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CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS
These owners are taking their 46-foot Nordhavns across the ocean with a fleet of like-minded adventurers in the first-ever transatlantic powerboat rally.
By JOHN CLEMANS

Motorboating, May 2004

Michael Perfit and Kevin Keith

Where there's a boat, there's a dream.

Sometimes, the dream can appear to dwarf the boat. Case in point: There are plenty of 46-foot powerboats behind the homes on Treasure Island, Fla., a waterfront community off the coast of St. Petersburg. The owners of one of them dream of taking their 46 across the Atlantic.

Have you ever considered taking your boat across the Atlantic? I doubt it. For most of us, it would be like entering the Daytona 500 in a Hyundai. You need a megayacht-a small ship to cross the ocean, a real monster. Maybe in the next life ....

Not so fast. There are mortal-sized boats that can do it. Boats like Stargazer, the 46-footer that dreamers Michael Perfit and Kevin Keith keep at Treasure Island. Boats like Wayne and Patricia Davis's 46-footer, Envoy, which I caught up with on the other side of the state in Cocoa, Fla.

Both of these high-sided trawlers are Nordhavns built by Pacific Asian Enterprises (PAE), a Dana Point, Calif., firm that custom crafts 35- to 72-foot oceangoing vessels in Taiwan and China for devotees of long-range, nonstop cruising. PAE poses the big question in its literature and on its Web site. To wit: "Ever dreamed of crossing the Atlantic Ocean in your own boat?" This is the sole text on the front cover of the company's brochure whose back cover asks, "What makes a power vessel capable of crossing an ocean?"

The answer to the second question is right below it: sufficient fuel range; sufficient stability; sufficient hull strength; and sufficient fresh-water capacity. Add a serviceable galley, sleeping quarters and adequate stowage space, and you're there. Turns out that size doesn't matter. What matters is design. And Nordhavns have it. At 46 feet, Stargazer and Envoy are plenty big enough to cross the Atlantic. In fact, they're both about to do just that.

Stargazer and Envoy will join 22 other Nordhavns, including three 40-footers (told you size doesn't matter), plus four boats from other builders, on the first-ever transatlantic powerboat owners' rendezvous. Called the Nordhavn Atlantic Rally (NAR), it kicks off on May 16, when the "slower" boats (roughly 50 feet and below) depart Ft. Lauderdale for Bermuda, 900 nautical miles to the northeast. The "faster" boats leave the following day, and, if all goes according to schedule, the entire fleet will arrive on May 22. After a week's layover, the slower boats, which comprise about half the fleet, embark for Horta, in the Azores-a distance of 1,800 miles and the faster group sets out three days later. The planned arrival date is June 11. The stay at Horta will be for eight or 10 days (depending on the group), after which the final, 1,100-mile leg will begin. The finish line is Gibraltar in the Mediterranean. The anticipated arrival date is June 27. A grand finale dinner is scheduled for the following evening. It should be quite a celebration.

Michael Perfit, a 48-year-old retired software engineer, has dreamed of crossing the Atlantic since childhood, when he first read Sir Francis Chichester's accounts of circumnavigating single-handed. Perfit's more modest vision of sailing across the ocean-not alone, but with a companion-was altered by his father's passion for cruising under power. Bud Perfit, another early retiree, has spent many years cruising the eastern seaboard in a variety of powerboats, currently a Nordic Tug 37. His gift of Capt. Robert Beebe's book Voyaging Under Power, considered the bible of long-range cruising, to his son convinced Michael to switch from sail to power. But his dream of crossing the ocean persisted. Two years ago, Michael and friend Kevin Keith, also retired from computer work, began looking for the right boat in which to do it.

They wanted a tough, heavy, single diesel boat with a secondary "get home" engine. They wanted a passive stabilization system-paravanes or "flopper stoppers"-rather than hydraulic stabilizers (Envoy has both). And they wanted a boat with an amidships galley-and storage space for a month's worth of provisions-that was comfortable to live aboard. In short, they wanted a Nordhavn. They settled on a 1999 model with a 143-hp (101 continuous-duty) Lugger engine and an auxiliary 27-hp Yanmar. And they moved aboard.

