Experienced Circumnavigators Build a Coastal Cruiser - Part 2

Scott Flanders continues his discussion of making a small, proper cruising boat for months of cruising along the East Coast and the Bahamas during the season. They found the right boat, now he identifies what needed to be done to make her more self-sufficient and cruise worthy.

There are significant differences between a day boat versus a boat used as a home for perhaps months at a time. Day boats are typically used in good weather for short runs to a favorite restaurant, local sightseeing, or a quiet lunch at anchor. Cruising boats, on the other hand, especially in locations such as the Bahamas, for example, may not go to a dock except for an occasional fuel stop.

We are pretty sure that no one ever slept in this V-berth. Such is the casual nature of a boat lightly used for short day trips in nice weather.

We are pretty sure that no one ever slept in this V-berth. Such is the casual nature of a boat lightly used for short day trips in nice weather.

Our priority for this boat was livability on a monthly basis rather than day use in fair weather. The core boat was excellent for what it was designed, but it wasn’t quite there yet for what we intended.

The previous owner chose to install an electric stovetop and a microwave, such as one would expect in a small home or apartment. That’s fine if you have a generator, but totally unsuitable when using battery power through an inverter. The owner had been persistent and figured he just needed a larger alternator and a third, 4D battery to help things along. All that resulted in were smoking belts on the engine whenever the stovetop was turned on. The batteries and alternator simply couldn’t handle the load. But that was good for us, as he was an unhappy owner wanting to sell the boat, and we got an extra battery, associated wiring, and an upgraded Balmar alternator.

As I mentioned in Part 1, we bought the boat in Maine. We had it hauled and kept ashore until we could arrange shipping by truck to North Carolina for our upgrade projects. While it was on the hard, we had the builder, Ellis Boat Company in Southwest Harbor, remove the electric stovetop and the microwave, which left two large holes in the countertop and cabinet face. This would be no problem, as were going to add a freezer and propane cooktop.

We also had the builder add a Y-valve to the head to give us the choice of using the holding tank and overboard through a seacock. We could have left the macerator attached to the holding tank so we could discharge at sea, but macerators eventually fail. And when they do it is time for a bucket until it can be repaired or replaced. Ellis also took care of the short list of items identified during the survey.

I will address what we upgraded in order of importance to us, although the top four projects—freezer, cooktop, storage, and solar—are all essential so are not in any order.

Jim Gardiner is my past boat building partner who now owns Compmillennia in Washington, North Carolina (www.compillennia.com). We had our boat trucked to his yard for the rest of the work.www.compillennia.com). We had our boat trucked to his yard for the rest of the work.

The first item Jim’s workers installed was an Iso Therm Cruise 200, 12VDC/115VAC freezer. We had the same freezer aboard our last boat, and it was very efficient and never failed. This freezer will hold more than a month’s worth of meat, particularly if you vacuum pack the items ahead of time, or, as we later evolved to, Press n’ Seal from Glad. (We retained the builder-installed Norcold fridge.)

Next was a propane cooktop. We chose a Dickinson two-burner model that could be installed using a teak riser above the freezer. I added three separate vents to dissipate heat from the small Danfoss compressor on top of the freezer. In the cockpit, we had Jim build a custom propane locker to house two, 11-lb Trident fiberglass propane bottles with extra heavy duty hose, regulator and so on. The propane locker also doubles as a boarding step on the starboard side.

We’re big fans of solar power, on our last boat we had four 120-watt Kyocera panels that never failed and provided a ton of additional amps. For this 28-footer we went a little overkill by adding two 150-watt Kyocera panels and a multi-charge digital solar regulator. The boat has two 4D batteries as the house bank and a third 4D as an engine starting battery.

During the day, we switch the battery switch to ALL, and by 3:00 in the afternoon, even on cloudy days, the batteries are in float mode, fully charged. At night, we switch the batteries to the house bank, leaving the engine start battery fully charged. With this setup, we found we could anchor out indefinitely without starting the engine to charge batteries. When we leave the boat for any period of time, it remains only on solar charging, even when shore power is available.

Our son, his wife, and their son were to be visit us for a month, and for two weeks during that time the five of us would live aboard. So, we needed a place for everyone to sleep. Jim and his guys designed and built a super trick, folding settee/double berth, using vacuum-infused foam core skinned with carbon fiber. It weighs next to nothing yet you could drive trucks over it. Below this settee, we now have additional food storage for canned and dry goods. We had the settee seat and back made with four-inch foam, covered in a white durable material.

