Touring Some Big Boats

This has been a busy week aboard Sans Souci, although I must confess that I have been far removed from the “action.” During the winter we live in Mexico. The boat is now in Seattle, where Pacific Yacht Management (Jeff Sanson) is looking after it.


Jeff’s project this past week has been to get the boat ready for a visit by Nordhavn. The boat has been outside the US, or on the move, almost nonstop since I took delivery in July 2007. We have known about a few warranty issues on the boat since the beginning, and this is the first chance Nordhavn has had to dig into them. Jeff has been working hard to get everything organized for their visit, and “opened up” so that they’d have easy access to do their evaluation. One of their senior technicians was on the boat all day yesterday looking at the electrical system. I spoke with him at the end of yesterday. He believes our problems with the a/c may have been caused by some faulty wiring, and that swapping the a/c chillers won’t solve the real problem. He seemed to have a game plan for resolving the problem and was very confident. He was driving so I didn’t get many details, but it will be nice to have this particular problem behind us.


And.. on a different topic…


I was reminded yesterday that I never spoke about my tour last month of a NOAA, and a Coast Guard vessel. The tour resulted from a reader of my blog mentioning that he had an invitation to tour a couple of big ships in Seattle, and did I want to tag along? Of course!


The first ship we visited was a NOAA research vessel, the “Okeanos Explorer”. The Okeanos is a very unusual ship for NOAA, in that it is 100% focused on research. I arrived knowing nothing about the boat, and couldn’t follow the conversation about ROVs and telepresence. What’s an ROV? I understood quickly when we walked to the back of the vessel and suddenly I saw something that looked like a lunar landing capsule. ROV means Remotely Operated Vessel. The Okeanos has the ability to send the robot down as much as 6,000 meters (around 20,000 feet!) under the sea, to do research. Okeanos is linked to research facilities where scientists can remotely control, and see in real-time, the bottom of the sea.


Our second ship was the Coast Guard icebreaker “Healy”. Wow! I explored virtually all of this amazing 420’ vessel. Interestingly, both of the vessels were diesel electric. The Healy carries 1.2 million gallons of diesel. Their missions are primarily in the Bering Sea and the North Pole. When the Healy leaves port on a mission, it is usually out for three to six months. Most of this time is spent with no ability to communicate. It was mentioned several times that “North of 70 degrees” [latitude] sat phones stop working. There is no internet, no television, and no phone service. Perhaps that’s where the expression “It’s lonely at the top” comes from. 


I couldn’t resist asking our tour guide how he thought our boat would do in the Bering Sea, knowing I wasn’t going to like the response. He said, “Let me put it this way. There are times when easily a third of all crew are in their bunks violently seasick.” I pointed out we would be there in July, and he said “It can get ugly any month of the year in the Bering Sea.” That ended my questions on that topic.


I asked about maintenance on the ship and our tour guide said that fighting corrosion was a full-time non-stop activity. To emphasize the point he reached overhead to a water pipe and banged his fist on it. He said “Sometimes when you do that the pipe collapses. The whole ship is constantly eating itself.”


The ship was amazingly well organized. All wiring was exposed, easily accessible and continuously labeled. Everything was 100% clean and organized. I forgot to lock down a door I came through, and was given a lecture on how an undogged door could cause a broken arm.


As we were approaching the bow of the boat, I noticed the internal “rib cage” of the vessel getting much closer together (the beams supporting the steel hull). It was explained that this was to toughen the bow for ice breaking. The ship rams 6 foot thick ice, to carve passageways. I asked about the sound, and was told that it is quite unnerving, and VERY loud. Imagine backing up several hundred yards, then accelerating straight into an ice wall. Amazing.


After my tour, I decided to google the vessel. A very sad story came up about a diving accident, on the Healy, in the Bering Sea, that claimed the lives of a couple of crewmembers, and ended the Captain’s command. I’ve been interested in getting training for cold water diving, so this caught my attention. Here is the full accident report. Depressing, but compelling reading, and a reminder of how you can never let your guard down at sea.


And, on a different topic…


I raised the topic of security on my blog a few days ago, and received this email:


Hi ken .

Good to read your Blogs, just thought on you safety while at sea or at anchor you have E P I R B [ emergency positional indicating radio beacon.] or S A R T [ search and rescue transponder ] just drop these into water on line tied to boat some location and wait for calvery to arrive that’s what these units are for your safety keep well.

Joe kelleher Cork



Another reader sent this video about a VERY versatile flashlight.


