American Tug 49: Innovative, Sophisticated, Luxurious

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Amtrak's Cascade train hadn't been stopped for more than 30 seconds before Jim Stines rang me on the cell phone. "Where are you?" he asked.

"Just across the street," I said as I dragged my camera bag over the tracks along the Edmonds, Washington, waterfront.

"Come into the marina and find the fuel dock and the boat'll be there," he commanded pleasantly. "On my way."

I hurried in anticipation. Jim was waiting in the harbor aboard an American Tug 49 Limited Edition-the first and only one, as a matter of fact-and together we would take her north to La Conner, home port for the boat and the builder. Normally, I'm lucky to get 30 minutes of sea time on a boat I'm writing about for PMM. On this fall Sunday, however, we'd be running about three hours up the east shore of Whidbey Island, around the north end of Camano Island, and, finally, through Swinomish Channel to La Conner.

I found the 49, hailed and shook hands with Jim, and handed my bag aboard. "Get the lines," he said, "and we'll be on our way." No fooling around: it was a beautiful day, with clear skies, mild temperatures, and a soft breeze. It was a good day to go cruising.

American Tugs had launched the 49 only a few weeks earlier. Her debut had been at a boat show in Seattle, and then company executives took her across Puget Sound to a rendezvous of 30 American Tugs in Bremerton. Jim is an American Tugs technician and the company's customer service representative. He had been at the rendezvous, helping AT owners with questions and problems.

Jim's final assignment that weekend was to take the boat home Sunday for a scrubbing and another boat show, stopping to pick me up along the way. His only other request came as I boarded: "Please take off your shoes."

The Edmonds marina has an extensive breakwater system. Two major breakwaters protect the north and south moorages, and a smaller third one shields the fuel and visitors' docks that are opposite the gap between them. Using thrusters occasionally, Jim backed the single-screw yacht, then steered around the inner wall and toward the main entrance that opens to Puget Sound. He shifted to neutral and coasted awhile as a 32 Grand Banks came through the opening; Jim recognized that the single-engine GB had no bow thruster and needed plenty of maneuvering space.

In seconds we were outside and pointed north into Possession Sound, and Jim handed me the wheel while he pulled in fenders and collected mooring lines. I had cruised these waters countless times over 30 years of boating but had not been in the neighborhood for three or four years, and it was fun to check off islands, remember names of points of land, and count the fleets of sail and power craft out for a fine afternoon at sea.

GETTING STARTED

The Limited Edition 49 is built from the mold for American Tugs' popular 41-footer. The added 8 feet is dedicated to enlargement of the saloon and cockpit, greatly increasing space for working, relaxing, and socializing with friends. Except for upgrades, the forward sections of the pilothouse yacht are much like those found on the 41.

With a beam of 15 feet 10 inches, the 41 is a widerthan- usual boat. That's because she is a scaled-up big sister of the first American Tug, a 34 designed by Lynn Senour that was intended for fishing in Alaska, where the ability to carry heavy loads safely is paramount.

The 49's hull shares those fishboat characteristics, measuring 16 feet on the beam and 48 feet 8 inches on the waterline. She is proportionately a bit more slender than the smaller ATs. But she still has width for a stable ride, usable side decks, and a generously sized saloon. Theoretically, her longer waterline should make her slightly faster and more efficient.

Fuel capacity has been increased from 640 to 800 gallons, and the standard engine has grown from 540hp to 575, which proved sufficient to drive the yacht to a top speed of 18.1 knots on our run along the shore of Whidbey Island. Running that fast was exciting, but purring along at 8 knots was enjoyable, relaxing, and thrifty. She burned about 4gph at that speed.

Because American Tugs was buying the fuel, and because Jim wanted to get home for some family time, we ran at 14 knots, burning about a gallon a mile. We ran past scattered sailboats, sportfishing craft, motorcruisers, and an occasional ferry. The big pilothouse windows offered excellent visibility ahead and to the side, and we had no trouble giving all the other weekend boaters a wide berth.

My routine for this kind of tour is to wind up the engine to a fast cruise and then spin the wheel hard to starboard. The 49 came around easily, with the gentlest of heel, and bumped through her fading wake. Steering was easy and responsive.

It was going to be a good cruise.

A CLOSER LOOK

The first 49 Limited Edition is all white, from the waterline to the top of the radar mast. Most American Tugs are finished in bold colors-blue and red, for example. The second 49, now under construction in La Conner, will be canary yellow. So she stands out simply by being a little different.

