"Bahama Hand Off"
By Bill Parlatore
August 2000 PASSAGEMAKER MAGAZINE
The POLO-SHIRTED BROKER HANDS THE NEW OWNERS the boat keys for the first time. Smiles go round as the symbolic gesture brings conclusion to a deal that has taken months (even years) to complete.
Finally, the long wait is over. The decisions, the compromises, the many options are all done, too late to change, too late to reassess just one more time.
So now what? Step aboard and take off into the sunset? Whoa, fella, slow down! Do you even know where the fuel fill is on this thing? Driver's side or passenger's side?
Buying a boat is sometimes thought similar to buying an automobile. That may or may not be true for small boats. Yet when you start thinking vessels over 30 feet, it is a whole new ball game. The investment is bigger, the demands different.
On a trawler, especially, the systems require a higher level of mechanical ability and understanding. So how does one deal with a new boat purchase, and what does a dealer or builder do to make an owner comfortable in the hand off?
Obviously, brokers and dealers are all different. But today some builders are dedicated to making sure new owners can manage on their own before severing the dealer's umbilical cord. In the case of P.A.E. builders of the Nordhavn, they have been known to go quite a distance (literally) to make sure an owner is comfortable and competent enough to take control.
To better understand the process, I thought it might be fun to tag along during one of these occasions to see what happens. Then I learned that a new P.A.E. boat, Nordhavn 46 #65, was just being readied for its official transfer to her new owner.
The Nordhavn had recently completed commissioning at Palmer Johnson in Savannah. Someone had come up with the idea that a short round-trip to the Bahamas might make the hand off ritual into a pleasant trip as well, so arrangements were made to have P.A.E.'s Dennis Lawrence take the boat out with new owner, Marvin Schwartzstein. Fun and business at the same time.
As planning firmed up, the Bahamas trip became the first leg of the boat's journey north to her new home near Philadelphia.
Annapolitan George Sass, whose ad agency represents Nordhavn, would also be coming along, so there would be four of us on the boat for the week-long Bahamas trip. Perfect.
George and I arrived in Fort Lauderdale from Annapolis on a Sunday afternoon. We found the Nordhavn 46 easy enough among the gleaming white yachts at Pier 66 Marina. A rap on the hull brought Dennis Lawrence out of the saloon, where he was checking system connections with saloon flooring lifted out of the way. Dennis had also just arrived from Dana Point, California.
Marvin was in the pilothouse, installing software on the PC. After brief introductions, we learned that the boat was more or less ready to go, although provisioning remained on the to-do list.
In addition, two appointments were scheduled the following morning. The Naiad folks needed to come back, as the stabilizer system still had a slight oil leak around the gyro mechanism. And Marvin wanted the electronics checked out one more time, so those men were :coming over first thing as well.
While the conversation continued, George and I stowed our gear in the midships guest cabin, and I got a chance to check out this new goat.
I found the saloon more open than other N46s I've been aboard. A free-standing saloon table could be moved around, and a slender corner entertainment center was built into the aft starboard end of the saloon. The lack of stuffed chairs made the saloon feel decidedly roomy.
The layout of this particular boat has a forward owners' cabin with island bed, midships guest cabins with double bunks and desk, and two heads, each with separate showers.
Another nice feature was access to the engine room through a gasketed hatch in the guest cabin. This change evolved over time and experience with the boats. The flooring and frames in the engine room also are now constructed in fiberglass, rather than wood. Somehow it seems they've found another inch or two of headroom in the engine space.
Whatever the reason, access into and around the engine room is no longer the gymnastic maneuver it was for me on earlier 46s-my one bugaboo about the boat.
Out on deck, Dennis pointed out the foredeck design now provides a watertight bulkhead in the chain locker, moving the owner cabin back some inches. A Freeman hatch on the foredeck opens into a large chain locker, with plenty of room for anchor rode, fenders, extra lines, and deck gear. A grand idea that gives solid bulkhead protection between the interior living spaces and the forward chain locker.
After an early dinner nearby, we had plenty of time to get settled aboard before tomorrow's departure. Each of us roamed the boat, taking it in, while Marvin remained in the pilothouse for hours, fretting over the marine electronics.
