After two years of being landlocked Roberta and I are finally cruising on our new boat.
Getting the boat ready to go
The last step in the process of taking delivery of a new boat is called “Commissioning.”
This is not our first new boat. Our two most recent new boats were from Nordhavn, and each required a long (four month) effort to ready them for cruising after they arrived in the United States from Taiwan where they were built.
Grand Banks shortens this process by pre-installing everything. Our new boat was essentially ready to take cruising the minute it arrived from Malaysia. When we stepped aboard the boat for the first time Grand Banks had 100% of everything installed, including towels, dishes and even silverware.
That said, before taking delivery I wanted to have the boat inspected. I asked Steve D’Antonio (https://stevedmarineconsulting.com/) to go through the boat before writing the final check. Anyone who knows Steve will tell you that he is in a unique category. There are boat surveyors (people who inspect boats for a living), and then there is Steve. He spent two full days on the boat digging deep. Steve made the Grand Banks representative open up virtually every panel and cover on the boat so that Steve could get a good look at the various equipment.
Steve’s final report to me spanned eighteen pages, included 462 pictures plus a series of videos. It may seem like a lengthy report but Steve came away very impressed and commented that it was one of the cleaner reports he had ever issued. He did pick up a few small issues that were fairly easy to remedy.
While the boat was going through commissioning, I also had a few tasks to work on.
The boat had to be registered in Washington state and a heart-stopping excise tax paid. I also needed to get the boat registered with the coast guard in order to obtain an official Coast Guard documentation number for the boat. This was a precursor to being able to obtain something called an “MMSI” number which would be required before I could use the boat’s VHF radio or AIS. There is a fast easy way to get an MMSI from BoatUS.com but only if you don’t plan on taking the boat offshore or to other countries. In our case, we have definite plans for long-range cruising so I needed to get the fancy MMSI number that couldn’t be obtained until I actually had a documentation number or Washington State registration. And, with covid, government agencies are not running at peak efficiency. I got it done, but not without some delay along the way. I also had to get the TV receivers activated, the satellite internet activated, sim cards for cellular internet and a host of other activities.
Bottom line: We got through it! Grand Banks was a delight to work with through this entire process. I could not be more complimentary of their people. They are definitely a service-oriented company.
About this season
Roberta and I have owned enough new boats to know that the first season of cruising is always an adventure. Grand Banks does an amazing job building boats, but there is far more complexity in a boat than most people understand. Roberta’s and my goal for this boat, our first cruising season is to learn to use, and to stress test, every system on the boat.
We have thought about running the boat up to Alaska this summer, but the smarter move, with a new boat, is to stay close to our mechanics (Pacific Yacht Management), resolve any issues that pop up, and then be ready for more adventurous cruising by the end of the summer. Don’t worry, we won’t be suffering. There is plenty of local cruising to be done and no lack of beautiful anchorages. Our home marina (Roche Harbor) is literally on the border with Canada, but we can’t cross over into Canada because the pandemic has closed the border. We “might” cross into Canada if the border opens, as it is rumored it might, but our current plans for the summer are to stay within a 150 mile radius of Seattle.
At the end of the season (October?) we plan on shipping the boat to the east coast. Where and when we cruise once the boat gets east is a total unknown. The Great Loop? The Caribbean? Nova Scotia? Who knows? Certainly not me.
Well … How do we like the boat?
We have now been living on the boat for about three weeks. We’ve spent about half of that time at anchor and the other half in marinas. My short answer is, “It’s tough downsizing.” There are a lot of times when Roberta or I will say, “We miss Sans Souci” (Our Nordhavn 68.) Cygnus, our new boat, is almost exactly the same length, but Sans Souci was taller, wider and with a deeper draft. As I’ve mentioned in the past, comparing to Sans Souci to Cygnus is like comparing a Hummer (a big-ass SUV) to a Porsche. Each has a place in the world, but they are very different animals, and serve different purposes. We set up Sans Souci to cross oceans, and she took us safely across oceans (including the Bering Sea!) to over twenty countries. We do plan on taking Cygnus into the ocean, and to other countries, but if a major passage across an ocean is needed, we will load her on freighter.
For this boat we wanted something smaller, simpler to operate and maneuver, that would be faster, and capable of going places Sans Souci couldn’t (like the Great Loop.) Cygnus is perfect for the kind of cruising we see ourselves doing for the next few years. That said, we do miss Sans Souci. By coincidence, Sans Souci’s new owner has a slip only a few slips away from us at Roche Harbor. She has been renamed and we walk past her several times a day when we are in port. We always smile as we walk past, remembering all the unbelievable conquests she brought us.
Speaking of dock walking, Cygnus is a stunningly beautiful boat. We cannot walk down a dock without people stopping us to comment on Cygnus’ looks. The pictures do not do the boat justice. The bluish-green color is not a flat paint the way it looks in pictures. It’s a metallic color that seems to have true 3d depth and catches the sun in amazing ways.
