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Not your father’s trawler

Today’s models are faster, more luxurious and technologically advanced, but can they be called ‘trawlers’?

The sun was just rising as we spotted the R “2” bell off the entrance to Great Salt Pond at Block Island, R.I. We had been at sea for 26 hours, running 210 nautical miles directly from Cape May, N.J. Leaving our home port of Annapolis, Md., a couple of days earlier, we were about to start our summer cruise, exploring New England in the comfort of our beloved Grand Banks 42.

Nordic Tug 37

Manitou was built in 1969, and although she was a constant work in progress because of her age and wooden construction, my wife and I not only cruised her extensively, but we also lived aboard full time for more than a year. She was sturdy, seaworthy, salty-looking, dependable, fuel-efficient, quiet and dry when running and very comfortable. Indeed, she was the perfect “trawler” in her day. It was the late 1980s, and the “trawler yacht” had become one of the most popular design categories of the times.

Throughout these past 30 years there has been a significant evolution of this increasingly popular category, and the name “trawler” seems to have been adopted by builders who are building anything but trawlers. Marketers, salespeople, buyers and boating journalists (myself included) have been a bit loose with the term. So let’s try to bring a little clarity to the subject.

How we got here

Although defining what a recreational trawler is can sometimes lead to barroom brawls, we’ll start with the understanding that the term comes from traditional fishing trawlers built on full-displacement hulls. Typically running 7 to 9 knots powered by a single diesel, these high-load-capacity vessels offer superb fuel efficiency and seaworthiness. Thanks to their abundant tankage, they have sufficient range to venture far out to the most fertile fishing grounds and, in some cases, are able to cross oceans.

The recreational trawlers that helped promote this craze in the early 1970s and ’80s — such as Grand Banks, Kadey-Krogen, DeFever, Marine Trader and Island Gypsy — were a mix of twin-engine semidisplacement designs and single-engine displacement designs. All of these boats featured relatively low-horsepower diesels, limiting their speed to 7 to 9 knots. In the mid-’80s and ’90s, Nordic Tugs followed with its semidisplacement, single-engine models with enough power to run at higher than displacement speeds, typically between 13 and 16 knots.

Fleming entered the market in the mid-’80s with its high-horsepower, twin-engine semidisplacement design, which became the classic Fleming 55. About the same time, Grand Banks began putting higher- and higher-horsepower engines in its trawlers. Eventually it realized there were limits to adding horsepower to its hull design, so it created the Eastbay brand, which helped promote the “Down East” category — not to be confused with trawlers.

For a time, Sabre built a “Fast Trawler” series, but has since focused on its successful sedan and express line. Going against the grain of faster and more powerful trawlers, Great Harbour introduced its funky-looking, twin-engine, low-power full-displacement models that became a big hit with full-time liveaboards.

In 1989 along came the Nordhavn 46. This full-displacement, single-screw trawler went on to become a classic, and it arguably helped change the world of long-distance power cruising. In 1992, Jim and Suzy Sink made news by crossing the Atlantic in their Nordhavn 46, and in 2000 a factory-sponsored Nordhavn 40 circled the globe in 26 weeks. Today there are more than a dozen Nordhavn models from 40 to 120 feet, most of which continue to be full-displacement, single-engine designs.

Kadey-Krogen also continued to prosper and grow on the success of its iconic 42, and today the company is offering highly advanced models from 39 to 64 feet that continue to follow James Krogen’s design philosophy. Taking advantage of the trawler trend these market leaders started, Jet Tern Marine shipped its first single-engine, full-displacement Selene trawler to the United States in 1999. With yards in Taiwan and China, Jet Tern now builds a variety of vessels from 38 to 128 feet.

Common characteristics

Although these brands and models are quite different, they have a number of fundamental traits in common that have helped define today’s recreational trawler. To begin with, they all have that subjective “salty” look. Whether it’s the classic Grand Banks 42, Kadey-Krogen’s new 44, the Nordhavn 63, Nordic Tug 37 or Fleming 55, these boats look as if you’d want to go to sea in them. Absent are sexy sheer lines, excessive tumblehome, sloping foredecks, expansive teardrop windows, faux radar arches and acres of tufted sun pads.

Second, although many semidis- placement models have enough power to run at higher than displacement speeds, they are truly happiest running between 7 and 10 knots, depending on their waterline length. Like it or not, these hulls can create a wet, noisy, uncomfortable ride when running at higher speeds and pushing so much water. More important, the rate of fuel burn at these speeds goes up exponentially, often requiring three or four times more fuel to cover the same distance. Although it can be reassuring for an owner to know that his high-power trawler can hit 16 knots if necessary, the truth is that these semidisplacement boats are almost always run at slower speeds, matching their full-displacement cousins.

