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My next boat – Frank Kehr

As family dynamics change and leisure time becomes more difficult to find, I’ve been considering replacing our Albin 36 trawler with a more practical family boat.

As family dynamics change and leisure time becomes more difficult to find, I’ve been considering replacing our Albin 36 trawler with a more practical family boat.



 Wilbur 34 Flybridge Weekender

I need room to carry a dinghy, diving gear and kayak, along with the typical cruising requirements of grill, extra fenders, lines and anchors, etc. I also need to cover a lot of cruising ground quickly.

So when the editor asked if I could assemble — on paper at least — my “next boat,” it gave me an opportunity to gather my thoughts. They are based on my experiences owning various boats over the years: from outboard runabouts to diesel trawlers. I also have spent countless hours crawling through boats while attending shows, performing surveys and doing repairs. After incorporating my thoughts with the requirements of family members, we have agreed that our next — and possibly last — big boat would be a Down Easter with a flybridge.

It’s hard to find fault with the rugged, clean lines of the typical Down East boat. But the tall bow, gracefully sweeping sheer line, traditional pilothouse with low profile cabin top, and sizeable open aft cockpit are only the beginning. Traditional Down East boats typically are stable and controllable in most sea conditions.

Many of the traditional Down East boatbuilders are custom shops, where folks of modest financial means can sit down with the builder and create a boat tailored specifically to their needs. Builders such as Atlantic Boat Co. in Brooklin, Maine, and Wesmac in Surry, Maine, offer hulls that can be custom-finished to any stage of completion.

My dream boat

My Down East boat wouldn’t be the largest or the most costly available. I prefer a modest, well-constructed and easily maintained boat — one that combines predictable handling and performance with reasonable creature comforts. It would be delivered partially constructed, or in “kit form,” not only because of the cost savings but because much of the pleasure I derive from things is in their design and construction.

I would need the running gear already installed and operable. All decks, partitions, bulkheads and major structural components would be installed, and all exposed fiberglass surfaces would be gelcoated. There should be several raceways designed into the hull to accommodate the rigging, electrical and plumbing requirements.

Hull and deck

Traditional Down East-style hulls, such as the Duffy, are “built down,” meaning the hull esses or curves into the keel. These semidisplacement hulls have a pronounced keel, round chines and a fine entry. Wesmac, on the other hand, offers a hard chine, vee bottom, full-keel hull. The hard-chine, planing hull typically is faster but less forgiving in heavy weather.

An advantage of the built-down form is that it allows the engine and machinery to be placed lower in the hull, lowering the center of gravity and eliminating the need for an engine box, in most cases. I would need to spend time running each boat before making a final choice, but I’m leaning toward a built-down boat.

Hulls can be either solid fiberglass throughout or cored to the waterline and solid below. I have no objection to a hull that is cored above the waterline, as long as all deck hardware and hull penetrations are installed with backing plates and through solid fiberglass sections, which would require additional consideration and planning for through-hull discharges.

Although many Down East boats don’t have bow rails, I would request stainless steel rails of at least 24 inches in height that continue aft along the side decks, as shown in the accompanying photo of the Wesmac 42, Oasis. Side decks should be at least 19 inches wide, and cleats for dock lines need to be as large as possible. On a boat in the mid-30-foot range, I consider 10-inch deck cleats to be the minimum acceptable size.

Helm and bridge

The lower helm would be my primary control station. Clear, unobstructed visibility from this station is critical. Many boatbuilders use window mullions that are too thick, and they seem to place them directly in the helm’s line of sight. American Boat and Yacht Council standards call forthe forward sector of visibility from the helm to extend horizontally 90 degrees to port and 112.5 degrees to starboard from straight ahead. That means you should be able to see clearly looking from your left shoulder all the way around to your right shoulder and slightly aft.

The lower helm is where I would install the main electronics, with remote heads mounted at the flybridge helm station. There should be dedicated space to store paper charts and work with them while under way. From the lower helm I should be able to monitor any critical vessel system without losing my view of the water. Bilge pump switches and the annunciator panel should be within sight. Both audible and visual alarms for loss of propulsion engine or generator cooling water should be at the helm as well.

The flybridge helm station should have two adjustable-height swiveling seats to complement the built-in seating. Wilbur, Ellis and Wesmac build beautiful flybridge versions of their conventional sedans. Flybridge built-in seating should be a minimum of 18 to 20 inches from the deck to the top of the cushions — a feature that was poorly calculated on my Albin. Full engine instrumentation and system monitoring should be displayed on the bridge, in addition to the navigation electronics.


