New Zealanders Warren Fountain and Jeremy Lubeck from Auckland have been co-owners of Equinox since 1992. Built in 1989, the Pelin launch proved to be a comfortable if somewhat ponderous cruiser. Her twin 200hp Volvo Penta diesels gave her a cruise speed of around 15kts, and with the throttles wide open, just under 19kts.
Over the years their thoughts often turned to repowering and it all eventually came to a head about 18 months ago, when Warren was returning from Great Barrier Island.
“The port engine started running rough so I shut it down and puttered back to Auckland on one engine,” Warren says. “When I tried to restart it to get into the marina, it ‘hydro-locked’. It seemed an opportune time to fast-forward our repowering discussions.”
Acutely aware of the myriad of pitfalls that accompany repowering projects, Warren spent two months exploring “just about every suitable engine/gearbox/shaft/propeller configuration” for the boat. Selecting new engines was one thing — the financial and reconstruction implications of installing new engine beds, prop shafts, struts, props, rudders, fuel tanks, exhausts and air intakes also had to be taken into account.
His research was further compounded by their plans to extend the boat.
“The interior was a little dated, but the main issue was the size of the cockpit,” Warren continued. “We are active boaties, always fishing or diving, and we really needed more space.”
But then they heard about a second-hand set of IPS 500 drives, powered by 370hp D6 Volvo Penta engines with only 50 hours on them. Things began to get much, much more interesting.
If they were going to the trouble of lengthening the hull and fitting such a fancy drive system, shouldn’t they consider a bit of an upgrade while they were at it? The boat’s interior was a little dated and tired and could do with a lift. Besides, Jeremy’s wife didn’t like the forepeak’s double bed, and the galley was very pokey; wasn’t it?
Buying the second-hand IPS drives was one thing: getting Volvo Penta onside to help with their installation was another. Volvo is notoriously picky about its IPS installations and it doesn’t really “do” retrofits.
Almost exclusively, IPS systems are fitted to new boats with the hulls specifically designed to accommodate the engines and pods. And that’s understandable. The drive system enjoys an exceptional track record and boasts a rapidly growing following of enthusiasts. Why ruin that reputation with a half-baked installation in a hull ill-suited to the technology?
But the project had an invaluable ally in the form of Westhaven’s Ovlov Marine. Ovlov owner Peter Jacobs had alerted Warren to the availability of the IPS units (they came from a bigger boat — Mischief — that Ovlov was working on. Mischief’s owner was swapping them for a set of the larger IPS 600 drives).
Peter acknowledges that retrofitting IPS drives is not something encouraged by Volvo Penta in Sweden, and as far as he is aware, Equinox is the only boat in Australasia that has been through the process.
“It wouldn’t have been a consideration at all,” says Peter, “were it not for the fact that Equinox’s hull was being extended and that the naval architect was able to adapt the extension to the IPS requirements.”
Volvo Penta in Sweden insisted on seeing the drawings before it would endorse the project.
So the die was cast: the boat’s aft end would be extended by 2.6m (the addition was designed by Auckland naval architect Max Carter) to accommodate the new engines and pods, and while that was happening, the boat would be, sort of, er... remodelled.
The reconstruction/refurbishment work was awarded to Auckland’s Horizon Boats (owner Wayne Olsen, says Warren, was “just incredible — a perfectionist, very creative, very accurate”), with Ovlov handling the engine/pod installation.
Warren is himself something of a perfectionist, and in conjunction with Max Carter, spent hours establishing a configuration that would provide the ideal centre of gravity for the new Equinox.
“I prepared a very complete spreadsheet listing the weight and position of all the boat’s major items: fuel tanks, water tanks, genset, batteries, fridge. You name it, it was there, and we juggled things around to get the boat balanced perfectly,” Warren said.
The transformation took eight months and the change, it’s fair to say, is quite remarkable. The Pelin 40 is now a “Pelin 50”, and to this writer’s eye, her longer length makes for a far sleeker, streamlined cruiser. She’s a much more luxuriously appointed, stylish, spacious vessel, and one that Warren says goes “better than anything I could have imagined”.
