[KensBlog] September Construction Update


NOTE: This blog entry is very different from my normal blog entries. Roberta and I are building a new boat and this boat is focused on the construction process and decisions we are making. If you are seeking a travelogue, stay tuned. That is coming! But . . . we need to get the boat built first.

Roberta and I are still in “waiting mode”; waiting for our boat to be complete so we can start cruising.

That said, I am using the word “waiting” very loosely in that there hasn’t been much sitting around waiting involved. We’ve been too busy! This was our first summer in decades to not be on a boat. Instead, we ventured to France and Ireland for some land-touring. It wasn’t all vacation though. Both Roberta and I were constantly answering one email or another about the boat. I just counted the boat-related emails in my Outlook folder and there were nearly five hundred exchanged between myself, the factory and my various consultants over the two months we were in Europe.

The main deck to our Grand Banks 60
You can see that it is just the main deck. The boat seems to be being built in four major pieces:
  • The hull which has the equipment spaces and living quarters,
  • The main deck with the drive station, cockpit, main salon and galley,
  • The fly bridge with its drive station and hot tub,
  • And, the fly bridge roof with the mast (visible behind the main deck in the picture above).
The large number of emails might make you think that we’ve been radically changing the boat.

We haven’t changed anything major about the boat since the contract was signed. All major decisions were made over a year ago and all we have been doing since that time is tying down the details.

That said, there are a LOT of details. The number of details to be tied down seems infinite. For example, here is the actual language from my contract regarding the Maretron monitoring system:

My best guess is that TBA means To Be Announced. The initials TBA could have more accurately have been replaced with WDKSLFIOL (We Don’t Know So Let’s Figure It Out Later). The abbreviation “(TBA)” appears twenty-three times in our contract and each of those TBAs has meant many of hours of research and decision making. For instance, the aforementioned TBA about Maretron. I would bet I easily have forty hours of research and a hundred emails just regarding the Maretron monitoring system. It wouldn’t surprise me if the team at Grand Banks has as many or more effort into defining the Maretron system on the new boat.

Electrical System

Probably the toughest challenge, and most time consuming, has been the boat’s electrical system. We foresee the boat primarily being used in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. But, we aren’t ruling out that we’d ship the boat over to Europe for a season or two. Both our Nordhavn 62 and our Nordhavn 68 spent time cruising in the Med. I can’t say for sure we’ll take the boat to Europe, but I also don’t want to rule it out.

European shore power is very different than what we have in the US. I’m over-simplifying, but typically US shore power involves 240volts delivered to the boat via three wires. The three wires allow for two circuits of 120 volts at 60 hertz (cycles per second), whereas the European standard uses only two wires to deliver 240 volts at 50 hertz.

Both US and Europe deliver 240 volts, but the 50hz vs 60hz issue is tough to get around. Some equipment will accept either, but many appliances will only run on one or the other.

On Sans Souci, our prior boat, we had a huge, heavy, power adapter that converted virtually any power that I encountered around the world into the same electricity as we find in the US. I had a love/hate relationship with it. As we traveled around the world I found I could plug into virtually any kind of shorepower; single phase, three-phase, 208 volts, 240 volts, 400 volts, 50hz, 60hz, etc. The Atlas was incredible! However, it was enormous and heavy, and worst of all: Unreliable. To be fair, one Atlas technician pointed out that I was putting tens of thousands of hours of usage on it, and I should expect that it would need maintained from time to time. The problem was that it was a highly specialized device that was mission critical. I wound up flying technicians to Mexico, France, Canada and more locations. And, when it would fail during the off-season with me thousands of miles from the boat, the result would often be dead batteries and a large repair invoice.

We don’t need a perfect solution to international power, and we don’t need something as flexible as our Atlas. We just need a way to “get by” for a summer or two in Europe. And, most importantly I want something reliable that can be serviced by virtually any marine electrician.

The solution turned out to be fairly simple and is described in this overview of the electrical system. Essentially, I’ll have two 240v electric panels; one that can accept US or European power, and another that can only be lit up if I have US power. There are some devices that will ONLY operate if I have access to US-standard electricity, notably: The stove, washer, dryer, watermaker, and hot tub. If I’m at the dock in Europe I’ll have the option of powering these by firing a generator. It won’t be a problem.

