Two Sailors Try Power Boating


Phyllis and I have never been the type of sailor that gets snooty about power boats; in fact, I have even written about my ideas for an ideal sailor’s power boat.

But the fact is, aside from having motored many tens of thousands of miles on sailboats and a bit of time inshore on various (mostly small) power boats, we have never actually been power boating, and never offshore power boating. That’s about to change.

We just arrived back at Base Camp in Morgan’s Cloud after a leisurely cruise from Maine, where the boat has been laid up for the last two years. As it happens, our good friends Bob and Brenda, who have recently made the transition from sail to power, are visiting us in their Nordhavn 55, BJoyce, and have offered us a ride back to Maine to pick up our car.

The run is about 250 miles, which we intend to make non-stop, so it should be an interesting and educational experience for the two of us, particularly since we just covered the same bit of sea, albeit with stops, in our sailboat under power (it was one of the most windless weeks I can remember).

Look for at least one article in the next few weeks on our trip. We will focus the piece on information useful to the many sailors that are, usually due to advancing age, considering the change to power.

Update (Tuesday Morning)

Judging from some of the comments, it would seem that I was not clear about our intention in taking this trip.

To clarify, Phyllis and I try to keep open minds about different boats and different ways of doing things. We also love to learn about boats…all boats. That, and the fact that Bob and Brenda are fun to spend time with, is why we are taking this trip.

This post does not indicate that we are considering buying a Nordhavn 55.

If and when we buy a motor boat it will likely be much smaller and long and thin. Please read this to understand our thinking on that.

Also, the post(s) we write about this trip will be about the experience of being on a motor boat from a sailor’s point of view. We will not be in any way publishing any sort of review or critique of the Nordhavn 55.

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Meet the Author


John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

50 comments… add one
  • Slarza Gudren Aug 18, 2014, 3:01 pm

    I am looking forward to your report. It probably won’t be much different doing it aboard the Nordhavn versus motoring on Morgan’s Cloud, except that the Nordhavn may do the trip more efficiently, since it was designed for the job.

    The real difference between power and sail lies not in the boats, but in the people aboard. Using a cruising sailboat appropriately and efficiently requires one to wait for weather instead of motoring to a schedule. So long as we continue to create imaginary justifications for our need to maintain a schedule, we shall never understand the profound lesson of sailing: that we are not the most important thing.

    The only difference between a sailboat and a trawler is that such a lesson can never be learned aboard a trawler; there is simply no opportunity to do so.

    • John Aug 18, 2014, 4:59 pm

      Hi Slarza,

      I have to say that I’m really uncomfortable with the implied assertion in your comment that trawler people are some how driven and and can’t learn. I would turn it around and say that there are people of all types in both sailboats and trawlers. I simply don’t think that the boat makes the person. Also, owning a trawler in no way absolves you from needing to wait for the weather. Rather the opposite (see my comment in answer to Dick).

      By the way, as to efficiency, depends how you measure it. Both BJoyce and Morgan’s Cloud motor at around 8 knots. But MC does it on 2.5 times less fuel. At 7 knots, MC’s fuel efficiency advantage climes to something like 3.5 times.

      On the other hand BJoyce is about 60 tons as against MC at 25 tons. The point being that efficiency depends on what you are trying to do.

      • Juan Luis Aug 19, 2014, 9:54 am

        I understood Slarza’s point in a different way. People will learn different things in different boats (or situations). If you always are on motoring, you will miss to understand what sailing is about. And agree, true wind sailors are different kind of public, not in the sense of not being the important part, but just accepting that you can’t do what you want when you want it. Wind will make your path and schedule, and I love that feeling. So good luck with your luxury motoring experience.
        Fair winds.

  • Dick Stevenson Aug 18, 2014, 3:22 pm

    Dear John,
    I have watched, from afar, cruising power boats over the years and Ginger and I may go that route at some juncture.
    I would be interested in your assessment of a Nordhaven’s ability to be comfortable and/or seaworthy, if their active stabilizers go bad. I assume they have them as the whole line looks like they carry lots of weight high, but I could be wrong.
    If the opportunity does not arise, that is certainly not a problem, but I would be interested in your thoughts, were you able to develop some.
    I hope you and Phyllis have an excellent trip.
    My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

    • John Aug 18, 2014, 4:47 pm

      Hi Dick,

      I’m no expert on motor boat stability, so would be hard pressed to make that kind of judgement. And I agree that the newer Norhavens do look rather high (the old 46s and 62s looked much lower).

      I can tell you that Bob had a stability experiment run on “BJoyce” and he tells me she passed with flying colours. To put that in context, Bob is a master mariner (Maine Maritime Academy) who built and then ran a fleet of fishing boats in the Gulf of Maine, winter and summer, so he knows how to look at these things.

      Having said that, would it be fun on a Nordhavn, or any trawler of the type, with the stabilizers down? I’d guess most assuredly not!

      By the way. I had a long and interesting chat about trawler seaworthiness with Mark Fitzgerald, one of the smarter designers around, and he said that the ultimate stability number that is so often bandied about is near useless in determining how safe a trawler is in heavy weather. The critical issues are steering ability, watertight integrity, hull shape, and down flooding angles.

      He also said that no recreational trawler he can think of would come even close to our own Morgan’s Cloud in terms of storm survivability and therefore, if we were to start a motor boat search, starting from the point of duplicating the seaworthiness of our current boat would doom us to failure. I suspect the same would be true of starting from a Valiant 42 too. Bottom line, you have to think about trawlers (at least what’s available on the market today) differently and plan your voyages accordingly.