The founders of American Tugs, Tom Nelson, Kurt Dilworth, and Dave Schoppert, are veteran boatbuilders with years of experience in construction, engineering, and design. All three left posts at Nordic Tugs to launch the new company in 2000.

The 49 appears to have gone a step beyond the 34 and 41.While the exterior is typically flawless-the gelcoat returns an almost perfect image if you stare into it-the interior reflects a step up in sophistication, from window coverings and light fixtures to an interesting blend of woods, fabric, stainless steel trim, and a double-wide galley with custom touches.

Boarding is via a 33-inch-deep swim platform that has a rescue ladder hidden beneath it. If someone tumbles into the water, he or she can pull the ladder out and climb aboard. It's a device recommended by the American Boat & Yacht Council to make boating safer.

A transom door opens to a cockpit that's 86 inches deep, 26 inches deeper than the aft deck on the 41 AT. The deck is surfaced with Nuteak, a polyvinyl chloride product that is glued down and looks much like the real thing. Other exterior decks are finished with a molded fiberglass nonskid surface.

Two steps on each side of the aft deck lead to the side decks, which are 13 inches wide and are protected by 29- inch-high stainless steel handrails that run all the way to the foredeck.

A workstation with a sink and hot and cold water is on the inside of the transom. The workstation's lid is held open magnetically. A ladder with good handrails leads straight up to the bridgedeck, where the 15-foot tender is stored. American Tugs is planning a flybridge version of the 49, and it will have an enclosed stairway reaching from the pilothouse to the bridge, greatly improving passage to the upper deck.

I found an aft deck control station, with thruster and engine controls. It is one of many extra-cost options on the 49, one that should be good for owners who will be backing into a boathouse or marina slip regularly. The controls just hang on the wall; a cabinet would better match the styling found in other areas.

Open the two lazarette hatch covers, and a fine example of the builder's attention to detail is revealed. U-shaped clips are screwed to the bottom side of the covers. The idea is to hang lines on the clips. When you swing open the cover, it will be easy to grab mooring lines or fender whips from the clips, eliminating the need to hang down into the lazarette and dig around for stuff you need.

The covers are heavy, but they lift easily on gas struts.

Besides mechanical gear, including an air compressor and the autopilot pump, I found another neat detail in the lazarette. On the forward bulkhead, AT built an area for shelving. To make it all work better, the builder installed plastic storage bins on the shelves. I counted six bins on each side, which should provide space for all kinds of small gear.

One step through the saloon door leaves you standing atop another AT innovation. It's the hatch that leads to the engine room, and it's unusual (to me, anyway) because it opens electrically. The switch is almost hidden along the door edging; it took me a while to find it. If the boat suffers a power failure, a mechanical latch will free the cover.

The saloon is so large that new owners may be tempted to invite too many friends aboard. It measures 14 feet 5 inches from the outer door to the foot of the pilothouse stairway. That's about 5 feet longer than the 41's saloon.

AT selected neutral and earth-tone colors for the first 49. A huge number of colors are available for fabrics and carpeting.

An L-shaped settee upholstered in Ultraleather is to port, with a 32-inch TV and a sound system in a cabinet set at an angle between the settee and the galley counter. Fashionable stainless steel light fixtures are mounted on the mullions and on either side of the door, and optional energy-saving LED fixtures are in the overhead.

The saloon is carpeted, and the galley sole is surfaced with individual handlaid planks of sapele and maple. Flooring in the heads is a sapele-and-maple veneer.

Sapele veneer and solid woods are used throughout the boat. Sapele is an African hardwood with the hardness and density of teak but resembling mahogany in grain pattern and color. It is widely used in Europe for cabinetry and, according to a Google source, was used to build propellers for German zeppelins many decades ago. The skill and artistry of American Tugs craftsmen is evident in the fit and finish of wood surfaces and trim, and in a saloon table that features an inlaid compass rose.

The starboard side of the saloon is lined with cabinets. Two freestanding Stressless chairs are standard, and they are a perfect place for reading at day's end.

The galley is forward and to port in the saloon. AT did not skimp here. The aisle between the counter that separates the galley from the lounging area of the saloon and the line of appliances and cabinets on the forward wall is 41-1/2 inches wide. That means there's room for two to work together in the galley and for cupboard, oven, and refrigerator doors to be opened without someone having to leave the area.

