As those of you who have been members a while know, I have been writing about safe and efficient offshore motorboats for a couple of years now in this Online Book, and working with two designers on satisfying that design criteria at a price that’s a little less stratospheric than Steve Dashew’s wonderful boats, albeit with less capability too.
Right now, there is only one new boat available that even comes close to meeting that criteria: the Artnautica LRC 58 (picktured above). So far two have been launched, one of which has crossed the Pacific, with two more in-build.
With the exception of the designer Dennis’ boat, all were selected by their owners as a result of exposure here at AAC, so it does seem as if we are making progress toward our goal of a motorboat that solves the weaknesses of the trawlers currently on offer.
And early last winter I wrote about an AAC Adventure version of the Artnautica 58 that Dennis and I had come up with for those who want to get a bit more aggressive with their cruising.
I’m also thinking about traveling to test one of the Artnauticas in the water, particularly in big breeze and waves, and writing about that, although funding will need to come from somewhere other than my pocket or AAC to make that happen.
In addition, Boréal have asked me to provide input on an offshore motorboat that they are considering adding to their incredibly well-thought-out and successful line of offshore expedition sailboats.
During all of this, two questions keep coming to the fore:
- What to do about backup or get-home power in case the main engine fails?
- Which of several stabilization options are the best for a boat of this type?
And Steve Dashew, who knows more about the type of boat I envision than anyone, has confirmed in one of our telephone chats that these two questions should be settled very early on in the design process. An assertion confirmed by the amount of push back from the market against the first Artnautica LRC 58s launched that have neither a viable get-home or stabilization.
So I have been thinking about these two challenges for the last couple of years, as well as discussing them with motorboat experts.
In this chapter and the next, I’m going to look at the options for get-home power in case the main engine fails.
Before we get into the details, however, we need to think about what exactly we want this get-home option to do for us:
Given that I’m thinking about a boat that will make ocean crossings of at least 1500 miles and will be optimized to visit remote places with no service facilities, clearly we need an option that will drive the boat offshore for at least 1000 miles, albeit slowly.
Is It Even a Thing?
That said, let’s step even further back for a moment. The first action when looking at decisions like this is to go back to basics and ask ourselves if the thing we are trying to solve is even a real problem. Just because everyone says it is doesn’t make it so, since crowd “wisdom” can be very misguided. You only have to look at the current state of recreational trawler design—markets get what they ask for—to prove that!
So let’s look at two alternatives to a motorboat with a get-home backup:
#1 Sailing Rig
Given that many of us here at AAC are lifelong sailors and so, in effect, already have a motorboat with a get-home backup, let’s start with a look at just sticking with our auxiliary-sailboats.
To be clear, here I’m talking about a real sailing rig that is capable of taking the boat in any direction required in all weathers and sea-states up to near-gale force 7.
By the way, this lets out many motorsailers that just don’t sail very well, particularly when asked to go to windward in any kind of seaway, and that also will tend to miss stays when trying to tack, which will ruin your whole day when working into a tight harbour under sail or beating off a lee shore.
The point being that if we select a motorsailer—nothing wrong with that, although it would not be my choice—we need to think about get-home realistically and not accord capabilities to the boat that she really does not have.
I digress, back to sailboats.
- Sailboats are fun.
- A viable get-home from pretty much any place.
- Completely separate from the engine and driveline.
- Will bring us home even if all the fuel on the boat is contaminated.
- Can be used in conjunction with the engine (motorsailing), which will reduce fuel burn.
- A fine stabilization option, as long as there is some wind, and mast weight damps the roll even when there is none.
- Arguably the most environmentally responsible, although even that is not as simple as it might appear at first glance—building and maintaining a rig and sails has a carbon footprint too.
- The rig and keel add significant drag when under power.
- To sail decently requires a feathering or folding propeller. More complicated and less efficient (in most cases) than a fixed propeller.
- Add the above together and the fuel economy hit may be as high as 25% when compared to an efficient pure motorboat like the Artnautica, which further reduces any environmental benefit, at least for sailboats that motor a lot.
- Requires a complete additional set of skills to operate.
- Requires much higher levels of strength and physical fitness to operate than a motorboat, particularly when being used as a long range get-home option with no assistance from an engine.
- Far more expensive than all the other options since most sailboats will have all the gear that our efficient offshore motorboat will have plus a rig and sails that require regular maintenance and replacement, the cost of which, both capital and ongoing, will, for most usage profiles, far outweigh any fuel savings from sailing.
This has been Phyllis’ and my preferred solution for decades, and we hope that will continue to be so for some years to come, although that definitely depends on how our health and strength holds out as we age.
However, inevitably the day will come when Morgan’s Cloud becomes too much for us, so given that reality, and that many of our readers will either be in the same boat (ouch) or have decided to skip the sailing thing altogether, let’s move on to motorboats.
And that brings us to the next question: How about doing a really good job on a simple engine installation, and not worrying about get-home at all?
- Least expensive.
- Easiest to maintain.
- No added clutter in the engine room.
- No added parts requirement.
- No backup…duh.
This option is not as dumb as it sounds since a well-installed diesel engine is an incredibly reliable machine with only a few well-understood common failure points that can be covered off with a good onboard supply of parts, tools and manuals, and a bit of training.
In fact, in all my years of going offshore with diesel engines I have never (touch wood) had a failure that I could not fix at sea—and I’m no diesel genius—and only one time has a diesel stopped on me once running (water in the fuel).
And my good friend Bob, professional mariner and fleet fisherman, who must have five times the diesel hours I do on his clock, has had the same experience.
A further endorsement of this course comes from Steve Dashew, who calls get-home engines:
…an emotional crutch.
(Steve does like other get-home options; more on that in Part 2.)
Theoretically, I agree with Steve, but on the other hand, emotional support is a powerful part of cruising happiness. And when I ask myself if I want to be underway in a remote place at 3:00 am (the hour that my emotional demons come to visit) wondering if that tiny new noise signals the start of an epic adventure with no easy-to-use backup…the answer is no.
So given that advancing age will probably require moving to a motorboat some day and that I, and I suspect most people, am not willing to go offshore in a motorboat without some form of get-home backup, in Part 2 I will examine five motorboat get-home options and pick a winner.
If you have questions or additional thoughts, please leave a comment. But please stay on the topics discussed above and, above all, don’t front-run Part 2.