Now this is a fine mess!

An unfortunate sailboat plays dining room for an osprey while he finishes his menhaden lunch.

We have surely mentioned it before, but the Chesapeake Bay is Ground Zero for Ospreys, aka “fish hawks.” They are far more common here than seagulls. Within site of where Harmonie is docked right now there are at least four nesting pairs preparing to raise this seasons chicks on the huge pile of sticks they call “home.” Their screeching cries are the common bird call here.

There are a few unfortunate boats that for one reason or another become a favorite perch for these fish eating machines. Guts, bones, fins, and other smelly debris rain down on deck… Yuck.

Other birds are more broadly welcome visitors. The marina has a large metal “tree” hung with gourds to attract nesting purple martins. Up until yesterday, the birds were conspicuous by their absence. Suddenly, the whole colony arrived at once in a chirping, bug eating, horde. Each pair claiming their own nesting gourd.

Fortunately for the purple martins, this neck of the woods has lots of bugs. Mostly non-biting midges that appear every evening in huge swarms, and a few scattered mosquitoes. On calm, windless evenings, (like last night) the evil, nasty, blood sucking no-see-ums can appear in horrifying numbers.

They look a lot like mosquitos, but are not. Midges swarm the dock lights.
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Compare and Contrast: The Amel 54 vs. the Super Maramu

After our recent delivery of the Amel 54 we have been asked to give our impressions of the differences between the Amel 54 and her older sister, the 53 foot Super Maramu. We were only aboard the Amel 54 for a week, so our impressions are not comprehensive. Also, it is just natural that we would prefer the way we have become accustomed to doing things onboard our Super Maramu, to the point we might look askance on things that are different. Hopefully I have avoided overt prejudice, and gave reasonable rationales for my conclusions.

The Super Maramu was certainly Amel’s most commercially successful design to date. Introduced in 1988 and produced until 2006 well over 400 were made over 18 years. I would guess the gross sales of this model approached half a billion dollars. When Amel 54 was introduced in 2005 as the successor to the Super Maramu it certainly had big shoes to fill. Although it had a shorter production run of 6 years, several people who know the Amel line intimately described it as the best world cruising boat Amel ever built–strong praise indeed.

Right now, an Amel 54 in good nick will run about US$500,000 to $600,000. The prices for a Super Maramu will vary more, since they cover a wide range of ages, but for a well maintained example $230,000 to $350,000 would be a reasonable range to expect.

Both of these boats share the same “DNA.” They have a similar visual design, and incorporate many of the same features that have always made Amel yachts stand out as premium world cruising boats. They share enough features, it would make a very long article to list them, so I will focus on those things that are different. Every evaluation I express is strictly my own opinion, and I am sure there is no one else who would agree with everything I write here. Hopefully, even in disagreement, it is helpful.

At first glance, not a lot distinguishes an Amel 54 from the older Super Maramu.

Rig

Both boats are ketches, and are more similar than different, but there ARE real differences. The largest and most obvious difference on casual examination is that the 54 was designed with an inner forestay that carries a staysail. Some Super Maramus have been modified to carry a staysail, but most of these modifications are weakly implemented. Our experience with using the staysail on the 54 in strong winds is that the boat balances nicely, and it is an improvement for heavy weather sailing.

The Super Maramu was not designed to carry a spinnaker, although it is easily modified so it can. The 54 was built to carry a spinnaker. We didn’t get to use one on our trip. The down wind poles on the 54 are longer and heavier than those on the Super Maramu, although the rigging of them has been well thought out and doesn’t require a lot of man-handling. Both boats can utilize the Amel twin headsail downwind rig.

One of the most significant changes we made to our Super Maramu’s sailing performance was the addition of cockpit control to the mizzen traveler. It means we can adjust the mizzen traveler without having to go out onto the aft deck. We use the mizzen sail a lot more, and get more efficiency out of it. Making such a modification to the 54 would not be impossible, but is more complex since the mizzen traveler is down on the aft deck, not up on the coachroof.