Getting Ready To Boogie
The Naiad and electronics technicians showed up bright and early. While Marvin stayed aboard, the rest of us took off in the rental car to get provisions and to find updated crossing information on the Bahamas' Great Abaco Island.
We were hungry as we walked into the 17th Street Southport Publix, evidenced by the fact that we bought more food than four people could possibly eat in a month. What is it about guys buying food for a boat trip? Are we expecting to starve? Do visions of being adrift on the Sargasso Sea torture us in our sleep? I don't know the answer, but in my experience, women are better at reality shopping.
We then walked over to Bluewater Books, where Milt Baker sold us an updated cruising guide, and answered questions on a night crossing of the Gulf Stream and the Northwest Providence Channel. It always helps to have local knowledge, and I've always been able to count on someone at Bluewater Books having recent experience going where I plan to go. A big help, those people.
By 1300 hours, the Naiad and electronics guys were gone, the food stored aboard Concerto, and Marvin and Dennis were off to return the rental car and some marine parts. We learned that the 17th Street Bridge section of the Intracoastal Waterway (the bridge is almost over our heads in the marina) would be closed for the next 72 hours, so we would have to travel 12 miles north to Hillsboro Inlet to get clear of the ICW, Florida, and the U.S.
Hand Off 101
With everything taken care of, Dennis sat Marvin down to go through a checklist of items to be completed before getting under way. The guest head holding tank had been pumped out that morning, so Dennis went through how to make sure the holding tank vent is clear. (It would not do to head offshore with the system vent or plumbing clogged from being overly full or after a pump out.)
Dennis and Marvin then went into the engine room, where they went through the fuel management system and how to transfer diesel from one tank to the other. (This latest Nordhavn 46 has two fiberglass fuel tanks, simplifying matters over earlier systems involving four or more fuel tanks.)
Dennis pointed out the differences between the feed manifold and the return manifold, and showed the basics of getting fuel from a supply tank to the engine, wing engine, or genset (all three are on the same manifold).
"The best way to think of this is to follow your fuel," Dennis patiently explained. This "follow your fuel" philosophy was intended to make sure fuel was returned to the same place it was drawn from, to avoid pumping fuel overboard or running a tank dry.
"We'll cover fuel supply and return now. Then I'll talk about transfer and polishing, and how to handle oil changes, when we get to the Bahamas," Dennis said while he had Marvin set up the system to draw fuel from the port tank for our Gulf Stream crossing.
Before we got under way, Dennis checked water in the main engine reservoir, and oil levels in the Lugger main engine, genset, and wing engine. He also checked the oil level in the transmission, which required the engine to be running in neutral.
Sight gauges on both tanks had been marked off with masking tape and marker pen. The tape would be replaced with engraved boards to permanently mark fuel levels next to these recessed sight gauges.
As he went through these routines, Dennis cleaned the areas before he buttoned them up again. I couldn't help but think it was a point he hoped would not be lost on the new owner.
At the end of our engine room "preflight," Dennis mentioned that each of the removable floor sections should be marked as to proper direction and placement. He knows from experience how easy it is to get them confused and turned around.
Our Concerto Begins
The Lugger was fired up at 1445 hours, and we were clear of Pier 66 by 1500. Marvin exited the slip like a pro, and Dennis commented to me that docking would not be a training activity he needed to focus on. Each owner is different; some owners know systems much better than how to get in and out of the slip. Instruction varies accordingly.
As Marvin drove the boat north on the ICW at five knots, we proceeded from one bridge to the next. Some required a bridge opening, a slow, steady procession well known to yachts raveling the ICW in southern Florida.
Water began dripping down from the overhead near the aft saloon door. Dennis made a loud grunt as he knew immediately the source. It was, in fact, a problem he thought had been fixed during commissioning.
Dennis and I took apart the pilothouse air conditioning cabinet, located atop the hanging locker next to the pilothouse settee. The unit's metal drip pan was full, and did not drain properly. Because of the stern-down attitude of Concerto as she sat in her slip, water had built up. Now the under way motion caused water to slosh out of the pan and run down inside the overhead.
We unscrewed the unit and placed a plastic soap dish under one end of the pan, forcing it to drain. (It would be one of a few items that needed attention after the trip.)
Throughout the next several days, Dennis kept looking for such tweaks and adjustments. He even seemed to sleep with one eye open and an ear to all sounds.