  • Svein Lamark Aug 19, 2014, 7:10 am

    Hi John,
    This is very interesting and I look forward to see your report. You have already pointed at an important figure, the bad fuel economy of the trawlers. It is a paradox that your sailboat MC under motor is about 3 times as efficient as a modern motor boat. It should be the opposite way, a modern motor boat should have the best fuel economy. I nearly bought a Nordhavn, but did not because of the bad fuel economy. The Nordhavn can not do the trips I plan; the fuel tanks will be empty if I do so. Another paradox is that my 60 years old wooden motor can easily match the fuel consumption of your MC even though its displacement is twice of the Nordhavn. I guess The Nordhavn has a way to go before it is an efficient long range cruiser. But this examples also tells me that your MC can be improved a lot on fuel economy. You are welcome to test my old wooden boat anytime.

    • Simon Wirth Aug 19, 2014, 9:23 am

      Hei Svein
      Would you care to tell us something more about your boat?
      For me it sounds as if there are a few things to learn in the comparison of this 3 boats.

      • Svein Lamark Aug 19, 2014, 10:18 am

        Hi Simon,
        My motor boat was built in 1951 by Carl Jolle. Jolle’s theory was that a working motor boat should have a wide and deep center body while the stern should not be deep. This way the boat can carry a large engine (and cargo) and have a big propeller. Most working boats of the North Sea are constructed this way to day. They are just bigger and of steel. My engine is a slow turning 4-stroke diesel (Callesen) consuming 156 grams fuel /hour / HP.(Few modern engines can match this figure). It has no gear box and a large CCP. The engine has made 120 000 hours and compression is still normal. To day only Grenaa makes such engines. They have a 165 hp on 3 cylinders. But I just saw a new motor boat that has a better fuel economy: It had in the same type of hull a modern, little GM/MTU engine, gear box reduction 1:12 and a very large CCP screw. This way they sail a heavy displacement hull at low fuel consumption with 7-8 knots speed.

  • marvin Aug 19, 2014, 9:15 am

    I may be the minority, but I’m disappointed to see the ongoing pursuit of motor-driven cruising in the modern era, and I’ve noticed you increasingly indicating you may head in that direction.

    I appreciate you being up-front about how much motoring you do in your current boat, sailing where you do, and I guess it is now the presumption that most cruising sailors will flick on the donk without much reservation rather than waiting for wind. However, I confess to finding less and less “adventure” in the “adventure cruising” when people do that.

    This is especially so when modern yacht design and technology have enabled a level of light air performance that would have been unbelievable not long ago, often combined with a boat that can keep plugging on in heavy weather. And we can produce ample electric power now without starting an engine. Motors are less important, not more.

    Also, given that continued unnecessary fossil fuel use is basically indefensible, I would have thought there are many more interesting and responsible areas to investigate than switching to full-time long distance motoring. For example, for ageing sailors, what are the sail handling solutions that can keep them sailing?

    Of course the answer for many may be to go smaller: smaller boat, smaller rig, smaller voyages. Which in fact is not just more responsible, but usually more adventurous. To see instead the trawler crowd and the big Dashew launches growing in number, burning fuel over every mile, in ever more comfort, seems perverse.

    In some recent columns you’ve written of baby boomers and their ease of getting into cruising. Well, one good option might be to downsize and reduce their carbon footprint where they can – there is no longer the excuse of ignorance about emissions and their effect. For my part, if my health gets to the point where the choice is between a motor yacht and stopping crossing oceans, I’ll stop. And candidly, if this website goes more in the direction of motor yachts, I’ll probably stop subscribing too. Especially if it’s presented as a responsible option without regard for the carbon footprint involved.

    Because to at least some, the word “adventure” could really only be used ironically to describe a retired couple motoring their way across oceans in an expensive motor yacht big enough to carry some ocean-girdling sailing boats on deck.

    • John Aug 19, 2014, 10:09 am

      Hi Marvin,

      Well, that’s one way to look at it. One I probably would have wholeheartedly agreed with up until a few years ago.

      On the other hand, as I have grown older I have become more and more convinced that being open to ways of doing things that are different from our own is important, as is learning from others. That’s what taking this trip on a Nordhavn 55 is about. It is not any indication that Phyllis and I are thinking of buying a Nordhavn 55.

      As to direction of this site, we have always tried to be as inclusive as possible, that will continue, but there is no intent for it to become a motor boat site.

      Finally, I think that me attempting to define “adventure” for others would be presumptuous. As we say in the sidebar “It is our hope that whatever an Attainable Adventure Cruise is to you, the information provided here will help you attain it.”

      The point being that me saying, just because I have sailed a boat to Baffin Island, that another couple that buy a trawler and cruise down east Maine are not having an adventure would be, in my opinion, just plain wrong.

      By the way, if we did buy a motor boat it would probably be something like this, which is extremely environmentally responsible, and incidentally, much smaller than our current boat.

  • Captain Bob Aug 19, 2014, 9:38 am

    Enjoy the ride, John. The Nordhaven 55 is an outstanding vessel.

    I recently started a new Discussion Group on the Active Captain Eboat Cards website. The Group is called “Transitioning from Sail to Power”. My goal was to begin to stimulate discussion with folks who have, or are considering, switching to large powerboats. I am a teaching Captain and have worked with couples making the transition. May I invite you to post your article there, when it is available?

    Thanks, and safe cruising!

    Bob Shircliff

    • John Aug 19, 2014, 10:16 am

      Hi Bob,

      Thanks for the invitation, but I’m afraid that with the demands of this site I simply don’t have the band width to post on other sites. Also, I’m not really interested or committed to transitioning to “larger power boats”, or encouraging others to do so.

      I’m much more interested in highly efficient long thin power boats.

