"Mid Size Power Boats": A Guide for Discreminating Buyers - by David Pascoe


Offshore 48

Offshore 48
Interesting. While searching for a word to describe this one, that's the word that keeps coming to mind. I've seen a few good Taiwan boats before. Hi Star comes to mind, but like many others, they're not around anymore. Offshore is new name to me, which is a trade name of Offhore Yachts, built by Tung Hwa Industries Co., Ltd., R.O.C. And unlike most others, it comes with a price tag that is not the usual bargain price. Something like $585,000 or thereabouts for the initial ante.

We can start with the fact that there is an effort here to build a quality boat here, which is not unusual coming out of Taipei or wherever this is built. There are many such efforts, but far more failures than successes, and for reasons which are generally unknown to me since the island of Formosa is a long, long way away from where I sit. But it's axiomatic that good boat building is generally linked to a tradition of same, a history that provides the educated backdrop for the heritage of knowing how to do things right. A heritage of sea faring is not something the far east is known for. After all, the west discovered the east, and not vice versa. And they did it in ships, not on horses. And since the founding of the nation, the US was and remains the preeminent leader in boat and shipbuilding technology. Even the Japs are intimidated by our plastic boat building industry (but not shipbuilding) and are reluctant to challenge us. This is a comment that comes direct from the mouth of an executive of one of Japan's top corporations. As of the moment they are trying to buy their way in through purchase and funding of some US builders.

I've traveled a bit in the far east. Marinas filled with pleasure craft are very far and few between, so it's no surprise to me that Taiwan boats tend to be the way they are. If you know anything about the Sons and Daughters of the Kuomintang, you know that they are great imitators. If you don't know anything about that island-nation, then I can tell you that they've created a huge industry of copying U.S. products, especially machine tools and small machinery items involving steel and cast iron. My own background involves some work in the machine tool industry where I've held jobs in Quality Control and tooling departments. They're pretty good metal workers but tend to fall short on engineering. Obviously, or they wouldn't need to copy the products of others; they would create their own. Japan was that way once, too, but the main difference is/was that Japan had no shortage of trained engineers. Anyone who faced the Japanese Navy in WWII knows that some of their battleships were better than ours, and some cruisers too. Their industry was destroyed by our bombers. But the highly regimented Japanese culture lacked creativity, not technology skills, so they copied us for a little while until they got creative. Japan advanced rapidly, while Taiwan did not. After the war it was populated by immigrants from all over the vastness of China, immigrants decidedly lacking in education or skill. Hence the low wages that still prevail in Formosa, while the Japanese are #2 in the world in terms of personal income, a fraction of a point behind the US.

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So there you have a thumbnail backdrop against which this review is set. All new boats look good to the untrained eye. They are bright and shiny and time hasn't taken its toll yet. To the trained eye, it only took a moment to see a difference with this one. The very first impression was: good molds.  Very good molds. To create a really good set of molds for a boat this size would cost close to two million dollars. Which is probably why we see such lousy molding work on so many Taiwan boats. It's just one of the reasons that Taiwan boats are cheaper.

The use of  good molds is immediately apparent and is summed up by the one word, fairness. No lumps, bumps or ripples when you sight down an expanse of fiberglass. That's the way the molding work on this boat is. It looks like the molds were built in the U.S. Either that or someone invested in a multi-million dollar computer controlled contouring machine, which is what it takes to create flawless molds. Or they expended uncountable hours of hard labor.

We checked this one for subsurface flaws, meaning voids beneath the gelcoat which result from shoddy layup work. I have a technique to do this which is my own little secret, but I will tell you that no voids were found. That is UNusual. By and large, the molding and layup work is superior, even by US standards. I was told that the gel coat is from Cook Chemical, and I believe that. Cook was also the supplier to Bertram, whose finishes seem to last forever. On the inside of the hull . . . well, they aren't going to let you see much of that, but it is not all covered with numerous layers chopped strand mat (which is normal for Taiwan boats), since heavy fabrics can be seen in some places, possibly triaxil. Didn't see any roving.

