What we like and don't like
about Sea Spirit
Before purchasing our Sea Spirit Passagemaker 60 yacht, we looked at a lot of boats, both in person and on sites like YachtWorld. While one could talk forever about one brand of boat versus another, this page will simply talk about our boat, and what we like and dislike about it. I'll try and keep the discussion about technical and practical issues, because it's pretty pointless to talk comparatively about aesthetics. It suffices to say that we obviously like the look of Sea Spirit, but recognize that everyone will have their own tastes in this area.
Hull shape - full displacement
Sea Spirit's hull is full displacement, meaning that it never even attempts to rise out of the water in order to obtain higher speeds. In return for this concession, the hull provides an exceptionally gracious ride across the rough water that will inevitably be found somewhere along a passage. Indeed, in those places, faster boats must slow down to avoid damaging the boat or crew, and at the reduced speeds, the displacement hull will provide a far better ride. Although people often talk about how rugged their boats are, the reality seems to be that it is the ruggedness of the crew that determines whether a passage is a good one or not. By providing the smoothest possible ride, Sea Spirit's full displacement hull ensures that we will be able to make passage when many other boat crews simply will choose not to.
Hull shape - efficiency
Sea Spirit's hull is amazingly slippery, meaning it seems to present a bare minimum of resistance to the water it pushes aside. I attribute this to many factors, but all of them derive from the experience of Sparkman & Stephens, who designed the hull. S&S are best known for their racing sailboat designs, including winners of many America's Cup, Fastnet, and Sydney to Hobart races. Ironically, they also designed the "Duck Boat" amphibious vehicles, which don't win any races, but which contributed to many victories in WWII, and for which Rod Stephens Jr. won the US's highest honor, the Medal of Freedom. The bottom line is that these folks have a long history of designing hulls to meet specific needs. In the case of Sea Spirit, those needs are for great seakeeping combined with great economy, while maintaining enough interior room to house a family. Two factors in particular struck me as pertinent to the hull's efficiency. First is the bulbous bow, pictured below. Second is the slightly concave area underneath the swim platform. In addition to the general shape of the hull, these factors add to its efficiency. As evidence of this, our boat cruises at 7 knots on about 2 gph, 9 knots on 5.5gph, and can reach 11 knots in smooth water at wide open throttle (16gph). This not only saves on operational costs, but gives the boat a tremendous range. In turn, that range leads to more flexibility in where fuel is taken aboard, which can save on both time and money.
Mmm. Didn't I just finish saying that the full displacement hull isn't good for speed? True. However, when looking at boats, we came across several that were about the same length as our Sea Spirit, but which traveled much slower. This is due to one of three reasons. One reason is that sometimes the engine paired with the boat was insufficient to push the boat at its hull speed, generally defined as 1.34x the length at the water line. Another perhaps similar reason is that sometimes we came across a similar length boat, but much beamier (wider). While this is not in and of itself a bad thing, wider boats have a tougher time going fast. To be honest though, I would love to have our boat in something a couple feet wider, even if it meant a bigger engine was needed to push it to its hull's speed limits. At 17' 2" wide, our Sea Spirit is plenty wide enough, but on the other hand, more interior room is never a bad thing! The third reason we found so many other boats that did not go as fast is that their hulls simply weren't as slippery, or didn't have the bulbous bow that supposedly pushes the bow wave away from the boat, allowing it to go faster. Here's a picture from our sea trial of hull #3 on Lake Union, showing 9 knots at 5.8GPH. Our engine is slightly different, but the numbers are close.
This is related to speed. It has always struck me as a good idea to arrive at the evening's anchorage or marina with plenty of daylight left. The faster the boat goes, the further one can travel in a single daylight run, without having to worry about running overnight, or arriving in the dark. Our boat loafs along at 9 knots at 5.5 gph, and can be pushed to 11 knots at 16 gph in flat water. This means that in a 12 hour tropical day, we can start at dawn, go 108NM on a rough day, or as much as 132NM on a smooth day, and arrive at dusk. In the Pacific Northwest, where summer days are more like 16 hours long, we can go from 144NM on a rough day, and 176NM on a smooth day, all without traveling in the dark. This is both a significant safety asset and also a significant comfort asset. Do we intend to travel that much each day? Of course not. But there will be days where this capability is extremely helpful. If our boat could only make 7 knots, we would still be very happy, but would not be able to traverse as much coastline between sunrise and sunset. It is also fair to say that at 20 knots, we'd to that much further. But perhaps not, if the weather was rough, because the trip would become so uncomfortable that we would elect not to proceed at that speed. We ended up feeling that being able to do at least 10 knots gave the boat a clear advantage.