  • richard s. (s/v lakota) Aug 19, 2014, 10:02 am

    for all of these vessels i believe the proper term is ‘engine’ not ‘motor’…major difference with engine being the preferred option…really shouldn’t even say ‘power only’ as even a sails-only cruiser (no engine a la lin and larry pardey’s seraffyn first followed by the current and larger taleisin) is still ‘power only’ (wind power)…let me hasten to add that lin and larry are in an expert class by themselves in this regard…i know i would never take off on a sailing cruise without a reliable diesel auxiliary…for the convenience if nothing else…lin and larry have circumnavigated the globe twice sails only including a fair amount in higher latitudes…nevertheless i am still a big aac fan as it is much more my own iron genny speed…cheers

    richard in tampa bay

  • Dick Stevenson Aug 19, 2014, 10:26 am

    Dear Marvin,
    You bring up some interesting points:
    A friend has a list of things he has done to his boat to do what he calls, “geatrify” it to meet his advancing age (and wisdom). This might be an interesting article and I am sure would generate many good suggestions.
    As citizens of the world, I would wish for all to pay attention to being “green” in all its various permutations. But, speaking for live-aboards or those who spend significant portions of their lives afloat (sail or motor), our turning on our diesel engines or running our gensets still keeps us among the most green of any of earth’s citizens. I suspect, as a full time live-aboard, my carbon footprint is one percent of what it was when I lived on land, and quite possibly much better than that. In this light, any appeal to base boat decisions on one’s carbon footprint and especially to differentiate sail from motor cruising vessels on that regard, is, to my estimation, to compare 2 usages that are already at the very bottom of the carbon footprint scale.
    I applaud your admonition to go smaller, but not because it is more responsible, but rather because it will get people on the water sooner.
    My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

    • John Aug 19, 2014, 1:40 pm

      Hi Dick,

      Exactly my thinking, put better than I probably would have.

  • Ed Kelly Aug 19, 2014, 11:22 am

    Thanks for the interesting discussion John. All boats are really compromises. Reasonable minds have differing views and tastes.

    When we were starting out near retirement age, we were influenced by the published works of ‘Skipper Bob’ and his sailing philosophy. He and his wife earlier tried retirement sailing for one year in a monohull but gave it up. She allegedly compared it to living in a submarine. They later found satisfaction for 14 years cruising in a trawler. They liked living above the waterline.

    My wife and I ultimately traded a monohull for a heavy English built catamaran. We told folks she was a squashed trawler with sails. Crossing oceans the sails are nice but 95% of the time 2 engines move her along. We are definitely not purists, but USSV Angel Louise has gotten us nicely along the shores of 5 continents and 47 countries for 7- 1/2 years. More power to you for trying other options!
    Ed Kelly on Angel Louise, lying Piedras Negras in NW Spain.

    Sent from iPhone

  • marvin Aug 19, 2014, 12:30 pm


    I hear what you’re saying, but don’t really agree. Yes, we should be open-minded about different ways of doing things, but if there’s a glaring problem with doing something, it really should be acknowledged. And especially given that a big part of your focus is on enjoying the natural environment, the massive external cost of travelling enormous differences in a many-tonne boat fuelled by diesel is not in my view properly acknowledged.

    Referring to your suggested thin long cruiser, I looked up a supposedly proven and apparently lauded model of efficiency – Dashew’s long thin aluminium thing. Let’s ignore the cost of manufacture and the carbon footprint of aluminium (which could also be bound up in a sailing equivalent). His notes here: give an idea of the diesel consumption of a transocean passage. Short point: his delivery home (Auckland-Bermuda, about 10,500nm) drank 26,689 litres in fuel (that’s just the primary engine, not the genset), at 18.7 litres per hour. If I remember the conversion rates right, I think that’s over 50 tonnes of CO2 – about maybe 8 times a lot of European per capita annual averages – used in under three months. This is just on travelling, and before any living.

    So, John, I expect it’s smaller than Dashew’s but when you say that the boat you contemplate is ” extremely environmentally responsible”, what are you comparing it to? Just a bigger, less efficient motor boat, or a real benchmark of what is a fair footprint for one couple so that they can get to see a remote glacier before it’s melted?

    So, ref Dick’s point – if you’re sitting at anchor and travelling a few miles every few weeks, I’d agree, or at least agree compared to the lifestyle of, say, an American. But if you’re voyaging real distances, which is really what is implicitly promoted with the topic, then you’re choosing a technology that is very inefficient by any objective measure. And yes, I know that sailing rigs have a carbon footprint, but you’d build a great number of sails before you put 70 tonnes of CO2 into the air.

    Sorry, I don’t normally comment on blogs, but the sheer scale of fuel usage involved in this sort of travel should be commented on least once in the face of claims that it is environmentally responsible. Because it’s just not.

    Me, I am coaxing my yacht down towards Madagascar trying to avoid using the engine as much as possible, and very conscious of the privilege of being there, and having a boat at all and all that. I don’t call what I’m doing “adventure” – it’s safe, and comfortable, but that’s just my standard. But I wonder, if Steve Dashew powered into some bay in Madagascar in a push-button boat, having burned more carbon than 700 locals burn in a year just getting there, who of your readers would use the word “adventure”?

    • John Aug 19, 2014, 1:53 pm

      Hi Marvin,

      I agree with much, maybe most, of what you say about fuel burn and the issues surrounding that. Having said that, being green is complex.

      My thinking is that people will buy and use motor boats. That’s a given. So, if I can use my influence, such as it is, to promote long thin high efficiency boats that can reduce fuel use by as much as 5 times, that’s being much greener that telling everyone they must buy a small sailboat and sail all the time, because very few people will actually do that.

      Or to put it another way, option one will save tens of thousands of gallons of diesel fuel and option two will save almost nothing and accomplish nothing except letting me say “I’m green”.

      The other thing that I do, as my stab at being green, is actively campaign for higher and more realistic fuel prices, even though that is against my own best interests.

      • RDE Aug 19, 2014, 11:39 pm

        Hi John,
        I’d have to say that your thesis suffers from a lack of time perspective and global world view in much the same way that characterizes humanity’s lack of a sense that they live in a planetary ecosystem.

