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Swiftly to Port A
Our trip on the New Beneteau Swift Trawler…

Sea Lake Yacht Sales has sponsored the Harvest Moon Regatta for the past 5 years and for this year's event, I thought it would be nice to have a boat down there to be a base from which to welcome the incoming racers and also give some tours and entertain our clients on.

However, one of the key issues was to get the first slip on the long dock that goes out from the pavilion so that we had the ideal spot for visibility from which to work. Given that it's a sailboat regatta, a sailboat would have been nice, but we also wanted to see the start of the race to get pictures and rally on our client's boats as well. Plus we had to be down there before anyone in order to get this ideal slip.

Racing a sailboat down would not insure our desired location at the finish, but a power boat that could exceed a sailboats speed of 8-10 knots would definitely get us down there first. So the decision was made to take a powerboat. I had wanted to test out our new In-Stock Beneteau Swift 42 Trawler offshore anyway. With a top speed of 25 to 28 knots, getting there first was a given.

I had been on the Swift 42 in Annapolis and in Paris in 2003 and I was amazed with how Beneteau could bring from design concept to completion a 42 trawler in less than 18 months time, but here it was. The boat is a "Europa" style, that is the aft deck and salon are on the same level. This gives you a large aft deck and an easy entry into the salon, as well as a large aft deck on the fly bridge. All the staterooms are then forward.

Although I had been on this boat and inspected it from bow to stern several times, the first time I ever drove it out of the slip was the morning of October 21st, 2004, which was the start of the Harvest Moon Race. If I had been on any other boat, I seriously doubt I would have set foot upon a boat I was about to make a nearly 200 mile passage one way on without really running the boat first, but previous experience with other Beneteau sailboat products, which I had done the same thing with, assured me that the boat I was on was better built and better checked out from the factory than most.

In hindsight, to think that we were on the maiden voyage of a new boat that had only 9 hours on it, going 5-10 mile offshore and we're going to do this for about 175 miles didn't hit me until after dark… but by then the boat was so well proven that any concerns we may have had were gone as fast as the 150 miles already behind us. Besides we had another "out of the box boat" out there with us as well, a New Beneteau First 44.7 that had only been commissioned 3 days before.

So off we were out into the bay, cruising at 23 kts turning 3200 RPM's. At 23kts it doesn't take long to get to Redfish Island and I'm thinking, "Maybe this power boat stuff isn't so bad after all." Don't get me wrong I still love my sailing, but this was fun passing all the boats on the way to the start and taking many pictures along the way. An hour later we had to slow down as we're at the jetties and still had over 2 hours to wait for the start of the Harvest Moon Regatta.

My first impressions so far: This boat is solid and stable. It goes over the big ship wakes in the ship channel like nothing. It's very obvious that its deep V hull design was designed for the rough waters in Europe. Waters that we seldom have here in the US.

So we slow down to about 10 kts, hang the right after the south jetty and head for the flagship pier and the start of the race. The visibility from the fly bridge is incredible and now that we're truly offshore we can see what this boat will do.

We took a lot of photos, (all of which are on our website, www.sealakeyachts.com) and we watched about 4 of the starts. By 2:40 the decision was made to get on the road and get down there. So we headed the bow south put in the Freeport whistle buoy waypoint into the chart plotter, hit the autopilot and took off. Suddenly sailboats were flying past us like they were standing still as we accelerated up to a nice 18 knots cruise at about 2800 RPM's. In 30 minutes, we were ahead of all the boats that had started, and in less than 3 hours we were past the Freeport Buoy.

Conditions from Galveston to Freeport: Wind somewhat light 10-15 from the south to southeast. 2-3' Seas coming off the port bow quarter.

New impressions after running the boat after 3 hours:
This boat appears that if can go through anything! We have been running now for 2.5 hours and Freeport is coming up on the starboard side-quickly. We have made several inspections of the interior and everything is solid. The ride in the salon is actually very comfortable as you are reducing your height off the boat and consequently reducing any pitching motion. The aft deck is pure pleasure. At 18-20 kts into these 2-3 seas you could set a soda can down on the aft deck and it would just stay there.

We pass Freeport in a blur and now making the 5 degree turn to starboard we were lined up with the #6 buoy at the Port A jetties just inside of which is the end of the race.
The decision is made to try driving from the inside. After all we are staring into the late afternoon sun, and we have a lower helm with air conditioning as the gen-set has been running all this time, and a sun visor over the lower helm, which knocks a lot of the sun down. A quick slow down to idle speed and a run down below and we're off again like a rocket back up to 18-20 kts.

