Trawler Dreaming

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Half Hitch

Oct 6, 2019
United States
Ok new here. I am in the process of reading everything I can get my hands on.
I am retired and about to turn 73. My wife is 5 years younger. We are in good physical condition, knock on a wooden boat. My first question is are we to old to cruise? I have owned and been around boats my whole life. I had a 30ft Catalina sail boat and numerous other smaller boats including ski boats. We have been retired 6 years and I still feel that there are life adventures out there. 2nd. question I am thinking that a used 36ft trawler would fit our needs What do cruisers do about the black water holding tank. I know there are pump out stations and services but many of the stories from cruisers that I have read say that they travel sometimes many days without being at a dock or in port. Most of the trawlers I have looked at on line only claim to have a 20 gallon black water holding tank? How is that possible? seems very small.
Next question-How about security when anchored in an out of the way place, tied up to a dock for a night out, or leaving your dingy tied to a dock. I would like to think that all people are honest. Should one carry protection?
Last question this time how noisy are Trawlers when under way while sitting in the cabin? Traveling for hours at a time does this annoying? Thaks for any information.
Our experience is the left coast only. I see you are in the DC area.
1. Our tiny boat has a 9 gallon black water tank. We have filled it after three days on the hook.
2. We have never had a problem with leaving our dinghy tied to a dock. Not to say that it couldn’t happen.
3. We trailer so our boat is in our driveway. We have left it in numerous marinas to go out, dinner, exploring, shopping...never had a theft. We obviously lock the cabin and secure things as best we can. I work in LE, so I know what humans are truly capable of. Again, it could happen.
4. As to protection, I assume you means weapons. I’m a huge 2nd Amendment proponent but it depends on your training, experience, comfort level etc. Also, one must be cognizant of local laws regarding firearms. Canada is very strict, for instance. You also gave to consider where you are cruising and the odds involved. Is a weapon worth the hassle? Maybe yes...maybe no. Do I need a shotgun in Seattle? Nope. But a pistol? Yep. (Seattle is a sh*thole) In contrast, is a small caliber pistol the proper defense in, say, rural Alaska where bears are a concern? Nope.
5. I can’t comment on the noise question, as our boat is outboard powered.
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Half Hitch
Hi and welcome aboard TF.
I'll offer my/our perspective realizing there may be others.
I hope 70s not too old as we are both early 70s. We discuss when we will be at the point of not enjoying or able to go cruising but hope we can keep going for 8-10 yrs. Trips may get shorter but that's OK.
Check my Bacchus website... recently posted info & blog about our 2019 cruise - 64 days and around 1,000 miles and our most adventuresome to date.
If you are in good shape it's more a matter of attitude and picking a boat that matches abilities and limitations. We figured that not having a flybridge could add 10 yrs to our cruising. We met a number of older couples cruising on tug style boats.

Holding tank... ours is 40 gal and we figure about a week for 2 of us with mix of dedicated use @ anchor and some marina/ lock walls w some access to shore RR.
20 gal seems small for 30-40 ft Trawler. Even our prior 28 ft cruiser had a 40 gal tank.
I have locked dingy & outboard in questionable areas when leaving them unattended. If questionable you can do the same at a dingy dock. I do make it a habit to tie bitter end of dock lines aboard to discourage the pranksters and to make casting off EZ... mate can stay aboard and pull lines back to boat for final cast off.
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OK, here goes:

I turn 73 next week. About ten years ago I retired and took off to cruise single handedly while my wife continued to work full time. I know, it sounds unfair, but it worked out for us. The first week or so was kind of tough on my then 62 YO body, but I toughened up and all was fine.

Today, I don't think so. But everyone is different. There are some septuagenarians out there cruising full time and maybe a few octogenarians as well. I guess what got to me and caused me to sell our large trawler last year was working on the engine down in a cramped engine room. Maybe your boat will have more engine room or you hire out the work.

Black water- A 20 gallon holding tank might last a week for a couple with judicious use of flushing water. Most marinas with fuel have pump out stations. If you go to the Bahamas everyone dumps overboard. So make sure your boat has a macerator pump or add one.

