Members' Online Book: Better Offshore Motorboats, Chapter 1 of 8

A Sailor’s Motorboat

"Morgan's Cloud", a McCurdy and Rhodes 56' cutter, seen beside an arch berg with glacier and mountain behind, a typical East Greenland scene. The icecap reaches down to the sea in numerous glaciers and there are a floating profusion of bergs and smaller pieces of ice to be carefully avoided.

Phyllis and I own a better motorboat, for our purposes, than most motorboats. Let me explain why I say that and why it matters.

Morgan’s Cloud as a Motorboat

Let’s examine some real world numbers that I have compiled over 20 years of motoring close to 40% of the time in our 52,000 pound displacement McCurdy and Rhodes 56 (in the Arctic, the tendency is that it’s either blowing like hell, in which case you try to be snugged up somewhere, or there is no wind at all and you are motoring):

  • Low speed cruise at 6 knots burning just 1.1 US gallons (4.2 liters) an hour, yielding almost 6 miles to the US gallon.
  • High speed cruise at 7.9 knots burning 2.2 gallons (8.3 liters) an hour, yielding 3.6 miles per gallon.
  • All empty range of about 1700 miles at low speed cruise.
  • All empty range of about 1000 miles at high speed cruise.
  • Really good stabilization as long as there is even the tiniest amount of wind. Rolls her guts out with no wind, although we are quite used to that and it bothers us less than you might think.
  • Sail assist that can halve the fuel burn in optimal conditions.
  • Built-in get home power in case the main engine fails. For the motorboat people in the audience, we sailors call it a rig.
  • Walk-in stand up engine room.
  • Limit of positive stability of about 140 degrees, without taking deckhouses into account.
  • Relatively long thin displacement hull that needs just 87 HP to reach 9.6 knots burning 4.6 gallons (17.5 liters) an hour (estimate from engine power curve).

A Trawler

Let’s compare that to a popular trawler yacht sold as ocean capable that is a bit shorter, although much heavier. These numbers are also real world taken from an account, by a very experienced (and honest) skipper, of a trans-Atlantic passage (note that, to be fair to the trawler, I have had to do some estimated adjustments for things like backing out generator use):

  • Low speed cruise around 6.5 knots burning about 3.5 gallons (13.2 liters) an hour, yielding 1.8 miles per gallon.
  • High speed cruise of around 7.8 knots burning about 6 gallons (22.7 liters) an hour or 1.3 miles per gallon—ouch!
  • All empty range of about 3000 miles at low speed cruise.
  • All empty range of about 1900 miles at high speed cruise.
  • Separate get-home wing engine.
  • Walk-in stand up engine room with even more room than Morgan’s Cloud.
  • Substantially more accommodation space. Like about double, although not as usable as you might think because a lot of space gets wasted in short wide boats.
  • Really nice wheelhouse for watch standing and watching the world go by in comfort.
  • Active stabilizers that work in all conditions (unless they fail) but increase fuel burn.
  • Limit of positive stability of…well, the builder does not, at least that I can find, publish that or, I suspect, wish to discuss it. I’m guessing between 70 and 90 degrees, and that assumes that the deck houses stay watertight.
  • Needs 174 HP to reach 9.3 knots burning 9.5 gallons (36 liters) an hour (estimate from engine power curve).

For our needs, it’s a clear win for Morgan’s Cloud as a motorboat. She burns much less fuel and she is safer offshore, due to her stability.

Motorboat wheelhouse

The motorboat wins on space, wheelhouse and range under power.

A Real Cruise

Let’s take a moment to quantify Morgan’s Cloud’s advantage over a typical year in which we tend to cover about 5000 miles. And let’s assume that the summer includes an Arctic trip, so we motor half of it and we really don’t like going slowly so we do that at high speed cruise.

A quick moment with the calculator yields 700 gallons of fuel, although experience would say closer to 500 due to sail assist, but we will forget that and go with 700 gallons over the year, at say an average of US$6.00 per gallon, which equals US$4200. Certainly a lot of money, but keep in mind that is all of our energy use: motion, heat, electricity, refrigeration, the works.

But now let’s assume the trawler yacht above comes on the cruise with us. They will burn up…$23,000, assuming they keep up with us at 7.9 knots. Way beyond anything that Phyllis and I could afford, even assuming that we were willing to be responsible for that kind of environmental footprint, which we are not.

A Better Idea

But suppose a smart designer looked at what a good sailboat like Morgan’s Cloud can do as a motorboat and learned from that. Suppose he or she kept the same 84 HP engine but changed some things:

  • Removed most of the keel, because you don’t need much of one if you don’t have a mast—that would be good, because the wetted surface goes way down.
  • Got rid of most of the 18,000 pounds of lead, for the same reason.
  • Squared off the stern and got rid of the aft overhang, because motorboats don’t heel, so you don’t need a pointy stern to match the pointy bow (as long as you get the prismatic coefficient and water plane balance right).
  • Got rid of some of the bow overhang.
  • Added a wheelhouse.

Wow, we would get a boat that is even more fuel efficient than Morgan’s Cloud, because it (the motorboat) is 10-feet longer on the water line, 20,000 pounds lighter and has less wetted surface. And has about the same usable living space, because of the wheelhouse over the engine room.

Wait, our designer makes things even better. He or she replaces our flat bladed feathering propeller with an adjustable pitch propeller so that the engine’s torque can be matched to the propeller at all RPM settings.

How good would this be? Insanely good:

Low Speed

Low speed cruise could be as good as 6 knots at just 0.6 gallons (2.2 liters) an hour. That’s 10 miles to the gallon!

High Speed

High speed cruise could be 1.8 gallons (6.8 liters) an hour at 8 knots, maybe even less, for 4.4 miles to the gallon.

Panic Speed

Panic cruise could be…What, you have never heard of panic cruise? That’s the speed you want to do when it’s late November, you have been sitting in Newport for three weeks waiting for a weather window to go to Bermuda, and a sliver of a window opens up on the back of a fast moving cold front. Panic cruise is a minimum of 10 knots, which gets you to Bermuda in just two and a half days, and this boat can deliver that at about 4 gallons an hour.

And that changes everything. You are sitting in the White Horse Pub hoisting a beer while everybody else is getting their butts handed to them by the next cold front.

And you know what? As Dave Gerr has been pointing out for years, even though you ran at panic cruise all the way, if there are four of you aboard, it cost you less to get to Bermuda than if you had flown. If you cut back to fast cruise (8 knots), increasing the transit time to just over three days (still faster than most sailboats), the cost is half that of flying.

Cheaper Than Sailing?

Now let’s go back and look at what happens if this motorboat accompanies Morgan’s Cloud on her typical 5000 miles a year of cruising and both boats do it at 7.8 knots. The motorboat owner spends about US$6521 over the year or about $2200, more than Phyllis and I do.

But, I hate to tell you fellow sailors, that increment is about a third to a half of what Morgan’s Cloud’s rig and sails cost to maintain over 5000 miles. Crank in the carbon footprint of making and maintaining sails and rig, and the environmental impact is about the same for the two boats, I would guess.

