The Nordhavn Rendevous, Life Rafts, Laser Beams, and more!

This weekend I flew, along with three other Nordhavn-owner friends down to Dana Point for the Nordhavn Rendezvous. (Dean Heathcote, N55, John Marshall, N55 and John Henrichs, N64).

Nordhavn asked if I would give a talk about the GSSR, which I at first refused. I get horrible stage fright, plus Roberta and I already had alternate plans. However, when I learned that the 56 Motor sailor, and the 75 Yacht Fisher would be at the show, this pushed it over the edge for me to attend. I thought both boats were great ideas and was curious how they turned out.

The rendezvous started as a small gathering for Nordhavn owners, but kept growing. Nordhavn originally thought that seventy or so people might attend, but over two hundred had signed up when they cut off the registration. Above you see a picture of several Nordhavns that came for the event and rafted together.

In addition to seeing the boats, I was looking forward to meeting Eric and Christi Grab, who just completed a circumnavigation on their Nordhavn 43 Kosmos. Roberta and I met them once before, just as we were preparing to leave to cross the Atlantic in 2004. We had dinner together, and they shared their dream of buying a Nordhavn to circumnavigate. At the time, they had barely been on a boat, and neither Roberta or I took them seriously. Now, they are my heroes, and it was very cool just getting to shake their hands. Their last blog contained a list of questions they are asked over and over again by people they meet, and in my excitement to meet them I think I asked the same old questions they’ve already been asked hundreds of times. They were very gracious, and said they had been reading my blog.

I also was looking forward to seeing Jim and Suzy Sink. They were the first couple to circumnavigate a Nordhavn. Prior to Roberta and I buying our Nordhavn, twelve years ago, we visited their boat to ask them about Nordhavn and their trip around the world. I’m sure they doubted Roberta and I would ever buy a boat and go anywhere with it, but we are working hard to follow in the Sink’s and Grab’s footsteps.

That said, technically speaking, we aren’t following in anyone’s footsteps. The chart above, taken from this issue of Circumnavigator magazine, shows the routes from all known power boat circumnavigations that have taken place. As you can see, we’re the first to take the Northern route. I have no idea whether we’ll choose a more ‘normal’ route after this, or continue our pursuit of ‘uniqueness.’

Circumnavigator magazine can be downloaded here:

As to the 56’ motorsailer, it blew me away! I’m perhaps the wrong person to ask about the motorsailer. I have only sailed with friends, and am no expert. The size of the interior surprised me. There were two very comfortable large-sized staterooms. The salon was very comfortable. There is a full review of the boat, with plenty of pictures in Circumnavigator. I spoke to a couple of different owners, both of which raved about the fuel efficiency of the boat. One said that on their run from Dana Point to Anacortes Washington, a distance of 1,080 nm, they made it non-stop. The motor sailor carries only 870 gallons of fuel, and they were in a hurry, so they motored the entire time. They made the run at 8.9 knots, with 80 gallons left over. That’s pretty impressive! The fit and finish, and the quality of all the running gear was beyond anything I’ve seen before on a sail boat.

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I confess to having a non-nautical reason for liking the motorsailer and the yachtfisher. During my business career I was always a fan of marketing, and branding. Nordhavn has a tremendous brand, but it is a very narrow brand. They have the dominant marketshare in a very tiny market. It sounds wrong to say this about someone who makes boats, but they are a big fish in a small pond. I don’t know the size of the total recreational boating market, but suspect trawlers represent a tiny fraction of the overall market. For Nordhavn to grow as a company, they need to expand beyond trawlers. I have no financial interest in Nordhavn, so technically their growth is none of my business, although having spent most of my life thinking about branding, it is impossible for me not to enjoy watching them expand the use of their brand name into new markets. They can’t dramatically expand revenue by adding more models which all compete in the same space.

The yachtfisher is a particularly interesting business case. The sportfisher market is huge, but very different than the trawler market. If you ask a sportfisher owner about his boat, he (and, it is usually a ‘he’) will usually speak about speed in the first few sentences. I am partners on a sportfisher (a Cabo 52), and my partner lives for the fishing tournaments. He wants to race out, catch the fish, and race back to port. An average day of fishing involves getting up early, running twenty to fifty miles out to the fishing grounds, catching some fish, and then running back to port.