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Vertical stiffeners on hull sides. Don't see this very often.
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Neatness is next to Godliness, and this is neat. At left is the nifty new Marinair A/C unit. Front and center are the fuel lines with engineering problems.

Didn't find any untreated, interior grade plywood either, although all plywood was painted so its quality couldn't be discerned. There was nothing to suggest that it was the usual oriental garbage. In the engine room and lazarette, we found plywood onto which a gel coat non-skid surface had been molded. Haven't seen that before, but how well this will work out when the wood gets wet remains to be seen. If it's top quality ply, it should be okay. But the plywood edges were untreated, raising suspicion about that.   Things were generally fairly neat in the deep, dark places where nobody often looks.

The decks are supposed to be cored with balsa, which is fine with us. We found the decks overall solid after jumping on them. No sagging, no vibration. Nice acoustic sound deadening with balsa.  While we didn't get a look at any deck undersides, it was pretty clear that there were no cores anywhere else, which is equally fine.  Why core something when it doesn't need it? On the thinner structures like the hull sides and bridge coamings, we found a lot of vertical battens, as shown in nearby photo. What does that mean? Well, the battens (or call them vertical frames if you like) take the place of cores and provide stiffening to otherwise large, flexible panels. This is the right way to do it, although in the case of the hull sides the battens should have been longitudinal, not vertical. I don't understand the thinking there. At least there is something extra there to prevent floppy hull sides. And no core to worry about.

We recently had a conversation with an engineer at Boeing. He told us that the decks in most jet liners, including the cargo hold decks, which take a terrible beating, are cored with balsa between two sheets of aluminum. He said that the bond between balsa and aluminum is incredibly strong.  Balsa is very highly regarded in the aircraft industry.

One of the things we often see in Oriental boats are hull framing systems with seat-of-the-pants engineering. Winging it, just as they did in the early days of fiberglass boat building. Build it heavy, then keep reducing dimensions until it fails, then add a bit more until you got it right. What that tells us, of course, is that there is no structural engineer involved. Strictly amateur engineering. One sees all sorts of weird arrangements, like frames in places they are doing no good, or fuel tanks mounted on foundations resting on the hull skin, silly things like that. In this hull, there was not enough access to evaluate the hull structures, so we are unable to comment beyond this.

The neatness of systems installation is a hallmark here, as one can clearly see in the photos. This is nothing new in some Taiwan boats, and that neatness often distracts one away from substandard materials or engineering. That does not seem the be the case here except for the fuel system where we have the usual iron tanks, copper and stainless steel fuel system. By now you should know all about dissimilar metals and galvanism, which accounts for why these boats are notorious for fuel system leakage. Again, the lack of engineering knowledge shows through a bit.

As you can see, the engine room looks wonderful, so we try not to be taken in by the appearance. We have to give an "A" for effort here. This isn't an "open the hatch and throw the stuff in there" type of workmanship. Even so, the lack of engineering knowledge still shows up. Start with the copper fuel piping. It's rigidly attached to the tanks, and then rigidly clamped to the decks. Do fuel tanks move in bouncing boat? Naturally, something has to give and it's going to be the pipe connections. For all the brokers who will send e-mail arguing with me, this is the proof of what I said about the lack of seafaring heritage.

And then there are those iron fuel tanks. There must be an iron monger's union over there that mandates iron tanks. As usual, the tanks are all paneled in so that you can't see what's happening to them. If there are any water leaks, the leaks just go right on rusting the tanks until they fail, as they very often do. Imagine the cost of replacing them after dismantling the boat. These people need to get the hell away from iron. The additional cost of aluminum is not even worth talking about. Besides, it's a heck of a lot easier to weld. In fact, now that I think about it, aluminum is conspicuous by its absence on Taiwan boats.

