It has been twenty years since Roberta and I had a summer where we weren’t living on a boat. Sans Souci (our Nordhavn) sold quickly and our new boat won’t be delivered until next Spring.
It feels strange being stuck on land. I regularly monitor several boating blogs and discussion groups, but haven’t participated in any of the discussions recently. It feels like I am now outside the boating community looking in.
That said, Roberta and I wanted this. We’ve talked for a while about “taking a year off”. Living and exploring the world on a boat is an incredible experience. When boating is good, there is nothing that compares. It’s not always easy though. For each day sitting at anchor in an idyllic bay, there tend to be a couple days spent dealing with fixing the boat, provisioning the boat, hiding from bad weather, or sitting in port. The good days make it all worthwhile, but there’s no doubt that we were ready to relax for a summer and do something different.
As it turns out, the “something different” we’ve been doing is mostly: Working on our old boat, and the new boat
We were not surprised when our prior boat sold quickly. It was a Nordhavn 68, which Nordhavn recently described on their website as “Arguably our most popular model. A new boat order is nearly a three-year wait!” She was an incredible and incredibly comfortable boat.
Selling sans Souci turned out to be easier than transitioning her to the new owner. First there was the haul-out and survey (an inspector crawls through and under the boat looking for anything that might need fixed). This resulted in some minor things we needed to get fixed. Then came taking all of our “stuff” off the boat, and deciding what would be left aboard, taken home or thrown away. As all of this was going on, I was working on a “tip sheet” for the new owner to help ensure they’d know how to operate everything. This grew to become forty pages of various hints I thought might be helpful. I then tried to organize a cloud-based folder on Dropbox of various documents and manuals I had collected over the years. I found over 1,400 files that I thought the new owner might want! And, then began the process of re-registering everything into the name of the buyer: satellite tv, satellite internet, VHF radios, Epirb, navigation software, the tender, Maretron, etc. None of it was difficult, but it was definitely time consuming and there was a lot to be done.
Ordering the new boat has become a full-time job
I was curious and just checked my email to see how many emails have been exchanged regarding the new boat. I’ve been corresponding with: my salesman at Grand Banks, various technical contacts inside Grand Banks in Australia and in Malaysia, my “experts” on the west and east coast (Jeff Sanson at Pacific Yacht Management, and Steve D’Antonio at Steve D’Antonio Marine Consulting), the buyer of the boat being built before ours and the technical gurus at companies providing equipment for the new boat. I found 1,431 emails! It’s a big number, but feels like even more. Of course, there have also been innumerable phone calls along the way. And, then there’s the cloud-based folder I’ve started for the new boat. It is now up to 3.9gb and 1,286 files!
One reason I chose the GB60 was that GB was willing to work with Roberta and I on accommodating all of our special requests. As a bit of a side story: Prior to talking to GB Roberta and I found another production boat we liked. We met with the company owner and were ready to place an order. I emailed a list of our requested “customizations” and the owner said he would call back in 30 minutes. He never phoned back. We had asked for too many changes. I don’t blame him. He had a product to sell and our needs were outside what he wanted to deliver.
OK so, what is it that we want in a new boat?
Why can’t we just be happy with taking the boat as it was specified by the factory?
Different people use a boat in different ways. GB (and Nordhavn, and most manufacturers) have incredibly talented nautical engineers who specify the equipment for their boats. But, what they don’t have is knowledge about the buyer. They have an imaginary buyer in mind when they define the boat, but you may or may not match the buyer they had in mind, and no two buyers are identical.
Before anyone starts choosing equipment for a boat there are some key questions that must be really thought through:
- Where will you be cruising?
- How much time will you be spending on the boat?
Roberta and I have struggled with the first of these questions. We’re not sure where we’ll be cruising. But, we know the answer to the second question; we’ll be spending three or four months a year living on the boat.
The answer to where we’ll be cruising this boat varies according to whether you ask Roberta or I, and even the time of day you ask us. And, almost certainly any answer either of us gives will probably be wrong. If someone had told me when we purchased Sans Souci we’d someday cruise Japan and Turkey I’d have thought them insane. Our current vision is to take delivery of the new boat in Florida sometime around next May, run it north, and do some portion of the Great Loop. After that we have some ideas about cruising the Caribbean and I’d like to take the boat over to Europe (but, I’m thinking southern Europe and Roberta is thinking northern Europe, so there’s some internal debate). There’s also been lots of talk about cruising in the Pacific NW. We did that the last couple years and loved it. And, after all of that, who knows? Another new boat? Hanging up our oars? Darned if we know.
