Nordlund 78

An owner's diverse yachting experiences guide a seasoned designer and a loyalty-inspiring builder to a pilothouse cruiser worthy of the most precious cargo.

November 17, 2009

At the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Washington, a dazzling architectural testimonial to glass art on the shores of South Puget Sound, the group stood transfixed as an artisan presided over the glowing birth of an exotic glass sculpture. The precious mass of molten glass and flames twirled high in the air and glowed red hot, morphing at the end of a long staff, a distraction for those gathered for Nordlund Boat Company’s 50th anniversary celebration. The fascinating show beneath the museum’s towering ceilings, among the graphic forms of stainless steel, glass, and concrete, was merely a distraction, since those gathered are devotees of another art form-Nordlund yachts.

Here in Nordlund’s home waters, yacht owners, crews, and project managers arrived from distant ports to join Nordlund’s own artisans in paying homage to a unique family of boatbuilders. The camaraderie was thick, as expected: This boatbuilding company has a high percentage of return clients. If success is measured by friendship, this yard must be near the top, nurturing five decades of clients. And Nordlund’s recent boat, the 78-foot composite pilothouse cruiser Shanakee, is another success for a discerning client, a new recruit to their loyal entourage.

“We built a west coast family yacht to run from Alaska to Central America, conceived as a specialized family cruiser, with casual accommodations,” explained this Southern Californian owner. “Nordlund focused on what they build best: handsome, practical, high-tech composite cruisers.”


The Nordlund legacy stalked this owner-his Newport Beach dock hosted a half-dozen Nordlund yachts built for a half-dozen different owners stretching back more than 25 years, and each one still sparkled like new. When his project began at the yard, there was one owner building his second Nordlund and another starting his third.

“We brought the boat to the University of British Columbia’s facility for tank-testing,” recalled Tim Nolan, who helped with project engineering. “It was Nordlund’s first custom-shaped hull in this size range and it reached 26-plus knots in its very first run from the factory.”

By keeping it simple, they kept it light and responsive, with a top speed of 27.5 knots. The yacht features twin 1,675-horsepower Caterpillar C32 diesels and can cruise all day at 18 to 20 knots. Like all Nordlunds, Shanakee is a completely infused composite structure utilizing an Airex-cored hull with a deck and superstructure cored with Divinycell and knitted E-glass. According to the owner’s project manager, Doug Fredericks, it was easier to build for an owner who recognized that the better designs do not try to be all things.


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Shanakee’s role was to play host to the owner’s family for passages off the Pacific Coast and the glacial runways of the Inside Passage- this made the choices in design clear-just as each boat in the owner’s fleet has its own special purpose. Since the boat will see extended family duty, the owner wanted four staterooms, four heads, and an informal layout that would comprise large, open gathering places like the salon, rather than chopped-up, compartmentalized space. High bulwarks and rails protect the 11 grandchildren who might venture on deck.

The interior was created with owner input and has a traditional nautical motif with quarter-sawn soft-satin-finished teak paneling with holly inlaid floors. It is finished with soft, rounded corners and wide companionways and stairs to help guests move about the boat in comfort and confidence. The oversized windows allow for plenty of natural light and the interior is informal. Details include sailors-eyeinspired handrails, fiddles, and drawer pulls-endearing to sailors, yet practical on any offshore motoryacht. The forward cabin has four bunks for the younger set to enjoy their end of the boat, but, realistically, also includes an integral washer-dryer.


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Most yachtsmen favor the splash of fresh air at the helm and the responsiveness of a spritely performer, so driving outside in varied conditions was a must. Nolan created a bimini with a feathered edge, cleverly supported by rakish polished-stainless columns for maximum sight lines from the flying bridge.

“When it’s too cold to drive outside, I appreciate being out of the weather and really value the design details Nordlund puts into a wheelhouse,” says the owner. “You would need a 100-plus-foot boat to have this kind of volume, but it’s shaped for handling so two of us can easily operate the boat.”


