This weekend, Eric and Christi Grab, owners of Nordhavn 43 Kosmos, are leaving San Diego bound for the Marquesas Islands. The 2,900-mile journey will be the longest passage ever made by a Nordhavn 43 – and the longest one made by the Grabs, too. The young couple has dreamt and planned for their long distance voyage for many years, but since taking delivery of 43#18 last spring, the Grabs have managed to put only a limited number of miles under their keel; their longest trip to date on board Kosmos was down to Ensenada, Mexico for winter storage (see Up for Grabs).
There are many different ways in which boat owners need to be properly prepared before taking on an extended cruise such as this. One of the most important being a proper shakedown to ensure the vessel and its owners are able to handle several non-stop days at sea. . Every crew intending to make a long trip should first get a reasonable simulation under their belts. It’s amazing what you learn and what you realize still needs to be done before setting off. Training like this on a Nordhavn is fun work. It’s obvious that a lot of experience with passage making has been incorporated into the design of the 43. In fact, the 43’s design is a result of lessons learned on the company’s Around-The-World voyage in 2000-01. We did shakedown trips on the ATW 40 before taking off to cover the globe and actually as a requirement for participation in our ocean-crossing Nordhavn Atlantic Rally, each crew had to complete a 500 mile non-stop. There is no better way to get ready for a big trip than to get out and practice. So, last month, I set out with Eric and Christie on a 3-day expedition from Dana Point to the Channel Islands. At the end of this shakedown, when adding to it the 200 miles the Grabs traveled from San Diego to Dana Point to pick me up, Eric and Christie will have spent on board over 80 hours non-stop and logged over 400 miles.
It’s noon on Tuesday and we’re heading 307 degrees at 4.9 knots into 17 knots of wind and 4-foot seas. The good ship Kosmos is 35 hours into our planned 80-hour non-stop and all is well. We’re running about 60 miles from the coast of Oxnard, CA and there isn’t another ship on the horizon. Occasionally the scanning VHF will pick up some voice traffic – either Coast Guard weather on 22A or Vessel Traffic for the Port of Los Angeles. Eric and Christi are trying to get some sleep. It was a lumpy night and at this slow “long range” speed we have only covered 130 miles in the 27 hours since I have been on board.
Plodding along under 5 knots in the middle of nowhere doesn’t seem like a lot of fun, but we are getting crucial hours on the systems, getting more familiar with the daily operations, gauging fuel burn numbers in a real-sea situation and generally completing final preparations for the Grabs’ upcoming adventure of a lifetime. This is only three days at sea but believe it or not, it will give quality simulation for when Kosmos and the Grabs are running nonstop for more than 20 days in a row.
You can probably only imagine some sense of the planning required for this type of long passage…it has been years in the works already and at a frenetic pace for the past 6 months. Nothing will get Eric and Christie more mentally and physically prepared like time on board underway – standing watch, checking data, preparing meals – getting used to what is normal and learning to sleep when the boat doesn’t want to let you. To cover close to 3000 miles of ocean on a 43-foot powerboat, you need patience…it’s a long haul and you have to take it at a slow pace, sipping fuel and steadily putting miles behind you – which is why we are bucking along and burning through less than 2 gallons of diesel an hour.
It’s a quiet ride out here at 1600 rpm and except for white caps, clouds and an occasional seabird there’s not much to see outside. I have the upper half of the Dutch door open to let in the salt breeze and I’m perched in the Stidd helm chair with my slippers resting on the dash. Eric did an outstanding job of laying out the helm. He asked us to place the main engine control panel just ahead of the steering wheel – very logical and easy to see. There are two Furuno Navnet 2 displays, a laptop, VHF, SSB, Trac active fins, wind, generator, inverter and water maker panels all within easy reach. On the helm plane there are two autopilots, bow thruster, searchlight, windlass, wipers, single lever main engine shift and the alternator AMP output display. The wing engine panel is in the overhead and Eric asked us to upgrade the wing controls from the standard pull sticks to a double lever Morse control cleverly mounted in a small alcove below the steering wheel. Kosmos also has an Iridium satellite phone and in the overhead are two Furuno GP32s giving us our Lat and Lon, date and time, speed, course and trip log.
