I recently watched a YouTube video from Ta Shing Yacht Building, one of the larger builders of the Nordhavn line of offshore trawler yachts. The video was all about splashing the 600th Nordhavn, N68 #42.

Imagine that: 600 Nordhavn Yachts launched since the first Nordhavn 46 came on the scene in 1989. While the new 46-foot trawler yacht from PAE was not initially accepted in the mainstream cruising world, it would be the tip of the spear of the developing offshore passagemaking industry.

And the Nordhavn Yacht delivered on all fronts, proving its reputation as a good,quality boat.

Yes, it was small for its overall length, not as roomy as expected in a motor vessel over 45 feet in length. But it had something that other boats did not have. In addition to a super reliable single engine installation and systems, it had sufficient tankage and range to cross oceans.

The Nordhavn 46 had an appeal to sailors who could see its value despite lacking a mast, sails, and rig. It was new, it was interesting, and it was cool.

Nordhavn 46 

Jim and Suzy Sink circumnavigated on Salvation II, proving that a world cruise on a motorboat was not simply a fluke associated with that madman Robert Beebe. It was rather a validation of his genius so wonderfully defined in the visionary Voyaging Under Power.

Wolfgang and Heidi Hass made several circumnavigations on their N46, Kanaloa, and proved more was possible with less. A minimalist German couple, I remember their reason for not having an attached swim platform on the stern of their boat. When visiting remote island groups, especially back in those early days, their very presence in an anchorage filled the locals with excitement and wonder.

When someone then paddled out to Kanaloa, they felt it a liability to have a swim platform, as it was easy to lose control of the situation. With a swim platform, it was only natural for these locals, whose purpose was not yet clear, to climb onto the swim platform. They are now on your boat.

This was certainly something to consider back at a time when such remote contacts were the exception, not a commonplace situation like it is today.

Much later, Scott and Mary Flanders took their N46 around the world via a difficult and unusual way, earning them the Royal Cruising Club Trophy from the Cruising Club of America.

While the cruising world gradually accepted the N46, the company also designed and built the Nordhavn 62, an all-business passagemaker that looked every bit as competent as any commercial or research vessel. In fact, I recall the coincidence of seeing an image of a Nordhavn 62 on the same right-hand page in PassageMaker Magazine as a quarter-page ad for active fin stabilizers that included a picture of a Romsdal-style commercial boat that could have easily been a sistership.

Nordhavn 62 

PAE, the marketing and design company behind the Nordhavn brand, continued to expand the brand with the introduction of new models each year. Unlike some classic yachts, such as the Fleming 55, in which the boat is continually refined from year to year, or more accurately in the case of the Fleming, continually refined from one hull to the next, PAE takes a different approach. When there are more than a few changes needed to incorporate into a particular model, very often other ideas have developed, and the company works on a new model that incorporates things that could be improved as well as new design ideas. It has been a winning formula.

I spoke to my friend Jeff Merrill, who joined the Nordhavn team after experience at Pacific Seacraft in the creation of the Nordhavn 40. Jeff was a sales broker and project manager with PAE for 14 years. In addition to the satisfying experience of building boats for an average couple to enjoy an above average adventure, Jeff was part of the exponential growth of the company.

Jeff told me he enjoyed helping couples realize that regular people could cross oceans if they really wanted, given the right boat, the necessary training, and putting the other major factors in place, such as weather planning and routing.

He knew the Nordhavn product line appealed to people who had visions of visiting faraway places in comfort and safety.

“The people behind Nordhavn built boats they wanted to build, not to a price point in the industry. We focused on safety, economy of operation, and ease of maintenance. The boats would have keel coolers and dry stacks, just like commercial fishing boats, and continuously rated diesel engines, in robust propulsion packages.

“Yes, every 5-10 boats would have improved features from previous boats, but better designs would then surface to replace the earlier models.”

