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from Soundings June 2003
Reprinted with permission from Soundings Publications, LLC.


Photo by Bob Grieser

Thomas Point Series

Trial of the Year

by Jack Sherwood

Chesapeake Bay boatbuilder Joe Reid's largest offering in a series of composite epoxy-wood power cruisers has been undergoing a thorough testing by an Annapolis, Md., family cruising the Great Circle Route.

George Sass Sr., 57, owner of Annapolis marketing and advertising firm Sass Communications, departed from his Spa Creek home last July with his wife, Stacey; 11-year-old son, Dimitri; and a 75-pound sled dog named Marley on a yearlong sabbatical aboard their Thomas Point 43, Sawdust, built in 2000. (The name of the boat was inspired by Reid's recorded telephone message: "Everyone's busy making sawdust.")

The Thomas Point boats combine New England lobster boat and Chesapeake deadrise designs, and are available in several models from 26 to 43 feet.

Sawdust also has directly resulted in Reid's Mast & Mallet Boatworks, on Selby Bay in nearby Edgewater, Md., offering a Thomas Point 36 as his first fiberglass option in the 12-boat series. A Bay boater who liked the look of Sawdust ordered this smaller version in glass. The molded, infused, single-skin hull designed by Annapolis naval architect Mike Kaufman was built by Russell Bros. Fabrication of Shady Side, Md.

This custom glass $325,000 sedan cruiser will have a galley up with a dinette converting to a double bunk. Below is a V-berth and a settee entertainment area. The aft bulkhead opens with roll-up side curtains. This 36, able to top out at 28 knots and cruise at 20, will be powered by a 440-hp Yanmar diesel. The standard 36 has a 315-hp Yanmar.

The first fiberglass 36 is scheduled for launching in July. "It's a version of our 34 and 38," says Reid, who has built five 34s and two 38s. "The standard glass version will be a little less expensive than the wood-epoxy model, which starts at around $250,000, and shaves two months off the usual building time. Our next glass hull, already under construction, is a 30-foot hardtop open-bridge modeled after three cold-molded 30s we built."

Reid says he's not abandoning the epoxy-wood system of boatbuilding, but rather wants to open up the market to glass on a semiproduction basis. The glass boats, he notes, should have around the same displacement as the wooden models.

Cruising grounds

Sass says he is thoroughly enjoying Sawdust. From Maryland, he cruised up the East Coast and Hudson River to Lake Champlain, then through the Great Lakes. Cruising wilderness areas of the Great Lakes, Georgian Bay and the North Channel, where conditions can deteriorate quickly bringing heavy winds and rough seas, Sass had to be aware of rock ledges rather than the Chesapeake's forgiving soft bottom. He was thankful he had a stout keel under him and a fully protected single-screw.

"I saw many boats on the hard with bent struts and dinged props, and lots of people sitting at marinas waiting for parts and mechanics," he says. " I prefer to keep things simple. We've had no mechanical breakdowns with anything and no engine problems whatsoever."

Sass says he had a few glancing blows at slow speeds in those largely un-marked waters, but he also had peace of mind. "The long keel helps with maintaining directional stability, and drawing 4 feet, the boat doesn't yaw all over the place," he says. "The water is so clear up there you can see the bottom, like in the Caribbean. Stacey served as lookout at the bow."

After 1,500 miles of cruising America's heartland rivers, Sass reached Mobile Bay and wide-open, saltwater cruising in mid-November.

"The route from Mobile to Florida's forgotten west coast was fascinating, as we ventured up the Steinhatchee, Withlacoochee and Crystal rivers," says Sass. "This was shoal territory, and we often found ourselves waiting for a rising tide with our modest draft."

After taking care of company business in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area, they left Port Everglades and crossed the Gulf Stream, checking into Customs and Immigration at Cat Cay after a four-hour transit. "From there we crossed the banks and arrived at Chub Cay, where we got into the island `rhythm' by snorkeling and learning how to open and clean conch," says Sass.

They explored the northern Exumas for a month and got caught in a gale south of Staniel Cay, running at displacement speed in 10-foot seas while picking their way through reefs and sandbars off Little Farmers Cray. Near the end of March they arrived in Georgetown on Great Exuma Island, the southernmost point of their one-year voyage.

A former sailor, Sass was pleased how Sawdust fit in among the romantic ketches, schooners and cutters they met in countless island gunkholes. "We look upon Sawdust as the powerboat that thinks she's a sailboat," he says.

After transiting up the ICW and Chesapeake Bay, Sass plans to arrive back home on Spa Creek in Annapolis by the first week of July, almost a year to the day they left.

