James Maxey thought he’d cre­ated his perfect boat by fit­ting sta­bilis­ers to his 52ft trawler, but it turns out there was a big­ger twist still to come

Motorboat & Yachting - - Contents - Words & pic­tures James Maxey

James Maxey thought his re­stored 52ft dis­place­ment trawler yacht was the perfect yacht for him, un­til an Aquas­tar Ex­plorer 74 came along and changed ev­ery­thing

Reg­u­lar read­ers may re­mem­ber the ar­ti­cle I wrote last year about re­fit­ting our sturdy Scot­tish trawler yacht Sil­ver Dee for use in the Med (‘Sil­ver Lin­ing’, MBY De­cem­ber 2016). The up­grades made it much bet­ter suited to its new life in the sun but at the end of our first sea­son in An­tibes, our thoughts started to turn to zero-speed sta­bilis­ers.

The Vosper mini fins fit­ted to Sil­ver Dee had served it well since 1976 but rough seas could over­power them and of course, they weren’t zero-speed units. A cou­ple of sleep­less nights at an­chor with our seven-year-old twins on board soon demon­strated to us that un­less we fit­ted zero-speed sta­bilis­ers, we’d have to re­strict our­selves to ma­rina berths even when we’d pre­fer to be at an­chor.

We’d been on other boats in the area fit­ted with Sleip­ner’s curved-fin zero-speed sys­tems and found them to be very ef­fec­tive, so we went straight to Sleip­ner for a quote. Bryn and his team at Sleip­ner UK proved to be ex­tremely friendly, help­ful and knowl­edge­able. We took the plunge and wrote out a cheque for the whole kit to be de­liv­ered to our home in Cheshire so that we could drive down to An­tibes in a con­voy of vans with the team from West Coast Ma­rine at Troon, who had done all the pre­vi­ous re­fit work on Sil­ver Dee.


On ar­rival in An­tibes, the first job was to care­fully take out the old sys­tem so that we could try and re-sell the bits and pieces later, then we set to work on Sil­ver Dee’s un­usual hull. The multi-chine hull was de­signed by Allen Mclach­lan at G L Wat­son as a pro­to­type for the RNLI’S Arun lifeboat, with­out any con­sid­er­a­tion for fu­ture own­ers want­ing to retro­fit curved-fin zero-speed sta­bilis­ers! This in­volved lots of care­ful mea­sur­ing and grind­ing away, both in­side and out­side the hull, and then build­ing it back up to make sure the fins had suf­fi­cient clear­ance.

Once the hy­draulic ac­tu­a­tors were in place, my engi­neer friend Alec glassed in ad­di­tional alu­minium sup­ports for ex­tra strength, as these fins are much big­ger and more pow­er­ful than the pre­vi­ous Vospers. The team then di­vided, with Alec fit­ting the con­trol panel and GPS wiring and my dad Fred tack­ling the wiring for the hy­draulic unit, which is driven both from a power take-off on the port gear­box and an aux­il­iary power pack from the gen­er­a­tor (for the sta­bil­i­sa­tion at rest). West Coast Ma­rine tack­led the fi­bre­glass­ing for the in­stal­la­tion of the fins and the hy­draulic power pack it­self.

Af­ter a week’s con­cen­trated work in the yard, we put Sil­ver Dee back in the wa­ter (it’s a lot cheaper in the Med to be in the wa­ter than in a yard!) and got the ex­cel­lent Hy­draulique Méditer­ranée out to plumb up the hy­draulics. A cou­ple of weeks later, it was time for the first test. The aux­il­iary power pack

came to life but when we turned on the port en­gine and en­gaged the unit, there was the most almighty bang. I shut down the en­gine im­me­di­ately but the dam­age was al­ready done. De­spite a lot of ef­fort from the ex­cel­lent pump sup­pli­ers, How­land, li­ais­ing with PRM, the gear­box man­u­fac­tur­ers, some­thing had been lost in trans­la­tion and we’d fit­ted a pump with the wrong ro­ta­tion. The pump was now a write-off and there was sev­eral litres of hy­draulic oil all over the floor. An­other pump was shipped out and fit­ted within three days – any­body who’s had to ship any­thing to a boat in the south of France will know this is in it­self is a mi­nor mir­a­cle. Gingerly, we turned it all back on – eureka, noth­ing blew up and ev­ery­thing seemed to be work­ing.

We were very lucky that week­end be­cause Ronny Skauen, Sleip­ner’s MD, was stay­ing on an­other boat nearby and agreed to come out for a sea trial. This was of enor­mous as­sis­tance in help­ing us set up the sys­tem and fine-tune it on his lap­top. To say that the sea trial showed a rev­o­lu­tion­ary change with the boat was an un­der­state­ment. It was quite a rolly day and we could feel the fins work­ing im­me­di­ately, but it was only when we turned the fins off that we re­alised just how big the swell was – boy, were we pleased to turn them back on ten sec­onds later!

