1. Nordhavn 46 Pilothouse Trawler: 46-Foot Perfection
This boat isn't for everyone, but among long-range cruising wannabes, it's guaranteed to cause more excitement than rivers of fire ants invading a nudist convention. For a Robert Beebe, Voyaging Under Power disciple, a Nordhavn 46 is the entire wish list. And the size is SO right.
Imagine 46 feet of no compromise, cost-no-object, full displacement, absolutely bulletproof fiberglass ocean-crossing machine — engineered like a Mercedes and finished like a Rolls Royce. Now you've got the concept. At any marina, any yacht club in the world, this thing snaps heads faster than a chiropractor. Got a pulse? You'll love this boat.
Accommodations: perfect. Deck layout: perfect. Engine room: perfect (for crouching height). Even a shippy, reliable dry stack. Portuguese bridge and big, wide, covered side decks with high bulwarks — safer than Fort Knox. Speaking of Fort Knox, the entry fee for this most desirable of boatflesh is just south of $600 large, which explains why it's on my wish list and not in my berth.
2. Silicone Dielectric Gel: Lube Deluxe
Why doesn't every boat come with a couple of big tubes of this permanently slippery, semi-translucent gel? It's NOT silicone sealer, but rather a corrosion-proof gel that lubricates practically anything and repels water like Jesse Helms at a Gay Freedom Day parade.
Slathered into the terminal ends of your shore-power cord and phone cord, electrical connections of all kinds (especially bilge pumps, navigation lights and electronics), and presto, that's the last of your connection and static problems. Works great on stubborn hoses and idiot-proofing freshly replaced raw-water pump impellers, too. If you forget to turn the seacock back on, this will save your ass and the impeller.
A little fine print: It's almost impossible to clean off silicon gel well enough to make new paint and varnish stick, and it's hell getting off glass. Wash it off your fingers quick or you'll leave it on everything and everyone.
3. Webasto Forced-Air Diesel Furnace: Warm Wonder
With the exception of a shoebox full of crisp thousand dollar bills, you can't believe how something the size of a shoebox can improve your life so much. Just the antidote for frozen-bun runs, miserably cold and wet days, and hanging out at the boat on a winter day, Webasto's fuel efficient, battery-friendly, high-tech diesel furnace is the answer. If you've never had a forced-air diesel furnace, you don't know the pleasure of a completely warm, fresh, dry boat without a trace of mildew or condensation. If there's a downside, it's that you'll get so spoiled you'll never go home.
4. Furuno Radar: Bionic Eyes
Thinking about radar? In an era of cheap consumer electronics, glitzy features sell. Programming is cheap; hardware costs money. Good radar is now inexpensive. You need it. And in my opinion, Furuno makes the best, most reliable equipment for the buck. See much else on commercial boats?
The big price differences are in the display and the antenna. For $1,000, you get a small but readable LCD monochrome display and a relatively low-output 1 - 1.5 kW transmitter mated with a small dome-type antenna. For most boaters, radar is an anti-collision device used at short ranges — exactly where the inexpensive models work best. But then I hate little, crappy LCD displays.
More money buys bigger and progressively prettier displays, more power and bigger antennas. The more expensive units are substantially better at longer ranges. In the $4,500 range, you get a great CRT display, plenty of power and an open-array antenna. In Furuno's $1,000 - $4,500 price range, it's hard to go wrong.
5. Globe Elastomer Water-Pump Impeller: Cool Blues
Practically every inboard marine engine has a black, spider-shaped water-pump impeller, and your introduction usually comes a few minutes after the steaming, overheated engine experience. These things fail somewhat unpredictably and aren't always that easy to reach. The best way to minimize any potentially unpleasant interaction with Mr. Impeller during a cruise is to replace the wretched thing at the dock. Most manufacturers recommend annual replacement.
Better yet, replace it with the latest high-tech petro-chemical miracle, Globe Rubber Company's blue elastomer impeller. Since they're more flexible and self-lubricating, they are easier to install and will survive up to 15 minutes of dry running if the raw-water inlet gets plugged or shut off. The Coast Guard and commercial guys say the blue impellers last a lot longer, too. Personally, I've never been able to wear one out. The best part: they cost only a couple bucks more than the unreliable black-rubber ones at most marine stores.
6. Boston Whaler 13 Super Sport: Love Me Tender
With the reserved persona of a high zoot yacht tender, Boston Whaler's Super Sport 13 may be the stealthiest yet most extreme water-sports vehicle ever. First, it's a world-class way to blow the maximum dollars per linear foot, but it's worth it. Combining unsinkable, foam-filled construction, thick and rock-solid fiberglass and perfectly molded finishes, the Super Sport's real magic is on the bottom. The cathedral-style hull incorporates two 3-foot-long sled runner-like mini keels running from the transom forward. Traditionally, Whalers are equipped with seriously excessive power and a performance envelope that is light years beyond the average driver's pucker factor.
