at WOT. I believe the fast trawler market is here to stay, with the benefit of safety, and in the case of unstabilized boats, the desire for a more comfortable ride. This like the workboat look, is not a distinguishing characteristic of a trawler but a by product of its functional design.

"Atrawler is a motorboat with afull displacement, ballasted hull..." I take issue with Jim Leishman, not to argue the obvious exclusion of what most of the rest of us would automatically include in the trawler class, but for the notion that a displacement hull is superior for the trawler mission. My Defever designed 64-foot semi-displacement trawler, is powered with twin 3406 Catepillar engines with 800HP each, and it gets 1.2 gallons per nautical mile at 9 knots. A 62 Nordhavn, which from an image standpoint is my favorite, gets closer to 1.5 gallons per nautical mile 9 knots with its single engine, and it can't go any faster, I can when I need to.

Both boats at 8 knots use 1 gallon per nautical mile. I have redundancy with twin engines, which is not even closely matched with a small wing engine and, as my wife reminds me, with our hard chines we very infrequently need stabilization at anchor. Not true with the round bottom full displacement hull like the 62 Nordhavn. Hull design is again not a characteristic that should define a trawler but a design response to its intended function.

"A trawler's styling is never Euro". Your cover article in the July/August 2013 discussed this issue. I think that clearly it can. In fact, both the vertical bow and vertical windows, which many Euro designed boats have, are both functional. I would however, argue that without the ability to carry a tender the Magellano 43 (featured in your July/August issue) falls short. The Garcia on the other hand is Euro looking and clearly a trawler, even by Jim Leishman's definition.

I love PassageMaker, particularly your cruising articles. I look forward to each issue, including the thought provoking ones like "Whiff of Workboat.” Keep them coming.


Greg Parker