Anyway – One of my various sayings is, “The best predictor of what someone will do in the future is to look at what they’ve done in the past.” In our case that means we need to be prepared for anything. Is there a chance that between now and next May we’ll get a call from some boater saying, “Hey. Want to head to the Panama Canal?” and we’ll get talked into it? It’s unlikely, but it’s not impossible. We like adventure and if we have any one guiding philosophy it’s that we want to do something new and interesting.
So .. what does this mean as far as equipping the new boat?
- We don’t know what country we’ll be cruising in
- We don’t know if there will be good anchorages
- We really don’t know much at all
- Thus we should be prepared for about anything!
So, what equipment do we want on the new boat?
Because we’ll be living on the boat for months at a time, and because Sans Souci spoiled us, we want lots of creature comforts. Because the boat will be our home for much of the year, we care how it looks. We care about the color. We care about how the cushions feel. We want the bed to give us a good night’s sleep. There are people who use their boat primarily on quick trips to take a group of guys fishing and drinking beer. That’s not us. We consider the boat as a portable home and want to get as close as we can get to the same internet and television capabilities we have the rest of the year.
My earlier comments focused only on “my emails” and didn’t count the hundreds of emails Roberta has exchanged. We divided the tasks with her taking charge of all the layout issues and design issues. She chose the color of the boat, and has been agonizing over every detail of the boat’s interior and exterior. She has moved walls, chosen galley equipment (we wanted all the refrigerators and freezers she could find space for), figured where to put the seating, television, chosen materials for cushions, pillows, bedspreads, carpets, and on and on and on. We’re downsizing from our prior boat, which means we need to make compromises. Roberta’s job is to figure out how to make everything fit and look good.
Meanwhile, I’ve been focused on all the mechanical, electrical and electronic equipment. This started with the choice of engines and has continued across hundreds of pieces of equipment, each of which has meant phone calls, emails and hours of research.
Here’s a sampling of some of the decisions I’ve made, and why
My apologies that this blog entry is overly technical and with no visuals. There isn’t much to take pictures of at this point. The next few paragraphs talk about some of the equipment decisions we made, and why.
Engines: The big decision here was: Volvo or Cat. My various experts split in their recommendation. I did lots of research looking at issues like: weight, fuel consumption, and the ability to get repairs in “off the grid” places. The engine selection was made months ago, so I have forgotten the details. But, this was a close one. The Cat engines were heavier and less fuel efficient than the Volvo engines. The Volvo engines would give me greater range. However, I had no doubt that it would be far easier to find mechanics experienced in repairing Cat engines. And as to reliability, I believe the Cats to be more reliable, but I’ve had friends who struggled with their Cat engines. Ultimately, I decided to go with the Volvo engines mostly because they were recommended by GB and without my having a strong preference, I thought it would be better to follow GB’s recommendation. I also knew I’d be adding a lot of optional equipment to the boat, and the Volvos would be physically smaller and lighter.
Shafts or pods?: Remember when there were ads on TV for all-electric kitchens? For a while electric stoves were in vogue. Today, most serious cooks prefer good old fashioned gas stoves. Similarly, you’ll see most go-fast boats being marketed with pod drives (propellers mounted to bulky units that turn under the boat). The pod drives free up space inside the boat (the transmission is hanging under the boat) and are incredibly efficient. Pod drives give a boat 10-20% more range off the same amount of fuel! There are some good arguments for pod drives, but they also come with high maintenance requirements and are extremely complicated. If you bump the ground with a conventional propeller it isn’t fun but you can get it fixed fairly easily. Bump the ground with a pod system and the boat will be sitting still for a long while, and the repair bill will be no fun at all. We aren’t sure where we’ll be cruising and putting anything onto the boat which will need lots of maintenance or be difficult to get repaired, is a bad idea. I opted for good old fashioned conventional straight shaft propulsion. Whether pods will become a novelty, or become the new standard, I do not know. For today and how we’ll use the boat, they’d be a bad decision.