Over the fol­low­ing weeks, the dra­matic change in the boat’s be­hav­iour un­der­way and es­pe­cially at an­chor, was re­mark­able. Me­gan, one of my young daugh­ters, cheered up enor­mously and peace­ful boat­ing was re­stored for all.


There the story would have ended, were it not for a chance de­ci­sion to take a stroll with my wife (aka the real Cap­tain) past the bro­ker’s of­fice in Port la Napoule last Oc­to­ber. There in the win­dow was a lovely Aquas­tar Ex­plorer 74 with the price re­cently re­duced. One thing led to an­other and be­fore we knew it, the fam­ily sav­ings were be­ing raided once again. By De­cem­ber, we were cruis­ing Sil­ver Echo, our new (to us) Aquas­tar, from Palma to An­tibes. In­evitably the con­ver­sa­tion turned to sta­bilis­ers and I found my­self agree­ing with my engi­neer, Al, that the ex­ist­ing Koop­nau­tic sta­bilis­ers would have to be swapped for Sleip­n­ers in time for the 2017 sea­son.

We’d ini­tially hoped to man­age with the orig­i­nal sta­bilis­ers for the first sea­son but that trip from Palma, even though rel­a­tively calm, high­lighted the dif­fer­ences all too clearly. The 10hp elec­tric bow thruster was also too weedy for Sil­ver Echo’s 69 tonnes, so we asked Sleip­ner if its hy­draulic bow thruster could be in­te­grated to work off the same hy­draulic tank and pump as the fins. It could be done but un­for­tu­nately, the ex­ist­ing bow thruster tun­nel was too nar­row and would have to be re­placed by a 300mm one. We bit the bul­let and agreed to go ahead with both.

While we were at it, I de­cided to fit Lu­mishore’s lat­est un­der­wa­ter lights (partly be­cause the kids in­sisted un­der­wa­ter light­ing wasn’t for me) and to change one of the an­chors for a 55kg spade an­chor with 120m of 12mm chain. All of this meant an­other ma­jor con­voy from Cheshire. We hired a 7½-tonne

The ex­ist­ing Koop­nau­tic sta­bilis­ers would have to go in favour of Sleip­ner’s SPS 66 in time for the 2017 sea­son

lorry with a tail lift and a pal­let truck on board and rented an­other two Tran­sit vans tow­ing trail­ers (one of which di­verted off to Poole to pick up our new ten­der, an Avon mini RIB with a 50hp out­board, sourced by the guys at boats.co.uk).

De­spite be­ing stopped four times by the po­lice to ask what was in the van, our trucks and trail­ers made it safely down to An­tibes. We spent a cou­ple of days afloat, prep­ping for the re­moval of the Koop­nau­tic sys­tem, and then it was off to Chantier Bleumer at Baie des Anges where Philippe Hourez once again helped us out with fork­lift trucks, welders, pol­ish­ers, an­tifoul­ing and an­odes, while the guys from West Coast Ma­rine got stuck into the bow thruster and sta­biliser job.

There were plenty of pumps to move around and this time they were chang­ing the po­si­tion of the fins from the very back of the en­gine­room to a much more ef­fec­tive lo­ca­tion at the front of it. We’d no­ticed en route from Palma that be­ing lo­cated so far aft caused the boat to wan­der about, and even the au­topi­lot strug­gled to hold a steady course. Sleip­ner agreed that the new po­si­tion fur­ther for­ward would be bet­ter, and thanks to the low height of the SPS ac­tu­a­tors (just 260mm), they could be fit­ted un­der the en­gine­room’s floor plates.


Job one was rip­ping out the old bow thruster tun­nel and start­ing the long process of fi­bre­glass­ing in the new one, then grind­ing it down to leave a smooth fin­ish. The West Coast guys were work­ing un­til 9pm ev­ery evening to make sure that the next layer of fi­bre­glass would set overnight ready for progress the fol­low­ing day.

This time we were tack­ling the hy­draulic pipework our­selves, both to save money but also to make sure we got it all done while we were there. Ev­ery­thing about the SPS 66 sys­tem is quite a bit heav­ier than the fins we’d used on Sil­ver Dee. The ac­tu­a­tors are 105kg each, so get­ting those down the stairs and into the en­gine­room was a mam­moth task that in­volved us­ing a block and chain to lower them into po­si­tion. There was enough space in the en­gine­room for the rack-mounted con­trol sys­tem but it was too big to go down in one piece so ev­ery­thing had to be stripped off, and the rack cut in half with a grinder be­fore be­ing welded back to­gether again in situ. For rea­sons of speed and econ­omy, we’d opted for one pump driven by the star­board en­gine gear­box, even though Sleip­ner rec­om­mends fit­ting two for re­dun­dancy.

