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Aluminum - EagleCraft

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EagleCraft puts the shine on aluminum boats

EagleCraft puts the shine on aluminum boats

Pondering the looks of the EagleCraft 31, Polaris, brings to mind the legendary series of German racecars called Mercedes Silberpfeil. The boat’s unpainted aluminum hull sports exactly the color of these rockets on wheels, which set new standards for performance and endurance more than 70 years ago.

Read the other story in this package: Aluminum – Material Difference  

Like other nicknames, the Silberpfeil — or silver arrow — has a quirky origin. The first such car, introduced in 1934 and painted white, was 2 pounds over the limit at the weigh-in for its first race, so the crew simply sanded off all the paint, thus fixing the weight problem by exposing the shiny aluminum body. Because the car won, a legend was born.

Since aluminum boats aren’t always painted, silver has become their trademark color, too. Once pigeonholed as utilitarian workhorses, these vessels have enjoyed a renaissance as recreational boats in recent years. Today, the rugged workboat exterior is accepted, and builders are hustling to meet the demand for vessels that outwardly look like they are taking a logging crew to camp, but have comfortable interiors and amenities below deck.

One such example is Polaris, an EagleCraft Coastal Cruiser custom-built by Daigle Welding & Marine Ltd. in Campbell River, British Columbia, and owned by Chris Davis, a physician who lives on Vashon Island in Puget Sound. Davis has owned the boat for a half-dozen years and still loves it like he did on the first day.

“It’s the best toy I have owned so far,” he says.

For a while he and his son, Scott, commuted to Seattle together, where the younger Davis attended high school and played varsity football. That meant long days and late return trips, dodging driftwood and other floating hazards while flying down Puget Sound in the dark.

“Imagine you are doing 30 knots and hit a log or any other hard object,” Davis says. “A fiberglass boat gets pulverized by the sheer force of the impact. Aluminum, on the other hand, will sustain a dent that you can hammer out during the next inspection.”

He considers a hull made from impact-resistant aluminum alloy good insurance that offers better protection than wood or most common composite construction materials. And it is much lighter than steel, and strong (see main story). Another advantage is aluminum’s low maintenance. “All I do is clean windows and hose her off with fresh water,” he says.

Polaris is the civilized version of a patrol boat used by the marine department of the Vancouver City Police. But to call her a commuter vessel would ignore the entertainment value she offers for weekend and day cruising, fishing and diving, as well as her suitability as a rescue vessel.

“Past age 50, one begins to view the purpose of boats differently,” Davis muses. “I wanted a boat that combines pleasure and utility.”

Rugged look, stout construction

The short bow, angular lines of the pilothouse and forward cabin trunk, stout rubrails, and shiny aluminum are part of Polaris’ understated charm and workboat heritage. EagleCrafts are so-called pull-up boats, meaning the hull shape is built before all the transverse frames — on 24-inch centers — and six 4-by-2-by-3/16-inch scantlings are installed.

The hull plates are 5086 aluminum alloy, the most common one in boatbuilding (also used in dump-truck boxes). The thickness of the bottom and the stern is 1/4 inch, while the sides are 3/16 inch. The keel consists of a 3/8-by-3-inch flat bar for the keelson and a 1/4-by-8-inch doubler plate on the outside to minimize potential impact damage. Two skegs protect the twin counter-rotating props. The stepping areas on the narrow side decks are covered with an industrial-grade non-skid, and to preserve that trademark metallic shine above the waterline, EagleCrafts are finished with a polyurethane clear coat.

The modified-vee hull has 19 degrees of deadrise at the transom and nearly 25 degrees at the entry. An inspection of the hull’s interior shows smooth plating, which indicates proper fit and stress-free construction, and no evidence of water in the bilge, which indicates tight seams. The Daigle yard is certified to the 47.2 standard by the Canadian Welding Bureau to ensure complete weld penetration where required — e.g. on the chines.

“All our boats have proper cathodic protection with sacrificial anodes attached at critical points, so electrolysis is not a problem,” says company president Steve Daigle. “Upon request we even install meters for owners to check the effectiveness of the anodes.”

Yacht-like performance and details

Polaris’ engine room houses twin 260-hp Volvo Penta KAD 44 EDC supercharged turbo diesels that propel the 17,000-pound vessel to a cruising speed of about 30 knots at 3,300 rpm, topping out at 35 knots at wide-open throttle. At cruising speed, fuel consumption averages 12 gallons per hour. All cables and hydraulic lines are properly harnessed and fastened to prevent chafe, and lead forward to the boat’s steering station.

