If I were cruising far-flung regions of the world where charts are unreliable and repair yards scarce, I'd want a steel bottom underneath me. The steel-hulled Real Ships 57 Pilothouse Trawler is economical with fuel, easy to handle and should allow an extended family to explore distant and tranquil harbors in comfort. With its virtually bulletproof hull, owners will suffer little worry about damage from groundings or collisions with unidentified floating objects.
Steel hulls are rare on production cruisers. With recent advancements in steel yacht- and shipbuilding techniques, the trampy rust bucket is largely a thing of the past.
The 57's Du Pont Detaclad bonding system actually has been used on ships, including Naval constructions, for more than 30 years. On the 57, it welds the steel hull to the aluminum superstructure. Leaving aside the chemistry lesson, the system is based on a bonded bimetallic strip, which is aluminum on one side and steel on the other. This means the hull and superstructure are bonded to like metals, resulting in a strong weld.
Each Real Ships hull is blasted to near-white and coated with Devoe zinc chromate primer. Awlgrip primer, faring compound and paint complete the finish.
"The paints of today have revolutionized the steel-boatbuilding business. We could not be doing what we do today without these advances, said Joe Johnson, president of the dealership Ships International.
Few materials are perfect. Though the hull is protected from corrosion, owners must be attentive to rust spots that may pop up in tiny nooks, just as they would wax a fiberglass skin and keep sealed any cored construction.
During my time aboard the 57, we headed northeast from Port Everglades Inlet off Ft. Lauderdale, directly into 3- to 5-foot seas. Our destination was the Gulf Stream's cobalt-blue water, where we were to rendezvous with a Bell helicopter and photographer. There was not much out of the ordinary to report on this sturdy 50-ton ship. Her motion was predictable and steady in every direction, and the ship's wheel needed little coaxing. With her weighty steel hull and light aluminum superstructure, the 57's center of gravity was right where it should be: low.
The wipers got a workout as we headed into the sea with a stiff wind blowing off her port quarter. Johnson said the extra spray was due to her bulbous bow. This happened only in that particular sea state.
There was a steady breeze and considerable current by the time I returned to the dock. The 57 responded gracefully to Johnson's patient engine and thruster commands. An owner/operator with minimal crew will not struggle with handling this rig.
As mentioned, her hull has a bulbous bow, constructed as a separate compartment forward of the stem. This is designed to dampen the ship's pitch. This trawler has a hard chine and will rest on her own bottom on fixed-bilge keels positioned forward of and abaft the Wesmar hydraulic stabilizer fins. A double bottom exists wherever a tank is positioned. The fuel, water and waste tanks are steel and bonded to the hull.
A flying bridge is aft and accessed through the rear of the pilothouse. When I first reported the Real Ships 57 (On the Docks, May), I was greatly impressed by its placement, and I still am. A wide mast on this deck supports antennae and houses a standard household Trane air conditioner. The rest of the bridge deck is open and can accommodate a 1,500-pound capacity lift and a tender up to 14 feet. Side decks are wide and covered the length of the saloon, which is exposed forward.