Lots of other jobs were done dur­ing this time, in­clud­ing rip­ping out four loos and re­plac­ing them with Tecma toi­lets, chang­ing the for­ward black wa­ter tank for new fit­ted Tek-tanks, plus many other smaller jobs, so it was two weeks’ solid work be­fore we were back in the wa­ter and ready for the first sea trial. The au­to­matic bleed cy­cle seemed to work well and the fins were mov­ing across their full range on the berth run­ning off the aux­il­iary power pack. And this time we’d even bought a hy­draulic pump with the right ro­ta­tion!

We set to sea for the first sea trial and the fins just locked over fully to port and wouldn’t move. We could get them to cen­tre up as we turned them off

or fully to port but noth­ing else. There was much scratch­ing of heads and scrolling through screens but we were stuck. Once again, Ronny from Sleip­ner came to the res­cue, tak­ing time out from his holiday to look at the screen­grabs we emailed to him and sur­mis­ing that we hadn’t gone through the setup se­quence prop­erly and needed to start again. He was right and, much to our re­lief, it all worked as promised when we tried it the fol­low­ing day. It was a pretty calm day so it was hard to tell how ef­fec­tive the fins were, but even when we de­lib­er­ately drove through our own wake, we were able to put full wine glasses on the ta­ble and not lose a drop.


A cou­ple of days later we were ready for our shake­down cruise, and what fun it was. We spent our first night at an­chor be­tween the Lérins Is­lands but the sea was so calm we didn’t need to have the sta­bilis­ers on. The next morn­ing it was a lit­tle rol­lier so we switched on the gen­er­a­tor, en­gaged the sta­bilis­ers and en­joyed a re­laxed break­fast be­fore set­ting off for St Tropez. It was still early enough in the sea­son to get a berth just by phon­ing up on the cap­i­tainerie and we spent a lovely evening sit­ting in a wa­ter­side restau­rant over­look­ing the har­bour.

The next day we cruised round to Pam­pelonne Beach then back to a bay near St Tropez, and again the sta­bilis­ers proved their worth. Af­ter an­other memorable night in Port Gri­maud, we cruised back to An­tibes with the wind pick­ing up but the sta­bilis­ers re­duc­ing the mo­tion to near neg­li­gi­ble.

I’m con­vinced there is noth­ing else that you could retro­fit to a mo­tor yacht that would make half as much dif­fer­ence to your en­joy­ment on board as a good set of zero-speed sta­bilis­ers. For us, they mean we don’t have to go back into port ev­ery night for fear of our guests feel­ing sea­sick and can now go more or less where we want, when we want. They have opened up cruis­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for us through­out the Med, as we no longer need flat cruis­ing con­di­tions and a berth wait­ing for us each evening be­cause we can al­ways drop the hook and en­joy a calm night at an­chor. It may have taken two sets of sta­bilis­ers and one new boat to get there, but I’m cer­tain we’ve now got a boat that will last our fam­ily for many happy years to come.

The sta­bilis­ers re­duced the mo­tion to near neg­li­gi­ble when un­der­way and dur­ing our lunch stop

James’s pre­vi­ous 52ft trawler yacht is now for sale at www.so­lent­mo­to­ry­achts.com, com­plete with fins!

On the hard wait­ing for the old Vosper mini fins to be re­moved

The multi-chine hull needed build­ing up to give the new Sleip­ner fins enough clear­ance SIL­VER DEE James’s orig­i­nal 52ft trawler yacht

All pol­ished and prepped ready for the bow thruster pro­pel­ler

Sil­ver Echo is low­ered back in ready for her first sea trial

The new bow thruster tun­nel gets glassed in and built up in lay­ers

Zero speed sta­bilis­ers trans­formed the Maxey’s en­joy­ment of Sil­ver Dee

SIL­VER ECHO James’s new Aquas­tar Ex­plorer 74 Sil­ver Echo is lifted for the new fins and bow thruster to be in­stalled

All the kit was brought from the UK in a con­voy of lor­ries and trail­ers

A larger di­am­e­ter hole had to be cut for the hy­draulic bow thruster

SIL­VER ECHO James’s new Aquas­tar Ex­plorer 74

SIL­VER DEE James’s orig­i­nal 52ft trawler yacht

SIL­VER ECHO James’s new Aquas­tar Ex­plorer 74

Sta­bil­i­sa­tion at rest and un­der­way means the Max­eys can cruise where they want, when they want

Low­er­ing the 105kg fin ac­tu­a­tors into po­si­tion was quite a mission

The new Sleip­ner fins were moved fur­ther for­ward on the hull

Fit­ted, an­tifouled and ready for a new life of peace and calm afloat

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