It’s amazing how high fuel
prices foster ingenuity, especially where fuel economy is concerned.
Take that title, above, for example. What the heck is strawlering
anyway? An innovative solution to high fuel prices? A cheaper
way to go boating? Complete clap-trap?
Strawlering is the conversion of a sailboat into a power boat,
a strawler. Sound crazy? Well maybe it is but there are a small
but growing number of folks attempting it. Don’t even go
here unless you are handy with tools and somewhat fearless.
What’s the advantage? Sailboat hulls are easily driven with
low horsepower requirements. As such, they usually get better
fuel economy than their more powerful brothers. So, is there a
strawler in your future? Probably not. All the ones that I have
seen are the work of individuals and have varying degrees of success.
I visited one successful example at the Chesapeake City Dock recently.
The boat, M/V Winnie the Pooh, started life as a Heritage West
Indies 46 Ketch. Mark, the owner/converter, bought the boat as
hurricane salvage and carted it to his home in Florida. After
4.5 years, $50K and about 9,000 hours of work, Mark has a brand
new trawler with a 20-year-old hull.
||Mark and Joyce aboard their converted sailboat
=> Trawler, M/V Winnie the Pooh
Mark gutted the center cockpit sailboat and installed new wiring,
new plumbing, a new engine and drive train and built a pilot house
over the center cockpit. He reasoned that sailboats of the size
he was interested in were too hard for him and his partner to
sail. New trawlers in the 40-45 foot range were way too expensive
for Mark’s budget.
Having completed the conversion and cruising the boat seasonally
for several years, Mark is totally satisfied. When I met up with
him in Chesapeake City, he was on his annual cruise away from
the hot Florida summer weather. A true cruiser, he wasn’t
sure how far north he was going or where exactly he was headed.
||Nor’easter caught up with Mark and Joyce
when they docked at Chesapeake City.
One of the critical design issues in converting a sailboat to
power cruising is the relationship between the height, weight
and steadying forces of the sail and the ballast. In Mark’s
case, he cut down the mainmast and moved it aft to hold a steadying
sail. The mast is pivoted at its base so it can quickly be lowered
for passage under low bridges.
Mark also cut down the keel, reducing the ballast weight to compensate
for losing the majority of the mast. This turned out to be a real
surprise for Mark. Cutting down lead keels to reduce weight of
draft is not uncommon. You fire up your trusty chainsaw and hack
a bit off the bottom.
Mark learned the hard way that this boat was designed with either
a centerboard or fixed shallow draft keel. Both lead keels were
the same, with a slot in the middle. The manufacturer filled the
centerboard slot to add ballast to compensate for the lack of
a center board. Mark assumed they filled the slot with more lead.
Wrong! They filled it with concrete, which Mark’s chainsaw
soon choked on.
Winnie the Pooh is the biggest conversion I’ve come across.
Most have been smaller boats, in the 22 to 26 foot range. Some
have been motorsailers converted to power only use. Others have
been gutted and rebuilt. So, should you rush out and get a new
sailboat to convert? Obviously not. This type of conversion is
best suited to a hull that is on its last legs; in sound condition
but unloved and ready for the chainsaw. Face it, unless you do
a bang-up job on the conversion, you won’t make any money
when you go to sell it. If you do a bad job, you may still have
to chainsaw it. By the way, there is no way you’ll be able
to afford to have somebody do the work for you. If you’ve
got those kind of boat bucks, you can by a new or used trawler.
So does such a conversion make sense? For the vast majority of
boaters, not really. However, there is always that small group
that marches to a different beat. That’s one thing that
makes the boating business and lifestyle so interesting.
||Let’s see, what would happen if I turned
Daydream into a Strawler?
||Our it could look like this...
Now that I’m thinking about it, Daydream is 26 feet long
with a draft of about three feet. I could reinforce the transom
and add a 15 horsepower, 4-stoke outboard, build a pilothouse
and cut down the mast. Hmm, it might work. What do you think?
Freelance Boating Writer
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