A Kiwi couple's cruising adventures on America's Great Loop and around the coast of New Zealand

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Why a Silverton 453?

The AGLCA is currently running a survey on the “Perfect Looping Boat” and, while there is no such animal, it got me thinking about why we selected a Silverton 453 and Urban Legend (as she was back then) as our final choice. According to what I have seen and heard stated on various fora (plural of forum) before and since our purchase, many Loopers would consider her far from perfect. According to some, with a bridge clearance of 19’5” she won’t get under THE 19’1” bridge south of Chicago; the deeper draft will inhibit cruising  the more out of the way waterways; she has unprotected running gear so we will endure costly bent propellers and shafts when (not if) we go aground; she is too wide to fit many slips and we will finish up out on the end of some marina’s; and the two 480HP Volvos will suck enough fuel during the trip to cost us the equivalent of New Zealand’s national debt.

Let’s address those issues before we go on to why we settled on the 453: Everything I have read and researched and been told by people that have done it in similar vessels indicates that the 453 will get under THE bridge unmodified. In the event of us all being wrong in this respect, there are a number of possibilities ranging from the simple to the extreme. First is to increase the bridge clearance by taking some of the stuff off the top (anchor light radar etc). If that isn’t enough – make her lower in the water. Fill her up with fuel and water; add some ballast (I’m sure the offer of a keg of beer to 30 local big lads would give us plenty of that); and worst case is sink her a little and pump it out on the other side.
Cruising on the Loop will be so different from any other boating experience we have had that I am convinced we will enjoy every facet the entire journey without having to go up every skinny creek and tributary. I quite like deeper water and will be quite content to stay in it as much as possible. Every boatie runs aground at some time in their career, as I have. I don’t like it and will make every endeavour to avoid doing so and thus avoid damaging our running gear. I figure that following the markers, a bit of common sense and 35 years of boating will help in achieving this.
If we are stuck on the end of a marina because we don’t fit the slips we can either go elsewhere, anchor out somewhere, or just put up with being on the end of the dock. We probably could use the exercise anyway if we want to go ashore.
I believe that two engines will consume little more fuel than one at the kinds of speeds we will be doing on most of the Loop. Diesel in the USA is about one third the price as NZ, so we are already 3 times better off…….and when we have to get up and boogey (or just want to) I want to be able to!!

Cruising on the Loop and seeing that part of the USA in our own boat is what the dream is about for us – a journey, not a destination. Actually completing a Great Loop and “crossing our wake” to qualify for the AGLCA gold burgee (which you have to buy, anyway) is not a major driving force in our decision to do this thing. There is so much to see and do around the US waterways, so many side trips, that you could cruise around for years and still not experience it all. If all else failed and for some weird reason we could not get under THE bridge, I would have no regrets about turning round and going the other way instead. Then, if or when we got back to THE bridge going up the Illinois, we could always say, if we wanted to, that we had completed the Loop except for the width of a road. The cost of fuel, while significant, is only part of the overall cost. What price can you put on an experience like cruising the Loop? If the price of fuel doubled, would we can the whole idea or start looking to trade to a tiny sailboat? Not on your sweet Nellie!

Having got that out of the way – back to “why the Silverton 453?”
Our original (and very modest) requirements stated in the blog posting in May 2011 were for: “Low hours and freshwater use only; twin cabin with ensuite in each, separated by the salon; twin engines for redundancy; stairs – no ladders; and something newer and a bit posh”. All 13 models of boat on my original shopping list fitted these criteria, but what stood the 453 out in the end were these attributes:

  • The Admiral and I are Big folk. We like Big. The 453 is a Big boat.
  • It has a massive interior volume, 6’7” headroom and excellent salon layout with “up” galley where you can see everything that is going on.

  • A guest stateroom and bed that are, by far, the best in the class. In a room that rivals most others master staterooms, it has a walk around island guest bed which makes it easy to “make”. All of the others were in the forepeak and, other than another Silverton (the 43ACMY), to make them up you had to kneel on the bed or the decking beside it. It is also the most comfortable to lie on and I can attest to its comfort to sleep on as well. It goes without saying that the Master bed is just as comfortable.


  • The third stateroom is a bonus, but may come in useful with some visitors who don’t necessarily want to share a bed. Unlike the other models with 3 “staterooms”, it is actually a real bedroom – small, but not a crawlspace.
  • Both ensuites are large and the bath in the master makes for a very large shower. It is big enough that we could both shower in it together (to conserve water, of course). It also has a long seat in case we get tired while showering. We are unlikely to ever use it as a bath.