"Sawdust has performed flawlessly," says Sass. "While she was a bit laden down because of all the gear and supplies we stowed for our two months in the Bahamas, her seakindly performance continued to be impressive, and her overall self-sufficiency, including her 12-volt systems, do not require a generator."

Sass also praises the boat's efficient use of fuel. "She has a relatively narrow, flat beam section aft like a Chesapeake deadrise boat," he says. "She gets up on plane quickly, and at 16 and 18 knots, I get 1.2 nautical miles to the gallon." At 8 knots he says he burns about 2 gallons an hour. The boat carries 270 gallons of fuel and has a safe range of 260 nautical miles at high cruise, and more than 750 miles at 8.5 knots. Power is a single 435-hp Cat 3208 diesel. Sass says being able to hit a top speed of 20 knots is an added safety factor when he wants to get somewhere in a hurry.

There are times when Sass wishes he had an outside steering station, but a single interior helm kept the cost of the boat down, and there is no added windage. The station has a double seat so he and his wife often sit together when under way. "All the controls and navigation instruments are in view and easy to reach, where they should be," he says. "I designed it that way so you can concentrate at all times on where the boat is headed."

As for any changes, he says he may ask Reid to extend the cabin roof as a hardtop all the way to the stern. This would permit cabin-top stowage of the 10-foot Avon inflatable (with a davit and boom), rather than strapping it to the varnished transom. Also, heavy rainfall can fill the canvas top that now covers the cockpit. With the hardtop and roll-up side curtains, the cockpit would provide more living space. They also carry, a two-person kayak and three bicycles.

The workday

Photo of George Sass by John Bildahl

Photo by John Bildahl

Sass by no means has abandoned his business for cruising. His on-board office is 5-1/2 feet wide and 30 inches deep, with bookshelves. "I have thought at times it would be nice to have a door, but that might make me feel too closed off," he says. "As it is, if I feel too confined or need a break, I can move anywhere with my laptop."

The problem with the office is not the space, but rather the technology that takes up the space.

Writing of plans for his cruise in Motorboating magazine, Sass said the trick to working while cruising is technology. "A mixed blessing, as it seems to have raised expectations as fast as it has created new solutions. And much of this technology is far from being user-friendly. ... I remember past frustrations suffered while trying to work from my boat. Now thanks to the Internet—combined with broadband, wireless equipment and service—I will be able to go online every day and do my work much more easily. Since our trip will take us out of cell phone range, we have added a portable satellite phone to our bag of tricks."

Sass had planned to spend three or four hours a day working, and Dimitri devotes the same amount of time to keeping up with his schoolwork.

Sass is using KVH's new TracNet system to stay connected. A compact server allows both cruisers to be online through their laptops at the same time. They receive e-mail, search the Web and transfer files.

Unfortunately, this technology has not always delivered the promised results, and Sass sometimes spends the entire day working—or trying to get work done. "Some of this technology is simply not ready for prime time," he says. "Technical support is poor, and I waste a lot of time trying to connect to the office. When it gets too frustrating I just turn it all off and go fishing."

Stacey has few complaints, other than she would prefer the shower in the head rather than separating them. This would provide more room in Dimitri's cabin.

Food and fuel

Filtering fuel and keeping it clean is part of careful cruising maintenance, especially on extended outings when you might have to take the fuel docks as they come. Sass stopped at Bobby's Fish Camp on the Lower Tombigbee Waterway, about 100 miles south of Demopolis, Ala. "It's quite colorful, but little more than a rusted barge with a Texaco pump and 100 feet of dock," says Sass.

"There's no electricity or water, but Bobby cooks catfish in his restaurant." The Sasses have been eating aboard Sawdust almost exclusively, and usually anchoring out. He praises an excellent refrigeration system that has no moving parts.

They have heating and air conditioning, but may add a bulkhead-mounted diesel fuel "fireplace" below. Their French press coffee maker is one of the most appreciated appliances aboard.

Asked why he picked Mast & Mallet to build his boat, Sass says he got to know Reid when he restored his Grand Banks 42 trawler. "He's close by and is a great guy to work with, especially when you're doing a custom interior," says Sass. " I also trust him. He's honest and he does a beautiful job. I once had a 38-foot express cruiser built in far-away Malaysia and had nothing but trouble with it. I wanted hands-on contact after that. With Reid, you can sit around with the guys, pop a can of beer, and move things here and there."

Most people think a custom boat is more expensive than a production boat, but Sass says that isn't necessarily true. "Plus, you can get involved with the design, and oversee the actual construction and control what you want on it," he says. I found I could get the boat I wanted at a very competitive price, and it's set up more like a sailboat's interior."

One more thing: Sawdust is not for sale, says Sass.


Mast & Mallet Boatworks
PO Box 759
Edgewater, Maryland 21037-0759