About Tidak Apa
A Sailor Submits to the Inevitable
the transition from sailing to trawling

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  1. Submitting to the Inevitable
  2. Training Wheels
  3. Requirements
  4. Setting Priorities
  5. Crossfooting the Candidates
  6. The Campaigns
  7. Ads and Brokers
  8. Friendly Advice
  9. Final Decision
  10. Sea Trials
  11. Happy Ending

Schucker 440 TIDAK APA


Training Wheels Trawler TINGAL
Jalan Jalan sails away
TIDAK APA astern
At ease on the porch
On the verandah at sundown
Radio & Computer Workstation
Saloon and Helm
Dining for two
Dining for six
New owners take over ...
............ and get away!
More Photos

For a look at her layout click here

Submitting to the Inevitable

Forty-five years of sailing grudgingly ended. The signs piled up: skin cancers, a TIA leaving me with bouts of vertigo, a foot that dragged, missteps at night while working on deck single-handing my 41 foot ketch around the Caribbean. Clearly, to stay on the water, and to continue running the island chain as I do, I had to get off the deck and out of the cockpit. I had to get under cover and into something I couldn't easily fall out of.

Several "millimeter pads" got used up sketching houses to put on my classic clipper, Jalan Jalan. It became clear I'd have to rebuild her. The extreme ugliness of anything I could design for her eclipsed any worry about time and cost. With my heart in my boots, I began to look for a power vessel that could do my blue water passages.

First I needed an education in power. I read books and talked to owners. I found that sail and power have many differences, most of which seem driven by demands of the market rather than those of the sea. They also often differ in terminology. For instance, power boaters call a shoe a skeg. I still don’t know what the motor crowd call what a sailor calls a skeg. When I describe one, I get dumbstruck stares. I learned that power boats, motor yachts and trawlers differed in their owners’ perspectives even more than did sloops and catamarans. Incredibly, power people called those sheltered back porches that I much admired, cockpits, even though one couldn’t steer from them nor get wet in them. I had a lot to learn, but as one confirmed trawlerman told me, "It's like riding a bicycle."

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Training Wheels

I invested in a fixer-upper from the British Virgins charter fleet. She would give us a home in the event Jalan Jalan sold in the Caribbean, and she would let us cruise the States looking for a more elegant solution. Since Jalan Jalan means "aimlessly wandering", I named this sundeck trawler, Tingal, Malay for "I'm staying put". The first time I drove my training Tingal in a tight marina I found with panic that motorboats don't turn without power. I found myself inches from tee-boning a megayacht, probably owned by a lawyer. It didn't occur to me at all naturally to do what one must: apply full revs right at the guy with full helm on. Most power boats turn by throwing propwash over the bitty thrust deflectors they call rudders, while sailboats maneuver on the rudder's slipstream, even while reducing way. Though a single screw, she was not a full displacement. To get speed from the power of her 6-cylinder engine her designers gave her a semi vee entrance and a hard chined dead rise configuration aft. This subtracted from the hull’s downwind tracking ability, but she rolled less than my full displacement sailboat. The ride was nonetheless rougher. I learned why they call full displacement hulls "sea kindly" the first time I experienced Tingal's snappy chined roll in seas. Her additional speed, however, permitted a wider range of motoring tactics to control the tossing.

On the delivery of Tingal I was alone. Running downwind in strong trades on the south coast of Puerto Rico, I paced along with 8 to 10 foot cresting waves. This would have been exhiliarating stuff with my sailboat, but my eyes never left the RPM gauge. For the first time in my life there was no sail to bail me out of my usual gross misjudgements while motoring. Reefs close abeam had never concerned me while running before the wind. I could always head her up a bit and reach on out of there under sail at the first contrary heave of a ground swell. Now I stayed two miles offshore. All I had was that Perkins between me and destruction on the reef, an end not unlike that of an carrot's in a juicer. I began to think I was nuts to leave sail.

After a few hours of those conditions a sense of relative normalcy came over me. One eye still on the RPM, I speculated on performance tests I could make. I decided the circumstances were excellent to see what her point of instabilty might be. I'd heard that was a problem with chined boats, and Jalan Jalan hadn't appeared to have any critical angle at all in the same conditions.