Ability to run
Ok, this is the last segment on speed, I promise. Linda and Steve Dashew, boat makers and sailers extraordinaire, have me sold on the safety virtues of speed. Their argument goes as follows. When making a passage, one waits for a weather window, and then proceeds, hoping that the forecasted weather holds. The longer the passage takes to complete, the less accurate the forecast is likely to be. The less time the passage takes, the more likely the forecast is to be right. So, faster is better. Also, when the weather turns out not to be as forecast, the ability to make good headway out of the path of whatever the bad weather brings, is very useful. Once again, more speed equates to more safety.
Keel with fully protected propellor and rudder
Most trawlers have this, and Sea Spirit does too. It is important that the running gear is protected in case of running aground, but also in case of hitting logs, seaweed, cables, and other submerged obstacles. It was important for us to check not only that the running gear was protected, but that the protection was beefy. On Sea Spirit, it is. There are also "kelp cutters" ahead of each hydraulic stabilizer fin, to prevent things from hanging up in the small space between the fins and the hull.
Hull shape that promotes stability without compromising seakindly ride
Some very well respected boats, such as Nordhavns, have fairly rounded hulls that spread the sea's tipping forces out over time. This causes the boat to roll more, but to take more time doing so, so the rolling is gentler. Some other boats have fairly flat bottoms, which take those forces and apply them very rapidly to the boat. These boats roll less, but quicker, so the rolling is rougher. Sea Spirit takes a middle ground, with a bottom that is somewhat round and somewhat flat (but not so flat as to become semi-displacement). This gives an acceptable ride without the need for stabilizers, and a superb ride with stabilizers. All Sea Spirits come with stabilizers, but I would classify their use as optional, whereas on truly round-bottom boats, some form of stabilization is more or less mandatory.
High freeboard, solid coamings
Freeboard is the distance from the waterline to the part of the hull over which water would have to come to enter the boat. Sea Spirit has 8' 9" of freeboard at the bow, and 6' 8" at the stern, all of which helps keep the ocean on the outside. Since we have children, one thing we particularly liked was that the boat's coamings (the part of the hull that rises vertically above the deck, and that has the teak hand rails on top) extended all the way to the bow. On some other trawlers, anyone standing on the foredeck is protected only by stainless steel lifelines (cables), and can get very wet or be swept away. On Sea Spirit, anyone on the foredeck is nicely protected. In fairness, the reason some other trawlers use the lifeline approach is because their foredeck is pushed very high, in order to maximize room in the forward cabin underneath it. Some may prefer that approach, while others prefer having a nice "recreationally useable" foredeck, which is what Sea Spirit provides. Actually, one of my favorite things to do on Sea Spirit is to sit right at the bow on the teak seat that is built in there, and look over the front of the boat, pretty much completely protected from the wind.
Huge freeing ports, hawse holes, and cleats
In the event that water comes over the coamings, an important question is: how will it exit the boat. In Sea Spirit's case, there are huge "freeing ports" at the bottom of the coamings, so that any water that comes aboard can quickly drain. Especially since the bow coamings are so high and solid, this is important.
The Portuguese bridge allows you to walk all the way around the front of the wheelhouse while remaining very protected, even from water that might come over the bow. We really fell in love with how Sea Spirit protects both large and small occupants from the wind and ocean.
Here is something I don't like about Sea Spirit. While it looks absolutely wonderful, the boat's Pool style anchor could be better, in two ways. First, it is not the world's best anchor in terms of holding the bottom, although it is way better than many other kinds. Indeed, in order to ensure sufficient holding power, Sea Spirit Yachts chose to put an anchor aboard that weighed about 130 lbs. But if I were building a new Sea Spirit from scratch, I would ask for something like a Rocna, CQR, or Ultra anchor. At the same weight, you would get more holding power. Those digging anchors are also supposed to do better in a shifting current, although it is possible that the Pool anchor we have on the boat will be fine. The other thing I don't like about the anchor setup is that there is only a single anchor. I would prefer to have the ability to store and deploy two anchors from the foredeck. Actually, a more recent Sea Spirit Passagemaker 60 was specified with a double anchor setup, so we know it is possible to do. I would recommend it. Our alternative is to have a Fortress FX-85 anchor as our second anchor, which we store at the stern, and may well deploy from the stern. Because of the high coamings, deploying a heavy anchor from the bow (and later retrieving it) would be a chore. A dual built-in anchor setup would rectify this situation. [Update 4/1/2011: We have now had a chance to use the anchor, and it has held extremely well. We did manage to work it loose when we hadn't set it properly after a current reversal, but other than that it has held well in the sandy bottoms of the Bahamas. I still don't think it is as good as a Rocna anchor, but it works well enough and is big enough to hold properly.]