Now this isn't too bad, we're down below clipping along offshore in a boat at 18-20kts, eating sandwiches, and enjoying the a/c. Its a few steps back to the aft deck if you want some fresh air and the chart plotter is showing that we should be in Port A by midnight. Midnight, that's in the same day that we left! Maybe this powerboat thing is a good thing! Especially when we realize that this boat likes to run at 22 kts offshore just as well as it does at 18 knots and that by doing so, we're starting to trim down our ETA by over an hour. Gee, why did we not do that in the beginning?

We drove from down below until total darkness, around 7:30 pm or so when we could not physically see anything else on the horizon. The combo RL80 radar/chart plotter has been running the whole time and the radar will pick up most larger objects, but past experience tells me that if we want to maintain this speed, it's best to have a couple of eyes on the fly bridge where the visibility is better. So we slow back down to idle speed, run up the steps to the fly bridge and in a few minutes, we are back up to 3-3200 RPM and running 20-22kts.

Why is it when the sun goes down, the seas and wind builds? I've done this trip a dozen times and it's true of just about any trip to Port A. The wind just blows harder down there and the closer you get the harder it blows, which in turn also builds up the seas. We had been running down below for so long in comfort, that until we slowed down to go back up to the fly bridge, we hadn't noticed is was now blowing a steady 15-18 kts and the seas had built up to at least 4-5'.

I have to pay credit to where credit is due. Sea Lake is blessed with a Service Dept that is second to none and it's only by their extremely hard work the week before that this boat was truly ready. All the little nuances of a new boat were remedied very quickly by the service dept taking the boat out and making sure everything worked. My colleague, Doug Hughes, and I equipped the boat with the essential gear we knew we needed and the service dept took care of the rest. However, the only piece of gear that I wish I had put on the boat prior to leaving was a windshield from the upper bimini to the windscreen, which is pretty common on most fly bridge boats. Pushing thru 4-5' seas at 20-22kts will put spray on the fly bridge of any boat no matter what size. Of course the visibility from the fly bridge was great, but we were, no doubt, going to get a bit wet if we wanted to continue at this speed, which we did.

We passed the Port O'Conner jetties about 7pm. We had thought initially about going in there and running down the ditch, but we were now running the boat at 20-22kts solid and the GPS said we could make landfall now before 11pm. So we thought what's three more hours to get down there tonight? Let's keep going! This is a blast!!!

Sailing along at 7-8 knots, most folks are scared enough at hitting something offshore at night with all those "unlit" rigs that are there, but I can say that after you get over the initial thought of it, running offshore in the dark at 20-22 kts is no different than running in the day time. We had the radar running to find the big objects and we had 3 sets of eyes just looking for anything else.

Conditions passing Port O'Conner: The Wind is now a steady 18-20 kts and the seas were 6-8' although in the dark they did not feel that big, but discussions later with some of the sailors who came in gave the same confirmations.

Impressions after 5 hours of running and the last 90 minutes or so in the higher winds and waves: This boat is unreal! We're not going over the waves, we're going through them if need be. The ride although a bit rough from up top, is very nice the few times we have slowed down to 10-15 kts. At one of those times Doug has retired to the aft deck as he is also checking the Capt Software we are running on the laptop below. My long time sailing friend John Brown and I are up on the fly bridge just wondering how much will this boat take? The impression is as much as we want to throw at it.

The only failure we have had is the GPS is losing its signal periodically which we believe is either a loose connection or from the seas we are driving through. Of course one piece of electronics doesn't like it if the other stuff isn't working so now the LCD display on the Autopilot on the fly bridge is also starting to fade in and out like it's shutting off and on, but in fact its still working. The only other thing we have had is the throttles tend to back down on the RPM a bit at this speed. I simple adjustment on the inside linkage should take care of that. Everything down below including the laptop, which is just sitting on the galley sink counter, is fine.

We slowed for a break about 10 pm to make sure nothing is broken down below and that Doug is still with us as we have not seen him in an hour or so. He could tell that we were throttling the engines up and down due to the RPM's dropping from time to time from the throttle linkage. Doug said that the throttle changes were good, as he knew we were still up there. He said he had visions of both John and I falling off the boat and he was sitting on the back deck with the pilot running the boat at 22kts heading for Port A.

After confirming that we are all indeed still alive and on board, the GPS is showing that we are 9.7 miles from the Port A jetties. At 18 knots that's about a 40 minute ETA in these seas, at 20 kts it's about 30 minutes but at 22-23 kts, hey, we'll be there in 20 minutes, so off we go!