Extremely simplified overview of the Cygnus AC Electrical System
A couple other notes on the electrical system: Most boats are set up with an extra set of alternators on the main engines that can be used to charge the batteries when under way. Our boat is being set up from the start as a “Generator always on boat”, by which I mean that many design decisions are predicated on the idea that if we are away from the dock the generator will be running. There will always be enough power to run the battery chargers. Adding alternators to the main engines just means more hardware that can fail and belts that can break, without benefit. Also noteworthy is that we are NOT using engine exhaust heat to heat hot water as most boats do. I thought seriously about this, but it means extra piping and complexity. The same is true of using a diesel furnace to heat hot water and for space heating. We will always have electricity available, which makes the diesel furnace unnecessary. I will miss having one, but am trying to look at each piece of equipment on the boat and ask myself if there is a way to live without it.

Currently, I’m working with Grand Banks on adding support for 120v shore power. They asked a month ago if I wanted 120v support and I said no. It seemed like unnecessary complexity for something I’d never use. But then a friend convinced me that in some places in the Northeast United States, and on the Great Loop, a 120v connection might be my only option. There isn’t much power to be had from a 120v connection, but I would at least be able to keep my batteries charged and have some lights and electronics in the boat. I don’t want to complicate what I have in place just to support something I might never use. My current thinking is to find a way to bring 120v service to one of my battery chargers (or, add a 120v dedicated battery charger and power inlet).

Latest Construction Photos

When viewing the photos above click the little word balloon in the lower right corner of the pictures. I added comments explaining them.

The Engine Room and Lazarette

The engine room and lazarette on the Grand Banks 60 (GB60) is large by comparison to most “go fast” boats. Most reviews of the GB60 have been very complimentary of how much room there is.

It’s a good thing, because I wanted quite a bit more equipment than is on the stock GB60.
  • Seakeeper 16 (stabilization)
  • Two generators instead of one
  • Passarelle (gang plank)
  • Watermaker
  • Oversized water heater
  • Two Air conditioning chillers
  • Two large transformers
  • Two large battery chargers
  • Backup pumps already plumbed in for fresh water and raw water cooling
  • Oil change system
  • Fuel polishing system
A lot of energy is going into where to place all this equipment recognizing that I need to be able to get to it for maintenance. There is also a concern about weight distribution. We need to balance the weight fore and aft, which was part of why the Seakeeper was moved forward, as were the batteries.


Our contract called for the boat to have a 55kg (121 lb) Rocna anchor.

Grand Banks’ standard anchor for our boat is a 27kg (60lb) Ultra Anchor. In other words, we wanted a different brand anchor that would weigh twice as much.

As Grand Banks looked closely at this issue they realized that fitting the Rocna anchor would be extremely difficult. To their credit, when pushed, they were willing to design a custom bowsprit to handle the Rocna.

After a flurry of emails back and forth a compromise was reached that was a win-win for everyone. We will be installing a 60kg (132 lb) Ultra anchor. I said at the start of the process that the only two anchors I would consider were a Rocna or an Ultra. The shape of the Ultra made it easier for Grand Banks to create a bowsprit to handle the anchor and the number 60 is greater than the number 55 so, it was an easy decision

I’m also a big believer in the weight of a chain rode to assist in holding a boat. The standard for the Grand Banks 60 is 100 feet of chain followed by 260 feet of rope. Our boat will have 328 feet of chain followed by 60 feet of rope. I’ve watched too many boats drag anchor to ever want to take a chance.

Electronics: Navigation, Audio Visual and internet

There are some areas of the boat where I really have not engaged and have done virtually nothing. These are: The Garmin chart plotter system, the autopilot, the dynamic positioning system, the joystick control, the hydraulic thrusters, and the Volvo engines. These are important systems! I have done some reading, but I have little hands on experience with any of these systems. My sole exposure to the Garmin system came when I took a test ride on a Palm Beach 55 manufactured by Grand Banks. I confess to having been prejudiced against Garmin, but was pleasantly surprised. The integration with Volvo, the auto pilot, and chart plotting all felt good. I haven’t used it enough to give meaningful feedback to Grand Banks or to ask for any customizations

I don’t know if I’ll use the joystick or not. I signed up for the joystick option because it was required in order to have what they call Dynamic Positioning. This will allow me to press a button and the boat will stay put, regardless of any wind or current around me. This will be handy when entering marinas and I want to put out fenders. And, I do confess that I am looking forward to trying the joystick. Maybe I’ll like it? The boat will also have conventional controls.