Bow and Stern Thrusters
While we're on the subject of things I don't like, my particular Sea Spirit Passagemaker 60 has electric bow and stern thrusters. They are actually top of the line for electric thrusters, but I wish they were hydraulic. The issue is that all electric thrusters "time out" after being used for a while. I have actually had this happen to me, and it is not pleasant. A quick call to the manufacturer (Side Power - they make both electric and hydraulic) resulted in some suggestions that I check the brushes and thermal cutout switches. I replaced both recently, so we'll see whether the situation improves. It's not that it's bad, but hydraulic would be better. They can be changed out for hydraulic ones, and I may consider that at some point, but for now I'll see how the new brushes work out. At any rate, I will say this much about the bow and stern thrusters: They are plenty powerful, and let me do an amazing job of spinning the boat around, even before I really learned how to drive the boat just on the single screw. [Update 4/1/11: Now that we've replaced the brushes and thermal cutout switches, the bow and stern thrusters have been absolutely golden. I've not experienced any losses at all since these repairs, and there seems to be a lot more power in the thrusters than there was before. I think my earlier misgivings about them was based on their old performance, which I really ascribe to bad brushes.]
The deckhouse is the part of the boat behind the wheelhouse, and is essentially the boat's kitchen and living room. These days, most boat manufacturers offer either a symmetric or asymmetric deckhouse. In a symmetric set-up, you can walk outside the deckhouse around either the port or starboard sides of the boat, which is superb for docking and undocking. However, it reduces the width available for the living area inside the deckhouse. Many people, including me, think that an asymmetric deckhouse, where one side is pushed all the way to the outside of the boat, eliminating the walk-around on that side, is a good compromise. In nearly all cases, you will be able to dock so that the remaining side is to the dock. But some people are adamant that walk-arounds on both sides must be present, and are willing to forego some interior space in return. We prefer the asymmetric approach, which on our boat means we can walk around the starboard side of the boat, but not the port. Like most boat makers, Sea Spirit Yachts offers both, to suit different tastes.
Ok, this isn't really a technical issue, but it is one of the things we love about Sea Spirit. At the front of the salon on the starboard side, on the way to the wheelhouse, is a "day head". In a house, this would be called a powder room. It is essentially a toilet and sink that are conveniently located between the two main "daytime" areas of the boat -- the wheelhouse and the salon. Hardly a necessity, but a nice touch. In the photo below, it's opposite the kitchen, through the closed door.
We like the styling of the rounded canoe stern, but could have been just as happy with a square stern boat. However, there are some advantages of the canoe stern. One is that it presents less resistance to following waves than would a square stern. This can be an advantage in avoiding "broaching", which is where the stern of a boat is pushed sideways by waves overtaking it, and is a very dangerous situation. Sea Spirit's canoe stern catches less of the energy of this kind of following sea, and as a result is pushed around less. But there is a catch. The catch is that the rounding of the stern unfortunately has to take a little space away from what would otherwise be spaces inside the cockpit of the boat. [Update 4/1/11: We have had 9 people seated around this dining area (with a couple extra chairs), and it works really well. We also like the huge swim step it creates. However, we'd be just as happy with either a canoe or non-canoe stern -- it seems to be mostly an issue of style.]
Wrap-around swim step
As a result of the rounded stern styling of Sea Spirit, the swim step extends further forward than it would on square-stern boats. This allows us to moor a dinghy around the side of the swim step, while still having lots of swim step "edge" for swimming. And yet the dinghy will not need to be brought around the back in order to step aboard. It is possible to step aboard almost the whole length of the dinghy's seating areas without moving it. This is only a small advantage, but it is one we like.
Pantographic door in the transom
This looks really cool and "shippy", but is a slight nuisance, since it is quite heavy to open and close. It could be powered, but that would add complexity. I'm not sure if there is a better alternative, and it seems a small price to pay, but nonetheless, it is a nuisance. (Sorry - no good photo yet). [Update 4/1/11: It's not that heavy, and after talking to a lot of other boaters, there always seems to be some heavy door somewhere or other on a boat. This is ours.]
Live bait well
In the swim step, Sea Spirit Yachts built a well to hold either live bait, or live fish that have been caught. There are a couple of pumps for keeping it full or empty of seawater, so that the fish will always have fresh oxygen. We're not big-time fishermen, but my 10 year old thinks this is the sweetest feature on the whole boat.
