And the season’s just around the corner…what are you missing?
by Bob Bancroft
For some folks, comparing powerboats and sailboats will be tantamount to contrasting football players and fly fishermen. I’d rather avoid crass generalizations or status issues, and instead highlight the general advantages and limitations of these types of watercraft.
Sailing is quiet, wind power is free, and cruising speeds offer excellent views. Power boating offers a speedy return on time, independent of prevailing winds or a sudden calm. Operating diesel engines on either type of boat with a wind coming over the stern creates a notable stink.
Away from home, my favourite boat is light enough to carry atop the car—a V-stern canoe. It’s narrow width transom serves to mount an electric or small gas outboard motor. V sterns can be paddled by two people with ease. Square stern canoes with wider transoms will plane under power, but are clumsy for paddling.
I launch V-stern canoes downstream and motor upstream. After traveling as far as possible or planned, the propeller can be tilted out of the water. Then I’m free to paddle and drift downstream for the rest of the trip, eventually returning to the launch site. Quiet paddling offers the opportunity to see more wildlife, and this approach eliminates the need for two vehicles.
Small fibreglass dinghies can last a lifetime. My parents’ beamy, 10-foot long dinghy safely accommodated two adults, three kids and our family spaniel. Oars or a five horsepower outboard provided our means of locomotion. Keeping an eye on waves and weather was important, whether we were on Pine Lake in the Yukon, Lake Ontario, or St. Georges Bay, Nova Scotia. It now plies the Bras d’Or Lakes. I have a similar-sized plastic tender which is towed behind our larger boat, for fishing in shallow water or going ashore.
Growing up in the Yukon, large freighter canoes were the workhorses of the north, carrying heavy goods on big lakes and rivers. Float planes could deliver those goods, but their method of delivery costs more. In addition to handling loads, these canoes, equipped with medium-sized, 25-50 horsepower outboards, are stable and able to take big water. They require boat trailers to transport on land.
I prefer fibreglass hulls, but, for one simple reason, most of my professional inland fisheries work involved aluminum boats in the 14-16 foot range. For their size, aluminum hulls are lighter and easier to carry overland than fibreglass equivalents. Aluminum craft can handle a lot of abuse but they’re noisy, readily attach to rocks, the rivets loosen with time, and their metal alloys fatigue. Equivalent-sized fibreglass hulls are more stable, quiet, and punctures are easier to patch.
Modern recreational powerboats in the 20-40 foot range are technical marvels. They can have inboard or outboard motors, but many have an inboard motor located in the hull at the back with an outside stern drive unit. Most have large motors that can power the hull out of the water into a planing position. This creates less water resistance on the hull and a bit more fuel efficiency. The very popular smaller craft are often equipped with an inside cuddy cabin in the bow.
I admire folks who own wooden boats. The cost and time associated with annual maintenance on sail or power wooden boats makes it a labour of love. Sometimes B.O.A.T. can mean Bring Out Another Thousand.
My Dad, brother and I built a small wooden sailboat while I was in high school. The learning curve really began when it couldn’t sail upstream on the Saint John River against both wind and current. Decades later I had a Flying Junior, a small, open sailboat that flew over the water on a good wind and was a lot of fun in Pomquet Harbour, where I live.
This harbour has a narrow channel with a very shallow entrance into St. Georges Bay. When I bought a sailboat capable of sleeping four people, it had to be a centreboard boat to slip through the shallow section. The Jeanneau was just the thing. Most sailboats have a fixed keel that extends down five to nine feet, requiring deeper water.
Functioning sailboats require plenty of gear, rigging and skills to operate effectively. Many compartments are necessary to stow extra gear for different conditions. There are multiple stays or wires to secure the mast and booms, and ropes everywhere to raise, lower, tighten and loosen everything. Stubbing one’s toes is easy, and, with variable winds, there’s plenty to do making adjustments along the way. Tall masts prevent sailors from tucking in under low bridges to anchor in sheltered spots overnight.
Modern sailboats have inboard or outboard motors designed to propel the craft at speeds up to the optimum hull speed without being under sail. Open cockpits offer their sailing occupants panoramic views in fine weather. Many boats in the 30-50 foot class have canvas/plastic enclosures surrounding the cockpits to shield occupants from wind, rain, and cold. Looking at coastlines in those conditions through plastic has a definite blur factor.
Below decks, headroom in the 20-foot length range is usually low, necessitating a crouching position. As sailboat lengths approach 30 feet, people are able to stand erect inside. Cabin windows and hatches are small and admit some light, but rarely little to see.
Responsibilities led me to sell the sailboat. A few years later, we were able to begin looking for another boat for multi-day adventures. This time we purchased a fishing style Seabreeze 23 powerboat that we christened the Kingfisher.
A major attraction of this powerboat was the 360-degree seascape available from inside the pilot house, with plenty of headroom. Its windows open in hot weather and close during inclement weather. A stern bracket for the outboard motor is equipped with a swim ladder for ease in climbing aboard. It hauls with a small truck. Boats this size can be trailered to different launch sites, offer the option of living aboard for up to five or six days, and enable relatively economical adventures.
Larger sail or power boats have real live-aboard room, as well as higher annual maintenance and running costs. Cruising at eight miles an hour, the Kingfisher consumes 5-6 litres per hour, which is fuel-efficient and relatively environmentally benign. Older, slightly larger motorboats, often equipped with two motors, easily consume 10 times that amount of fuel. Some 30 foot-plus cruisers guzzle as much as 40 gallons an hour. This reality has some big power boats tied up on marina docks for much of the summer. Sailing vessels rarely have high fuel consumption issues.
All boat owners should have, or learn, several skill sets, like tying the knot that’s best for particular situations. This can add safety, convenience and save gear. Acquiring technical understanding of the boat and motor and developing some proficiency about service needs are essential for hassle-free operation.
If you want to captain either kind of boat, acquire a Pleasure Craft Operator Card. If you are new to boating, seek out seasoned mariners and ask questions. Marina docks are great places to socialize, and boat people inclined to be helpful.
Motor-sailers are another option. This hybrid boat has a well-windowed, comfortable pilot house equipped with inside steering and a sizable motor. Given appropriate weather, these craft can function as a sailboat or motorboat.
Now, if I was looking for another boat…