Our prior boat (Sans Souci) had an amazing setup for video. Counting the four monitors at the helm there were nine televisions around the boat plus several audio-only zones. There were a multitude of devices that produced video (Two navigation computers, Maretron monitoring system, Sonar, A couple of Apple TVs, Sat Receiver, Skymate, Two radars, etc). To manage all of this and allow any video or audio source to be routed anywhere I had a Crestron 16×16 HDMI switcher. It was a nice setup but complicated.

For the new boat I’m doing what I can to keep things as simple as possible.

Our new boat is rated for off-shore cruising (Ocean Category A), but I don’t foresee us crossing any oceans. We are equipping the boat with the assumption that we might do some light offshore cruising, but nothing too serious. That said, I would be very surprised if we don’t take the boat internationally. Where? We don’t know, yet.

The guiding theme as we’ve designed this boat is: Low Maintenance. There is no such thing as zero maintenance on a boat. If you check any marine dictionary you’ll find the definition of world cruising as, “Fixing your boat in exotic places.” Salt water is corrosive and bouncing through the waves long enough inevitably shakes things loose. If you aren’t breaking things on your boat from time to time, you probably aren’t going anywhere. Unfortunately, fixing things is expensive and worst of all, a waste of valuable time on the boat. As we’re building this boat Roberta and I are asking each other, “What can we live without?” I forget which mathematician discovered this formula but it is absolutely true: “R = C squared” (“R” equals how often the boat needs repaired and “C” represents complexity). In other words, the likelihood of things breaking on a boat, and the cost of repairs, rises exponentially as complexity is increased. Simplification is rewarded many times over. Another rule of thumb is that “No piece of equipment that wasn’t on the boat has ever needed repair.”

So with all that in mind . . .

I really love and know Nobeltec. I’ve run Nobeltec through tens of thousands of miles of ocean. My first instinct was to replace the Garmin navigation system on the new boat with Windows PCs running Nobeltec. I also love and know Furuno radars. However, I’m forcing myself to use the Garmin system, radars included. It’s what Grand Banks has experience installing. I tried it and was surprised by how smoothly it worked. It seemed well integrated with the Volvo engines and handled both monitors at the helm as well as the monitors on the fly bridge quite neatly. I’m still not 100% convinced I’m going to love it, but it seemed simpler to “just do what Grand Banks does” in this case.

I am not installing any sort of central audio/video management. There will not be a Crestron system or any form of HDMI switching. In fact, other than an Internet connection between the computers, and satellite tv being fed to all of the televisions, there is no fancy audio/video switching that is happening. For remote controls we are using the remotes that come with the televisions. Each tv will have its own soundbar. There are no amplifiers to worry about except for a stereo system that is standard on the GB boats, and it isn’t integrated at all with the television systems. I won’t be able to pop up the navigation computers or radars from lying in bed, but oh well. We’ll survive.

We do have a Maretron monitoring system, but the video from it isn’t part of any central distribution system. There are some Maretron displays around the boat, but if I want to see what is happening with Maretron while lying in bed or having dinner I’ll have to run the Maretron app on my iPad rather than a television. No problem. And, whereas our prior boat had sensors for hatches, doors and windows we’ll have none of that. Maretron has options to control various items on the boat. I spoke yesterday with the owner of another GB60 who mentioned he’ll be able to ask Maretron to turn on the lighting around the boat from on his tender using his iPhone (Very handy when returning to the boat from on shore late at night). My first reaction was, “I must do that!” But, then I remembered the design mantra for this boat. I’m sure I’ll regret later all of the things we’re not doing.


Cygnus will be set up much the same way as our prior boat. We will have three ways to get internet. We’ll be using a Pepwave Router which can take in internet from a variety of sources. If there is decent wifi in a marina, we’ll be able to take it in. It also accepts SIM cards from the various cell phone providers. Cellular data is usually the lowest cost and fastest internet connection around. The Pepwave routers accept multiple SIM cards and I usually load it up with multiple cards from multiple companies. Most providers put some limit on the maximum amount of data usage. By using multiple providers I can exceed this and also expand the number of locations where I can get cellular data. As a final resort we are installing a KVH VSAT satellite internet system. This is slower than most cellular connections, and expensive, but works virtually everywhere.

All internet cabling inside the boat is Cat-6, capable of running 10-gigabit internet. I am overloading the boat with wireless access points (from Ubiquiti) in order to ensure there are no dead-zones for internet on the boat. I like the Ubiquiti gear and will have several of their 8 port POE switches (Internet geeks amongst my readers will know what those are). The 8 port switch is nice because it is fanless and runs quiet.


