This is the second part of a 3-part series on the revival of the Nordhavn 40.
The story of how Nordhavn 40#67 came to be is not unique, or exceptional, or even heartwarming. But it should serve to be inspirational – especially for the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of couples who, with average boating experience and limited budget, aspire to spend most of their days waking up to the sounds of water lapping against the sides of their new yacht; where a change of scenery is just a weighed anchor and any amount of nautical miles away. These are the Mike and Francie Bennetts of the world, mom s and pops who have spent years and years working hard to earn a living, raise a family, be serviceable to their communities, and perhaps spend a few precious blips of time pleasure boating on their 21-foot center console or daysailer. As annual boat show crawlers or perhaps from the comfort of their living rooms, they are planning for a time – two years, five years, even a dozen years down the road – when they can truly dedicate themselves to their passion of life at sea. They crunch numbers, devise schedules and try to figure out how is it they can achieve their goal.
That’s where the Bennetts found themselves, close to 10 years ago – at the United States Powerboat Show in Annapolis, MD, filled with ideas of retirement and living out life on a proper boat. Mike, working as a town planner, and Francie, an insurance company underwriter, (and both also parents to son, Ian), enjoyed boating. Mike taught himself to sail in his 20s, inspired by the Tall Ships that had visited New York City in the summer of 1976. Of course, back then there was no internet, so he did what any knowledge-seeking youngster of the era did: looked up “sailing” in the World Book Encyclopedia. He read every last word on it and then promptly drove to Ocean City, NJ, with a friend to rent a Sunfish.
Over the years, the Bennetts got as much boating time in as they could taking their 25-foot and then 27-foot sloops out on the Chesapeake. Their desire to set sail grew over the years, though not their tolerance for the rigors of sailing. The realization that a trawler was likely in their future led them to the boat show in Annapolis.
It was 2002 and a Nordhavn 40 had just been delivered to its new owner, having recently completed a record-setting circumnavigation with Nordhavn employees serving as crew. That Around The World voyage, known as the ATW – which had culminated in May of that year –had become infamous by the boat show, and Mike knew all about it. As luck would have it, the boat was part of the Nordhavn display at the U.S. Power Boat Show that year, and an intrigued Mike and Francie went on for a tour.
The N40 entered the Bennett’s boating discussion only after they had ruled out other boats in the 29- to 37-foot range. As sailors gingerly dipping their toes into the power boat market, the Bennetts weren’t sure what it was they were looking for. “We were all over the map,” says Mike. “By the time we got past 37 feet, we were in serious boat territory.” From there, conversations switched from simply pleasure boating to selling the house and becoming full-time liveaboards. An engineer by trade, thorough research is in Mike’s nature and he spent countless hours comparing the Nordhavn 40 to lots of other boats in her class. “While all had their merits, to us none had the total package, versatility and quality that the Nordhavn has.”
At the boat show, the Bennetts hooked up with Nordhavn salesman Dave Balfour out of the northeast office. Dave had begun discussing new boats with the couple, but they quickly ruled out ever being able to afford a new Nordhavn. They had settled on finding a quality brokerage Nordhavn 40 and planned on following a strict budgetary plan to be able to afford the boat – if and when the right one came along. Like so many others, their plan over the next several years was to accumulate value on their home, sell, and invest in a solid brokerage boat. Then came 2008, the crash of the stock market and – to that point -a lack of used N40s on the east coast that were right for them. “We were suddenly faced with the prospect of not experiencing our dream at all,” says Mike.
Not quite ready to face life without a Nordhavn, Mike continued to monitor the company website, where he read something that – like so many times before – triggered his mind into action. “Likely in response to something [PAE President] Dan Streech wrote about this being a good time to buy a new boat, and to Francie’s surprise, I asked Dave Balfour – off the top of his head – what a new boat would go for. He added up a few figures in less than a minute and I stroked my beard as the wheels above started to spin furiously…We could sell the house, dip into the savings and get the boat we really, really want. We only live once so why be so damned sensible and thrifty?”