  • The exterior walkways are wide and the deck access easy from the bridge. There is also a pilothouse door for access to the deck from the salon/galley.

  • There are no more than 4 stairs between levels and a really wide landing board

  • Lots and lots of storage space – including for suitcases.
  • There is plenty of room around the engines to work on them (although how you would ever get them out if you had to is anyone’s guess)

Urban Legend particularly stood out amongst other 453’s because of her age and condition – described by the Surveyor as “Excellent (Bristol) Condition – a vessel that is maintained in mint or Bristol fashion – better than factory new – loaded with extras - a rarity”. I liked the fact that she had, in effect, spent over 5 years of her 8 year life tucked up in heated shed out of the water and weather. To all intents and purposes she is a 3 year old boat.
She has all the extras on our wishlist: Modern electronics, bow thruster, auto oil change system, Low hours (only 221), electronic engine controls, washing machine/drier, completely airconditioned, dinghy and outboard…..
…and also a few that weren’t: Central vac, trash compacter, underwater exhausts, flybridge airconditioning (the only one that had it!), and even the cute wee remote “yachtcontroller” for docking (Italian made, I believe). She also has a hardtop over the flybridge, however all the finalists on the shopping list had this as well. Another bonus was the glassed in (not plastic) aft sundeck and the new plastic clear (Issinglass) screens on the flybridge, courtesy of a wee tornado that had come through the Kenosha marina over summer and shredded a few boats covers.

These attributes are why she became the standard against which all the rest were measured.
The downsides were the 120VAC refrigeration, the undersized ground tackle and the water heater not being connected to the engine - all of which can be fixed with a little time and money.

From time to time since the purchase, a little doubt on the wisdom of our selection creeps in. Another blogger referred to it as “buyers remorse” and I think it is a very apt term. Even though it may be folly to do so, I have continued to look at other boats for sale on yachtworld by way of comparison, but I am pleased to say that I still have not seen anything that changes my opinion of Loopy Kiwi. I suspect that she would still be the Loop boat of choice even if we went through the entire exercise again. I also suspect the main reason for this posting is just to prove that to myself - hopefully nothing I have said in it will come back to haunt me at a later stage.

110 days to go

PS before anyone bombards me with the “news” that the Luhrs Group, which includes Silverton, has stopped production – I couldn’t give a hoot. The 453 was out of production anyway, and it was never one of our criteria that our boat should be a current model, as most of those we looked at weren’t.

Monday, 13 February 2012

And on our way we are….

And what’s more, the countdown has decreased by 2 days for a new departure date of 13th June. This was brought about by discovering that by leaving 2 days earlier and stopping over a night in Los Angeles, we lopped $1000 off the airfare….go figure!! I always prefer to stay in LA on the way through to somewhere else, otherwise it makes for a lot of continuous travel - 20 hours in total to Chicago. The 12 hours across the Pacific to LA is normally enough for me, particularly since all the fights from NZ to the US leave in the evening, you’ve already been awake a whole day before you even get on the plane. It also means we can get a flight from LA  to Chicago the next day that arrives at a realistic hour (4.54pm in our case), instead of the 10.45pm that the flights straight through from New Zealand would have had us arriving at.

Coming home in January, we will be going out of Fort Lauderdale (still the cheapest airport from which to leave Florida) via Houston and spending another night in LA before flying home. According to Indiantown Marina, there is a local guy who runs an “on-call” shuttle service to Ft Lauderdale airport, so that will be handy to get us there after the boat is lifted out at Indiantown.

Yesterday I caught up with Warren and Monica, the couple from Red beach who are planning to do the Loop next year. We had a great chat and compared notes, then they were kind enough to shout lunch at my Marina (thanks guys) which is just down the road. Undoubtedly we will catch up again before our departure (I shall make a point of it!) We also have now our first confirmed booking of visitors. Charlie and Pauline have booked their flights and will arrive in Chicago 3 weeks after us – hopefully we will be prepared for them! I am considering buying a vehicle to trot around in when we get there, as we will need transport for at least a month to provision, pick up guests etc and a rental will cost more than USD1000 – so I’m picking it might be cheaper to buy an old dunger that only has to last a month. Any suggestions or advice on the sense of this will be gratefully received. We also have to find a slip in Milwaukee that allows DIY stuff, so that I can get the boat ready for the Loop. Again anyone reading this that has insight into affordable slip rentals in Milwaukee – please let me know.

