For those of you who may have missed my last blog entry, the quick story is that Roberta and I have listed Sans Souci for sale and are in the process of ordering a new boat. The quick reason is that we are planning to cruise “the Great Loop” (an inland journey on America’s rivers). We chose our Nordhavn 68 as the best possible boat for ocean crossing and now we’re building a boat that is built for a completely different flavor of cruising.
The new boat is scheduled to start the molding process early next year. Once the molding process begins it will take at least a year for the actual boat to be constructed. Grand Banks will then need to find a freighter to transport our new boat from Malaysia to America. It will take several weeks for the freighter to slog its way to the east coast of the United States, after which we’ll go through a commissioning process (final installation of things like drapes), and then the real fun will begin, hopefully in the Spring of 2020.
Roberta and I have now run over 50,000 miles on our various boats. We have lived three to five months a year on a boat every year for the past twenty years. Some boats are used only on nice sunny days for a quick picnic on the lake, but that’s not us. We consider our boat a second home and once we leave the dock at the start of a cruising season, we only occasionally return to the dock over the following months.
Our current boat, a Nordhavn 68, was designed with the idea of off-grid cruising. We can survive for months without taking on fuel. We make our own food and water. We have satellite for internet and television. We even have our own hot tub.
Nordhavn owners are a different breed from most boaters. Many, if not most, spend extensive time on their boats. The boats can go to remote locations, and are capable of traveling in seas, that most boats can’t. There are comfort, safety and navigation needs that are somewhat unique to Nordhavn-style cruising. I remember being on the helm of an enormous megayacht a few years back and being surprised to see that the navigation systems weren’t in the same league as what we have on our Nordhavn.
It will be tough to give up all the comfort and safety of our current boat. The deeper I get into the ordering process the more this point is driven home.
To cruise the Great Loop, you need a boat capable of going under low bridges, and with a shallow draft (not too deep). Our current boat is over forty feet tall and we needed to find a boat that could go under a nineteen foot bridge. Specifically, our mission was to find a boat that wasn’t too tall but which could get us reasonably close to the comfort and safety we have become accustomed to.
How we chose the Grand Banks 60
In our quest for a new boat we looked at smaller Nordhavns as well as many other brands. Nordhavn sells a model which would work for the river cruising of the Great Loop (the N59CP). We are Nordhavn fans, and may return to the family of Nordhavn ownership someday. But, for this particular purchase we decided to go a different direction. I mention it only because I’ve received so many emails asking, “Why not the Nordhavn 59cp?” The quick answer is, “There wasn’t really a reason”. And, to tell “the rest of the story”, we arrived at the final boat we chose obliquely. Our initial search resulted in our selecting a boat quite different from the Nordhavn 59CP.
Our search was quickly narrowed to a small number of boats. We decided early on that safety was the one area where we wouldn’t compromise. Although our short-term plans are for river cruising, we will probably own our next boat for five to ten years and our cruising plans extend well beyond inland waters. I don’t see us crossing oceans, but trips through the Caribbean, or shipping the boat to Europe and then cruising the Med and/or Northern Europe are definitely part of the plan. We want to know that whatever we buy will deliver us safely in rough seas and have an anchoring system capable of holding us securely in strong winds at anchor.
After looking at lots of different boats (including Nordhavn, Fleming, Hinckley and others) we selected the Palm Beach 55 (aka the PB55).
Thus, we swapped to the larger GB60 which retains much of what we liked about the PB55 but with room for a larger tender.
Selecting the boat was only the beginning. The next step: Picking the equipment
We have the option of simply writing a check and ordering the boat as Grand Banks designed it. However, my guess is that very few (if any) buyers actually order a boat without making changes. The GB60 is not a “starter boat”. It is of a size, cost and complexity where the buyers tend to have owned several prior boats and have definite ideas about what they want. I’m sure it is frustrating to Grand Banks and all boat manufacturers in the category, but each buyer has very specific demands. Unlike buying a car, no two boats are built alike.
Our first step was to define the layout of the boat.
