Some new boat buyers have a difficult time leaving the dock for that first long voyage. Not so the owner of NordSail One, the first of Nordhavn's new 56-foot motorsailer series. Susan Felton and her fiancé-captain John Graham had a powerful incentive not only to get their boat offshore of Newport Beach, but to flee California entirely. It was time for them to go cruising or face state taxes on their recent purchase.
Felton had been negotiating with Nordhavn to purchase a trawler when fuel prices spiked in 2008. Though Nordsail One had been built as a factory demo boat, its promise of greater fuel efficiency caught Felton's attention. When she offered to buy the motorsailer, Nordhavn could hardly refuse. Since then, the company has sold seven more.
Felton and Graham shared a dream of sailing the happy isles of Polynesia. Trouble was, neither had any sailing experience. So, the plan was for Graham to take NordSail One up the coast to Washington, where Felton would join him for a summer of cruising and learning to sail. Graham, a shaggy-haired Scots engineerturned- realtor, hired an experienced California sailor named Ken Madeja to accompany him, and Nordhavn suggested that I go along, too, to represent the East Coast.
En route to California I was reminded of a joke overheard at the Miami International Boat Show. Question: What is the biggest difference between a sailboat and a trawler yacht?Answer: A sailboat only motors 90 percent of the time. Granted, racers and daysailers continue to enjoy pure sailing, but once they dedicate themselves to cruising, "auxiliary" propulsion trumps canvas, as anyone who has witnessed the seasonal sailboat migrations would testify. The usual scenario is a boat with a tightly sheeted main, trailing exhaust, and with a crew encased in a faux pilothouse of Sunbrella and isinglass.
After a few years of motoring with one sail raised, many sailors have embraced the obvious and traded into trawlers, and Pacific Asian Enterprises has been a leader in meeting this new Horn of California." Going north on the West Coast is a notorious slog in general, but Conception is the worst-a place where 30-foot waves are not uncommon. Most of the voyage was to windward, so we advanced market demand with the Nordhavn series of full-displacement ocean voyaging powerboats. PAE was founded by sailors, and by the late 1980s, their efforts had produced more than 250 Mason sailboats at the Ta Shing yard in Taiwan. By then the sailboat market was in decline, prompting the company to reflect on how their Mason customers- and sailors in general-were actually using their boats.
With inspiration from Robert Beebe, author of the seminal work "Voyaging Under Power", PAE designed the first Nordhavn, a 46-footer capable of crossing oceans. (See "No Regret," April 2009). Amazingly, the concept faced ridicule and resistance at the time, and PAE's Taiwanese partner even refused to build it. Now hundreds of Nordhavns roam the oceans, and the company appears to be weathering a down economy much better than the industry as a whole.