The Grand Banks 43 Heritage EU is 'salty' but contemporary.

Recreational trawlers also have a high load-carrying capacity, which translates to plenty of interior room. And there’s usually enough deck space for dinghies, kayaks and life rafts. Coupled with safe and sensible deck layouts, they are ideal boats for serious cruising.

In the beginning years, most trawlers had relatively simple mechanical and electrical systems that were easy to service and maintain. Galley gear and accessories were often the same 12-volt variety found in sailboats. Electrical systems were pretty basic. Owners with some mechanical knowledge and a good set of tools could perform basic maintenance on their diesels. Dinghy launching systems consisted of simple block-and-tackle arrangements. And the boat’s electronics typically were no more than a VHF, radar, depth sounder, knot meter, autopilot and basic plotter. Binoculars, a magnetic compass, paper charts, dividers and parallel rules were considered more essential.

Evolution or revolution?

The Marlow 61E MK2 provides a good turn of speed for those who prefer a quicker pace than displacement boats.

Today’s trawlers are a far cry from their predecessors. Even those brands that have undergone steady, evolutionary changes can hardly compare their newest offerings to what was built just a few years ago. Some brands have taken a revolutionary approach, radically changing hull designs as well as propulsion systems. And to make things even more interesting, there are new entries in the trawler market, some of which have followed a traditional direction and others that started with a clean sheet of paper.

Although Kadey-Krogen and Nordhavn have stayed true to their full-displacement designs, some of their larger models are now offered with optional twin-engine systems. And the larger models are larger than ever. Nordhavn boasts building its first 120-footer, and Kadey-Krogen has developed an all-new 64. Nordic Tugs is offering a line of updated models from 26 to 54 feet.

Fleming has also stayed true to its original philosophy with its twin-engine, semidisplacement pilothouse designs that have enough horsepower to cruise in the mid-to-high teens. The company has been busy building its highly respected 55, 65 and 78, and it is introducing an all-new 58 later this year. The Krogen 52 Express (not to be confused with today’s Kadey-Krogen company) is another attractive twin-engine, semidisplacement yacht that has the trawler aura.

After leading the pack during the beginning of the trawler trend, the venerable Grand Banks line has undergone a major shift in strategy. Gone are its much-loved, but aging semidisplacement trawlers. Following the success of its C. Raymond Hunt-designed Eastbay series, it developed the Aleutian class, starting at 53 feet. Featuring modified-vee hulls, these high-power motoryachts can reach speeds of 20 knots or more. Even the Heritage line, which more closely resembles the original Classic series, now sports modified-vee hulls with high-horsepower engines for 20-knot cruising. Most revolutionary of all is the 43EU, which incorporates pod drives and joystick control. Although this might look like your father’s Grand Banks, it is an entirely different vessel with a top speed of 24 knots.

Positioning themselves as value leaders are two relative newcomers: Beneteau Swift Trawlers and North Pacific Yachts. After spending time running a Swift Trawler 34 and 52, I can say, “Welcome to the club.” With five models to choose from, Beneteau has created a thoroughly modern interpretation of the classic trawler. These are fast, relatively economical to run — especially at displacement speeds — and competitively priced, compared with the rest of the market.

Also competitively priced are five models from North Pacific Yachts, which provide attractive choices in the 28- to 49-foot range of single-engine, semidisplacement boats. These traditional-looking trawlers are built in China and offer an alternative to the more expensive market leaders.

Regardless of brand, model, price or hull form, all of these modern trawler yachts benefit greatly from today’s advances in engine technology and systems engineering. New electronic diesels are quieter, greener, more efficient and extremely reliable. Meeting the ever-increasing demands of today’s buyers, builders are providing all of the comforts and amenities we expect in our homes. And the magic of modern marine electronics is astonishing.

Whether some of these modern interpretations can be considered true trawlers may not be that important. Instead of debating the “trawler” authenticity of full displacement vs. semidisplacement or single screw vs. twins, perhaps it’s simply the owner’s cruising lifestyle that defines the vessel.

See related articles:

- Trawler Specifications

- A hybrid approach to trawlers

- The cruising-under-power lifestyle

- Twin alternatives to traditional trawlers

May 2013 issue