Security- In the US I didn't bother to lock my boat or lock the dinghy. When I left the dinghy at the dock while my boat was on a mooring to fly home for a few days, I did lock things up. Just makes sense when there are no lights on board for several days. In the Bahamas when my wife and I cruised together, I would lift the dinghy up out of the water on its davits at night. But otherwise no special security arrangements.

Should one carry protection? I guess that is code for a gun. Absolutely not. You have a better chance of shooting a friend or loved one by mistake than shooting an intruder. Think about Amber Guyger's situation. Also to be legal you will have to register your firearms at any foreign port including the Bahamas.

You will hardly be able to hear the engine on a trawler with a separate pilothouse while cruising at or below hull speed. With a fly bridge you will be able to hear a bit of exhaust noise. Operating the latter from the helm in the main salon will be a bit noisier as the engine is right under your feet. But in no case will normal conversation be affected. Now if you have hundreds of hp and go 15 kts then all bets are off.

Good luck!

Welcome aboard. I hope to still be cruising at your age, currently 66. A 20 gallon holding tank is way too small. We have a 40 gallon and I wish it were larger when cruising but I don’t have any room for a larger tank. We don’t carry guns. When we were looking for our current boat we wanted no tall ladders and no fixed seating. We cruise with our dog and bad backs so no tall ladders. Bad backs so no fixed seating that isn’t comfortable after a couple of hours, recliners are a must for us. When you get serious about a particular boat spend 3 or 4 hours aboard it and see how it fits you, is the seating comfortable for more than a minute? Climb all over it. Imagine how you would use that particular boat. If you don’t love it after 3 hours or so you won’t like it in the long term. But don’t get too attached to it until after the survey...
Consider where you are going to cruise. Many marinas and fuel docks have pump out. Cost is free to Five bucks and we typically tip another five. Check the state dem website it may show where there are pumpouts. We have 25gal holding tank a 5 days is our max before we need to pump. We have found up here in New England this is not an issue.
At your age you are really the best accessor of your abilities. On power boats it isn't strength so much you need as balance and lack of dizziness. If you are good to go in these categories, why wouldn't you be able to cruise?

I live in an area that retirees are attracted to, we aren't a retirement community as such but our average age here is just about the highest in Canada. When I see a bike peloton, the average of the rider is about 70, some lower but some a lot higher. I am use to seeing very physically active people here. On my cul de sac if you are 60 years old, your the kid on the block.

It is actually possible if your cruise frequently, the activity will keep you younger. You will need to brush up on boating skills, learning will be involved, good for the older brain. You will be bouncing around both on your boat and possibly on your dinghy, again good for the older brain (balance) . The social life that you will embrace is definitely healthy for the older person.

Just don't dilly dally about it, go for it or forget it. Don't take years to figure it out.
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I'm in my 70s and lived on or near the water most of my life. You couldn't force me to live in a house. Age limits on the water is all in the mind. I have arthritis mostly from injuries when I was young. It hurts whether I'm on the boat or on land. So I figure I might as well have fun and enjoy life.
The way I avoid the holding tank problem is with Incinolet toilets. No plumbing except for the vent and no issue in no discharge zones. I like them better than a marine toilet. I can run mine from shore, generator, or inverter. Another solution is a marine sanitation device that treats the sewage and legal except everywhere except in no discharge zones. Another solution is to go out to sea and dump your tank - check state laws.
I don't have a problem with security. I have motion sensors that can turn on lights or can sound an alarm. Where there are bears, I rig a couple trip lines. I solve the dingy security by locking my outboard to the dingy and chaining the dingy to a cleat/piling.
My main salon is directly over 2 Detroit Diesels. Engine room has been soundproofed, but you can still hear them. At maximum continuous rpm rating I can hold a normal conversation directly above the engines, and my hearing is poor.
Good advice given.

No fire arms on our boat, and no one I know has them on board.

I am only in my late 50s, but My lower back is beat up, and both shoulders have been operated on due to past sports injuries. I still charge as hard as I can, but have throttled it back and try to be smarter about things from an ergonomics standpoint. The same challenges exist whether on land or on a boat.

