There's no wheel at the helm. No steering wheel. No gauges,either. Just four big computer screens and three small controls. This is what the NASA guys call a 'glass helm.' You'll find it, I'm told, on the space shuttles and lately on megayachts. But this is the first cruising boat under 50 feet long I've seen rigged with such high-tech controls, and if you think about it for a minute, it makes sense. Most of the time spent long-distance cruising is running under auto-helm which when it's working properly, does a better job than most helmsmen on long runs.
On this boat, when you're steering manually, you're using the throttle controls for the twin 71-hp Westerbekes, a bow-thruster switch, and a three-inch-long 'tiller' mounted to the right on an uncluttered dash. While maneuvering a 47-foot-long, 70,000-pound displacement trawler with that itty-bitty thing seems counter-intuitive, it really works terrifically well, and it doesn't take any time at all to get the hang of it. And if it all goes haywire, there's an emergency wheel you can quickly attach to a spline in the middle of the dash.
The four glass-faced flat screens display all the navigational information you need. Three are linked to a PC under the dash, and the fourth is a slave to the PC in the owner's stateroom office below. The starboard-most screen displays propulsion motor and genset rpm, oil pressure, water temperature and other engine data in the form of stylized analog gauges. The two amidship screens in front of the helm chair display Nobeltec radar and gps/chartplotter, and the port side screen displays the WxWorx satellite weather service and will also soon show the rearview image from an aft-facing video camera.
The new owner is Brooke Williams, recently retired from the insurance business. His wife Dee is a doctor who is just about to retire. 'It's been our long-term goal to retire, divest ourselves, move aboard a boat and head south,' he said. 'Other trawler manufacturers seemed to be spending a lot of time, energy and money designing ways to offset their rolypoly hulls. We were actually looking at power catamarans when we saw a Mirage 37 at the Newport boat show last year, and we were very impressed.'
Mirage basically extended the Great Harbour 37 hull 10 feet to produce this boat, providing interior volume for a great liveaboard cruising arrangement. The interior features deeply varnished mahogany cabinetry offsetting white plastic paneling grooved to look like bead board, and veneer teak and holly soles throughout.
The pilothouse has three big, square windshields, opening side ports, and sturdy doors on either side to reach the side decks or check the view aft. The view over the high bluff bows, across the Portuguese bridge, is quite good. The comfortable L-shape settee has a big, adjustable table that converts to a double berth.
Aft of the pilothouse on the same raised level is a 'watch cabin,' perhaps the nicest cabin in the boat, with a queen-size berth surrounded by windows, an attractive built-in mahogany bureau, and a day head with a VacuFlush toilet and a marble-topped vanity.
Take six steps down the companionway to the main saloon, with three comfortable settees facing in a U-shape configuration surrounding a cocktail table and a mahogany entertainment center running along the opposite side. A door leads to the afterdeck which is an inviting space a full six feet long and protected by a waist-high bulwark. One gate allows access for starboard side boarding; another leads to the wide swim platform with its sturdy fold-down boarding ladder. Two more steps down lead forward to the eat-in galley. The dinette features a large mahogany-trimmed table with facing bench seats. The spacious galley features a Corian countertop, round opening portlights, a big double molded sink, flush-top stove, a convection/microwave oven mounted in the cabinet above, a full-size side-by-side refrigerator/freezer, and lots of storage in those pretty mahogany cabinets and cupboards. Extra storage is available in a cavernous compartment underneath the galley sole. There's even a small dishwasher mounted behind one of the cabinet doors. A freezer hides in a locker in the bulkhead along the passageway.
A door leading off the passageway leads into a sort of utility room, which serves as a vestibule for the engine room. Full-size front-loading washer and dryer units are mounted underneath a five-foot-long workbench. The circuit breaker panels are arrayed on the forward bulkhead, above the workbench, and the aft bulkhead is conveniently arrayed with all the fuel filters, battery switches, and engine monitors which serve as backups to the monitor displays on the helm.
The engine room is down a step behind a mahogany door, which, if I were to make any suggestions, would be made of something more soundproof. There's about four feet of headroom down there, but plenty of lateral room to service the engines and stow spare parts and maintenance gear.
Farther forward along the passageway, on the starboard side, the large head compartment features a mahogany vanity with an expansive Corian countertop, a molded sink, and plenty of drawers. There's also a VacuFlush toilet and a big shower stall.
The master stateroom features a queen-size island berth with storage underneath, hanging lockers and drawers in a sort of built-in armoire on either side, with even more hanging lockers and cabinets toward the aft end, along with a handy office area with an L-shape desk with cabinets above and drawers and cupboards below. To give a sense of scale, this cabin is 12 feet long, the full beam wide, and there's more than seven feet of headroom.
The side decks are protected overhead by overhangs from the cabin top, and waist-high bulwarks. A gate leads through the forward bulwark forming the Portuguese bridge to the foredeck, with its sturdy bow rail. The bow pulpit accommodates two large Danforth anchors with a deep chain locker. Walking aft along the side decks, you'll find room on the upper aft deck for both a good-size RIB tender and a Bauer 12 daysailer, both easily launchable with the aid of a boom. There are racks for two kayaks on the cabin top. 'The mast hinges down for a clearance of about 18 feet, which would allow us to avoid about half the bridges on the ICW,' Brooke noted.
The solid fiberglass full-displacement hull has firm bilges for stability, a fine entry and rockered bottom for efficient operation. The props, shafts and rudders are protected by load-bearing skegs.
We slipped out of Back Creek into the placid mouth of the Severn River and headed out to the Chesapeake Bay. The little tiller worked well and the helm proved quite responsive as we threaded through the crab pot buoys off of Tolley Point. Running out in the open toward Thomas Point Light, where the tide chart on one of the center screens noted that the tide had just that moment turned slack, we found we were making 8.1 knots at 2300 rpm and 8.9 knots at 3000 rpm. On the way back, of course, we just let the auto-helm take us.