[Kensblog] Shakedown summer

Greetings all:

I haven’t written anything sooner because there really hasn’t been much to say.

When we were cruising in Costa Rica, or Asia, or the Bering Sea, or even the Med, there was plenty to talk about. But, that’s not this year.

Welcome to the shakedown

The first year on a new boat is always an adventure. From the moment we ordered Cygnus we knew that the first season would be somewhat difficult. Grand Banks has been incredible to work with and I am constantly amazed by the quality of their boats and their people, but any new boat of this complexity needs some serious testing before it can be taken to remote destinations.

We’ve been spending this summer within a 100 mile radius of our mechanics, Pacific Yacht Management. Our home marina, Roche Harbor, lies only 85 miles northeast of Seattle on the border with Canada. We had expected to be able to do some cruising into Canada this summer but have given up on the idea. We were literally within a mile of entering Canada on August 9th when the border re-opened, but with the combination of a new boat and uncertainty about whether the Delta variant may cause Canada (or the US) to lockdown again, we just decided it wasn’t worth it. We have a lifetime of cruising ahead of us. For this year we really want to stay close to home and focus on our mission of shaking down the new boat.

Starting the year with a bang

Do you see the difference between these two pictures? Look at the height of the sign….

Tides in the Pacific NW are fairly dramatic. The sign you see in the picture above raises and lowers by 12 feet each day with the water level. It’s easy to forget that is happening when you are on the docks, which is exactly what I did. The sign, which was well over our heads when I backed into the slip, was at head level later when I stepped out of the boat onto the dock. I should have been paying attention but instead rammed my head into the sign creating a good sized gash.

OUCH!!!! Welcome to Roche Harbor

Deception Pass

Our first taste of water over the bow
Click on the picture to watch a short video

One of the first things we wanted to try on the new boat was to get a sense of how it would handle in rough seas. We still haven’t really done that, but we did get surprised by some choppy seas as you can see in the video above. We were heading south from the San Juan Islands to Seattle and in the mood for a nice calm ride.

There are two ways to make the run. The first is to cross the Strait of Juan De Fuca. The Strait extends 80 miles west to the Pacific Ocean. Crossing it is usually anti-climactic, but when the wind is blowing it can get quite exciting. There was a gale warning in effect so we decided to take the alternate route, which is to zig zag through the islands to a narrow passage 30 miles east, called Deception Pass, where we could travel a nice calm protected waterway most of the way to Seattle.

Deception Pass is a narrow passage with currents running at 7 knots this time of the year. On our prior boat, Sans Souci, this meant waiting for slack before traversing the passage. With Cygnus’ speed we should be able to go through at any time. And, perhaps after I have more experience with the boat we’ll do just that, but for now my goal is to take things a step at a time. We expected a totally calm trip but as you can see in the video we got bounced around a bit. It was actually perfect in that we were able to get a sense of how the Seakeeper (our stabilization system) would perform at different speeds. It was also good in that we discovered that the starboard side windshield wiper didn’t work. Overall, the boat handled flawlessly, although it was a new experience having a lot of sea spray on the windshield. Our prior boat, a Nordhavn 68, was so high off the water that we rarely saw any spray. Oh well .. something new to get used to.

Cygnus’ logo, lit up at night

Strange side tie moorage in some bays I haven’t seen anything similar anywhere else

As we were running to Seattle we noticed an anchorage called Penn Cove that would be off to our west. It was a bit out of the way, but despite how it appears in the picture above, Penn Cove has a strip of land between it and the Strait of Juan De Fuca. We also saw that there was a restaurant with a dinghy dock, and dinner “out” sounded nice.

Unfortunately, our visit to Penn Cove didn’t go so well. As we were anchoring the wind started climbing. Shortly after we dropped the tender the wind climbed to over 25kts.

With the wind climbing we didn’t want to leave the boat.

On arrival in the anchorage there was only us and one other boat. As it became obvious that the thin strip of land to our west offered scant protection from the wind, the other boat departed leaving us alone. Another boat, a large Nordhavn, showed up later in the evening, but they looked like they weren’t enjoying the high winds any more than we were.

Overnight we saw gusts to 40kts. Our “rule” is that, anytime the winds are high, Roberta and I stand watch. It was a sleepless night and as soon as there was a hint of daylight we put the tender back on deck and headed south to Seattle.