The original helm seats were very ‘60s-ish, and they had to go even though they were in perfect condition. We replaced them with Todd Cape Cod models with a removable Garelick pedestal on the port side.

We fought our batteries for 8 years in the old boat, it’s a long, expensive story but in the end we finally met someone who Really Knew what to do, and it’s simple. Simply add a Balmar Smart Regulator to the alternator and have a reporting system that shows amps in and amps out. It’s like money in a bank; to keep the same balance you may withdraw money then you must put it back in, with no guessing involved. The multi-stage solar regulator now shows this information, and we also added a Balmar Smart Regulator to the Balmar alternator on the Volvo diesel.

The original Garmin plotter has a digital repeater instrument mounted above it. To explain this, let me back up a minute. We bought the boat from our own inspection, then a short sea trial and a professional survey. I was looking over the broker’s shoulder while he ran the boat during the sea trial and didn’t pay much attention to the electronics except to notice that the Garmin plotter was in chart mode while the digital repeater recorded the depth.

Digital depth reading is generally useless for how we intended to use the boat. It is imperative to see bottom trends, particularly when fishing or in shallow water. So we added a small Garmin plotter/fishfinder/depthsounder with the additional bonus of coming preinstalled with Bahamas charts. Only when the boat went back in the water did we realize the original Garmin plotter also had a depthfinder that simply repeated digitally to the repeater unit.

So now we run the large Garmin on Navigation Chart mode and the smaller Garmin plotter on split screens of charts and depth, so we can see the bottom contours.

As far as running ease, the biggest single electronic device we added was the latest Simrad autopilot. It is MAGIC! The interface is NEMA 2000 compatible and linked to the larger Garmin plotter. The menu is intuitive and it has one feature I consider priceless, namely the No Drift feature. In No Drift mode, you simply turn the knob and point the bow where you want to go and that’s it. Period. No Drift calculates set and drift without setting a waypoint.

I find No Drift to be priceless. We ran the boat from North Carolina to South Florida steering with three fingers on the knob, only using the boat’s steering wheel when docking. We mounted the autopilot head on a RAM Mount within finger reach of the helm chair’s right armrest. With your arm on the armrest you simply raise your right wrist and turn the knob. Setting waypoints and running courses is the same as any Garmin plotter linked to an autopilot. Fortunately, the Wagner hydraulic helm is a two-hose system that already had Ts installed before the steering ram, so installation was simply a matter of hooking up the autopilot pump with short hoses to these Ts and wiring the autopilot pump to the panel. The rudder feedback unit was also easy to install to the rudder arm.

We added a small Katadyn, 1.5gph 12-volt watermaker for use in the Bahamas. On the U.S. East Coast, you don’t need a watermaker, but in the Bahamas, water is expensive and it’s nice not to be dependent on anyone for anything except occasional fuel. Plumbing was simple enough, as we plumbed into the raw water seacock for the head intake. This gave us raw water for both the watermaker and the next item on our list, a saltwater washdown system.

The boat did not come with a washdown system for the anchor, chain, and rode. This is a must to keep the anchor locker clean and not smelling like seaweed. I don’t think the previous owner had ever used the boat’s anchor in the previous 18 years because it still had a label sticker on it.

We added a Johnson 5-gpm pump and plumbed the hose forward with ¾-inch, white sanitary hose to a 316L stainless steel hose bib on the foredeck. We used oversized hose so there would not be any loss of water pressure. We keep a 10-foot washdown hose coiled on the foredeck.

The chain/rode Lewmar windlass originally came with 20 feet of 5/16-inch BBB chain and 200 feet of ½-inch, three-lay nylon for the anchor rode. We added an additional 20 feet of 5/16-inch BBB chain to extend the amount chain on our anchoring system.

The original anchor was a 20lb CQR which we took off the first day. We replaced it with a great design, a 33lb Rocna Vulcan, an improved version of the French-designed Spade anchor. It works great, even in grass.

During our first trip on the new boat, we used the 7 ½-foot Avon RIB dinghy that came with the boat, but found it was super wet. A dinghy in Bahamas or Keys gets used most every day for hours at a time. It is simply no fun getting wet constantly in a small dink, particularly in a chop. We gave that dink away and replaced it with a 9-foot Zodiac dinghy with an inflatable keel and floor. The Zodiac has oversize tubes so it’s super dry and light. For power we use a 3hp Yamaha 2-stroke we bought in New Zealand during our circumnavigation on our Nordhavn. The other advantage to a non-RIB is we can deflate it and roll it up for storage inside the cabin while we are away.

