Off-season update - and are we trading Sea Spirit for a bigger model?

Sea Spirit, being unloaded, before we owned her

Sorry to have left some of you hanging after the last blog entry at the end of April. We greatly enjoyed the remainder of our spring cruising season in the Exumas. Sea Spirit is now back in Fort Lauderdale, while the Freedmans are at home in Honolulu until the late Fall.

Those of you who have been reading from the beginning will recall that while the boat was fine, we ourselves had a bit of a bumpy start to our cruising career, suffering in the first few days from sea sickness. I also suffered from the stress of having put my family on a boat headed for the Pacific from Fort Lauderdale, only to discover that the pace I had set would have turned our whole spring season into one long delivery cruise. Indeed, probably the first truly happy day I had on the boat was the day I told my wife that we could not sustain this pace, and instead should cruise the Bahamas for a season and then re-evaluate. Her comment back to me: "What took you so long!" As usual, wifey knows best, as did virtually everyone else who looked at our initial route (which is still up on our itinerary page, although now labeled as fiction).

As soon as the decision to slow down was made, our situation turned around completely, and we started to have a ball. I won't recount all the details, which are in the earlier pages of this blog, but it was so good that we have decided to return to the Bahamas in the late Fall for another season. The biggest surprise to us was that we really liked the Bahamas, having not fallen in love with other parts of the Caribbean on previous vacations. Those who reminded us that "The Bahamas is not the Caribbean" were not only geographically correct (they are in the Atlantic), but also culturally correct.

Enough about that. What about Sea Spirit? This was our first cruising season aboard Sea Spirit, which we bought as a new boat from the manufacturer. Even though I had spent the preceding 5 months equipping her with everything I could think of, there were still a few more things left to add after the first season. They are mostly "nice-to-have" items, although a couple are "must fix" things. The remainder of this blog will go through what we learned and how we're making improvements and upgrades to Sea Spirit as a result.


Air Conditioning - Ours is a CruisAir chilled water system, and is wonderful. However, the master control panel for the chillers is in the engine room, and the only way to monitor the system is from that panel. I had Aquaholics of Fort Lauderdale install a remote master panel in the wheelhouse. This is absolutely an indulgence, but the panel was inexpensive, and Sea Spirit Yachts has done a great job of making cable runways all over the boat, so pulling the cable was apparently easy. In this photo, it's the control panel at the lower left. I had it installed out of the helmsman's sightlines so that its display didn't cause trouble when running at night. However, it can be dimmed.

Garmin upgrades - We had some software freezing issues on one of our Garmin 5212 chart plotters. We removed all three of them, and sent them in to Garmin for examination. Sure enough, one of them had a hardware glitch and was replaced. All three are re-installed now, and have been running for days on end with no freezing whatsoever.

New Garmin GMI-10 - Before last season, I installed 5 new Garmin GMI-10 instrument displays, one in each stateroom and two in the wheelhouse. The stateroom ones are used for keeping track of wind, depth, and position while at anchor, and for anchor alarms and so on. These are great. The two in the wheelhouse are dedicated to wind and depth respectively, and are also great. But on the flybridge, I didn't have any installed. This was a mistake. To correct it, I had two more GMI-10 units installed on the flybridge helm so that it mirrors the wheelhouse helm. You can see the two new GMI-10s in the left part of the flybridge helm. Sorry about the hole where the 5212 goes. It was still out for upgrade when this photo was taken.

New Murphy PowerView gauge - Sea Spirit has one of these in the wheelhouse, where it displays all sorts of data about the main engine, including fuel consumption, temperatures, load factors, and so on. I had another one installed on the flybridge helm so that the information would be available there too. This picture also shows the new video switcher panel underneath the right-hand GMI-10.

New video switcher - I had chosen a video switcher that would allow me to display any one of the several cameras aboard. Trouble is, the switcher didn't have a remote control panel, and so was only available in the wheelhouse. I ordered a new Iris Innovations SeeSeaTV switcher with two remote panels. The switcher itself goes under the helm with the electronics, and the two keypads go on the wheelhouse and flybridge helms themselves. This allows me to very quickly select among the cameras regardless of which helm I'm using. The SeeSeaTV is exceptionally easy to install, as are the keypads, both of which use a single CAT-5 cable.

