Cruising to new harbors and new horizons is what Bob and Elaine Ebaugh like to do, and over the course of their boating lives they’ve taken in the west coast of Florida as far as the Dry Tortugas and chartered throughout the British Virgin Islands.
In 2009 they made a commitment to do what many only dream of: slip the lines and do some serious cruising. “Our initial goal was to take a couple of years off from work, sell our home, and move aboard and cruise,” says Elaine, 55, a licensed speech-language pathologist.
And they did, covering 5,000 miles on an odyssey that took them far beyond their normal horizons. “I don’t think either of us seriously thought when we set out that we would make the entire Caribbean loop as far as Colombia, Panama and the western Caribbean.”
Of course, the first step was finding the right boat. For the Florida-based couple, it turned out to be a 1985 DeFever 44 Ocean Cruiser. “We wanted a liveaboard that would provide comfortable accommodations for longer-distance cruising on minimal operational costs,” says Bob, 54, a marine electrician and former corporate pilot and IT consultant. “We found nicer and larger motoryachts in our price range, but they did not have the cruising range we wanted.”
The Ebaughs allocated a couple of months to the selection process, limiting their search to cruising boats in Florida within their price range. They found the DeFever in Fort Myers. It offers ample living and storage space, with comfortable living quarters, along with a reputation as a solid, proven offshore vessel. “Aesthetically she was appealing,” says Elaine. “Definitely an older vessel with many adventures behind her, but nicely appointed and attractive.”
They bought the boat through Edwards Yacht Sales in Clearwater (edwardsyachtsales.com) for $150,000. “I don’t think we could have made a better choice without a much bigger budget,” says Bob.
The Ebaughs spent two years putting the 24-year-old boat — renamed Mar Azul — into liveaboard cruising shape. “We wanted her in the most reliable condition for long-distance cruising, so we did lots of things before leaving,” Bob says. They replaced one of the generators, all of the through-hulls and strainers, all wet exhaust hose and fuel hoses, repaired the stabilizers, added a backup inverter charger and replaced the battery setup. An Awlgrip job led to replacing the saloon windows. “Not sure what all this cost, not sure I want to know,” says Bob. “But it was well north of $50,000, and outside of the Awlgrip, I did much of the labor.”
Then it was off to the islands. Leaving St. Petersburg in April 2011, the couple spent 28 months cruising to South America and back. “Initially we couldn’t get enough of the beautiful waters — the exquisite Exumas, Turks and Caicos, the Spanish Virgins offset by the rainforest mountains of Puerto Rico, the spectacular pink-sand beaches in Barbuda,” says Elaine. “There was a thrill arriving in a harbor in a strange land in your own little vessel. Each destination offered unique opportunities to learn and experience the local flavor and ways of life.”
For Bob, the highlight was visiting the San Blas Islands of Panama. “These islands are as close to the natural, untouched beauty of the Caribbean remaining today, with the local people living in communities much the same as 200 or more years ago,” he says. “[They are] living off the land and sea in straw huts with hammocks and fire pits. About the only modern concession is that most but not all villages have cellphone service.”
Mar Azul, powered by twin Ford Lehman 120-hp diesels, used about 3,760 gallons of fuel in 986 engine hours. “We typically cruise at 6.5 to 7 knots, burning under 4 gallons per hour,” Bob says. “Her top speed is probably about 8.5 knots, being essentially a full- displacement hull.” Fuel load is 900 gallons, and at “best economy speed,” the 44 has a 1,500-mile range with some reserve.
“We never pushed her knowingly into more than 5-foot seas and 15- to 17-knot winds,” Bob says. “That said, you sometimes end up in weather not forecast and/or coastal effects that impact an otherwise good plan, especially with some legs requiring two or three days at sea.”
The worst conditions they faced were winds up to 25 knots, gusting to 40, and 10-foot seas. “Even then, very little water makes it on deck, and she tracks well — but I can’t say it’s a comfortable ride,” he says. “The boat can handle more than I want to find out.”
These days, the well-traveled DeFever is docked comfortably at the Pasadena Yacht and Country Club in Gulfport, Florida, though that may not last. “I think Mar Azul has fulfilled her initial [cruising] vision,” says Elaine. “The experiences we had aboard have changed our lives and given us many new perspectives. We hope in the not-too-distant future that Mar Azul will be able to embark on a new adventure.”
The DeFever 44 is a no-nonsense twin-cabin, twin-engine trawler capable of long-distance cruising. The heavily built displacement hull has a tall, flared bow and plenty of freeboard all around. The superstructure features a large foredeck, an amidships pilothouse/saloon and an open lounge deck aft. The flybridge has a complete helm station on centerline and passenger seating. Full-length hand rails and wide side decks make for safe passage between the fore and aft decks while underway.
The 44,000-pound boat is powered by twin 120-hp diesels, placed amidships with tankage and generators in a dedicated engine room that includes a workbench. The spacious aft “lounge deck” is covered with a hardtop for sun protection.
Inside, the main cabin features a galley-up layout. The C-shaped galley has a stove top, oven, refrigerator and a bar with stools. There’s an L-shaped dinette with a table for dining. The lower helm is to starboard and has room for a full array of electronics.
The master stateroom is aft and has an island berth and a fully equipped en-suite head compartment. There’s another cabin forward with a V-berth and adjacent head.
The 44 Offshore Cruiser remains one of Arthur DeFever’s most popular designs. DeFever began his career designing tuna trawlers for the San Diego fleet. In the early 1960s he was encouraged to come up with a cruising trawler with seakeeping capabilities and range that were similar to his fishing designs. The 38- to 54-footers he produced were hardy boats designed to handle the Pacific from Mexico to Alaska. Early wooden boats were built in Santa Barbara, California. Fiberglass models were built in Mexico, Taiwan and China. The 44’s production run was from 1981 to 2004. DeFever, recognized as a pioneer in recreational trawler design, died in 2013.
LOA: 43 feet, 9 inches
BEAM: 14 feet, 9 inches
DRAFT: 4 feet, 7 inches
WEIGHT: 44,000 pounds
HULL TYPE: displacement
PROPULSION: twin diesels, 120-135 hp
TANKAGE: 900 gallons fuel, 350 gallons water
DESIGNER: Arthur DeFever
December 2014 issue