Wayne and Patricia Davis took a similar route to ownership of their identically powered Nordhavn 46, on which they, too, live. Wayne, a retired University of Michigan Medical School professor, had long dreamed of duplicating Chichester's feat sailing solo around the world. He never got the chance before marrying Pat, who took a dim view of circumnavigation. Sailing to the Caribbean, however, appealed to her. They searched for a sailboat and found a Stevens Custom 50. In 1998, they participated in the Caribbean 1500 Rally sailing nonstop from Norfolk, Va., to Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands. Three years and many nautical miles later, Pat began lobbying for the greater comfort and protection from the elements that a trawler would provide. Another search began. "There was really only one boat in our price range that offered unlimited ocean cruising-the Nordhavn 46," said Wayne. In less than three years they've put over 10,000 miles on the boat, most of it by themselves.

Aboard the Nordhavn, Pat could envision a modified version of Wayne's round-the-world dream-crossing the Atlantic. They made plans to embark this summer or next on their own and join the handful of other trawler owners who have accomplished such a feat. Then the NAR was announced.

"The Rally was immediately appealing," said Wayne. "I knew that we would make lifelong friends among the participants, because we had during the 1500 Rally." There was the bonus of safety in numbers and in the support services that PAE would provide. For a fee ranging from $5,000 to $7,000, depending on boat length, participants are promised the presence of mechanics and divers on lead and chase vessels for en-route engine, systems and underwater repairs; emergency fuel reserves and boat-to-boat fuel transfer if necessary; emergency towing; constant monitoring and weather info, and doctors for medical contingencies. That's just for openers. Shoreside personnel in Bermuda, Horta and Gibraltar will grease the gears for entering and exiting procedures. This includes expedited customs clearance, a real perk. Fun will be included in the mix: social events and tours during the two leisurely layovers.

For Perfit and Keith, the rally's allure was similar. They had planned to embark on a European odyssey in 2005. They had hoped to team up with at least one other boat for the crossing, probably a sailboat. But when the NAR was announced, it moved their departure up a year. The Rally's security, camaraderie and logistical support were too good to pass up. But while Perfit and Keith value the constant proximity of available help, they intend to be totally self-sufficient. "I'd be very disappointed if it turned out that I needed to depend on assistance," said Perfit.

Wayne Davis is likewise committed to self-sufficiency. "For all the support, we know that our boat is our responsibility. We're doing everything humanly possible to minimize the risk of mechanical failure." They're even having their transmission rebuilt for the trip.

Perfit and Keith have been laboring for the past few months, working with a 150-item checklist. Just lugging the library of cruising guides and charts aboard must have been quite a job. Part of their preparation was a cruise from Florida to Maine and back, on, leg of which (Morehead City, N.C., to Rodriguez Key, Fla.) was 735 miles nonstop. A thorough survey revealed a pitted propeller shaft that required replacement. A passerelle has been added to Stargazer for stern-to boarding. Details like accommodating European power and stocking spares for everything has taken time and energy. "Each decision is a hurdle," explained Perfit. "You wonder: Are eight extra oil filters too few or too many?"

Nordhavns are so much more comfortable and civilized than even much larger sailboats that ex-sailors consider life aboard them far from claustrophobic. Retirees, especially, embrace their convenience. The unprecedented Nordhavn Atlantic Rally may prove a milestone in the annals of ocean cruising, an endeavor still dominated by sailors. There are more under-60-foot production powerboats in the Rally than the total number that have ever crossed the Atlantic, according to the organizers. The Rally's success may well tip the scales in favor of power.

In all, there are five 46s in the Rally. The owners of these and similar boats tend to be exceedingly level-headed folk with a temperament suited to careful, methodical preparation and rational decision making in threatening situations.

I They're also blessed with patience which should be obvious from the speed at which they're content to travel.

