Almost Home. But, The Weather is Not Cooperating

Sans Souci will cross the California border with Oregon within the next few hours. When I spoke with Jeff aboard the boat, he said that he feels like he must have angered someone, because he keeps seeing reports of calm seas ahead and behind him — but, 25-30 knots of wind out the window. It’s like there’s a big storm which has just decided to follow him up the coast. He had an uncomfortable evening, but believes this should be a calm day.

Unfortunately, things are going to get worse soon. A major storm is moving in, and he must turn the corner at Cape Flattery (the entrance to the Strait of Juan De Fuca) by Friday night or things will get ugly.

The boat is now a little over 400nm south of Cape Flattery, so this should not be a problem. We generally move 210nm a day, so he should easily turn the corner on Friday morning. He’ll have a bumpy ride Friday, but should be ahead of the storm.

As a little idea of how ugly it can get, I just rediscovered these pictures, that I posted on the blog last year, of a Coast Guard boat doing exercises around Morro Bay:

And, on a different topic:

I noticed this posting by Scott Bulger, a Nordhavn 40 owner on the Passagemaking Under Power list, talking about “get home” or “wing” engines. I thought it raised a lot of good issues, so I’m reposting it here…


“… Ok, finally I can compose my thoughts on a get home engine. First, I should say I don’t have a get home engine, I have a get someplace engine. The thought you could maintain any kind of steerage or make any real distance on the wing engine is really fantasy. However, that said, I’ve used it once and was glad I had it. We threw a belt early in our trip and I started the wing so Marian could man the helm and keep us running downswell while I cut the remains of the belt out of the main engine. Of course since the main was shut down I lost the stabilizers so it was far from pleasant. I also know a 43 skipper that lost his tranny and used the wing to get back to a marina. In his situation he could have called a tow, but as others can affirm, the currents in Puget Sound run pretty quick and you can find yourself aground in no time!

I’ve heard there have been several Nordhavns that have had their wing engines rust from the inside out because they aren’t used. The owners are advised they have to run the engines at least a few hours a month in order to keep the parts lubricated and systems functional. I try to do this and have about 30 hours on the wing, so I guess I’m keeping up with the minimum.

Anyway, there are a few issues with wing engines. First and foremost is how they fit into the overall scheme of things. If you’ve chosen a single engine boat then a wing seems attractive. However when you consider that something like 90% of all engine problems are fuel related, unless you maintain a dedicated supply of wing engine fuel, you’re likely to only get a few hours runtime out of it before you have to use the same fuel that killed your main. Maybe by that time you’re ready with an inexhaustible supply of filters? Regardless I think you really have to consider what your trying to achieve. It seems to me you need to make a table of features and benefits, addressing some additional questions like:


1. Do I NEED a second prop and shaft so I can run the wing if I

fouled the main wheel?


a. Well, if you wrapped a bunch of line or a net around your main,

isn’t it likely it’s flopping around back there ready to snare the wing as well?


2. Am I willing to keep it running? Will it be there when I need it?


a. Not really hard to do, just being aware of it is half the battle.

Chances are it will work when you need it


3. Can I really operate the boat with it?


a. Will it overcome moderate winds and seas?


b. Is the asymmetry in the thrust going to require me to use 20 or 30

degrees of rudder?


c. If my stabilizers are dead can the boat really even move or are you

better off throwing out a sea anchor and flopper stopper and trying to hail a catamaran to tow you to shore? I figure those cats are magic and do anything anyway, so you might as well experience the total humiliation of being towed in by a cat.  


If you made a table that included the likely failure scenarios and then mapped the proposed solutions against the expected failure, I’m certain one solution would rise above the others. I’m really surprised no one has suggested fabricating a bracket for the stern of the boat and then using a small sail drive or diesel outboard to move the boat? I guess a diesel outboard would weight like a thousand pounds, so that probably doesn’t make any sense.


