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Small boat - great adventure

There’s so much to see with a trailerable cruiser

There’s so much to see with a trailerable cruiser

Friends from our Great Loop cruise see us in our 25-foot trailerable cruiser, Li’l Looper, shake their heads and say, “I bet you miss that 40-foot trawler, don’t you?”

“Yeah, but this is trailerable,” we say.

“Don’t you feel a little cramped on that thing?”

“Yeah, but this is trailerable.”

“How long did it take you to get to Montreal from Knoxville?”

“Less than three days. It’s trailerable.”

How much sand would slip through the hourglass if we were on a trawler and cruised at 8 knots from Knoxville, Tenn., to Montreal on our own bottom? Let’s see, that would be 615 miles down the Tennessee River, 40 miles on the Ohio, up the Mississippi, the Illinois … you figure it out. Two, three months? How much fuel? How many breakdowns? How many marinas? Think about it.

Read the other stories in this package: Small-boat cruising - Less is more   Small-boat country

There are advantages other than the fact that our Campion 250 Offshore is trailerable. Most smaller boats have planing hulls and go fast, which gets the boring part of a trip over with, so you’re in port while the trawler folks are trawlering away. Happy hour is over, supper dishes are washed, and you’re into your evening respite by the time the trawler pulls in, then finally the sailboat.

When we cruised the Arkansas River in the fall of 2005, the boat began backfiring. We were breaking in a remanufactured engine, and we knew that it isn’t advisable to run at high speeds in this condition. In late October everything goes black by 7 p.m., and we had 56 miles to go before we reached the next marina with a mechanic. The boat ran OK at 8 to 10 mph, but at that speed we’d get into Van Buren, Ark., around 10 p.m. Not good. At 25 mph — our usual cruising speed — we’d get there before 6 o’clock. We asked the engine to cope and went for it.

This scenario plays out frequently under other circumstances, as well. For example, a bad storm brews on the Hiwassee River off the Tennessee, storm clouds gather, wind rakes the water, thunder rolls. Upstream is a marina where we can tie down and weather the storm. We stick it to it and fly, tie down, throw the canvas up, and munch on a Little Debbie snack while the storm huffs and rain pours.

In our attempt to cruise all the navigable rivers of eastern North America, we routinely encounter tows. On the Lower Mississippi they’re gigantic; on the Ohio they’re big; on the Tennessee and the Cumberland they’re midsized, but they’re there. In any event, we have to meet or pass them. “Captain of the Oliver Scherer, this is Li’l Looper, a small cruiser. Can we pass you on your port side?”

When we ask tow captains if we can pass them on plane, they often scoff. “You can’t hurt me, little cruiser. Bring it on.” He’s doing 5 mph; we’re doing 25 mph. In a wink and a nod we’re outta there.

But small-boat cruising isn’t all about speed. There are a variety of other features to look for in a good, functional small cruiser, some of which may not available on newer stock boats. Windows and headroom are two important elements. If you’re walking through the boat in a half-crouch, you’re a half-grouch. And the cabin needs light, which means adequate windows. Older 1980s boats — such as those from Wright Brothers Sea Sport, C-Dory, Albin, Camano, and Campion — were built in this configuration.

There is the issue of cruising range on small gasoline-powered boats. Anything more than 120 miles between fuel stops makes the trundling of auxiliary gas a requirement. Outboard-powered boats like those from Rosborough and C-Dory are likely to have greater range than an I/O boat like ours.

Trailering, like so many aspects of boating, is another series of lessons learned the hard way. After blowing tires every other year, we upgraded from load range C to load range D and haven’t had a blowout since. (We broke the trailer’s leaf springs, though, on Oklahoma’s back roads.) Another lesson is that all launch ramps aren’t created equal. We had a difficult time finding a suitable ramp for launching and retrieving in Peterborough, Ontario, and in the Tulsa, Okla., area. The ramp should to be long enough so you don’t drop off the end of it, the angle needs to be steep enough so the boat floats when backed down, and there should be a dock alongside to tie to.

When trailering boats with larger beams, restrictions may apply in some states and permits may be required. Our 1987 Campion, built in British Columbia, has an 8-foot, 6-inch beam and is street legal everywhere.