While design matters, so does speed, or lack of it. A Nordhavn 46 holds 1,000 gallons of fuel, and at 5 knots it has a staggering theoretical range of 7,333 miles. But there's no need to go at such a snail's pace. Perfit and Keith and the Davises intend to kick it up to 6.5 knots, still too slow for the "fast" group, which will average a lively 8.5. At the 6.5 knot, slow-group speed, Stargazer and Envoy can cruise 3,500 nautical miles without refueling. ("I can go from Florida to Ireland nonstop," said Wayne.) They top out at 8.3 knots (2300 rpm), at which speed they get only one mile per gallon. Haste definitely makes waste in this game. And what's an extra few days on a 3,800-mile voyage?

Add leisure time to the list of assets that qualify one for transatlantic trips such as this. The participants all intend to spend several months cruising the Med. Perfit, Keith and the Davises plan to spend three or, four years in European waters. The Davises will spend the first winter in Spain and the second in Turkey. Stargazer's itinerary has a time line worthy of Daniel Defoe. First summer: the Balearic Islands; Corsica; and Sicily (a copy of Italian Water Pilot sat on the salon coffee table). First winter: Croatia. Second summer: the Greek Islands. Second winter: the Thames-at the St. Katherine's docks, which date back to Roman times, in the shadow of the Tower of London. They've added a little diesel burner with a smokestack for heat (the Davises rely on their reverse-cycle air conditioning). Their destinations reflect not only a passion for exploration, but also an awareness of the European Union's value added tax (VAT), which applies to boats that spend more than 18 months within the EU. Third summer: who knows? Perfit and Keith have a home that can travel the world.

I expected that the potential for misadventures on the high seas would dominate a participant's anticipation of the trip. Yet Perfit and Keith seemed more concerned over the prospect of combating boredom than of battling big waves. "Food will help," said Keith, who's the cook and who plays the full-size keyboard that swings down from a salon bulkhead like an ironing board. He and Perfit will be joined by friends who will serve as crew members for the crossing (as will the Davises). Keith plans to serve beef Wellington on the first night out.

"Our DVD home theater will help us pass the time," said Wayne. And he demonstrated an Elton John concert whose sound filled the salon like a wall of water from a group of tiny speakers. Pat, another excellent cook-"We eat gourmet on this boat," boasted Wayne-admits to fearing the unlikely recurrence of the conditions occasioned by Hurricane Mitch that they went through in the 1500 Rally. Beyond that, I heard nary a premonition of danger from anyone.

This seeming indifference to the possible perfect storminess they could encounter is not disdain for nature's power. Rather, it's a testament to the reassurance, on both conscious and subconscious levels, provided by the presence of the vastly experienced NAR organizers, who are led by veteran circumnavigator Jim Leishman, vice president of PAE, who revised Beebe's "bible." The greatest apprehension I could detect surfaced at the mention of docking. Said Perfit, "Thirty boats, all in a narrow channel, trying to Med-moor, probably without pilings. It could be more of an adventure than the crossing." Let's hope so. To everyone involved in the Rally, bon voyage!

ROVING REPORTER

How will ordinary people in production powerboats hold up during the course of this extraordinary voyage? To find out Motor Boating will follow the progress of the Nordhavn Atlantic Rally from the pilot house of the Nordhavn 57, Atlantic Escort. Our editors will be along for each leg of this epic adventure, as well editors of our sister publication, Yachting. You will see feature stories on this event in upcoming issues of both magazines. You can also track the progress of the sizable and tenacious Nordhavn fleet from our Web site, www.motorboating.com, where daily updates will be posted in real time.

The 57 is one of three escort boats assigned to support the fleet as it crosses the Atlantic. It's been fitted with a tow bit, and its crew will be capable of transferring a limited amount of fuel during the voyage. Powered by a 340hp Lugger, it boasts a cruising range of over 3,000 nautical miles. Rally rules require each boat to have an auxiliary propulsion system capable of maintaining steerage in calm water; Atlantic Escort has an 80-hp Lugger. It also has a sophisticated electronics package that includes radar, also required of each Rally boat. Radar will be critical in a closely packed fleet such as this. Jim Leishman, one of the founders of Nordhavn, is captain of Atlantic Escort.

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