Now, before a small riot starts, I’m not saying we should all buy motorboats, or that Phyllis and I are going to do that, but it does behoove us to recognise reality and not stick our heads in the sand about what this sailing thing we are all addicted to really costs, particularly if you do it in places where you have to motor a lot of the time.

It’s Tragic

You know what the sad thing is? Designing a motorboat that can pull off these numbers and deliver the added safety conferred by “panic cruise” is not just possible, it’s pretty easy. And this guy, and this guy, even know exactly how to do it. In fact, I’m guessing most any competent naval architect can do it.

Like with the dearth of good offshore sailboats available to buy, the problem is this obsession the market has with short wide boats with huge interiors—beats me, I don’t get it either.

Of course, you can get one of Steve and Linda Dashew’s incredible boats, assuming you are, shall we say, financially fortunate and want a boat that is nearly three times larger than the one that I sketched out above.

What Are We Voyaging Sailors Going to Do?

But it seems that, other than that very expensive option, there simply has not been anything much around lately—Robert Beebe had this cracked years ago—that I would class as an efficient voyaging sailor’s offshore motorboat. And that’s a problem since we are all aging and many of us will one day need, or at least want, to make the transition to the dark side if we are going to keep voyaging.

But there is hope. For that, read on to the next chapter.


If you wish to discuss fuel burn numbers, please make sure that you are using real world numbers for a boat offshore in waves and that you have backed out the period that you were running at low RPM leaving harbour or approaching it and, if you own a sailboat, any time that you were motor sailing. Let me be brutally frank here: I have heard more absolute myths in claimed fuel economy numbers than on just about any other subject.

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Meet the Author


John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

78 comments … add one
  • Simon Wirth Jul 19, 2013, 9:38 am

    Hi John
    I have stumbled over Steve and Lindas webpage shortly after getting interested in ernest about cruising. One of his articels, I think it is under the section of Wind Horse (FPG 84) on where he does the same calculation.
    He does it based on realworld data from Beowulf VII (78ft ketch) and Wind Horse. And his resolt was a bit of a knock back, as he comes to the similar conclution as you. Maintaining and cruising Beowulf was actually more expensive than motoring Wind Horse around.
    Disapointing, in a way.
    But sailing is still more fun, so we who still can should take advantage of it as long as we can.

  • paul shard Jul 19, 2013, 9:39 am

    There is an excellent and interesting design called a Diesel Duck…
    Very good friends of ours built one of the first Diesel Ducks (in aluminum) and we have filmed two episodes of Distant Shores aboard her (San Blas Islands and BVI). They have done many miles and circumnavigated South America in her. Small engine, efficient hull shape plus a controllable variable pitch propellor for extra efficiency! a Very cool boat!

    • John Jul 19, 2013, 4:41 pm

      Hi Paul,

      I agree the Diesel Ducks are interesting boats, but the problem for me with them is that they are slower than our present boat at any reasonable fuel burn. To me, one of the greatest attractions of a power boat is faster passages when you really need to get out of the way of the weather. I just can’t see buying a motor boat to make shorter day’s runs than we regularly achieve in “Morgan’s Cloud” under power or sail.

      • paul shard Jul 19, 2013, 8:04 pm

        Hi John,
        Diesel Duck was certainly slower than your boat but at just 40 feet is more comparable to the Adventure 40 than your lovely Morgans Cloud! I do not know fuel burn numbers but you might be right that a pure sailboat hull could be better. The controllable propeller on Diesel Duck was another advantage for them though… it would be nice to see more options for CPP available for sailors…

        • John Jul 20, 2013, 9:31 am

          Hi Paul,

          Sorry, I did not mean to sound dismissive of the DD. It’s just that to me the big payoff of making the jump to a motor boat would be to go faster than that. I have looked at the fuel burn numbers on the DDs, and as long as you keep the speed to length ratio at about 1.1, they are very good indeed. In other words, they are simply handicapped, for my purposes, by their length.

  • richard s. Jul 19, 2013, 9:44 am

    wouldn’t the initial capital costs of the two boats (sail and converted sail) be about the same ? maint and dockage costs would be the same…the only significant overall difference to me is sailing is much more rewarding psychologically

    richard s.
    tampa bay, s/v lakota

    • Simon Wirth Jul 19, 2013, 10:02 am

      If the fuelburn is the same for this two boats, the sailboat would also have the additional cost of sails and rig maintenance. Provided this is the only difference in the boats in regard to maintenance, the sailboat will lose in cost per mile.
      If I have overlooked some inherent cost difference, I’ll be glad to hear about it.

    • John Jul 19, 2013, 4:30 pm

      Hi Richard,

      Not really. Morgan’s Cloud has everything that the ideal sailors motorboat I sketched out has and everything we need for sailing. I would estimate that subtracting the rig and deck gear as well as ballast would save you a good solid $150,000 to $200,000 on a new build.

  • Rick Steinberg Jul 19, 2013, 12:41 pm

    We have a 41′ Defever, full displacement, 120 Ford Lehman and we get 4 to 5 nautical miles per gallon. In all conditions. We cruise the Bahamas and and The Fl Keys.

    • John Jul 19, 2013, 4:20 pm

      Hi Rick,

      What speed and at what RPM do you get that mileage?

  • Victor Raymond Jul 19, 2013, 2:51 pm

    John, You have come to just about the same conclusions as Steve Dashew. You are right though we are not all as financially fortunate as his clients.
    I was just quoted $30,000 for new sails by Carol Hasse in Port Townsend. Yes, they will be great sails and last a long time with care but…….It does take one’s breath away.
    Another solution is to purchase my exact hull as a motor boat. One is available in Europe
    The best part is she is designed to cross oceans and has about a 3000 mile range with 4000 liters of fuel instead of 1000. Obviously this particular model needs a bit freshening up but that would certainly be millions less than a minimum Dashew model.
    Anyhow just another thought. I think you are on the right track. Maybe the main problem is the cost of sails and rigging maintenance.

    • John Jul 19, 2013, 4:27 pm

      Hi Victor,

      Now that’s an interesting comparison. I took a look at the boat. As you say, a bit tired, but your point is made. And if they had gone single engine, the fuel burn would be a good deal less too.

  • Jeffrey Siegel Jul 19, 2013, 5:14 pm

    Your trawler fuel rates are a bit fa-ka-ka. You’re comparing a 52,000 displacement sailboat with a much larger motorboat (did you provide the trawler displacement and I missed it…or was it left out as a bit of slight-of-hand?). The pilothouse photo is an example of a boat that’s obviously double-decked providing substantially more living area than the sailboat. It’s also quite obviously a very large trawler. I’d love to see comparison photos of each stand-up engine room (I know you said the trawler was larger but I’d bet even that’s an understatement).

    Beebe had all of this explained years ago, and I know you referenced him but you didn’t mention his book and especially the later addition “Voyaging Under Power” done with Nordhavn’s designer. In it he gave real data that proves dead on from my experience of 11 years on a trawler.