Our trip outline was pretty simple – keep the boat moving. Eric plotted a course that would take us out to the backside or seaward side of the eight Channel Islands off the southern California coast. These are deep waters and the shipping traffic would be predictably sparse, a reasonable facsimile of what to expect on a long Pacific passage. The summary was a San Diego to Dana Point run (touch and go at the dock to pick me up) then out to the east end of Catalina Island, off to San Nicholas Island, up to Point Conception, back to San Nicholas, a circle around Santa Barbara Island and then a straight shot back to Dana Point
The boat’s a year old but there’s still a lot of new “stuff” on board. Items purchased that are still shrink-wrapped; it will be fun for the crew to have plenty of new things to open up, play with and learn on their three-week first leg. Yesterday I spent a lot of time talking with Eric and Christie about ideas and plans. I also gave them plenty of little fine-tuning suggestions (like putting adhesive triangle “arrows” on the gauges to denote normal needle positions on analog instrument and pressure gauges). We all shared in the engine room checks and Eric was busy making notes and planning details for little improvements to look into after our trip was over.
Eric was real keen to try a 3 person watch schedule of 4-hour watches that is different from what I am used to. My first watch started shortly after I hopped aboard in Dana Point – Eric and Christie had just run ten hours up the coast from San Diego and were a bit tired so I took the helm from 0900 to 1300 (after Christie prepared us all an eggs benedict breakfast!) and then eight hours later from 2100 – 0100. Being on four hours and then off eight is actually a pretty nice way to go. Christie followed me so she has “graveyard” from 1am to 5am. I don’t think she even gets to see the sunrise, but she hasn’t complained. Last night, our first full night at sea, I turned over the helm to Christie as we were nearing San Nicholas Island – a chunk of land that is roughly 50 miles offshore and is rarely visited. I’ve never been out to see the island and though I saw her night profile and a few lights, by the time I was back on watch this morning at 0900 St. Nick was but a blur in our wake. So after rounding San Nicholas to starboard we’re beating upwind to a waypoint off of Point Conception. It’s about a 100 mile run, all uphill, all lumpy and bouncy and my thoughts are turning to lunch
Just connecting the dots on a route and not actually arriving at landmark destinations is a different type of trip. We passed by some neat island views and got some close drive by peaks and different perspectives of places most people never get near, but it was almost a tease to travel so far…and just keep moving on. In my experience it is actually easier to keep going when there is nothing on the horizon – land seems to have a magnetic attraction. We ate well, ran with both active fin and paravane stabilization, nothing broke, and all of us got to get more comfortable with the movement of the boat and the operation of all of the equipment. When you have time to focus on one thing at a time you aren’t overwhelmed by the number of different components on board
We found a drip on one of the Racor fuel filters so Eric went into the engine room to tighten it up. Not hesitating to make an adjustment and having the right tools on board to make a repair showed Eric’s planning is spot on.
Some of the little training details and tips we picked up during this trip include:
*Adjusting the settings on the active fins to get a more comfortable ride in different sea conditions.
*Running the wing engine to put on some hours (the shaft ran hot so we had the packing adjusted after we returned)
*Finding one or two locations where we wanted to add a night-light
*Trying to solve the age-old issue of how to reduce the glare from the running lights on the paravane guy wires and the bow pulpit from the steaming light
*Determining that we should add an engine room light switch by the saloon hatch, so that you didn’t have to go through the master stateroom to turn on the lights for an engine room check, or turn on the ER light breakers in the wheelhouse (and forget – leaving light glowing into the MSR when someone was trying to sleep)
*And, the value of the galley garbage disposal as a much better location for losing your lunch than driving the porcelain bus…(especially since we have a y-valve that diverts directly overboard and not into the gray water tank). This is a trick Eric taught me that I was able to use to my advantage on mynext outing at sea (stay tuned!)
Too soon we found ourselves returning to Dana Point and before I was fully awake we were tied up to the dock and ready for the PAE crew to come on board for some pre-arranged warranty and service work.
Eric and Christie have seen what it is like to get into the groove of extended cruising. It’s something that takes a day or two to achieve, and this trip reaffirmed that they are very well prepared. I’m sure it was as much a relief as a confidence booster to complete this trip without anything major popping up. Hearing of people taking off in their boat to run non-stop for three weeks across 3,000 miles of ocean with a crew of three is going to probably hit you one of three ways: you think they are crazy, you are jealous they get to go and you don’t, or you are frightened for them. Me, I’m excited and jealous, but have no concerns about their safety or the boat’s reliability and know they are as ready as can be. I know they will have a bon voyage.