Cygnus is incredibly fast. I can’t tell you exactly how fast, because I’ve been reluctant to take her up to full speed.
Grand Banks was worried that I had loaded up the boat with so many options that the boat’s top speed would be limited. Speed has definitely not been a problem. I’ve mostly been cruising at 22 knots, which after decades of cruising at 8.5 knots feels like light speed. We averaged 24 knots on an 80 mile run from Seattle to the San Juan Islands. I popped the speed briefly up to 26 knots and more was possible, but realistically, any speed over about 15 knots is potentially disastrous in the Pacific Northwest.
You may remember reading something like this back when you were learning to drive:
”Force of impact is the force generated when objects meet. The faster you drive, the greater the impact or striking power of your vehicle. The laws of physics determine that the force of impact increases with the square of the increase in speed. So, if you double the speed of a car, you increase its force of impact four times. If you triple the speed, the impact is nine times as great. So striking something at these speeds is like driving off a one, four, and nine story building respectively.”
There is the potential for logs in the water anywhere between Seattle and Alaska. Most are relatively small, but some can be huge and represent a serious problem. We installed a steel plate at the waterline on Cygnus as the first defense against hitting a log. However, it only helps to a certain extent. If I ever hit a log at 25 miles per hour, it will not be fun. These logs are also the reason that very few boaters will cruise at night in this area. There’s a saying which is wise to remember when cruising in the Pacific NW: “There are old captains and there are bold captains. But, there are no old bold captains.”
Cygnus is much easier to maneuver than Sans Souci. Even with Sans Souci’s twin engines and powerful stern and bow thrusters, bringing her into a marina slip could be a challenge. When we had the option we would always wait for the wind to die down before attempting entry to a marina. Often, we found it easier to just stay at anchor than to try to muscle Sans Souci into a tight boat slip. One of our hopes with this boat was that she’d be more maneuverable in tight quarters, with less windage (be tougher to push around by the wind,) and thus far she has delivered on that promise. I’m still adjusting to driving Cygnus, but I’ve already been in and out of four different marinas with no problem.
We are loving the Seakeeper. It’s a giant ball (a gyro) that spins like a top to keep Cygnus stable in rough water, whether we are sitting at anchor, or underway. We’ve been running the Seakeeper constantly except at night in totally calm conditions. We would run it around the clock, except that it does give off a constant gentle hum. The anchorages in the Pacific Northwest are overflowing with boats now. Because of the Canadian border closure, everyone is stuck cruising closer to home. We usually anchor away from other boats, preferring privacy. This typically leaves us at the mouth of a bay, not deep inside. The downside of this has meant that every other boat entering or leaving an anchorage must pass us at some point. And, because Cygnus is an exceptionally pretty boat, other boats frequently come close hoping to get a better look. Boats often approach faster than they should, with some zipping past at high speed. Without the Seakeeper each of these incidents would have us rocking back and forth. Instead, we hardly feel the waves. I’d rate the Seakeeper’s “at rest” stabilization as spectacular. I had heard the Seakeeper was ineffective at high speed (over 20 knots), but yesterday I was caught running at 22 knots in the heavy wake of another boat. There was no doubt that I needed to alter course, but I stayed long enough to see how the Seakeeper would do, and was impressed.
The Grand Banks 60 is unusual in that it has the range of a trawler, is Category A ocean rated (the same rating as Sans Souci!), and yet has the speed of a fast cruiser. We carry 1,500 gallons of fuel and allegedly can run 2,000+ miles at the same speeds we cruised Sans Souci. The funny thing is that I can’t tell you about the range at slow speeds because it has been too miserable to run at them for a prolonged period. The boat runs at slow speed perfectly fine, but it felt horribly slow. Speed spoils you. After a few minutes at 9 knots I would become impatient and jam the throttles forward and turn to Roberta and say, “Can you believe we cruised at this speed all those years.” She would nod agreement and say, “No way. Let’s move.”
Overall, we are adjusting to the new boat. There is no such thing as a perfect boat, and there are no new boats that run perfectly without incident their first season. Thus far, all is going very well and we seem to be ahead of the curve. The hot tub, which was very controversial when I first suggested it, turned out insanely well and we have been giving it a good workout.
I asked Roberta how she was enjoying the new boat. The picture above is her response. She summarized with one hand motion what it took me a dozen paragraphs to say.
We were sitting at anchor, on Sucia Island, 80 nautical miles north of Seattle, when one of our two dogs, Toundra, suddenly collapsed. She had been perfectly fine with no signs of any trouble when she fell over in the cockpit and couldn’t stand back up. She was having trouble breathing and we thought it was game over for her.
We immediately started calling vets, but no matter what we did we were several hours from anywhere, and there were no vets to be found who would see her. Everyone we called needed a week or more for an appointment. I was racing back to our home port when we discovered a 24 hour Emergency Pet Hospital in Mount Vernon (about 30 minutes inland by car from Anacortes Washington). Miraculously, we found moorage in a marina (Rosario) on another island (Orcas) and turned around the boat to head there. From Orcas we could take a ferry to the mainland and head to the emergency clinic.