    It should be noted too that most sailboats require piloting while being outside in the elements. Most trawlers provide both a flybridge for outside piloting in comfortable weather and a safe, environmentally controlled inside pilothouse. Today we cruised up the Hudson River in 95 degree heat. Inside our air-conditioned pilothouse, it was enjoyable to watch the river go by. The passing sailboats, on the other hand, couldn’t take enough clothes off to make the trip enjoyable – I can’t imagine how awful it was for them. As we’ve also seen many times, cold weather provides the exact same comparison. While you’re bundled up braving the elements, I’m sipping coffee from a normal mug, wearing normal clothes, no coat, and in my slippers.

    I’ve put on enough uncomfortable miles from a sailboat cockpit. It’s not an endurance sport and many of us like to cruise comfortably. I’d dare say that most women find comfort preferable too and I sure like having my wife along full time.

    • John Jul 19, 2013, 5:34 pm

      Hi Jeff,

      I suggest that you re-read my post and slower this time. I specifically made all the points you mention in favour of the trawler: accommodation, wheelhouse, bigger engine room, the lot. I’m not sure what fa-ka-ka means, but I assure you the numbers are accurate and from a real trans-atlantic passage on said trawler.

      My point with this post is not to say that one boat is better than another, just that trawlers today do not meet my needs, and I suspect many other ocean voyager’s needs, as well as my current sailboat. If I were going up and down the waterway with an occasional excursion along the shore to the next inlet, instead of to Greenland and other high latitude destinations, my needs would be different.

      And please don’t accuse me of “sleight of hand”, it makes me cranky and makes my finger hover over the delete key. I specifically said that the trawler has twice as much room as my boat.

      By the way, the numbers I used for the same boat appear in the latest version of Voyaging Under Power, an excellent book that I plan to review in a future post.

      • Jeffrey Siegel Jul 19, 2013, 6:48 pm

        John, you know exactly what fa-ka-ka means. It’s hard to imagine the trawler you showed being less than 80,000 lbs of displacement and it’s more likely over 100,000 lbs. My smaller 53′ is 80,000 lbs and the pilothouse you pictured is a fair amount larger with 4 windows across as compared to my 3. In fact, what trawler is that? I can get you the displacement.

        Most cruising trawlers operate at under displacement speeds – 1.34 * sqrt(waterline length). If you do that, and have a properly sized engine, you’ll get at least 2 miles per gallon. Smaller trawlers will get up to 4 miles per gallon (1.75 gallons at 7 kts). These are all approximate but I can tell you specifically that I always get 2 miles per gallon.

        I honestly think that you had a predisposed conclusion before you started writing the posting. If you stepped back and honestly looked at real data, you’d likely come up with a different result. And while the germs of facts are in your piece, the positioning of it is quite clear.

        • richard s. Jul 19, 2013, 9:14 pm

          jeff, john said he doesn’t know the meaning of ‘f..k…k’ so he doesn’t…nor do i for that matter to the point that i don’t even care to spell it out above…surely you must see that he is not critical of trawlers and even hints that he could feasibly take the right one on in place of morgan’s cloud at some point down the road…you seem to have your nose out of joint for no reason on this, and i think you owe john an apology for it please

          richard s.
          tampa bay, s/v lakota

          • John Jul 20, 2013, 9:23 am

            Thanks Richard, you clearly read the post!

          • Robert Jul 20, 2013, 7:47 pm

            I don’t know what fa-ka-ka is either, but it is really hard to type!


        • John Jul 20, 2013, 9:00 am

          Hi Jeff,

          Yes, trawlers can get 2 miles to the gallon, but that’s still a very inefficient number, and frankly I doubt that your twin screw 53′ boat would do nearly that well on an ocean crossing.

          And yes, small trawlers can do better than that, but only when going very slowly, typically around six knots.

          As to being efficient at even close to a speed to length ratio of 1.34, that simply is not so. The problem is that the prismatic coefficient and beam to length ratios of most modern trawlers are simply wrong for efficient fuel burn. I would suggest that you re-read “Voyaging Under Power” and then read David Gerr’s excellent book on the fundamentals of yacht design.

    • Robert Jul 20, 2013, 7:43 pm

      Sounds like the right boat choice for you. So for another perspective….for me personally, the experience you described sounds like the ship simulator at the local merchant marine school (maybe not the slippers)….fun for awhile, but ultimately I got bored**. I’d rather be out in the weather, even if crappy. My wife rolled her eyes at the women comment. Guess she’s not “most women.” So that’s why we have different kinds of boats in the world for all these different types of people.

      ** not really….the operator can make the simulator do really mean things to you.

      • John Jul 21, 2013, 9:01 am

        Hi Robert,

        Well said. The whole point of this post was to discuss how our needs were evolving and the choices we were considering. Saying that one type of boat is intrinsically better than another is just plain silly since it depends on the user and the use.

  • Nicolas Hadjipavlou Jul 19, 2013, 7:02 pm

    Hi John,
    Great article.
    Why not put a CPP on a sailboat maybe coupled to a cruising generator. Like this motoring efficiency can be achieved as well as plenty of power for thrusters/windlass without adding extra batteries.

    • John Jul 20, 2013, 9:51 am

      Hi Nicolas,

      If what you are referring to is a diesel/electric setup, we looked at that in depth here.

  • Andre Langevin Jul 19, 2013, 10:07 pm

    I completely agree with John’s point of view (and many others that have shared it) and i also respect the owners of motor boats, trawlers and all of them. For by today we are all operating “motor boats”, we call sailors the one who has alternate propulsion but it come at a price. I remember the price tag for putting a 56 feet mast with ocean sails while building the Chatam43, price tag as of 2012 is 80 000 $ for all the rigging. My centerboard swing-keel flat bottom multi-chine steel 47 feet sailboat is 33 000 pounds and have a 75 hp engine to cruise 6.0 knots at 1 US gallon per hour or 4 US gallons per hour for 8.5 knots. Those 2.5 knots are costly but this is the waterline formulae playing in. It is interesting to say that it is very easy to do 8.5 and even 10 knots with 20 knots of wind. This is the same thing i heard from the Eagle staff (the US coast guard school vessel), they are doing 12 knots on engine and 18 knots with sails.

    One of the principal adventage of a sailboat is the static oscillation absorbing feature of a mast. Having used the boat without a mast in 2011 before installing it, i can testifie of the huge difference in the rolling and pitching behavior of the boat. Just having that stick in the air is a powerfull static stabilizer. Add a little bit of cloth in a 25-35 knots cross sea and you’re planning on wave crest insted of being tossed inside. What will happen over time as i get older is that my fuel usage will go up and i will use the engine more often simply 🙂

    • Jeffrey Siegel Jul 19, 2013, 11:29 pm

      > One of the principal adventage of a sailboat is the static
      > oscillation absorbing feature of a mast.
      I’m assuming you’re giving this as a principal advantage over a trawler? Just curious Andre, have you spent much offshore time on a trawler with stabilizers?

