Nordhavn passagemakers, on the other hand, are designed to cross oceans on their own bottoms. They are heavily built, slow-speed, full-displacement, single-screw vessels with modest horsepower that deliver fuel efficiency, long range and comfort in offshore seas. Leishman foresees a spike in long-range cruising as boomers begin to retire. In fact, the builder plans to introduce a long-range motorsailer this summer.
With its 165-hp Lugger diesel, variable-pitch props and powered main and headsail furling, the Nordhavn 56MS will cruise at up to 9 knots, offering gallon-an-hour fuel efficiency and a 3,000-nautical-mile range at slower speeds. The motorsailer is frugal — it sips fuel — but for a retired couple it also can be just the bridge they need between a sailboat that is too physically demanding and a power cruiser, which handles most heavy lifting with pushbutton controls.
Sail vs. (alternative) power
Dr. Richard Curtin, director of consumer surveys at the University of Michigan, has found that two-thirds of all registered sailboats are owned by boaters older than 50, so he expects sailboat ownership to tick upward over the next 10 years. However, beyond a certain age — usually sometime in their 60s — sailors get tired of grappling with sails and fighting the vagaries of wind.
“The more economical powerboat is where the sailboat people are going,” says Bentley Collins, vice president of Sabre Yachts, the South Casco, Maine, builder of high-end sailboats and power cruisers (www.sabreyachts.com). They want a single engine, modest horsepower and a displacement or semidisplacement hull, he says.
Or they are opting for easier-sailing sailboats, says Eric Cressy, executive vice president of Pearson’s True North Yachts, the Warren, R.I., builder that offers a line of single-screw power cruisers based on New England lobster boats (www.tnyachts.com). Cressy says the Alerion Express line of sailboats from 20 to 38 feet, also built by Pearson, are classic in design and with all lines leading to the helm so the skipper can single-hand the boat. And the 38 has electric winches (www.alerionexpress.net). The Alerions are designed to be easy to sail and thrifty at the fuel pump, he says.
“I think we’re going to evolve back to people thinking about ways to build a more efficient boat,” says Nordhavn’s Leishman. The high-profile professionals and business people who can afford a Nordhavn — base price for the N55 is $1.5 million — are increasingly sensitive to owning gas-guzzlers. “A guy runs for public office and goes down to the dock and steps onto his 200-gallon-an-hour boat,” he says. It’s going to leave a size-20 carbon footprint.
With fuel costs and global warming on the political radar, boomers’ love affair with the SUV and other “fuelish” toys may be about over, agrees Bruce Nelson, West Coast sales coordinator for Glacier Bay, a Union City, Calif., builder of diesel-electric power plants for yachts (www.glacierbay.com). “Boomers historically have been associated with or looking to be associated with causes,” Nelson says, and green is good now, at least in theory.
Diesel-electric propulsion — use of a lightweight, high-efficiency diesel generator to power an electric motor — is one of the green technologies that seems to be gathering a head of steam. Glacier Bay has systems aboard a 73-foot custom passagemaker, a 43-foot Leopard catamaran in charter with The Moorings, and a 47-foot Crowthers catamaran built in Chile.
In the early stages of adoption in pleasure boats, it is “really cool technology” — very quiet and fuel-efficient, attractive features for cruisers, Nelson says. “The real savings in fuel is going to be of interest to everybody,” he says. And its super-quiet operation should be a big plus for retired couples who are seeking to “socially reconnect” on their boats — to each other, to family, to friends.