Late Saturday afternoon at this past Miami International Boat Show, with most of my business done, I engaged in one of my favorite pastimes; nautical daydreaming. At one with my terminal wanderlust, I found myself slipping out to sea as I walked the docks-past the proud and flared bows, gentle tumblehomes, and brightwork shiny as a grand piano.The fantasy was so real that I heard the reassuring thrum of the engines below decks, felt the wind rushing past my face, basked in the gentle push of following seas...I called for Rex, my loyal Chesapeake Bay retriever who now entered the wheelhouse holding my favorite meerschaum pipe in his mouth. Good ol' Rex.
But wait a minute! I don't have a Chesapeake Bay retriever named Rex and I don't smoke a meerschaum pipe. In fact, I don't smoke at all. It was definitely time to get back to the hotel! And just as I was shaking off my reverie I glanced across the dock and caught a glimpse of an interesting-looking vessel.Actually,it was quite unlike anything I had seen in the past two and a half days. It was an open boat,perhaps 40 or so feet in length with a beefy and industrial-looking T-top, a raked-back and standalone windshield, high freeboard, teak coaming all around, plumb bow, and a shape that was angular enough to rival a Wally. And it was painted battleship gray. I stepped aboard to satisfy my curiosity, little guessing that I would soon be at the wheel of this very boat. As I would learn,the Fjord 40 Open lived up to her untraditional profile and then some.
Two months later, I was jittery with excitement.The plan was to leave Palm Beach Inlet for four days of cruising through the Florida Keys and as I waited for Clay Becker, the affable 26-year-old owner of Fjord Florida, to pick me up, I realized I hadn't felt water beneath my feet in what seemed like ages...unless you counted my 5 a.m. shower in Manhattan that morning. Also joining our crew would be Fjord/Hanse Yacht rep Alex Harrison.(German builder Hanse Yacht, one of Europe's largest boatbuilders, now owns Fjord.) We met the Fjord 40 Open at the end of the Palm Beach Yacht Club dock where Becker's Fjord Florida office is located. "I really don't have an 'office' office," he explained as we stowed our gear in the main cabin and began throwing off our lines. "This," he said, smiling and gesturing around at the refined surroundings,"this, is my office." What better way to show off the boat and take a prospective owner out on a sea trial." My kind of guy. I was feeling better already.
We nudged the boat effortlessly out of the slip and picked up the Intracoastal to Peanut Island and then, hanging a right, made for the inlet and the ocean. And when I say effortlessly, I mean just that, as the boat is equipped with Volvo Penta's innovative IPS drives.
More than just the IPS drives made this boat special. Harrison explained how the hull, designed for IPS, is vacuum-bagged for strength and to save weight. Her structural bulkheads are honeycombed with sheets of aluminum as in a sandwich and then tabbed into the hull and deck. The stringers are solid fiberglass and the teak is vacuum-bagged to the deck and on top of the gunwales, eliminating any screws or bung holes. "The boat comes in white and light gray gelcoat or in any color Awlgrip someone would want," Harrison added.
After we slow-belled past a working dredge in the inlet, we hit the twin 375-horsepower Volvo Penta diesels, got the boat up on plane, and settled her in. Sea conditions were fine with just a bit of chop but the Fjord 40's hull and running bottom, coupled with those forward-facing, dual counter-rotating props, had us humming at a comfortable 31 knots.
Becker, Harrison, and I were able to easily jabber away while tucked behind the windshield, with two of us standing up and leaning back against the twin bolster/helm seats to starboard and one in an additional seat to port. As we scooted by Dania Beach, we decided to duck in to the Miami Beach Marina, top off our 265-gallon fuel tank, and grab a burger before heading down the Keys. At the dock, we quickly found that the Fjord 40 was going to be a massive attention- getter that brought out the gawkers wherever we went.
As the skyline of Miami faded, and the Keys stretched out before us, we took a pass on doing the Bogie & Bacall thing at Key Largo and made straight for Duck Key and the Hawks Cay Resort & Marina. And while we skirted the outer edge of some weather that brought a bit of rain, it did nothing to hamper our progress or dampen our spirits nor the Fjord's. With the wind and chop now up enough to make things interesting, we merely dropped the rpm a bit and let the boat find her rhythm and run with the sea.
Located at Mile Marker 61, some 60 miles from Key West and about 90 from Miami, Hawks Cay Resort and Marina had just reopened under new ownership after a $34-plus million renovation. The main resort and pool area were just spectacular. The marina crew, headed up by director of operations Ron Smith and dockmaster Beverly Seiling, are top-of-the-line veterans. With the dock strollers gone after having a look at "that neat-looking boat," we got ourselves squared away, and popped into Tom's Harbor House & Bar at the marina for some waterside dining and libations. Knowing that tomorrow would be a fishing day made it even easier to have a great night.
The next morning, under sunny skies with a bit of wind, guide Tom Rowland brought us around to the other side of the old Flagler railroad bridge in search of tarpon. While we could see the big fish lying there in the shadows of the bridges' curves, and the outgoing tide was just right, not even Rowland could coax up one of the tarpon's famous hit-and-run strikes or tail-walking exhibitions. They were just not interested. Fish! Go figure. But there were always sharks.
We moved and set out some fresh barracuda chum. It wasn't long before we saw several dark shapes following the irresistible scent right to the boat. I had two pick-ups before I finally got a feisty blacktip to take the bait. Half an hour later, we got it to the boat, cut the leader, and watched the fish swim away. Satisfied that the boat could claim a fish, and with the wind up a bit, we made our way back to Hawks to get cleaned up and enjoy yet another good meal.
On the way down to Key West I tried not to think about the trip ending so I could sidestep first stage nautical withdrawal-it's not a pretty sight. Instead, I focused on having some fun in the Conch Republic and putting an exclamation point on the voyage. With the Fjord purring along at 32 knots, we made the Galleon Marina in about two hours and after hosting some dock walkers aboard for yet another look-see, made our way up to Alonzo's Raw Bar. Becker, Harrison, and I looked over the fare and ordered almost every appetizer on the menu. With the suds flowing, the plates began to pile up, prompting our barkeep to note that, "You boys are making the bar look like Thanksgiving!" And it was only four o'clock!
Sated with food and brew, it was now time to take in the sights. Papa would most assuredly be banging what's left of his head against the inside of his coffin if he could see his beloved Duval Street now. Trained cats, a one-man band, a tightrope walker, a pirate, some singers, dancers, jugglers, artists, magicians, and one old, white-bearded hippie slumped over the bar...they're all in search of the sunset at Mallory Square and, perhaps, a glimpse of the green flash. Key West is, after all, Key West.
In an act that was probably subconscious denial, I slept a bit longer than I should have and it wasn't until 8:30 the next morning that we were fueled up, provisioned, and off the dock. Next stop, Miami. We had the wind on our nose all the way back but once we got the Fjord's speed attuned to the conditions, she handled the water in fine fashion. In fact, we were able to have both breakfast and lunch aboard while underway.
This was a great trip aboard a truly innovative boat and as we approached the familiar dockmaster's quarters at the Miami Beach Marina and dreaded terra firma, I found myself conjuring up good ol' Rex, sitting and waiting patiently for me, my favorite meerschaum pipe clenched gently in his mouth, his tail beating time on the concrete quay. Good ol' Rex.
Fjord Boats, (410) 626-1493; www.fjordboats.com