Convertible Essentials - Soundings Online

Convertible Essentials

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What the professionals look for in these double-duty boats

Professional convertible captains complete 1,000-mile deliveries and often race to fishing grounds 100 miles offshore. Battling wind, waves and tricky inlets as a full-time job, they can shed light on what makes a solid convertible.

A good convertible should have a sharp entry, generous beam for seaworthiness and to lay in a trough, and speed to get out of bad weather and over sharp chop, says Capt. Jon Burke of Hilton Head Island, S.C.

“But it’s such an art form,” says Burke, 38, who runs Reel Obsession, a Hatteras 68 Enclosed Bridge. “It seems every boatbuilder has their own idea of what a good ride is, so the best thing is to get aboard a bunch of boats and see what you like.”

A captain for 18 years, Burke has been running Hatteras convertibles for owner Alexis Jacobs for the last 15 years, including a 50, 65 and 70. The biggest difference between the older and new Hatteras designs, Burke says, is more beam. The 65 and 70 had 18 feet of beam, while the 68 he runs now has 21 feet, 6 inches. The extra beam expanded the fishing area and accommodations, and makes the boat more stable in a trough.

The new Hatteras hull designs also incorporate prop pockets — helping with speed and draft — and a convex hull with a deep entry. “[The 68] has a much nicer ride in a head sea, and it tracks really well down sea,” says Burke.

At the helm, Burke says, it’s important to have the electronics close by and accessible, though there are pros and cons to an enclosed flybridge. “We run an enclosed bridge, so it makes it a little more difficult to fish,” he says. “But the travel is second to none; it’s just awkward to fish.”

The boat can be controlled from an aft helm station or the tuna tower for fishing. “The problem with the aft station is you can’t see in front of you, and you can’t see the cockpit from inside [the enclosure],” he says. “The tower is great for a calm day.”

Burke says redundant systems and ease of maintenance are other important factors in choosing a convertible. “From a captain’s perspective, things are going to break,” he says. “Can we get to them? Can we service them without tearing the boat apart?”

Capt. Joe Walker is a freelance delivery captain with 20 years of experience running convertibles built by Ocean, Hatteras, Viking, Post, Bertram, Silverton and others. The Brigantine, N.J., captain agrees with Burke’s suggestion that you test a boat you’re interested in on a rough day.

“The best thing to do is take it out on a harsh day and see if it can handle it,” says Walker, 43, who will run a boat hard for a couple of days to see how it holds up, and to work the bugs out.

One change Walker says he has noticed with new convertibles is that they are much drier, specifically in the cockpit, where spray blowing back in from the “station wagon effect” has been eliminated.

A good bluewater offshore boat needs to be able to come back looking like it did when you went out, says Capt. David Christman, who runs and maintains a 47-foot Cape Fear custom sportfisherman full time for a private owner. “You’re in a very harsh environment when you’re fishing 100 to 150 miles offshore.” He says everything from the hull to the galley lockers should be built to handle rough passages.

A former diesel mechanic, Christman, 38, also moonlights by running production boats for a boat dealer. He has logged 280 hours running an Egg Harbor 50 SportYacht with propeller pockets, a design feature that he believes potential convertible owners should consider. Christman says the prop pockets lift the stern and provide stability in a beam sea, reducing the rocking motion that can occur with a traditional deep-vee hull in similar conditions.

Weight distribution and balance also are important. Christman says a good convertible feels almost on the verge of being too heavy in the bow. “[But] a boat that’s too light in the bow, when it comes off a wave, it’ll fly,” says Christman, who lives in Staten Island, N.Y., and Hallandale Beach, Fla.

Capt. John Serafino of Margate, N.J., logs 25,000 to 28,000 miles per year, mostly aboard convertibles, and often finds himself on board for 10 hours a day. He says 4- to 6-foot seas are ideal for sea trialing a convertible, and suggests running the boat in beam, head and following seas to observe how it responds. “Then bring it back to idle speed and see how it reacts in the trough,” says Serafino, 57, adding that the newer convertibles have become more durable and better riding.

A captain for 20 years, Serafino runs boats from 42 to 73 feet and says size matters. “The bigger the boat, the better ride you’re going to have and the bigger oceans you can stay out in,” he says.