YachtController - We have grown to love our YachtController, which is a handheld wireless remote control unit that lets me run the transmission, thrusters, and anchor windlass from anywhere on the boat. It also works from shore. Why would I need to run it from shore, you might ask. Dear reader, it is very useful to be able to run the thrusters from shore when adjusting dock lines. I would never use the unit from shore with the main engine running, unless there was someone at the helm. Anyway, our YachtController has a limitation which newer ones have removed. The limitation is that it can only be tied to one of our ZF engine controls, rather than to both of them. In our case, it is tied to the wheelhouse control, meaning that if the flybridge helm is in control of the engine, the YachtController won't work. YachtController has addressed this in future hardware versions by providing a "take control" button on the YachtController itself. I think this is a great idea. But ours doesn't support it, so what to do.

My solution is to use a relay box triggered by the "I have control" light on the ZF engine controls. Whichever helm has control, that is the helm to which the YachtController will be attached. This is something that will need to be carefully thought out, but the electronics are simple, and I have discussed it with YachtController. This work has not been done yet, but I've had the necessary cables pulled from one helm to the other, so that it can be easily done when the time comes.

Saltwater anchor washdown solenoid - ours corroded away. I had it replaced with a better brand, and bought a spare.

Fuel polishing counter - I bought a Reverso flow meter and fuel totalizer and had it installed in the output of the fuel polishing pump. That way, I can have a very accurate "at a glance" look at how much fuel has been transferred during polishing.

Whale shower sump - My wife has long hair, and so did our training captain. It became a monthly chore to clean the hair out of the intake of the shower sump, which was a Rule unit. We replaced it with a Whale shower sump, since those are reputed to make short work of guck such as hair and shampoo. We'll see how it goes.


Fuel system - I had some work done on the fuel polishing system before the start of last season (as discussed in a previous entry). But the gentleman who did the work left us with several very small leaks - leaks that would drip something like one drop per day. These caused us absolutely no problems during our cruise, but we had to keep "diaper pads" under them, which was a nuisance. Once back in Fort Lauderdale, I had Aquaholics come in and do the work properly. Chris and Randy at Aquaholics are highly recommended. We also had a troubling drip of fuel from under the port tank. Aquaholics diagnosed and repaired the problem (trouble around an access panel bolt), and it is now cured. This whole exercise gave us a chance to take up the engine room floorboards, making sure that there was no dripping underneath.

Flybridge chair seat post - the gas-assisted self-raising seat post had stopped self-raising, and the gas strut needed to be replaced. No big deal, just a nuisance item.

Woodwork - At the time I bought the boat, there was evidence of a small amount of water that had leaked around the flybridge hatch. It dripped onto the top step from the wheelhouse to flybridge, and had damaged the wood there. The big question was: would we make it look worse or better by attempting the repair. I'm pleased to report that with some careful matching by a master craftsman, the answer is "better"! I'll post a pic of it as soon as I have one.

Cupboard doors - I said to the same master craftsman "we have two closet doors that are a little warped. How should we repair them." His answer was so simple that I'm amazed. Clip them closed in an unwarped position, and give it a few weeks. The wood will eventually adjust to the stress imposed by the clip, and will unwarp itself as a result. We've only just started this, so I can't say how well it works. Still, if it works as well as he says it will, I shall indeed remain amazed. So simple. You can see the problem in this photo. It's the cupboard door next to the nightstand, and you can just about make out that the bottom left corner sticks out a little due to the warping.

Engine oil dribble - I spoke to Northern lights about the few beads of oil we have coming from the engine (not really drops of oil, more like downward streaks from the oil pan gasket). I was surprised by their response. I thought they would say something like "Tighten these bolts, but not so much that they damage the gasket". Instead they asked "Is the engine installed at an angle?"

