Finally, the Goose is on the loose.
On June 2, after a six-month refit, Onne and Tenley van der Wal’s 1986 Grand Banks 32, Snow Goose, slid down the railway at Clark Boat Yard & Marine Works in Jamestown, Rhode Island, and into the water.
“It was awesome,” Onne says about the launch. “It’s nice to get the boat in the water and rinse the dust off. When you put her in, it’s kind of a scary moment, but also a big moment. You hope you did everything right when you fire up the engine for the first time and put it in gear.”
Before the launch, Onne had only run the six-cylinder, naturally aspirated, 135-hp Ford Lehman engine on the hard with a garden hose and a cooler. After purchasing the boat in fall 2020, he didn’t do anything to the engine other than winterize it. With the boat going in the water, he made sure the seacock was open and that the cooling water was coming out.
Over the winter, Onne had tackled some large projects, including sanding all the teak decks, refinishing the sole and repainting the forward cabin walls. In all, Onne worked about four days a week for six months to refit the 35-year-old boat. He’d paid fair market value for it and by doing 98 percent of the work himself, he easily saved $40,000 in labor costs. He credits Adam Hobgood, the lead service technician at Cay Electronics, for giving him a lot of great advice and guidance on the installation of the very large electronics package, which was one of the largest projects of the refit.
But during the launch, thru-hulls fittings were particularly on Onne’s mind. He’d installed a new head with new piping and a new valve. “I wanted to make sure that all the pipes, the head and obviously the raw-water intake were all leak-free and that the head worked.”
He’d added numerous sounder and transducer thru-hulls and sealed some old ones. An obsolete one-inch hole was plugged up with a bung and epoxy, and for one of the new transducers he had to take an old thru-hull fitting out and enlarge it. For the Raymarine sidescan sonar transducers, which were about 3.5 by 12 inches, he cut two new 2-inch holes, one on starboard and one to port. “You don’t want those damn things to leak,” Onne says.
So far, Onne is very happy with Snow Goose. “I love it,” he says. “It’s a little wet punching into the sea when there’s wind, but it handles it beautifully and it moves very comfortably at 8 knots.” He hasn’t really pushed the rpms yet because he wants to talk to his mechanic, Phil Allen at Corliss Diesel, before taking the original 135-hp Ford Lehman diesel engine with its 3,000 hours any faster. “I’m very happy with the engine,” Onne says.
Once Snow Goose’s bottom touched saltwater, Onne and Tenley didn’t waste any time. They putzed around the bay, participated in the Sail Newport memorial parade and watched their son, Adrian, race in a New York Yacht Club regatta.
One of the first trips Onne and Tenley made was to Gooseberry Beach on Newport’s Ocean Drive. “You have to go through a narrow cut between the breakers in about 8 feet of water and you can see the bottom,” Onne says. “I love the visibility from the boat’s bridge and having the plotter right in front of me.” He’s looking forward to poking around and gunkholing with Snow Goose. “I think it’s gonna be awesome. With the full skeg, and the propeller protected, if we do touch the bottom, it will not be the end of the world.”
He’s smitten with the view from the flybridge on the Grand Banks, especially in comparison to Snoek, the 1972 Pearson 36 sailboat he used to own. “I don’t have to sit in the back of the boat and look through all the rigging and the dodger and the shrouds and move left to right to see where I’m going,” he says. “With Snow Goose you’re forward on the flybridge and there is nothing obstructing your vision.”
And he likes the shallow draft. Snow Goose only draws 3.5 feet, versus Snoek’s 6 feet. “It enables me to get into so many more places and not always have to wait for high tide,” Onne says. “It’s so nice to sit up there to get into a marsh or creek and to have a nice display to give me depth and markers.
The flybridge’s height is also good for photography, something his current photo boat, a 25-foot Apex RIB called Onnesignment, lacks. A previous photo boat, a Mako 284, had a tower. “I loved shooting from up there,” Onne says. “It’s so nice to have that extra height again to look down on the boats.” But Snow Goose can only do about 9 knots and will not replace Onnesignment, which can do 35 knots, giving Onne more mobility during photo shoots.
Tenley already loves Snow Goose. Growing up, she did some boating in Minnesota, and a bit of sailing in Texas, but was not a racer. “When I first moved to Newport, people asked if I sailed and asked how much I weighed,” Tenley says. “And I was like, ‘That’s not me,’ so I said, ‘No, I don’t sail.’”
