The Older You Get The Faster You Go

By Tom Neale, 6/24/2010


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The older I get the faster I want to go. The longer I cruise the faster I want to cruise. What’s going on here?

When we first moved aboard full time, back in ’79, we could maybe plug along at around 7 knots if we weren’t being slowed down by something like tide, wind, waves, air in the fuel, nothing in the fuel tank, barnacles on the bottom, crab pots hanging from the rudder, shallow water or a bunch of other things. So we didn’t do 7 knots all the time, even though we went thousands of miles each year. But we’d have to wait sometimes a couple of weeks for a 3 day weather window. It might take us two weeks to reach a favorite area, like the Exumas, when some friends on power boats did in three days. We had fun anyway.

I started out a lot slower than that. I started out at 9 years old in a 12 foot rowboat tied to the shore with a long rope. But I was happy on the end of that rope. I was on my very own boat and I was learning to row. When I learned, my parents let me untie the rope, but I still wasn’t moving very fast—just farther away from the beach. Then a few years later I got a 5 h.p. outboard which made my very best rowing speed seem so slow it was like going backwards. I was a happy camper. Later I got an old 25 h.p. for my then 18 foot flat bottomed skiff yacht and I learned the meaning of planing. That was pure heaven except for the water squirting through the seams when I hit waves. Then I got my first fiberglass boat, an 18 foot Glasspar Seafair Sedan with a 75 h.p. bolted to the stern. The sky was the limit and I was very happy. That boat would go.

Present Chez Nous Making 10 Knots off Ft. Lauderdale
But then came the era of sail and a sharp regression in speed. Mel and I finally got what I’d been wanting for years--a sailboat with cabin, real beds, inside galley and enclosed head. She was our first “Chez Nous.” She was a Tartan 27 with an old Atomic 4 and, except when we had good winds, it was almost like rowing again. But hey, we could live on that boat for a week or more at a time and not get our feet wet unless we wanted to. So I handled the slower speed, happily. Over the years, the gradual increase in the size of my sailboats gave me a little more speed, but even the 47 footer we got in 1979 would only go around 7 knots, unless we had a good wind and were hitching a ride on the Gulf Stream. On one trip north, we had the boost of a strong Stream and we were making better than 12 knots. Smoking!! It put the taste of speed in my mouth again.

When we got our 53 foot motorsailer, which is our “primary residence” these days, we got a little more speed. Then our old Perkins T6-354 bit the dust and we got a new 200 h.p. Yanmar with a new prop. Now, if we push this “Chez Nous” to the limit, we can make 10 knots. That’s 11.508 mph! If we bring her throttle back a bit we can make an easy 9 knots, without being slowed down much by chop or head winds. She boogies. We pass a lot of trawlers. And, of course when there’s wind from the right direction, and also current, we’re even happier.

But we’re feeling that we’d still like to be able to cruiser faster. One reason is to be cool. Yesterday the sun, heat and humidity were reminding me of Dante’s Inferno. We’d completed a trip in “Chez Nous” and come in to the dock. Awaiting me there was a 20 foot Mako with a 150 h.p. Yamaha. Awaiting me there was a boat ride at over 40 knots if I wanted. Awaiting me there was a cool boat ride. Nine knots on “Chez Nous” had not been cool that day.

Present Chez Nous Trucking in the ICW
With our cruising, we’ve moved beyond that old saying: with cruising the fun isn’t getting there, the fun is in the going. I still think that’s true. I like the going. I live for it. But I’m heading for certain places because I like them or because I want to discover them. I do want to get there—in this lifetime. With slower boats we’ve sometimes not been able to get there at all, at least that year, because the wait for a long enough weather window ate up so much time. Also, when I’m out on the water, and a storm’s brewing, I want to be able to get to some place that’s protected, well before the storm hits.

Also, we find it more and more important to be able to plan, at least a little. When you’re going to far destinations, not just out for the weekend, it helps to be able to do that. Sure, the purists say that planning is supposed to be antithetical to cruising, but that’s not always realistic. For example, when you’re going down the east coast in the ICW, you have to plan all the time for bridges. A lot of bridges open on schedules. If you’re not there you don’t get through until the next opening. This may mean that you may not make the next scheduled bridge in time to make it to a safe anchorage or marina before darkness or before that cold front comes howling through. Speed, at least a moderate amount, can make life much easier. If I were going around the world, speed might not be so important to me. I’d know I was probably going to get clobbered anyway. And I sure wouldn’t have to worry about bridges. But I’m not going around the world. So speed, to one degree or another, is relevant.

Tom’s Tips About Getting More Speed

1. You can get more speed by tradeoffs, but be sure you want to give up what you’re trading.

2. Many boats are faster for the size, not just because they have more power, but also because they are lighter. A lighter boat may mean that you can’t carry as much water, cruising stores and fuel. It may also mean that you’re going to be more uncomfortable in seas.

Click Here for More Tips

But there are lots of levels of “going faster.” The fastest boat I’ve been on was a friend’s hydroplane. We got up to around 120 mph. I didn’t get to see much of the scenery, but it was, well--different. I’ve also been on an 80 foot yacht that makes around 40 knots. You don’t hear the sea rushing past the hull on these boats. The sound of the rushing liquid is actually the sound of fuel being sucked out of the tank. And I took a trip from Miami to Key Largo on a 39 foot Outerlimits during which we hit up to around 80 knots. It was great and I had a lot of fun. But as much fun as all these boats were, they’re not exactly what I think of when I think of cruising boats and those speeds aren’t what I’m thinking about. I’m thinking about a boat that could go an inexpensive 8 or 9 knots and also a more expensive 15 or so knots.

But why am I thinking this? Aren’t we supposed to slow down as we get older? Not me. The older I get the less time I have to cruise the places I like to be. I’ve had a good time on each of my boats, and I’m having a great time on my 53 foot 10 knot motorsailer. But if I see the right boat, and if my boat is the right boat for someone else, I might just speed up again. If I don’t, I’ll still have fun on the water. No matter what your boat, that’s not hard to do. It’s especially easy for me. After all, I began boating drifting around on the end of a rope.

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