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N52 Sea Trial

Nordhavn 52: At the dock and under way

By James H. Kirby, Contributing Editor, Circumnavigator


My first look at the new Nordhavn 52 was in Puget Sound as it popped out of a fogbank into the sunlight of a beautiful Pacific Northwest Spring morning—a half-mile away, gleaming white and framed against the snowcapped mountains of the Olympic Peninsula. Even at that distance I could tell it was a Nordhavn. Nordhavns are meant to cruise the world and are at home anywhere, but what struck me at that moment was how right they look here in the Pacific Northwest among the no-nonsense workboats, trawlers and tugboats one sees plying these waters.

My next impression was, “That can’t be the 52, it looks too big. Must be a Nordhavn 55 or something.” No, it was indeed Dirona. As she turned to starboard and started her run into Bell Harbor Marina, I could distinctly make out the features that set the 52 apart from the older Nordhavn 47. The pilothouse has the same reversed trawler-style windows of its older 47-foot sibling; however, the 52’s overall look, especially in profile is sleeker. The flying bridge is more smoothly integrated into the superstructure. Jeff Leishman, Pacific Asian Enterprises chief designer, has as added an arched buttress that meets the arch of the side deck bulwarks as it rises to the level of the pilothouse. This creates a symmetric open space that visually breaks up the boat’s mass at that point. The buttress itself gracefully extends upward and aft to become the boat deck. Leishman has also extended the boat deck farther aft. The overall visual effect of all this it to pull the yacht’s height down visually and give it a more balanced look, as well as a family resemblance to the bigger Nordhavns, such as the 55, 64 and 86. The quality of the exterior fiberglass work certainly says, this is a Nordhavn. The hull may be workboat in its lines, but the boat’s finish says premium yacht.

Bell Harbor Marina is a small charming place, literally at the foot of downtown Seattle and the Pike Street Market. What a great place to live, with all the attractions of downtown Seattle only a block away; however, it is a very small marina, with a narrow fairway. The Nordhavn 52 was easily the largest yacht there and in such confined surroundings it looked even bigger. None-the-less, the owners, James and Jennifer Hamilton, brought Dirona in like pros, using the bow and stern thrusters and side tied it to the end of the dock.

Stepping aboard, you immediately notice the cockpit’s greater area. It easily accommodates a table and deck chairs, with ample room left over for moving about. With cover provided by the boat deck overhead, it functions as an inviting open-air extension to the saloon. There’s certainly more room for outdoor activities—one of the reasons Leishman extended it. The Hamiltons are avid divers (Dirona is named after a beautiful fan-like white sea slug common to the Pacific Northwest) so they really appreciate the larger swim platform. “We even put lounge chairs out there,” says Jennifer. Sitting so close to the water really creates an intimacy with the surroundings.

In the past, I’ve called the Nordhavn 52 the Goldilocks boat in terms of size—not too big, not too small. For example, while the 52’s smaller cousin, the Nordhavn 43, is certainly big enough for its owners and another couple to go cruising in; it’s probably too small to live on year round. To me, the Nordhavn 52 is big enough to live on. James and Jennifer moved aboard last year and the lack of clutter and orderly appearance of the interior attest to the fact that they have ample living room. James likens it to a luxury condo. At the same time, the Nordhavn 52 is about as big a boat as the average cruising couple can handle and dock by themselves. It never feels intimidating or overwhelming.

While owners of Nordhavn 55s are attracted to its one-level layout, with the saloon, galley, and cabins all virtually on one level, Jennifer said that she liked the layout of the 52 because it isolated the sleeping areas on a lower level, away from the activity of the saloon and galley.

Although the Nordhavn 52 is not a custom, or even a semi-custom boat, a few modifications are possible. For example, the Hamiltons wanted the convenience of a day head in the living area. Normally, when the standard day head is installed in the space opposite the galley, the washer and dryer have to move to the space in the pilothouse formerly occupied by the wet locker. Also, a smaller washer and dryer must be used. With the help of PAE the Hamiltons designed a larger day head, which still incorporates their apartment-sized washer and dryer and lets them keep their wet locker—an essential feature of a boat in the wet Pacific Northwest.

They made several changes to the galley layout as well, incorporating a two-level, slide-out pantry, wider drawers and a relocated cupboard.

Based on their discussions with other Nordhavn owners, the Hamiltons also modified Dirona's mechanical equipment and systems. Along with optional TRAC stabilizers, they specified a hydraulically powered windless, hydraulic bow and stern thrusters and a hydraulic bilge pump. In the stiff currents and strong tidal races of the northwest, where Dirona will cruise, the added power and virtually unlimited run time of its hydraulic windless and 16-horsepower thrusters are important assets. They certainly were up to the job as James used them to expertly hold station in the cross currents of Puget Sound while the photo boat circled.

Another unusual alteration is to Dirona’s mast, which is hinged and will fold back down in order to give the yacht the 20-foot bridge clearance needed to navigate the Great Loop.

With the larger cockpit area comes a larger lazarette, which is always appreciated and never wasted. James commented that cruising in wild and remote areas requires a large inventory of spares. If it weren’t for the Nordhavn 52’s cavernous lazarette, they would have had to look for a bigger boat.

Heading out into Puget Sound for a photo shoot, Dirona ran at 9.2 knots at 2,300 rpm (James has installed a larger than standard, 250-hp, John Deere 6068 series diesel engine).

Four people and one cat named Spitfire are in the pilothouse, but there’s plenty of room to move about. Even with the pilothouse doors closed and the engine operating at the upper end of its RPM range, conversation is at normal speaking volume. The engine is more felt as a distant vibration than heard.

James relates a story about being out in gale-force winds in Dirona. The anemometer said it was blowing around 40 knots, but it seemed so calm and quiet in the pilothouse that he doubted his instrument readings. Only when Jennifer opened the door, which was practically blown out of her hands, did he realize that it was indeed blowing that hard out there.

The pilothouse lacks the captain’s cabin and head of the larger Nordhavns, but has an ample pilot berth behind the settee. The advantage here is that one can see out the two rear windows from the steering station, giving the yacht virtually 360 degrees or outward visibility—a much appreciated asset in the busy shipping lanes of Puget Sound.

In the saloon, the three port side windows of the N47 have been replaced by two large windows on the N52. I like the effect better. There is one less frame to block my view, so the view outward is more panoramic and less obstructed.

Commenting on the Nordhavn 52’s stability, the Hamiltons said, they were warned that Dirona would need its TRAC stabilizers underway and its flopper stopper when anchored; however, that proved not to be the case. Dirona proved to have such a slow, gentle roll period that they run most of the time with the stabilizers turned off and have only used the flopper stopper once, just to see if it worked.
After we returned to the marina and tied up, we had lunch on the Nordhavn 52’s larger boat deck, which easily accommodated a table for six, an oversize Steelhead davit, RIB tender and also stored two 40-gallon (150-liter) gasoline storage tanks, a gangplank/passarelle and two kayaks.
The big Nordhavns are nice, but the 47, and now the 52, are the ones I have always liked the best and pictured myself cruising aboard—and that isn’t only because I cannot afford a Nordhavn 63!