Join Date: Feb 2004
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My own boat has a traditional shaft and a dripless stern gland (Yay!). I have worked on a couple of boats that had saildrive.
I have kind of mixed feelings about them. They seem a little less efficient as the power needs to go through several 90degree turns. This is compensated by the fact that you can place the engine better, get the prop deeper under the hull and thus run a possibly larger feathering prop for better torque.
In terms of reliability for a cruiser I would say that there are more things that can go wrong and less access to them in order to conduct repairs.
I would not bet on the less vibration bit. The Saildrive equiped boat I was on shuddered and grumbled just as much under power as its sister ship with a shaft drive (Both NS31''s).
And as I said, having everything IN THE BOAT bar the prop and the cutless bearing where you can work on it appeals to me (Rightly or wrongly) over the fact that most of my drivetrain is actually encased and inaccessable below waterline. I have worked on boats returning from the Melbourne-Osaka race and some of the saildrives are not at all pretty, and frequently they were just forced to say "oh well, bugger it" and keep sailing without engine.
Sorry for the somewhat fuddled reply.