The sail furling gear for the mainsail and mizzen are essentially the same on both boats. The Super Maramu uses an Amel designed furler for the genoa that is robust and reliable. The 54 was built with Bamar fulers for the genoa and staysail that were very problematic, to the point that Bamar offered significant discounts for redesigned units. Different owners addressed this problem in different ways. The success of the alterations will vary from boat to boat.

Deck

The most obvious change in the deck arrangements of these two boats was the change to flush locker hatches on the 54. This is certainly better esthetically, and offers less opportunity for tripping and toe-stubbing for the crew. On the downside, the hatches have a much higher tendency to leak. You win some, you lose some.

Super Maramu #160 on the left, Amel 54 on the right.

The changes in anchor handling from the early Super Maramus to later models and the 54 are significant. The early Super Maramus have a functional anchor handling system, but this is taken several steps up on the Amel 54. Twin windlasses, and a more flexible and robust set of rollers represent a significant upgrade. Unlike the Super Maramu, the chain lockers for the Amel 54 were designed with a removable bottom grate to enable easier cleanout of the inevitable mud that will accumulate. But nothing comes for free. The windlasses of the 54 are further forward to make more room in the bow locker. That means the space available for chain storage is shorter and narrower. While retrieving 100 meters of chain all in one go we had it pile up high enough that it jammed the chainpipe and needed to be manually cleared. This has never happened to us on our Super Maramu

The Super Maramu has twin bow lockers that are relatively shallow in depth, but useful none the less, easily holding spare sails, and other gear. The single bow locker on the 54 is certainly voluminous, but smaller items might get lost in the depths. It’s also a mixed use space with access for some electrical panels and bow thruster. If it is packed with sails and “stuff” access to those systems are compromised.

The Super Maramu has a passeralle that is 100% manual. It is stored on the starboard quarter rail , and put into place on the stern when needed. It doubles as the gunwale mounted boarding ladder. The 54 was equipped with a hydraulic passeralle that is very cool and awesome–when it works. It has a reputation for constant mechanical problems and serious corrosion issues.

Power Train

The engine rooms on these boats are very similar, and are truly one of the great features. Essentially identical, they are fully isolated from the living spaces, they are spacious and easy to work in.

Amel never really found the right engine for the 54. Most of these boats were equipped with the Volvo D3, which has been a source of trouble for many owners. On the Super Maramu both the Volvo and the Yanmar engines have been reliable workhorses. Although as time passes more and more of these have been repowered as the original engines age into third decade of life.

The Super Maramu was equipped with a custom built retractable bow thruster of Amel’s own design. These were designed back when bow thrusters were still unusual on yachts of this size. Robust and powerful, they have been reliable tools–when well cared for. The 54’s bow thruster was built for Amel by Sidepower, and is even more powerful. If the forward locker where the bow thruster lives can be kept dry, it is a great tool.

Interior

The interior design of these boats is where they differ the most. The 54’s hull is a more modern design for a cruising boat. She is much broader in the aft sections than her older sister. This results in a significantly larger interior volume that the designers took excellent advantage of.

The biggest changes are forward and aft. The aft cabin on a 54 is much larger than on a Super Maramu, and the bed changes from one pushed up against the port side, to a full walk around bed. The head has also been reworked with a separate shower stall.

Almost as dramatic are the changes in the forward cabin. Instead of the traditional v-berth, there is a port side pullman cabin, and on the starboard side a pair of bunks. The head was moved to the bow peak.

I think of the changes as a bit of a mixed bag, but mostly better. The aft cabin is a huge improvement in utility and comfort. The heads on the 54 are much nicer at anchor with separate shower stalls, and more amenities, but we found them less advantageous underway. Fewer appropriate handholds and brace points, and a good deal less storage. Not a disaster, certainly, but not as easy to use as those in the Super Maramu while the boat is in a seaway. Since boats spend a much greater percentage of time at anchor or in the marina, this might be a reasonable compromise.