We will have a KVH TV3 satellite tv dome. Our big decision is whether to go with a Dish Network receiver or DirecTv. I’m still trying to figure out the issues but the bottom line seems to be that with Dish Network and my TV3 dome it will be possible to get HD programming whereas if we go with DirecTv we’ll be locked into low resolution. This means we’ll be running a Dish Network Receiver.

Our plan is to have only a single satellite tv receiver. We’ll wire the boat such that we could have multiple receivers if we wanted to, but 99% of the time it is just Roberta and I on the boat. We’re feeding the same video to all of the televisions (Main Salon, Master Stateroom, Guest Stateroom) using HDMI over ethernet extenders that also have a channel for IR (so that each television can change channels, but all televisions will be stuck watching the same program).

Each television will have a dedicated sound bar (Sonos Beam) and an Apple TV. The remote for the Apple Tv will be able to control the sound bar, as will the remote for the television. I like the Apple TVs because they are so flexible. Most people think of the Apple Tv in terms of streaming, but this is something we rarely do on a boat. Generally speaking, streaming movies on a boat is not practical. Most wifi connections are slow and unreliable, if they exist at all. Satellite internet is expensive, and every cellular SIM card I’ve encountered is limited in capacity. Some claim to be “unlimited” but . . . read the small print. You’ll find a surprise. They drop the speed dramatically after you hit some limit, usually around 20 gigabytes of data. We will occasionally stream short YouTube videos, and music, but playing full HD or 4k movies is totally impractical. Instead, we rip movies and TV series from DVDs onto a hard drive and play them via the Apple TV. The Apple TV has several apps for playing movies off of a network drive (NAS).

TIP: Apple TVs support Airplay from iPhones and iPads. This means that anything on my phone or Ipad can easily be beamed to the television for playback. I have an iPad Pro sitting next to me now on my desk which has a full terabyte of storage. I’m loading it up with 4K versions of movies and tv series that we’ll watch via airplay to a television while sitting at anchor some evening. Both iTunes and Prime Video allow full downloading of movies to be watched offline
Surveillance and more Synology NAS

The Synology NAS (Network Attached Storage) drive
The boat’s network will have an NAS drive which serves several important purposes:
  1. Store all of the documentation associated with everything on the boat. This used to be a big deal in that there are a lot of manuals for a boat like this! I just checked and my folder for the boat already has 1,744 files in it.
  2. Store movies, tv series and music. Prior to departure I rip dvds for whatever we think we might want to watch.
  3. Provide a place to backup Roberta’s and my computer. Also . . . we shoot a lot of video and pictures during a cruising season. iPhones backup your photos and video automatically to the internet. At home, this is not a problem, but on the boat it can burn through all of your data quickly, and as I’ve mentioned before, data on a boat should be treated like a precious commodity. I back up our cameras and phones to folders on the Synology, and then take the data home (on a small ssd drive) at the end of the season for uploading to the cloud.
  4. Surveillance. I run a package on the Synology that monitors cameras around the boat. This gives me a way during the off-season to know immediately when technicians are on the boat (I get alerts and can review video). I also use the cameras to monitor the tender when I’m towing it and to watch the equipment spaces for anything that looks unusual while running the boat. I normally keep a camera pointed at the engines so I can watch for water spraying from hoses, or smoke from a failing fan belt (none of which I’ve ever seen, but I keep watching!)
Tilting Mast

One of the primary goals in purchasing the GB60 was that we wanted to be able to run America’s Great Loop. At this point we don’t know exactly when we’ll do this or if we’ll actually complete the whole loop or just cherry pick the best parts. Our current focus is on getting the boat completed. We’ll worry about where to go later.

What we do know is that if we ever want to do the Great Loop we can’t have a boat that is more than 19′ 6″ feet tall. Our Nordhavn was over 40′ tall!

The GB60 is a little over 18′ tall. However, that’s without the mast. Add the mast, with its satellite domes, radar and various antennas and we quickly become WAY too tall to do the loop.