If I was going through the design exercise I’d look really hard at having a combination Genset/Wing Engine/Watermaker system. It seems crazy to me that I burn diesel to make electricity to run a pump to turn salt water into fresh? With all that power in the engine room doesn’t a watermaker pump running off the wing/gen/main make a lot of sense? Properly engineered couldn’t this system be adaptable to drive a huge bilge pump in the case of flooding and a wing shaft or turn the main wheel? Who cares if it doesn’t have reverse. If you have this kind of failure and you bring the boat back to a marina all you have to do is get it close to the dock and your going to be thrilled. This is one reason why I’ve never spent much time showing Marian how to dock the boat. If I’m incapacitated she can get the boat close enough to land that someone can come aboard and land the boat if necessary. What she can do is figure out where we are, get on the radio and then use the boat chartplotter to get us where ever we need to be. More than that would be wonderful, but not absolutely necessary. I guess what it all comes down to is PAE/Nordhavn has been building hundreds of Passagemaking boats and I bet the VAST majority of them have wing engines.

They must have looked at the economics of designing their own family of systems to replace all the add on components but they still continue to use the individual components. Perhaps this is because every buyer brings his or her own requirements to the buying cycle and if they had to educate the buying public on a custom designed system it would drive them crazy? So in summary, for those people that are buying production boats that have wing engines designed into them it’s pretty much a $30,000 go/no go question. If your skilled enough to be designing and building your own boat I have to believe there are some economies and advantages in looking at propulsion, electrical power generation, water making and other needs from a systems approach, then designing and building a system to meet these needs.


As for you John, if you really needed to you can tie the tender up to the side of the boat and kick the motor in gear and probably get 50 or 100 miles? Maybe that’s enough for a near coastal boat? I remember seeing the panga drivers in Puntarenas towing boats in the river with small outboard motors. It was amazing how easily they pulled them through the water. In the middle of an ocean if you lose the main I don’t know what you’d do?

Sincerely, Scott Bulger, Alanui, N40II, Seattle WA 

PS Here’s the latest idea for a name for our “Mini Rally”: The Great Siberian Sushi Run

12 Responses

  1. Todd: Unless I hear from you otherwise, I’ll post your message on the PUP message board. Your points are all valid and worth passing along.

    As to fuel: I have consistently heard that fuel is the #1 reason diesel engines fail, but what they don’t say is that dirty fuel is only a piece of the problem. I’ve heard of several Nordhavn’s that lost their engine due to fuel, but ALL of them were due to operator error. Most of the time, it is because the valves were set wrong, and one tank runs dry while there is fuel in the other tanks. I remember one of the boats on the NAR, which shall remain nameless, after crossing the Atlantic, within sight of Gibraltor, running out of fuel, because they forgot to swap tanks. Recently, a new Nordhavn ran out of fuel, on their maiden voyage, while they were trying to compute their fuel consumption and accidentally let the day tank empty. In terms of what I’ve witnessed personally, the #1 cause of fuel problems is “operator error”, not dirty fuel.

    As to wing engines: I am a HUGE fan of wing engines. They are a brilliant idea for lots of reasons. I’m amazed no other manufacturer has copied this idea. We had a wing engine on our 62 and it saved us once when we were 200+ miles from shore. To be honest, we went with twins only because we were worried the N68 would be so large that we’d need the extra maneuverability. In actuality, the thrusters are much beefier than expected, and I would have been fine with the single.

    That said, now that I have the twins, I wouldn’t give them back. I like the extra margin for error they give in tight docking situations. A few days ago a non-Nordhavn 65 trawler smacked into a couple of sail boats, after losing control inside a marina, due to a combination of current inside the marina, and high winds. Twins might have given the extra power to avoid the accident. Or it might not…

    Do you have an N68 on order? Awesome. You’ll really like the boat. More space than you can imagine, and very comfortable, yet seaworthy enough to go anywhere. Call or email if you want to bounce ideas (on equipment selection) at any time. I’m not an expert, but I work cheap (a glass of wine will get you many hours of “consulting”).