I asked him if there was any particular area of concern, or any system that typically causes a lot of grief in a new boat.
He told me they have not had many recurring problems on these boats, a function of evolving the product, of course, but also because most failures occur in fittings, bulbs, or fasteners that let go during the first few hours of operation. A recent example, Dennis recalled, was the failure of a shackle in the dinghy lifting gear, a result of a defective casting. Nothing anyone would have expected to fail, and not something likely to occur again.
Crossing The Stream
Just past 1800 hours we turned out to sea at Hillsboro Inlet. The tide was coming in, and the shoals created white water on both sides of us as we followed a large motoryacht outward bound. Steering the boat out took concentration in the turbulent transition waters between the ocean inlet and the waterway.
Heading through rough, confused swells toward the inlet's outer marker, the character of the Nordhavn changed dramatically. The proverbial wolf in sheep's clothing, we went from five-knot houseboat to offshore veteran in a matter of seconds. This Norse king, who had played down his presence by wearing peasant I clothes in order to mingle among his subjects, l suddenly threw off the wool cloak, his shining I armor and sword now ready to do battle with any threat, including the ocean itself. The change was that dramatic, and no less profound.
Even before the Naiads were switched on for the first time, the Nordhavn 46 took the sea on its shoulder, shedding wave after wave as the bow pushed through the sea, spray thrown in all directions. The keel kept us on course as the boat sliced its way out to sea, our speed not dropping more than a tenth of a knot. Those on the motoryacht were not so lucky. (It was one of those crystal moments when you can fully appreciate the difference between a luxury cruiser and a bluewater seaboat.)
The motion gradually subsided as we cleared the coast, and it wasn't long before the gentle ocean swell could be felt. The lights of Florida's Gold Coast kept the horizon bright as we made miles toward Great Isaac Light. The light was 55 miles to the east, marking our entrance into the Bahamas. We planned only to pass by it on our way east towards the southern end of Great Abaco Island.
We soon entered the Gulf Stream, within sight of Florida, and the Robertson autopilot kept us on course despite the enormous set added by the north-bound current.
Life aboard Concerto became life at sea as the boat traveled farther from land. Our running lights came on, and Dennis prepared herb flavored rice to accompany the warm oven roasted chicken we'd bought only hours before.
Since this passage involved only one overnight, I suggested we split watch duty into two revolving shifts of two persons. That would provide a more social crossing experience, not forcing us into weird sleep patterns. After all, tomorrow we'd be there, so why rough it?
The night passage was over quickly enough, and we changed course slightly as we passed Great Isaac Light and headed east down the middle of Northwest Providence Channel.
One particularly annoying thing that night was the glare from the Ocean PC display. Marvin had Chart View software running on the Gateway PC, and no one could find a setting to turn down the brightness to bearable levels. The twilight setting was too harsh, and the night setting way too bright (and the red color made chart detail impossible to read.)
George draped a perforated placemat over the screen, which helped. My addition was a hand towel over the display. It did the trick, but made it impossible to view the screen.
Sunrise at 0700 the next morning found me at the helm, the rest of the crew asleep around the boat. As the sun rose above the horizon like a bright orange tangerine, I marveled at how alone we were, running at 7 knots at 1,650 rpm, the Lugger as steady as a Swiss watch.
Alone on a deep blue sea, eating a brown sugar PopTart. What could be better than this!
The only other traffic was a tanker five miles to port and another ship farther beyond. The waves in the channel were less than one foot at daybreak, yet the occasional wave combination made the Nordhavn 46 take on a hobby horse motion. Perhaps it was the relatively short waterline length of the boat in these particular sea conditions, but it seemed odd when it happened for no observable reason, our forward progress stopped for a brief moment.
Dennis had found another problem during the night. The engine starting battery was discharging, possibly from the draw of the exterior navigation lights. The voltage dropped slowly lower and lower on the Heart Link 2000 display.
Persistent George soon found the answer. A panel of electrical switches, mounted just inside the engine room access door, made contact with someone's shoulder or elbow almost a certainty.
A switch had been turned off by accident. Mystery solved.
As the morning became day, we each got something to eat, a shower, and relaxed while chugging along on the beautiful Bahama Sea.
I also called the PMM office from the middle of Northwest Providence Channel, using a slick new satellite phone we borrowed for the trip.
