Real Salt

The tough Real Ships 68 provides voyagers with a wolf in sheep's clothing.

October 4, 2007

More than a few salty looking yachts built in recent years are really just glorified houseboats in drag, suitable only for “ditch-crawling along the Intracoastal Waterway.

The Real Ships 68 is not one of them. As you read this, the 68 on these pages, Kokomo, is adventuring somewhere deep in the Caribbean with her owners, Alvin and Debra Bowles, time of return to civilization at their whim.

Real Ships starts with a simple premise: Steel is the safest hull material for passagemaking. The company’s certified welders build each hull in the United States to the highest standards. Just as important, the 68 emerges from the shed with graceful curves, rather than the easier-to-weld ugly flat panel construction often found on steel yachts. Soft compound curves, bow flare, even the decks on the 68 are cambered to shed green water quickly.


For safety, the fuel and water tanks create a double bottom over most of the submerged surface, the bulbous bow is a separate compartment that creates two collision bulkheads, and the keel has a one-inch steel shoe for protection.

Steel in the deckhouse isn’t needed for strength and adds too much weight aloft, so the 68 has an aluminum superstructure welded to the hull using DuPont Detaclad bi-metal strips. Isolation transformers and galvanic isolators provide additional protection against electrolytic corrosion.

Below the waterline, the 68 has bilge keels that provide passive stabilizing, and they protect the active stabilizing fins from damage during a grounding. Skegs protect the props and rudders and, combined with the bilge keels, allow the yacht to take the ground sitting upright. Need to paint the bottom 3,000 miles from the nearest shipyard? Just nudge the 68 ashore and let the tide run out.


Styling for Kokomo draws heavily on commercial vessels, with a bulwarked bow for punching into seas, a well deck for carrying tenders, and a pilothouse far enough aft for comfort in a seaway. The result is a yacht that looks like she’s ready for a voyage and, in fact, she is.

If you were expecting a rough-and-ready interior, you’re on the wrong yacht. Kokomo is pleasantly finished with American cherry bulkheads, Brazilian cherry soles, and styling touches, such as decorative rope moldings on the window mullions and an intricate bamboo inlay on doors and lockers.

In keeping with the owners’ cruising plans, the décor is cheerfully tropical, with bright flower patterns on the chairs, tropical accents on the wrap-around blue couch, and a colorful area rug to protect the sole.


One of the beauties of metal construction is that it allows an owner to choose a design independent of the confines of molds. As Real Ships president Joe Johnson points out, “We can do pretty much anything a client wants. In the case of Kokomo, the owner wanted walk-around decks on both sides of the saloon, but we can also make her a wide body on the port side with no problem.

The galley is open to the saloon, with a green granite breakfast counter, ample lockers, and another Real Ships’ philosophy: All the appliances are household-type KitchenAid for simplicity of repair in faraway places.

This carries through to the climate control, which is a household air/heat unit that provides years of reliability with virtually no maintenance. The household air conditioning also eliminates through-hull fittings for seawater cooling, eliminating a source of electrolytic action. While Real Ships will install marine air units, Johnson grins as he points out one bonus for cruisers: “You can have the Sears guy work on this a/c.


The pilothouse is seamanlike and, except for the yacht finish, could have been lifted from a tugboat. The Stidd helm chair faces panels that aim an array of electronics and engine monitors toward the skipper. Just outside the dogging port and starboard doors are wing controls for maneuvering. A door at the after end of the saloon opens onto a spacious deck, furnished with teak lounge chairs and a dining table. An aluminum framework with a removable canvas awning provides shade.

Every Real Ships 68 is arranged to a client’s needs and, since Kokomo‘s owners plan to cruise without crew, the master suite was given the lion’s share of space in an unusual but very comfortable area amidships. A doorway off the fore-and-aft corridor opens to an upper dressing area surrounded by cherry lockers and bureaus. The doorway also gives access to the spacious head, which has an exquisite onyx sink, counters and the jacuzzi bathtub surround.

Open to the dressing area but down two steps is the sleeping area, with a king berth positioned athwartships. Reading is a high priority for the Bowles, so bookshelves surround their split-level suite.

Forward, the VIP cabin has a raised berth, a head/shower of comfortable proportions, and more than ample stowage space for long cruises. A third cabin is to starboard, with bunks intended for kids and direct access to the day head and shower.

Entry to the engineroom is through a utility room, which contains an ASEA shorepower transformer for world cruising, as well as a big freezer and full-size washer/dryers. Another watertight door leads to the engineroom, where Real Ships shows off its stuff. Everything here is readily accessible on all sides, from the pair of 225-horsepower continuous-duty John Deere 6081 diesels to the Northern Lights gensets of 20kW and 12kW to the ZF V-drives.

Many builders might “get by” with soft hose or PVC pipe, but Real Ships has hard-plumbed the bilges with manifolded emergency suction that backs up the automatic pumps in each compartment. The wiring is neatly loomed and labeled, the big sea chest is readily accessible, as is all the steering, from the rudder posts to the redundant steering pumps. A polishing filter takes care of fuel pollutants in foreign lands, and the exhausts are dry with a wash-down system in the last two feet to get rid of any smoke or soot.

During our test, Kokomo was solid as a rock in the lumpy seas, and she has more righting stability than I’ll want to see. Her motion was comfortable and predictable even far above the roll center in the pilothouse, and the keel and skegs kept her tracking straight in confused seas.

If construction tough enough to withstand anything short of a nuclear holocaust isn’t compelling enough, then the immense design flexibility and U.S. craftsmanship should put the Real Ships on the short list for voyagers. With space surprising for a 68-footer, a high level of finish, and thoughtfully seamanlike systems, we’ll expect to see Real Ships cruising the far corners of the world.

Contact: Real Ships (954) 764-3702; For more information, contact: (866) 922-4877


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