A different kind of dark side

Unless you're a complete hermit living in a cave somewhere, it's likely that you're being surrounded on all sides by dark news and unpleasant impacts on your life. In addition to our own struggles with Social Distancing, it's been interesting to follow all of our cruising friends as they face challenges on their voyages north for the hurricane season. Many of the island nations frequented by cruisers have closed their borders, making it impossible to access food, water, and fuel. Even in the U.S., many marinas have closed completely, and others have limited service severely. It remains to be seen how many of those cruising boats don't make it north of the hurricane zone before June 1st, and to assess the resulting impact on the insurance industry. So far, we've been fortunate enough to still have employment, access to food, and not one of the ten of us living together is sick (which is a real challenge when you're dealing with 6 kids age 1-13.) We're counting our blessings, but feeling deeply for those of you that have been experiencing more difficult times.

As many of you know, we've put Kintala up for sale. Our intention is still to go back to cruising as soon as we have sufficient funds to do so but, with the collapse of the market, our retirement funds are taking a pretty severe hit, so that may come later rather than sooner. The one thing we do know, is that when we are able finally to go back, it needs to either be on a sailboat more attuned to the needs of older cruisers, or on a trawler. Since we'd never actually spent any prolonged time on a trawler, we decided to take a trawler course to see if it was indeed a lifestyle we wanted to pursue. I located a small school in Dania Beach, FL that used our favorite cruising grounds in Biscayne Bay for its four-day excursion. We signed on. This was six months ago, long before there was any realization that the world was soon to undergo a significant change due to a very small bug.

Fortunately for us, we had decided to drive instead of fly, so that we could extend the mini vacation into a real one by visiting our kids in Stuart the week after the trawler course, and could then haul a bunch of stuff with us for that second week in a hotel. It wasn't until the second or third day on the trawler that we began to hear the rumblings in the news about the rapidly arriving Social Distancing. Since we were there already, we continued on with our plans and had a wonderful time. So if you're sick and tired of hearing about the Coronavirus, read on as we share our takeaway from four days on The Dark Side.

The trawler we were taking the course on was a 1979 40-ft. sundeck model. Almost as soon as we boarded, we realized that this particular boat was one we would never consider. The interior was entirely crafted from that very dark, almost maroon-brown wood. The aft cabin was large, comfortable, and had a queen-sized bed, tons of storage, excellent ventilation via 4 openable ports, and a comfortable head with a large separate shower stall, but because of the dark wood it felt very claustrophobic. The salon area was wide open with plenty of room to have chairs to sit in as well as an L-shaped settee. The galley was down three steps and to port. It was almost twice the size of the one on Kintala and included a stove, oven, microwave, full-sized fridge, double sink and a good amount of storage, although honestly I think Kintala has more storage in her galley. To starboard was the second head. Forward was the second cabin with a pullman bed to starboard and a ton of workbench/storage space. The engine compartment was beneath the salon floor, but didn't really allow for much room to move around in it. The boat had a single Perkins and a genset.

Three steps up from the salon was the sundeck, a large space with room for a half dozen deck chairs and a cooler. This particular boat had a bimini over the sundeck instead of a hard top, and no enclosure, something I wondered about, given the proliferation of mozzies and no-seeums in Southern Florida. Three steps up from that was the flybridge which was pretty small considering the size of the boat. There were two captains' chairs in front of  the helm but barely enough room to add a folding chair behind them. The flybridge also had a canvas bimini and an enclosure on three sides.

Our first night was on the hook on North Lake in Hollywood, Florida. There wasn't much wind and North Lake is in the middle of a no-wake zone so we had a very peaceful evening. The following day we motored on down to Boca Chita, going through eleven bridges of which we only had to wait for one to open due to our 15-ft air draft.

The North Lake anchorage. It's a lot fuller than we've ever seen it before.

We spent the night at Boca, did an hour of docking practice in the morning, then headed up to No-Name Harbor where we spent a leisurely afternoon eating lunch at the restaurant and hiking the loop to the lighthouse before heading off to Hurricane Harbor. It was the first time we'd ever been in Hurricane Harbor but I assure you it won't be the last. Hurricane is at least 2-3 times bigger than No-Name and much less utilized. Granted, there's no shore access, but with the changes at No-Name (the loss of bathrooms and laundry facilities,) it makes No-Name a little less appealing anyway. We watched a beautiful sunset, then did a night transit to Marine Stadium where we anchored and had dinner on the boat.

Back in No-Name Harbor. Felt like coming home.
The sunset from Hurricane Harbor

Thursday morning, we headed off to a very tiny little hole called Lamar Lake on the northeast corner of Virginia Key. It was one of those places that would be impossible to get into with Kintala's draft so it was a real pleasure. After lunch, we headed back to the home marina where we found ourselves back on the dock before dinner, just in time to catch up with our good friends Bill and Ann who currently have their boat in the Hollywood marina on the dock.

The view of Miami from Lamar Lake
Trying to fix a chart plotter problem with his new chart plotter.

Just the room on the foredeck is almost enough to convince me...

So...here's the takeaway:

Almost immediately we realized that a sundeck trawler of any brand wouldn't meet our needs, but for a reason totally unexpected. We both felt very isolated from the water on the trawler because of the height of the decks. It felt a lot like the difference between riding down the highway in an air-conditioned car rather than on the seat of a motorcycle enjoying the sun and the wind and the smell of bacon from the diner in the small town. It became almost immediately apparent that if we ended up on a trawler it would have to be a sedan or Europa model because the decks would be at water level.