With the demise of Iridium, I join the ranks of confused boaters who don't have a clue about today's communication choices. Most of us do know that cellular service stops a few miles off the coast, and keeping in touch can be problematic.
A new service was introduced during the Miami show by SatCom Systems for communications coverage of North and Central America and adjoining ocean regions. The East Coast service area includes Bermuda, Gulf of Mexico, the entire Caribbean and northern South America. (The Pacific Ocean coverage includes the Bering Sea, Gulf of Alaska, and west to the Hawaiian Islands.)
I borrowed a portable unit for this trip, a unit called Omni Quest, which looked much like a laptop computer. The marine equivalent is under $3,000, and charges are about a dollar per minute.
I was amazed at the ease with which I called Annapolis from literally nowhere. Except for a slight delay in transmission due to sending and receiving signals from the MSAT-1 satellite, orbiting 23,000 miles overhead, the conversation was excellent in clarity and quality.
Several times during the week we used the satellite phone to keep in touch without worrying about our location. It struck me as a giant step forward in communications for those of us not traveling on a megayacht. (SatCom Systems is based in Burbank, CA. Its phone number is 818-526-1700.)
Later, George and Dennis tried to adjust the radar to match information from the other electronics. There was a 10-degree discrepancy between the Northstar 951X, KVH azimuth gyro compass, radar, and Ritchie magnetic compass.
"East Coast, West Coast, it doesn't matter," Dennis lamented while fiddling with dials and going through equipment manuals. "You just never spend enough time on sea trials of a new boat with all of these systems."
Once again, I saw how little the basic boat needed adjustment. Every problem seemed to have something to do with stuff added on to the basic boat. There's a lesson there Dennis still kept poking his head in the bilges, putting a hand on the stuffing box packing gland, checking tightness of hose clamps, pulling hoses, and peering into corners. He was clearly a man on a mission to make this new boat arrive in perfect condition.
Lots To See And Hear
Throughout the late afternoon and evening, discussion continued about where a future system might make the most sense, how best to switch between fuel filters while under way, and other topics that drifted in and out of conversation. Dennis insisted he's no great teacher, yet his careful and relaxed style of instruction removed mystery from the boat with each passing hour. I believe I knew the Nordhavn 46 pretty well after spending time aboard with him.
As we headed up the east coast of Great Abaco, the low-lying vegetation showed signs of damage from last year's Hurricane Floyd. A tree line would be interrupted where stands of palms were ripped out by strong winds.
We aimed for Little Harbor for the night. Not a place to clear customs, but a good place to anchor and get some sleep. We planned to enter Marsh Harbor the next day, in plenty of time to clear into the Bahamas and explore the area.
The entrance to Little Harbor is a relatively narrow opening between two rock formations. Nothing tricky, but not something to attempt at night. We just made it with enough daylight.
Smoke from a forest fire on the south end of the island added a surrealistic haze and smell to our presence in Little Harbor. The lighthouse on the chart was gone, a victim of the hurricane, and several large homes had fallen into the water from the storm's fury.
We made ourselves set for the night. After a lasagna dinner, complete with bottles of wine, we were out on deck for a marvelous view of the stars. The lack of people, boats, or lights on shore surprised me, and I couldn't help but wonder at the courage of the early explorers who sailed the area in their wood sailing ships. I toasted them in the glow of the stars.
Up The Inside
The next morning was windy as white caps rolled down on us from the north. Our plan was to run directly north as we threaded our way up the shallow waters of the Sea of Abaco toward Hopetown and Marsh Harbour, Great Abaco Island's two principal communities.
As if to remind us of the time, the boat began dragging anchor in the stiffening breeze. Dennis ordered us under way immediately. Clad in pajama pants, he manned the windlass as Marvin ran the boat out of the anchorage, and we proceeded on our day's journey.
The several hours it took to make the distance to Marsh Harbour was a good time to enjoy the beautiful green waters from Pelican Cay northward, and to reflect on the beauty that draws so many cruisers to the Bahamas each year. We monitored the color of the water against the cruising charts of the area, as it would not do at all to run this boat at full speed up on a sandbar-even if it would make for a splendid photo for a future PMM cover!
We arrived at Marsh Harbour in the early afternoon, and by VHF arranged a slip at the Conch Inn Marina.