Like most boats, the engine is installed at a slight fore-aft angle to feed into the prop shaft. NL said "Ah, the dipstick probably wasn't re-calibrated after installation to account for the angle. Chances are that there is too much oil in the engine. Drain until the 'low' mark on the dipstick, watch it for a few months, and see what happens." I asked if it could be operated at the low mark for months on end, and their response was "There is so much reserve oil capacity in these engines that it can operate well below the low mark without any problem whatsoever." Bottom line: We'll give this a try, and see whether the situation improves. Apparently, according to the NL gentleman, this is very common on the L-1276 engine series, and doesn't indicate a problem with the oil pan or other parts of the engine. So, we shall see.

Lessons Learned

It is indeed possible for an ab initio couple to learn to run a 63 foot trawler in a couple of months. Do we feel competent to run our boat in all weather conditions on a tight schedule? Absolutely not. But we do feel we now have an "operating envelope", which we can expand in the coming seasons.

For me, something "clicked" about 2/3 of the way through the season, and I stopped being scared of not being able to maneuver the boat in the ways that I wanted. Before that time, I was too timid on the controls, and let current and wind get the better of me. With the help of our training captain, Sarah Lowell, I overcame this one bit at a time, and one day it was as if I and the boat were "one". We spent a lot of time at marinas when we were in the Exumas, mostly for docking practice. By the end, I was using wind and current to my advantage, was ready with "get out of trouble" plans in case something such as a thruster or rudder stopped working.

Even better, my wife has become very comfortable with all aspects of lines and fenders while docking and undocking. Not only that, but she seems to have graduated to the ranks of those who tell shore helpers to "Please put that line on that piling, but if you won't, please get out of the way while I do it". We had several instances where "helpful" people on shore tried to do contradictory things while we were tying up. Are we masters? Not by a long shot. But we do feel competent to go out by ourselves now, which is a great feeling, and is a long way from where we started.

"The boat worked". Other than a couple of teething issues with the davit, everything worked wonderfully, and the boat provided us with a near-flawless level of operational reliability. This is very different from what we heard from many other new-boat owners, who spent the first two years debugging.

Mini-VSAT works like a charm - This is the KVH satellite-based Internet system that we have aboard Sea Spirit. While not flawless, the system worked excellently almost all of the time, although it would lose the satellite on an almost daily basis. But it always found it again, and we used the system every single day. It is an expensive luxury, but we found it very valuable.

SSB - never used it. When considering installing the SSB, we heard two polar opposite comments. One group said "It's the most useful thing in the world, even in the Bahamas". The other group said "You'll never use it." To be honest, I listened on many days for cruising nets, but only occasionally found something to listen to. And I never had a conversation with anyone. Perhaps next season.

Boat size - Sea Spirit is one of the largest 63 foot boats we have ever seen, in terms of available living space. Still, we enjoy having visitors on the boat, and it would be nice if the boat were another 10 feet longer when they are aboard! Our family of four does very well on this boat, but when we had 9 sleeping aboard, it was pretty cramped! More on this at the end.

How would we want to improve our boating experience

We're not certain, but let me convey our current thinking. We have another wonderful cruising season coming up in the Fall, and are looking forward to being back aboard Sea Spirit. We are talking with the manufacturer about moving up to a larger version of our current boat, perhaps the PassageMaker 75, which has grown into the PassageMaker 78. But we don't like the idea of waiting a couple of years for the boat to be built, and there are no larger Sea Spirit PassageMakers on the market at the moment. We looked at other brands of trawlers in the same size range, but they just don't seem to have as much room as our Sea Spirit has. So, I spoke to Judy Waldman, our boat broker, and asked her to show me some larger trawlers that are available. Frankly, it's pretty slim pickings, at least in the price range that we can justify. In trawlers, we seem to be hitting some kind of market limit in terms of what manufacturers are building. There are a few larger models, but very few have been built, whereas a lot have been built in our size range.

