Are you boating in a floating cave?

I recently had the pleasure of spending a few days cruising the lower Chesapeake Bay on a boat built by a friend. The boat is the Suwanee 47 and he has asked me to work on a design for a smaller version. The Suwanee has a beautiful main cabin/deckhouse that is surrounded by big windows. Whether sitting at anchor or cruising along on a cool day, we were treated to glorious views in all directions. The lower Chesapeake and its tributaries are a wondrous cruising ground and I can see why my friend is so enthralled with cruising there.

This experience brought back a feeling I had many years ago when I was working for Carver Boat Company. We would go to boat shows and look at the new boats from our competitors, including their new express cruisers. These boats all have the same problem, you step down a companionway (almost always a head knocker) and enter . . . the cave! If you are lucky, they have given you a couple little elliptical portlights and a dark frosted deck hatch. You aren't exactly left with the feeling of communing with nature, that's for sure.

Recently a new trend has begun to rear its usually ugly head, the cockpit cave! On these boats, also of the express cruiser ilk, the cabins have been pushed well aft under the helm area. The raised helm is a couple steps above the cockpit, blocking the view forward. Then to make matters worse, the stylists have designed a massive radar arch (why do these things so rarely have an actual radar on them?). The arch is so large it blocks most of the view to the sides, leaving the only unobstructed view astern. This wouldn't be so bad if the seats faced aft, but they don't.

One of the greatest parts about boating is being surrounded by nature. Even if your normal boating area is in, shall we say, more urban areas, you may still want to see the goings on of the less enlightened stuck ashore. Then again, they probably can see where they are and where they are going! How will you see that school of fish over the side, the dolphins jumping, or the manatee and her baby? I guess the next step will be to install cameras and tv monitors in the cockpit to broadcast the views you can't see any other way!

Why do these boats get built this way? Because so many of us buy boats at boat shows. We are so worried about how many berths and heads and how fast it goes and the hot and cold folding doors that we forget why we are going boating in the first place. If all we needed was a nice place to stay near the water, it would be far less expensive to rent a hotel room at the beach every weekend than to own a boat. We want more, we want to be out there, not just observing it from a balcony 15 floors above the ground. We want to feel the sea below us, alive with waves, currents and sea life. We want to wake to the sound of geese and ducks, the fisherman going to haul his traps and the waves lapping at the hull.

When you go to buy your next cruiser, don't just think about the boat and all its stuff. Think about why you are boating, why you want to be out there and how you will spend your time at sea. Ask yourself a question before you sign on that bottom line . . . Do I really want to go boating in a cave?

Timm Smith
December 30, 2007