        The corollary to the argument that motorboats will always be with us so let’s make them more efficient is as follows:

        Humans will burn as much of the world’s remaining fossil fuel resources as possible as long as it is the cheapest and most concentrated energy source available. And they will do so in spite of scientific evidence that the result will have a drastic impact upon the world’s climate, and even pose the risk of setting the planet on an irreversible course to uninhabitability. I happen to believe both thesis— motor boats will always be with us until they aren’t, and humanity will burn all the carbon it can get its hands on until it creates collapse.

        We are about the same age, and within our lifetimes people will always buy and use diesel powered motor boats, whether they be inefficient trawlers or Dashew long skinny designs. If our perspective only extends to our lifetime, fine. But I guarantee Wind Horse will not be crossing oceans under fossil fuel power a century from now as a few caravel planked wooden sailboats built 100 years ago still do using the wind.

        • John Aug 24, 2014, 9:59 am

          Hi Richard,

          I never said that motor boats will always be with us. What I said was: at present, as long as fuel is miss-priced on the low side, that people will burn that fuel to get what they want regardless of any finger wagging from me, or anyone else.

          And I agree entirely with your analysis of the future if we don’t make some changes. I have even made a suggestion for what those changes should be and how to accomplish them.

    • Laurent Aug 19, 2014, 2:19 pm

      In my opinion, the most reasonable and probably the most efficient way to travel today is to buy an airline ticket and fly in the largest jumbo aircrafts.
      Sailing boats refer to practices of 1850 and before, when fossil energy consumption per capita was very low and the world very different.

      So, we can use sailing boats today because:
      1) – we enjoy it as a form of re-enactment of pre-1850 culture and society.
      2)- we want to consider ourselves as bright technicians, but we lost the rat-race of real brights technicians who succeded in proving that in the latest computer or aircraft technologies, so we are glad to find a technical field where we can express ourselves with somewhat lower interrests at stake, and lower competitive pressures.
      3)- ?….

      Personally, I understand argument N°1 quite well and I have some difficulties with argument N°2. However, I am old enough to understand that the current rat-race in computer or aircraft technology is not lead by the best techies, but by the guys who happent to have the best combination of technical expertise and political support.
      Saying the same thing using different words: 2014 politician are not ready to let competitions between techies dictate serious business decision in computers or aicraft businesses, so real rat-race in those field is much more complex than supposed, and sometimes quite frustrating…

      So, the technical question of travelling with low-carbon footprint using mostly wind, as an evocation of pre-1850 cultures, but using modern technologies when appropriate to obtain a substancially reduced environmental footprint, seems to me an excellent question, corresponding products should attract quite a few serious customers and corresponding technical developpments should also attract a few established serious competences.

      Personally, I understand that: sail and rigging should be much longer-lived than current low-flex. bermudan rigs. Aux propulsion should use recent electrical technologies (UQM, Tesla…), and, hull shape could depart widely from current practices (return to longboat shapes ?…).

      I am a bit dissapointed to see that this kind of approaches doesn’t get much public interrest those days, possibly not kind enough with established yachting industry business interrests ?

  • Westbrook Aug 19, 2014, 1:04 pm

    There’s nothing . . . absolutely nothing . . . half so much worth doing as simply messing around in boats.

    Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows (River Rat to Mole)

    • John Aug 19, 2014, 4:03 pm

      Hi Westbrook,

      One of the all time greatest quotes!

  • marvin Aug 19, 2014, 2:46 pm

    Sorry John, but that’s just not right:

    – It’s not a given that people will buy motor yachts. People will stop buying them if (i) they realise it’s a selfish and damaging thing to do or (ii) they are socially ostracised for doing so. Like driving drunk. Or wife beating. Or smoking while pregnant. I.e. like doing something selfish that causes harm. Which it does.

    – You proposition implies selective influence. If you can persuade people between two sorts of motorboats, you can influence their wider decision to buy a motorboat at all.

    – For example, if you were to announce that you simply could not in conscience cross an ocean in a motorboat, that would have influence. And would mean at least you weren’t doing it.

    It’s a simple choice: science is clear. The carbon footprint of this form of transport is worse than ALL alternatives. If we claim to care about the environment, we should be honest. These boats destroy the environment they allow us to see. That’s vulgar People like Steve Dashew are like the people who hunt endangered species.

    I’m sorry, I know it’s nice to have feel good stories, but it really is that stark. And you’ve got to decide whether you’re going to play their game or actually man up and say it’s wrong.

    • John Aug 19, 2014, 3:59 pm

      Hi Marvin,

      I’m with Dick. If it makes you feel better to tilt at windmills, that’s fine. But in my opinion, that kind of impassioned accusation does more harm than good.

      After all, there is a logical argument that Steve Dashew has saved many tons of fuel with his boats. The point being that his clients with 3-10 million to spend will buy and use big boats. But Steve has persuaded them to buy boats that are at least twice as efficient than equivalent trawlers. He has also taught them to eschew the incredibly environmentally damaging paint and vanish that many of the rich cover their boats with.

      If, on the other hand, Steve had, from his position, declared that all motor boats were wrong, he would have just been regarded as a crank and had no effect.

  • Dick Stevenson Aug 19, 2014, 3:40 pm

    Dear Marvin,
    You can go challenge those who do not reject out of hand the use of power vessels and that is certainly your prerogative. But I very much see your comments to be quite out of balance. It reminds me of a parent I knew who felt that a whack on the bottom of a misbehaving child was always child abuse and should be reported to the police as such. Since I generally applaud your goals which I read as more sensitivity to our environmental impact, I would wish you to consider that such out of balance comments as yours (my judgment) might be counter-productive and throw all efforts toward challenging environmentally irresponsible actions into ridicule.
    Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

  • Nicolas Aug 19, 2014, 4:41 pm

    I think recreational boaters (power and sail) contribution towards CO2 emissions and thus enhanced greenhouse effect and global warming is a drop in the ocean. It would really make a difference if we all realized the hypocrisy behind the politicians and their so called environmental laws and taxes leading to less than half measure. I am referring to bio-fuels, ban of two stroke marine outboards and so on. If we/they wanted to make a difference, why are there are still heavy cars with huge engines that consume a lot of fuel and consequently emit tons of Co2? Why are there fossil powered plans? Why all our power needs are not met by that 1940’s nuclear technology that has evolved to recycle its own waste material and has zero emissions? Wind? Solar? What is the sense of having an electric car /boat if the electricity that charges its batteries comes from a coal powered plant? What about commercial shipping’s huge contribution to the problem?