The people at Grand Banks are amazingly easy to work with. Roberta and I displayed their suggested layout on our huge projection screen at home and agonized over every detail and every appliance. Ultimately, we decided their suggested layout was just fine and asked for only very modest changes. The only significant change we made was that we converted a third stateroom into two independent rooms; an office for me, and a laundry room for Roberta.
The standard layout And, our revised layout
The biggest difference was on the appliance side of things. Roberta wanted Sub-zero and Wolf appliances. She also wanted a separate washer and dryer rather than a combo-unit, and we both wanted a gas barbecue in addition to the electric barbecue that comes standard with the boat. It is a major headache to find propane for a barbecue, but: Barbecuing just isn’t the same without real fire.
The latest evolution in marine propulsion is the IPS drive, or “Pods” as they are sometimes called.
Pod drives deserve their popularity! They free up space inside the boat, increase maneuverability, and increase efficiency (extends range 10-20%).
As great as pods are, we rejected them from the beginning. It is a new technology and as a rule of thumb, boats are a great place for “tried and true”. The pod drives are large complex pieces of equipment hanging beneath the boat. If you hit a log you’ll have to wait for an expensive repair from a difficult-to-find pod-certified engineer.
Similarly, I really wanted Lithium Ion batteries for the boat, but decided to pass on them. Lithium Ion batteries are new and have many advantages over AGM type batteries. They last much longer and are lighter weight. But, they are very sensitive to the surrounding temperature, and overcharging or undercharging. Managed properly they are awesome, but managed wrongly they can be a fire hazard. This is true of any battery, but more so for Lithium Ion batteries. To counter this Lithium Batteries need a “Battery Management System” (called a BMS) which intelligently monitors the batteries. For now, I’m sticking with old technology, but it’s a close call.
Because we run the generator non-stop when away from the dock, it isn’t clear that I need much of a house battery bank. That said, I can’t imagine being without batteries. I’m compromising on a medium sized bank: 765 amp hours at 24v, or approx. 18kw.
Our next big decision was to select the engines for the new boat. My choice was between the 1000hp Caterpillar C12.9 engines and the 900hp Volvo D13 engines.
This was a decision where I had no idea what to do. I phoned a series of experts and received conflicting, but very firm and passionate, opinions.
Ultimately, I went with Grand Bank’s recommendation for the Volvo D13 engines. They are smaller and lighter.
On Sans Souci, I’ve always taken our navigation equipment and radar extremely seriously. We have dual PCs with Nobeltec TimeZero Professional, dual top-of-the-line Furuno black box radars, Sonar, a Satellite compass, etc. I think back to a passage in Japan where we had to move through a ultra-dense crab pot field, in the dead of night, in heavy fog. My Furuno blackbox radar spotted every pot and guided our tiny fleet of three ships through the maze safely. How can I possibly give that up?
We took a test drive on the PB55 which had the same Garmin navigation hardware and software as Grand Banks is recommending for my new boat. To my complete and total surprise, I liked it! It isn’t what I’m accustomed to, but the truth is that for cruising close to shore, it would be extreme overkill to outfit a boat with the kind of equipment that is on Sans Souci. And, I was impressed with the Garmin setup. The chart plotter seemed responsive and felt well engineered. I didn’t try plotting a route, or trying to spot crab pots, but I suspect we’ll be fine.
The helm is much smaller than on our current boat, with only two monitors, whereas I currently have four. Ouch. But, we are downsizing, and it is what it is.
One thing we’ve asked for that hasn’t been greeted enthusiastically is: “Lots of chain” on the anchor. On our current boat we have 600′ of half-inch chain with a big-ass 330 pound Rocna anchor at the end. Most of the smaller boats we looked at have anchors that weigh under 50 pounds, connected to the boat by rope (and, perhaps fifty feet of chain). We spend most of our time on the boat at anchor, and have survived winds over 60 knots. We’ve watched more than once as boats around us land on the beach or slide into other boats due to inadequate ground tackle (the anchor and rode).
Unfortunately on the GB60 and similar boats, weigh matters, whereas on our Nordhavn weight is largely irrelevant. Grand Banks would do virtually anything I’d ask, but strongly recommended that I go with no more than 325′ of chain accompanied by 75′ of rope. When complete, the boat needs to be seaworthy. Thus, it is the gods of physics with whom I’m negotiating, not the boat builder.
