Back To Basics – Retromarine 21′ Cape Island Trawler

When I was a boy, and full of adventure, I remember sneaking down to the covered boat docks at my favorite Colorado River vacation spot (Winterhaven, AZ) and perusing the variety of boats that made that place their home. Among the obligatory houseboats, fishing boats and ski-boats, there was one that stood out as not belonging there … and I was drawn to the beautiful green boat with the strange name.

I was only in Winterhaven once (maybe twice) per year, but I managed to get to know the owner (I thought he was old then, but he was likely younger than I am now) of the boat with the high bow and the graceful lines. I’d show up and he’d be working on some project and, despite the fact that I hadn’t been there in 10 months or so, he’d smile, say something that made me realize that he recognized me, and throw me a rag, or a rope, or something else that said, “Come on aboard and make yourself useful”.

I’m not sure what interested me more … the boat or its owner, but I came to regard my visits to see Mr. Jameson onboard the O’Rourke as an important and treasured beginning and end to my trips to the river, and I spent more time than I was supposed to in the marina at the forbidden berth (the covered berths were supposed to be kept locked and no one younger than 18 was to be down there unless accompanied by an adult). I was 12.

The O’Rourke was, I was to learn many years later, a Cape Island style trawler. It was most certainly a salty, sea going vessel that was very out-of-place in a land-locked marina on the Colorado River. Mr. Jameson had bought it on the Maine coast (third hand) when he lived out there, and when he met a lady he couldn’t live without (from Yuma, AZ), he purchased an old trailer and towed the boat the 3000+ miles to it’s new home in Arizona.

The Jamesons, who got married shortly after Mr. Jameson’s move to Arizona, had lived in or owned 11 homes, had 4 children and several grandchildren, kept several jobs over the years but always kept just the one boat. I learned that the O’Rourke (named after Mr. Jameson’s mother’s Dad) was between 20 and 25 years old then, but Mr. Jameson (and I, when I was there) kept the wood polished and every aspect of the vessel in show condition. It even had bottom paint, which was a rarity in fresh water and even more so in 1972.

I’ve since become a fan (read: enthusiastic supporter; student) of trawlers, and in the research I’ve done, I’ve learned that the Cape Island Trawlers, first built (of wood) at Cape Sable Island, Nova Scotia, Canada in 1907 with Fiberglass models debuting in 1961, have been one of the most revered boats of all time, and they’re still being built for commercial boats and pleasure yachts (My Rosborough is a trawler in every sense, though it cannot lay claim to being part of the Cape Island line).

I was happy to find a boat that took me back to my childhood days with Mr. J. and O’Rourke when I recently came across the 21’ Cape Island Trawler by Retromarine. Who knew I’d come across this vessel some 40 years after I last visited the Winterhaven docks! Much about this boat is similar to that one I ‘worked’ (played) on – even the jog in the boat’s forward gunwhales (they’re raised gunwhales) – and I enjoyed getting to know the unique qualities and the stout history of the Retromarine 21’ Cape Island Trawler.

In an age where many boats seem to have been built more for the amenities you can build into them than for the quality and functionality of the vessel itself, the Retromarine 21’ Cape Island Trawler is a welcome ‘throwback’ to an age where a boat was a boat, and it was judged on how it was built and what it could do.

The Retromarine 21 is built in five variations: the Cape Island Trawler, the Standard pilothouse, the K-Model pilothouse, the Day Boat and the Center Console model. Though each has its purpose and strength, the Cape Island Trawler, pictured in this article, is most attractive to me and, if it was painted Irish green, would be a dead ringer for O’Rourke. It’s notable that Retromarine, formed in 2002, imports the boats from the same Nova Scotia builder that has fabricated them for decades.

Their Cape Island Trawler is, compared to most vessels sold on today’s market, ‘sparse’. That is, though you can add them to the boat, it doesn’t ‘come’ with all of today’s gadgetry, and in fact it doesn’t ‘need’ it. The boat itself is very well built, and it’s features are those you’d most value on a voyage in waters like those off Nova Scotia. It has a stable keel, fine bow entry and is very sea kindly (and a 9” draft for you gunkholers). It’s lightweight and is therefore easily served by a 50hp outboard engine. And, it can be had, brand new, for an unprecedented $35,000!

For that sum, you get a stout little boat (a real trawler!), with a long list of standard features built in, a forward 6’ V-berth, seating for at least four (6 with outdoor chairs), etc. The  boat features a ‘built-in’ porta-potty, but lacks a galley. The owner can specify one of several popular modular galleys (optional) that can be built-in/on, but many opt for a BBQ and ice box, and, adhering to the mentality of “back to basics” design that spawned this boat, forego the additional ‘hassle’ of the storage batteries, hot-cold water plumbing, onboard fresh water storage, hot water heater, space for the sink, electrical wiring, etc.

The Retromarine 21’ Cape Island Trawler features a custom-built helm station, with room for simple instrumentation or expanded electronics. The Garelick seats at the helm and navigator’s station are comfortable and high quality, and there is excellent 360-degree line of site in the tall house for both the skipper and navigator.

The exterior is decidedly low maintenance, with diamond pattern non-skid everywhere, and a rinse off hull and house. The deck is self-bailing non-skid, and there are two fiberglass scuppers aft. Seating is very comfortable with your choice of quality chairs mounted on stainless pedestals on fiberglass risers (which also feature handy storage). The cockpit features storage space and seating too, and additional passengers can sit comfortably on the gunwhales or in portable chairs.

  • Overall length…………………………21 feet
  • Beam………………………………………8 feet 6 inches
  • Draft………………………………………..9 inches
  • Weight…………………………………….2200 lbs (no engine)
  • Five year hull warranty
  • 70 HP recommended power

As would be the case in a boat of this quality, all hardware and fasteners are stainless steel, as is the oversized bow eye, the bow rail, the transom “U” bolts, the deluxe footrest and hand-holds, the destroyer wheel and the cleats, bollard and chocks.  There is a ‘no maintenance’ trim made of Starboard(TM) material throughout the vessel, which means that much less trim maintenance.

The boat features one opening window forward (at the helm), and two sliding windows (one on either side). Considering that you may operate it open to the elements much of the time, this seems like more than enough ventilation. The V-berth features an overhead 16.5” adjustable hatch for ventilation and emergency egress.

The boat is quite light and weighs about 2200lbs. plus engine and gear. It uses a lightweight and efficient trailer that can be towed by a ½ ton pick-up and a variety of other vehicles, and launches & retrieves like a ski-boat (easily!). The cabin can be enclosed with an Eisenglass-style shade (factory built), and the V-berth has a separate, solid door to insure privacy and warm sleeping quarters when desired.

It isn’t O’Rourke, but the classic lines and work boat character of the 21’ Cape Island Trawler take me back to that simpler ‘happy-go-lucky’ time in my life. It’s nice that someone can build (or import) a quality trawler, with the characteristics of Cape Island Trawlers from the past combined with the modern conveniences of today, for such an attractive price.

Mr. Jameson would smile and say, “Now, that’s a boat!”.

Photos courtesy of mftr’s website at
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