I zig-zagged her down the waves, monstrous for a Sunday picnic sail, but normal for fresh trades in the Caribbean. I steadily increased the angle between zig and zag, having a great time, and glad my wife wasn't with me. Tingal gave a nice progression of roll which, if drawn as a curve representing max roll angle versus zig angle on the seas, would have been a gentle function indeed -- clearly not even quadratic, let alone exponential. It turned out to be a chaotic function, and quite nearly discontinuous. At almost beam on to the seas she suddenly went unstable. Real sudden. I found myself looking down through the port door's window at the face of the cresting wave. The wave's crest was closer to the flybridge than the hollow was to the gunnel. She hung there in a freeze frame with the engine screaming to me that the prop was out of the water. I confirmed the rudder was out as well by sawing away at the wheel with no resistance. I must have gunned her to starboard just before the rudder dried out, for she had enough starboard momentum to get some part of her to bite into the sea in the right direction. She righted and damned near repeated the performance on the other side. I now knew my number one requirement: FULL DISPLACEMENT!. I sold Tingal after fixing her up. She made a great Virgins cruising boat, but I had at least a couple thousand miles a year bluewater to do, half of it downwind.

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Vetting Requirements

Having had a career managing complex projects, what more natural thing for me to do than develop a formal Functional Requirements Document? Right? Well, almost. If clear requirements and objectives help corporations and governments to allocate their resources with care, they might lead an aging sailor toward a sensible use of his dwindling purse.

Most of my initial ideas for a new boat came from what I had learned the hard way, messing about on sailboats for half a century. I began to make lists, a shameful activity at first. They were shoved deep in my left pocket where Jalan Jalan couldn't see them. After 55,000 miles, mostly single-handed, she and I talked a lot together. Before long, however, I found myself jumping up in the middle of the night to jot down an idea. The hot items of midnight though, didn't always survive the cool of morning.

Any time I had for reflection, such as sucking a beer in the beach bar, out came the list for mental juggling and revision. When my pocket notes threatened to deteriorate from beer stains and lint, or they became too greasy to write upon, I transferred them to the laptop. Then the week's penciled ideas met the often vetted digital ones, and it caused a new round of shuffling and cutting. In theory, only important and feasible ideas made it back into my pocket in the serious form of a computerized list printed in Times Roman.

Eventually I had a stable list of prioritized requirements. Below the cut line I also had dozens of ideas for a refit. This began to get as exciting as all the times I had changed sailboats in the past. I was full of plans for the future

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1. full displacement sea kindliness, tracking, survivability
2. single screw low, central engine ballast -- anyway, full displacement hulls don't go much faster with more engines
3. sedan superstructure more accommodation, less exposure to sun and wind
4. flat roof, no flybridge a platform for solar panels & wind generators; I've navigated reefs for years while sitting behind two masts in my aft cockpit, and I don't want steering complexities
5. one stateroom forward we only use one bed, and rare guests can camp in the saloon; we live at anchor where the breeze comes through the forehatch, not from aft; a forepeak's compound curves creates poorly usable space.
6. single head avoid double trouble; anyway, only friends come aboard
7. walk-in shower we have a permanent home aboard, not a weekend camper
8. large work station an area I could convert to a comfortable office with a real chair!
9. long range if I've got to burn fuel, let me buy it cheaply once a year in Venezuela
10. all around visibility the best part of sailboat navigation; and anyway, after living half my adult life in a cave, I needeed it!

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Crossfooting the Candidates

A slam dunk on all 10 requirements didn’t seem likely. Candidate vessels would have to be "brought up to spec” by making modifications. But a "fixer upper" would expose the project to time and cost overruns as well as quality risks. I looked for ways to trade off time, labor and quality against 100% requirement fulfillment at purchase. For example, I placed an upper limit of 2 years on any upgrade work. If forced to do a major refit, I based the cost estimates on 3 months in the States working on seaworthiness items, 3 months to drag her to South America for cheap labor, and 18 months work there -- maximum.