It's also got the usual stainless water tanks sitting smack on plywood decks. A bit of water between the two and it's bye bye tanks. Again, aluminum tanks would be preferable.

The generator is in the lazarette with the usual shallow hatch gutters that leak water all over the generator, so you know what's going to happen to that in a few years. Ball of rust. The main problem here is the wrong hatch design and location.

Interestingly, some of the sea strainers are real American made Groco units, while others are similar copies of same. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that they took a sand mold right off of a Groco strainer. See what I mean about copying? A little patent infringement maybe? Yes, indeed, the Groco unit is patented. Stuff like that tends to get one's dander up a bit. The sea cocks are all Formosan, but at least they're properly installed. None of that glass the valves into the hull laminate stuff, which  we often see, and is just plain crazy. Nice engraved plastic labels on some of this plumbing. Everything else except for anything made of stainless is US manufactured. These people are sharp enough to know that Americans like American systems. (I do too. Our stuff is the best.) Steering is Capilano (all copper hydraulic lines) and controls are Hynautic hydraulic.

The engines are Caterpillar 3126's rated at 400 horses. This is not really a trawler and has a modified vee, warped plane hull configuration with a small keel. The bilges forward are round and taper back into hard chines and it behaves as such, making a smooth transition from displacement to planing speeds without squatting. It is something like a Burger hull. The trial run was done smack in the middle of Tropical Storm Mitch with 60 mph winds and seas running in the stream said to be 18', but from offshore. We stuck our nose out several times, running the inlet back and forth in big swells. Pretty sea kindly without too much rolling, despite the round chines forward. Far better performance than anything from Formosa I've seen before, some of which is pretty dismal. Chalk that up to a low center of gravity. The seller didn't seem about to let me get near the controls, so I didn't ask.

One engine had a bad oil leak from an unfound location and the exhaust riser and dry insulated exhaust system had a serious water leak on one side. The temperature outside the cheap fiberglass cloth insulation held in place with wire wrapping was over 300 degrees. Not good. One engine had a replacement turbocharger on it, and one has to wonder why. We keep hearing about Caterpillar problems, but have few specifics. I keep hearing people making statements about problems with new Cat engines, but when I ask for specifics, no one I've spoken with has answers. Other than that, the engine and drive system installation was the way it should be. By the way, you can save you money on these "dripless" stuffing boxes. These were throwing water and burned plastic all over the engine room. The reinvention of this wheel is square. Too many of these things seem to have problems.

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Generator installed under large hatch with shallow gutter. A better design would have the hatches off to the sides and not directly over the genset.

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This water tank installation looks great until you realize that the tanks are sitting smack on a plywood deck. The tanks need a proper foundation to prevent crevice corrosion. With the history of stainless steel failures, we'd prefer aluminum.

Mercifully, Cat has stopped supplying the Bushings, Inc stationary engine mount and has now changed to another style. I've been complaining for years that the Bushings, Inc. mount was no good. Looks like the warranty claims on busted gear boxes got a little too much for them.

We're going to give three, great big whooping cheers here to Marine Development Corporation who, along with their competitors Cruisair, have been for 30+ years making A/C units mounted on a steel chassis that pour condensation all over the steel and turn these things into ungodly, rusty messes. 35 damn years without change! A design that causes damage to everything else that the condensate comes in contact with. Finally! At last! Somebody has mounted a compressor on a chassis that catches the condensation so that it can be channeled off to a safe place. Finally! AFTER 35 YEARS! Their units have some other good revisions, too, like the electrical box on the top, not the bottom. Gee, whoda thunkit? If you're buying a new boat, make sure it has these little beauties.

The interior looks like it was built in units outside the hull, and this is good. How do we know that? Well, because of the wiring and plumbing. If you build a boat like a house -- that is, everything done in the hull -- it is very hard to install systems neatly. Wiring and hoses end up strung all over creation, usually causing problems. This one was too neat. It looks like a Hatteras, the interiors of which are completely built in modules, with the wiring installed "on the bench". What really proves this is that the wiring is numbered, and there's no way to do that with internal wiring. The other point is that modular construction forces pre-engineered electrical systems. Meaning that the system is not seat-of-the-pants, wire-it-as-you-go method, which creates a mess and causes errors.