AT installed a pair of Nova Kool AC/DC refrigeratorfreezer units. Going out for the weekend? Switch on one. Out for the summer? Use them both.

The builder couldn't find a stove top that fit the available space against the outer wall of the galley, so it made one. It's a three-burner propane unit, with the burner on the left spaced to accommodate large pots, as in crab cookers. If the stove top is not in use, a hinged section of counter supported by a gas strut can be lowered to cover it, creating another work surface. When the counter is upright, a hidden magnetic switch activates the stove's propane system. Lowering the cover automatically switches off the gas.

Galley counters are topped with Karadon, a man-made stone. It's heavy, and the section covering the burner surface is difficult to lower, even with the gas strut absorbing some of the load. AT engineers are aware of the problem and are working on a redesign that will retain the cover (a useful feature) yet be easier to handle.

Under the surface unit is a Princess gas oven, and there's a trash compactor nearby. I know some boaters who would trade a compactor for a dishwasher, but AT doesn't list a dishwasher as an option.

A CafeCombo microwave is nestled in the forward wall. Its name correctly hints that it contains a coffeemaker as well as the usual oven. An appliance garage is in one corner of the counter, and a small cabinet is fixed to the overhead. It does not block views of the saloon or passing scenery.

The dinette table on the starboard side, directly opposite the galley, may be the saloon/galley's best feature. The table will seat four nicely-no need to serve food on the beautiful saloon table-and I bet a lot of guests will hang out here to kibitz with the galley crew over coffee fresh from CafeCombo. There is storage beneath each dinette seat and in the side wall. But how to get there without crawling under? The table is hinged and rises easily against the side wall, making all storage easily accessible.

The dinette table rises again! They were common on boats built decades ago and still are popular today. I remember them on early Bayliners, as well as on custom yachts designed by Senour, Ed Monk, and Bill Garden, all Northwest icons.

Notably missing on the first 49 is a handrail down the centerline of the saloon overhead. It is a necessity for safe passage through that large room. American Tugs engineers and salespeople recognized the shortcoming, and I expect the first boat will be retrofitted with a handrail and that it will be standard on the rest of the line. Elsewhere, AT was generous in providing handrails and grab bars: outside along the side deck, in the pilothouse, and on stairways.

FROM THE BRIDGE

Four steps along the starboard side lead from the saloon to the pilothouse. A settee is to port, with storage beneath it. An ice maker in a cabinet beneath the settee is reachable from the stairs. An AT-crafted table with an inlaid compass rose fronts the settee, with space for snacks and beverages. A smaller settee is to starboard of the stairway. That space may be used for a desk or a freezer, but on the planned flybridge version, it will become a stairway to the upper deck.

The helm is centered. A space for chart work is to port, and the stairway to the staterooms is to the right of the wheel. A single helm chair is standard. Doors to the side decks are located port and starboard.

I enjoyed using the optional Garmin navigation system, with its touch-screen feature. By touching the display with my fingertip and sliding it upward, I moved the chart and boat symbol up the screen, too. Other finger taps brought up a host of other features for navigation. No mouse or keyboard is needed. A Raymarine electronics package is standard equipment.

A little earlier, as we passed the ferry terminal at Clinton on Saratoga Passage, I unpacked my Radio Shack sound meter and began a simple check of performance versus sound levels. Conversation was easy at any speed, no doubt the result of 2 inches of Soundown insulation in the engine room. Here are some numbers:

* Table to be found in pdf version.

The American Tugs staff had conducted its own sound survey earlier and reported higher levels of engine noise: 77 decibels at wide-open throttle and 68dBA at about 10 knots. The AT report also indicated a top speed of 19.1 knots, a knot faster than noted on my run, recorded (as were my numbers) by the ship's GPS. Any number of factors could have been responsible for the difference in speed.

I noticed a meter encased in a shiny metal frame near the helm. Numbers changed frequently but seemed to range between 4 and 8. I asked Jim what it was, and he had to confess he didn't know, either.

Turns out the meter reports the output of a pair of 8-amp solar panels atop the pilothouse. The panels will produce 16 amps of electricity under ideal circumstances. Kurt Dilworth, AT's engineering vice president, said the best output he had seen was about 14 amps.

