The Nespresso coffee machine hisses in the background as Linda makes a change-of-watch latte. The faint glow under the eastern clouds heralds another beautiful morning at sea.
We have 25 to 30 knots of quartering breeze, seas are 8 to 10 feet, and Cochise is loving it. The little diesels turn 1,600 rpm, and Cochise, our FPB 78, averages 11.5 knots while surfs accelerate us into the 15-knot range.
We stand close together in the galley, touching shoulders and thighs, at ease in our lives together and with the sea. There is something special about this morning, and we both sense it. It is not just the extreme comfort in which we are now running down the Nova Scotia coast so late in the cruising season. There is something more. It is anticipation. We are thinking about the past as we consider the future.
We’ve been sailing and working as a team now for more than 50 years: racing, initially, and cruising for the past four decades. The sea is woven into the fabric of our lives. We fell in love at first sight on Catalina Island, and for the next 12 years, when we weren’t starting a family and building our construction business, we were designing, building and racing catamarans that performed at the outer limits of what was considered possible.
When the time came to make a change — we both felt the need — we sold the construction business, signed a five-year noncompete and bought a 50-foot cruiser/racer. In November 1976, we left on what we thought was a year-long sabbatical. Intermezzo, a Bill Tripp CCA design, was lovely to look at but totally unsuited for long-distance voyaging. Still, the allure of this new lifestyle was strong. One year became three, then six.
We are by nature tinkerers, and it was not long before we started chatting about the “perfect” cruising yacht, often picking up ideas from other long-term cruisers. As our ideas took shape, there was a sense that we might just be able to create something for ourselves that was special. And we were enjoying the teamwork involved in the creative process.
The 62-foot, flush-deck cutter Intermezzo II was the result. She was easy to sail and fast on passage, while at the same time being much more livable than our old boat. Her short overhangs, coupled with high freeboard, were radical for the early 1980s.
When we got to the dock in San Diego, completing our circumnavigation, there was a friend waiting who wanted a boat. And then another, and then a group. The rest, as they say, is history.
From the 80-hour-a-week construction business to being full-time cruisers, then to the intense concentration required to coordinate design and construction of yachts overseas, our pendulum had swung back. I was traveling constantly to boatyards in various parts of the world and overseeing the design and construction, while Linda ran the house, made sure the family was taken care of, coordinated with vendors, did the books and followed up with clients on many details.
We were younger with more stamina then, had faster mental processing ability and didn’t know enough to back off and take it easy. During the ensuing decades, we alternated between periods on land and at sea, never fully embracing either while coming up with a series of cruising yachts for ourselves and others.
We loved working together as a team, vetting design concepts, working through the thousands of details a modern yacht requires and then sailing each new design, learning from each as the years and miles accumulated. A series of yachts were built in South Africa, Denmark, Finland and New Zealand, then it was time to go cruising again.
The New Zealand launch of our 68-foot ketch Sundeer heralded the end of the Deerfoot series, and when our daughters went away to college, returning to cruising was a natural fit. We had no intention of building more yachts, but when the time came to sell Sundeer there were a number of disappointed prospects, and a group of folks came together who wanted a production version. The Sundeer series was born, and we were back in the boat business.
The two of us admit to being what might be considered perfectionists. We like things neat, orderly, efficient and easy to live with — or on. The opportunity to pursue the ultimate cruising yacht has brought us back to the design table again and again. Mix this with a love of the sea and the cruising lifestyle, and you can see where it leads. By the time something like 30 of these yachts were out cruising, we knew it was once again time for us to go. And we needed a new boat. This wasn’t an option.
Beowulf, the 78-foot, water-ballasted ketch, simply had to exist. She was our perfect cruising yacht. All that boat, as much as 6,000 square feet of sail, and just two of us: Impossible, you say.
But it was possible, and we did it, with great care and respect, as Beowulf had the power to take over the game at any point. Talk about an intoxicating brew. Imagine yourself and your mate astride this flying machine, the bow lifted slightly out of the water as you plane at 14 to 20 knots toward your next destination. We had to be alert at all times. There were no second chances, and there were knives placed at both masts to cut away sails should the need arise.
When Beowulf was unexpectedly sold, we were cast adrift. From the tension of wondering if we should douse the spinnakers at night before a squall hit, to the calm reverie of bucolic Tucson, Arizona — we were boatless and did not like it. Of course, this led to fiddling, to new ideas, to several years of intense, totally focused design work. Having pushed the sailing design envelope to the extreme edge of what we could handle as a couple, we were up for something a little different.
Enter the 86-foot FPB Wind Horse.
Wind Horse allowed us to cross oceans on our own much more easily and comfortably, and with even better heavy-weather performance. She could be hauled out and put into storage mode, and we would be on our way to our land base within a day. She made it possible for us to continue cruising as a couple in far more adventurous locations than we would have done aboard Beowulf, Sundeer or Intermezzo II. We saw 60,000 nautical miles flow by during six years of part-time cruising.
Wind Horse was such an amazing magic carpet for us that being drawn back into the boatbuilding business was probably inevitable. The pendulum had to swing back at some point, and what started out as a couple of sisterships morphed into an 18-yacht fleet, ranging from 69 to 110 feet length overall.
Linda brings a latte and espresso to the great room table aboard Cochise. I bring the toasted bagel we are sharing. Nancy Morrell is due on watch in a few minutes. She and Michael Morrell, friends and circumnavigators from Tucson, have been with us now for six weeks.One of the reasons we designed Cochise was so that we could have friends and family join us for long periods, with sufficient space for everyone to maintain their sanity. So far, it is working.
We keep an eye outside for small boats, while the radar looks for targets and shows AIS symbols. This action plays on a vertical 55-inch monitor fit into the face of a 36-inch-tall locker, where it does not obscure our view of the exterior.
We discuss our future.
There is one problem with the FPB business model. These yachts are larger and more complex than our sailboats. In order to get what we think is the correct result, an enormous amount of time and effort is required, leaving little space for other activities, such as cruising aboard Cochise.
Cochise has taken us almost 15,000 nautical miles in less than a year. She is well-behaved, comfortable in the extreme and, for us at this point in our lives, the ultimate dream machine. On the other hand, we no longer have sufficient firepower to burn the candle at both ends. It simply is not possible for us to build FPBs with the present level of involvement and do anything else well. Linda points out that, even when we are cruising, constant contact has to be maintained with the boatyard and owners.
Sitting close, touching lightly, we both know there is only one choice. We can’t cruise in a meaningful way and continue with the FPB business. The pendulum is swinging back. The three FPBs currently in build will be the last. It is time for us to go cruising, again.
So ends this voyage.
U.K.-based Berthon will work with Dashew Offshore in supporting the FPB fleet. For more information visit berthon.co.uk.
This article originally appeared in the February 2018 issue.