Design-wise, there are a few problems. It has unusual house side doors that operate like van doors, and these worked fine once you learn the trick. But the two rear doors are at a forward facing angle, which is just inviting water leaks. The upper deck has a narrow split door which is a really bad idea. You have to fumble around with two doors instead of one. This one is a leaker for sure.

There is a  deck well necessary to facilitate entry to the side doors. Naturally, you don't have the side deck there to reinforce the bulwarks rail, so this part of the hull side is naturally weak. But then the designer did something really foolish: he put a hinged, drop down gate right on the hull side, in effect creating a door in the rub rail. Yes, a door in the rub rail. If you can't foresee the foolishness of this, it will become painfully obvious the first time this thing touches a piling. It's going to tear that door right out, with a great deal of ensuing damage.

Next, we have windows that consist of glass sandwiched between the house sides and the interior teak paneling, with teak trim on the inside, and molded fiberglass moldings on the outside. At first glance, this may look like a good idea. Eliminates those nasty aluminum window frames, right? Yes, but the net result is far worse. You'll find a lengthy article titled Windows, Windows, right here on this site to explain why (and show you the graphical results) this idea is going to turn into a world of hurt. There is no escape from what happens when you put window glass up against wood. Wood absorbs water and swells. This is a long-standing problem with Taiwan boats and they should know better by now. But there you have it.

Stainless steel hardware. Loads of it, and it's the usual Chinese stuff, all brightly polished, but starting to rust never-the-less. It has the usual stainless davit on the back porch deck that is not particularly attractive. Then there is an 8" high railing around this deck that has only one stanchion in an 8' length. What for? Is this a luggage rack? This is a bit of a head scratcher. But at least the top and arch are solid and not wobbly like so many others.

Ergonomically, I confess to not understanding layouts like this. Count 'em, there are seven different levels in this boat and the amount of climbing around I did was exhausting. Up and down, up and down, endless ups and downs. I suppose if you just sit a lot and don't have to move around too much it's okay. But the break up of spaces into so many different levels and compartments turns into something of a rabbit warren. If you like that sort of thing, this is your boat. Personally, a boat that offers the equivalent of boot camp training getting around on it is not my idea of good design.

The salon is large but naturally broken up by a lower helm and the two side doors, so for seating you're stuck with an L lounge and a small swivel chair back in a corner. The entertainment cabinet sticking out in the center on the starboard side breaks up the traffic pattern, causing one to detour around it, and prevents the addition of any other furniture except maybe folding chairs. The galley down is smallish with inadequate counter space to my liking, but not as small as some. There is no dinette and only a hi-lo table to eat on. Does anyone ever use those things? On the other hand, dinettes are one of the most oft used spaces on a boat. It's no coincidence that dinette cushions on used boats are usually well worn. I wouldn't consider a boat this size without one.

Another bugaboo appears at the lower helm where you have a major support column for the bridge sticking out in front of the instrument panel. Standing at the helm and advancing the throttles, my elbow hits the column which I found rather annoying. Nor is there much space to mount your gizmos. Most boats will have a drop-down cabinet from the overhead to mount stuff, but this one doesn't.

The four lite windshield offers great visibility. But it also offers tremendous opportunity for leaks and the amount of sunlight radiation it lets in is going to be a serious problem. It's going to be a real hot house that will require more powerful air conditioning than what exists on the boat to cool it down.

For a two-stateroom 48 footer, both fore and aft rooms are smallish, with the forward having the climb-over-the-end-of-the-bed double, but a walk around double aft. This is the serious penalty for the large cockpit. Yet it is a bit more outdoorsy than the typical tricabin.