120 days to go (Jeez that’s only 4 months!!!)


PS I cheated on the pic of Loopy Kiwi at the top of the blog. It is a pic I took of Urban Legend while she was berthed at Kenosha, and I have massaged it with Microsoft Paint to add the name Loopy Kiwi and NZ rego number. I am getting a quote to have the name "Loopy Kiwi" painted on her while she is in storage, but regrettably, the pic on the blog is not the real thing. My apologies to anyone who was fooled by it (but if you were, I feel good about that too!)

Thursday, 2 February 2012

133 days to go

June 15th seems so far away but, boy, the days are whipping by!!

The preparations continue as does the long distance learning about the boat. Last time I said I pretty well knew how Urban Legend’s Loopy Kiwi’s electrical system works. This was based on information from Silverton and several other 453 owners and appeared to confirm all the 453 AC panels were the same, which didn't make sense to me as the drawing in the manual was different.

 ….. Wrong!

It turns out that Loopy Kiwi's AC panel is quite different from the others and is the only one I've seen that actually conforms to the electrical panel drawing that is in the 453 manual.

Apart from the colour, the layout is completely different to the others BUT is the same as the drawing:

Also, whereas other 453's have a single 240VAC 50A shore power cord that supplies 240V to the airconditioning then splits into two 120V supplies on the AC panel, we actually have two 240VAC 50A shore power cords. Presumably one supplies the 240V airconditioning, the other splits into the two 120V supplies, and I will be able to confirm this when we get back aboard. I suspect its all to do with the fact that Loopy Kiwi has flybridge airconditioning, which adds quite a bit more load to the overall electrical supply. No matter what, there is obviously no room on our AC panel to fit the remote control, switches and wiring for the inverter that I intended to, so I will have to rethink how to go about that when we get there.

I have also ascertained that the water heater is the Atwood EH20 and does have the heat exchanger, so it can be hooked up to one of the engines. However Harborside Yachts (where she is stored) have told me that; “it would be difficult at best because of clearance under the guest bed. The connections are against the bed side walls”. I’m hoping that difficult does not mean impossible but, again, we will have to find that out when we get back there. We are getting the batteries charged and checked out by Harborside, and they are giving us a price to have Loopy Kiwi painted on her, so I have stopped referring to her as Urban Legend.

After emailing and faxing without any reply, I finally rang Indiantown Marina in Florida to see what is involved in their “baby-sitting” Loopy Kiwi while we come home after stage 1. I wanted to make sure this was all viable before committing to air travel return from there. It turns out that there is no problem, it is not their busy time but recommend a month’s notice for a secure booking. They will lift her out and store her in their yard for 3 months until our return in March 2013, then we can shift to their work area, antifoul the bottom and do the running gear with propspeed. In the yard we can only stay on the boat 1 night, but in the work area we can live aboard while doing the work, as there is water and electric available as well as showers etc. We are walking distance from town, and they have an arrangement with Avis Rental cars who will pick you up if you rent one of their cars.

During these investigations, Carolyn and I decided that there was too much pressure to be at Indiantown in time to get home for Christmas. We were worried that this might cause us to be too hasty in making decisions about getting there, in particular regarding the Gulf (of Mexico) crossing. For this reason, we have now decided to come back to New Zealand after New Year 2013 and spend Christmas in the USA (something I have wanted to do for a long time, anyway). I also found out that there is an airport at West Palm Beach, only 45 miles from Indiantown, that has flights to Los Angeles. (although Fort Lauderdale seems to have cheaper flights to LA and is only 25 miles further away) The idea now is that we will book our flights with Air New Zealand as Auckland to Chicago in June and Los Angeles to Auckland in January. We will then book a one way internal flight from West Palm Beach or Ft Lauderdale to Los Angeles to connect to the Air New Zealand flight. This looks to be the most convenient way and looks like it may work out cheaper. There may be issues over luggage allowance, but I don’t anticipate we will be taking a lot home, and we can do some shopping in LA – that always makes the Admiral happy. We haven’t been able to make any firm bookings yet as the United (Air NZ partner airline) system only goes to 30th December at the moment. We should be able to get something next week and then we will really know we’re on our way!