Based on initial cost and long-term simplicity, the boat would have a single, electronically controlled diesel engine coupled with a deep reduction gear transmission. The transmission should enable me to run with a large, slow-turning prop for increased maneuvering traction and decreased vibration, as has been accomplished with the Pearson True North 38. I also would strongly consider an engine/drive isolation system similar to the Aquadrive system used on the Pearson. I briefly thought about a waterjet propulsion system, but I don’t feel the advantages would outweigh the cost and maintenance issues.

Lastly, a bow thruster would be part of the propulsion package. I have lived with electric thrusters and would opt for a hydraulic unit this time because of its greater duty cycle.

Machinery space

The key words for the machinery space are accessibility, cleanliness and illumination. Access hatches need to be large, properly supported and well-insulated against sound and heat. Hatch weather stripping should be replaceable and installed in tracks, because it is easily damaged.

Illumination for the below-deck spaces should include both AC and DC lamps. With efficient LED lighting now available, that would be my choice for the DC side.

Engine-driven machinery requires full coverage drip trays that can hold reasonable quantities of liquid. I place absorbent mats in the trays to keep spills from splashing. The machinery space layout should allow for the future installation of such equipment as an air conditioner, battery charger/inverter, and generator.

If possible, a sea chest should be installed instead of using independent seawater intakes, limiting the number of through-hull penetrations. The built-in automatic fire system should have manual activation control with status indicators at the entrance to the machinery space and at each helm station.


The electrical system needn’t be sophisticated or complex, only well-planned and executed and ABYC compliant. Wiring should be accessible, well-routed, bundled and supported throughout. Cables, terminals, switches and circuit breakers must be clearly labeled, and the distribution panel should be readily accessible, preferably in the main saloon.

Master battery switches are needed for each battery bank and should be readily accessible, not hidden away in the machinery space. Port and starboard shore power connections minimize cables on deck. There should be a shore power reverse polarity indicator and galvanic isolators for the shore power, in addition to full instrument monitoring of both AC and DC systems.

Controls and electrical monitoring systems for the generator and inverter should be placed in the same area as the main distribution panel. I would put the generator engine monitoring instruments (oil and temperature) at the helm stations.

I treat each DC battery requirement individually, meaning the propulsion and generator engines have dedicated starting batteries and master switches. I use a separate battery located under the bridge console for the navigation electronics. The DC house loads and inverter run off a dedicated house bank of batteries. With the exception of the bridge electronics battery, all other systems have the ability to be in parallel together, covering most emergency situations.

Fuel system

My strong preference is for fuel tanks made of fiberglass, using vinylester resin. Stainless and aluminum tanks are acceptable, but I’m happy to pay the premium for fiberglass. I would use a modular approach, opting for several smaller tanks that could be easily removed for cleaning or repairs.

The installation configuration would depend on several factors, but with separate modules it should be reasonably simple. The tanks would be interconnected through a clearly labeled fuel manifold using Coast Guard-approved Type A flexible hose with reusable fittings. The entire fuel system should be plumbed using the same type of hose so that with minimal spare fittings aboard and several feet of hose, any part of it can be replaced in short order.

Fuel level would be monitored at each helm station and with sight tubes at the tanks. Proper fuel filtering is essential and easily obtained by installing filters and water separators. Their configuration would allow for the changing of a filter element while directing fuel flow through a second filter without shutting the engine down. Fuel filters should be equipped with remote vacuum gauges and water sensors that can be monitored from the helm stations.

I would like the fuel filter assembly placed in a location that is quickly, safely and easily accessible while the vessel is under way. There should be a drip shelf to contain the inevitable spill associated with changing filters in adverse conditions. I also would install an independently operated fuel polishing system to help maintain fuel quality when the vessel is idle.

Tank fills would be located behind a small compartment door in the cabin side, not mounted through the deck or on a horizontal surface, which can allow water to enter the system.


Black water (waste) tanks should be constructed of polyethylene and have large vents on both sides of the vessel, allowing a cross flow. Odor-eliminating filters for the vent lines would be specified as well. I’d like to have pumpout locations on both sides of the vessel.

Gray water and domestic water tanks should be constructed of stainless steel. There should be a direct-reading tank-level monitoring panel installed, with warning annunciators for approaching full or empty, depending on application.

There are numerous areas of design and layout that I haven’t touched on here due to space limitations, but hopefully I’ve given you a good sense of what I would be looking for in my dream Down East boat. With any luck, the project may begin in a year or two.