I needed to make rational and economic decisions within a sea of confusing choices, with no emotion involved. For this I created a computer spreadsheet template which I could apply to any boat inspected. With this tool I traded off advantages and disadvantages between candidates. With a key stroke I modeled the impact of making wanna-dos into hafta-dos, a neat method of setting value on emotional choices when they arose. Surprisingly, I could quite often generate the value of a particular wanna-do on a particular boat using its spec data (e.g., LOA/LOD, horsepower, tankage, genset watt/gallon, and so on).

I made sure I identified all costs. They fell into the following structure.

Fixed Costs

Cost of commissioning and repairs to bring vessel to standard
Cost of acquisitions for new refit items required
Cost of capital

Risk: cost of possible others which may come up on survey
Recurring Cost: annual maintenance and operation

Cost of commissioning and repairs to bring vessel to standard

Replace or dutchman where rotted
Haulout, scrape, paint
New cushions & carpets
Power distribution system
Revise engines, gauges, telegraphs
Recondition windows/frames
Clean, sand, varnish/paint
Replace corroded fittings
Review and renew all wiring

Cost of acquisitions for new refit items required

Radios: SSB, VHF, AM/FM, antennas
Depthsounders (I always install one in the boat’s forefoot)
Aluminum propane tanks
Genset if required
Fuel transfer/cleaning system
Batteries and charging controls (I like gels)
Solar Panels
Wind generators
Dinghy and outboard (I need a go-fast)
New engine or rebuild
Fixtures and furnishings (especially for work station)

Cost of capital

For each candidate I also included its BUC market value before and after repairs and refit, adjusted for the Caribbean area according to BUC rules. The difference between what the sailboat would fetch and what the trawler would cost I played off against the difference between the apparent market value of the refitted vessel and the final cost estimate on the spreadsheet. This later became a bonus in negotiations, since I could graphically and rationally demonstrate to an owner my potential offer. Negotiations became business as usual rather than emotional haggling.

Cost of possible others (risk)

Overhaul engine/transmission
Windlass replaced
New refrigerator
Renew hydraulics
Hull-deck join, overhead leaks
Blisters on hull

Cost of annual maintenance and operation

Finally, I calculated M&O costs at 3000 miles’ usage for each candidate. This included fuel, oil, haulout, insurance, and of course, the spreadsheetist’s friend, "Other". Note that most of this data can get generated automatically from hull LOA and engine horsepower given for each candidate.

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Marketing Campaigns

Armed with the tools to turn my requirements into a real boat, I sailed for Fort Lauderdale to launch two marketing campaigns, one to sell my ketch, and another to identify and buy the vessel to keep me on the water.

At dock in Ft.Lauderdale I programmed a US Robotics computer modem card to respond from multiple voice mailboxes. Callers responding to my ads could key in whether they wanted to offer me information on a trawler or needed details on my sailboat. “Press 2 if you want to hear about the dinghy and motor. Press 3 if you want an immediate faxback of the yacht’s detail specifications. If you want to send me data on your trawler, press ‘send’ now.” And so on. I even sold the dinghy and motor separately through key 4. This computer tool permitted me to answer inquiries specifically and immediately with faxes, or with letters or phone follow-up later. This simple to set up fax and voice mail system, for only $99, freed me to wander the State during the day surveying candidate trawlers and visiting brokers. In the evenings I processed a full in-basket of faxes and voice messages. I answered all, or scheduled the computer to answer them, by next morning, when I again set out by car. Between visiting brokers and inspecting trawlers, I carted all my belongings off to storage. My sailboat, in show condition, became like a hotel suite, where I lived out of a suitcase always ready to show the boat.

I credit this onboard automated office with the outcome: 3 months after arriving in Florida I walked off Jalan Jalan and walked onto Tidak Apa. A cruiser who started to sell his boat at the same time I did, grabbed my hand. "Congratulations!" he cried as he pumped my hand. "Our boat will move any day. Any number of hot prospects. It's a continuous boatshow aboard!" He moored his boat on the upscale side of the island, where he had a swimming pool, patio bar, barbeque and bikinis. "Your boat is a significant investment, and it needs to be well represented," he had told me, as I'm sure his exclusive listing broker had told him. It took a year to sell.