The only rental car I could find was from a company that asked me to agree that there would be no dogs in the car, and that the car wouldn’t leave the island. I looked at poor Toundra, seriously considered fibbing, but then admitted what we were doing, and started begging. I explained that I would happily buy the car if anything bad happened but that I needed it now, and I needed to take it to the mainland. The car rental company agreed and we raced to the ferry. Eight hours (that felt like eight months) after Toundra’s collapse on Sucia we were in Mount Vernon at the Pet Emergency center.
While traveling we looked up the average life expectancy for Toundra’s breed (a Russian Toy Terrier.) Eleven years, exactly Toundra’s age. She has shown very few signs of aging and we had assumed she would be around for many years to come. She has been by our sides for all of her life and: People who are dog owners will understand the deep bond between us.
Toundra has an enlarged heart and breathing problems. Her lungs had filled with fluid and we now know that her days are numbered. We’re home in Seattle now to take her to the vet. We scheduled the first canine cardiologist appointment we could find (September.) The Emergency clinic stabilized her, but she seems to have aged by several years over the past week. She will need heart medication and diuretic pills for the rest of her life. We will need to keep her calm (which is definitely NOT her nature.) Hopefully this will keep her going as long as possible. The vet raised an eyebrow when we said we were taking her back out cruising, but it’s the right thing to do. Not much else to say except how sad we are.
And, a few random pictures and comments
One nice feature of the Grand Banks 60 is a sun bed on the top deck. When we decided to install a hot tub inside the sun bed we worried that the lid would no longer be strong enough to lie on. I asked Grand Banks to make sure that the hot tub lid would be strong. Well .. they did what I asked. In fact, I suspect you could park a 747 (if it would fit) on the top of their hot tub cover without it sagging. Both Roberta and I could jump on top of the cover and never worry about hurting it. However, it also takes both Roberta and I to remove the cover. I haven’t weighed it, but my guess is that it weighs at least 50 pounds, and probably a whole lot more. I now have a new cover on order that is MUCH lighter, but probably not nearly as strong. That’s ok. We’d rather have a hot tub than a sun bed anyhow.
This picture requires explanation.
It would be an understatement to say that Grand Banks is deeply concerned about weight on their boats. Roberta’s and my preference for anchoring away from other boats often means anchoring in deeper water. For us, dropping the anchor in 50 to 60 feet of water is very common. Anchoring in 100 feet of water is not unheard of. In Captain’s school they tell you that you should put out five to seven times your depth in chain. Sans Souci carried 600 feet of chain and we used it all on some occasions. I’m not sure what goes onto most Grand Banks boats, but when I asked Grand Banks for 400’ of chain, which I considered the smallest amount I would be comfortable with, they were not happy. We compromised at 100 meters (325’) of chain.
Now that I’ve taken delivery and have started cruising, I have given the issue more thought and decided that I was right at first. I am never going to feel secure until I have at least 400’ of chain. We have seen way too many boats break anchor over the years and wind up on the beach.
Our existing chain (Cromox) is quite unique. It’s an expensive and hard to find chain that is truly exceptional. Most chain costs around $8 to $12 a foot. The lowest cost I’ve found for this chain is $26 a foot. It’s stainless steel, which some boaters reject as weak. However, this is made with a special process and is twice as strong as normal stainless. Also, it is highly polished, which makes it look nice and stack nicely in the chain locker.
Unfortunately, I’ve hit some walls trying to get the chain extended. It isn’t as simple as extending my existing chain. Splicing two chains together results in a weak link, and we would never be able to sleep worrying that it might break apart during some storm. We literally bet our lives on that chain. I need to replace all 400’. I thought it would be as easy as writing a painful check, but the chain isn’t available at any price. The factory says they have no short term plans to make more. I’m sure there’s a solution, but I’m not sure what it is. For the Pacific Northwest, I’m not worried. We’ll be fine. But before we start venturing off the grid, I’d like to solve this issue.
Some of the pictures in this blog entry, including the one above, were sent to me by others. I was surprised and delighted when I received, by email, the picture above after our first night at anchor. Some unidentified person, who I do not know, sent it to a future Grand Banks 60 owner in Arizona, who then forwarded it to me. I had no idea a drone had seen us. The picture of us underway was sent to me by one of my blog readers who I happened to pass while we were on our way to Sucia.
That’s it for this issue of the blog. Adios until next time!
That’s it for this edition of the blog. Adios until next time!
Ken and Roberta Williams
PS If you are interested in my book about Roberta’s and my days making videogames, check out: www.kensbook.com, or for Roberta’s book about Ireland, you guessed it: www.robertasbook.com. And, for the game I am working on: Yes, it is: www.kensgame.com
PSPS I am sending this email version of my blog entry now, but will not be able to get it posted on my www.kensblog.com website for a few days. Apologies for the delay. Normally I try to release both the web and email version at the same time, but …we’ve been busy.