Keep doing your due diligence. It may be a good fit for you.
I’m 69, my wife is 70. We cruised the Chesapeake before coming up to NY last summer. We have a Camano 31, and we had a Hunter 30 before that. We’re still able to climb the ladder to the fly bridge and navigate the narrow side decks on the Camano with no problem, but if we were looking now we might look for a pilothouse design. We fill the 15 gallon holding in 3 days when anchored out, but on the Chesapeake we never had a problem finding a pump out. Noise at cruising speed is not an issue in the Camano (in the salon or on the flybridge), but I’ve been on some boats where I think noise is a problem. We never felt threatened, but we did hear stories about dinghies and kayaks being “borrowed” in Annapolis. There are a lot of remote areas where you can anchor on the Chesapeake; we stayed in a few and never had any issues. Nor did we personally have any issues in Annapolis or Solomons or anywhere else on the Bay (or in New York either). We’ve found people on the Chesapeake to be friendly, maybe walk around the docks and ask a few questions when you see boats you like.
I'm in my 60s and happier when I'm cruising. Cruising is a generic term that covers boat travel. How hard or difficult you make it is a personal choice. There's lots of easy protected water cruising that enjoyable, easy, and doesn't require a passage maker to be safe. While cruising the Caribbean may be fun, traveling the AICW to Florida is a wonderful experience and far less arduous most of the time.

I have an 80 gallon black water tank and mostly cruise solo. Can't have to big a holding tank. If you coastal cruise, stopping for groceries, freshwater, doing laundry, and the cooks night out becomes a pattern. For me, I'm stopping every 4 to 7 days. So pumping the holding tank is just one more item on the list.

Regarding security, my dinghy stores on top of the saloon with a crane. Got in the habit of lifting it out of the water most nights. Less can happen to it sitting on the mother ship.

Regarding self protection, always be prepared for adverse conditions. What those conditions are, what you feel you need, and what you are prepared to do, are all personal choices that you have to decide for yourself.

1. is 73 too old? I'm 60, my wife is 63. My mom was an active skier until she was 82; a friend's mom is still very active at 93; and I see Jimmy Carter is still going strong at 95. As others have said, it depends on physical and mental conditioning.

2. 36-foot trawler? We have had a smallish 36-footer for over 20-years (Willard 36 sedan). I say smallish as it has a single stateroom and small saloon, though the aft deck is enormous. We will be leaving in a few months for an open-ended cruise first to PNW, then through Central America, eventually to Florida. Ideally, we would prefer a slightly larger 2-stateroom boat, but after 20-years, Weebles is sort of kin. Coming from a Catalina 30 would seem like a palace. On TF's sister site, I noted with interest a 40-foot Defever tri-cabin trawler for sale in Miami ($50k!!!) where the owner had just completed a 2-year cruise from California, so presumably well equipped and worked well for he and his wife.

3. Holding Tank. Strongly influenced by your intended cruising grounds and personal sensibilities - given the ratio of boats on the water to boats I see at pump-out stations, I suspect overboard dumping is prevalent (and a firm no-no for my wife), so maybe it's less of a concern for some folks. As part of our refit, we are agonizing over this topic. There is a possibility we will do the Great Loop so a huge consideration in NDZ waters. We are strongly considering going with a composting toilet which greatly simplifies the waste system, though does require maintenance of its own (in all fairness, a better descriptor would be 'desiccating toilet'). Seems to be very popular with the sailboat cruisers, not so much with power boats. The other option is a Raritan Marine Elegance with water-saver mode; and a PuraScan waste treatment device into a 35-gallon holding tank.

4. Security. Again, very dependent on cruising grounds, personal sensibilities, and how far you want to take it. While still rare, there have been some very troubling instances of armed piracy in the western Caribbean (Honduras, Nicaragua, etc.) so if Rio Dulce is on your dance card, it's something to think about. Otherwise it's petty/dingy theft. It's a highly personal decision - here is an article on that I found interesting.

Here is another link to incidents of piracy and theft.

Really depends on how you define "cruising." Nothing wrong with staying very local with short trips, others define it as 6000 miles of Great Loop, others define it as a dog-eared passport. How you define it will influence the answers to all of these questions.
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