Summary: Any trawler that draws more than three feet puts its owner at a disadvantage in America’s most popular cruising grounds. Gunkholing becomes a chore. Anchoring means sharing waters crowded with sailboats while shallower spots lie empty. Worst of all, when the sky threatens, the deep-draft boys will find far fewer harbors of refuge to accommodate them. Do not believe the argument that deep draft is safer; deep draft does not equal stability.
Buy the right boat for the way its used
It is a popular misconception that boats designed to cross the ocean blue are also the best vessels for any less ambitious passage. Naturally, this wrong-headed thinking is encouraged by the manufacturers of deep-draft vessels, even though the vast majority of trawler cruisers are not dreaming of trips to Bermuda, let alone ’rounding The Horn.
If the typical cruiser is coasting the shores of Florida and squalls threaten, his first instinct is not to head offshore for sea room like some old Bluenose skipper; he wants to get inside and get inside quickly. But if he’s in a deep-draft boat a mile off the St. Augustine inlet, inlet conditions might well dictate going offshore like those schooner captains of old. That’s because St. Augustine is shallow, like many Atlantic Coast inlets.
And like many inlets in Baja, Mexico. Like many reef pools of the Bahamas. Like many gunkholes in Maine. Like the Chesapeake and the California Delta. Like the entire Intracoastal Waterway and much of the Great Circle Route. In other words, the vast majority of American cruising grounds-or great portions thereof-are in shallow water.
Consequently, the ability to seek refuge from weather is the single most important design consideration for a safe cruising boat, as defined by how the overwhelming majority American trawler owners use their boats. When you are facing the “fight or flight” scenario as described above, the difference between 5 ½ feet and 3 feet can make the difference between life and death. Shallow draft, combined with power to spare for rough conditions at the mouth of an inlet, is a literal lifesaver. Lesson One enumerates the benefits of twin screws; this rough-inlet scenario is yet another. Mirage trawlers come standard with 54-hp Yanmars-horses to spare-for those occasions when you have to bust through heavy surf.
Safety is not the only benefit that comes with stable and tough, shallow draft trawler. The benefits of shallow draft are manifold. You can be the last boat to arrive in a crowded anchorage, for example, and still find swinging room in waters too shallow for the rest. This flexibility really shines for a boat owner when a hurricane comes bearing down; the shallow draft trawler will always be able to shelter further up the creek or deeper in the mangroves. Being away from the crowd helps avoid a beating from other boats, which happens to be one of the biggest causes of hurricane damage.
Gunkholing is just another obvious benefit. Peruse any cruising guide and note the many scenic spots unavailable to vessels drawing more than four feet.
Let us draw your attention to Chapter Nine of Cuba, A Cruising Guide by Nigel Calder. In this chapter, Calder describes a 210-mile succession of keys on the north coast of Cuba, just a couple hundred miles from South Florida. Calder, an expert mariner and marine author, calls this stretch “one of the finest cruising grounds in Cuba.” Unfortunately his descriptions are peppered with disclaimers that start out with the word “unfortunately.” Here is a typical entry:
“The Pasa de las Carabelas, which can be identified by a conspicuous white Guard post on the north side of its entry, is a mostly deep channel though the cays into the interior lagoon of the Bahia la Gloria. We had hoped to find a clear path into the pass, since this would then give access to a completely protected all-weather anchorage on the inside. Unfortunately, the mouth of the seaward side of the channel is obstructed by a shifting sandbar, which had much less than 2 meters over it when we were there.”
Obviously any vessel drawing less than 3 feet could have snuck into this most excellent anchorage to enjoy its beautiful isolation or find shelter from the “northers” that rattle this part of the world. Had Calder researched his book with a Mirage Great Harbour N37 instead of a sailboat, his stated controlling depth of 2 meters could have been reduced to 4 feet or less, opening up vast new cruising areas to his readership.
Likewise, the Bahamas cruising guides are filled with caveats. Mathew Wilson in his book The Bahamas Cruising Guide eschews many shallower areas as too stressful for the average cruiser. For example, he refers to a series of cays (Big Romers to Joe cays) in the northern Abacos as a possible “gunkhole fanatic’s idea of heaven,” but it’s obvious he hasn’t explored this “difficult area of banks, shoals, rocks and reefs” for himself. Wilson writes, “For the cruising yachtsman it could be unrewarding-and possibly prematurely aging-to choose it as a playground.” Too bad for him and his readers. A skipper with average skill at reading depths by the color of the water could indeed make this his playground at the helm of a Great Harbour N37 and be that much richer for having done so.
And lastly, there is our own sadly neglected Intracoastal Waterway. “Chronic shoaling along the 1,100-mile section from Norfolk to Miami plagues everything from private yachts to tugs with barges, charter fishing boats and passenger vessels,” Rick Lydecker wrote in a recent issue of Boat/US Magazine. (See the entire article by going to www.boatus.com/gov/icw_article.htm or go to the website for the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway Association.