As a general rule, the smaller a boat is, and the lighter it is, the more it will roll when at anchor.
Those of you who read my blogs while we were in the Med recall how frustrated we were with the lack of calm anchorages. Sans Souci had a stabilization system that consisted of giant plates we hung off the side of the boat called Flopper Stoppers. This worked well, and given our 120 ton weight we were usually the envy of all boats around us. But, it was far from perfect. After the journey we spent a ton of money upgrading Sans Souci to a better solution for stabilization that uses the stabilizers (fins under the boat) to keep the boat flat in a rolling anchorage. We were planning a trip to Hawaii and felt we needed something better than just the flopper stoppers. Unfortunately, our marina in Hawaii rejected us without explanation at the last minute, and our cruising plans have changed.
For our next boat we absolutely want stabilization at anchor. Our choice was between a Stabilizer-based at rest system, like we did on our current boat, and a gyro-based system called Seakeeper. Both are great systems, but each has pros and cons. The Seakeeper, which is essentially a giant top that counter-acts the motion of the sea, is better at anchor and the fins are better underway.
We then chose the fin-based system. Our thinking was that it would take up less space inside the boat, would be better underway, and realistically, other than when we were cruising the Med, stabilization at rest just isn’t a big deal. Over the past two years we haven’t used our flopper stoppers at all!
This decision didn’t last long. After thinking it over we swapped to the Seakeeper system. The new boat will be running in waters with frequent crab pots and the idea of having fewer appendages beneath the water appealed to us. My research indicated that the Seakeeper is ineffective underway, but only when going fast. In actual practice, when the seas are rough we slow down. Plus, we don’t see ourselves crossing oceans in this boat. We’ll be doing short daytime runs most of the time. And, to ensure that we’d be 100% comfortable at anchor, we are upsizing the Seakeeper from the standard Seakeeper 9 to it’s big brother the Seakeeper 16.
The Electrical System
Our current boat, Sans Souci, has an international power converter (called “the Atlas”) that allows it to accept virtually any shore power from any country in the world. We have plugged into shore power without problems in over 20 countries, including both US 60hz and European 50hz power. It has been VERY convenient.
That said, the Atlas is a large, heavy and complex beast.
We considered an Atlas type device for the new boat, but decided on a simpler solution that the two boats we traveled with on the GSSR employed. (Note: the Great Siberian Sushi Run was a trip from Seattle to Japan we ran in 2009). Both Seabird and Ocean Pearl (Nordhavn 62s) used a simple transformer that took up less space than our Atlas. It didn’t do everything our fancy system on Sans Souci did, but they got by just fine.
For the electricians amongst you .. I can describe briefly what I’m planning
The biggest problem with shore power in Europe is that is that the boat receives 240v at 50hz over two wires, whereas in the US we use three wires (a neutral plus two hot wires with 120v at 60hz). A transformer can make the wiring and voltage appear to the boat to be American-standard, but not the frequency. To get around this, I need to split the boat’s electrical system so that those devices that are frequency insensitive can be run off 50 or 60hz, and those that must have 60hz will either be run by powering my generator, or powered by the batteries via my inverters.
Here’s a document I sent to Grand Banks which outlines what I envision
The GB60 comes standard with a 25kw Fischer Panda generator. Grand Banks likes the Fischer Pandas because they are very compact and lightweight.
Roberta and I like to run our generator 24×7. We spend months at a time on our boat and like to be as comfortable as possible. A single Fischer Panda generator was not going to suffice.
Grand Banks suggested installing twin Fischer Panda 15kw generators, but given our non-stop generator usage I wanted a generator I knew could be run for weeks at a time reliably and that I had a history with. The We decided to add a second generator and chose a Northern Lights 20kw, the same generator as we have used so successfully on Sans Souci. If space permitted, I would install two of the Northern Lights generators. But, given the smaller equipment spaces all I could do was install one of them, along with a 15kw Fischer Panda which will be used as a backup.
And, even that was going to be tight.
Air Conditioning / Heating
On Sans Souci, we have a fairly complex air conditioning and heating system. Cooling is provided by two 60,000 BTU Technicold chillers that cool a loop which circulates around the boat. Heating is provided via a Kabola diesel furnace. The same loop is used for both cooling and heating.