    Considering ourselves green is very wrong. It only serves to make us feel less responsible for the problem and though English is not my native language I believe there is a saying about an elephant in the room…..

  • Peter Aug 19, 2014, 4:49 pm

    I agree with Marvin in that claims of efficiency and similar should be put into context rather than describing things as being efficient in broad and potentially misleading terms. That will educate the readers which I am sure that we all want and support.

    Then it is up to the reader to make an informed decision. In my opinion the writer should not decide that they are not ready for true statements about the fact that there may be way more efficient options out there.

  • Laurent Aug 19, 2014, 5:55 pm

    Personally, I mess in antiques or copy-antiques short-range sailing boats, and for me it is obvious that the environmental impact of this kind of leisure is about the same as it was in 1850, that is very low. Hoping that more people will go toward lower-environmental impact activities in the future, willingly or not, I do believe that this kind of boats is supposed to develop significantly.

    Looking at longer-range yachts, I see that we can use or develop technologies in order to significantly reduce long-range sailing boats environmental impact, most probably taking some inspirations from the past, and, there is probably a market for those products. I am a bit frustrated to see how little interest those kind of products and/or technologies seem to attract today.

    Considering powerfull motor-yachts, I understand that the king of Saudi-Arabia probably needs one as a part of his country diplomacy, to show that his country has the ressources and the willingness to play some part in word’s diplomacy. Same logics than when buying a military frigate, but more peacefull, less expensive and probably better as far as co2 consuption is concerned.

    Considering Dashew style motor-boats, I think those boats can make sense for medium-range cruise, for instance from southern France to Greece (not very ecologically-responsible, but I understand that environmental impact in that case does not necessarily set the owner in the “irresponsible” category….). They can also make sense for some wealthy individuals in possibly unstable countries , like Argentina or South-Africa, who want some kind of safe “escape hatch” to flee his country in case of big local troubles…..

    In all other cases, I consider driving large motor-yachts on 10.000 km cruises or more, just for pleasure, as environmentally irresponsible, and I understand it should be clearly criticized as such.

  • Scott Flanders Aug 19, 2014, 7:23 pm

    There is a bit of misconception floating around here. OK, so I’m a lurker but a power boater. A powerboat can go about anywhere you wish in safety and relatively efficiently. Our little stink pot completed a 5 Cape circumnavigation plus more overall miles chugging here and there averaging around 3nm per USG. The longest passage was from Fremantle to Mauritius, 3365nm – 24days. No biggie. We stay warm & dry. Don’t have to buy sails & new strings from time to time. It’s easy. Reunion to Richards Bar, no spray on the pilot house glass because we didn’t need wind to sail. And so on. Most of our Long distance-high latitude friends are sailors and we respect every nm they put in. But don’t discount power boaters because some of them actually go somewhere. Like from wintering in Iceland and returned this summer via Greenland.


  • Stedem Wood Aug 19, 2014, 9:07 pm


    Bet you didn’t realize where this would head, John.

    I have a sailing background. Not as strong as many who read and comment here, but I’ve lived aboard and sailed from Seattle to Auckland and back. After that, I went to work for 22 years, thinking maybe I’d wrung out what was an overwhelming childhood dream to own and sail a boat. I sold the boat shortly after I knew that it couldn’t be my first priority.

    A cruising boat is that commanding, I think. Use it, work on it or don’t own it.

    Not owning a boat is a little like disease in remission for those of us who’ve tasted the cruising lifestyle. 22 years later, the doors to the rest of my life opened and I started to consider rekindling the responsibility of owning and traveling in cruising craft.

    Sail is what I knew, but I couldn’t forget what it was like when motoring 10 days past the equator from Bora Bora to Hawaii.

    I’m back on the water now, and living in relative comfort that is stark contrast to my 44 foot sloop. It wasn’t easy to leave sailing for power, but I know that I’m going to have more adventure and much more is attainable for me living and cruising one of Dashew’s 64 foot trawlers.

    There isn’t a sailor who reads these posts who wouldn’t appreciate something about how this boat is designed and built. I consider myself extremely lucky to own this responsibility.

    I’m a little surprised by the heat generated in these posts. Maybe I shouldn’t be. I know I’m burning more fuel than my fellow sailors. Some I’ve met along the way want to call me an ex-sailor. I have to say, that hurts.

    I’m a sailor. I’m more in touch with the boat and the sea because I’m a sailor and have skills only sailing will teach you.

    I’m anchored next to someone who is plying oceans in a 70-year-old 8 meter with a limited electric engine for docking. I’ve told him several times that I have great appreciation for what he is doing and the skills and fortitude he shows. Sailing with him on his boat was a sailing milestone for me. Who can discount the beauty of those old boats.

    Mine is a tank, compared. But I’m on the water. I’m efficient to a point and my boat is as seaworthy as I could hope it to be. It’s still up to me to run it well, seek adventure and to live up to it’s remarkable potential. The sea has the ultimate say about how well I live up to that responsibility.

    I’ve added it up. I know what I burned in propane, gasoline, diesel, electricity and commercial travel before owning this boat. I’ve made an improvement in my footprint. I’m going to cover more than 8,000 miles between May and November this year.

    When I read about all of your trips, I say I want to go there. I want to go to Greenland, and Norway, Scotland and elsewhere. I hope to meet those who think my boat is irresponsible. Not because I want to have that conversation, but because I know you have something important to share about my childhood passion to own a sailboat. I know you have skills I’ve never mastered and I want to talk to you about them. I also want to talk about how I’m living my childhood dream today with as much emotion as I’ve ever had about being on the sea.