      • Andre Langevin Jul 20, 2013, 7:41 am


        I can’t testifie for a trawler, haven’t had the opportunity to cruise more than a few hours in ideal conditions. I would like to know more though as i am curious about boat dynamics – anyboat i am not bound to either the sail or the motor sect. I happen to have built a sailboat but my previous boat was a motorboat…. my motivation was using the sail for long distance cruising. I am currently cruising the Eastern Canada provinces (Newfoundland and Golf St-Lawrence) and i have to admit that overall i would have done 60 % of my cruise on the motor altough i have sails. Here are the reasons:

        I don’t sail in fog, this is a almost full time phenomena here.
        I don’t sail in thunderstorm, i start the engine, move inside the boat.
        I alway have some sort of schedule so having the choice of doing a full 20 hours of sail instead of straight line 6 hours is convincing.
        I am conscious that the rigging need maintenance and it is somewhat fragile. Better spend 300 $ of fuel than bring your sail to the sailmaker for a repair (it is very costly to repair sails)
        If i weight the investment of the rigging (80 k$) versus the engine (15 k$) and if i put maintenance as equal between the two; i prefer to maintain and replace the engine. So i take my sail with the uttermost respect.

        Basically i consider my boat as being a motorboat, displacement type. Sailing is optionnal when everything is in place.

        Could you say more about the behavior of your boat in different wind wave combination ?


  • Larry Robbins Jul 20, 2013, 6:47 am

    At the risk of a slight veer and opening a can of worms, I think it appropriate to talk of the joy of cutting the engine outside a harbor and finessing the wind to silently slip towards a destination.
    I think the wear and tear on a well maintained and operated sail rig is easier to keep up with than with a mechanical propulsion system. Of course, on my Tartan 37, I do not have a stand up engine room and access to the sides and rear are difficult under way.
    The feeling of security of a get home wind driven propulsion system can’t be overstated.
    OTOH, a pilothouse out of the weather would open up chilly climates to be desirable destinations.

    • John Jul 22, 2013, 8:34 am

      Hi Larry,

      All good thoughts, thank you. I particularly like your point that maintaining a rig can be easier and less intimidating than doing the same for an engine, for many of us. On the other hand, most of us with rigs have engines too!

  • Bob M Jul 20, 2013, 10:17 am
    • John Jul 20, 2013, 10:56 am

      Hi Bob,

      Absolutely, in fact Phyllis and I looked over the boat a couple of years ago. The hull form is brilliant. The big problem with her, at least for our purposes, was that the original owner, as so often happens with custom boats, tried to cram way too much into her. The result is a very small and difficult to work in engine room, a small and cramped wheelhouse, and a near-unusable guest cabin.

      • Bob M Jul 20, 2013, 11:28 am

        Just add waterline length (with little increase in beam) for more interior. But I suppose it wont be long before we are into Steve Dashews market.

      • John Jul 20, 2013, 12:44 pm

        Hi Bob,

        Sorry, I was not clear. The SteadySailor hull has plenty of volume for our needs, but “Ranger” has too much interior stuffed into that volume, which, in turn, impinges on the working areas of the boat: wheelhouse and engine room.

      • RDE Jul 22, 2013, 12:52 am

        Hi John,
        It is instructive to look at Steve Dashew’s analysis of powerboat stability in this context.

        Apart from the many well thought out concepts that he develops, take close note of the hull form (of the 64′ version I believe) . Now look at the one available photo of the hull of “Ranger” hauled out.—%22the-steadysailer%22-2569985/United-States&boat_id=2569985

        If a relatively flat bottom and a long sailboat-style keel are a “brilliant” solution for a somewhat similar sized voyaging power boat then Steve Dashew must have it all wrong.

        If I were a betting man I know where I’d place my bets!

        • John Jul 22, 2013, 7:39 am

          Hi Richard,

          I’m in possession of a set of lines for Ranger and have had extensive discussions with Ed Joy, the designer, about the boat and based on that I disagree. Ranger has a completely different mission and is a much lighter boat. If you gave her the same hull form as Steve’s boats she would displace half as much again more than she does and would not meet her original design criteria of sail assisted motorboat. “Ranger” also has very good stability numbers. The point being that much as I admire Steve’s boats, there is more than one way to get the job done, particularly when the job specification is different.

  • Frank Osborne Jul 20, 2013, 12:20 pm

    You are right, an economical trawler can be designed and built but there is no market for that type of boat, other than perhaps you and a couple of others. People who buy the large trawlers like you describe above want all the comforts of a million dollar condo, not economy. I heard one trawler designer say that people who spend over a million dollars on a boat are not concerned about fuel burn rates.

    7 Years ago my wife and I bought a 13 year old 46 Nordhavn, the original Nordhavn design that is smaller, rounder, and lower in the water than the newer designs. We do pay a price for the lower profile with a “crawl in” engine room but we love our small boat. In 15K miles up and down the Pacific coast from Alaska to southern MX we average 1.8 gph at 6 kts with the paravane stabilizers deployed. It’s not the perfect boat and it’s not right for everyone but it fits us perfectly and is small and simple enough for the two of us to operate and maintain.

    • John Jul 20, 2013, 12:53 pm

      Hi Frank,

      I agree, in fact I love the Nordhavn 46, it’s a great boat. Two of my friends have them, so I know the boat fairly well. Perfect beam to length ratio and prismatic coefficient for efficient powering.

      It’s so sad that Nordhavn moved away from that hull form with the new boats. But then they have to eat!

      For our needs, the problem is speed, I just can’t get my head around going from our typical 170-190 miles (sailing or motoring) a day at economical fuel burn levels to the 46’s about 150 miles a day. Having said that, I’m not sure that a 46 would not beat us motoring upwind into a nasty sea because of the reduced pitching moment from not having a mast or as much ballast.

      In fact, one idea we have is to stick with our present boat for as long as we can handle her and then go to a 46 and just learn to live with the speed issue.

      • RDE Jul 22, 2013, 1:12 am

        Why settle for trying to push a brick through the water or buying an early Nordhavn and starting the refit struggle all over again when you already have a better motorboat in Morgan’s Cloud? (with a new engine already installed) And she’s better looking than any motorboat on the planet. Unless you really do secretly covet more room!) LOL

        Have Ed Joy design a doghouse with back doors to allow her to be driven as a pilothouse motorsailor. And if you want to stop her rolling, we installed a set of NIAD retractable active stabilizers that folded flat into the hull on a 112′ S & S 15 years ago. Money for sure, but probably less than trading to a tubby trawler.

        • John Jul 22, 2013, 7:50 am

          Hi Richard,

          Actually, the Nordhavn 46 is anything but a brick and is, in fact, a very efficient hull form at speed to length ratios under 1.1. This is because she has a sane beam to length ratio, displacement, and prismatic coefficient, unlike many more “modern” trawlers. Of course her hull form and length mean that she loses efficiency as soon as the speed to length ratio goes above about 1.1 and this limits the boat to an efficient cruise speed of about 6.5 knots, and less with stabilizers deployed, which is my objection to the boat for our needs, as I said in my original comment on the subject.

          As to MC being a better motorboat than most motorboats, that was the point of the post.