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Ads and Brokers

Since most American advertisers require copy and payment up to 2 months in advance, these had to be submitted while still in the Caribbean. Contact telephone numbers in the ads could be changed pretty much at the last minute, meaning I didn't have to solve my slip and phone problem until I got to Florida. While in Puerto Rico I produced a full color brochure of Jalan Jalan, and a full spec sheet with picture and layout. I also placed ads under the “Trawler Wanted” category.

I also did a page on the Internet, got lots of hits, but not one serious inquiry. Overall, I found the Internet, as a marketing channel for private sellers, more hype than help. But that was 1996, and the Internet has grown since.

I called upon a raft of yacht brokers, more than half of which required exclusive listings. Already doing my own marketing, I only took open listings under my terms. Nonetheless, all brokers received me as courteously and helpfully as possible, and I gave each a list of my 10 requirements and the color brochure of my sailboat.

Regarding my list of requirements, the need for a single screw became the hardest to explain. Most brokers, even the salty whiskered yar types, saw two engines as security. Several fellows made it clear that only a fool would set to sea with a single motor. When possible, I simply pointed skyward at the biplanes towing banners over the beach, suggesting he notify them they land their ships immediately.

Designers add a second engine for more speed, not necessarily for more reliability. The quest for speed and the acculturated security need for twin screws causes some to place an enormous iron dumbbell of two engines athwartships, a coupled force ballast which insures good roll.

A comfortably lower c.g. of a single midships engine and sea-kindlier speed doesn't sell on the waterway. Some brokers handled only waterway queens which never passed the seabuoy, a legitimate and lucrative market, but not mine.

Twice I got instructed that single-screw, single-stateroom boats did not exist above 35 feet LOA. Amazed at such assertions by professionals in the field, I asked, “What about the Krogen 42 or the Marine Trader 40 Sedan? What about the Lord Nelson Tug? The Schucker 440? The Nordic Tug? A Manatee?” No answer. These guys usually asked, “How much do you want to spend?” before looking at what I wanted.

Most brokers fed parameters like price and hull type into their computers and reeled off a sheaf of multiple listing service spec sheets. At first this looked promising, but after two months I realized these listings commonly represented the wallflowers of the fleet.

Most brokers held new listings close to their chest. They gave a new listing the first months to gather interest and sell without sharing the commission. If they didn't sell in a few months, they threw the listing onto the shared listing service for others to hack at.

Discouraged, I began to include workboats and fixer-uppers in my sweep. Within a week I found myself receiving more relevant spec sheets from owners via my computer fax than brokers could deliver from their computer networks.

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Friendly Advice

Norman Churchill, a dear friend who had preceded me in converting to power after many years cruising under sail, listened to my requirements. He suggested I give a look at the Schucker. Jim Schucker had built a number of the boats in Cape Coral, Florida from 1977 to 1980. Designed as motorsailors, a few left the yard with a flybridge instead of a sailing rig. The Schucker fell on my eye as something Goofy and Clarabelle ought to be driving, it’s stout construction and commodious layout notwithstanding. After decades dinghying out to classically lined sailboats, I couldn't stand the idea of coming home each night to a comic satire. It seemed I had my own acculturated tastes to overcome.

“You need a Schucker,” Norm patiently insisted. I surveyed one that needed work just a week before it sold. Another came on the market and, as quickly, left. When a third Schucker appeared on the market, a 440 motorsailer without its mast, I looked at it for Norm’s sake. It had 400 gallons of fuel, 200 of water and a Perkins 4-236, which at 85 Hp burned only 1.25 gallons an hour at 6 plus knots (or 5 miles per gallon = 2000 nm range). The previous owner had removed the rig and made her a trawler. She had a head and walk-in shower forward which, like some cruising sail designs, aptly solved the problem of the unusable forepeak. She had scads of space for storage around and under the queen bed which lay under a 6¼ square foot hatch for at-anchor ventilation. Flat roofed with wide overhangs, she carried a long keel, 18 inches wide and flat on the bottom. A huge bronze shoe (skeg?) kept lines out of the prop.