    -Ken W

  2. Ken,
    First let me say it has been exciting reading about your boat and crews’ trip up the coast from Costa Rica. Even though the weather has deteriorated and they have made a brief call in port, it sounds like San Souci will soon be home.

    I feel compelled to voice another view and thoughts on get home propulsion which I am sure you have had no shortage of! I am sure that there are as many opinions on this as there are different cruising areas and situations. Having been fortunate enough to cruise thousands of miles (admittedly most near coastal) on a N50 with a single Lugger Diesel, a N57 with a single John Deere Diesel, and soon a N68 again with a single John Deere Diesel, I am convinced that a single diesel main engine with a “get home” single and its own shaft and prop is a preferred system for many, if not most, owners.

    All of these boats have or will be mainly cruised on the west coast of North America from Alaska to Costa Rica. I believe that we face as many threats from fishing nets and debri as fuel contamination. I will attempt to briefly address a few of Scott’s points.

    **98% of failures being fuel related: Sure that is the case in much of the world, luckily for us not in our cruising area.
    **Risk of “get home” rusting: On all three boats the wing engine also powers the hydraulic bow thruster which insures more frequent use.
    **Can you operate the boat? On the N57 the wing engine easily moved the boat at 5+ kts.
    **Do you need 20-30 degrees of rudder? Not on the N50 or N57.
    All good arguments for some people and cruising areas but I believe not for most.

    The advantages as I see it in the Nordhavn get home packages are many. A single large diesel and small get home offer more engine room space than twins. The N57 had a seperate “known clean fuel” tank that would run the boat at 5 kts. for 8 hours. Hopefully enough time to deal with main engine filters. More economical to build and run than a twin engine package without any significant penalty in performance. Running over a net with twins you usually foul both props. With a get home engine the prop is located farther forward than the main prop, so usually enabling you to run the get home while dragging a net behind the main. Even if the main prop is fouled you can run the main engine in neutral and power the stabilizers while propelling the boat with the get home. On many Nordhavns there is economics in spare parts since filters, water pump, and impeller are the same for the wing engine and the generator.

    As far as generator/get home systems, most boats we have seen have usually had to over size the generator in order to provide enough power to provide any kind of significant speed out of such a system. This is fine when it is needed, but certainly uses more fuel and never has a proper load the other 99.99% percent of its life. Also many of these systems require placement of a chain or belt on the main shaft when engaging, which is just another step when already facing a challenging situation!

    Ken, thanks again for your great and informative blog.
    Todd P.

  3. Tedgo: As I was reading your post, I was identifying with it. On Sans Souci we started with the concept of a “Big” and a “Small” generator. Mistake! I quickly found that my small generator was an inadequate backup for the larger generator. Unfortunately, it is too late to replace my 16kw generator with a second 25kw. So, instead, I’m swapping the 16kw to a 20kw. The Northern Lights 16kw and 20kw have the same physical footprint. – Ken W

  4. In response to the last entry, my guess is lack of maintenance. I am not quite sure how a wet exhaust keeps the water out with passing waves, particularly the larger ones, but it must have some form of none return valve. If there is a valve or another form of water trap then routine maintenance is probably required.

    From memory, having read the whole journal some years ago, the boat seemed to have maintenance problems. Although the engine was rebuilt in New Zealand it was again extensively overhauled in Singapore if memory serves me correctly. Latter on they took on a couple, he was a fully qualified Captain and she a commercial marine engineer. The boat ran much better from then on.

    Interestingly, as this thread is about trawler design, the boat had a both a large and small generator. This was soon found to be a problem as the smaller one could not handle all the electrical loads. Eventually they replaced the smaller one with another full sized unit. This gave full redundancy.

    I raised the last point as I remember reading about another trawler where the main generator ingested its own air filter and the smaller generator was incapable of powering the davits. This meant the tender could not be taken on board and had to be towed. If you duplicate systems then they should provide for full redundancy.

  5. I wonder how Starship ingested water (seawater?) into it’s engine. I assume it had wet exhaust…does anybody know any other details?

