Comfort Afloat

First published in several Maryland newspapers, 6/23/89       

Comfort afloat 

by Tom Dove
When we go out for a weekend on the Bay, we are looking for a bit of adventure, but not too much. We are willing to take a bit  of discomfort, but not too much.

How much comfort we have depends on how well suited our boat is to the conditions of our cruise. A perfect sailing weekend is different from a perfect powerboating weekend. All but the most fanatic racing sailors will admit that sailing on the Chesapeake in August is generally pretty bad. There is rarely enough breeze to make a sailboat go and temperatures in the upper 90s are enough to wilt your spirits in a hurry when your boat won’t exceed four knots.

Just as a refrigerated sedan is the best vehicle to cross a desert, an air-conditioned powerboat is the star of the Dog Days. It’s far from the outdoor life, but cruising across glassy waters in a floating condominium is solid late summer comfort.

A roomy, high-sided powerboat is excellent at a marina or anchorage, too. There is plenty of room to socialize or not, as each crewmember prefers. A generator provides all the comforts that 115-Volts AC can provide.

On windy days, including most of the spring and fall, the situation is reversed. When the breeze pipes up to twenty knots, those square-sided planing powerboats take a real beating. They pound going to windward and roll going with the swells. On a rough day, the only way to minimize the unpleasant motion of a planing powerboat is to slow down to displacement speeds. When the skipper thinks about paying $25 per hour for fuel to go the same speed as a sailboat, it aggravates the matter.

In a breeze, the sailor can reduce sail area and be perfectly comfortable while the long, narrow hull slips easily through the waves with minimum fuss. Best of all, the fuel is free.

There are many compromises in the range between planing powerboats and cruiser/racer sailboats. The most common are motorsailers and trawlers. Trawlers (or more properly, trawler-style yachts) are heavy powerboats designed to run at displacement speeds. That is, they do not rise on their own bow waves and skim, or plane, across the surface of the water. In this way, they are akin to sailboats.

Planing requires a lot of power. Since trawlers do not plane, they can use small, efficient engines and run nearly as efficiently as motoring sailboats. 

A trawler-type hull can be made both efficient and roomy and this makes it ideal as a floating home for long-term cruisers. Trawler yachts are much more comfortable than planing powerboats going to windward in rough water, but they will roll with a following sea, although to a lesser degree than their skimming cousins. A steadying sail on a short mast may reduce  this rolling.

Closer to the sailing end of the equation, motorsailers range from powerboats with large steadying sails to sailboats with oversized engines. They are an attempt to combine the reliability of power with the seakindliness of sail. The best motorsailers will sail reasonably well in a good breeze and power easily in light airs. Generally, the better the boat sails, the smaller its interior volume will be and the better it powers, the more it resembles a motoryacht.

Like trawler yachts, motorsailers travel at displacement speeds, giving them fuel efficiency and the ability to plow through rough weather with ease. Like sailboats, they have sizable rigs and narrower hulls than trawlers, enabling them to make use of the wind when it is present.

We discovered another solution to the comfort problem this weekend when a northwester whistled through with 25-knot winds. We had a wonderful, comfortable trip in CRESCENDO, our 33-foot sailboat, to rendezvous with friends who had driven their planing powerboats through three-foot waves to reach the agreed-upon cove. Once there, we moved the party onto the spacious decks and cabins of PAT SEA and RUBAIYAT and had a wonderful time. 

We return the hospitality by taking some of our motoring friends out daysailing on breezy days. There are comfort benefits all around when you put aside the traditional rivalry between sail and power

 — The End —

Note: The reference to spending $25 per day on fuel seems quaint today. Multiply that by about ten to get the cost of running a medium-size powerboat in 2012.

This beautiful classic Trumpy motoryacht defines comfortable cruising.