With that thinking in mind, the Bennetts ordered their N40 minus most of the bells and whistles, (after all, they had a budget to stick to) and now await its scheduled arrival in December. “It’s pretty much a bone stock 40,” confirms Project Manager Pete Eunson. But it’s still got improvements over 40s built in the last decade. The model is now fitted with a new John Deere engine that replaces the Lugger 1066T. “It’s a smaller 4 cylinder turbo charged diesel which will be a bit more efficient,” notes Eunson. “Plus it takes up less space so the interior volume of the engine room is actually enhanced.”
When it came to choosing options, the Bennetts had a clear cut plan and didn’t deviate from it. Mike even jokes that it took “about five minutes” to outfit the boat, having previously pored over every 40 that entered the brokerage market. “We would look at every used boat that came up…and have long discussions about how they were equipped and outfitted. We did this for years, literally years, so that when it came time to actually make choices, we knew what we wanted balanced against our budget. For us, though, there were actually very few compromises. We are getting the boat we always wanted.”
With a basic cruising package, the boat fits the Bennett’s planned use ideally. Still three years away from retirement, they’ll stay put in Delaware and cruise the Chesapeake. After that, the plan is to head south in the winter and north in the summer, however, more ambitious voyaging is not out of the question. “We originally saw ourselves as strictly coastal boaters who merely wanted the quality and sturdiness of a Nordhavn,” said Mike. “But, after reading so many accounts of the travels of others…it is safe to say we intend to spend time in the ocean.”
It’s a prospect that doesn’t intimidate Mike in the least now. Given his relatively little offshore experience in a trawler prior to signing the contract, he knew it was imperative to log some sea miles prior to his new boat’s arrival. So with the hull well under construction at the South Coast yard in China, Mike took the opportunity to crew on two deliveries.
“My first trip on a Nordhavn and the ocean was on an N47 from the southern Chesapeake to Rhode Island (with Dave Balfour and fellow salesman Ben Sprague). The weather forecast called for 20 kts or so and a low should have moved out of our way before long. Instead, it stalled bringing us a steady 25-30 knots and seeing over 35 knots in about 9 foot seas that were steep and breaking for almost the entire trip. I succumbed to sea sickness and became nearly incapacitated. Through it all, and maybe somewhat oddly, I had no concern for how the boat was doing. The boat pounded, pitched and the stabilizers had to work overtime. But it was all still perfectly fine. Dave apologized and said he sometimes forgets that the boat can take a lot more abuse than the crew. In spite of my ailment, I would not have traded the experience for anything. I really did want to see how the boat behaved in poor conditions. I know that good seamanship counts for a lot but the boat is just rock solid and soldiers on. It is exactly what we wanted in a boat. We believe that you cannot outrun every weather event and that when you do end up in it, [you’ll] want the right tool for the job.”
His second trip, delivering a Nordhavn 43 from Baltimore to Rhode Island with Dave and Ben, was somewhat less eventful. Calm weather accompanied the first half of their trip and Mike got to experience “absolute relaxation at a serene 7 knots while sipping coffee or watching [with amusement] Dave try to catch fish.” The weather temporarily turned south and Mike once again was overtaken by sea sickness, but only briefly, and eventually brought the boat home and guided her into her slip.
Some might expect that time spent on bigger boats might have sparked thoughts of potential space issues or constraints of a smaller boat. But it did just the opposite. “Both trips were invaluable as they confirmed that we chose the right boat and that the design and layout of ours will suit our purposes.”
Mike also makes another interesting point about his trips: “Significantly, during times, the boats saw breaking seas and a buried bow, and I took note that neither Dave nor Ben had any reaction, kept talking without missing a beat, sipping a drink without spilling a drop, like it was just another ho-hum day on the water. Seeing firsthand their faith and confidence in these boats is something that can’t be pitched at a boat show or written in ad copy.”
For now the Bennetts must be content to sit and wait which, when you think about it, shouldn’t really be a problem for them. (When you’ve been visualizing something for nearly 10 years, what’s another month?) In fact, it will be just under four weeks from now when their boat will be unloaded from a container ship in Port Elizabeth, NJ, and delivered up to Rhode Island to undergo commissioning. It’s a radical turnaround from where the Bennetts were just a couple of years ago, when they thought their fate – at best – lie in an older model brokerage Nordhavn in need of some tweaking. With that, this typical couple, with their very average budget and very average boating experience, will prove to be heroes to many, and hopefully, serve as inspirations to so many more.
To read part 1 of The Remarkable Nordhavn 40, click here.