Outside steering, bow and stern thrusters, walkaround decks, and a flat foredeck cabin combine to make this yacht easily handled by two people. Throw in a large aft settee and teak aft deck, topped with dual settee and tables on the flying bridge, and the owners get enough ondeck living space to offer privacy for up to 10 guests.

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Shanakee’s owner has a longtime professional captain, Carson Jefferson, who runs his expansive fleet when the owner is occupied. “He loves to run the boats himself,” says Jefferson. “It’s his passion and, having put so much of himself into the design, he wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Nordlund limits itself to boats shorter than 116 feet in length, allowing the build team to work more closely with owner-operators. Fitting, since that owner takes precedence from start to finish, resulting in state-of-theart vessels for experienced coastal cruisers and adventurous souls.

The roots of success for brothers Paul and Gary Nordlund began long ago when they started building boats with their father, Norm, after school. Together they nurtured the business into a regional icon, yet, despite their achievements, these low-key heroes of northwest industry quietly remain in the background while their boats go forth and conquer. They can be found in the conference room humbly sharing their half-century track record with new clients, or wearing overalls, driving the Travelift.

“We take all our projects personally,” says Gary Nordlund. “When we meet potential clients, we assess the compatibility of their type of design, the pace of the project, and the temperament of the owner and potential project manager. We like to think we build the finest custom quality for genuine boaters who value the integrity of what we do. The process is nearly as important as the final product and valuing it keeps us close with clients. No matter how much design is upfront they are all very personal, client-driven projects that, over one to two years of close collaboration, result in their appreciation for a rewarding effort.”

This yacht’s owner is an aficionado of both sail and power, having owned a diverse fleet that, at one time or another, included 48-, 65-, and 76-foot sailboats. He has made transoceanic voyages with his two offshore performance yachts, a 105-foot Ron Holland design, and a 75-footer penned by Pedrick. If that’s not enough to satisfy the appetite of any passionate yachtsman, he also operates an 84-foot Doggersbank in Atlantic waters, an Eastbay 54, a Hinckley 42, and now, among others, Shanakee, designed by Ed Monk and assembled by an all-star cast of engineers and project managers.

“Few owners match this guy for his experience on the water as a true veteran of so many diverse design concepts,” said Monk. “He had the details worked out in his head when he came to us, including facets that often escape owners in their excitement of incorporating features. But being used to taking the helm, he appreciates performance, as in his sailboats, and never buried us with too much. He recognized that keeping it simple would produce a more satisfying design-not ‘too much hat and not enough cattle.'”

Monk has been Nordlund’s designer of choice for years and the two have worked together to satisfy many clients who wrestled with preconceived design notions. This concept valued great wheelhouse sightlines, which Monk also assured by protecting pilothouse position, and avoiding the temptation of too rakish a brow, which reduces headroom.

Monk, often mistaken for a conservative naval architect, is an innovative designer who pioneered composite technology at Nordlund’s yard decades go. But Monk has little ego and puts his clients’ tastes first. While other designers use their projects as a testing ground for unproven concepts, Monk shines when a client does not try to, as he says, “put a gallon of features into a two-quart jar.”

The result is a boat that hits all its marks and is the realization of precisely what the owner wanted, with the subtle flair of its design pedigree. It sits right on its lines, light in the ends, and cuts smoothly through the seas with little bow wave. Monk, together with the talented Tim Nolan and Ed Haggeman, produced a high-tech composite structure. The team’s proven record of targeted performance helps inspire the confidence to operate the boat short-handed offshore.

Like all Nordlund yachts, Shanakee is an unpretentious jewel on the water, exhibiting the strikingly honest and simple character of its builder and design team who, while on the leading edge of technology, are still just “handshake” sort of guys. For the owner, Nordlund’s personal approach to the process becomes a journey through design and construction and results in a boat true to the spirit of the original concept.

Nordlund Boat Company, (253) 627-0605; ****


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