A couple of “new boat” issues…

Roberta and I are delighted with the boat. It has exceeded all expectations. That said, there have been a couple of mechanical issues that have impacted our summer cruising.

The first is that we have not had air conditioning. Under normal circumstances I would find it funny that someone cruising the Pacific NW might whine about a lack of air conditioning. However, this has not been a normal summer. We’ve had two different periods where temperatures reached into the 90s and even briefly went over 100 degrees. During the worst of it we had to leave the boat for a few days.

The air conditioning was tested at the start of the season and worked fine. However, when the heat wave started we discovered that the chilled water loop, which moves cold water through the boat had no pressure. After a bit more digging we discovered that the circulation pump was spraying water from the front seal and needed replaced. We’ve had a pump on order for weeks. Unfortunately, it will arrive too late for this season, but temperatures here in Seattle are back to their normal “chilly,” so it is a non-issue for this year.

Our second problem has been a bit more interesting and more of a challenge to diagnose.

Roberta and I designed this boat to be a “generator always on” boat. We have two Northern Lights generators and our preference is to start a generator whenever we leave the dock and leave it running until we return to the dock.

While asleep at anchor we were awakened by the sudden sound of our 20kw generator choking and dying. I rushed to the engine room and could see a message that it had overheated.

The issue turned out to be a sea strainer packed with weeds. In all of my cruising I’ve never had a strainer become so full of weeds that it shut down all flow to a generator. There is seaweed everywhere in the Pacific NW but I have been anchoring in a minimum of 20 feet of water, well above the seaweed. My first reaction was that some must have drifted under the boat.

After the strainer basket was emptied, the 20kw generator was restarted and luckily no damage was done.


A few days later, in a completely different anchorage, sitting in 45 feet of water, our 12kw generator quit running. Its’ strainer basket was packed with seaweed. How could that be possible? One strainer was understandable, but two?

And then …

The mystery reached an unacceptable level a few days ago when our 20kw generator suddenly shut down again. I cleaned the basket and restarted it only to see thick smoke coming from it, which turned out to be steam, we think.

I swapped to the 12kw, which had been running fine, but discovered its strainer basket was also packed with seaweed. The bottom line is that I had completely filled two different strainers on two different occasions each, with seaweed from four different anchorages. I make no claim to be a genius but it didn’t take a lot of thinking to figure out that whatever screens were on the bottom of the boat, which are supposed to be keeping crud out, weren’t doing their job.

That was it. I immediately needed to get the boat out of the water so I could look under the hull and see what screens or strainers were covering the intakes for raw water on the generators. I also was fairly certain I needed a new impeller on my 20kw genset, or worse.

Amazingly, Jeff Sanson (my normal mechanic from PYM) was able to work magic, and within an hour of my calling him to say I needed hauled out right away, he had us moving towards a haul-out facility in Anacortes.

Once the boat was out of the water I was able to look beneath and took the above picture. It looked like there was a slotted external strainer on the bottom of the boat, and it looked fine to me, so I consulted with Grand Banks and with my “expert” Steve D’Antonio.

Steve’s response: “You have scoops on the gensets?! That is completely wrong, the scoop will force water into a non-running genset. You should have a Groco RSC strainer https://www.groco.net/products/raw-water-strainers/hull-strainer/rsc-series Also, this strainer’s small holes will keep this crud out.”

The problem Steve D was talking about was completely different than the problem I was experiencing, but everyone agreed that Steve’s recommended screens would solve the problem.

And, that brings us up to date. As I am typing this, we are waiting for the new strainers to arrive. We are off the boat and back at home in Seattle. Tomorrow the boat will be hauled out again, and assuming the new strainers show up our cruising should resume this weekend.

We’re not sure where we’ll go once we are back on the water. The current momentum is towards “heading south”. We’ve never cruised south of Seattle and are in the mood to explore somewhere we’ve never been.

Although mechanical issues have somewhat tainted the season, none of that was unexpected. We knew going in that this would be a shakedown season and overall there have been far fewer problems than we were expecting.

And in closing

Toundra’s last picture, and a video worth watching

I’d like to thank everyone who called and sent emails wishing our dog Toundra well. In my last blog entry I mentioned that Toundra had suddenly collapsed with no warning. We rushed her to a veterinary hospital where we discovered her heart was failing. She was only eleven and had showed no sign of aging. Within days of my sending that blog entry Toundra collapsed while walking down the dock, and that was it. We assume she had a heart attack.