The one place that the high deck was welcome was the flybridge. It was wonderful to be able to see more of the water, to be able to see better when docking, and to actually be able to see the front of the boat. Tim thought he would hate the flybridge but was pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable it was to motor down the ICW being able to see everywhere.

It was fabulous to sit in the salon and have a 360° view of the anchorage. One of my biggest pet peeves about sailboats is that once you're below it's very hard to see out, unless you have a catamaran, pilot house or deck salon model. The windows were huge, but that alone raises the issue of heat in the summer. This particular boat had Phifertex panels snapped over the windows. It kept the interior cool, made it so you could see out but no one could see in, but it also added to the darkness of the interior.

I thought the motor noise would bother me but it didn't. The generator noise, on the other hand, was bothersome, but he only used it long enough to run the microwave. The batteries were adequately charged by our short runs each day. Any generator we had would have to be in a sound box. We would also put copious amounts of solar on any trawler we ended up on. I loves me some silent power.

Originally I thought I'd want a galley down, but after being in that galley I think I would prefer a galley up. Not a deal breaker, for sure, but just a preference. In many of the Yachtworld ads I've noticed the stove in one corner butted right up against the fridge and I've always said I wouldn't like that setup and gravitated towards the ones with the stove in the middle of the U-shaped galley. This galley had the stove in the middle of the U and I was able to see that I was right about the other style of galleys. It would be very difficult to use the oven in the arrangement with the stove in the corner.

Safe side decks are of tantamount importance, and one of the main reasons we're thinking about transitioning to a trawler at all. Most Europa models have the solid wall railings on the side decks as well as being covered. This boat had very narrow walkways along the sides with handrails mounted on the cabin top and no railings until you got up to the bow. Definitely a no-no for any boat we own.

The motion was one of our biggest questions before taking the trip. We had seen many trawlers during our six years of cruising that got tossed around in rolly anchorages and weren't sure how bad it would feel in the boat. The motion in the flybridge can get very aggressive because of the height from the water. Even on the ICW, the wakes of larger boats caused a rocking bad enough in the flybridge that you couldn't stand up or move between levels. Down below, on the other hand, those same wakes were almost not noticeable, and in the galley they were even less of an issue, a benefit of the galley down models that I hadn't considered prior to this trip. This boat had an extreme amount of clutter on every available surface (definitely NOT the way we live in a boat) and not a thing was tossed, even in the worst wakes.

I was worried about docking such a hulk of a boat. I needn't have worried. After a half hour of docking practice in Boca Chita, I wouldn't hesitate to dock the boat anywhere, any time. Our captain was one of the best dockers I've ever seen. He plopped the boat on the wall at No-Name in a space that was seriously not 10 feet longer than the boat and he did it all with one engine and no bow thruster. He taught us to rotate the boat in its own axis, again with only one engine and no bow thruster. I would much rather dock that hulk of a boat in close quarters than just about any sailboat I've ever been on, including Kintala.

Anchoring was such a pleasure. Just pull up, drop the hook, and back slowly. Tim loves him some electric windlass with a remote on the flybridge...

Going through bridges without waiting for openings was maybe the very best part of the whole gig. I HATE opening bridges. I hate waiting for them, I hate working with the bridge tenders. I hate waiting on tides for lower bridges and our tall mast. Nuf said.

Getting underway took just a few minutes instead of the 45-minute routine we normally carry out when moving Kintala. Fire up the engine, pull up to the anchor, raise it, go. Easy peesy. Surprisingly, this left us conflicted. The whole routine of readying a sailboat for movement has its own rhythm to it, one that blends with nature. Checking the weather, deciding on sail combinations, prepping lines, stowing things below and even what clothes you wear are all part of the routine. Would we miss that?

Questions also arose around the cruising community. Like it or not, there is still some discord between sailors and trawler operators. Would we lose that sense of community we so value? Would sailors feel welcomed by us or would they keep their distance just because we're on a power boat? We had discussions at great length about this with our sailor daughter and family. We all agreed that there is the basic issue of the fact that it's difficult for sail and trawler boats to travel together due to the difference in speed. But in my mind I can't reconcile the lack of community between the two groups since it appears that over 90% of trawler owners are former sailors. Have to think on that one a lot more.

I don't know what our decision will be. A lot depends on how the whole Corona virus pans out, what funds we're left with, how our health is, and what boats are available. But, for sure, the trip was really valuable because it made us assess just what it is that draws us to a life on the water. It's a life we love, and a life we're just not ready to give up yet.

Boca Chita
Boca Chita

Boca Chita

We really miss the trees in Florida. Tim is standing behind the tree to show our grandkids how big it is.
They would be all over this thing. They love to climb trees.
Boca Chita

The lighthouse at Boca Chita
Boca Chita

Boca Chita

The pier at Dania Beach
We ate really well. The Captain was an excellent cook and served all Keto.

Boca Chita

The wall on which I practiced docking the boat.

Biscayne Bay

Hurricane Harbor

Sorry for the blurry photo. I didn't take it. And, no, that isn't champagne all over Tim's shirt. It's just water.

A different kind of dark side