Generator: Long-time readers of my blog know that I run the generator 24×7 (all the time) when away from the dock. The GB60 is a smaller boat than our Nordhavn was, and holds only half the fuel. There are some very compelling arguments for not running the generator 24×7. That said, when you’ve been spoiled by always having all of the electricity you want, like we have been over the last few years, it is hard to turn back. We decided almost from the beginning that we’d stick with running the generator non-stop. The standard GB60 comes with only a single Fischer Panda 25kw generator. I’m sure this is fine for someone who runs a generator only an hour or two a day but I’m not convinced the Fischer Pandas are made to run around the clock for months at a time. I initially asked for a Northern Lights 20kw generator in addition to the Fischer Panda, and later decided that I would rather have two Northern Lights generators and eliminated the Fischer Panda completely, installing instead a smaller 12kw Northern Lights. I’m not sure yet which will become my primary generator. My guess is that the 12kw will provide all the power I could want most of the time.
Stabilization: Probably the toughest single decision was what to do about stabilizing the boat, both underway and while at anchor. I started with the assumption that I wanted a Seakeeper (a giant spinning ball that uses gyro force to stabilize the boat). Then, as I asked my various experts the feedback came that Seakeeper is only useful to 20kts of speed, and this is a boat that GB claims will exceed 30kts. I briefly asked if I could have both external stabilizing fins AND a Seakeeper. But, I quickly gave up on this idea. It would cost too much money, add complexity to the boat, and use up space in the engine room. All of which are bad things. I swapped back and forth between fins and the Seakeeper a couple times. I evaluated various brands of fins. The Seakeeper is better at anchor, and the fins are better when underway and moving fast. But, if the seas are rough, will I really want to be going 30kts? I can always slow down if I want a smoother ride. Noise was also a factor. Both make a lot of noise if you are sitting at anchor and trying to sleep, but the flippers (fins) moving back and forth would probably be more annoying while trying to sleep than the steady hum of the Seakeeper gyro spinning. Finally, I decided to upsize the Seakeeper, and NOT do the fins. The recommended Seakeeper for the GB60 is the Seakeeper 9, which is rated to handle boats up to 30 tons. The GB60 weighs 30 tons which would be at the outer limits of what the Seakeeper 9 is designed to stabilize. Instead I chose the Seakeeper 16, which is slightly bigger and heavier, but rated for boats up to 50 tons.
Air conditioning: I will be installing the same Technicold 60,000 BTU air conditioning unit on the GB60 as I had on Sans Souci. We ran Sans Souci in some miserably hot climates and the air conditioning worked flawlessly. GB’s recommended solution is for Dometic split air conditioning units. I spoke with Dometic, but there was never a clear answer on whether or not they could be run on European and American power. The bigger question became heat. On Sans Souci heat was addressed via a diesel furnace. Air conditioning and heating on Sans Souci worked amazingly well. In my lazarette there was a Technicold chiller and a Kabola diesel furnace. One provided cold and the other heat. There was a “loop” of tubing that was constantly circulating and went to every room on the boat. A valve was used to route the water either through the Technicold chiller or the Kabola diesel furnace, such that the water in the loop would be either chilled or heated. In the cabins there was nothing more than “air handlers” (small radiators with fans to blow air over the tubing) that would pump out either hot or cold air. We actually had three loops; one for the water heater, one that circulated to the cabins, and another which went to the hot tub. I always worried about the complexity of all the valves which were charged with getting hot or cold water where it was needed, but the system worked and was never a maintenance issue, with the exception of the Kabola itself. The diesel furnace used a fair amount of fuel and needed annual maintenance. One of my design goals for the new boat is to eliminate complexity wherever possible. One of the truisms of boating is that “I’ve never had to maintain or repair anything which is not on the boat.” I may regret this later, but I opted for dumping the Kabola and just putting plain old electric strip heaters into the air handlers that are in the cabins. This eliminates all the valves and the Kabola, and because we will be running the generator 24×7 there is always plenty of electricity available.
Water heating: As long as I’m talking about the decision to not install a diesel furnace I should mention water heating. The diesel furnace on Sans Souci delivered an infinite supply of hot water. Showers could be as long as you wanted them! Once again, I’ll probably regret this, but we are going with a conventional 40 gallon electrically-heated water heater. The first time we run out of hot water half-way through Roberta’s shower, I may be tossed overboard.
Hot tub: Yes. Our GB60 will have a hot tub. It will be small and should be perhaps labeled as a “rooftop bathtub” rather than a hot tub. We’ll heat it electrically.