    Stedem Wood
    M/V Atlantis

  • David Aug 20, 2014, 9:56 am

    I come to this site (and subscribe) because I have spent as much of my lifetime as possible on boats, reading about boats, building boats, designing boats, sailing boats and dreaming about boats. These have ranged from my paddling in the local pond on my hand-built cedar strip kayak to racing an IOR maxi to serving on a Navy destroyer and even a memorable race on a J boat with Dennis Conner at the helm. Every one of these has been an adventure and I hope to have many more adventures in my future — no matter the vessel. It’s all better than being landlocked!

    …all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by.


  • marvin Aug 21, 2014, 2:28 am

    Hi John,

    My apologies if I sounded impassioned – I didn’t mean to and I’m not wound up. I had in the past appreciated your direct manner and was just being direct.

    Your comments about the Dashew influence aren’t right. Again, the people who buy his boats are not simply choosing between motor-yachts. They are being sold (look at his marketing) – and are choosing (look at the marketing, the press) – the whole concept of long range motoring. He is promoting getting into long distance motor cruising just as he once promoted taking up long distance sailing cruising. It would be one thing if the Dashews (and you) were saying that long range motoring is a Bad Thing, so if you have to do it, go thin and long. But he’s not (and you’re not). It’s sold as efficient and the carbon payload is ignored. Not minimized, but ignored. The whole trawler movement, and the Dashews’, involves promoting more, longer voyages, under power.

    Dick, I’m not rejecting power vessels “out of hand”. Various motor craft are essential, and improved efficiencies in their hull design welcome and wonderful. Yes, I do think there’s nothing ‘adventurous’ about most long distance trips I hear about (e.g. Scott’s post above – “No biggie. We stay warm & dry” etc). But my point was not “no motor yachts”, it was “long distance leisure cruising in a motor yacht is a Bad Thing” because the carbon payload is too big. And it is, and the jury’s not out on that and anybody who says otherwise is on the wrong side of science and history. Do you say otherwise? Does John?

    Nicolas, your point about the leisure boat industry is one that’s made from time to time by various cadres of major carbon emitters (Yes, I’m personally emitting tonnes, but it’s not a big percentage of total global emissions etc). The combined footprint of the leisure motor boat industry is relatively small because it’s created by an extremely small percentage of the world’s population. But each individual following the Dashew model is emitting a shocking amount. The correct question is how much should each person use. And the answer is definitely much less than 70 tonnes of CO2 in one voyage. On any reading of the science, a couple burning that much gas to drag a living room across an ocean for fun is irresponsible and selfish.

    Stedem, congrats on your new boat. Glad you like it. But please just cruise it locally. If you truly are expecting to have a reduced footprint having moved aboard despite motoring a 64′ boat 8000nm in the coming months then you must have had a shocking carbon footprint before. Maybe consider leaving fewer deep footprints on the planet over the coming years. Also, for what it’s worth, and as someone who has been in a few anchorages and heard what people say about those who turn up in a gin palace, my view is not the minority. Carbon emissions and climate change are rising topics amongst cruisers (those receding glaciers, the alarm of the Maldves – you can literally see the problem, and the problem is oil). People out there (or at least outside the USA) increasingly think that those motor yachts are vulgar. Sorry, they may not often say it to your face yet, but it’s true.

    John, I’ll bow out now. You have a scientific mind and I guess it’s up to you whether you follow it or follow the whisperings of the market. Steve Dashew is a salesman, and he’s selling a product and a concept, but I thought you were trying to have a website that was technically and scientifically objective. Whatever, I had expected more from you than the assertion that I was “tilting at windmills”. That reference to Cervantes is an insult which implies my argument involved a serious delusion. I’m saying that the 70 tonnes of CO2 emitted for one couple to transit an ocean is too much by any measure and that it’s environmentally irresponsible to travel that way. What’s delusional about that? Is the climate science wrong? I’m also saying that it’s irresponsible to discuss such transport and to come across as endorsing it without acknowledging that it involves a major environmental payload. I guess maybe you think that is delusional given you deployed the phrase “extremely environmentally responsible” in the context of long range motor voyaging. One of us has to recalibrate our perspectives on what is a responsible carbon footprint I suppose.

    Upshot: there is a difference between saying “long and thin is environmentally responsible” and “long distance motoring is a Bad Thing, so please don’t do it, but if you really have to, do it long and thin”. If you do the former, or if you choose to motor across oceans for fun yourself, then you’re part of the problem.

    • George M Aug 22, 2014, 6:35 am

      Let’s be a little honest here Marvin. I too am a sailor who abhors his engine. I really do use it as little as possible. I will carry sail into as little as 3kn of wind, and I buy boats that sail in light winds. However, lets take a look at my latest adventure. I bought a boat on the west coast of scotland and sailed it to the east coast of Sweden. This was done in four legs with crew changes and a family holiday thrown in. The whole trip was just over 1100knm of which I sailed about 650. 450knm were done under engine. Now my boat is very frugal with diesel, having a 29hp Yanmar sail drive, so I only burnt about 250 l of fuel to cover those 450knm, but in CO2 that is still 750kg. Could I have avoided that 750kg?

      Yes! If I had chosen to sail around the North of Scotland and South of Sweden and if I had taken as much time as necessary to negotiate the light baltic winds, then I could maybe have used only 50l and produced about 150kg (battery charging, windlass operation and harbour egress and ingress). But then I would not have had the pleasure of sailing in the Great Glen or of negotiating the famous Göta canal. Moreover, I would have had to sail through the Pentland Firth and that is no trip for the inexperienced crew I had at my disposal. Finally, my 1100knm trip would have become a 1500knm trip.