With the 54 Amel moved away from solid wood leeboards for all the berths, and went to lee cloths. Both are well designed and comfortable.

The Nav Station is much improved on the 54. Usable as a desk for routine work on paper or keyboard, where the Super Maramu Nav Station doesn’t work for more than a few minutes at a time.

The 54 is equipped with much larger freezers than the Super Maramu, and they seem better insulated. The 54 galley is set up for a wider four burner stove, instead of the smaller 2 burner model installed on most Super Maramus.

The 54 has many more opening hatches than the Super Maramu, partly because the space it divided up a bit more and more points of air intake are needed, and partly to improve the amount of air flow. Neither boat has any passive ventilation available when underway.

Utility Systems

Here the boats are way more alike than they are different. Most of the utilities are served up in similar ways, sometimes even using exactly the same equipment.

The electrical system on the 54 is beefed up some, but the general philosophy is the same. Amel has moved toward a more modern setup for the electrical distribution in the 54, but still retained some of their unique quirks–for better and worse!

Conclusion

These boats are both very similar and very different. After a week aboard, we decided that we wouldn’t, ourselves, want to trade up to a 54. But we certainly understand why other people would. It’s a bigger boat, within almost the same footprint. It’s newer. Amel redesigned many parts of the boat, with mostly good results, although they swung and missed on a few.

It is a rule that no boat is perfect for everybody–and no boat is perfect for anybody. All boats are compromises. Is the Amel 54 a better set of compromises for you? or the older, cheaper, Super Maramu? Only you will know!

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Back Home Again!

We open our last Florida drawbridge for a while!

We are landed again back aboard Harmonie at Herrington Harbor North in the bustling metropolis of Deal, Maryland. Our delivery of the Amel 54 went smoothly, a few mechanical glitches, but nothing of great import that couldn’t be sorted out.

We had a slower trip north than we did on Harmonie, mainly because we had a couple weather related stops. We were on a bit of a schedule, so we powered on through a couple of light wind spots rather than relax and sail slowly.

I have been teasing Karen about how very quick it was that she switched from fussing about the Florida heat and humidity (it has been a very HOT spring in south Florida) to complaining about how COLD it is here. It has been a very cool spring here in the Chesapeake Bay area. The morning of our arrival it was in the high 30’s. By the end of this week, we are expecting 80’s.

The local marina is pretty much operating normally. They have been launching boats from winter storage pretty much on schedule. Within the last few days, the state of Maryland has officially opened up recreational boating. With that official release, and the warm weather coming up, and the number of people with cabin fever, I am expecting quite the crowds on the water here next weekend!

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Moving Quickly

We ducked into Moorhead City, North Carolina yesterday afternoon to avoid a nasty piece of weather. Today we are running north as fast as we can to avoid the NEXT contrary wind.

Right now we are coming up on Cape Hatteras, and our last ocean leg before we enter the Chesapeake. We have had a few minor mechanical problems, but everything has been managed without issue so far, and nothing surprising from a boat that has sat for several years.

Unusually, we were contacted on the radio by a Coast Guard cutter off Cape Lookout. After asking name, number of people on board, last and next port of call, they asked when the last time we had been boarded by the Coast Guard at sea. Oh, No! Surely in this 20 knot wind and steep chop they weren’t going to ask us to heave to for boarding? Would they? Fortunately not, they wished us a pleasant voyage and continued on. I have heard this series of questions of other vessels, but always they were commercial fishing boats, never recreational craft. I’m guessing they were bored…

We should be in Herrington Harbor early morning Saturday.

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Let’s Do It Again!

