When we first started seriously thinking about going cruising, the accepted wisdom held that a couple could, at best, handle a 38-footer. A unique opportunity came our way to purchase a beautifully maintained and almost new 50-footer, and even though she seemed almost too big, we quickly adapted to Intermezzo’s size, and were happy to have the comfort of a larger yacht. Over the years we went from 50, to 62, to 68, and then 78-footers, all easier to handle for us as a couple than the previous yacht. Wind Horse, at 83 feet, is much easier for the two of us to cruise on than any of our sailing yachts. We think that will be the case with the new FPB 97.
As we have matured (hate that concept!) the idea of taking crew has been discussed more than once. Since this subject is up for its annual review, we thought it might be an interesting exercise to share the crew vs. no crew reasoning. Although we will discuss this in the context of a FPB 97, the logic applies to smaller yachts as well.
Let us start by saying we value freedom of movement and privacy above most other factors. So committing to another person on board, even with a yacht as big as the FPB 97, would have to bring major benefits. And we’d want to be sure that, if things did not work out, there would be the option of going it alone if we so desired.
We’ll start with the easy issues first.
Being on passage as a couple is not only easier than most folks think, it is also one of the parts of cruising we love the most. There is no other comparable activity we have found that allows us to enjoy working together as a team like this, with little non-essential outside stimuli. It is just us, the boat, and the sea. If the yacht is set up correctly for short-handed voyaging – and we’ll get into this in a minute – the work load is minimal, the watch standing enjoyable, all of which is taking place in a level of comfort we would not have believed possible seven years ago.
Having the boat to ourselves, with no need to consider anyone else’s needs or schedules, eating what we want and when we want, wearing (or not wearing) whatever takes our fancy, with a quiet peace in which to enjoy each other’s company, is a heady combination.
There is a price to be paid, and that is sleep. We stand watch at night, three hours on and three off. During the day things are more informal. The first two days of a passage are the hardest as our bodies adjust to the new pattern. By day four we are in the groove. By day six the pattern is ingrained and we could go on for a month.
But to make enjoyable short-handed passaging possible certain things have to be taken into account:
- There must be a comfortable bunk for the off watch so that sleep does occur.
- Interior layout has to encourage easy communication between the watch stander and the off watch (this was the genesis of the great room concept keeping all functions within one area).
- If the watch stander desires a drink or snack, they have to be able to take care of this while maintaining situational awareness.
- There must be somewhere close to the con where the off watch can sleep when navigational or traffic considerations may warrant a second opinion.
- Sight lines from the helm and galley must be such that an eye can be kept in all directions by the watch stander.
- Systems need to be reliable, redundant, easily maintained, with a layout and set of manuals that encourages both members of the couple to get involved in running the boat.
The FPB 64 and 83 both have their great room as command and social center. The FPB 97 has the primary command center removed to the Matrix deck. When offshore the second helm in the great room will see significant usage. This gives the option of using either the Matrix deck or the great room for keeping watch as inclination and conditions dictate (both have somewhere for the off watch to sleep nearby the helm).
With coastal cruising you trade short hops–probably day trips, with typically more intense navigation and lookout–for that missing sleep on long passages. While you can relax offshore, this is never the case when there is traffic or a navigational issue about which to be concerned. Still, as long as you have the speed to make respectable daylight jumps, and an efficient nav station arranged to facilitate piloting in difficult conditions, crew is not a prerequisite for us.
Speed is an important part of this equation. With an easy 12 knot coastal passaging speed, if you are heading north toward Alaska on the Inside Passage, or cruising Norway, 160 to 180 mile day trips are not a problem in the long high latitude summer days.
Yes, that’s a long day at the helm. But there are two of you, you can spell one another occasionally, and when the hook is finally set for the night, if you like the spot, the previous day’s mileage allows you to relax for a day or two.
Since we design for living at anchor, there is no need to stop at marinas, with their noise, crowds, docking issues, and requirement to make reservations in advance. Our preference is to find a quiet spot and lie to our own anchor. And it is a lot less work to push a button and anchor than to dig out the dock lines and fenders.
Handling in Port: Side-To Docking
If there is a case to be made for extra hands, it is going to be when docking the boat. However, with the right system of dock lines, winches, and vessel control, we don’t see that there is any major difference between docking an FPB 64 or FPB 97 with two people. But things have to be done right.