At night going 20 kts offshore already feels fast. Going 22 kts feels more like you're going 1000 mph. Some of the biggest waves and swells we hit were on this last 20-minute run. Some of them were self inflicted as we just running much faster than we needed to be going. However, at no time did the boat feel unsafe, squirrelly, pound heavily or get rolled by a big swell. Plus for the last hour or so I had been driving without the pilot as we didn't trust the display was functioning properly that we could turn it off if we needed to.

At about 10:30 pm we were at the #6 Port A buoy, we throttle back, turned to starboard and were surfing in what now appeared to be closer to 6-8' swells. Downwind you could really get a feel for the size. None of us could believe that we were actually driving through waves this large.

The finish line for the harvest moon race is the pier that is adjacent to the Channelview Condos, which sticks out into the jetty area. When you finish the race and hit the pier, you're supposed to call the race committee and report when you have crossed the finish line. As a joke Doug called the Race Committee to tell them the Sea Lake Yacht Sales Beneteau 42 Swift Trawler had finished and wanted to report a start time of 2:40 and a finish time of 10:40. You have to understand that the race committee is one of the hardest working groups and they make the Harvest Moon Regatta happen. I didn't expect they would be standing by at 10:40 pm as the race record is more like at 1-2am then next morning, but they came back with a resounding, "Come back on that again"!?! Surely they thought for a minute they had a new race record on their hands. When we explained we were the Beneteau Swift 42 Trawler, from Sea Lake, they said, "OK, Mr. Power boater, welcome to Port A.!"

So from the start of the race at the Flagship Pier in Galveston to the Port A jetties is about 150 miles, and we had made it roughly from the start to the finish line in exactly 8 hours, cruising in to the winds and the seas! That was an average speed of just under 19 knots.

We did get the first slip where we wanted and by 8am the next morning a few boats starting arriving. It was also nice to see that our closest rafting neighbors were 3 Beneteau 473's that we had sold. All three reported the trip down was fabulous and their boats were very comfortable. Everyone was amazed that when we told them we got in at 10:40 the night before.

Upon leaving early Sunday morning we stopped at the fuel dock and we filled 230 gallons into the boat. The tanks were full when we left Watergate and we estimated that we had probably logged closer to 200 miles by the time we drove to Galveston, went offshore, circled around watching the start etc. The gen-set was also running the whole time. So in essence we burned about a little over a gallon a mile, but that was at a pretty good clip of speed into the wind and waves.

A previously heavily documented trip on the factory demo boat that we had back in Jan of 04 that was delivered from Kemah back to Miami reported about the same efficiency.
Obviously if we had slowed down some, the consumption would have gone down and the range would have gone up. If we had not been on a schedule to get there, that would have been easy to do, but I'll have to admit it was nice to be down there that evening. 12 hours from the time we left the dock to tying up on Port A was remarkable. Especially considering that it's a four-hour drive in a car and that's if the ferry to the island is running fast.

The trip back was just as uneventful, we left at 9am, from the fuel dock in Port A, by 10 am we had passed just about everyone who had left earlier. We decided to get out of the sun and drove all the way home via the inside helm. The seas were still a decent size and the wind was lighter as it was earlier in the morning. Sailors call an offshore, down wind passage a "sleigh ride". Our sleigh ride was the best. We hit the jetties in Galveston at 4pm. 7 hours after we had left with an average speed of just under 22kts. We were tied up at the Sea Lake dock at Watergate by 5:30pm and at home in time for dinner.

The Conclusion:
The overall impression of the boat by everyone aboard was that this boat is extremely well built. A typical Beneteau, which is designed to be used in the rough offshore waters of Europe. These truly are waters that few areas of the US will ever see. Its' obvious that Beneteau designed the boat with a very nice deep V hull and the boat is capable of running offshore in just about anything you want to go out in. I seriously doubt that many other production boats could have kept up with us or would have stayed together through the pounding we put her through. A thorough investigation of the boat in Port A and then back at the dock once we returned proved that the boat was fine. Nothing moved, nothing fell off the walls, nothing creaked or moaned. Nothing was broke. I can honestly say, this is one of the few powerboats I would have ever ventured on a trip like this and the versatility of the boat to be a long distance trawler or a boat you can get to Galveston in an hour on is second to none.

Kent Little 11-8-04

9.6 hours 12 hours down
left 2:40pm arrive 10:40 pm
Speed 17-20 kts
Topped out at 25 kts
230 gallons

Left 9am 10-24
Arrived 4pm Galv jetties
Average speed 22kts Arrived dock 5:30pm.

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