But . . . there’s a solution, and here it is. Grand Banks is building us a mast that will tilt with the push of a button. Below is the first test I’ve seen of the mechanism that will allow our mast to tilt backwards

The mast fully tilted
For a detailed look at our mast layout, Check out this document

The tilting mast is a great solution but also comes with some negatives. The size of the domes for television and for satellite internet are being limited in size, as are the radar arrays. Or, at least I strongly suspect that if I weren’t doing the tilting mast my options would be wider than they are now. For example, I wanted the V7-HTS vsat unit and instead I’ll have its little brother the V3-HTS. Similarly I wanted the KVH HD5 satellite tv dome, but will instead be limited to the TV3. Size and weight aren’t the only problems. Our first attempts at placing in the equipment resulted in radars that had major blind spots. We have worked out how to physically position the radars but it hasn’t been perfect. Things are packed together fairly tightly on the mast. I am definitely missing the mast on my Nordhavn where weight was not a factor and the sky was quite literally the limit. We are making it work, but like anything on a boat: There are tradeoffs and you really need to think about what is important. For what we’ll be doing with this boat it will be fine.

Hot Tub

When Roberta and I decided on this boat we recognized that a hot tub would be impossible. Common sense indicates that a hot tub is a silly thing to have on a boat anyhow. However, when I think about the highlights of our various cruising adventures I remember times like this one:

Sans Souci at anchor in Alaska
It is a magical experience to be sitting at anchor in a lovely bay, in the middle of nowhere, sipping an adult beverage from a hot tub on the top deck of a yacht. Is it decadent, and should we feel guilty? Yes. Probably. So?

Anyway once I decided it would be impossible I started thinking and bouncing ideas with Grand Banks to see if there wasn’t a way. And, with enough motivation and enough Carbon Fiber miracles can happen.

The Grand Banks 60 comes standard with a sunbed behind the fly bridge seating. Here you see it replaced by a hot tub.
When the cover is on the hot tub it will still look like the standard sun bed
We had to do a bit of rearranging and push the seating on the fly bridge a few inches forward, but we made it work. At first we were worried about the davit bumping into the hot tub, but sliding the seating forward solved the problem.


Washers and dryers are not a particularly sexy topic, but on a boat laundry can be a big deal. We struggled to find “the perfect washer/dryer.

At first, my priority was to find a washer/dryer that would work on 50 or 60hz electricity, so that we could run it off of shore power while in Europe. I thought it would be easy but . . . it wasn’t. I had a hard time finding a washer / dryer with the electrical flexibility I was seeking, and then when I did find one, I needed to sell Roberta on the particular brand. And, whereas I have spent exactly zero percent of my life feeding a washer or dryer, Roberta has many hours invested and definite ideas about what she is seeking.

A couple of other issues crept into the decision making . . .

It is important that whatever we install be reliable. On a boat spaces are tight. Laundry equipment tends to be built into cabinets in hard to reach spaces. This is certainly true on the boat we are building. If for some reason the washer or dryer needs replaced it will be a serious project, likely involving damage to surrounding woodwork.

The other issue was one I had never realized even existed. There are vented, and ventless dryers. Each has its pros and cons. Ventless dryers are better in many ways; they tend to be more efficient, they are not as prone to over drying, and can be installed anywhere. Whereas, a vented dryer needs ducting and venting to the outside air.

To Roberta there is really only one answer: A vented dryer. Why? Because it dries clothes up to twice as fast! Remember that I said that space is tight on a boat. We’re looking at washers and dryers that are in the “compact” 24″ wide category. Even those are wedged in very tight. Given that there will be multiple loads, its nice to move through them as quickly as possible.

Finally, we stumbled onto the Miele line of professional compact washers and dryers. I don’t know, but am assuming that the commercial designation, and higher price, will somehow translate into greater reliability. I’d rather pay more up front than risk being anchored somewhere hundreds of miles from civilization seeking a non-existent washing machine repairman.

As to my goal of 50/60hz? I gave up. If we’re in Europe, sitting at the dock, plugged into 50hz shore power, I’ll have to fire up the generator long enough to do the laundry. And, in reality, Roberta and I spend very little time in port. If the boat is in a marina, it is probably because we’ve gotten off the boat to fly home for the season.

Our cruising plans

We swapped to this new boat with the idea of cruising America’s Great Loop.

However, momentum has now shifted to taking delivery of the boat in Alaska and running down the inside passage before loading the boat on a freighter and transporting it to the East Coast. This will allow us to be in familiar waters during our shakedown cruise.

Comments and Questions

It’s always great to hear from readers of my blog. You can email me directly at ken@kensblog.com or better yet, post your comments directly to my blog so that your feedback can benefit others. To post to my website-based blog, click this link: www.kensblog.com. Once you are on the blog, click on the most recent blog entry, scroll to the bottom of the blog entry, and look for the button labeled: POST COMMENT.

Thank you!

Ken and Roberta Williams (and, Keely and Toundra)
Cygnus, Grand Banks 60



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