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Pocket Trawlers

Here’s a look at two new models designed to give a big-boat feel in a midsize package

Gary and Floy Carmichael of Green Cove Springs, Fla., have owned their 1985 Ocean Alexander 43 for eight years, most of that spent living aboard.

Nordic Tugs has reintroduced its 26-footer, partly in response to economy-driven downsizing.

The boat is named C-Breeze, and they love her. Even so, they are putting their sturdy sundeck trawler up for sale so they can buy something smaller.

The Carmichaels — he’s a special agent for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and she recently retired from the same job — have moved ashore so Floy can better pursue a second career in law enforcement consulting. “Once we moved off the boat it became a weekend cruiser, but it’s a lot of boat for weekends. It’s overkill,” says Gary Carmichael, who is 58. “It’s time for someone else to enjoy it the way we have.”

He says they’ll be looking for a boat in the 30-foot range, a small trawler with a single stateroom and a convertible settee, a galley and single head. They want a boat suitable for weekend cruising on the St. Johns River with the grandchildren, as well as the occasional foray to the Bahamas.

The Carmichaels represent a trend within the trawler community: experienced owners looking to downsize to meet changing personal circumstances rather than abandon their passion for life on the water. Two new boats, both tug-style trawlers under 30 feet, have been developed to appeal to boaters like Gary and Floy, as well as to entry-level trawler buyers forced to downsize their aspirations in a tough economy. One is the Ranger 29; the other is a relaunch of the venerable Nordic Tug 26. Both are big little boats, powered by a single diesel and built in the Pacific Northwest. And both run well at economical speeds.

Nordic Tug 26

The 26 was the boat that established Burlington, Wash.-based Nordic Tugs in the trawler firmament. The 26 began its long run after sailboat builder Jerry Husted and Seattle yacht designer Lynn Senour saw the fuel crisis of the late 1970s as an opportunity to launch what became one of the most successful products in the history of power cruising. (Senour died in 2004.)

The original Nordic Tug 26 debuted in 1980.

The Nordic Tug 26 was introduced in January 1980 at the Seattle Boat Show. “We had hoped to sell three in 10 days,” Husted told The Seattle Times newspaper. “We ended up selling one every three hours for 10 days. It stunned the marine industry and, by the end of January, we had taken 52 orders.” When the model was discontinued in 1997, 173 had been sold.

By the mid-1980s, Nordic Tugs had capitalized on that success with its next boat, the Nordic Tug 32. Like nearly every other trawler builder, Nordic Tugs followed the bigger-is-better trend by offering larger and larger models, most recently launching a 54. Along the way, it earned a reputation for quality construction.

With its 9-foot, 6-inch beam and 6,800-pound dry weight, the NT 26 can be trailered to new cruising grounds.

Meanwhile, even before the real estate bubble burst and a banking crisis ensued, the Northeast dealer for Nordic Tugs was arguing for the reintroduction of the 26. “We started this before the economy hit, but the timing has turned out to be great,” says Ben Wilde of Wilde Yacht Sales ( in Essex, Conn. “I wanted them to do this for years to get the younger families into a boat, people who couldn’t necessarily afford a 32.” Four new 26s have sold so far on the West Coast, according to Wilde.

Like the original Nordic Tug 26, the 2009 model rides a semidisplacement hull and features a raised pilothouse with companion seat to port. Two steps lead below to a V-berth (with cushion insert) and wet head. The galley/saloon is one step down abaft the helm — galley to port and a booth style four-person dinette to starboard. The dinette drops to make a double berth. The galley comes with an undercounter refrigerator and two-burner alcohol stove, which can be upgraded to an optional propane stove with oven.

The nearly full-beam pilothouse contains the galley/saloon and the helm station. The dinette converts to a double berth, and the V-berth and wet head are below.

