What we looked for in a boat

How we selected

People often ask me how we ended up selecting a Sea Spirit Passagemaker 60. This page is an attempt to answer that question, by describing various aspects of boats, and what things we view as important. There are dozens of factors not mentioned here - subjective things such as whether we liked the layout, or the choice of hardwoods used. I've tried to limit these topics to those that are of a technical nature.

Power versus sail

Especially when we tell people about the long distances we expect to cover, they initially assume that Sea Spirit is a sail boat. "Can a power boat really go that far?", they ask. Of course, the answer is yes, but not while also going very fast, or else they cannot carry enough fuel. Trawler yachts are power boats with very efficient, heavy displacement hulls, and they can go far, but not fast. For us, the choice between sail and power came down to comfort and safety. People often talk about living on a sail boat, hauled over at a 30 degree angle, wishing the seas were even rougher because that would mean more wind and faster speed. By contrast, people talk about living in a trawler, crossing oceans in a dressing gown and slippers. This appealed to us greatly, despite (or perhaps because) most of Dan's previous boating experience being in sailboats.

Size of boat

This is a question with no right or wrong answer, but clearly involves aspects of comfort, cost, capability, and crew requirements. Having said that, I haven't met anyone who regretted starting with a smaller boat they could afford now rather than no boat at all until they could afford a super-yacht. For us, the Sea Spirit Passagemaker is an ideal size, and while it was more expensive to buy than we had originally contemplated, we ended up feeling that if we waited a couple more years, we would pay the same money for less boat, as the global economy gets back up off its knees. Remember also that we are not a couple, but a family, with two home-schooled children aboard. This means that our floor-plan requirements may be quite different than yours.

Go-fast versus go-far

Like many people, we were initially attracted to the very sexy-looking fast yachts that you can find on any yacht magazine at a bookstore. But the more we read about how these boats are actually used, the more we realized we were go-far boaters, not go-fast boaters. The greatest beneficiaries of go-fast boats are weekenders, or those who can only get away for a few days at a time, needing to maximize their time at the destination, and minimize the time getting there. But our family doesn't fit that mold. We have motorhomed for the several years, always taking long trips (the longest so far -- 4 1/2 months), and we've always found interesting things to see along the way. Also, as I started reading owner's forums about different kinds of boats, I found that most offshore boats end up being run at less than 12 knots anyway, due to a combination of comfort and economic factors. If it's going to run a trawler speeds anyway, it might as well do so efficiently, which means a full displacement hull. Buying a go-fast boat but then running it slowly didn't seem sensible to us, although I know it is what a lot of people end up doing.

Catamaran or monohull

This was actually a tougher decision than I thought it would be. Cats go fast -- 15 knots or more, which is a significant safety factor. While their reputation from 30 years ago is not stellar, they don't seem to suffer from the same problems today, having become quite reliable. Interior space is also very good, owing to the substantial beam. Frankly, the jury is still out on this one, in my mind. We could perhaps graduate to a cat in the future. It is fair to say that most cats are not finished to anything near yacht standards, and there is the smell of price sensitivity in all of them that I have seen. This contrasts greatly to Sea Spirit and to the Nordies that I've seen, where price sensitivity seems to have been a secondary priority when systems and components have been chosen. Nonetheless, I look forward to meeting a cat that has been built similarly to a Nordie or Sea Spirit, because I believe cats can be great offshore boats.

Manufacturer, part 1

We looked for about 5 years at a variety of boats. Very early on, Nordhavn emerged as "the one to beat". What attracted us to Nordhavn was the large community of passage-making owners, and a company that seems to stand behind its owners. While there are clearly Nordhavn horror stories, its just as clear that the vast majority of owners are happy. We also looked at Selene, and found them to be a better value for money, but not quite as rugged as a Nordhavn. If we were not intending to go far offshore, a Selene might be just right. It's not a question of sturdiness, but rather of systems choices. Cape Horn (no longer made) also emerged as a worthy contestant in our quest, and are clearly exceptionally rugged and safe designs. However, in the end, we felt that we would metaphorically prefer a Jeep or Hummer over a Sherman Tank. A few other brands such as Kadey Krogen, Dashew Offshore, and Northern Marine also came up, but didn't grab us. Then we saw the Sea Spirit. It struck us as a Nordhavn-approach to ruggedness, systems, and safety, but executed in a completely different style. There is also a different approach to stability taken on the Sea Spirit, which appealed to us. Comparing our boat with a similarly-sized Nordhavn, our boat has lower windage, but as a result has slightly less interior room, but more livable exterior spaces. It is fair to say that both my wife and I would have been equally happy with either a Sea Spirit or a Nordhavn, and almost as happy with a Cape Horn (if Peter Sever still made them).

