Update#13 – Sans Souci moves south

Greetings all!

I am very happy to report that our boat, Sans Souci, is now heading south. Sadly, we’re not on it….

San Souci will pull into a slip at Newport Beach, California, later today, after steaming its way south from Seattle. In three short weeks, I’ll start my run south with the Fubar rally to La Paz Mexico. For now, the boat is being piloted by a three-person delivery crew. I was on board for the first day of the run, which I spoke about in my last update. We had weather delays along the coast, and lost three days sitting in port, but the wait was worthwhile. We have been rewarded by perfectly calm seas on the run south.

Jeff, the delivery skipper, called yesterday and worried me when he said that he had some issues we needed to discuss. His first issue was that he didn’t know how to flip between the two satellite tv receivers in one of the guest staterooms. The second topic was a little tougher: I had to walk him through flipping the air conditioning system from heating-mode to cooling-mode. He also had some good news: he has made the run non-stop, averaging over 9 knots, and will arrive with over 700 gallons of reserve fuel.

I’m always amazed by how quickly the allegedly “slow trawlers” can move. Although Sans Souci’s maximum speed is only 10.6 knots (about 11.5 miles per hour), it is a relentless 24 hour a day pace, and at sea, there aren’t a lot of stop signs. On the run north to Seattle, I remember looking at the city names on the chart as we worked our way north, and being surprised by how fast they kept changing. Each day, I look forward to reading Kosmos’ blog, a Nordhavn 43 now working its way around the south pacific. It seems like they are someplace new every time I open my email. They were just in Bora Bora, then suddenly Tonga, and now I’m reading about them arriving in Fiji. Trawlers may not be quick, but they do seem to get places quickly.

On a different topic…

I’ve swapped a couple of emails over the past few days with a gentleman (for privacy, I’ll call him “Bill” which isn’t his real name) who is trying to decide what size boat to buy. He’s in the enviable position of being able to purchase virtually any size boat. I responded by saying that the first decision he must make is whether he wants to run the boat alone, or have a crew. With a “crewed” boat, I personally would opt for as large as budget allows. I remember speaking with the owner of a 90’ boat which traveled across the Atlantic with us. It was a new boat and yet he sold it after its’ maiden voyage. He had decided it was too small and was moving up to a much larger boat.

Roberta and I do believe that a larger boat, with crew, is in our future. But it will be after we are physically unable to cruise alone, which we hope will be many decades from now. We always like crew when we are with them, but there’s a loss of privacy that we can’t get over. Thus, for us, the decision was fairly simple. For the foreseeable future, we want the most comfortable, and safest, long-range boat that Roberta and I can run alone.

In my response to Bill I said that I felt Nordhavn’s 68 or possibly the 76 were the largest boats that a couple could run alone.

To which Bill came back with a very good question: “…Why do you see such a specific Goldilocks size for “OK for a couple to operate”? It would seem (uninformed as I am) that docking complexity, in-port maneuvering delicacy, shore/port draft prohibitions, height prohibitions, and general cleaning burden are the issues. If it is just this, why would, say, the step from 68 to 76 be a ‘possibly’ and 76 to 86 be a ‘too much’….”

To digress for a moment, I strongly believe that the right size boat, if not using crew, is the smallest boat that meets your needs. The problem with this sentence is that the phrase “meets your needs” is not only ambiguous, but means something different for everyone. For us, this meant a power boat capable of circumnavigating. If this were our only “need” then Nordhavn makes power boats as small as 40 feet long that have crossed both the Atlantic and the Pacific. However, we have some other needs that are more in the “necessity” category. For instance, I’m not very mechanical, and we’ll be cruising places where mechanics will be scarce. We installed redundant systems for everything; generators, pumps, tenders, electronics. All of this takes space. Then there’s the things which are really just ‘wants’ but become ‘needs’ when you want them bad enough; such as chilled water air conditioning, sat tv, multiple kinds of internet, scuba compressor, a passarelle, two guest staterooms, an international power system, etc. Lastly, we stacked on one ‘need’ that was truly unneeded: We decided we needed to have an aft pilothouse boat. We liked our Nordhavn 62, and wanted a boat with the same unique styling.

Given that we wanted an aft pilothouse boat, Nordhavn steered us towards the Nordhavn 76. It’s a beautiful boat, capable of going anywhere, and with all the space we could ask for. Our only question was whether or not Roberta and I could run it alone. There is a story that has now become “lore” about the day Roberta and I flew to Dana Point to look at the Nordhavn 76. The 76 that we were shown was at the shipyard getting some work done. To reach it we had to climb up a very tall ladder. Dan Streech, Nordhavn’s CEO, made the comment that as soon as he saw us standing at the bottom of the ladder, staring straight up at the boat far above, he realized that it had been a mistake to show us the boat out of the water. These boats look immense when out of the water, and Dan was right. We just couldn’t see ourselves running a boat that large, alone. Thus, began the design, and construction, of the Nordhavn 68.