I put this together to remind myself how our current boat works
That’s the good news. The bad news is that it is another piece of gear I need to find room for, and it puts heat into the equipment spaces.
That said: There is room to put the Kabola. It would require a bit of squeezing, but can be done. However, before I decided to embark on building this boat I promised myself that I was going to keep the equipment spaces as open as possible (for easy maintenance).
The fact that we are a “generator always on” boat gives us an alternate way to generate heat: Electricity. I can use heating elements inside the air handlers (the little radiators that transfer heat from the chilled water loop into the interior of the boat. For water heat, I can use an electric water heater. And, it should also be said that we are warm water cruisers. We are typically in warm water climates, and if we are somewhere cold, it would be in the warmest part of the year.
Thus, at least for now, we are not installing a Kabola.
On Sans Souci I have an extensive Maretron monitoring system. It measures hundreds of things around the boat several times a second. It checks equipment temperatures, room temperatures, shaft temperatures, inverter temperatures, tank levels, and far more.
The Garmin system on the GB60 does do some monitoring, but not near as much as I get from the Maretron system.
I haven’t gotten to it yet, but I definitely will want to do some monitoring. At a minimum, I will want to know the shaft temperatures.
The GB60 is only 18′ 6″ tall. This is to the top of the hard top on the fly bridge. In order to do “The Great Loop” a boat needs to be under 19′ 6″ tall. So, you would think I’d be fine, but that’s not the whole story. The hard top is where the antennas and radar are mounted. Together they put the top of the boat closer to 23′.
Grand Banks recognizes that if they want to sell the GB60 to persons considering the loop they need a solution. This topic was amongst the first ones discussed and Grand Banks said, “No problem. We can build you a mast that tilts.” The mast would hold the antennas and radar, and could be lowered when going under a bridge. We haven’t discussed the mast, and I haven’t seen a design, so I don’t know what Grand Banks has in mind. I’ve asked that it be fairly simple to tilt down, and am very curious to see what they come up with. The Loop is completely new territory for me, so I don’t know if I’ll be tilting the mast once a day, once a month, or once for the entire Loop. My guess is that there will be a lot of bridges and that the lower I am, the less I will need to wait for bridges to raise, or water levels to lower.
The GB60 draft is under 5′, which is the maximum for doing the Loop. I will need to pay attention to depths, and do some careful planning, but .. I should be fine.
I am still uncertain what to do about internet. On Sans Souci we have satellite internet via the KVH Vsat. I am compulsive about having internet and on those rare occasions when I’ve been offline for even an hour, it has made me crazy.
In reality, even though we have Satellite internet, we rarely use it. The Vsat is slower than a cellular internet connection and extremely expensive. I spend thousands of dollars per month for a connection we rarely use.
We will not be cruising very far offshore with our GB60. That said, we will be cruising “off the grid”. I do see us taking the boat to Northern Europe or around the Caribbean. We will be places where there is not good cellular connection and we will want internet.
No decision has been made, but I need to decide quickly. If we do want Vsat the dome will need to be on our tilting mast, and it is being designed now.
One of our favorite features on Sans Souci is the hot tub. I’m fairly certain we are the only Nordhavn owners ever to actually wear out a hot tub! (Ours was replaced with a new one last year).
I’m not sure whether or not our new boat will have a hot tub. My guess is “maybe”. Not having a Kabola makes it difficult, although I have ideas for a workaround (electric heat). I also have an idea for where to put the tub. I am working with another GB60 buyer, who also would like a hot tub, to find something that works for both of us and that we think Grand Banks can easily build.
And, that is it for this issue of the blog!
Ordering a boat is a lot of work. This blog entry only mentioned some of the more major items. There are long lists of other fine details. I am being helped in this process by Jeff Sanson of Pacific Yacht Management (and his team) along with Steve D’Antonio of Steve D’Antonio Marine Consulting, both of whom have been invaluable in this process. My thanks (and, a well-deserved plug) to them both!
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Ken and Roberta Williams
Toundra and Keeley (crew-dogs extraordinaire)