Batteries: The latest and greatest thing in Batteries is: Lithium. Lithium batteries are lighter, charge faster, and can be discharged to a greater depth than traditional AGM batteries (meaning more available power with less weight). They can be a risk to explode if mistreated, and need a computerized system (called a Battery Management System, or BMS) to ensure that they are not over or under charged. Although it is a new technology, Lithium batteries are widely used in cars (Tesla) and even golf carts. Most of the people I know who are building boats are installing Lithium batteries. I researched them and found a new battery that Victron is releasing, called the Lithium Superpack, that has an integrated BMS, and would reduce the weight of the new boat by nearly 1,000lbs. On a boat like the GB60 the weight reduction would make a huge difference. My various experts like the idea, but all of them counseled me to be very cautious. I first asked for Lithium batteries, and then chickened out. I may swap to them down the road but I’m prejudiced against “new technology” on a boat. Putting out an electrical fire on a boat is virtually impossible. Amongst the boaters I know there are exactly zero boats using Lithium batteries today. There are plenty of boats with them under construction, but few that are in boats today. There’s a definition of a “Pioneer” that comes to mind: It’s the guy laying face down in the mud with an arrow poking out of his back. And, while I’m thinking about batteries I should mention something else I’m doing which is somewhat controversial. It is very common to add extra alternators to the main engines in order to charge the batteries. I’m not doing this for a variety of reasons: 1) Remember what I said about not having to maintain equipment that isn’t on the boat. 2) I will always have either shorepower or a generator going. It is hard on a generator to run lightly loaded. Charging the batteries will help me keep a load on the generator. 3) I don’t like the idea of charging coming at the batteries from multiple directions.
Electrical System: Both Roberta and I have dreams of taking our new boat to Europe (we have cruised the Med several times). We don’t completely agree on where in Europe we’ll cruise, but we both see it as a possible future destination. Although this new boat is smaller, and less able to cross oceans than Sans Souci, it may be a better boat for cruising in Europe. The fast speed will enable us to quickly return to port if the wind comes up, and whereas it was virtually impossible to find moorage for Sans Souci, the smaller size of this boat will open up some new opportunities. Plus, whereas we struggled with rolling in anchorages, I predict the Seakeeper 16 will keep us comfortable. To cruise in Europe the boat needs to be able to accommodate European electricity. Typically boats are either made to the US standard (60hz with 240/120v power) or European standard (50hz with 240v power). On Sans Souci we had an international power adaptor, called the Atlas, which would accommodate virtually any power at the dock around the world. We seriously considered installing an international power adapter. Unfortunately, they are bulky, throw out a lot of heat, consume a significant percentage of the electricity they are fed, and can be a maintenance nightmare. Realistically, cruising in Europe will be under 10% of all we do with this new boat. I believe in optimizing a boat around what we will do most of the time, not what we’ll do on rare occasions. Thus, I’d rather accept some difficulty when cruising in Europe rather than add an international power adapter. Our new boat will use a solution that isn’t perfect, but will get the job done. Most of the equipment on the the new boat uses 24v DC current (the same as the battery bank). Battery chargers are not picky about AC current. You can power them with either US or European power. This solves the problem for all the 24v equipment around the boat. For 110v power (the electrical outlets around the boat), I can use an inverter which takes in the 24v DC electricity from the batteries and transforms it into US standard electricity. Equipment that requires 240v electricity can usually be found that will accept 50hz or 60hz. For example, the water heater, dryer and air conditioning. In other words, by looking at the electrical system device by device, it is possible to design a system which remains relatively simple but will allow us to cruise worldwide. There will be some exceptions; for instance, the washing machine Roberta wants requires 60hz power. If we are at the dock and in Europe the only solution will be to run one of the generators (which put out nice clean US-standard electricity). Not a problem.
Passerelle: We are installing an automated gangplank (for getting to shore from on the boat). We need it for cruising in Europe. I thought about skipping it, but it doesn’t weigh too much and doesn’t need maintenance unless we’re using it.
Ground Tackle (aka the anchor and rode): We love life at anchor and have been known to go for weeks without returning to shore. We have been caught in extremely high winds while at anchor innumerable times. Thus, I doubled the size of the standard GB 27kg (60lb) anchor to a 55kg Rocna (125lb) anchor. I also upsized the chain and increased the length to 100 meters followed by another 20 meters of rope rode. GB grumbled a lot about adding so much weight at the bow, but we want to sleep without worrying about the anchor dragging.