Back to my original topic…

So, what specifically made the 76 too large for us and the 68 the ‘right size?’ First off, I’ll retreat from my earlier response to Bill, and say that my answer really only applies to Roberta and I. No two couples are the same. There are professional skippers out there who are comfortable running any size boat. In fact, it is quite common on larger boats to have a couple as crew (for instance a captain, and a cook). When the owners are away, the two-person crew maintains, cleans, fuels, and moves the boat. Roberta and I spoke with an owner of a 110 foot boat who cruises their boat alone each year to Alaska without problem. Thus, I stand corrected on my original response. There is no reason a couple couldn’t own and run virtually any size boat. It’s really just an issue of the skills of the couple, their physical condition, and their willingness to put in the time required to learn, operate and maintain the various systems on the boat. And, of course, on what percentage of their time they want to put into boat-maintenance/cleaning, versus other activities.

With that said, I can talk about some of the things we’ve personally experienced as we’ve moved to larger boats:

– Coming into port with just two people can be tricky. We’ve decided that unless there’s someone at the dock to catch our lines, we’re not coming in. During docking I need Roberta on the upper deck with me, so she can stand on the back of the boat, or the bow, or both, giving me a running dialog of the distances between us, other boats and the dock.

– As boats get larger, the physical size of everything increases dramatically. Here’s a picture from Kosmos’ blog today showing their Nordhavn 43, in Fiji, sitting next to a Nordhavn 76

The 76 is less than twice the size, but as I think this photo shows the comparison is more dramatic than length alone indicates. We notice this in little ways. For instance, this 43 probably has a 75 pound anchor, whereas the 76 has a 300 or 400 pound anchor. If the anchor is stuck, and needs manhandling, the weight can become an issue quickly. Everything gets bigger, including the line sizes. Roberta is fairly petite. I need her working the lines while I’m coming into port. Once again, the power cords, lines and fenders are disproportionately larger and heavier. A small person wrestling with four foot tall fenders, 50 amp cables, and thick dock lines may have to struggle. I’m not saying ours are too large for Roberta, she makes it look easy, but there is definitely some step up in boat size where it wouldn’t be as manageable.

– The obvious things people think about with larger boat sizes are cleaning and maintenance. I looked back at some of the stats on how much larger our 68 is than our prior 62. There is 117% more exterior deck space. That’s a LOT more to be kept clean. We did make things simpler by adding a pressure wash system with outlets in many places around the boat, but it’s still a lot more work anyway you look at it. The interior is ”only” 61% larger, but that called for adding a central vac system. Of course each new system comes with its own added maintenance tasks. A side benefit of boat ownership is that it can be an aid to losing weight. I have never finished a month on the boat without losing weight (time on shore is the problem!). Maintaining a boat is very physically demanding, and can be a full-time job. There are certainly times we sit on the back deck and think about what great lives we have, but it is usually with banged up knees and various bruises from crawling around the engine room.

– A boat’s size can limit your options in marinas. I’ve spent the last month planning our trip south and trying to reserve a slip in various marinas. As soon as I mention our length and beam they say “no way.” At most marinas the only place they can put us is on an end-cap (the end of a dock). These precious slips are rare, and usually spoken for years in advance. Of the roughly fifty marinas I’ve spoken with over the last month only three have had a place for me. The bottom line is that we will spend most of the next six months sitting at anchor whether we want to be at anchor or not. If you have crew, this isn’t a big deal. The crew pops you to shore on the tender. In our case, it is much trickier. We have to hope the boat is safe at anchor while we do our shopping, or have dinner, and we have to hope no one steals our tender while it is sitting on the beach waiting for our return (oft-times in some third world country). As a boat increases in size, the number of slips which can accept the boat drops exponentially.

– There seems to be a magic “line in the sand” at 100 tons. One of the really nice things about our Nordhavn 68 is that it weighs slightly less than 100 tons. This magic number seems to appear many places within the nautical world. When I took my captain’s license course, it was for the “100 ton license”. In speaking with insurance companies, they seem to have a line at 100 tons. Recently, in speaking with Yachtpath (a transport company), they mentioned that they could not move my boat from Costa Rica if I were over 100 tons. When it comes time to lift the boat, you’ll find that fitting within a 100 ton lift’s capacity is an advantage.

So, to close out my discussion with Bill, I was wrong in my first email to him when I said that the 68 or 76 were the largest a couple could run alone. It 100% depends on the couple. Roberta and I had a couple on our boat last month who have an 86 on order and are looking forward to running it themselves. I’ll restate my earlier email to say: “Think about if you are going to use crew, or run it yourself. If running with crew, go as big as you can afford. And, if running yourself, go as small as meets your needs.”

Lastly, as I type this, I am currently in Cabo San Lucas Mexico looking out at the water. The water is flat and many boats are at anchor. One month from today it shall be me out there looking back at shore. I do not know if the water will still be flat, but I do know that I will be smiling.

-Ken Williams Sans Souci,

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