A dewatering system for the air-intakes helps keep the engines dry, and the engine compartment is easily accessible through a massive hatch that runs the width of the cockpit. Forward of the engines are two deep-storage areas, also accessible by heavy aluminum hatches. A layer of mineral wool between the hull and interior provides temperature insulation, critical on aluminum boats.

On the flybridge, just forward of the radar arch, a life raft is ready for emergency deployment and a storage box to help keep the area clutter-free. To port of the flybridge ladder are the throttle and hydraulic lift for the stern-mounted 25-hp 4-stroke outboard, used for trolling or to get home in case of main engine failure.

The deck-level saloon is bright, roomy and multifunctional, with an additional steering station and a dinette that converts into a double bunk. The helm station is to starboard and offers good all-around visibility and access to the engine controls and electronics. Abaft the helm and also to starboard is the galley, with storage, counter space and appliances. A step down from the saloon is a forward V-berth and an enclosed head with shower. The setup is functional, with little room to spare.

At home in all conditions

Sitting on the flybridge, Davis plays the throttles to nudge the boat out of her slip at Elliott Bay Marina and into open water. As he opens the throttles, the diesels come to life, but if you go below the noise level in the cabin remains surprisingly low, due to the effectiveness of the sound insulation. The centerline flybridge helm seat has a million-dollar view and unobstructed visibility in all directions. Passengers squeezed into the rotating seats on both sides of the helm sometimes wish for hand-holds.

On a morning run from Vashon to Seattle, Polaris shows her seaworthiness in bumpy conditions that stem from an ebb running into a brisk northerly. She cruises comfortably at 3,300 rpm, making anywhere from 27 to 30 knots over ground, according to the GPS. At the entrance to Elliott Bay, just off Alki Point, where currents and ferry wakes converge, she easily handles the steeper swells under slightly reduced speed. Overall, Polaris impresses with good handling, lively performance, and solid craftsmanship — three reasons rugged aluminum workboats have morphed into recreational use.

Scott Davis now is a junior in college and no longer commutes by boat with his father, who works as an emergency medicine physician at Jefferson General Hospital in Port Townsend, Wash., on the northern tip of the Olympic Peninsula. It’s a 70-mile commute by car from Vashon Island, which includes a short hop by ferry, so Davis likes his alternative.

“Except in extremely bad weather, I like to take Polaris to and from work,” he says. “A night-vision scope enables me to run safely at cruising speeds at night. In bad weather on Puget Sound, it has been my observation that the majority of non-commercial powerboats on the water are aluminum.”

Sometimes Davis’ son takes the boat to the San Juan Islands for weekend trips with friends. But it looks like the bulk of Polaris’ future will be spent serving the public. Davis says he will be training with Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 33 in Tacoma, Wash., a unit that has a large number of pilots and aircraft to back up the Coast Guard’s air mission.

“The unit wants to build its on-the-water program,” says Davis. “I envision Polaris to be useful for security patrols, public safety and search and rescue jobs.”

By happenstance, Polaris is following the example of Silver Charm, another EagleCraft 31 that has been used as a patrol and rescue vessel. Her owners — Linda Vetter, chief operations officer of a Silicon Valley software company, and husband, Terry Blanchard, an accountant — are members of the Coast Guard Auxiliary on San Francisco Bay. Silver Charm is more utilitarian than Polaris, powered by twin outboards and equipped with a cockpit door on the starboard side to make retrieving victims easier.

“The boat is about 6-1/2 years old now, and we’ve done almost 300 patrols,” Vetter says.

She says Silver Charm’s large and uncluttered cockpit helps with rescue operations and practicing helicopter basket hoists. “We love the boat. She is strong and fits our needs,” Vetter says. “But if I had to do it over, I’d probably opt for two inboard diesels.”

Regardless, Polaris and Silver Charm are aluminum boats that offer versatility, speed and strength, which — like the color — are the very attributes that helped build the legacy of Mercedes Silberpfeil racecars.

Though EagleCraft still offers the 31 Coastal Cruiser, it says the 32 has become a more popular choice among its customers. Starting price for a single-inboard 32 is $215,000, with twin inboards $255,000. For more information, call (250) 286-6749 or visit www.eaglecraft.bc.ca .