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Transpacific Shakedown

There's nothing like 7,000 miles of open ocean to tell you if you got it right. For sailboat designer Steve Dashew, his first power cruiser was a dream.

October 4, 2007
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Long and lean, /Wind Horse’s/ lines belie her designer’s sailing history. But her bridge deck and big, open saloon carry the comforts of a power yacht.

Long and lean, Wind Horse’s lines belie her designer’s sailing history. But her bridge deck and big, open saloon carry the comforts of a power yacht.

Over the past 25 years, Steve and Linda Dashew have cruised more than 200,000 miles-the vast majority of them aboard sailboats that Steve designed. Dashew’s first boat, the 68-foot Deerfoot, characterized what would become the trademarks of all of his long-distance cruisers: She was fast, easily handled, comfortable and economical. The 78-foot ketch Beowulf, the last of Steve’s designs, took his ideas to the maximum and brought the couple, both in their late sixties, into the 21st century and the realization that advancing age called for a motoryacht-that is, if they hoped to continue a life afloat.

So came Wind Horse, affectionately known as the “Unsailboat” (Yachting, June 2005). Dashew decided to call his latest project a Fast Passage Boat (FPB) 83. He invested about 3,000 hours in the design and analysis (computational fluid dynamic studies and tank tests among them). The Dashews expected her to average 10.5 to 12 knots (250 to 288 miles per 24 hours); have a comfortable motion in heavy weather (both motoring into the wind and waves and away from them); be able to recover quickly from a knockdown; and be easy for the two of them to handle in the slip, the anchorage and all conditions they were likely to encounter at sea.

Dashew wanted her in aluminum, with a natural exterior (for easy maintenance) and had Kelly Archer build her in Auckland, New Zealand. From concept to launching, the boat took about three years, during which the Dashews frequently visited the yard or communicated ideas by phone and e-mail.

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Wind Horse was launched in May of 2005. After the initial sea trials off New Zealand, the Dashews set off on a 7,000-mile shakedown cruise to Marina del Rey, California. They had originally planned to motor to South America, head south around Cape Horn, north to the Caribbean and then across the Atlantic to Europe. They chose California because Steve’s father, who will turn 90 early in 2006, wanted badly to see the boat but wasn’t up to making the long flight to New Zealand.

So the Dashews took off on their first long motor-cruising voyage, a 1,000-mile cruise from New Zealand to Fiji, before heading on to California. Here are some excerpts from her log:

New Zealand to Fiji: Log Entries July 20, 0100 hours, local time. 954 miles to Fiji

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The moon is almost full, Wind Horse is averaging a little over 11 knots, and we’re finally at sea. Both of us are giddy with the leisure of finally being free of the land.

There are swells from the east, northwest, and southwest; wind and chop from the west-a typical washing machine sea for this part of the world. It is very comfortable on board.

Getting ready to depart was similar in many ways to what we’ve been used to in the past-last-minute phone calls home, a quick run to the market to top off the fridge, changing to a fresh bottle of propane, filling the diesel tanks….

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But the process on board was much simpler than with our sailboats. Run out the booms for the paravanes (a five-minute job), load our paravane fish into their outboard holders (from where they are easy to launch should they be required), lash the dinghy and secure the anchor. Total time: 20 minutes.

We’re running at 11 knots at 2050 rpm to get north quickly. North is warmer and it gets us away from the track of bad weather. …As the passage goes forward, we will reevaluate the weather options.

July 20, 2005, 1700 hours, local time. 790 miles to go __

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The South Pacific has been giving Wind Horse and her crew quite a workout. Winds have been in the 30- to 35-knot range most of the day, gusting into the low 40s. The true wind angle is averaging 125 to 130 degrees, right on our quarter. Waves are averaging 10 feet, with the odd 20-footer to keep things interesting.

We’ve been experimenting with the Naiad active stabilizer settings as well as those of the WH pilot. We’ve now got them to where we are quite comfortable 97 percent of the time. There is the odd breaking crest catching us on the beam, so holding on with both hands anytime we’re moving is the order of the day. A couple of hours ago, we got nailed by a large crest that gave us a good wallop. We heeled about 15 degrees, and then bounced right back. This is the first chance we’ve had to use the five-point harnesses in the saloon, and they are wonderful. We are nice and snug, and they keep us in tune with the boat’s motion.

We have reduced the rudder gain and opened up the sea-state controls on the pilot. Rather than forcing the boat to stay on a fixed course, we have found it works better to let her pick her way down and through these waves. Wind Horse is just about steering herself, using very little input from the rudders. She seems to be comfortable in these waves at this speed.