From a design perspective, the necessary factors are straightforward:
- Number one is a vessel which handles in a predictable, controlled fashion. The quicker and more reliable the response, the tighter the situation into which you can insert yourself.
- Equally important are the lines of sight from the helm to the bow, stern, and side. With just two folks aboard, the line handler needs to concentrate on his/her job and the skipper has to see well enough to make his/her own judgement calls on distance.
- You need a system of light but strong high modulus dock lines, pre-rigged before going into the marina area.
- An array of self-tailing electric winches for securing and adjusting dock lines with remote control at the main helm round out this list.
If we compare the FPB 97 to Wind Horse, we see several trade-offs for tight quarters maneuvering. The FPB 97 is 15% longer, so a little harder to fit into tight spots. Offsetting this are the following factors:
- The FPB 97 has larger rudders and more prop wash relative to its size than the FPB 83, so we expect even greater precision control.
- There is a bow thruster (Wind Horse has none).
- There are six electric self-tailing winches for docking. Wind Horse has just one.
- The outboard docking platform gives wonderful lines of sight.
The bottom line to all this is a yacht that can be docked in most cases by an experienced couple just as or more easily than the FPB 83 Wind Horse. And if space, currents, or wind makes a short-handed positive outcome challenging? Then pick someone up locally to help.
Here is a quick rundown of what we do to prepare for a docking maneuver:
- Survey the situation. Take the dink ashore and have a water-born and land-based look around.
- Pre-rig dock lines and fenders.
- Double check booms are inboard.
- Arrange with marina to have someone on hand to take a line.
- Double-check chart.
- Review actions to be taken with dock lines. Order how they get secured (usually breast line first).
- Have a backup plan if things do not work out as expected.
- Verify that winches, engine controls, pilot, and thruster are all engaged and operating.
In most cases we simply want to get a single breast line secured on the dock. Once this is done, we can winch the boat sideways, using an electric winch controlled from the helm.
If the wind or current is favoring a certain direction, the breast line will be biased in that direction, so it automatically snugs the boat up parallel to the dock.
If there is no one ashore to take a line:
- Crew stands on swim step, holding either breast line or stern spring line.
- FPB 97 is positioned a boat’s width off dock, or closer if there is space.
- Stern is rotated into dock and crew steps off using either bow thruster or the engines depending on wind and current.
In the image above and below you can see how the flared topsides coupled with tapered waterlines makes it easy to simply rotate the boarding platform onto the dock.
The same feature works for you when coming alongside. You can literally drop the breast line to someone on the dock from the deck, rather than having to scale sideways.
Keep in mind that you are just as comfortable at anchor as in a marina, so if the docking scenario seems difficult, the answer is to anchor out.
Handling in Port: Stern-to (“Med” mooring)
Now things get more challenging. Med mooring crowded harbors, possibly squeezing into a space not large enough, almost certainly with a crosswind, and of course, numerous bored onlookers waiting for a good laugh. If you are going to want extra hands, this is where they will be needed. But as we found in our recent visit to the Balearic Islands, you can always ask for help from the marina staff. This not so much a vessel size issue as one of hull shape, maneuverability, and deck gear. The FPB 97 has several advantages in this regard.
- Its moderate stern beam (compared to most yachts which carry their max beam to the stern) slips much more easily into the too-small space. Less aim and angle is required as a result.
- There are a pair of powered electric winches aft and forward for use with the twin stern lines and twin anchor bow lines.
- You have excellent visibility forward and aft from the helm, and down the sides (from the maneuvering platform).
- There is firm and precise control from the over-sized rudders and counter-rotating props.
The process goes something like this:
- Survey harbor and docking situation first, then withdraw to finish rigging fenders and stern lines.
- Position off dock with allowance for wind and current. If tight, pick a time, usually early in the day, when breeze is lightest.
- Drop back with light touches in reverse (in and out of gear), steering with the engines. Adjust to port using the starboard engine in reverse or the port engine to move the stern to starboard. Rudders are on center.
- The ability to stop instantly with a touch of throttle allows you to get close enough for a gentle throw of the stern line.
- The marina crew will then hand the first anchor line across. This is walked forward (or the marina crew will do this for you). The boat is then captured between bow and stern, both on electric winches.
