What a difference a year (or two) makes

December 2009

By Dodge Morgan

When this issue of Points East hits the harborsides, I will be in some narrow body of water plowing south with a powerboat under me. Woof.

Narrow bodies of water frighten me. One cannot run into hard, fixed objects at sea, and at sea is where most of my boat times have been spent, such as 25 years of annual Maine-West Indies trips; four Pacific crossings; many East Coast offshore passages; and a solo, nonstop circumnavigation. But the real difference here is the powerboat reference. I have owned eight sailboats over almost 60 years. The only power vessels I have owned are dinghies and short-distance commuter launches.

The onslaught of eroding energy, patience, balance and durability from the advent of advancing age, coupled with the anticipated joy of passing through salt water directly into the wind, led me last fall to buy a trawler yacht, and I found myself on a steep learning curve.

My power-vessel education focused me on matters of little or no concern to a sailboat owner: fuel consumption, fuel storage, cruising range, cruising speed. It is the dawn of a strange, new awareness. I saw a boat that would move out at 25 knots (sailors may note that this speed is 12 knots less than the recent Atlantic crossing-speed average by a sailboat, a huge multihull), but at a fuel cost of 20 gallons an hour and a range of just a couple hundred miles.

Not good. I decided that 10 knots would be enough momentum for me with at least 500 miles of range in the fuel tanks. I am not totally ignorant of fuel-efficient power craft; one of the power boats I have owned now for 25 years, a 16-foot wood launch, burns a sixteenth of a gallon an hour in a single-cylinder diesel engine from a 10-gallon tank, a range that would get me to Bermuda with this little gal. Range to a sailboat, of course, is endless because the supply of moving air is infinite.

The 10-knot specification settled me on trawler yachts, displacement hulls driven by engines of more reasonable size with ranges that would take me about halfway to Bermuda from Maine. Which means I eliminate that island from my itinerary and buy the four-book library of Intracoastal Waterway guides.

I have done much of the waterway once with the schooner Coaster. In 1963. It was the year JFK was assassinated in Dallas. I am guessing the route may not be the same after 45 years but that may be irrelevant because neither is my memory. What I do remember is that I learned of the president’s death at, of all oxymoronic places, Hope, Georgia, and that a civil war continued, but one between boaters and bridge-tenders, and that the principal presence of a power boat is its wake.

Once in Florida – where weather is given strictly in terms of “percent sunshine” so a rainy day forecast is optimistically described as a five percent chance of sun – crossing over to cruise the Bahama Islands is obvious. And how strange it will be to completely overlook wind direction in the planning.

The boat I got is a Monk 36, built in Nova Scotia. She has a double bed, a large stand-up shower stall, a house-style “kitchen” with reefer-freezer, hot and cold running water, heat and air-conditioning, single-engine with bow-thruster, and a fly-bridge helm station for times you want to remain under way but get away from the water.

Dodge has joined the chevrons of Casco Bay geese as a bird of passage as he makes his way south under power, bound for warmer climes.