There are 3-1/2 steps up to the bridge on a ladder where it would have been nicer to have built in steps here. And there's no railing, making it a bit awkward when the boat is rolling. Actually, very awkward. The bridge area is not the usual huge affair, but is rather narrow due to the wide side decks. Not an altogether bad trade off unless you plan to have a lot of people on the bridge. This would have been a nice, easy area to maintain, but they went and added all those varnished teak moldings. Nor was I thrilled with the wheel placement which was so low that in standing at the helm, my fingertips just barely curved around the upper destroyer wheel rim. Going to a larger wheel would solve this inadequacy. There is also a plexiglas cover for the engine instruments, but it has no gutter around it so that water gets at the instruments anyway. Aft visibility is not too bad, but you do have to stoop to look under the hard top.

The fiberglass weather boards are rigidly bolted to the stanchions so that expansion and contraction will cause them to buckle. These need to be loose-jointed.

Fit and finish wise everything is superior. The drawers are dovetailed and cabinet doors well hinged and things generally work the way they're supposed to. The woodwork is not the best we've seen coming out of Formosa, but it will take a trained eye to see the flaws. Epoxy paste was used to fill gaps in some badly fitted joints. The epoxy is the same color as the teak, so it doesn't show now, but will when the teak color begins to darken with age. Then you'll have yellow epoxy showing on brown teak. They used a matching mica on the countertop surfaces, which is very sensible over  real wood tops.

But speaking of mica, all the shower stalls are not molded fiberglass but mica on plywood. This is substandard as the majority of boats today have fiberglass stalls which are easy to clean and don't leak and rot. Serious points off for this one.

So how do we sum it up? Certainly the fiberglass work is the best we've seen to ever come out of Taiwan. No doubt about that at all. The system's installation is superbly neat while many of the same old same old engineering flaws are present. That's too bad because this would otherwise be a top-notch (at least for its price) product. Who knows, maybe they'll get enough feed back to motivate some changes. If so, this could be a serious contender in this popular market style. With the above mentioned problems corrected, we'd add another full star.

Priced somewhat above similar examples coming out of Formosa, the price difference seems to be reflected mainly in the superior glass work. It really does look good. The comparably sized Hatteras motor yacht has a sticker price of nearly a million, and this example 60% of that amount. The engineering and systems in the Hatteras are undeniably superior, though less showy. The differences show up in such things as the lack of window frames, iron fuel tanks, stainless water tanks, rusting hardware, generally less knowledgeable engineering, and several major design mistakes. On balance, it is superior to most anything else we've seen coming out of Taiwan.

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Posted February 11, 1999

Referred article: "Windows, These Leaky, Leaking Windows"

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David Pascoe - Biography

David Pascoe is a second generation marine surveyor in his family who began his surveying career at age 16 as an apprentice in 1965 as the era of wooden boats was drawing to a close.

Certified by the National Association of Marine Surveyors in 1972, he has conducted over 5,000 pre purchase surveys in addition to having conducted hundreds of boating accident investigations, including fires, sinkings, hull failures and machinery failure analysis.

Over forty years of knowledge and experience are brought to bear in following books. David Pascoe is the author of:

In addition to readers in the United States, boaters and boat industry professionals worldwide from over 70 countries have purchased David Pascoe's books, since introduction of his first book in 2001.

In 2012, David Pascoe has retired from marine surveying business at age 65.

Biography - Long version

Articles at
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A Guide for Discriminating Buyers
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Buyers' Guide to Outboard Boats
Selecting and Evaluating New and Used Boats
Dedicated for offshore outboard boats
A hard and realistic look at the marine market place and delves into issues of boat quality and durability that most other marine writers are unwilling to touch.
Surveying Fiberglass Powewr Boats
Surveying Fiberglass Power Boats
2nd Edition
The Art of Pre-Purchase Survey The very first of its kind, this book provides the essentials that every novice needs to know, as well as a wealth of esoteric details.
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