Unlike many boaters, James and Jennifer Hamilton don’t suffer from two foot-itis — their 2010 Nordhavn 52, Dirona, was custom built for them. The couple was deeply involved in their boat’s construction, making more than 200 changes along the way and even traveling to China to see the final stages of the process.
The Hamiltons, the authors of “Waggoner Cruising Guide’s Cruising the Secret Coast — Unexplored Anchorages on British Columbia’s Inside Passage,” have been cruising on their new boat in Alaska and Puget Sound for the past year.
Tell us about your boat’s name.
The name is derived from Dirona Albolineata, the Alabaster Nudibranch, an invertebrate indigenous to the Puget Sound that we often see when scuba diving. Over 3,000 Nudibranch species live throughout the world’s oceans their fantastic forms and psychedelic colors make them among our favorite sea creatures.
Tell us the story of how you found your boat and what makes it special to you.
We loved our previous boat, a Bayliner 4087, and took it all over the Pacific Northwest up to the Alaska border. We even lived aboard it for a year. That boat worked well for the coastal cruising we were doing, but we ultimately want to go world-cruising, yet still in a powerboat. So in shopping for the current boat, we were very focused on range and rough weather capability. We shopped for 10 years before settling on a new build of a Nordhavn 52.
What do you like best about your boat?
It has the range and capability to go anywhere in the world, is a wonderful downtown condo during the work week, and it takes us all over the Sound on the weekends.
What do you know now about your boat that you wish you’d known when you bought it? Would that have changed your mind?
We had a difficult time coming up with an answer to this question. Generally we’re quite happy with all aspects of the boat, partly because we were deeply involved with the build and made over 230 changes during construction. One thing is that the 40HP wing (auxiliary) engine could use more power, given the loads and conditions we operate under. Something in the 60HP range would be better. But knowing that in advance wouldn’t have changed our mind.
What’s your favorite story involving your boat?
Its offloading in Tacoma. Dirona arrived in the Puget Sound from China early on Saturday Dec. 4th, 2009 on deck of the container ship Ever Ethic. We’d left Seattle in our dinghy at 5:45 a.m. to watch the 8 a.m. offload. The temperature was 28F, but we were warmly dressed and comfortable running south at 28 knots.
On the way, we encountered fog so thick we could barely see from one end to the other of the 12-foot dinghy, let alone anything on shore or in the traffic lanes. We’d not brought a GPS, as we’d made this trip so many times, and ended up navigating using a keychain compass. We arrived in Tacoma, but couldn’t find the 900-foot container ship in the fog. After slowly working down each canal of the shipping port, we finally found the Ever Ethic and hadn’t missed the offload.
Boats have been dropped during the launching process, so we were kind of holding our breath as we watched. The crane operator had apparently decided there wasn’t clearance to lift Dirona directly off the outside of the ship and into the water, and instead carried it over the ship towards the dock, skimmed it above the pavement for half the length of the vessel, and then brought it back over the water beyond the ship’s bow to launch it. (cont’d.)
We were relieved when Dirona finally was floating in the water. The delivery crew boarded, started the engine, and unhooked the slings from one side. As the crane began to move away, we realized the slings hadn’t fallen cleanly into the water and were hooked on Dirona’s mechanical gear. The multi-million-dollar crane and the longshoreman operating it were out of commission until those slings could be free.
Following several failed attempts to free the boat, we expected a diver would have to be called. But Nordhavn salesman Don Kohlmann stripped to his skivvies, dove into the 45F water with a knife, swam under the boat, and cut the sling free. We have no idea how anyone could possibly have dived the boat in that temperature without any gear. After that, it was smooth sailing up to Seattle.
Describe the most challenging situation you’ve experienced on your boat and how it performed.
Running south through Hecate Strait into a southerly storm on the second day of a 4-day 24×7 run from SE Alaska to the Puget Sound. Hecate Strait separates the Queen Charlotte Islands from the B.C. mainland. The waterway is relatively shallow throughout, a few hundred feet at best, with only tens of feet at the north end. Southerly winds funnel through and steep seas develop quickly.
One of our favorite local weather books, the now out-of-print “Marine Weather Hazards Manual,” says of Hecate Strait: “Because of the speed that the winds and seas can change, it has been said that Hecate Strait is the fourth most dangerous body of water in the world.” For most of our 36-hour run through Hecate Strait, winds were up to 30 knots on the nose, at times blowing again several knots of current. The seas were steep and tightly packed, and the pitching motion was sometimes so severe that we had to crawl to move about the boat safely. Avoiding being tossed around enough to sleep off-watch was a challenge.
Where do you plan to take your boat? Do you have a dream destination?
We are most interested in high-latitude cruising. Prince William Sound, Chile, Hudson Bay, Ireland, and Sweden are among the destinations we’d liked to visit.
If someone gave you $10,000 that you could only spend on your boat, what would you do with it and why?
The boat is quite new and doesn’t need much. So we’d probably put this in cruising kitty. But you know boats — the more you use them the more they break — so we’d certainly find a use for it soon.
How long do you plan to own the boat? What would it take to get you to part with it? And what advice would you give to the next owner?
We plan to own the boat indefinitely. We invested a huge amount of time and effort into equipment selection and getting the boat built, and would have an awfully hard time parting with it. It’s our home and we have no plans to sell it. Our original plan was to buy the boat when we retired. Then we realized it probably would outlive us, so we might as well get it early and enjoy it, even though we are still working. That was a great decision — we love living aboard and not owning a house, or car, anymore.
If you could have any other boat, what would it be and why?
We shopped a long time for this boat and gave it a lot of thought. We wanted the smallest possible boat that we could comfortably live on, and with the range and capability to go anywhere in the world at a reasonable speed. The boat matches our needs fairly closely, and the thought of restarting the 10,000-decision process is unthinkable.
What didn’t we ask you about your boat that you wish we had?
“Tell us a little more about yourself and your boating background/interests.” We enjoy adventure boating and sharing our experiences with others. We are authors of Waggoner’s “Cruising the Secret Coast” and maintain a boating blog and website.
We’re always looking for boats to feature – powerboats, sailboats, racing boats, wooden boats, work boats and others. If you’re like us to feature yours, drop us a line at email@example.com and tell us a little about it.