And on a different topic…


I’ll be in Seattle next week, and a new Nordhavn 86 is there for commissioning! I’ve never seen one, and have been pulling strings to obtain a tour (which turned out to be easy … the owner reads my blog). I’m really looking forward to seeing it. Jeff first alerted me to its’ arrival in Seattle: “Ken there is the biggest Nordhavn I’ve ever seen that just pulled into the marina. This thing is HUGE.”


And, lastly… I should correct something wrong I said in my last article on hydraulic pumps. Someone asked about how difficult it would be to change a hydraulic pump. David Sidbury, owner of the second N68, sent this email:



If a hydraulic pump failed it is not a huge issue to change out. Since we have a pto (power take off) on the back of the engines this is the link to the pumps.


The pto is basically an electrically actuated shaft off of the transmission. When we turn on the hydraulic pumps we are actually engaging the gear driven take off to start the hydraulic pump. The pump is “dumb” sort of like a raw water pump out of the box – pump head only with no way to power it.


If the hydraulic pump fails just turn off the pto (green ph panel button) disconnect the hydraulic lines, unbolt the pump and replace or have repaired.


The logic circuitry in the hydraulic system includes a bunch of electric solenoid valves tied to combiner blocks located on the rear wall of the ER starboard side – I think both of ours are similar. Say the port side pump failed – once you killed the power at the ph this also cuts off the electric valve that is pressurizing the system from that pump and isolates it from the system. if the removed lines were capped off then the system could be run as normal with the pump at the shop being repaired – a good reason to have some hydraulic hose threaded caps in your spares inventory. The big hose that supplies hydraulic fluid from the tank to the pump has to be shut off, but you will notice it has a big ball valve to isolate the pump fluid wise.


Regarding blowing a hose and losing the system – if the hose is not one of the main hoses from the pump but rather in a branch like the stabilizers, thruster or whatever then shutting off that device isolates the fluid from being lost. You will notice when you look on the rear wall all of the hoses and blocks with fittings, gauges, etc you will see a solenoid with wires and a device that looks like a volume control knob or like a dive tank valve handle. This valve handle-knob has a two fold use. One is to throttle the flow of fluid from wide open to none in order to provide the correct flow to the particular device. the second use is to manually turn the circuit off in the even of the electric solenoid valve failing to close – sort of a manual over ride. These can be tweaked to flow and should be marked with a bright color marker to indicate the correct location in the event that someone accidentally leaned against one and either opened or closed it from optimum.



-Ken W

PS Steven Argosy, of Seabird, an N62 which is a Great Siberian Sushi Run participant, is parked next to my boat in Seattle. He took these pictures of his boat this morning:




10 Responses

  1. That is fantastic news about the pumps and fluid lines, Ken! It looks like the ship is really well designed from head to toe, which isn’t always the case. So that renders any issue I could see with using the hydraulic pump over the generator completely moot.

    The Healy’s military dive report was a tragic read! I have a hard time watching horror movies or high tech movies sometimes because I see so many logic holes and think “god how could that ever happen”. And then I read something like this and I can’t believe the official report is correct. At first I questioned why the CO was relieved, and then I read the whole report and honesty that whole vessel needs to put in for equipment checks and a new command crew needs to come in. I can’t imagine that this is the first time something like this has happen (missing logs, unmaintained equipment, communication breakdown) and that no one else reported it on the ship, or maybe they did and no one listened, is really hard to fathom.

    What really doesn’t add up is that a diver who would blatantly disregard protocol would adhere to it when it came to the pulls on the line. At some point those divers would be frantically pulling on the line, and I didn’t see that issue brought up in the report. I might have missed it, but did they call for a full inspection of other vessels to make sure this wasn’t a high command down failure? Anyhow, completely tragic and much to be learned about respect for the ocean that can be lost with familiarity.

    I echo the concern about the bearing sea. If the 480ft vessel was having a rough go at it what is your plan to get your Nordhavn though unscathed? What sort of life boat/raft are you looking into? Is it an enclosed unit, maybe a mini-sub? ?

    P.S. – We still have snow and ice up here awaiting your return, Ken!

  2. Unknown: My apologies. I don’t honestly know the distinction between exploration and research. The scientist who gave us the tour kept saying that it was the sole boat which was 100% focused on research.. but, perhaps he said exploration, and my memory is flawed as usual. The key issue was that they didn’t have a particular deliverable or product. Their mission is strictly to discover new things, whereas every other boat has a specific product they are collecting information for (usually weather or fishing-related).

    The ocean is a big place, and not well documented. The Okeanos just finished commissioning, so I asked where they were going to head first. They said they weren’t really sure, but that the current momentum was to head to Indonesia.