Ugh. For some reason, I find the notion of re-finishing teak cap rails every 6 - 12 months very distasteful. My boat, like many others, has teak cap rails. When varnished, they look absolutely fantastic. But like every other teak cap rail in the world, when that varnish starts to give in to the power of the sun (and in the tropics, it's only 6 - 12 months), it looks terrible. Our solution was to realize the intrinsic beauty of bare teak, so we stripped the varnish off, and went bare. Whether we'll like this over the long term is an unknown, but we like it a whole lot better right now, and ongoing maintenance is minimal. We also have teak in the cockpit and on the swim step, but those areas are already bare. One great thing about bare teak versus varnished teak: bare teak doesn't heat up very much in the sun, whereas varnished teak very quickly gets too hot to touch on a sunny day. If I were spec-ing a new boat, I'd go without teak at all on the cap rails (opting for fiberglass with stainless steel handrails), and I would specify one of the "fake" teaks for the swim step, and perhaps for the cockpit too. On Sea Spirit's teak in the cockpit/swim step, I worry a little about stains from things like fish blood. Time will tell. Stains can always be sanded out, but I'd prefer not to be a slave to the teak. By the way, the wood on the inside of the boat is all teak, and looks wonderful. I think teak is a great wood for indoor use. [Update 4/1/11: We LOVE the stripped look of the teak. Varnish is fine too, but the stripped wood look is, in our view, really salty.]
Sea Spirit's main engine is a Lugger L1276A2. The L means it is a Lugger. The 1276 means it is a 6 cylinder diesel with 127mm bore. The A means it is after-cooled, and I believe the 2 means this is revision 2 of that particular model of engine. It is a 340HP engine that started life as a John Deere, and then was marinized by Lugger. The marinization includes toughening up many of the parts bolted on to the engine, removing any belted components (other than alternator), modifying the cooling system and exhaust (including installing a thermostatically controlled, liquid-cooled turbocharger).
Sea Spirit Yachts offers other engine choices, but I am very satisfied to have this engine in my boat. One of the best things about it is that it develops its power at very low RPM -- 1800. I also like the fact that it all of this power is available within the engine's continuous rating range. This means that it can run at full power 24 hours per day for its entire life, without wearing out. Indeed, in an industrial setting such as running a generator at a remote facility, this is how the engine (well, the pre-marinized version) is run. While all engines can put out their full rated power, not all can do so continuously. For an offshore boat that might make the run to Hawaii one day, being able to run continuously for days and days is very useful. Having said that, nobody runs to Hawaii at full rated power, so even an intermittently-rated engine would do fine. Perhaps the continuous rating is overplayed, but it's a nice comfort factor. I would not reject a boat because its engine wasn't continuously rated, though. I would reject a boat if the engine turned at a very high RPM at cruise power, because doing so changes the character of the noise that the engine produces. At 1300 - 1500 RPM, Sea Spirit's engine is not only very quiet, but what little noise does escape the engine room is low enough in pitch so as to not be objectionable.
Like all new engines these days, Sea Spirit's engine is electronically controlled. This allows it to meet emission standards, but also makes "smokey startups" a thing of the past. The engine control unit (ECU) controls the fuel injectors, ensuring that only exactly the right amount of fuel is injected, and at exactly the right time, regardless of the engine's temperature or workload. This also helps tremendously with efficiency. However, it does mean that if the ECU fails, either due to some sort of internal failure or due to external forces such as lightning, the engine likely won't run. Sure, there are "limp home" modes on the ECU in case the various sensors fail on the engine, but if the brain fries, the engine will stop. There are many out there who will say "Mmm, I'd prefer to have an entirely mechanical engine -- easier to work on too". I would not reject a boat that had a mechanical engine with no brain, but I believe I would prefer the cleanliness and efficiency of the ECU approach. I don't currently carry a spare ECU. It may be that this is a mistake, and my mind is not fully made up on the subject.
One cost of having this lovely, continuously rated engine, is that it is quite large. I've been aboard one of Sea Spirit's sister ships, that had a similar level of power available, but from a smaller John Deere engine. I remember how spacious the engine room on that boat felt, but when given the choice of the two engines, I was still very happy to have my large, slow-rotating engine. The JD turned a couple hundred RPM higher than the Lugger, to produce a similar output. the JD was slightly more efficient, though.
Another cost to having a Lugger rather than a John Deere (or Cummins, or some other brand) is that the Lugger engine costs about 50% more to buy, and the parts are more expensive. Whether this is worth it in the long run I don't know. I do know that many fishing boats in Alaska use Lugger engines and Northern Lights generators (made by the same parent company -- Alaska Diesel Electric), even despite the expense. Those guys are not known for wasting money, so my heart says this is the way to go, despite the cost.