The four-bladed prop had a slight vibration when we bought the boat so we hauled in Florida to have it reconditioned, but ultimately, we replaced it.

There were other small items we added to make our Ellis 28 a more comfortable and capable cruising boat. We installed 12-volt fans in the cabin as well as the V-berth. We also added fishing rod racks above the V-berth that holds seven spin/bait casting rods. Under the V-berth we store three fly rods and two 60lb trolling rods. I added two cast stainless steel rod holders in the cockpit as well as storage bins under the cockpit hatch.

Storage is at a premium on a small boat, as you know. One way to provide additional storage is to use a dock box in the cockpit, but they are expensive and heavy. Instead we bought a 150-quart Igloo cooler that holds five gallons of oil, cleaning materials, and more fishing gear. We bought a few spares specific to the boat such as, belts, filters, raw water pump impellers, and enough fluids to replace any in case of a leak.

After launching the boat in North Carolina and conducting sea trials adjusting the autopilot, we headed for South Florida. The boat is amazing. It burns so little fuel. It’s a treat adding 30 gallons at a time instead of 500 or more. One thing we found early on is the two fuel tank gauges were a fairy tale. We became so paranoid, one time we added only 12 gallons of fuel to the starboard tank because the gauge read ¼.

Once we arrived in Florida, the fuel senders, the Rocna anchor and dinghy were the early changes.

We ran the boat at 8 knots for the run to Florida making about 86 nautical miles per short winter day (103 statute miles). We could have easily run at 10+ knots but we didn’t have to and didn’t want to burn the extra fuel. We anchored along the way, not thinking much about anchoring until shortly before dark. Anchoring required no forethought or planning as the boat only draws three feet. We just pull over, drop the hook and that’s it.

Once we arrived in Florida and while cruising the Florida Keys, we throttled back to 6–7 knots, burning almost no fuel while sightseeing or fishing.

A shallow water boat is a decided plus when cruising the Florida Keys and the Bahamas, so dinghies with big outboards are unnecessary.

A shallow water boat is a decided plus when cruising the Florida Keys and the Bahamas, so dinghies with big outboards are unnecessary.

The story goes on, of course, our son and his family arrived on schedule and we ultimately spent two weeks aboard…all five 5 of us. It was cramped but we still had a great time.

However, here the story takes a twist. Once underway we realized how much we missed cruising. We also realized just how much we missed cruising in high latitudes. Our last big trip in the Nordhavn was to Iceland via Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Labrador, and Greenland. Once you have been in Big Ice you want more. This boat isn’t for that.

High latitude cruising requires a different mindset, a serious degree of self-sufficiency, and often a different boat to be safe and comfortable.

High latitude cruising requires a different mindset, a serious degree of self-sufficiency, and often a different boat to be safe and comfortable.

Our Ellis 28 is what we built her for, coastal cruising: Nova Scotia, U.S. East Coast, and the Bahamas. Given our change of heart, and after all the work we put into her, she is for sale. If you are interested in such a cruising boat, check out www.ellisboatbrokerage.com or email me at scottflndrs@yahoo.com until May 1st when we leave for the Bahamas.

Once she finds a new home we will design and build a larger boat for high latitudes.

What we’ve told you here doesn’t just apply to this one boat. The principles apply to almost any small boat built to coastal cruise for more than a few days at a time. If you take away anything from my article, know that the Balmar smart regulator is imperative on any inboard boat. It will save you battery headaches and money. Solar also is important in a cruising boat, even if you have a generator. On our last boat, I calculated the solar panels paid for themselves after three years. On this boat, the savings was almost immediate because of the simple installation. Running an engine at no load/idle to charge batteries takes its toll.

The vendors we used:

Iso Therm Cruise 200 Freezer, lewismarine.com, Ft Lauderdale

Dickinson Propane Cooktop, suremarineservice.com

Kyocera solar panels and regulator, altEstore.com

Katadyn 1.5gph Watermaker, sailorman.com

Helm chairs, Balmar Smart Regulator, Trident propane bottles, defender.com

Rocna Vulcan anchor, westmarine.com

Zodiac inflatable, Zodiac of Ft Lauderdale

Small items came from a local N.C. distributor, Paxton Marine, NAPA, and local hardware stores. It took about five man weeks at Compmillennia to make the changes, plus what I did myself. We used an outside electrical technician to complete the wiring on the solar panels and regulator, and install the Garmin unit plus the autopilot.  He also set the autopilot parameters during sea trials.

There you have it. A perfect little pocket cruiser and one we are proud of.


If you enjoyed this article, please subscribe so you won't miss anything as I keep building followingseas.media.