Navigation Electronics: This is an area where I struggled with the decision. I am a Nobeltec Timezero user. I have used Nobeltec for a decade and can’t imagine life without it. It runs on a standard Windows PC, it’s fast, and it’s a system I know. GB’s standard solution on the GB60 is to use Garmin. I fought this initially but then was on a boat with Garmin navigation and actually liked it. It felt fast and integrated well with the Volvo engines. GB has experience installing Garmin and it seems to fit the boat. So .. I’m going with a Garmin helm. I upsized the monitors but am otherwise running a stock Garmin solution.
AIS: An AIS radio transmits your position automatically to other boats. Modern chart plotter systems accept AIS data and display on your chart the location of other boats around you. It doesn’t reduce the need for radar, in that not all boats have AIS units installed. Generally speaking, the larger the boat, the more likely it is to have AIS. Commercial shipping boats almost always have AIS. Tiny sailboats rarely do. Some boats might have AIS but turn it off, making themselves somewhat invisible to other boats. Military and police boats will frequently shut off their AIS. I have been known to shut off my AIS when traveling offshore in parts of the world where there could be pirates. AIS comes in three flavors: Class C, Class B and Class A. Class C units are the least expensive and will receive AIS data from other boats, but not transmit. In other words, you can see them, but they can’t see you. Class B units are what most higher-end recreational boats use. They both receive and transmit, but the transmission doesn’t much data about your boat and is sent less frequently. Behind the scenes, the larger freighters know this and are rumored to filter out or ignore the signal from the Class B units. Class A AIS is what the pros use. It tells other boats who you are and where you are going. Personally, I want my boat to appear on other boat’s chart plotters as visibly as possible. Surprisingly, I had to hunt around a bit to find a Class A AIS unit that was compatible with Garmin (NMEA 2000 output), but discovered the Simrad V5035.
Monitoring: I have become a big believer in Maretron for monitoring and had an extensive Maretron system on Sans Souci. The standard GB60 comes with virtually all the information I could want between the Garmin system and Volvo gauges. I seriously considered not installing a monitoring system. Afterall, my goal is to make this boat as simple and easy to maintain as possible. But then I thought of one reason I wanted Maretron (monitoring the electrical system) and one thing led to another, and now I have a fairly complex Maretron implementation. Oh well.
Let’s talk about the first pictures I received and how the GB60 is built
|“You’ll not find another powerboat hull form in the world today that performs the way this one does. It’s a little bit like a racing sailboat’s, and it’s a little bit like a naval destroyer’s.”
Mark Richards, CEO of Grand Banks
Grand Bank’s CEO, Mark Richards, was a legend in the nautical community long before taking the job at Grand Banks. As Captain of the sailboat Wild Oats XI he has won the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race (which is considered one of the top three offshore yacht races in the world) an incredible nine times.
Mark has a passion for speed and efficiency, and the GB60 design reflects this.
I asked Mark to contrast for me the differences between how the GB60 is made and my prior Nordhavn. I think the question threw him a bit in that it’s like asking someone who makes apples how they compare to oranges.
Mark responded with this summary of how the hull on the GB60 is made:
“The hull is vacuum-infused with E-glass and vinylester and epoxy resin, and uses carbon fiber in structural areas for added strength with light weight achieved using the multi-axial E-glass cloth. She is cored with Corecell in the hull, and Airex foam in the stringers, bulkheads and internal structure. The deck and everything above it (the entire house, flybridge, hardtop etc)are constructed of Carbon Fiber with Corecell and infused with vinylester resin. The weight saving up high drastically lowers the Center of Gravity which in turn greatly improves the natural stability of the boat.”
To be honest, all of this is well outside my realm of knowledge, but it certainly sounds good, and the result is amazing.
He seemed very proud of the hull itself, saying that each sheet of fiberglass is precision cut by CNC (Computer Numeric Control) machines to ensure perfect quality and weight control cut to a precise computer calculated measurement. The measurements and cutting are so precise that each of the GB60 hulls weigh within a few pounds of each other. Each one uses the exact same measured amount of resin.
Comments on my blog entries are always appreciated. If you think I am somehow on the wrong track, or just want to give me something new to think about, you can email me directly (email@example.com – please note that I will probably respond via my next blog entry.) Or, you can post a comment at the bottom of this blog entry on my website (www.kensblog.com).
Ken and Roberta Williams (and, Toundra and Keeley)