      So was this trip environmentally irresponsible? If this trip wasn’t environmentally irresponsible, then how can I say that someone using a highly efficient motor boat is that much more irresponsible when they only produce, say, 1.5t of CO2 over the same distance. If it was environmentally irresponsible, then I fail to see how anyone on the water can be environmentally responsible short of ripping out their auxiliary and doing everything under sail or electric power.

      I have done that before, and would not do it again. The range limitations of electric power are just too severe, both for comfort and for safety, and there are some marinas that are so tight that you just cannot sail into them safely. Furthermore, most of us have restricted leisure time and being becalmed usually doesn’t fly as an excuse for being late to work.

      In short, there are very good reasons for having auxiliary engines in sailing boats (though they are mostly overpowered these days), and there are situations at sea when using them is the responsible thing to do. Over my sailing carrier I reckon I sail about two thirds of the time and donk the rest. An efficient motor boat will use about the same fuel per knm as a comparably sized sailing boat, so were I to convert to motor the environmental impact of my hobby would treble.

      Certainly, motorboating is less environmentally responsible than sailboating, but sailboating is hardly the greenest way to travel. Had I flown from the west coast of Scotland to the east coast of Sweden I would have produced a third of the CO2 produced by my sailing that distance.

      In conclusion, the environmental argument taken to its extreme would take us all off the water and put us into alternative transport or it would force us to an extreme in sailing (electric auxiliaries only) that would substantially increase the risks related with that activity. Surely that is unreasonable. Surely the reasonable stance is to pursue this beloved activity in the most responsible, both in terms of safety and in terms of the environment, way possible. For those fit enough to sail, that is presumably an efficient sail boat with a low power auxiliary, for those less fortunate in the health stakes that will be a displacement power boat with a narrow waterline for its length.

      • Laurent Aug 22, 2014, 7:25 am

        I agree that a very large part of the debate is probably more a matter of figures than a matter of principles. This said and taking your figures, I understand that :
        – If you were 3 peoples or more aboard your boat, your sailing+motoring trip from Scotland to Sweden emitted the same amount of, or less, CO2 per head than corresp. commercial aircraft seats.
        – We were discussing current motor-yachts environmental footprints, criticizing marketing in favor of boats like Nordhavn 55′ or Dashew 64′. I guess that the same trip in those boats would have emitted substancially more than 1.5 tons of CO2. you mentioned. If you want to speak of figures and not of principles, I think you should be more precise about figures and not speak of motor-boats that mights be build today, or were built some time ago, but don’t really exist and could probably not be normally sold in current new motor-yachts market, perhaps mainly because of marketing issues.
        I guess that those kind of boats could probably be reasonably built and sold today if provided with masts & sails and advertised as sailing-boats….

        • George M Aug 22, 2014, 12:13 pm

          The Linssen 36.9 or Jetten 35AC has a fuel economy of about 0.8nm per litre. They will emit between 2 and 2.5t of CO2 on a trip such as the one I undertook depending on engine choice. These are heavy tubby steel displacement cruisers in production. There are reasonably priced displacement boats on the market that will be reasonably fuel economic.

          A svelte and lighter motor boat should easily get down to 1.5t for that trip. True these are not mass produced today, but you could get a custom one built to a simple spec for not too much wedge in the 40ft range.

          • Laurent Aug 23, 2014, 7:36 am

            In my opinion, you are speaking of boats that ” don’t really exist” in a realistic commercial and industrial perpective. Environment abuse is a serious matter, and I am a bit frustrated reading arguments who in fact promote hummer-type cars and later add that smart-type cars might perhaps be used instead. Re-reading the thread it is obvious to me that your arguments results, and I would say perspective, were to promote motor-yachts like Nordawn-55 or Dashew-64 and not to promote boat that could be built or that are possibly built today in insignificant numbers

      • John Aug 24, 2014, 9:45 am

        Hi George,

        Thanks for a very well reasoned and honest comment. I agree with every word.

    • John Aug 22, 2014, 8:06 pm

      Hi Marvin,

      Sorry about the reference to Cervantes. Too much of a hurry getting ready to leave.

      What I was trying to say was that, in my opinion, finger wagging from people like me and Steve Dashew would be futile—much like tilting at windmills. My thinking is that people will do what is in their own best interest in the short term, regardless of any admonishment.

      Therefore I think that if you are concerned about our oceans and planet, and particularly about climate change, as I am, the best bet is to encourage more efficient technology and the best way to do that is to attach an appropriate financial penalty to the use of hydrocarbon fuels.

  • Nicolas Aug 21, 2014, 5:00 am

    To my best of knowledge it is the cumulative effect of the boat leisure industry that is insignificant. Even if the boat leisure industry ceased operating it wouldn’t make much of a difference. For instance CH4 methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2 and its mostly emitted from cows whose contribution in increased total greenhouse gases atmospheric concentrations (partial pressure) is bigger than the cumulative effect of cars’ emissions. Glaciers meltdown is mostly due to ‘delayed’ response time from the end of last ice age 12000 years ago. Global warming accelerates that process. The anthropogenic contribution to global warming is still a much debatable subject.
    My point is that the problem is much more complicated that commonly perceived leading to false assumptions, conclusions and aspirations that are nevertheless honest.
    Putting aside the natural or anthropogenic mechanisms behind global warming my opinion (as I said before) is that the problem is largely political; if our leaders were willing to mitigate the enhanced greenhouse effect and thus global warming you would at the very least be driving an electric car powered by a renewable energy source or nuclear power station.

