A conversation between powerboaters
Posted on 11 November 2008
Written by Eric Sorenson
Some back-and-forth with a reader on semidisplacements and the perennial gas vs. diesel discussion
This column has gotten a steady stream of letters and e-mails from readers that I’ll be sharing with you periodically. My articles on semidisplacement and planing hull design in particular have provoked reader feedback. Being real-world based, these letters have a lot of brand- and model-level content, which makes them that much more interesting.
This back-and-forth brings an extra dimension of relevance and interest to the table, as they relate to boaters’ own experiences and issues. I’d like to hear from you, too, so keep those e-mails — and electronic images to illustrate them — coming.
First of all, thank you for writing the semidisplacement hulls article in the June 2008 issue of Soundings. I have long suspected that this hull design was what I was looking for, but intelligent hull design discussion is hard to come by at most boat dealers. Your article confirmed my thought process, and I just sold my planing-hull boat, so now the fun begins.
I really love this 32-foot lobster yacht I’ve recently discovered, and I have discussed having one built with the boatbuilder. The problem is that it’s getting expensive, and I’m not sure I need that much boat. I’ve checked out the Rosborough, Seaway and Acadia boats in the 24-foot range, and I’m certain that they are too small. Right now I am considering an Albin 28. I hear lots of praise about its seaworthiness, and I just love the layout of the Newport Edition. My question for you is: Would you consider this a semidisplacement hull? I’ve seen it described as Down East and modified-vee, but it doesn’t look like any of the lobster boat hulls that I’ve seen.
Thanks for your help.
I’m glad you liked the article, and you ask a really good question that cuts to the heart of the hull-form discussion. The Albin 28 is a bona fide hard-chine planing hull, although it obviously can cruise at semidisplacement speeds. Its hull form makes it more reactive to wave action than a round-bilge boat like the Holland, so it has higher accelerations (in pitch and roll — and probably surge, with a more lightly loaded bottom), which you will feel as being a little less comfortable. But the hard chines also make it more efficient at higher planing speeds.
Albin has impressed me with its innovations, including a family-friendly, low-profile “command bridge” layout on a couple models. Another uncommon detail on the 28 is a cutaway keel that minimizes drag while still providing propeller and rudder protection (see photo next page). This cutaway design also reduces the full-keel boat’s disconcerting tendency to heel away from a turn, and it eliminates much of the course-keeping trouble experienced with some full-keel hulls when running down sea at the same speed as the waves. (The waves push the keel around underwater, throwing it off course.) In fact, the Albin 28 is one of the best following-sea boats I’ve run.
A few boats that may be candidates for you come to mind. The Seaworthy 28 is in the size range you’re discussing, and I liked the boat when I reviewed it a number of years ago. Also consider the Nauset 28, Dyer 29 or any true semidisplacement, round-bilge boat, such as those designed by Spencer Lincoln, if you want to cruise easily and comfortably in the 16- to 20-knot range.
You’ll also want to take a rough-water ride in any of these boats to make sure you’re satisfied with how dry or wet it is with the wind on the bow, and its following/quartering sea course-keeping. These are two bugaboos of some semidisplacement hulls. One thing to look for in semidisplacement boats like these is the size and position of the spray rails. While they generally do their job deflecting spray quite well, if they’re too wide and low they can also make the boat pound up sea.
I understand the issues of cost with a custom boat, but then again you should get exactly what you want when you take delivery. One course of action is to tell the builder you want a plain boat, just the basics, and go from there. Any builder’s margins naturally improve as options and features are added, but your position from the beginning could be that you just want a simple boat that’s priced accordingly. But you also may be wasting the builder’s time if what you want is too basic. And, of course, you’ll pay more for a high-quality, one-of-a-kind custom boat with great visual appeal.
If you’re shopping price, there are a number of semidisplacement kit boats you can buy from Maine boatbuilders. They’re available pretty much any way you want, from a bare hull or a hull and deck to a running boat with drivetrain installed and the cabin either bare or finished off. You can take it from there and finish it off yourself, or hire a specialist to do it for you.
There are craftsmen in Maine and elsewhere who specialize in just this approach, finishing off a bare hull to your specifications. The idea has a lot of appeal for me, as you get a reasonably priced boat, it’s brand new so you better know what you’re getting, and it’s laid out the way you want it.
Thanks, Eric. I am sure glad I asked. I do not want to own another planing hull. I became suspicious when I noticed that the Albin 28 was powered with a 315-hp Yanmar, while the custom builder suggested that a 230-hp Cummins was more than enough to push his 32-foot hull along. I also went for a ride on a Holland 32 with a local (Conn.) lobsterman, and I was blown away. I have never been on a boat that handled chop and boat wake like that.