Manufacturer, part 2

I had to write this paragraph in all honesty. While we had been looking for boats for about 5 years, it is fair to say that we could have been very happy with a near-shore boat, or a boat that we could have explored the PNW or Alaska with. In fact, we had been looking at Ranger Tugs excellent small boats (under 30'), which anyone should consider as a phenomenal entry point to boating. In the end, we decided to "buy our second boat first", and step right up to the Passagemaker 60, skipping the Ranger Tugs approach. But once again, if finances or time constraints had intervened, we would have tried a Ranger Tugs and been very happy, albeit with a completely different kind of boating.


This turns out to have been really hard for us. Initially, we absolutely fell in love with the reputation of Pacific Asian Enterprises, the company that builds and sells Nordhavn trawlers. While there are other trawler manufacturers with extremely good reputations (for example, Northern Marine, Cape Horn), Nordhavn's reputation is head and shoulders above everyone else's. With over 500 boats sold, while there are bound to be some unhappy customers, these seem to be few and far between. The vast majority of Nordhavn owners seem to be happy. Sea Spirit, by comparison, is a relatively new, relatively small company. However, the founder is also a founder of Queenship, which has built dozens of 60' to 120' yachts, and also has a stellar reputation. Those are all go-fast yachts, however. I don't mind telling you it was a real stretch for us to become comfortable with Sea Spirit Yachts when faced with Nordhavn as a competitor. Sea Spirit doesn't have Circumnavigator magazine to help steer one toward a purchase. It also doesn't have several circumnavigating yachts to point at. So, in the end, I am forced to admit that it is the combination of product quality and product value, combined with the excellent prior reputation of Queenship, that let us go with Sea Spirit. It is also fair to say that our conversations with those who had bought Sea Spirits before us figured greatly in our analysis. Finally, the recommendation of boat broker Judy Waldman, who really really knows trawlers, figured greatly in there too.

Country of origin

Should we buy an American boat or a Chinese boat or something else. Ultimately this came down to looking deeply and with a critical eye at construction details (including system installations). It didn't bother us at all to consider a foreign boat, but we were very careful to look for "Chinese-isms". Chinese-isms require a little explanation. When you take an American installer and face her with an installation issue, most likely she will think through the problem, and come up with a solution that not only makes sense, but is maintainable in the long run. Ok, I'm being a little optimistic here, but you get the idea. By comparison, when you take a Chinese installer and present a similar problem, the solution may be something they think makes sense, but that in fact doesn't, at least not in the US. For example, when you are only 5' tall, placing a head-banger at 6' above the floor might seem fine. But when you're 6' tall, it won't. An American installer won't make that mistake (as often). Similarly, when the plug doesn't fit the socket, an American will go find the right piece (ok, only sometimes). But a Chinese engineer will simply fabricate something to make the connection work. Fabricating things is one of their strengths -- the custom work is one of the reasons we like boats made in China. But not in a system that might need repairing or replacing down the road. There's another kind of Chinese-ism that is more dangerous. Things aren't always what they seem in Asia. For example, 316L stainless steel might not really be 316L stainless steel if bought in China, even if labeled as such. My boat, for example, arrived in the US with some of the screws already rusting. The manufacturer had bought, paid for, and installed 316L screws (which won't rust), but there they were, rusting. Once in the US, every affected screw in my hull was removed and replaced -- at great cost and effort to Sea Spirit Yachts -- in order to maintain the reputation of the company and the integrity of the boat. Anyway, we saw MANY Asian boats with Chinese-isms. While there are a couple of Chinese-isms still on my boat, I'm removing them as I find them, and there haven't been many (thank goodness!). By the way, I've seen them on Nordhavns and Selenes. We also looked at Dutch boats, and were favorably impressed. Finally, lest anyone think me a racist for my use of the term Chinese-ism, please remember that my wife is Chinese, my kids are half-Chinese, and my boat is built in China. While anyone can make an argument out of anything, you'd be barking up the wrong tree with that one.