Nordhavns are not known for their speed. Full displacement boats are very comfortable on the water, and very fuel efficient, but they are not fast. In a scenario where the boat leaves the port each morning, to zoom off to the fishing grounds 20 miles away, fish, and race back to port, the Nordhavn seems the wrong boat for the job.

However, there is some fraction of the sportfisher market that cares about luxury, comfort, range and fuel efficiency. I live in Cabo San Lucas Mexico, which is a popular sport fishing destination. I watch day after day as hundreds of fishing boats fish the waters within a 50 mile radius of Cabo. Most sportfishers have a range well under 400 miles. It is very uncommon to see a sportfisher more than even 50 miles from port. Are there some percentage of all the people who sport fish that want to break out of this pattern and run hundreds, or thousands, of miles to virgin fishing territory? I think there are. It might not be everybody, but there is some percentage of the market. A Nordhavn can get you anywhere you want to go, in absolute comfort, with very low fuel consumption. I’m not personally a fisherman, so I’m no expert, but what I can say is that I’ve watched repeatedly as friends fishing on my boat drop hooks and pull up huge fish almost immediately. In Attu, a friend caught a 270 pound halibut from my tender!

I don’t know whether the market for a long-range sportfisher (Nordhavn’s yachtfisher) represents 1% of the sportfisher market, or 10%, but I know there is some percentage of the sportfisher market that wants the extreme comfort and range of a full-displacement boat.

Anyway, with that background, I was curious to see the Yachtfisher, and see whether or not it felt ‘right.’ My first impression was very positive. Nordhavn got the look right. When my boat was at Los Suenos in Costa Rica, there were hundreds of sportfishers, plus my boat. We just didn’t fit in. This boat would look right at home, and I would think it would command a ton of respect.

The cockpit is much larger in person than it looks in pictures. The beam is over 22’, and the cockpit is split into two levels, a higher sitting area at the back of the salon, with an immense fishing cockpit below, lower to the waterline. The engine room is huge, easily handling the twin engines. The engines seem overly large for the boat: twin 740hp engines! However, I’m sure this power is a selling feature within the sportfisher market, where guys argue over who has the biggest (engines). The boat surprised me, in that I couldn’t figure where all the cockpit and engine room space came from. The boat is sitting on essentially my hull, stretched another seven feet. The interior had three lower staterooms, plus a large master stateroom, plus crew bunks in the pilot house, offering plenty of space for crew. 

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And, on a different topic…

Here’s something fun: I noticed another Nordhavn with a hot tub! Here’s a Nordhavn 76, just delivered from the factory. They put the hot tub behind the pilot house. I assume they did it to keep the weight low on the boat, but the view won’t be nearly as good, and they’ll lose this deck, which is our favorite dining place on the boat. That said, I’m sure they’ll love it!

And, on a completely different topic….

Here is a link to my slides from my presentation:

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As feared, my actual speech was a mess. I made notes prior to the talk on what I would speak about. Unfortunately, there was no podium, so I had to hold the microphone myself. This also meant I had no place to put my notes. Of course all of this is just making excuses. Without notes to go by, I just kind of ‘winged it.’ Which wasn’t entirely bad. I had over a hundred slides, and just talked about what I remembered as the slides went by. The good news was that the trip was wonderful, and I had plenty to talk about. The bad news was that I had been asked to keep my talk under 30 minutes, and two thirds of the way through the slides I noticed that Dan Streech (Nordhavn’s president) looked frantic. I looked at the time and realized I had been talking for over an hour. I honestly thought I had been talking for only about fifteen minutes. Oops. I ran through the last third of my presentation in under a minute. Both Dan and the audience seemed to like the pace much better. Oh well… at least I won’t need to worry about being invited back next year.

As bad as I did, it’s tough to believe the audience didn’t get some value from the slides. It was an incredible trip, and I find it impossible to look at the pictures without being overwhelmed with memories. It’s tough to believe we’ll ever top this trip, although, we’ll certainly try!

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I asked the group to pose for a photo that I could post on my blog. It turned out very nice, although I probably should have focused the camera.