An added bonus, her barn door rudder could turn her while making way without power.

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Final Decision

A buyer made a date certain to take Jalan Jalan. My trawler education nearly complete, and the sailboat all but sold, doubts began to nibble. What if I had to move to an apartment, spending my boat capital like a farmer eating his seed corn? Homeless shelters and employment offices which I had not before noticed now seemed placed about town with undue prominence.

While in the bilges seriously surveying a Marine Trader 40 Sedan, comparisons with Goofy and Clarabelle's boat kept tugging at me. On my back and upside down, I was in the heat and excitement of penciling the refit of the MT40 onto my pocket list. She had a long list of trade offs and refits, which I happily anticipated. I ticked off each one of my original requirements under the flashlight's beam. The MT40 I was all excited about met 70%. The Goofy boat met each requirement 100%. No emotions involved, I told myself. Either the list was frivolous or I was. Which was it?

I couldn't get to the bank fast enough. Afraid this third Schucker would also not last long on the market, I arranged to wire a deposit. Three weeks later I walked off Jalan Jalan and took possession of the Schucker 440, which I named Tidak Apa, my fifth Malayu boat name. Tidak Apa means “it doesn’t matter anymore” and "it doesn't make any difference". And I hoped with all my soul it wouldn’t.

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Sea Trials

I quickly replaced hoses, converted from electric to propane, loaded the roof with wind generators and solar panels, plumbed in fail-soft fuel and lube systems, added a 44 Bruce and a 45 CQR with lots of chain, and sailed for the Bahamas to begin a real cruiser's sea trial. Gizmos and doo-hickeys got taken care of on the passages south.

I used the 1200 mile windward route through the islands with which I had 20 years of experience. It didn’t worry me. I figured a trawler should like to go against sea and wind more than across it, just not too much of either. I know how to find lulls in the trades, but beam seas worried me, so did strong donwnwind trade seas.

Another friend, who had already made the switch from sail to power, got only as far as the Dominican Republic before turning back to fit on flopper stoppers. I did not want the expense and bother of gantried paravanes. A tangle of cables and spars would only complicate the basic job of learning motor boating at sea. If they became necessary, they’d come later. For the nonce, I intended to substitute their cost and nuisance with more careful navigation planning.

As it turned out, I successfully avoided beam seas all the way down islands and back by simply following the advice in my book, Passages South, and doing what I did with my sailboats: wait for favorable conditions. From Florida to Tortola I had nothing but kindly seas under three feet. As for seas astern, my concerns evaporated the day I turned downwind. With each wave Tidak Apa’s egg shaped stern lifted as certain and sure as with a hydraulic ram, then settled dead in line with the run of the seas. A real full displacement, long-keeled action.

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Happy Ending

We cruised many times with Tidak Apa to the eastern Caribbean islands, to Cuba, to Puerto Rico and of course to the Dominican Republic where we have a house. I've also done quite a bit of blue water single-handing with her. I’ve found only small differences from cruising under sail. While I tack less than I would have under sail, I nonetheless tack. Many of my trawler colleagues so concentrate on headings and bearings, on getting from point A to point B, that they accept discomfort rather than tack or wear the boat at an angle on the seas. The action of sea, current and wind lies in my bones, and I go for comfort always. Therefore I haven’t found any sort of anti-roll gear necessary. We cruised the Intracoastal Waterway and more than 60 creeks and rivers of the Chessapeake Bay. She’s ideal for either venue, Caribbean or coastal or inland waterway.

After running more than 20,000 miles under her keel, I find myself burning marginally more fuel than I did with my sailboat, and I don’t have to amortize the costs of sail and rigging replacements. We shed no tears in the transition from sail, and had none of the heartbreak I expected in parting with Jalan Jalan, my faithful and beloved partner of 15 adventurous years. She had, after all, written the top ten requirements for me, and Tidak Apa exceeds every one.

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