Marsh Harbour is the principal hub of the Abacos, and just about everything is available here: transportation, supplies, food, provisions, and most marine services.
We got things put away, and waited patiently for the customs and immigration officers. It was time to adjust ourselves to island time. With windows and doors open, the ventilation on the boat was excellent.
Dennis ended the day's hand off instruction by going over the fuel transfer system again. We had drawn fuel from the port tank throughout this trip, and he hoped to level out the tanks. However, we had used, so little fuel that the port tank sight gauge still showed full. (Don't ya just love good fuel economy!)
We enjoyed a BBQ dinner at the Jib Room, a nearby restaurant, and explored the town which still showed lots of construction due to the hurricane. A taxi driver gave us a tour of Marsh Harbour, and we learned the heavy construction was not simply to repair storm damage, but to implement expansion plans at the same time. When the dust settles, Marsh Harbour will be quite a facility.
We could not find one pay phone anywhere in Marsh Harbour, and the satellite phone again came to the rescue.
One thing I noticed the next morning: Marsh Harbour is a magnet for Krogens. I counted six Krogen 42s in little Marsh Harbour, along with a 36-foot Manatee and a Krogen 48. No other brand, sail or power, could boast so many boats in one place. Marsh Harbour must be a popular place with the Krogen Cruisers!
Walking the docks at our marina we met a delightful couple, Don and Gail Curtis aboard a picture-perfect Fleming 55, Leatherback. They were at the Conch Inn Marina to pick up some friends flying in for a visit.
Providentially, George and I planned to take some glamour photos of Concerto in this tranquil setting. Over breakfast we decided to ask Don and Gail if they would take part in our photoshoot. Truth be told, we decided a woman looked better on the foredeck than one of us crusty souls, and Gail fit the image perfectly. Don agreed to drive the photo chase dinghy, so George and I could concentrate on photography and shooting video.
Late in the day, we launched the dinghy, and our photo session was a big success. The light from the setting sun was perfect, and the clouds and weather cooperated as we shot roll after roll of Concerto running in Marsh Harbour. I'm sure Gail and Don got a kick out of it, and trust their friends did as well.
Later, over rum drinks, dinner, and more rum drinks (so what is the difference between a Dilly Willy and a Bahama Mama.?.?.?), George, Dennis, and I discussed the trip, the boat, and what it means to go cruising. Marvin was at the airport to pick up a man who would travel on the return leg to Florida. Dennis would also make the trip, although he felt he concluded the major elements of his hand off to the new owner. He considered Marvin ready.
George Sass and I look forward to new boats this summer, by coincidence both lobster boats, and we couldn't help but compare the abilities of that kind of boat with the seagoing Nordhavn.
As evidenced by the cruisers in Marsh Harbour, just about any well-found powerboat can make the Bahamas scene. It is simply a matter of choosing the right weather window.
The Nordhavn makes light work of the rough stuff, so weather windows are less important to the boat as they are to the crew's comfort.
While the lower speed of a full displacement boat might seem to put it at a disadvantage when thinking of the ideal Bahamas cruiser, there is still the matter of where you'll be living once you arrive. A high-speed express cruiser may get you there pronto, but then
Do you intend to camp out, or enjoy luxury aboard a quality trawler yacht? The number of Krogens certainly speaks to that issue.
The Nordhavn would be a grand home for spending the winter cruising the Bahamas.
The Final Word
I spoke with Dennis Lawrence soon after he returned to California. The trip back to Florida had gone fine. The weather remained settled, and the Nordhavn 46 ran like a ship.
Dennis did finish the fundamentals of running the boat, showing Marvin how to keep her out of harm's way. The new owner proved up to the task, and took possession of Concerto with confidence.
Concerto soon will be up north cruising closer to home. No distant horizons are planned, which is just fine with Marvin. He got the boat of his dreams, and he can go anywhere he wants.
Dennis told me our Bahama experience closely resembled dozens of other P.A.E. experiences introducing new Nordhavn owners to their boats. The goal remains the same: Make it work, make them work. . .together.
I never did see Dennis hand over the keys of Concerto. Perhaps it was a bit of an anti-climax, perhaps it wasn't a big deal at all.
"Here, sir, are the keys to your dream.
"Now it's up to you."