My talk was followed by a presentation by Sprague Theobold, who previewed some of the early video from his recent trip through the northwest passage. Whereas our GSSR trip across the Bering Sea can be characterized as ‘a pleasant surprise’, the weather gods were not as nice to Sprague. He encountered ice so thick he felt he would be boxed in at any moment. He had to resort to using his Nordhavn 57 as an ice breaker, breaking his way through giant sheets of ice. He had to inch forward as he cut his way through the ice, and emotionally described seeing ice with what appeared to be blood, but then realizing it was his own bottom paint and that he was going in circles. He and his crew were convinced they were going to die, the boat crushed, and them frozen in the ice. He is working now on a documentary about the trip, and it looks like it will be incredible.

I attended a seminar on safety at sea… 

I’ve done a few of these, so most of it I had heard before. Although, there was one thing that is on my list to research. The instructor mentioned that no one had been rescued from a life raft as a result of using flares in a couple of decades. This is partially because of the use of modern tracking devices such as epirbs, but also because flares are not really practical on a life raft. Who wants to fire an explosive device from a small rubber raft? There are a thousand ways it can go wrong, and the odds of the flare being noticed are small.

Our instructor mentioned successful tests of small laser devices for signaling.
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I had never heard of these, but will definitely consider changing over from flares, which I really don’t like having on the boat. Whereas flares are ‘single use’ items, the lasers last up to 10,000 hours, and are visible up to 20 miles at night, or up to 3 miles during the day. The laser does require batteries, but batteries are easy to find, and they claim a 72 hour life with just a couple AA batteries.

I haven’t researched these, and don’t know if this is a good brand or not, but, check out:

I also need to research whether or not these are considered a legal signaling device by the coast guard.

As part of the presentation, they deployed a liferaft. I forget the stats but believe I heard that something like in half of all cases that a ship is abandoned the crew never makes it into the liferaft. There are many things that can go wrong with a liferaft:

– it hasn’t been inspected in a while and doesn’t open
– the line that ties the raft to the boat isn’t secured, and the raft blows away
– the raft snags on the boat, and goes to the bottom with it. It is for this reason that if I ever need to get into a raft, I’ll toss it overboard myself, rather than hoping that the hydrostatic release works

I’ve never watched a raft inflate. It was quick! One tug on the line to it, and in under 5 seconds, the raft was fully inflated and ready for entry. The instructor made one comment I found interesting. The raft that we were looking at looked like it would be tight for two people, but was rated as a six person raft. I have always assumed that the raft companies do this to save money, and bought two eight person rafts for this reason. I figured this would give Roberta and I plenty of space. However, the instructor said that the best protection against cold and hypothermia is each other’s body heat. This made sense, but my hope is henceforth to cruise only warm water. Thus, I won’t be downsizing my rafts.

One more interesting comment from the seminar. In all of the books I’ve read, shark attacks on life rafts are always a huge issue. The instructor pointed out that shark attacks get much worse over time. If you are only in the water for a few hours, the bottom of your raft is clean, and doesn’t particularly attract the sharks. But, if you spend days in the raft, crud starts to grow on the bottom. This attracts the fish, who feed off it, and the sharks, who feed off the fish. I had never thought of it this way. It’s another great reason to make sure the epirb is working.

And, lastly…

I mentioned Jessica Watson’s trip around the world on my last blog (the 16 year old Australian girl). I’ve been reading her blog daily, and it is pretty interesting. I hadn’t realized that she is going non-stop! Unless I’m still confused, she really intends to go around the world without stopping. Hence, no clearing of customs or anything – she just keeps going, and has eight months of food onboard! I was critical of her trip, and had a few negative comments on my blog. The debate makes fun reading. To read it, go to the website ( and click on yesterday’s blog entry. I’ve been softened a bit, but just don’t like the idea of any boat running with no one at the helm. The popularity of her blog is staggering. My blog, when we are cruising is considered one of the most popular blogs in the boating community (approx. 7,000 daily readers). My average blog attracts 5 to 10 comments. Her blog is attracting 500 to 1,000 comments a day. Wow! One way or the other, she will come out of this thing famous. Amazing.

That’s it for now…

Thank you!
Ken Williams
Nordhavn 68, Sans Souci

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Credits     |     Video produced by: Rock Steady Media     |     Teletype photo: Arnold Reinhold     |     PDP-11 photo: Trammell Hudson