          Closing in MC cockpit would wreck her as a sailboat because of rig handling issues.

          Interestingly, a closed in cockpit (wheelhouse) is quite low on our list of reasons that might push us to a motorboat one day and more volume is not even on the list. Nor does rolling under power bother either of us much.

          • RDE Jul 22, 2013, 9:09 am

            Hi John,
            I should have been more clear: the brick I was referring to would be a new trawler from almost any manufacturer, not an older and more efficient hull form like the 46.

            And the doghouse I was referring to would be more like the Boreal design or the Sundeer 56 version with watertight doors, just big enough for a fore and aft seat, not an entirely enclosed center cockpit which of course would ruin Morgan’s Cloud as a sailboat.

          • John Jul 22, 2013, 9:21 am

            Hi Richard,

            Thanks for clarification, we are on the same page on the 46. Yes, the Dog house like that on the Boreal might easily work for MC, and your suggestion of having Ed design it is what I should have done the last time we updated our dodger—live and learn.

  • steve Jul 20, 2013, 1:24 pm

    Hi John,
    Love the article, it makes one think about a lot of interesting ideas. I may have missed something in comparative cost in the article. I can see the costs you mention as very true but did you leave out the cost difference of buying a new 56 foot sail boat compared to a new 56 foot ocean going trawler? I’m sure the Trawler must be over twice as expensive. Even a 50 foot ocean going trawler must be way more expensive than a new sailboat.
    Thought you might like to know our Boreal is launched and we start sea trials in a few days. The company has worked hard to make Tracy and I very happy. Maybe in 8 or ten years we will want the ocean going motor boat we will see.

    • John Jul 20, 2013, 3:28 pm

      Hi Steve,

      Good question that highlights a point that I did not make clear: Given the same displacement, the trawler will be a lot cheaper to build new simply because the sailboat has most everything that the trawler has and a rig and more ballast.

      But of course the point is “given the same displacement”. A typical 56 ocean trawler displaces over double what our boat does, and so will be more expensive to build.

      By the way, that is, in a nutshell, the modern trawler’s problem as an efficient ocean voyaging boat—too much displacement, not enough length. The boat I highlighted displaces, fully loaded, about 100,000 pounds on a 43-foot water line—not exactly a recipe for efficiency or speed.

  • Tad Roberts Jul 20, 2013, 3:27 pm

    The argument around cost of power vs sail for ocean cruising can go on forever. The reality is that there are ten’s of thousands of available sailing vessels capable of ocean cruising, and only a handful of similarly capable power vessels. Sailing across an ocean (even if a great deal of it is under auxiliary) seems to hold greater appeal to humans than long-distance powering. The romance is just lacking.

    Dashew’s finding that power cruising is less expensive does not apply to typical cruisers. The Dashew boat’s are key items in a multi-million dollar marketing campaigner, and they are maintained as such. Typical cruisers do not replace sails, lines, and rigging anywhere near as often as specified by Steve. They also do not put anywhere near as many miles on . Again the Dashew boats cover ground to make appearances.

    Really small sails on a decent power boat can make a big difference. And the rig does not have to be the high-stress masthead sloop.

    Ranger (the Paine/LM power cruiser) is closely based on a boat called Traveller (originally Maiden), designed and built in 1988 in California by Jim Millett. She is aluminum, of box keel vee-bottom form, 52′ overall and 48′ LWL, with beam at 12’9″, draft 4’6″, displacement 44,000 with 10,000 of lead ballast. Power is a 135HP Lehman with 3:1 reduction turning a 28″ by 23″ 3-bladed prop. She carries 1100 usg of fuel. In an artical in Passagemaker of Fall 1996 the owner claimed Traveller cruised at 7.5 knots at 1450 RPM and burned 1.4 usg per hour including 1.5 hours of generator time per (24hr) day. The boat carries a short sloop rig of 250 sq ft (138 main and 112jib) that will give them 3-4 knots boat speed in 12 knots of wind. The rig aids stability (comfort) only in beam or forward of the beam winds, so paravanes are fitted as well.

    • John Jul 20, 2013, 3:56 pm

      Hi Tad,
      Welcome here. I have inspected both “Ranger” and “Traveller” and in fact, both boats were part of the inspiration for this article, as were your “Pasagemaker Lite” designs.

      I’m pretty comfortable with my cost analysis of the advantage of efficient power boats over our sailboat since it is based on 20 years of keeping good records of our costs for 140,000 miles of voyaging, and since we basically have a great motorboat with a rig all I have to do to be accurate was back out rig costs and add in motoring costs for the time we would be sailing.

      Having said that, I like “vestige” sailing rigs, like yours, since they can pay for themselves in fuel savings and stabilization without drag, although I think motor sailors with bigger and more expensive rigs are silly—worst of both worlds. I did not mention such “vestige” rigs purely because the post was already approaching 2000 words.

      As to there being no market for an efficient voyaging motor boat. I guess your experience has been less than happy in this regard, but I think that with the aging boomers like me coming to motorboat age and the availability of the internet to communicate complex concepts cheaply, that will change. Look what Steve has managed in that regard, albeit at a very high price point. The key to success though must be the building of an actual boat, like Steve did with “Windhorse”, so that the market can see the benefits dramatically illustrated by real world voyages made by someone with an established voyaging “rep” like Steve.

      Although, having said that—boy do I overuse that phrase—, at a more modest level, when I postulated the Adventure 40 everyone told me I was nuts, but today we have 84 people signed up as interested in buying one. Of course that’s a long way from a deposit cheque, but it’s still, I think, significant.

      • Marc Dacey Aug 2, 2013, 1:29 pm

        The vestigal rig indeed has benefits beyond stabilization of a decent (not too squat) trawler, I think, although they are rarely seen these days. Most motor-sailers (and we are supposed to own one in the “desirable” form of a pilothouse steel cutter-rigged sailboat with plenty of stowage and yet with stand-up access in the engine bay) are actually “sailer-motors” in the sense that they given little away as somewhat heavy sailing vessels that carry enough fuel for 1000 NM power-only voyaging. Certainly, that’s our mandate.

        But we are fairly fixated, perhaps because we contemplate trades wind passagemaking over stalled Arctic high transits, on sailing to the best of our abilities in the heavy displacement boat we’ve got. Powering and the need to power is as often a function of scheduling as it is being driven nuts by slatting sails, and we wish to carry enough sail to keep moving in light airs where possible.

        Of course, if we needed to go fast, we would hardly be on a sailboat in the first place.

        By contrast, a small-rig-equipped trawler, or one flying one of the newer sort of “kite” downwind sails, has some options, either to reduce fuel usage or to go, in 15 knots or so, for “free”. If on a trawler you do not intend to work more to windward than 80 degrees or so, you could reap many of the sailboat’s advantages with far fewer of the expenses and related issues, particularly with a design that featured keel tankage for stiffness.

        Such a “hybrid” might indeed find favour, as it needn’t resemble a 1920s-era North Sea fishing boat!