Why are we 100 miles of the coast of northeast Florida? We had so much fun last time bringing Harmonie north from Florida, we decided we just had to do it again! Well, this time it is actually “work.” We are delivering an Amel 54 from Florida to the same marina in Maryland where Harmonie is waiting for us. An Amel 54 is a boat that is basically Harmonie’s younger, more sophisticated, sister.

Deliveries are always a bit of a crap shoot. You can never be 100% sure the boat is really ready to go. We had an advantage on this one, because I had spent a fair amount of time on board fixing systems for her new owner, but on a boat that has sat tied to the sales dock for the better part of four years, there will be surprises. We did the best we could checking systems at the dock, but as Captain Ron said, “If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen out there.”

We had some trouble with the engine not developing full power. Several things had already been done to sort this out, with what looked like good success, but when we motored away we still found it an issue. After “a little of this, and a little of that” it seems happy. Except… a day later we find the alternator is only intermittently, and ineffectively, charging the batteries. Bypassing a relay gives us the solution to that problem.

Overall we’re making good time, and so far have had excellent weather.

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Landed…

We have made out landfall in Herrington Harbor Marina in Deal, MD, safe and sound and without complication. We had four days of beautiful, fast downwind sailing, and 14 hours of getting paying the piper while we beat upwind into a full gale. All those things average out.

After nearly 6 months of major and minor projects, it was a bit much to expect absolutely everything on the boat to work perfectly the first time out, but it did–almost! The new turbocharger on the engine, and the new transmission both worked great. We did have a small leak from the rudder shaft, but that’s an easy fix.

We’ll likely be here until traveling becomes more routine. On our trip up here we saw less than a half dozen other non-commercial boats. Out in the ocean we it was hard to judge the relative number of cargo vessels on the move, but once we arrived in the confined space of the Chesapeake Bay it was obvious that commercial traffic was reduced–a lot. Training and ship movements out the Navy in Norfolk seemed to be close to normal levels.

Now, our next step is to turn around in a few days, and do this all again! There is an Amel 54 at the dock in Hollywood, Florida, that needs to come here. As in RIGHT here, just a few slips away from where we are right now. We had expected to be doing this delivery project ourselves, but it turns out that the owners (who are very cool people) are going to be able to come along. Rotating watches with four people instead of two will seem an amazing luxury. Almost like riding on a cruise ship!

Flight scheduling is a challenge, but it looks like it is possible and inexpensive. As with all things in this new and complex world, flexibility is required. It looks like flying will be Friday, and sailing starts Monday.

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On being a FAD

In the deep ocean water around Hawai’i there are a number of buoys anchored. The have no navigation purpose, they are there solely to attract fish. They are referred to as “FADs,” Fish Attracting Devices. In the open ocean anything floating on the surface can quickly become a FAD. Logs, rafts of seaweed, boats…

We had been motoring for a bit, and came across a dramatic current line in the Gulf Stream. The water temperature was 79 degrees on one side, one hundred feet to the northeast it was 76. Lots of weed and small fish. The sonar was crowded with small fish arches from the surface down to 200 feet. Standard fishing advice is to always “fish the edges,” and there wasn’t going to be any better edge out here than this! We stopped, and I got out my jigging rod.

In no time Harmonie’s shadow attracted lots of baby bar jack, bite sized tidbits for anything we’d be interested in. The variety of small fish that accumulate at a place like this is staggering.

A few minutes later a school of a dozen mahi-mahi come cruising down the line. They were active, and feeding, lit up bright green and neon blue. They circled the boat, just drifting there like that we were quite the fishy FAD. I hooked a nice one on my first drop of the jig—and after a great fight, the hook pulled out boat side. By the time we got recombobulated we had lost the temperature break, and the fish.

We headed in closer to shore, and tried some deep jigging without any luck. Toward sunset, the wind picked up again, and we were off.

We will be entering the Chesapeake Bay tomorrow morning. It looks like we be dropping anchor at Norfolk for 24 hours to let a north wind blow out and make our passage up the bay more pleasant.

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