The Birth of Ocean Watch
Before the Around the Americas crew set sail, a liveaboard cruising boat was transformed into their expedition-style workboat. "Hands-On Sailor" from our April 2010 issue
On the delivery from Mexico to Seattle in the spring of 2008, it quickly became apparent that the 64-foot steel yacht that had spent the previous decade as a liveaboard cruiser on the Golfo de California was going to need a serious refit before it would be able to commence a 25,000-nautical-mile voyage Around the Americas (www.aroundtheamericas.org) via the Northwest Passage and Cape Horn.
Skipper Mark Schrader and first mate Dave Logan were sure they'd discovered a strong platform for the journey, but they also knew that almost all of the systems, plumbing, wiring, and electronics-as well as the auxiliary engine and generator-were in need of an upgrade or replacement. The goal wasn't to turn Danzante III into a better all-around cruising boat but to transform the yacht into a sturdy, expedition-style workboat called Ocean Watch that would perform well in high-latitude, ice-strewn waters.
Mate Logan served as project manager for the refit, ably assisted by Schrader, foreman Paul LaRussa, and boat captain Andy Gregory. The work was conducted at the Seaview East Boatyard in Ballard, a neighborhood in the northwest part of Seattle where the project received support and assistance from a host of Ballard tradesmen and craftsmen, many of whom generously donated their time and materials. In fact, the crew came to see Ocean Watch as "the boat that Ballard built." The philosophy behind the project was to employ sustainable resources and to source products from American companies, particularly local vendors, whenever possible.
The refit team learned several lessons that would be useful for any cruiser overhauling an older boat for extensive voyaging, particularly to the higher latitudes. First, inspect or replace everything beforehand. Second, strive to build in redundant systems while keeping them as simple as possible. And lastly, remember that you'll have to repair everything yourself in the middle of nowhere and that harsh, extreme climates will inflict quicker and greater damage and wear and tear. Be prepared.
With the Ocean Watch refit, the single biggest job was repowering the boat and replacing the auxiliary engine. A new Lugger Marine 135-horsepower engine took the place of the old diesel, and a new 12.5-kilowatt Northern Lights generator was installed to help power and charge Ocean Watch's banks of computers, scientific instruments, and batteries.
Based on a John Deere tractor engine, the continuous-duty, fully electronic Lugger constantly meters the fuel, exhaust, and cooling and adjusts each accordingly for optimal fuel economy and efficiency. Luggers are a staple of the Ballard fishing fleet, where they're considered the absolute Cadillac of working engines. The term "constant or continuous duty" means that the engine can run all day, every day, at 135 horsepower, though in practice, the engine is employed at roughly 45 percent to 50 percent of its capacity. That means the engine can be operated at lower rpm than a normal sailboat auxiliary, which translates to better fuel economy over the long haul. In the Arctic, the engine was regularly run at 1,300 to 1,400 rpm, producing speeds of 7 to 8 knots.
For optimal performance, the engine must work in tandem with the propeller, and Ocean Watch carries two. In the Arctic, the crew utilized a 24- by 19-inch three-bladed fixed prop; once free of the ice, they switched to a 24- by 20-inch Max-Prop feathering prop.
Both the new engine and genset were larger than the previous units, requiring both a bit of minor surgery on the engine room before installation and the fabrication of a few special tools, such as angle-iron skidways and overhead gantries, to set the power plants in place. Related gear also had to be upsized to accommodate them, including a circuitous exhaust system that took two weeks to engineer and install. Simultaneously, the five fuel tanks were polished and new engine mounts were fabricated.