Snoek, which they’d purchased in 2016, was the van der Wals’ first leisure boat. Prior to that, even though Onne started his working life as a professional offshore sailor, he only owned motorboats for his nautical photography work. “We were always on the boat,” Tenley recalls. “He did not want to spend his weekends on the water because it was his office. He said, ‘I want to sit in the woods by a fire.’” For 10 years they owned an Airstream, which they took on family vacations from the Saguenay River in Quebec to all the Florida Keys.
It was their son Billy who rekindled an interest in recreational boating. He was interested in sailing and wanted to fix up an old boat. Onne started looking for a used boat for Billy, but when Billy moved to Oregon Onne found what would become Snoek. “He said, ‘let’s fix this old clunker up and see what we can do with it,’” Tenley recalls. “Then he was ready to own his own sailboat.”
“It was great on Snoek,” Tenley says. “I loved staying on the boat.” But because their photo gallery on Newport’s waterfront requires Tenley’s attention, they wanted something that would get them back there a little faster. “We’re still tied to work,” Tenley says. “On Snoek, we’d get to Cuttyhunk and have to turn around to get back to our jobs,” she says.
It was Onne who decided they should change to power. “It’s not rip-roaring fast,” Tenley says about Snow Goose, “but it goes in a straight line at 8 knots in almost any condition, which is a lot better than tacking at 4 knots. Maybe sailing is for retirees. We don’t have unlimited time right now.”
Tenley likes Snow Goose’s different levels and the galley in the middle of everything. “It’s a much more comfortable boat to live on,” she says. The van der Wals love to cook and entertain and find Goose more social than Snoek, whose cockpit wasn’t particularly comfortable for eating. “Snow Goose is so roomy, so easy to socialize and so easy to sleep on board. I love opening the windows and catching the breeze. I have to say, I am a born powerboater.”
Will Onne miss Snoek? “Obviously, when it’s blowing 12 knots on the beam, I’m going to miss the beautiful sailing conditions,” Onne says, “but what I’m looking forward to on Goose is being able to leave early in the morning with no wind, put fishing lines over the side, and know it’s going to take me 2.5 hours to get to Cuttyhunk. I will miss Snoek when there’s a nice breeze, but we did an awful lot of motoring with her!”
Onne has enjoyed the labor that went into Snow Goose over the winter. “What a pleasure to work on this boat,” he says. “From the wiring to the plumbing and the teak cabinetry on a Grand Banks it’s all top of the line materials and workmanship. Very few people know the pleasure of working on a Grand Banks.”
There’s still more work to be done. Before launch there was no time to deal with the varnish that was letting go of the railings, so they’ve decided to take it au naturel, and like the decks, cover it with a coat of Semco natural teak sealer. “There will be three people working on the old varnish,” Onne says. “Me, Kaya Denroy (an Antiguan refinishing expert who lives in Newport) and the Lord…because he sees to it that the sun cooks it off.”
When Onne returns from a family visit to South Africa, he plans to make more improvements to the boat and post more videos. For starters, Snow Goose will get a new graphic on the stern, Onne will demo the expansive electronics package, Tenley will show off the new canvas work, and there will be cruising videos.
Onne is very keen to use Goose as his little expedition platform. “I’m excited to use it as my floating cottage,” he says. “It enables us to go and explore, shoot videos and films and continue telling stories. As much as I like shooting races, I am just as excited about going cruising and getting off the beaten track, be it Maine, the Intracoastal or the Bahamas.”
Onne and Tenley will start by taking the boat to Nantucket for a few days. “We’re gonna grab a mooring and I will do a photo workshop for two or three days ashore,” Onne says. “We’ll be living on the Goose. We’ll stop off in Cuttyhunk, Quicks Hole and the Elizabeth Islands. There’s a very nice white beach on one of those islands. I call it the Caribbean of the north.”
They’ll use their 10-foot North Atlantic Inflatables RIB, which they got halfway through the Snoek period, to get ashore. “It’s got a Tohatsu 9.9-hp 4-stroke outboard on there,” Onne says. “It’s a sweet little boat. At sunrise I get up early with my cameras and a fly rod and either come back with a nice picture or a striped bass for dinner, or both. When I take off like that at 6 a.m., Tenley stays in the feathers. It’s fun when I wake up at sunrise, grab the rod, the camera gear and a bottle of water and catch the nice light or the early fish that are rising.”
You can see all the videos and stories about the upgrades Onne made to Snow Goose at soundingsonline.com/boat-shop.
This article was originally published in the September 2021 issue.