  • Dave Aug 21, 2014, 2:08 pm

    I must say I have thoroughly enjoyed this thread. Watching my dear friend and global warming enthusiast John thread the needle on this issue is great fun indeed. “Being green is complex” is a classic! It will come back to haunt you over wine in the near future John. 🙂

  • Svein Lamark Aug 22, 2014, 2:19 am

    Hi John,
    As you may understand I am not impressed by the fuel economy of the new yacht constructions. I compare them with 50-60 years old boats and see no improvement. I sometimes sail an old 57 ft. wide body ship with a displacement of 90 tons. It has the same length as your MC and the same fuel consumption. But with 90 tons you can bring along any thing you like, such as your grand mothers old bed. The explanation is simply a more efficient propeller system. In a modern flat bottom construction it is difficult to install a large enough screw. The Dashew 64 has a little propeller and even a bad V-drive. (In commercial ships V-drive is a source to many problems in the long run). The new French alu expeditions sail yachts has the same problem: The very flat bottom gives a little and inefficient propeller system and a bad fuel economy. So this new constructions does not meet my wish to save fuel. I have seen in Russia boats with little depth and a flat bottom that can lower the propeller and the gear box when at sea. This is a complicated solution. The oldest sea going boats where probably catamarans or other multi hulls. Maybe that is a solution.

    • John Aug 24, 2014, 9:52 am

      Hi Svein,

      I agree that a lot more can be done to make diesel engines more efficient and further that the place to look for inspiration is high torque engines with controlled pitch props. Further, most of that technology is quite old, as in your boat. Imagine what we would do if we started from your installation and applied modern engineering to the problem. For example the car industry is doing great things with computerized continually variable transmissions.

  • marvin Aug 23, 2014, 7:36 am


    It’s a straw man to call it finger wagging.  You’ve left the impression you think it is environmentally responsible to travel this way.  You’ve said so on a website on which you have fostered credibility on technical and environmental issues.  It’s a question of maintaining credibility environmentally and meeting your responsibility to your readers – some of whom have paid to read what you write.

    It’s simple to acknowledge the facts.  Your reasons not to are specious: You can’t really believe you have no influence.  Otherwise, why write your posts? Just to drive up hits and revenue?

    And if you’re as concerned about climate change as you say, you’d know that it’s a common greenwash tactic to justify doing nothing concrete now because some distant possible eventuality is better.  Are you really going to avoid simple steps now because their might be a fuel tax one day?

    As things stand, you risk being quoted as endorsing as “environmentally responsible” the most wasteful form of leisure travel short of a billionaire going to space.  If you feel so constrained by commercial or relationship concerns (or by your own desire to maybe travel is way yourself) that you cannot correct this and acknowledge how bad it is then you risk eroding the platform of credibility and independence on which you built this site.

    • John Aug 23, 2014, 8:07 am

      Hi Marvin,

      I really wish you would read my post on the fair price of oil before accusing me of doing nothing. Also, anyone who knows me personally will tell you that I’m a constant advocate for sane oil pricing and for the forms of co-operative government that will pass legislation to make that happen. We are both concerned about the same thing, but have chosen different roads to that end.

      • marvin Sep 11, 2014, 11:45 am


        I agree that revamped taxation/pricing regulations on fuel would be welcome, so I agree with you about that. I think where we differ is on whether we should do something else while we wait for this to happen. I think we should, so, by doing “nothing” I guess I should have said “nothing in the meantime”. Sorry about that. Many people welcome (and help advocate) law and policy reform in a suite of climate change areas, but most don’t point to that as a reason for refusing to make lifestyle changes in the meantime.

        I’m now quite curious though as to your actual thinking of these issues and I’d like to understand better. Hopefully it’s consistent with forum rules to ask a few questions:

        how much impact do you think you will have as one private person affecting domestic and international tax policies?
        How far off do you think meaningful regulation change is in north America?
        I’d like to understand where your thinking is at on (i) your foreshadowed potential move to a motor boat, and (ii) your current sailing strategy which from what I gather involves a substantial amount of motoring. Do you see these being still acceptable or contemplate a change?
        I’m still unclear what your position is on fossil fuel driven long distance ocean travelling. Do you think it’s environmentally responsible or not? If you do, I’d really like to understand why and how. If not, I’m perplexed as to why you wouldn’t say so.

        Much of your site involves your careful analysis of why you and Phyllis make the decisions that you do (technical, environmental, etc), so I’d really like to understand the thinking behind your views on and use of fossil fuels. I hope I’ve asked the questions in an acceptable way.

        As I read your forum rules, I think it’s acceptable to refer back to your tilting at windmills characterisation. Perhaps you’re close to influential congressmen who will be swayed by your expression of a hope for fuel tax reform. If so, great. But otherwise, do you really think you’re having more impact in that area than you could by helping encourage the major emitters in your audience to change and by changing yourself? Because it’s big diesel burners on boats that read your site, not Congress.


        • John Sep 11, 2014, 4:56 pm

          Hi Marvin,

          I think I have already answered most of your questions in previous comments to this post and the balance are answered (particularly the political how) in this post.

          In the mean time I will continue to advocate for more efficient hull forms, both motor and sail and smaller more efficient engines in boats, both motor and sail.

          • marvin Sep 12, 2014, 3:14 am

            Thanks John. I can’t see the answers to the specific questions asked in my last message in what you’ve written so far. Maybe you don’t want to answer but I am genuinely interested in understanding your thinking.

    • richard s. (s/v lakota) Aug 23, 2014, 8:12 am

      to me this is marvin talking in absolutes and john talking relatively, which is really apples and oranges….to me the difference between speaking relatively and speaking absolutely is like the difference between being reasonable vs. being extreme…but i remember a job interview once at a high-powered pharmaceuticals manufacturing plant when the hiring guy asked me what kind of working environment is ideal for me whereupon i responded that reasonable co-workers works great for me whereupon he responded without hesitating that ‘there are no reasonable co-workers here’…needless to say that job interview quickly went south…cheers

      richard in tampa bay

  • John Aug 23, 2014, 8:16 am

    Hi All,

    An interesting debate with many valid points,most of which I agree with…on both sides—being green is complicated!

    One thing though. Several comments have come dangerously close to contravening our comment guide lines and a couple have crossed the line. I chose not to delete these because I think the subject is so important, but please remember that “I disagree with your position” is fine, but “you or your position is wrong, irresponsible or makes you a bad person” is not. From this point on I will delete any comments that cross that line.

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