  • Robert Jul 20, 2013, 6:37 pm

    Some of the pros and cons are not tangible. I’ve always had sailboats but our future cruising plans will require a different boat than we have now. This power versus sail subject comes up a lot for us. Every time an article like this is written I spend time thinking about our actual needs. My conclusion is always the same…..the real economics (and even other considerations) of power or sail come out pretty close. Yes, a trawler is very comfortable and you can pilot in crappy weather in your PJs. But whenever we are sailing, in any conditions, my wife is smiling. I guess there really isn’t a decision to make until we literally cannot handle the lines, which I hope is along time away.


    • John Jul 21, 2013, 8:57 am

      Hi Robert,

      Great comment, Phyllis and I go through exactly the same process!

      • Alan Jul 21, 2013, 6:20 pm

        Enlarging on the above (and I generalise) there appear to be 2 main groups who gravitate to power boats/trawlers, firstly those who are new to boating and secondly those coming from sailing where I believe it is often on the ” Admiral’s direction”. I believe the latter is the case with the Dashews.
        Carleton Mitchell wrote a very good article on why he changed from sail to power way back in the 60’s. I do not have a link so will send it to John to make available to all.
        In talking about the power vs sail cost, Steve Dashew did qualify his comments about power being cheaper than sail had a cross over point somewhere between a length of 50 – 60′, ie less than this he agreed sail was the cheaper way to go. As we all know the wind is free, but to “catch” it is not!

        • Simon Wirth Jul 22, 2013, 1:40 am

          Hei Alan
          Thank you for the reminder!
          I had forgotten that he did qualify his comments.
          And nicely said, thank you!
          But maybe, just to be faire, “Admiral’s direction” should be completed by the addition of “or constitution”?

        • John Jul 22, 2013, 7:32 am

          Hi Alan,

          Thanks for sending the Mitchell article, a classic. Unfortunately I can’t publish it because it would be a violation of copyright and also because we try and stick with original content here at AAC. Those who are interested can learn more about Mitchell’s thought by reading Voyaging Under Power, which has excepts.

          On the power/sail cost crossover point, I don’t think length or size has much bearing on the issue. My analysis, which is based on accurate record keeping over 23 years and 140,000 miles, indicates that the biggest variable is use profile, not size. More in a future post.

  • Coen Jul 21, 2013, 12:51 pm

    Michael Kasten of Kastenmarine has several designs for cruising powerboats, some as small as 22ft, but with ocean crossing capability! Several of them share hull designs with sailing vessels. Tom Colvin also had a design or two for long range powerboats.

    • John Jul 22, 2013, 7:25 am

      Hi Coien,

      Yes, Kasten’s has several very interesting designs. I particularly like the Vagabond.

  • Frank Kerckhoffs Jul 21, 2013, 5:44 pm

    How about to thin hulls?
    And it can sail too!

    • John Jul 22, 2013, 7:26 am

      Hi Frank,

      Looks interesting, but that very low bridge deck would worry me offshore.

    • RDE Jul 30, 2013, 1:11 pm

      Perfect example of the wrong way to do a catamaran powerboat.

      Here is an example of the opposite:

      • John Jul 30, 2013, 2:16 pm

        Hi Richard,

        I have to say that although my knowledge of multihulls is woefully inadequate, the boat you link to looks a lot more sensible to my eye.

  • charley B Jul 21, 2013, 7:12 pm

    As a prior owner of both sail and power boats in size from 26’ to 50’ I have found that even when taking into consideration the additional acquisition and maintenance costs of the larger trawler engine or engines, the ongoing combined operational and maintenance costs were no cheaper on a sailboat. However, I have continually come back to sail because nothing seems to give me the joy and that “at peace with the world” feeling that I get when sailing with all mechanical shut down.

    For me, due to family choices and the economics they created, it’s not until now that I can begin my multi-year cruising voyage from Alaska down through the canal, around the islands, up the east coast including Canada and then making the great loop.

    Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on whom you ask, now that I can take a few years and make this multi-year voyage, age and bad joints dictate that the boat I select will be a motorboat. Not only will the wider beam and larger displacement offer me comforts and conveniences over several years, IMHO I believe that no longer being a younger man I will have safer journeys not having to deal with the rigging.

    I believe that as more and more of us grow older, more and more of us after arriving safely and comfortably at our destination will look to trade with a fellow cruiser some of those comforts/conveniences (ie. washer & dryer) that a trawler offers for the joy of that sunset cruise across the bay under sail.

    • John Jul 22, 2013, 8:40 am

      Hi Charley,

      A very useful and clear look at the issues, thank you.

  • RDE Jul 23, 2013, 3:08 pm

    Speaking of motorboats that can sail, or sailboats that can motor, here is a photo of one that ( mainly) motors from San Francisco to Mexico and back each year and motored in delivery mode from San Francisco to St. Barts and back for a single winter season. About 70hp per side drives her at 11-12 knots.

    I met with the owner, Richard Spindler (Latitude 38 editor) before he had her built so have a pretty good idea of the build cost. He wanted a functional workboat interior set up for large groups of people, and wanted a larger boat than our molds could produce, so ended up having it built in California.

    This is a MUCH larger boat than Ranger— think three times as large although only 4′ longer. And I’m willing to bet that the actual build cost was not all that different based upon what I know about this design and other one-off aluminum construction projects, because Richard chose function over yacht finish.

    I’m not suggesting that a 63′ sailing catamaran is a replacement for a Dashew 64 or the much narrower Ranger. But what people fail to realize is how efficient a catamaran with retractable daggerboards and narrow hulls can be under power. Not surprising, given that we are used to seeing condomarans where the hull design is driven by the absolute necessity of having a walk-around master berth in each hull and keels that have the primary function of protecting the hulls from grounding at the hands of bareboat skippers.

    Of course if you choose to eliminate the mast and daggerboards your efficiency under power would go up even more. But don’t ask me. I’m sure Richard Spindler would be glad to bend your ear about his long term experience with Profligate, and maybe even talk about what he would do differently next time!

  • Hans Jul 26, 2013, 4:39 am

    Hi John,
    we were talking about Dieter’s Kaniva ( Dieter has just returned from his maiden voyage, from the Baltic to Newfoundland and back. Well, he’s not quite back, still in Scotland, checking out some distilleries. I will ask him to send you more detailed numbers , but here’s preliminary:
    On the outward leg he covered 2.293 nm and burned 1310 ltrs. of diesel which is 0,57 ltrs./hr. (0,15 gallons/hr) , which comes to 6,67 miles per gallon.
    Average speed 5,97 knts, aux. sail up most of the time except for 1.6 days.
    His stabilizing flopper stoppers cost him 0,6 to 1 knot of speed, depending on conditions.

    • John Jul 29, 2013, 3:00 pm

      Hi Hans,

      Great information from a very interesting boat, thank you. Just shows what can be done when you build a boat for efficiency and seaworthiness instead of interior.