Many of the new boats used the same hull molds but with a new deck. The N47 became the N52, the N55 became the N60 and N63, and so on. Most models benefited from extra length, which often translated into a larger, extended cockpit for more living space and a more balanced overall profile. Once inside the saloon door, however, it was the same volume boat inside, and similar interior unless the new deck mold changed the layout.

Which somewhat explains the list of models introduced since the N46. There have been the N35, N40, N41, N43, N46, N47, N475, N50, N51, N52, N55, N56, N57, N59, N60, N62, N625, N63, N64, N68, N71, N72, N75, N76, N80, N86, N96, N120, and the N148.

It is important to note that despite the number of models, the similarity of systems and system designs means each is robustly engineered, well proven, and assures the safety and reliability that is key to all Nordhavns.

Today’s fleet is refined, very capable, and instantly recognizable. Most every boater can pick out a Nordhavn in any marina around the world. Each is the image of a rugged, capable, offshore passagemaker.

(Below: The Nordhavn 52 has been in the model range for quite some time.)

nordhavn yachts 52 

As I write this, a well-known delivery captain is delivering a N76 from Australia to Anacortes, via Fiji and Hawaii. The comments in his Facebook post are a testament to the boat, with comments such as, “Well, that is the boat for this trip,” or “What a great adventure this will be.” It seems the reputation of the Nordhavn brand almost assures a safe passage.

Yet, to be clear, a Nordhavn is not the perfect boat for everyone, which makes for a challenge for an experienced broker to help educate and defuse the statement I have heard hundreds of times over the years. “If I had that boat, I could go to Tahiti.” Even though his goal is coastal cruising with the family.

The reality is that the full displacement Nordhavns are slow, by many standards, as are all yachts operating as full displacement boats. Many of these large, heavy trawler yachts have a single Deere diesel engine that is continuous duty rated at 325hp. Slow steady cruising speeds get one to paradise, but it may not be the right choice for a couple whose destinations are closer to home and where higher speeds are a better fit.

Then there is the issue of how the boat will be used once it arrives. For a cruising plan that includes crossing an ocean to get to the islands or to cruise European canals, this also may not be the right choice. Having several thousand gallons of fuel and water aboard won’t be necessary, nor will the deeper draft and air height of a full displacement passagemaker make it possible to travel the canals in France.

For the Great Loop in North America, there are many better choices, without height and draft restrictions. And long-term self-sufficiency is simply not needed.

(Below: The Nordhavn 59 named INDEPENDENCE, owned by a California couple, cruising the Great Loop.)

Nordhavn on the Great Loop 

For those thinking of world cruising, it is important to accept that the world is not what it was, even a decade or two ago. There are now issues that make circling the world less desirable.

Jimmy Cornell has been following and publishing data and trends about world cruising for over 40 years. He is the founder of the World Cruising Club, after successfully launching the first ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers) in 1986. His World Cruising Club has since hosted many other rallies and events around the globe to inspire and assist cruisers looking to travel over the horizon.

He gave a fascinating virtual slideshow and lecture about modern day cruising just as Covid shut our doors to the outside world. His information, gathered from many years of hosting cruising events, is an accurate snapshot of cruising, using the important focal points of the Canary Islands, Bermuda, Panama, the Galapagos, Tahiti, Tonga, and Australia.

According to Cornell, there are several distinct reasons why world cruising likely peaked in 2010 and has steadily decreased in the number of yachts ever since. And the major reasons for this decline all relate to safety concerns. Climate change has very much impacted traditional cruising routes. Areas where there was a clearly defined window for safe passage, such as the NW Pacific, now have typhoons occur every month. There is no longer a “safe” season.

(Below: Jimmy Cornell on a cruise.)

Jimmy Cornell

Tropical storm seasons in general are less clearly defined but more active than before. The frequency and severity of tropical storms is increasing. The traditional hurricane season as defined for North America is no longer well defined between June 1st and November. Storms now happen outside that window.

Long-term planning is even more important given these erratic variables.