Thirteen feet is a nice size. You can tow it behind anything or stow it on a larger boat. The Whaler's stock in trade is to look right at home aboard a megayacht and to safely carry everything that can be crammed between the gunwales. Stability runs a close second; two people standing on the gunwale barely disturbs the Super Sport, making it legendary as an idiot-proof tender. But getting there is most the fun. Huge wakes and mountainous waves just add to the experience. Absolutely nothing unglues the little Whaler from the water, even hanging sideways from a wave at 40 knots.
Outrageous stability and speed come with a payback: the unique, bone-crushing Whaler ride. Fasten your kidney belt and find a really thick cushion. Push up the throttle. The bow comes up, flattens out and you start to fly. NOW! The ride over rough water is exactly like being towed 80 mph over large, broken concrete blocks. You find yourself looking forward to launching off waves, for the few welcome moments of airborne smoothness. Slowing down in rough water is possible, although you'll probably drown in the spray if you open your mouth. So keep your head down, mouth closed and go like hell - you'll never forget it.
7. John Deere Marine Diesel: Obscure but Awesome
When John Deere threw down the gauntlet in the marine market a few years ago, the competition barely flinched. They should have. Deere's ultra-reliable, ultra-efficient tractor diesels are poised and ready to chomp a multi-zillion dollar bite out of the marine-diesel market. Deere's power range, from 85 to 450 horsepower, is relatively narrow compared to the big names, but it also accounts for the lion's share of the available business.
What's so hot about the Deere marine engines? How about elegantly simple, reliable designs so conservatively rated that they put a lot of bigger engines to shame. These smooth, smoke-free, rugged, rebuildable and competitively priced engines are gaining popularity — fast.
8. Taylor Big-B Fenders: No-Fear Docking
Except for the ones you lose overboard, all boat fenders die a horrible, flatter-than-road-kill death. It's a tough life, cushioning several tons of boat from the dock and your inevitable "Zots Dots" (those little warning bumps between lanes on roadways, also known as "road turtles") landing adventures. Eventually you're going to kill some fenders and have to replace them. Did you know that Taylor's Big B fenders have a lifetime warranty? Take the dead soldier to any marine store that sells Taylor and they'll exchange it for free.
Taylor's expensive, top-of-the-line fenders give you what you pay for. They don't get brittle or split when cold, and you can adjust inflation pressure using a conventional tire pump and inflator needle. The simple through-tube design has no eyes to rip out, and the forever warranty is available on every planet with an oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere. They'll take almost any abuse short of a direct nuclear hit, but you'll want to check the fender lines often — they're too expensive to lose overboard. You can get cheaper fenders, but why?
9. Bruce Anchors: Stay Put
Bruce's were designed to secure oil rigs in the North Seas. Somebody (a geek, no doubt) appreciated the weird-looking anchor's unreal sticking abilities and created some civilian-sized versions. Devotees of the old reliable CQR plows and Danforths made the switch in droves once they discovered that, unlike their former favorites, the Bruce holds well on short scope, won't come unstuck when the boat swings 180 degrees and is easy to retrieve. Its claw-like, rugged, one-piece design lacks the pivots and potential failure points of other anchors.
When you drop a Bruce, it sets, digs in and holds virtually 100 percent of the time. No prayer rituals, no dead chicken waving and no need for a half-mile of scope. Even a relatively small Bruce works where you'd expect a bigger anchor, particularly all-chain rode. Not convinced, yet? I've got a pile of Danforths for sale — cheap.
10. Morse KE4 Electronic Shift/Throttle Controls: Slick Trick
Ever wished for shift and throttle controls that did exactly what you expected, only without the random stiffness and slack that messes up your otherwise perfect landing? Several companies now offer single-lever, fly-by-wire electronic shift and throttle controls often seen on larger yachts. Morse, which makes many of the mechanical shift and throttle-control systems on today's boats, introduced its version of fly-by-wire with some interesting twists.
Morse's KE4 emphasizes reliability but also incorporates both electrical and mechanical backups, like aircraft. A dedicated battery provides backup power in the event of a problem in the boat's main power supply. Electrical actuators, designed to outlive the normal mechanical systems several times over, are also provided with mechanical cable backups that can be enabled with a turn of a lever. The system's processor alerts the helmsman if there is an electrical or mechanical problem and protects the transmission from high-rpm shifting.
The best part about these cool-looking, precise, effortless controls is that you can retrofit them to almost any boat. They're reliable, the price is right and your docking will improve.