  • Lee Fisher Jul 30, 2013, 12:27 pm

    Hi John,
    Firstly thanks for your great site – I’ve been a follower for a while and have gained a lot from it. I’m rather surprised to find myself posting a comment here though because although we are live-aboard cruisers our boat is a motor boat, and we confine our adventures to coastal passage making. Still, we have covered over 10,000 NM in our twin-engine displacement motor cruiser, and kept reasonably good records along the way so here goes: Our boat is 12 meters and around 40,000 lb in cruising trim (well, I do like to carry a good spares kit!). We cruise mostly in good sea conditions at around 6 Kt using about 3.5 lph (total, both engines). Our case is perhaps vindication of your proposal about hull efficiency vs. interior space, and we also benefit from a number of the suggested design improvements in the ‘A Better Idea’ part of your original post. Perhaps our 1938 boat and its original engines are the future? Cheers, Lee

    • John Jul 30, 2013, 2:15 pm

      Hi Lee,

      Yes, that’s the sad thing, There’s absolutely nothing new about fuel efficient motorboats, as your lovely yacht proves. Somehow we just went off the rails and ended up with short fat heavy boats with square ends and 300hp engines! I suspect that if we ever decide to price fuel properly we will see a lot of new boats that are very like yours.

      • RDE Jul 30, 2013, 11:19 pm

        Hi John,
        I beg to differ. Fuel efficient catamarans are most certainly different from the slow but fuel efficient narrow powerboats of the past. And they have been around for long enough—at least two decades— to develop all the data necessary to prove their efficiency.

        In the case of the commercial boats working in Hawaii, they have to operate in occasionally substantial sea conditions while carrying 50-100 tourists, and keep them from puking. Not a North Sea test, but certainly not like putzing around in the Drake Lake on a condomaran either. The other thing they have to do is run fast to make schedules. This wake shot of HOLO HOLO running 27 knots certainly tells something about efficiency.

        Now this boat is probably using 5-600 hp to run that fast which I’d guestimate burns 25-30 gph. By comparison the Viking 55 with twin 1100 hp MANs that I delivered burned 70 gph at that speed, and it was carrying 3 crew instead of 45. Perhaps half as large a boat in total volume and twice the fuel consumption. So I’d think that the power catamaran does represent something new in fuel consumption even in high speed mode when the sport fisherman was up on plane.

        I gather from the total lack of response to my series of comments on that topic that catamarans aren’t of interest to people who visit this site. Fair enough, different boats for different folks, so I won’t flog the catamaran horse any more. And I do agree that classic styled powerboats are cuter.

        • Alan Jul 30, 2013, 11:54 pm

          if you look to Australia and New Zealand there is a very strong power catamaran presence there. The Holo Holo cat looks like one of New Zealander Malcolm Tennant’s designs (or a close copy)

          until his untimely death Malcolm developed a specialty in high speed displacement ocean crossing cats.
          One of note is Domino, chronicled in the blog
          what the owners went thru to have the cat built in Paraguay was a story in itself.

        • John Jul 31, 2013, 8:15 am

          Hi Richard,

          I’m not sure why you think that my comment was in any way a slur on, or slight to, powered cats. Or why you had to start your comment by stating “I beg to differ”. All I said was that Lee’s boat showed that the idea of long thin efficient power boats was an old one.

          I don’t write about powered cats much simply because, as I said in another comment to this thread, I don’t know very much about them.

          Actually, I’m very interested in multi-hulls, both power and sail, I just don’t think there is any profit in entering into a debate about which is best between long thin monohulls and long catamarans with thin hulls. Both are, I think, great concepts, but very different, with, like all boats, different strengths and weaknesses.

          So please keep telling us about powered cats. Having said that, I would suggest that a less adversarial tone would be a good idea. Starting a comment with “Perfect example of the wrong way to do a catamaran powerboat” about a boat that another reader likes, tends to turn the discussion from a constructive debate into an argument in which no one learns anything.

  • Pip Wick Aug 4, 2013, 1:13 pm

    Thanks for the motorboat comments. We own a 48′ cutter, 34,000# fully loaded, and have just completed a voyage from Maine to the Azores. The interesting part of the motorboat thing is that Lucayo has a diesel-hybrid motoring system, installed after long effort about four years ago. The boat motored at about 4 miles per gallon under her old 74 hp Westerbeake doing 6 knots.
    With the new system she motored 1100 miles (a very calm trip) on 105 gallons of fuel on the Azores trip. At slower speeds the efficiency of the new system is better, but not as exceptionally so as with running a diesel engine at very low speeds. Gains from motorsailing are marked though. We hold 262 gallons of fuel, not all of which is reachable, but I’m sure we could have made the entire 2000 mile trip under power alone.
    While the 9.2 kw dc (12 hp) rating for the electric motor sounds low, electric power gives very high torque, and six knots in calm water is a good cruising speed. This is also one of the quietest ways of powering a boat imaginable.
    There are a few drawbacks, since we use AGM lead acid batteries she weighs about 900# more than with the older system. This can be eliminated with lithium batteries, and the efficiency would be better also. Cost of the exotic batteries is higher, but life of the system gets markedly better.

    • John Aug 4, 2013, 4:27 pm

      Hi Pip,

      Welcome here and thanks for sharing your experience. But before the whole hybrid thing gets going again and we duplicate what we have already done to death we need to bring some arithmetic rigour to your experience.

      You are comparing a 74 hp engine to a 12 hp electric motor. A horsepower is a measure of work done and is the same whether it is provided by a diesel engine, an electric motor or, as our engineering correspondent, Matt Marsh, is want to say, “gerbils on a wheel”. So to make your comparisons valid you need to compare your diesel electric installation to a 12 horsepower diesel, which is, incidentally, about half the size of the engine driving the generator that you are using to drive your hybrid.

      If we make that comparison we will, I am confident, find that your installation is 20-40% less fuel efficient than the 12 HP diesel, takes up about four times as much room, and cost about ten times as much, than simply replacing the 75 HP Westerbeake with a 12 HP Yanmar would have cost. Add a Bruntons auto-pitching prop to the 12 HP diesel and most of the hybrid’s prop matching while motorsailing advantage goes away too.

      Bottom line. Nigel Caulder spent millions of the EU’s euros proving conclusively that diesel electric systems, and particularly serial ones, are less fuel efficient than a properly sized diesel, a lot less.

      Don’t get me wrong, I think that the time, effort and money that you have put into finding a better way is admirable. You have certainly proved that a properly handled sailboat can make safe and seamanlike, relatively fast passages, with a very small amount of horsepower, and that is of tremendous value and does you credit.

      But it is also important that others are aware of the basic arithmetic at work here. If they wish to emulate your good example, all they need to do is remove their large engine and install a smaller one, as we did three years ago, albeit, less dramatically.

      • Pip Wick Aug 5, 2013, 11:23 am

        Dear John,

        Thanks for your comments on the diesel hybrid drive, and I am aware of them. There is one interesting factor. We know that while a properly sized engine would be the most efficient, we also know that rarely are engines run at their best speeds, and “not best” speeds can have efficiencies in the 20-40% range. With a generator turning at a high productive rate, and the batteries taking over the running of the system between charges, we do seem to come up with superior economy. Using a DC motor gives us more flexibility than AC would, too. At about four knots we seem to get about 12 MPG.