  6. Everyone I spoke to agreed that Northern Marine builds great boats. I heard again and again from owners that if I could stand the delays and cost overruns I’d be thrilled with the result. We actually were down to having a contract in hand, and were ready to sign, when I heard rumor of big layoffs and financial problems at Northern Marine. The team that I was working with was laid off, which spooked us, and we started working on a custom steel-hulled boat. We would have gone that route except that when I called to formally cancel my agreement with Nordhavn (we had a purchase order deposit on a N64), Dan Streech backed down and agreed to build the N68. The issue at the time wasn’t that Nordhavn didn’t want to build the N68, it was that they were already stretched thin. They had just launched several new models, and were flush with orders, as a result of the NAR (Atlantic Rally), and the success of the new models (the N43, N47, N55 and N76). They didn’t want to make promises they couldn’t deliver on. As it turned out our boat was delivered late, but not really. By semi-custom boat standards, it shipped practically ahead of schedule! – Ken W

    PS Northern Marine brought in a new management team, and is still in business. I haven’t checked back up on them since we started our boat, so I don’t know if they solved all their issues or not.

  7. Both are 75′ Northern Marine’s. Beautiful boats, and they seem to be very well built and finished, but from what I’ve heard they don’t have the same type of manufacturer support as Nordhavn. Have you spent much time on Starr or other Northern Marine boats? I remember you mentioned at some point during the purchase process of your 68′ that you had talked with Northern Marine, but were worried about cost overruns and delays.

    Regardless, it’s tough to beat the Nordhavn pedigree for passagemaking. No other manufacturer comes close.

  8. Starship and your friends trawler Starr are different boats but of similar design. I believe Starship was bought by an American Film star after the vessel completed its circumnavigation.

  9. That’s a great post on StarShip! They were very lucky. Had it been rougher seas, or a heavy swell, they would have had a much worse time.

    As crazy as this sounds – I suspect that StarShip might be a sister ship, or very possibly THE boat, that is now named Starr, and going with us to Siberia. I’ll ask the owner the next time I see him.

    Here’s what I said about get home engines in my posting on the PUP list:

    “…When I was “between trawlers,” shopping for our present boat, it was amazing how many boat manufacturers hadn’t really thought through “get-home”
    capability. I kept hearing about (from the salesmen) fishing boats running
    the Bering Sea with a single engine, and no get-home capability. To me, this
    is utter nonsense. Most commercial fishing boats have an engineer onboard,
    serious dive equipment, and a good set of professional tools. Most
    trawler-owners do not have an engineer aboard ship [Note: I’m a software
    engineer, but that doesn’t count]. Most are smart people, but I doubt a very
    high percentage are adequately prepared to solve a serious diesel engine
    problem or net-wrapped prop.

    Some boat manufacturers do have complicated get-home setups, that assume you
    can run a chain to your genset, so that it can power your prop. This
    accomplishes nothing for a net-wrapped prop, and given that the main engine
    never seems to fail when the sun is shining, and the seas are calm —
    running that chain to the genset, in real-world conditions of a boat that is
    being slammed, is not as easy as it sounds….”

    -Ken W

  10. Other people on that thread suggest that fishing boats go out every day with only a single engine and no backup facilities. This is not really true as fishermen are a part of a community who are always willing to help each other. Tows are not usually that far away.

    Imagine a single engine yacht ingesting water through the exhaust and seizing the engine, the only means of propulsion. This happened to Starship in a remote part of New Zealand, you can read about on the following link, and subsequent pages. (

    The only means of getting to a harbour was towing the yacht with their tender. Fortunately they were close to shore and the weather calm, had they been far out to sea the situation could have resulted in an expensive commercial tow.

    Twin engines make the most sense, while a permanently connected wing engine is at best a poor second choice.

  11. Thanks for reminding me — I should have posted that! (

    To subscribe to the list, use this link: (

    It’s not a very active list — but, when there are messages they are usually good. It has a good group who are very smart.

    -Ken W

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