- Secure second stern line, then second anchor, and adjust all four from the bridge with the remote control electric winches.
Although this sounds complex, and is intimidating the first time you do it, by the fifth or sixth equence it will be routine.
Does Med mooring make permanent crew a requirement? We’d say no, although extra help will be needed from time to time.
Special Situations – Shore Fasts
If there is one operation that is going to demand an extra crew member, it is using shore fasts (securing the boat to trees, rocks, or anchor bolts ashore in tiny anchorages). When conditions are benign, say a tropical island where you take a line ashore to a coconut tree, then it can be accomplished by a couple, if things are properly set up. But shore fasts are usually thought of in the context of places like Tierra del Fuego (near Cape Horn), or Greenland, with cold water, fast work, and unpleasant complications if things do not go according to plan. This is an environment where it pays to think seriously about a younger, more damage tolerant, and fit extra body on board.
Then there is the question of size of vessel. How do you handle a 97 footer in this environment, even with an extra crew member(s) aboard?
Which brings us back to design and specification, with many of the same features that help out in tight harbors working in these more invigorating climates:
- Over-sized ground tackle, putting the weight of two anchors into a single hook, where it is working all of the time, means shore fasts are required less often.
- Having those two big rudders, counter-rotating props, and moderate windage relative to their maneuvering force, means you have far more control over the situation than is the case in many other yachts.
- There are four shore fast reels each with 200m (670 feet) of high modulus rope are set up for fast run out and retrieval. These lines are then lead to one of the six electric deck winches.
We should point out that, although we carry shore fasts on Wind Horse, we have yet to need them in Newfoundland, Labrador, Greenland, Norway, or Svalbard. That massively over-sized anchor on the bow is the reason.
Dinghy Launch and Retrieval
Although launch and retrieval of the dinghy is a multi-handed enterprise on some yachts, we have not found this to be the case with our boom system. Launching can easily be accomplished by a single person. Until now we have always needed both of us to get the dink back aboard. With the new system developed for the FPB 97, in many cases we can see a single person bringing the dinghy back aboard.
Dragging a big dinghy onto the beach is another story, which is why we carry our big power dink, and then a second, much lighter (1/4 the weight) rowing dinghy. The FPB 97 has room for two really nice dinghies on the after deck, so we think we are covered for the beach excursions..
We divide maintenance into several categories. First, what the yacht requires for proper operation. With the exception of cleaning the props, the rest of the maintenance is not that much different than the FPB64, with the addition of a second engine which requires periodic checks and oil changes.
Windows must be maintained for visibility and there are more of them. However, these windows are higher, and because they are outside the mullions, much easier to clean than the smaller boats.
Cleaning the outside is a simple hose-off. Nothing else is required. So, although the boat has a lot of surface, this is relatively quick and painless. The interior is another story. You can spend a lot of time wiping down the furniture, cabin soles, engine room surfaces, and then vacuuming. Enough to warrant crew? Not by itself.
Taking Care of the Boat When We Are Away
The FPBs are designed to be left on their own. Our practice is to leave Wind Horse hauled out with someone checking her weekly. The FPB 97 is specified with a system that reports on out-of-range data and/or data that can be polled. So we’d always know battery voltage, fridge, freezer and interior temperatures, bilge status, etc. in which case a crew might be considered superfluous
But we do have to plan in advance where to leave the boat, and crew would give us the freedom to step off virtually anywhere.
Getting Ready To Start a New Season
When we left Wind Horse at Berthon’s in the UK for two winters, we became addicted to their “valet” service. We told them when we’d be coming back, and would arrive to a freshly power-washed, polished stainless, windows cleaned, interior vacuumed and wiped down boat. Very nice.
Then comes provisioning. That can be a large or small project. What we have learned to do is find one or two markets with the types of things we like, talk to the manager about an order for six months of stores, and then have them assign a helper for the ordering process. We walk down the isles, making a list with them, and then a day or two later, a truck pulls up, their crew brings the food aboard, and we spend half a day storing it. All very quick and civilized.
And The Decision Is?
For us the jury is still out. At some point a combination of factors will tip the scales towards carrying a crew member. When this does occur, it will be for cleaning, maintenance, watching the boat when we are away, and prepping before we return. Having an extra set of hands in high latitudes will also influence us.
But for now, we stay as always, on our own.