July 21, 1700 hours, local time. 475 miles to go __

There’s a full moon; we’ve passed through the corner of the high, winds have moderated to a pleasant 15 knots, and Wind Horse is stretching her legs. We’ve both got on light clothing and the heater has been turned off. In the interest of science, we even ran the air-conditioning for a while this afternoon-although we’re embarrassed to admit we’d do such a thing.

Forgot to mention in the previous report that we did 263 miles for the first 24 hours-and the same again for day two. Right on 11 knots. Today, with the wind backing to the south-southwest, and waves right on the stern, we’re learning to optimize downwind performance. The ideal situation is wind and waves dead astern. Then, we need to pick a speed that keeps us on the wave faces as much as possible.

The surfing characteristics are totally different from those of our sailing designs. As we take off on a wave, she naturally tends to pick a groove almost straight down the face of the wave. There is no tendency to round up. The faster we go, the straighter the alignment. That’s the aft location of the various fins plus some drag from the props at the higher speeds. These characteristics lead us to head directly downwind.

Increasing engine revs from 2100 to 2150 rpm made a huge difference. Average speed is up about 10 percent, while exhaust gas temperature… has dropped significantly. So, we’re going way faster while using less fuel.

The waves are down to half the size of yesterday, averaging 6 to 8 feet, with the occasional 10-footer. We’ve been hitting speeds in the mid-teens with regularity. Record for the boat so far is 20 knots.

July 30, 0800 local time, Fiji. __

We did it! We made Fiji in three days, 21 hours, breaking our old record on Beowulf. We’ve now been in Fiji a week, decompressing from the push of the last three years. Some first passage impressions: The interior layout works better at sea than imagined. On watch or in the galley, we had 360-degree visibility. The forward cabin was in use for sleeping during most of the trip. During the roughest 24 hours, we used the sea cabin aft, with its single bunk and seat belts for sleeping. The various doors, drawers and lockers in the galley are easy to use at sea. The heads also work well, and we both took daily showers using the forward bath. Now, our tropical awnings are set, there’s a lovely breeze blowing through the boat, and a bowl of delicious island fruit in the galley. It will soon be time for a swim before we start our boat chores.

Those were the first impressions. Initially, Dashew found Wind Horse tender, but she hardened up as she heeled onto her flared topsides (about 15 degrees) and maintained the maximum righting moment between 60 and 100 degrees of heel. If a breaking wave on the beam heeled her beyond 60 degrees, she’d skid sideways, which absorbed a lot of the impact. Her length reduced pitching (not surprising if you consider her beam-to-length ratio is 4.56-even more dramatic if we calculate it from the beam at the waterline-compared with the more common ratios of 3.5 to 4.0), though Dashew told me he had to adjust the boat’s speed up or down to match the frequency of the head seas.

Wind Horse’s underbody doesn’t have a flat surface anywhere, though her squashed semicircular sections in the run to the transom come close. She’s fine forward, and by current standards, pinched at the stern. The Dashews expected Wind Horse would squat on the narrow stern sections as she exceeds her theoretical hull speed. She doesn’t, and she’s easily driven-Dashew recorded a fuel burn of 1.39 miles per gallon averaging 9.3 knots over the bottom for 1,288 miles. This included running the air-conditioning full time, hydraulic power for the stabilizers (power takeoff from one of the engines), and rough-water drag on the hull and windage.

Wind Horse wears a shallow keel, a Naiad active stabilizer on each side at the turn of the bilge, and a substantial skeg protecting each prop. Her rudders are large compared with those of a planing hull. The yacht will take the ground upright, resting on her keel and skegs. All of these appendages contribute to her directional stability.

Once back home in Arizona, Steve said that he still loves to sail, but he’d choose Wind Horse for long passages. It’s so easy, so comfortable and free of stress. Linda likes the boat more than Steve does. “She loved it from the beginning, he said. “She doesn’t have the self-image problem. I had looked down my nose at powerboats for so long….

So how does Steve Dashew’s father feel about Wind Horse? Although Steve the elder still sails his boat, Deerfoot II, with a full crew, he loves the powerboat. “I think if he were younger, Linda said, “he’d order one for himself.

The Dashews are ashore and they plan to stay relatively close to home in the near future. The sea still beckons, though. They may take the grandchildren down to Baja in the spring to see the whales and maybe spend six weeks in the Sea of Cortez. If the passage bug bites again, look for them to head for Europe via the Panama Canal. Contact: www.setsail.com

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