By Michael Crabtree

“A ship is safe in harbor but that’s not what ships are for”

– William G.T. Shedd

As I sit looking out the window at yet another snowfall, it’s hard to imagine that in just a few months I will wake up to the gentle rocking of the boat at anchor, with the birds singing, the fresh air, the scent of the pines and a Westie’s cold nose in my ear summoning me to start the day. That all this happens in the confines of my own floating home-away-from-home makes it even better. When it all comes together and you get the elements right, there is nothing in a shore-bound existence that can compare.

I have been boating on Georgian Bay for over 15 years, starting out in a sailboat and eventually graduating to power. Out on the Bay, you will see all manner, size and design of boat. Whether the captain is in a dinghy, runabout or a large fuel-guzzling yacht, you can be assured the one common desire is to be out on the water, rain or shine, enjoying nature… well maybe not the rain.

Covering 15,000 square kilometres, Georgian Bay is a sizable body of water filled with thousands of islands, bays, inlets and rivers that offer some of the most spectacular boating opportunities anywhere in the world. It can also serve up some of the nastiest conditions anywhere in the world. The weather can go from sublime to chaotic within minutes. For all these reasons, the effort spent researching, exploring and choosing a boat is important and definitely time well spent.

There are two schools of thought in boating. The first: get out there to the anchorage as fast as possible to enjoy being at anchor longer (powerboaters are usually grouped into this category). The second: take your time and enjoy the process of getting to the destination; it’s all about the journey (sailboaters are usually lumped into this category).

But there is a collective that transcends these groups – powerboaters who love to make the journey at a gentler pace so they can take in the sights and sounds of the beautiful scenery… without the danger of running aground or missing a navigation mark. In this group, we discover a lovely, traditional-looking boat with going slow inherent to its hull design and limited power. This boat is the trawler.

I grew up sailing dinghies, crewed on racing yachts through college and eventually owned my own sailboat, so I definitely fall into the “enjoy the ride” group. I loved sailing but was with someone that did not enjoy the experience of being heeled over. So when it came time to upsize eight years ago, I made the leap into power. The only powerboat I would consider was a trawler.

I am a bit of a design freak. Classic or modern, it doesn’t matter, as long as there is a synergy of proportion, beautiful lines and colour, followed by form and function. Boats are a wonderful study in aesthetics combined with functional practicality and many have a healthy serving of opulent wow!

“The perfection of a yacht’s beauty is that
nothing should be there for only beauty’s sake.”

John MacGregor

First, the aesthetics. It has always fascinated me that something weighing in at tens or hundreds of tons could appear so light and majestic on the water. There are many boats out there that give you the impression they could take flight at any moment – and they don’t even have to be moving. It’s all about proportion, angle and the sweep of line, everything working together to create a nautical gem.

One designer that has been said to have started the pleasure boat trawler love affair is Arthur DeFever. Arthur spent his early years designing commercial tuna clippers on the west coast of the United States (San Diego to be exact). In the early 1960s, Arthur joined the Offshore Cruising Society. At the time, long-range cruising in private yachts was virtually always done in sailboats. His friends suggested he design a seaworthy cruising powerboat that would have sufficient range to make the long runs up and down the Pacific Coast into Mexico or Alaska.

So Arthur designed several pleasure craft for that organization in the 38- to 54-foot range. These were deep draft, full-displacement, diesel-powered vessels capable of prolonged Pacific passages in comfort and safety. Art’s designs are admired for their traditional lines, sturdy construction, long range, sea-keeping ability and practical layouts – all which combine to make them perfect for extended cruising. Others were quick to follow and several still remain successful trawler manufacturers today.

The search was on for my own trawler and I had a short list of boats I would consider. A few months spent scouring the Internet and I eventually came across a 1973 DeFever Passagemaker 40 called Change of Pace. Very rough around the edges, it had just returned from completing the Great Loop.  After going over it from bow to stern, I (probably alone) realized its potential. I believed it could be restored to its former glory at a fraction of the cost of a newer boat of this style and size.

Change of Pace is typical of older trawlers in this size range – it looks “yachty,” but with styling features reminiscent of stout work boats. She has a beautiful angled cut water and swept prow that literally cascades and curls water away from the boat no matter what the sea conditions. On only a very few occasions have I taken water over the bow, where the splash has been high enough to hit the coach house or flybridge.

She has a semi-displacement hull and a full keel with a draft of four feet, which does not exclude me from any anchorages on Georgian Bay that I would want venture into. That doesn’t mean I don’t have to be mindful of where I am going because the Canadian Shield is not the least bit forgiving to unsuspecting boat keels, hulls and props.

Change of Pace has a raised cabin and a sailboat-like mast (maybe that’s why ex-sailors gravitate to trawlers), which is used to hold such accessories as antennas, radar, sat domes and navigation light. There’s also a boom that can be used for lifting tackle, but is often unused. On Change of Pace I use it for deploying the outboard on to the dinghy and pivoting the dinghy up onto the swim platform. Clearance of the boat with the mast is 24 feet, so bridge clearance heights on inland waterways have to be monitored to avoid unpleasant surprises.

At 28,000 lbs before equipment and provisioning, Change of Pace lumbers along at a comfortable cruising speed of 7 to 9 knots with her single engine. This is actually a step up from the 5 to 6 knots we usually travelled at on our sailboat. The boat has a maximum speed of between 10 and 12 knots, but this puts fuel consumption off the charts. Newer trawlers equipped with more power – whether from single or dual engines – and more contemporary underbody designs can often attain up to and beyond 20 knots.

Change of Pace is equipped with diesel capacity for long-term cruising, 225 gallons a side burning roughly 2 gallons per hour, which gives her a range of about 1,000 nautical miles. She has a beam of 13 feet, 8 inches and interior headroom of 6 feet, 4 inches. I constantly have people mentioning what a pleasant surprise this is compared with other boats of similar lengths.

With a totally teak clad interior, Change of Pace is equipped with two full staterooms, a V-berth and an aft truck cabin – each with their own head, and a shower in the aft head. A full galley with two refrigerators and a combination stove/oven, as well as a large settee that can comfortably seat six, makes for a spacious living accommodation. While doing the restoration, I installed an Espar heating system that keeps the boat nice and toasty in the spring and fall. Also, it has plenty of storage for long-range cruising and/or living aboard.

All of these attributes combine to afford a very high comfort level for travel and the joys of boating in all seasons and weather. Trawlers really are a floating cottage.

This article is featured in the Spring 2014 issue of Boats&Places.