Wilde enjoyed his first sea trial on the West Coast in November. “I’m not a small guy — I weigh 220 pounds — and I had no problem moving around this boat whatsoever, even in the stand-up shower,” he says. “We have so many windows in these boats. Even if you’re sitting in the saloon or galley area, because you sit so high, you see out very well. And you have so much ventilation, you feel comfortable; you don’t feel closed in. We had two at the helm, so we had six big guys [on board] and didn’t feel crowded.”

The big-boat feel of the saloon is aided by the fact that it spans most of the boat’s 9.5-foot beam, with access to the foredeck via side doors at the helm level. The cockpit is ample, considering the boat’s LOA, and makes for additional social space.

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Nordic Tugs used the relaunch as an opportunity to make equipment upgrades and styling changes to give the boat a look that’s consistent with the rest of its line, including beefy rubrails and Diamond Sea-Glaze doors and windows. Instead of the original Perkins 50 and 85, the new 26 is powered by a Volvo D3 110-hp, an electronic common-rail diesel. The D3 burns 0.8 gallons an hour at 4 knots and 3.3 gallons at 8.5 knots. She cruises at 10 to 12 knots with a top end of more than 13 knots.

During the lapse in production — and perhaps because of it — the Nordic Tug 26 developed a devoted following in the trawler community. And they appear to have held their value. At press time, the Southeast Nordic Tug Owner’s Association listed seven 26s for sale at prices ranging from $86,000 to $110,000, none newer than 1992. Base price for the new Nordic Tug 26 is $187,500.

Chip Worster and his wife, Louise, owners of the 1995 NT 26 Chip Ahoy, were the first co-commodores of that association. Worster says he was a longtime sailor until health issues forced him to change his boating style. He admired the classic look of the Nordic Tugs line and was impressed by the loyalty Nordic owners expressed toward the factory. “We went to one of their rendezvous and talked to a lot of owners, and they explained to me how they got a lot of support from the factory, even though many had bought their boats used,” he says. “That impressed me.”

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At a rendezvous around five years ago, Worster says he and others urged Nordic Tugs representatives to return the 26 to production. Even though the tooling had been saved, they were told, it wasn’t likely.

Mike Arnold of Cleveland, Tenn., bought his NT 26 in 1999 from the original buyer. Arnold spent the first couple years performing a top-to-bottom overhaul of systems and cosmetics. He and his wife now use Chilula for day trips on the Tennessee River.

“During this renovation, working in the bowels of the vessel, I learned that this was not a boat,” Arnold says. “She was a yacht. A hand-built piece of art. You can feel it when you cruise through the water, but you can touch and see it when you dive into the heart of the vessel.

“We feel that we have the perfect vessel for river cruising,” he continues. “When we take a transient slip in marinas, we get ready for the walk-by lookers that have a variety of questions and compliments. It’s like having one of your children that is a movie star; we love it.”

Nordic Tugs, (360) 757-8847,

Ranger 29

The Ranger 29 is a new boat from Ranger Tugs, the Kent, Wash., company operated by father-and-son pair Dave and John Livingston that also builds the R-21 and R-25. The elder Livingston, Dave, is known for the catamaran dinghy that bears his name, as well as work he did for Fountain, Regal, Reinell and Bayliner, where he served as president in 1988 and ’89.

While Nordic Tugs is moving down in size, Ranger is moving up with a new flagship, the R-29.

Ranger was in some ways an accidental beneficiary of Nordic Tugs’ success. Ranger was only offering its 21-footer when Nordic Tugs discontinued the 26. In response to customer feedback, Ranger perceived a vacant niche and decided to fill it by bringing a 25-footer to market. The boat was an instant hit, with more than 50 sold in the first six months.

Jeff Messmer, Ranger’s vice president for sales and marketing, describes the 29’s appeal as threefold: 1) keeping customers who are moving up from the 25; 2) attracting sailors making the switch to power; and 3) appealing to owners of bigger trawlers looking to downsize. Every design stratagem was considered to make the boat feel bigger, both for the downsizing customers and those without the purchasing power to buy the 40-footer of their dreams, he says.

The new Ranger is trailerable, but she also has bow and stern thrusters for docking when you won't be returning to the ramp right away.