        Obviously, it would be best to run long trials to get absolute numbers on efficiency, but over long trials, conditions change. On our Azores trip, sometimes we would motor-sail, sometimes motor more slowly, and when sure of our fuel mileage and trying to make best times, we would speed up. The state of the wind and waves constantly changed also. It is like trying to nail Jello to the bulkhead. Our fuel mileage is rough at best. Until someone makes bench tests under controlled conditions there can be no positive answers. My best guess right now is in the 9-12 MPG range.

        We had a 12 horsepower diesel in an earlier boat, and while it would run a long time on very little fuel, it made so much noise and vibration that the crew would fall asleep. That engine burned 3/8ths of a gallon per hour which gave us a mileage of about 16 MPG, but the boat was only about half the size of our present one, and far lighter.

        We live in Brooklin, ME, not far from where you seem to be based, so perhaps we will run into Morgan’s Cloud sometime. Although, at present we seem to spend more time away from our native waters than at home. I look forward to meeting you sometime.

        Regards, Pip Wick

        • John Aug 5, 2013, 11:34 am

          Hi Pip,

          All good points. As you say, a lot of variables here, and again, kudos to you for trying to make a difference.

          I hope to see some solid research and experimentation on better matching right across the RPM and load spectrum of traditional diesel engines and propellers.

          Norwegian fishermen, for one, have been doing this with slow revving high torque engines matched to controllable pitch props for years with spectacular fuel economy results. I suspect that if we in North America paid what they do for diesel we would all be doing the same.

          If you read carefully between the lines of the Caulder report it seems, at least to me, to point to the above as the direction we should be focusing on.

          Look forward to meeting up in Maine at some point.

  • Neil McCubbin Aug 17, 2013, 4:56 pm

    John makes the point that he and Phyllis motor a lot, because they are in the Arctic. I agree all too willingly, sitting here in Tromso, and having motored more this year (up the Norwegian coast) then we ever have.
    However, in more southerly latitudes we motor MUCH less.
    I met a Nordhaven-like 50 footer (Krogen or some such name, very well built little ship) in Sognefjord a few years ago. Seeing his Canadian flag got us talking. Wondering about the reality of crossing the Atlantic under power, I asked what speed a ship like his maintains on long crossings. He replied that they averaged 150 miles/day across the Atlantic. We had averaged 170 in the same year in our 47 foot centerboader. I do not know his fuel consumption, but ours was about 75 litres for the 3500 miles, much of it for battery charging and our mechanical refrigerator/freezer.

    • John Aug 18, 2013, 8:02 pm

      Hi Neil,

      That pretty much mirrors our experience: we make better days runs and burn less fuel than most trawlers. That was the point of the piece.

      Having said that, the picture changes dramatically when you compare our sailboats to an efficient motorboat, which most of the trawlers now built assuredly are not.

      Also it’s not really fair to motor boats to use a single ocean passage with good winds as a basis for comparison. Sure, in that case the sailboat wins, but if you take usage over the life of the two boats, the cost picture changes radically and starts to swing in favour of the efficient motor boat unless both boats spend their lives in the tradewind belt doing long passages.

      Even on a tradewind circumnavigation (the best situation for a sailboat to win the cost competition) the advantage is not that big since the real cost in terms of rig and sail wear for such a trip in your boat or mine is at least $30,000 and probably closer to $50,000—you can buy a lot of diesel with that.

      As I said in the post, I’m not trying to sell anyone on leaving sailing for a motor boat. All I’m doing is pointing out the arithmetic reality of the situation.

  • George Branch Apr 18, 2014, 12:31 pm

    The boat you want and more, exists! It’s called an Elling E3 or E4.

    • John Apr 19, 2014, 8:40 am

      Hi George,

      The Elling boats are certainly innovative, but not really the sailor’s motor boat that I was postulating in this article since the hull form is not optimized for high efficiency displacement mode travel. Rather it is, as far as I can see from the photos, more a semi-planing hull form, which is going to take a fairly big efficiency hit at displacement speeds. Note the 200 hp engine with options going all the way up to 425 hp. The boat I’m thinking of would only need about 100 HP to cruise at 10 knots and use about 50hp, or less, at 8 knots.

      Also the Elling boats are a bit fancy for my tastes.

  • James Grote Dec 25, 2014, 12:18 am

    The motorboat you are looking for is one of Nigel Irens Rangeboats. Period. Try the 39′ Rangeboat prototype or the 63′ “Molly Ban”.

    • John Dec 26, 2014, 2:03 pm

      Hi James,

      Yes, cool boats, but custom and very expensive, so do not really solve the problem.

  • Damien Ashdown May 22, 2015, 1:55 am

    Really Interesting Discussion

    So my wife and I have spent the last four years cruising in our 28 foot sailing yacht. We brought the yacht because we wanted to go to some fairly remote places and our yacht is built like a bomb shelter. The thing we didn’t factor in is being a pocket cruiser it is not fast by any means and can be a bit of a pig in light sloppy conditions which we encounter surprisingly often. When motoring in this boat, because the engine is smack in the middle of the only living space available its about as pleasant as sipping a sundowner while a road worker jack hammers a hole the the pavement next to you…

    My wife is also physically challenged in terms of strength and stamina (only the body, certainly not in the head!) and struggles with our tiny sails at times and gets nervous when the wind picks up as she must rely on me to solve anything anchor related as we struggle to store enough energy to run to many auto thingys most systems on the boat are 100% manual.

    So we changed tack.

    Rather than fight to obvious challenges of cruising in a tiny boat we realised that we can afford to cruise in a motor boat if we take a different approach,

    We had some criteria as high lat cruising is where we want to be.

    We wanted a boat of 55-60ft so we could take enough gear to be self sufficient for up to 6 months if we had to be.
    We wanted steel (im an engineer) as its tough, cheap, can be beefed up if needed and can be fixed almost anywhere if we break it.
    We wanted it to be super simple so we could spend the least time fixing it and the most time using it
    We also didn’t want to take a mortgage for fuel every time we went anywhere nor have the carbon footprint that would entail.

    So we found a boat that fit all of our major needs but still couldnt solve the fuel cost/carbon issue.

    Until we converted to oil…

    We found through testing and a bunch of european university studies that we can run this trawler on waste cooking oil which is 100% carbon neutral and costs us around $0.30 per litre. I also like the fact that as its fully biodegradable should anything happen and we spill our fuel in the ocean it won’t cause any major or lasting damage (not that i’m envisioning this happening).

    The boat we chose was an ex fishing trawler that we stripped and have almost completed a full rebuild to suit our needs. I love the fact that we can take the time with each part and set it up properly (ie boat gets modified to suit the right anchor, rather than the ridiculously small one that fits and meets basic survey requirements).

    I know a lot of people jump on power boaters (and as a sailor I would say many can be unbelievably ignorant of the giant wash they leave as they plough past) but I think it is possible to have a good power cruising boat that is safe, strong and affordable, particularly for older cruisers who struggle hauling sails, winch things and stand watch outside in the cold etc.

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