Toundra was my dog and by my side virtually nonstop 24 hours a day for over a decade. It feels so unfair that her life was cut short. I console myself knowing she had an incredible life. How many dogs have been able to visit over 20 countries? I’m missing Toundra more than I ever could have imagined. RIP Toundra. We love you!

That’s all for now

That’s it for this issue of the blog. Adios until next time!

Ken and Roberta Williams
and our pup, Keeley
Grand Banks 60, Cygnus

PS 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.

3 Responses

  1. Greetings! What Grand Banks do you have on order? You’ll love working with Grand Banks — they are really good people.

    Roberta and I had a Nordhavn for the last couple decades. I was comparing the Nordhavn and the Grand Banks, and as much as I love Grand Banks, if I were going to be in open ocean or heavy seas, I would prefer to be in the Nordhavn. Other than one time off Nicaragua and a couple of times in the Bering Sea, our windshield always stayed dry. On our Nordhavn we sat much higher off the water.

    Technically speaking, both the Nordhavn and the Grand Banks 60 are Category A Open Ocean rated. In terms of seaworthiness both are safe, even in high seas. We’ve been spoiled by the dry ride of the Nordhavn. Our Nordhavn was 42′ tall, and our GB60 will go under a 19′ bridge. That’s a big difference. Also, our Nordhavn weighed 120 tons and the GB60 weighs 30 tons. Comparing the two boats is comparing Apples and Oranges.

    I’m meandering a bit on my response. Sorry… The bottom line on the “water over the top of the boat” thing is that the GB60 is much lower to the water. We weren’t in danger and when I talked to a friend about it, his reaction was, “You’re new to semi-displacement boats, Get used to it. You are going to get more sea spray with the Grand Banks.”

    And .. all of that said, I am referring to the Grand Banks 60 .. and although I’ve never driven one, I suspect my comments apply to the Eastbay boats. The Grand Banks trawlers probably have MUCH more in common with a Nordhavn. Trawlers are taller and run at slower speeds. Comparing the GB60 to a trawler is like comparing a sports car to an SUV. We think of ourselves as having transitioned from an SUV to a sports car…

    Anyway .. I’m always happy to pitch in ideas on someone else’s build. Feel free to email me or post here any questions. I’m ken _@_ kensblog.com (hoping the spam bots don’t pick up my email address.) Spending other people’s money is always a lot more fun than spending my own!

    Oh .. and you mentioned “roll” — We have a Seakeeper 16 and it is doing an amazing job at roll. Much better than what our stabilizers did. That said I haven’t been out in really crazy seas. So .. there is probably a point where the stabilizers would perform better than a Seakeeper. We’re really liking the Seakeeper. We use it at anchor, and even at the dock! We also are especially enjoying the option we have that holds us in position. It makes coming into port much better.

    As to the Gulf of Mexico .. I think you’ll be fine, but don’t know which Grand Banks you are talking about. Also .. everything is always subject to weather. Roberta and I (somewhat) circumnavigated and rarely hit high seas. 99% of the time we had flat water. Our Nordhavn had plenty of seaworthiness, but our goal was to never use, or need, it. I always prefer dead flat seas and am willing to wait to get them. If the ride doesn’t look like it will be smooth, we hang out and go when the weather is better. I like a five hour ride on calm seas and will wait for days to get one. Even when we crossed the Bering Sea, we had a rule that was based on “If the wave period is under six seconds, or the waves over six feet” we stayed at anchor. I like having extreme seaworthiness because sometimes you get surprised, and I like to be safe. Weather surprises do happen, but if you have a lot of patience you can keep those to almost none. Your stomach will thank you.

    Best wishes – Ken W

  2. Curious about the seas your were in to have a wet ride. I have my GB on order and have been trying to scour the internet trying to glean any information to make sure I address issues others have had during the build. I will be running in the Gulf of Mexico mainly which will tends to be choppy vs rolly. Also, could you pass on any “if I had to do it over….” items?

    1. Ouch Ken…your head 😮 hopefully that heals up and you get these little quirks ironed out soon. Beautiful boat, and so much fun hearing about what life on one is like. Thanks 👍 RIP Toundra 💖 My baby is 12 now…I hope for a bunch more years.

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