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A Nordhavn tale of thanks and giving

Top Five Trawler Buying Mistakes
by John Torelli for

I once heard that trawler owners are some of the most experienced group of boaters in the world.  While I have no hard evidence to confirm this, I can attest to the fact that most owners we have spoken with over the past ten years have achieved an impressive resume of cruising experience.  Like us, their experience progressed over time and included some degree of trial and error.  Even with 30 years of boating experience that includes commissioning two new Nordhavn trawlers and living aboard part time over the last five years, there are times when we feel like novices.  One area in particular that manages to show our “still learning” attitude is the purchasing process of a new boat.  Let’s face it, not many people buy enough boats in a life time to become experts, so the opportunity to make a big mistake is always lurking around the corner.  Today, as we start to prepare for our third trawler purchase, we find ourselves dusting off our list of the “Top Five Trawler Buying Mistakes” in hopes to stay clear of any potential storms that may lay ahead.  

Our list includes both personal and common mistakes that other trawler owners have told us about. They include: Unrealistic expectations, Emotional purchasing, Under-estimating the cost of ownership, Purchasing the wrong type boat and most importantly on our list, Not listening to the first mate.  
Unrealistic expectation is probably the easiest of the five mistakes to avoid as long as the buyer is willing to do his/her homework to collect and analysis the information required to make accurate decisions.  Research and actual experiences are the only real ways to avoid or least minimizes this mistake.  Our approach starts with some serious soul searching and honest discussion on how we plan to use the boat over the next three years.  Three years is about as far as we like to project due to life’s countless opportunities for change.  Once we have an agreed plan, the search begins for the perfect boat. Hull design, safety and comfort normally make up our top three considerations.  Once we have identified all the perspective builders we start to research each company and its product line individually. Between the internet, magazines and boat shows we can usually narrow our search down to one or two builders with-in a year.  Sea trial’s follow on the same model we are interested in purchasing.  Understanding the handling characteristics of the boat is very important to us and we take the sea trial very serious.  There is always time to evaluate the static aspects of the boat while at the dealers dock, so we schedule long sea trials and hope for sloppy weather to put the boat through her paces.  After we return home, we will discuss how the boat measured up to our expectations for the couple of hours we were out at sea and try to envision ourselves on the boat for days or weeks at a time. Even after we confirmed we have selected the right boat, we sit back address our personal expectations one more time.  When we purchased our first Nordhavn 40’ we both assumed a week long, 1,000 mile cruise from San Diego, Ca. to Cabo San Lucas was on the agenda.  It wasn’t until after we had the boat for about a year that the first mate decided a week long cruise exceeded her level of fun! While the boat remained the perfect choice and exceeded our levels of expectations technically, our personal expectations had changed and some rethinking on how we would use her took place was required.   

Underestimating the cost of ownership is a common mistake.  When we started researching our first trawler we had a heck of time locating accurate, real time, well documented information on this subject.  Items like bottom cleaning and replacing hull zincs wasn’t something that appeared in our visions of long summer cruises, Bar-b-Q’s on the aft deck and sipping margaritas at sunset.  Add in monthly slip fees, insurance, boat washing, semi -annual waxing, property taxes, fuel, oil changes, spare parts, Satellite TV and XX Radio and it adds up.  All these costs are added to our monthly boat payment making total cost of ownership significantly greater than we planned for.  Now that we have gone through this experience twice we would like to think that we are better prepared for trawler number three.    

Purchasing the wrong type of trawler is another mistake we came very close to committing. Since we would be using Maria Elena as a part time live aboard due to a job transfer (yes, some guys do get lucky) living space was a major concern.  While Maria had no issues with the quality or layout of the boat she would have preferred something with a little more room.  Our nominal budget limited us to the smallest of the Nordhavn displacement hull fleet and I was not willing to give up the quality and safety for a larger boat from a different builder.  Thankfully the layout on the N40 is perfect for a couple (and occasional guests) and things have worked out very nicely.  An area that didn’t work out as well for us was the slow speed of a full displacement hull boat.  When you take your wife who is used to fast cars and day boats and ask her to settle in for a 9 hour boat ride at 6.5knotts I should have expected some push back.  I can remember telling her of a cartoon I had seen during one of our first trips, it was snail sitting on the back of a turtle with the wind in its face saying “Weeee” as the turtle moved ever so quickly.  In our case we were the snail and the Nordhavn was the turtle.  It became worse when the occasional sailboat would past us up from time to time.   While she came to appreciate the journey aspect of the trawler rather than the destination, she will not let go of the snail and turtle joke.  Lesson here is to make sure the size, type and speed of the boat meets your needs.  If it doesn’t there is a good chance the boat will just sit in its slip and no one will be happy.     

Not getting the first mates approval is a guarantee recipe for disaster at sea!  We have spoken with a large number of couples from coast to coast where the first mate had serious reservations regarding the whole trawler adventure, slow speed and long passages.  We could hear reservations in their voices and seriously thought some would not work out.  Possibly, some indication that we may not have been far off are the number of relatively new, million dollar trawlers that go up for sale less than a year after purchase.  While we managed to escape this hazard it was not without compromise on both sides.  Maybe the secret to a successful trawler ownership is the same as marriage itself “compromise”? Bottom line is even with the right boat, budgets large enough to manage the QE II and the best of relationships, if spending time on the water is not an equal passion for both parties you may easily find yourself in very treacherous waters.       

Buying on emotion, something many dealers dream about during boat shows and the single largest mistake anyone can make.  That being said, emotion is part of this great adventure and it is not easy to contain at times. While those with significant experience are less likely to fall into this trap newcomers to this life style need to be careful.  If I can offer one suggestion to a perspective trawler buyer it would be never to sign a contract during a boat show.  Most reputable manufacturers like PAE – Nordhavn do not have to use artificial boat show pricing to try and lure buyers.  A reputable builder with a quality product should have nothing to fear by educating perspective buyers prior to having them make their decision.  So take your time and do your homework.  Even after you have found the perfect boat and the first mate is totally onboard, step away for a week or so and then ask yourself if you still have the same level passion and desire to truly take on the trawler lifestyle.  If the answer is still yes and the level of passion is still high than fulfill your dreams and start your journey.

Author: John and Maria Torelli have been boating for over 30 years and owned two Nordhavn 40II trawlers.  They live aboard Maria Elena, N4061 part time in San Diego, CA and recently wrote a book about the life style and its true cost.  The book entitled “Life is a journey, why not live aboard a trawler” is available on line at    





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