We love to anchor. Our boat has a 28-pound Super Max, and while I’m struggling to get this mud shovel dropped or retrieved I need good footing. Modern shark-nosed boats with sleek, slippery, downward sloping bows are particularly perilous in wet conditions. The bow needs to be flat so the person dropping the hook is safe.

When locking or docking, Eva goes forward to string fenders and attach lines. Our older boat has a walkaround that’s wide enough for a shoe, with rail and hand-holds to grip along the way, features not always found on some newer cruisers.

Our two- to three-week excursions include the Gulf Intracoastal from Mobile, Ala., to Mexico (Brownsville/Port Isabel area); the Upper Mississippi River from Minneapolis to St. Louis; the St. Lawrence Seaway from Lachine (near Montreal) to Tadoussac and up the Saguenay Fjord to Chicoutimi; the Arkansas, Tennessee and Cumberland rivers; the Ohio River and its tributaries, including the Monongahela and Allegheny; St. Johns River in Florida (the prettiest); the Patuxent and Potomac rivers; the Little Triangle Loop from Kingston, Ontario, through the Thousand Islands to Montreal, the Ottawa River and the Rideau Canal back to Kingston; the Erie Canal from Waterford to Tonawanda; and the North Channel north coast.

For our next book, “Great Loop Side Trips,” all the cruising was done on our Campion Offshore. The “Offshore” designation is more hype than prescriptive, but her bow flare and sound hull have put us through (proportionately) heavier conditions than anything we experienced on our 40-foot Kha Shing trawler. She has many features that a big trawler has, including GPS, VHF and depth sounder. We always cruise with electronic charts on the laptop, which sits on a carpeted board over the galley sink. This keeps it dry and sunlight-viewable. With paper charts at the helm, the electronic charts can be viewed when needed by peering into the galley (Eva’s job).

Because the boat has a canvas top, there is no place for radar, and her small size makes it difficult to carry our 9-foot Achilles dinghy inflated, although the outboard fits nicely in the engine room. Small boats, like small trucks, don’t carry big loads gracefully.

A cruising boat must have well-planned interior space and built-in cabinetry. When cruising for two or three weeks at a time, we usually are doing business, too, so there’s a lot of gear on board. Our V-berth has a shelf along both sides where we store binoculars, camera equipment, fans, charts, guidebooks, and sometimes the computer printer. Our boat also has a small hanging locker, which many modern boats this size don’t have. The galley has a two-burner alcohol/     electric stove, microwave oven, under-counter AC/DC refrigerator (we even make ice), and good storage for dishes, cookware and packaged items.

The head doubles as the shower, and we recently added a transom shower. We have a freshwater tank, a black-water holding tank and, when we are on shore power, an electric water heater. While under way the water is routed through and heated by the engine, so we have hot water even at anchor. We do not have a generator or mood lighting.

Many boaters use the midships berth beneath the helm for storage. We sleep there like two logs — cozy and tight, with a whisper of air between us — because the cat’s litter box is in the V-berth. There are shelves for T-shirts, underwear, shoes and reading material all around us — against the bulkhead, at our feet, at our head. We created a new space by adding shelving from The Home Depot above our feet.

Small cruising boats need shelves and cabinets everywhere, but exposed shelving loaded with gear does give our boat that Noah’s Ark omnium gatherum look. The late cruising guide author Skipper Bob suggested, “Don’t buy the biggest boat you can afford. Buy the smallest boat you can be comfortable on.” Good advice.

Considering time on the water, fuel, marina dockage, meals out and time away from home, the small, trailerable powerboat is a good way to go. While I wish for the maneuverability of a twin-screw trawler with a flybridge, all that interior room with an aft stateroom with a walkaround queen-size berth, and Margaritaville on the aft deck, we can’t have it all. As Dennis Bruckel — a writer for “Waterway Guides” and longtime boater who has cruised many tens of thousands of miles on his 27-foot Albin — is fond of saying, “The smaller the boat, the greater the adventure.”

And we do have fun.

Ron and Eva Stob are the authors of “Honey, Let’s Get a Boat … A Cruising Adventure of America’s Great Loop” and the founders and former directors of the America’s Great Loop Cruisers’ Association ( Their next book, “Great Loop Side Trips,” is due to be published this year.