Choice of hull material

Steel - ultimate abrasion resistance. Fiberglass - very low maintenance if built right. Aluminum - perhaps the ideal combination of weight/strength/corrosion-resistance, and need not be painted, avoiding an expense. Wood - easy to fix, "classic". We were not keen on wood, but considered all the other hull materials. I nearly bought a Cape Horn, which is steel. I like the Dashew's boats, which are Aluminum. The greatest selection seems to be fiberglass, which is what we ended up with. If steel is not prepared properly, it rusts or galvanizes away. If fiberglass is not prepared properly, it delaminates or blisters. If Aluminum is not prepared properly, it is usually fine, unless it comes in contact with other metals, in which case it can galvanize away quite quickly. If wood isn't prepared properly, it can rot. Steel is repairable by anyone with a welding torch IF (and it's a big if) you can remove whatever is on the inside while welding so that it doesn't burn. Same is true of aluminum. I'm told that wood boats are trouble, and didn't want to take the risk, but there is something romantic about wood. Metal boats need a lot of insulation everywhere, or else the difference in temperature between the hull (which is at water temperature) and the cabin interior (which is at air temperature) results in condensation, and corrosion. If this paragraph seems inconclusive its because it is. Except for wood, we could have been happy with any material. If I absolutely had to pick, I'd pick aluminum as a winner, then steel and fiberglass as close seconds. But any of the three would be fine. They each have their own requirements in order to get a good product, but each of them can deliver.

Single versus twin

We could have had either and been happy. Singles are more efficient. Twins are more redundant. Singles fail less often, but when they do, it is a darned nuisance. Twins fail more often (twice as many parts to fail), but a failure is much more benign. Twins don't need a "wing" engine or get-home power system. Singles have a lot more room in the engine room, and cost a lot less to maintain. In the end, I opted for a large, slow-turning, rock-solid single. But twins would be fine, as long as the running gear was protected properly by a keel and skeg.

Dry stack versus wet exhaust

In a dry stack exhaust, the engine exhaust makes its way through the cabin and flybridge to the mast or stack, and exits the boat high in the air. In a wet exhaust, the engine exhaust comes out of the engine, is mixed immediately with seawater that was used for cooling the engine, and then exits the boat at the water line near the stern. Dry stack keeps seawater away from the boat, but has very hot exhaust running through the cabin inside a cabinet that inevitably takes some valuable living space. Wet exhaust is much more common, and doesn't seem to be a cause of much problems if built properly. There have been dry stack fires, and there have been wet exhaust sinkings. In my reading on the subject, most people who have owned one or the other seem to not feel strongly about it. My boat has wet exhaust, but if it had dry exhaust, I would not have objected, as long as it didn't ruin the cabin space or eye-lines.

Keel cooling versus raw water cooling

I like the idea of keel cooling, in which a loop of coolant is sent outside the boat to be cooled by the ocean via a heat exchanger. By contrast, a raw water cooling system brings the sea water aboard, exchanging heat with the engine coolant via an engine-mounted heat exchanger. The advantage of a keel cooler is that the system doesn't involve running sea water through narrow tubes inside the boat. Raw water cooling systems require that. I had to boil my heat exchangers to re-open the tubes. While those tubes were nowhere near being closed, I felt it prudent to clean them out in order to ensure the boat was as new. As you can see, I don't have keel cooling. It would be going too far to say I wish I did. I don't think it makes much difference, but I think keel cooling has a small advantage. Having said that, even keel coolers can develop problems, including gumming up with "guck" on the outside, since they are nice and warm.

New versus used

Our Sea Spirit is a new boat (or was when we bought her from the manufacturer). However, we ended up feeling that we'd be perfectly ok with a used boat. Having said that, going new means that all the engine and electronics are the very latest available, and I am of the opinion that most of these things have improved over the years. So, a 10 year old boat is probably fine, but the electronics won't hold a candle to today's electronics, for example. Even though our boat was new, it wasn'tbrand spanking new, having been shown up and down the east coast at boat shows by the manufacturer. This meant I felt there were many small things that I had to do in order to be certain that the boat was in as-new condition. I will list these things in a blog entry, but they include changing/inspecting all belts, fluids, hoses, tanks, and so on. These are not major things, but there are a lot of them.

I will put up another page shortly, with information about the many systems aboard Sea Spirit. While we loved the styling of the boat, it was the construction and systems that sold us. That page will give details about what exactly it was we fell in love with.


Katya Pine 1/9/2011
Congratulations on your new purchase and beginning to a new life adventure! Wishing you and your family very safe and happy boating. If you ever head over to the Toronto Harbour, let us know!!!!
Fred K 1/4/2011
Wow, lots of good detail in this post. Please keep them coming.
Winter 2011: Training from Lauderdale to Georgetown and back!