As a 40-footer Equinox cruised at 15kts and surfing down a large wave she could be coaxed to 19kts with her old 200hp Volvos screaming.
“The new engines provide a cruise speed of 23kts, and she tops out at a shade over 30kts,” said Warren. “At cruise speed, the old engines consumed five to six litres of fuel per nautical mile. The new engines consume exactly the same, but we’re cruising at 23kts, not 15.”
The increased diesel capacity (she now carries around 2200lt in two tanks) provides a range of around 400nm at cruise speed, he adds. He also says the new engines are far quieter than their predecessors (it helps that they’re mounted well aft rather than midships), and because they exhaust through the IPS pods, fumes aren’t an issue.
But the greatest revelation, Warren says, was the manoeuvrability provided by the IPS drives.
“I had read a lot about the performance and economy of the technology, and especially the agility it provides,” said Warren. “But nothing really prepares you until you try it yourself. She spins on a dime, and it’s just great for easing her into and out of our berth at Pine Harbour.”
Repowering a 1989-built boat in such a radical fashion afforded Equinox’s owners an ideal opportunity to give her a bit of a facelift — although reconstructive surgery is probably a more accurate description. The layout fitted to the original 40-foot hull is a fond memory. It was totally gutted and replaced by a sumptuous but clever interior, with plenty of very innovative, custom-designed features. Horizon Boats has produced some exquisite joinery, the softly gliding drawers a case in point.
No expense has been spared, the boat oozes quality fittings and accessories. Despite this, Warren says the only real luxuries are Sky TV (also viewable on the boat’s large Simrad charplotters) and a Webasto diesel heater that makes “winter cruising an easy reality”. “It’s unbelievably economical and keeps the boat toasty as anything,” adds Warren.
The extra space created under the floor by moving the engines aft has been put to good use. In their place you will now find a domestic-size washing machine, a genset and a hot-water cylinder. They’re easily accessed by a large hatch in the cockpit floor that swishes open silently.
The inflatable once lived on the foredeck but it has now been moved to the boarding platform on the transom. It swings out into the water courtesy of an aft, starboard-mounted davit. But even something as prosaic as a davit has been given a touch of class on the new Equinox. When not in use, it folds up into a custom-made locker in the gunwale, out of sight. Even better, it can be easily moved to an identical hidden mounting on the opposite side of the cockpit for those awkward occasions when you pull into a berth that requires starboard access. Very, very clever.
But my favourite feature is to be found up on the flybridge — a fold-out settee/double bed. An ingenious arrangement that’s perfect for a bit of sunbathing or even al fresco sleeping...
WOULD HE DO IT AGAIN?
At some stage there comes a point in every boat owner’s mind where they think: “I really need a bigger/better/faster/easier boat. Do I remodel/upgrade Old Faithful, or cut my losses? Sell her and buy the boat of my dreams?”
Equinox’s upgrade has obviously been a labourious, expensive exercise. Would Warren do it again? A slight pause.
“It’s marginal — it was an enormous project, but we’ve ended up with an incredible vessel,” replies Warren. “We’ve got a boat we love, and we’re over the moon with her. I wouldn’t mind building another boat from scratch, but would I do this again? Not sure.”
MATERIAL: Balsa-cored GRP
TYPE: Semi-displacement monohull
DESIGN: Pelin 40 (Sterling hull)
ENGINE: 2 x 200hp Volvo Penta shaftdrive
FUEL: Approx 1500lt
SPEED: 15kts (cruise); 19kts (WOT)
DESIGN: Pelin '50' (Sterling hull modified by Max Carter)
ENGINE: 2 x 370hp Volvo Penta D6 IPS 500
SPEED: 23kts (cruise); 30kts (WOT)
The improvements in performance are surprising – a 50 per cent increase in speed for the same fuel burn.
Equinox up on the hard, ready for surgery.
Out with the old.
The old aft section is gone.
The renewed stern section increased the boat's length by 2.6m.
The interior was totally gutted in the rebuild and replaced by a sumptuous, but clever interior.
The enclosed flybridge is completely new and includes state-of-the-art Simrad electronics.
From Trade-a-Boat Issue 426, Apr-May, 2012. Story by Lawrence Schaffler. Photos by Warren Fountain.