Ken's Letter to PassageMaker Magazine on Single vs. Twins

(This letter to the editor was written by Ken Fickett, president of Mirage Manufacturing, to Passagemaker Magazine in response to an article in the August issue on the merits of a single-engine trawler versus a trawler with twin engines.)

C’mon Passagemaker Magazine,
you can do better

To the editor,

We at Mirage Manufacturing read with interest Bob Lane’s article on single engines versus twins. Guys at the shop have always enjoyed reading Bob’s articles, but as a builder of trawler yachts, we would like to make some friendly criticisms of his latest work.

Bob took great pains to point out that “engine reliability should not be an issue in considering the purchase of a single-engine boat.” In a limited sense, he is right. A well cared for diesel engine in a friendly environment will never quit. Problem is the cruising grounds. They’re always ready to throw up a plastic bag to get sucked up into your intake or offer a pot warp to seize your prop. Wind, current and rocks always seem willing to convert ill fortune into complete disaster.

Robert Beebe, author and owner of the original Passagemaker, had an answer to this reality; if I’m not mistaken, Passagemaker’s two masts carried sails, an excellent secondary propulsion system. Better even than sails is a second engine to get you to safe refuge for repairs.

And speaking of safe refuge, there is a clue to this line of thinking elsewhere in the same issue of the magazine. Tad Roberts, in “Passagemaker Lite,” writes on Page 150, “a large single prop would mean more draft, even with a propeller pocket.” I know Bob is a West Coast guy, so I forgive him, but here in the waters of the North Atlantic and Caribbean, shallow draft can be a tremendous advantage to mariners seeking refuge from weather. Twin engines equals shallower draft equals a greater safety margin.

We agree that the vast majority of trawler vessels are single screw, and we’re not saying folks with single engines are stupid. They show their intelligence by adopting cruising habits to compensate for this handicap the way a deaf person learns to read lips. This truth is evident in yet another article in the same issue of PMM.

In that article, about a nifty harbor in the Dominican Republic, the author laments that trawlers are notably absent. “It’s hard to understand why more trawlermen don’t make this trip. Mom and pop retirees are getting there in sailboats by the scores,” the author writes on Page 136. It’s not so hard to understand, most trawlers are single screws and their owners don’t have the comfort level they need to go through the more isolated Bahamas islands, let alone the D.R.

About half of Bob’s article was about docking advantages of single-screw with bow thruster compared to twin screws. Either works just fine, though naturally as proponents of twin screws, we believe any discussion should be in the wider context noted above.

That having been said, however, we feel using Grand Banks for the test does not do justice to the trawler market as a whole. For example on our vessels, it is actually less expensive to mount two 56 hp Yanmars than it would be to power with a bigger single. That’s because engine and power train costs do not rise in proportion to horsepower, rather more so. What’s more, one of our engines is price competitive with a bow thruster installation, even at the stated cost of $8,000, which we feel is unrealistically low.

I will admit one thing: Thus far in the debate over twin versus single, and deep versus shallow, the deep draft, single-screw faction has prevailed not on the merits, but in the marketing. We hope to change this in the near future. I would invite Bob Lane and the PMM crew to take a ride with us sometime so we can take this debate to the beer-drinking level.

Best regards,

Ken Fickett
Mirage Manufacturing

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