“John and Dave Livingston have been involved in designing more boats than anybody in the industry,” Messmer says. “With their design ability, we’ve been able to offer a 29-foot boat that feels more like a 33-, even a 35-foot boat.”

The cockpit, galley/saloon and helm are on a single level, with one step down to the forward master (with a queen-size offset island berth) stateroom and wet head. A second stateroom amidships has standing headroom at the head of a queen-size berth, the rest of which tucks under the raised dinette. The dinette table lowers to make another double, allowing the boat to sleep six adults in a pinch.

The Ranger 29 is set up for simple cruising, with a pilothouse helm station and galley/saloon, forward stateroom, and easy access to the battery bank and inverter.

The passenger seat across from the starboard helm station has a back that flips, so the seat faces forward while under way or toward the dinette while eating. At the helm, the shift/throttle console can be positioned forward for comfortable cruising, but slides back and out of the way for access through the side door. The helm seat folds forward to create more counter space in the galley when needed.

“Those are the kind of things that are hard to explain, but they help to show why you can have a 29 that feels like a much bigger boat,” Messmer says.

After trying to sell customers on the idea of an electric cooktop, Messmer says Ranger now offers a propane stove/oven as standard, along with a microwave oven and a fridge beneath the counter. The 4-kW generator, once standard, is now offered as an option. In general, the R-29 is heavy on standard equipment, such as bow and stern thrusters.

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Mindful that the average Ranger buyer is about 60 years old, Messmer likes to say that the R-29 “takes the fun out of docking.”

Power for the R-29 is a Yanmar diesel, either the standard 220-hp engine or an optional 260. Both are electronic, common-rail diesels developed jointly by Yanmar and BMW. Messmer says the standard power plant burns 1.5 gallons per hour at 7 knots and 3.9 gallons at 8.7 knots. The 29 starts to plane between 9 and 10 knots and tops out at around 20 knots, burning 12 gallons an hour.

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Another nifty feature involves the molded steps that connect the cockpit sole to the side decks; these assemblies are hinged and open in gull-wing fashion to reveal machinery and storage space. The generator mounts to starboard, and the battery and inverter reside to port, with space left for dock lines, fenders and the like.

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Base price for the Ranger 29 (33 feet with swim platform) is $214,937. Ranger Tugs, (253) 839-5213,

Capable cruisers

As evidenced by heritage and design, both the Nordic Tug 26 and Ranger 29 will make ideal weekenders. They are handy and economical coastal cruisers well-suited for the Great Loop. They are also trailerable, which is a game-changer for anyone downsizing from bigger trawlers. Granted, you need a substantial towing vehicle and special permitting, but it’s an option that opens up horizons. East Coast owners could try their hand at navigating the waters of Seattle; the Pacific Northwest crowd could explore the gin-clear waters of the Bahamas. Or both groups could meet in the equally foreign Sea of Cortez or Great Lakes.

Spontaneity is also an attribute of the under-30-foot class, which is not to be underestimated. As the Carmichaels have found, it is the nature of big boats that they tend to stay tied to the dock until it’s time for that big voyage. In that respect, Messmer likes to tell the story of two brothers, Fred and Dave Lowgher.

“Fred owns an 84-foot Northern Marine, and his brother Dave owns a 57-foot Northern Marine,” Messmer says. “Fred purchased a 25-foot Ranger at the Seattle Boat Show, and his brother purchased a 29 at the Seattle Boat Show. They’re going to keep their big boats, but they’re going to use the little ones to buzz around the Seattle area. And they’re going to be able to get into the places where they wouldn’t go with the big boats. As he was looking over the boat, the wife of one of them was standing beside him, saying, ‘We could really have some fun in one of these.’ ”

Consumers are justifiably bored being told that “size matters,” possibly because the phrase is rarely used to say anything clever or subtle. Size does matter, but in ways that are not always obvious. Many boaters have spent a lifetime on the water just to learn a simple truth: They had the most fun on the smallest boats they ever owned.

This article originally appeared in the May 2009 issue.


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