In addition, personal safety is also a very real issue in high-risk areas where there is piracy and crime. These areas are now expanding beyond the Red Sea, and now include Venezuela (especially between Trinidad and Grenada), Brazil, Honduras, West Africa, and parts of the Caribbean.

But none of the above issues are as limiting as they might seem, as many Nordhavn owners are more interested in extended cruising in specific areas, such as the tropics or the far north, and living aboard. Spending months in the Caribbean or the Mediterranean means the owners won’t need daily trips ashore for provisions, water, and fuel for the generator. All Nordhavns are quite capable of providing long periods of self sufficiency just fine.

About introducing a new boat to its owners, one issue I know all too well is how many people find any boat with a lot of systems quite intimidating. And it is impractical and unrealistic to get a new owner up to speed by spending a day or two with him or her about the systems and how they work. I have seen too many examples where that goes awry. I remember the new owner of an Independence Cherubini 45 was headed to his home port of Put-in-Bay in Ohio from Delran, New Jersey on his new boat. Unfortunately, he somehow messed up his fuel manifold valving, and somehow the diesel in his return fuel line went overboard.

He suddenly found himself out of fuel off the New Jersey coast just north of Atlantic City. I never did find out how his manifold allowed that to happen.

The key to getting a new boat dialed in, according to Jeff, is to take small steps, one at a time. Spend days at the dock, checking things in as methodical a way as possible. Wake up in the middle of the night and check the pilothouse instruments and overall lighting. Take day trips close to home. Baby steps.

“You have to sneak up on it,” he said about the process of becoming familiar with the new boat. Go out on your first overnight, then your first nighttime passage. It will be the same as during the day but at night it will feel very different.

“Know what tools to have aboard,” he added.

The valuable point here is that when the project manager hands the Nordhavn over to you, you can be assured it is a capable boat without lots of nagging issues. So, the new owner can focus on regular maintenance, what it is, where it is, and what is involved…not managing oil leaks or strange warning codes from a black box. Your Nordhavn has been well figured out, which allows the new owner the focus on what he or she must learn to keep the boat running.

The smartest (and most experienced) owners I know did not load up their new boat and head over the horizon. Rather, they stayed near services, and if they took delivery of the boat near the Pacific Northwest, for example, they spend a full summer season cruising the pristine Northwest, perhaps eventually up to Alaska. This contrasts to owners who take off immediately and then have issues that are difficult to address in some out-of-the-way tropical paradise where even getting parts is an unpleasant adventure.

Jeff says the absolute best resource for new owners is the Nordhavn Owners Group, a closed group of owners who freely share information. For the new Nordhavn owner, it is an essential connection. Industry experts regularly comment and offer suggestions. Any question you might ask has very likely been asked and addressed before.

(Below: A Nordhavn owner rendezvous in progress.)

nordhavn owner rendezvous

“You have a good boat, with good documentation. Now it is time to connect with the NOG to pull it all together,” he said.

Looking at the distribution of new boat builds over the years, the sweet spot in the lineup is the N55, N60, and N63, based on the number of builds for those models. The three models share the same hull and offer similar accommodations. They can be built with single or twin engines, and they have evolved with wide side decks on the starboard side, which experience has shown offers the maximum in accommodations and working deck layout.

For many enthusiasts of the trawler community, and whose ideas of bucket list cruises includes distant shores and islands associated with either lavish tropical paradise or remote minimalist adventures, the Nordhavn continues to be one of the top choices.

While many might argue that the standard 24VDC bow thruster is not as good as a larger hydraulic unit that can run continuously, or that the standard single generator is not as good as duplicate, 20kW units or a smaller second unit for lighter and nighttime duty, this is the stuff of dock debate. And of course, buyers can opt for duplicate generators and other systems well beyond the standard spec sheet.

Many folks like to argue about the finer points that constitute the perfect passagemaker. But as history has shown, the number of Nordhavns and their owners, enjoying life around the globe, prove that at some point, it is just time to go.

As a wise person once said, perfection is the enemy of good enough. And in all aspects of the Nordhavn experience, things are well beyond simply good enough.


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