    -Ken W

  3. Sam: You asked if I had spoken with the guy taking an N57 through the Northwest passage.

    As of today I haven’t, although I probably will sooner or later. I’m sure he would laugh at the our piddly little trip, by comparison to what he’ll be doing. The Northwest Passage is “the real thing,” and he will be doing it with a single Nordhavn 57. All I can say is that he has my absolute respect, and I am in awe. I very much look forward to following his blog and watching his film.

    I spoke with Dan Streech, Nordhavn’s President, about the trip. Dan was excited, and even did a little advance work for the expedition.

    Personally, I think it is very cool what these Nordhavns are doing. An N46 went around Cape Horn this year. An N43 ran the Somali coast and into the Gulf of Aden a few months ago. Now, an N57 in the Northwest Passage.

    -Ken W

  4. Chuck:

    You said “..It really concerns me that Nordhavn in essence is saying they screwed up the electrical installation. Where is the quality control?…”

    Boats are not mass produced, like cars, televisions or even ipods. My guess is that Nordhavn has made somewhere around 500 boats in the entire history of their company. By any mass production standard, this is an infinitesimally small number, especially given that this number spans 15+ years, several different models and several different factories. It’s also complicated by the fact that I don’t believe they’ve ever produced two identical boats.

    Whenever humans are involved in a process, there is the possibility of human error. Virtually any boat of the complexity of a Nordhavn trawler is going to have a few glitches on delivery. My guess is that even the 100 million dollar mega-yachts do not arrive straight from the factory without glitches. Microsoft is a large software company, with a massive quality assurance group, and has yet to deliver a significant software product with zero defects.

    Our primary focus over the past year has been to put the boat under stress, and try to shake out the “bugs.” We plan to start a circumnavigation, and want a boat that has been challenged. As predicted, we found some things we wish we had done differently, and yes, even a few we wish Nordhavn had done differently, but, that’s the nature of the beast. Perhaps it would be possible to take delivery of a 24’ sailboat, pick it up at the factory, and start-off around the world, but my boat is not a 24’ sail boat.

    Prior to buying our N68 we surveyed virtually every trawler manufacturer out there, including looking at building a completely custom boat. We heard some real horror stories about boat manufacturers. Overall, my experience has been a very positive one. We ran the boat 10,000 miles, straight from the factory. I’ve certainly done my share of whining over the past year, but the vast majority has been about the air conditioning not working (which now appears to be an electrical problem). Trust me. When I reference checked other manufacturers of boats, had I told their owners that I picked up my boat, ran 10,000 miles including twice through the Gulf of Tehuantepec, three times along the northwest coast of the US, including a winter run, and twice on the fringes of large hurricanes – but that my air conditioning was unreliable – I’d get no sympathy.

    As to Bering Sea, you said: “…The ocean is a very unforgiving place!…”

    I couldn’t agree more. I am definitely sweating the Bering Sea, and perhaps over-preparing for the trip. That said, the Bering Sea has the power to laugh at any preparations I make. If it decides to wreck my day, it will wreck my day.

    All of the boats on our mini-rally are seasoned ocean-crossing vessels. Seabird (an N62) has made the run from Australia to the east coast of the US, and up to Alaska and back. Grey Pearl (an N62) has crossed the Atlantic at least once. My boat (an N68) has the least miles under its keel, although we stacked a lot of miles, including an Atlantic crossing onto our prior boat (an N62). We have three highly skilled crews, with three very seaworthy boats. And, more importantly, we have a VERY healthy respect for the sea. Modern weather routing is very good. We will know the outlook to a high degree of certainty at all times. If we don’t believe the run is safe, we will be sitting in port or at anchor. We are allowing two months for a two week passage. We’ll be traveling the best weather windows, in the best months. My prediction, and expectation, is that we’ll make it look easy.

    -Ken W

  5. The icebreaker is also 420′ long. As a retired navy line officer I have seen large seas. If they say the seas are big, then they are big! I would recommend taking their observations and then apply it to a 68′ vessel and make good decisions. In this case, deciding if I’d take a 420′ steel vessel vs. a 68′ fiberglass vessel into the bearing sea is a no brainer decision, rounded hull or not. The ocean is a very unforgiving place!

  6. The icebreaker has a round hull and no stabilizers. They would be ripped-off unless they were the retractable kind. Therefore, she’s a sea sickness generator. Diesel electric seems to eat a ship?

  7. The comments from the C.G. regarding the Bering Sea are very concerning. Are you sure you want to make this trip? The C.G. are real pros and it just sounds awful out there! On another note, are you now delaying the installation of new chillers? It really concerns me that Nordhavn in essence is saying they screwed up the electrical installation. Where is the quality control? What else is wrong that you haven’t discovered yet? The Bering sea would be a bad place to find a critical quality control problem.

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