It’s amazing how high boat and 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 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 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.
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.
Now that I’m thinking about it, Daydream (one of my project boats) 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?