In addition to the ride, Serafino says convertible buyers should look for interior amenities and an uncluttered, user-friendly cockpit. “The new convertibles now are going more toward the family-oriented people instead of just the hardcore fishermen,” says Serafino. “That’s why it’s a convertible; it can go both ways.”

Here’s a look at eight new convertibles from 39 feet to 68 feet, ranging in price from $583,000 to around $3 million.

Here are some of the features found on the newest convertibles.

• No place like home: More and more, the current generation of convertibles comes with the type of amenities one would typically expect in a fine home, such as granite countertops, entertainment systems and refrigeration units.

“As people move up in their lifestyle, a lot of these wishes and desires are translated into what they want in their boat,” says Peter Frederiksen, director of communications for Viking Yachts of New Gretna, N.J. “[Owners] tell us what they like in their homes, and we try to accommodate them.”

Designer Charlie Jannace says he had to take into account such things as Corian countertops and multiple icemakers when designing the new Jannace 430C Sportfish convertible. “They’re really a house on water,” Jannace says.

• Looks count: The offshore battlewagon “look” certainly is part of the attraction, even for those who cruise more than fish.

“They may not use the boat for serious fishing, but there has to be something in their genes that draws them to a boat like this,” says David Walsh, director of marketing for Tiara Yachts of Holland, Mich.

Non-anglers have been known to equip their boats with outriggers or a tuna tower simply because of the look, says Frederiksen of Viking Yachts. A convertible is as beautiful and well-equipped as any motoryacht, but not as boxy, he says. (Viking has an 80-foot motoryacht of its own design in the works, Frederiksen says.)

The new convertibles show a sleeker profile with more contours. The cockpit gunwales, for example, have been rounded and smoothed on many models, says Doug Finney, vice president of sales and marketing of Ocean Yachts in Egg Harbor City, N.J.

• Plenty of ponies: Speed is also an important element on these mostly twin-diesel vessels, and it’s not just anglers who want a better top end.

“It wasn’t so long ago that people were satisfied with a 30-knot cruise, and these days they tend to want a bit more,” says David Ritchie, marketing director for Hatteras Yachts of New Bern, N.C. “I remember when it was a big deal for a boat to hit 30 knots.” The improved power-to-weight ratios of today’s diesel engines has helped, he says.

• The windshield debate: The blanked-out windscreen long has been a signature of the convertible sportfisherman. EggHarbor removed the glass windshields in favor of fiberglass when it went to a radiused forward cabin in 1989, says Bob Hazard, vice president of sales and marketing for Egg Harbor Yachts of Egg Harbor City, N.J.

The fiberglass windshield provides strength when green water comes over the foredeck, and extra space for storage, such as galley lockers. However, new technology has made windshields more viable on bluewater convertibles, says Tiara’s Walsh. Tiara offers a windshield option on its 3900 Convertible, and Ocean offers windshields and lower helm stations on its 42, 46 and 50 Super Sports.

Serious canyon runners may still prefer the solid windscreen, says Ocean’s Finney, but a lower helm station appeals to many boaters. Still, visibility is greater from the flybridge, where enclosures have evolved.

“Up top, they have made enclosures so tight that you can be running these boats into late fall and [in] early spring,” says Hazard of Egg Harbor. Ocean’s Finney says the fully enclosed flybridge, with saloon-like appointments, has become popular.

• Propeller pockets, mezzanine decks and overhangs: More builders now employ propeller pockets to provide shallower draft, reduce the prop shaft angle for better performance, and improve propulsive efficiency. Some boats incorporate a mezzanine level in the forward part of the cockpit, especially on the larger boats. And underwater exhaust has made the cockpit quieter and less smoky.

Viking is in the third generation of its 61 Convertible, of which about 152 have been built. The first 61 debuted in 2000, the second generation incorporated prop pockets, and the current iteration added a mezzanine deck in the cockpit. “It breaks the cockpit into two levels so you have a level where you’re fishing from … and one or two steps up is an observation level,” says Frederiksen. “It’s just a great place to relax and enjoy the action without taking part in it.”

Also, the aft flybridge overhang shades and protects the mezzanine on many models. “The mezzanine cockpit design has become the design to have once you get to 65 [feet] and above, maybe even smaller than that,” says Ritchie of Hatteras Yachts, which first offered the design on its 68 Convertible.