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Know-how: 10 essentials for the perfect powerboat

My idea of the perfect powerboat is much like my idea for the perfect RV: something that can seat 10, dine six and sleep two, though the boat should accommodate four for longer passages.

Describing my perfect powerboat is like answering my wife if she asks, “Honey, if I should die, whom among our friends would you want to marry?” In other words, answering is a no-win proposition. So rather than offering different classes of boats and selecting my favorites, I’ll describe the characteristics of my perfect powerboat.

First, you should know a few things about me. I have handled a variety of powerboats, from dinghies to 165-footers, mostly involving deliveries and a lot of teaching. I’ve owned a few and used them mostly as diving platforms. I sailed once, sold the last powerboat I owned, then bought my first sailboat. I’ve always liked longer passages and long-distance cruising. My wife and I are getting too long in the tooth for long-distance passages, so our thoughts have turned to cruises involving medium passages.

I thought about a deep-vee hull to get us there fast. But for us, the passage is as enjoyable as the destination. Planing hulls don’t handle well off-plane, and on a passage there might be long periods when you can’t or shouldn’t be on-plane. Planing hulls also drink a lot of fuel, so unless they are large boats with large fuel tanks, they are short-legged.

Semidisplacement hulls are sort of like the little fat kid in school: too weak to fight and too slow to run. (Yes, I expect letters.) They are expensive to run at higher speeds. Not perfect, but a possibility. Displacement hulls are seaworthy, comfortable, seakindly and economical to operate, but limited in speed.

So the adage that all boats are compromises certainly applies here. With that in mind, these are some of what I consider essentials in my perfect powerboat.

1. The boat needs good seakeeping ability, since I will not close on a lee shore in bad weather. It needs to be dry and, therefore, needs a flared bow. It must be seakindly both under way and at anchor. I’d like to cruise at 10 to 12 knots and top out around 15 knots to get out of harm’s way should the need arise.

2. I’m leaning toward a Down East semidisplacement design from 30 to 36 feet withsingle or twin diesels between 150 and 180 hp. The boat would have a diesel generator and an inverter, and the engines would have high-output alternators.

3. The boat must be strong. Steel can be heavy, and aluminum still worries me. I know it shouldn’t, but there’s that issue of galvanic corrosion. That leaves fiberglass or cold-molded wood. Wood construction is very strong and light, but I think I’d opt for epoxy and glass stiffened with honeycombed, resin-impregnated paper, or end-grain balsa coring above the waterline and solid glass with stringers below. The lay-up would include Kevlar for impact resistance.

4. There would be no flybridge, and the need for steps, ladders and the like should be minimal. Access to the interior will have a barrier door to keep water from going below.

5. I want a boat, not a floating condominium, so I want a comfortable saloon, not a living room.

6. A seagoing galley and good nav station are musts.

7. It must be fitted with good sea berths in addition to the sleeping accommodations for use when not under way.

8. The interior must allow easy access to the engines, generator, tanks and seacocks. There’s no need to be a contortionist to take care of service and maintenance. Nor should I have to disassemble the boat to get to the batteries or repair plumbing. Electrical paneling should be accessible fore and aft so that replacing or adding circuit breakers is easier. The overhead should consist of removable panels resting on a grid and slotted for ventilation. This allows easy installation of lighting and other wiring.

9. Opening hatches protected by coamings with drains, 24-hour solar ventilators, and opening port lights would provide ventilation. We’ll also have reverse cycle air conditioning. (Civilized, ain’t we?)

10. Electronics would include a combination GPS/chart plotter/radar, plus a stand-alone radar console, external direction sensor, forward and side-scan sonar, and an autopilot.