So we started to talk about non-trawlers, and focused on motor yachts. What's the difference between a trawler and a motor yacht? Mostly it seems to be about hull shape and cruising speed. A motor yacht has a semi-displacement or planing hull, versus a trawler's full displacement hull. The latter is much more efficient at any speed, but cannot go much faster than about 1.4 x the square root of the waterline length. For a 60 - 70 foot boat, that's about 11 knots. The motor yachts are not nearly as efficient at any speed, but can go much faster, perhaps 20 or even 30 knots. But the fuel usage is phenomenal at those higher speeds. Whereas Sea Spirit cannot ever use more than about 16GPH at its top speed of 11 knots, a similar size motor yacht might use 120GPH at 25 knots, and 40GPH at 15 knots. Even at 8 knots, they might use 12GPH -- a little more than triple Sea Spirit's consumption.

Put another way, trawlers in our size range seem to get somewhere between 1/2 NMPG (nautical mile per gallon) and 2 NMPG, depending on speed and size (and if REALLY slowing down, can get up to 4 NMPG -- see the chart in a previous entry). But motor yachts seem to get somewhere between 1/6 NMPG and 1 NMPG. So the fuel cost when going fast is huge, and the fuel cost when going slow is still 2 double that of a trawler. They also have two engines versus one on most trawlers, adding to maintenance costs.

But in return, that wide flat stern on a motor yacht gives more interior room aft, and the ability to go faster in small to moderate seas. In high seas though, it seems that they are not nearly as comfortable as displacement hulls, and will render the occupants seasick more frequently under those conditions.

But for those who can stomach the higher fuel costs, there are plenty of very well built motor yachts in the 70 - 80 foot range available in the used boat market. Just don't expect them to be "all weather" capable boats in the same fashion as Sea Spirit or any of the other top end trawlers.

We are not sure whether we should continue to look at motor yachts, look at other trawlers, or continue to enjoy life in the size of boat we have right now. But we feel very positive about this uncertainty, treating it as an opportunity to experiment a little.

Is our Sea Spirit for sale?

We have not yet come to a conclusion as to how to proceed. Our main motivation for considering a change of boats is to get more room for our family, especially when visitors are aboard. We're very happy with Sea Spirit and while there are many wonderful trawlers out there, we have not yet found any trawler we would trade Sea Spirit for. It's too bad there isn't a PassageMaker 75 waiting for us already built, which we would move up to in a second.

However, we have seen a few well made motor yachts from companies such as Outer Reef, Horizon, and Hatteras that may vie for our attention in the future if a buyer comes along for our Sea Spirit. Some of you will likely tell us that we're out to lunch for even considering a non-trawler. And perhaps you are right. The most likely course of action for us is to continue on to another wonderful season cruising on our current boat. But we've always been optimizers as well as optimists, and so are always asking the "what if" questions.

You won't find our boat on Yachtworld, but she is for sale in the same manner that all things are for sale at the right price. If you have a serious interest in her, let me know. There are two Sea Spirits that are really for sale. For reference, there is a new 2010 model PassageMaker 60 for sale in Seattle asking $1.9m (no dinghy, watermaker, or other "owner preference" items that are typically fitted by the new owner), and a 2008 model in the Northeast asking $1.65m. Ours is a 2009 model, and we have told Judy Waldman of JW Yachts to list her fully equipped at $1.7m. Without question, our Sea Spirit is the best equipped and maintained of them all, as you can verify for yourselves by reading the other entries in this blog. Still, we do not yet have any other boat to move into, and so are happy to leave it in the hands of chance for now. If a buyer comes along, so be it. If not, we'll be back aboard this Fall, and I'm confident we'll have a wonderful time, probably in the Abacos this time around.


My 10 year old learned to run the dinghy on this trip


David 6/27/2011
Also check with Peter Whiting At Northwest Trawlers for Steve Seaton designs being built at the same factory as SS
Ken H. 6/27/2011
If I was Dan Fritz I'd get cracking on a 75 ASAP. :-)
Ken Williams 6/27/2011
Dan, Another great blog entry! I hope you are able to find a speedy sale, and move up the ladder to a larger boat soon. -Ken W
Winter 2011: Training from Lauderdale to Georgetown and back!