On a related note, the thing that is pushing the custom boat beyond my budget is the diesel engine. The builder makes a great case for gas. 1) No cost savings due to the increased cost of diesel fuel. 2) The durability argument is squelched by the fact that I can buy three gas engines for the price of one diesel, and 3) diesels need to be run, and unless I’m going to put more than 100 hours per season on the boat (which I probably won’t) it is not good for the diesel engine. My only concern with a gas engine is resale value. Every one of my boating-knowledgeable friends has said that I’d get my money back with the diesel, and it would be a heck of a lot more attractive to prospective buyers. Do you have any thoughts on this subject?
The Holland is indeed a wonderful sea boat with authentic Maine workboat origins. All it takes is a ride on a round-bilge, full-keel boat at a moderate speed to appreciate how comfortable their motions really are.
I think the builder is giving you accurate information. A 230-hp diesel should cruise the 32 at an efficient, comfortable 14 or 15 knots, which is that boat’s sweet spot. The Albin naturally needs more power to get up on plane and run in the 20-knot range for which it’s designed. The gas vs. diesel discussion is perennial, and each has its advantages — and its emotionally charged advocates and detractors.
I’d go with the diesel, even a modest-sized one, in a boat like this, and these are my main reasons: resale value; sellability (you may well be able to sell it faster); safety (no gasoline vapors to worry about); and range (even though diesel fuel is more expensive, a gallon of the stuff will push you along much farther than a gas engine can, so it’s still cheaper to run a diesel in terms of fuel-dollars-per-mile). And since it’s cheaper to operate, that alone might encourage you to get out on it more often.
I’d also be sure to get a common-rail diesel, such as those from manufacturers like Volvo Penta and Cummins. Common-rails are much smoother running (with lower vibrations); have very low emissions, even when cold; and produce very little diesel smell, a big plus for buyers. You can also get a diesel, like a Yanmar, that weighs less than a gas big block and puts out more continuous horsepower. And keep in mind that a 250-hp diesel will easily do the work (at continuous cruise) of a 350-hp gas engine.
I’d also consider a low-hour used diesel in good condition if you have someone nearby who can service it or, better yet, one that’s been rebuilt. If your builder can come up with one that includes a warranty from its remanufacturer, it’s certainly worth considering.
On the other hand, gas power sure offers cost savings up front over a new diesel. Gas engines are also very quiet at slow speed, though the common-rail diesels can actually be quieter at top speed. If you’re only putting 100 hours on your engine each year, fuel costs won’t be very significant in the larger scheme of things, and at that usage rate the gas engine likely will corrode away before it wears out mechanically. Gas engines don’t produce any objectionable fumes; you do get a whiff of diesel odor even from the common-rails on startup and when there’s no relative wind.
If you go with gas, get an EFI (electronically fuel injected), not carbureted, engine. They start easily, don’t diesel on shutdown, don’t smoke and belch, and are generally more reliable. I’d err on the high-horsepower side to make sure you can cruise at the speed you’re looking for at no more than 3,000 or 3,200 rpm.
Don’t get a small gas engine that has to struggle to push you along. Also, make sure to get a deeper reduction gear with any gas engine — at least 2.5-to-1. This is so your drivetrain can develop the torque to turn a larger-diameter, slower-turning prop, which will produce a huge improvement in dockside responsiveness and cruise-speed efficiency.
There is absolutely no substitute for a large prop diameter and lots of blade area when it comes to low-speed traction and cruise efficiency. Horsepower — along with fuel — is often wasted because of the way the power is delivered to the water. Builders can, and too often do, save money by going with a shallower gear, since a smaller-diameter shaft and smaller prop are cheaper. But the last thing you want in a gas-powered lobster boat is a 1.5- or 2-to-1 gear with a junior-size 16- or 18-inch egg beater spinning around, making lots of commotion with little result. When you throw it into reverse coming up to the dock, you’ll wait until the second coming before you come to a full stop.
Another option is to build the boat with a gas engine, only with a deep gear and a larger-diameter propeller shaft that can be used later with a diesel, which will give you the option of repowering at lower cost if you do get the diesel bug. If you get the small shaft that comes with a gas engine, it will have to be replaced to accommodate the diesel’s higher torque and larger prop, and that will be expensive.
Note: For information on the Holland 32, contact Holland’s Boat Shop in Belfast, Maine, at (207) 338-3155 or e-mail
Eric Sorensen was the founding director of the J.D. Power and Associates marine practice and is the author of “Sorensen’s Guide to Powerboats: How to Evaluate Design, Construction and Performance.” A longtime licensed captain, he can be reached at
This article originally appeared in the November 2008 issue.