The panels, a $4,700 option, will provide enough energy to operate one of the refrigerator-freezer units and interior lights indefinitely while the boat is at anchor and the engine and generator are silent, Dilworth said. This assumes the sun shines. It sounds like a rewarding option for those interested in green living.

When the sun is shining, visibility should be good: the dark burl pattern of the laminate around the helm does not reflect much light. And the slight reverse rake of the windscreen, an AT styling hallmark, decreases the likelihood of taking sea spray on the glass.

Another four-star feature on the 49 is the stairway leading below to the staterooms. Too often, boats with accommodations beneath the pilothouse have a circular stairway that is difficult to descend because the stair treads taper, reducing the area on which a foot can land.

To eliminate that problem, AT built a stairway much like the ones we find at home. Five steps with a rise of 9 inches lead straight down to a landing. Just off the landing is a head with a separate shower and two doors: one for the crew and a second for those occupying the guest stateroom forward and to port. The guest space has a single bunk above a double, and an optional Bosch washer and dryer in a locker. Standard equipment includes a combination washer/dryer.

From the landing, four steps with an 8-1/2-inch rise lead to the master stateroom and its head. Here, there's an athwartship queen bed with an array of cabinets and lockers, including a large hanging locker on the bulkhead separating the two staterooms. It guarantees privacy. A television drops down from the overhead, and a sound system provides music.

Something new for AT: the accommodations areas now have nautically arched doors.

The master head, with a glass-enclosed shower, is lined with mirrors on the walls and overhead, as is the guest head.While all that reflective glass guarantees good lighting, for me it's too much. It seems gaudy on a boat like this.

At a price of $939,000, the base boat is ready to go- from electronics to heating and air conditioning-except for a tender. Hull number 1 is loaded with extras costing $79,000, from $26,000 for the upgraded Garmin electronics package to a 15-foot skiff and outboard engine at $15,000 to those mirrors in the heads at $990.

FINAL STOP

A week or so earlier, Dilworth had given me a detailed tour of the boat, including the engine room. Later, American Tugs let me roam the boat by myself, and I spent a lot of time in the Holy Place.

As we began our tour, Dilworth hit the switch, and the hatch cover opened slowly.We dropped below via a stairway with wood treads. Once in the engine room, it was easy to see that the stairs were hinged and could be lifted to provide access to a Reverso oil changer.

The engine compartment has 47 inches of headroom. Aisles on each side of the engine are 27 inches wide and provide good space for maintaining the single Volvo D9, a 9.4-liter, 575hp diesel. Aluminum fuel and water tanks are tucked against the hull. Spaces fore and aft of the tanks house auxiliary equipment: a diesel furnace, water heater, watermaker, batteries, and the hydraulic system for the SidePower thrusters. I also tallied a 9kWNorthern Lights generator, a Reverso fuel polishing system, and marinerated Racor filters for the main engine and genset.

Everything is in sight and is readily accessible, and each electrical device, hose, and piping connection is labeled. No confusion here.

Sight gauges on the fuel tanks are protected by aluminum channels and have valves top and bottom, as required by the Coast Guard. Federal regulations require that all fuel system components be capable of withstanding open flame for 2-1/2 minutes. The clear plastic used in sight tubes is not fire resistant, and the valves will prevent flow into the bilge if the tube is destroyed by flame.

The valves on the AT 49's sight gauges meet the standard, but the round knobs on top make it impossible to tell whether the valves are open or closed. Quarterturn valves would indicate the position, and self-closing valves would eliminate the problem.

Dilworth said the 49 satisfies all of the 30-some recommendations of the ABYC for the construction of pleasure craft, as well as related Coast Guard safety requirements. The ABYC standards focus on navigation (including visibility from the helm), fuel, and electrical systems.

The bulk of the 49's electrical distribution system, including battery switches, is on the forward bulkhead of the engine room. The battery switches can be operated electrically from the helm. Cables and wiring are carried behind fuel tanks in a 3-inch plastic conduit, adding to the overall neatness of the engine room. Wires emerge from cutouts whose insulated edges prevent chafing.

The hydraulic pump that powers the windlass and dinghy davit is mounted on the front of the Volvo. The mounting bracket restricts access to the serpentine belt running on the engine. AT has placed two replacement belts inside the bracket housing to allow replacement without the agony of pump removal.

Two Volvo alternators run off the front of the engine. One, with an internal regulator, recharges the starting batteries. The second, rated at 115 amps and externally regulated, charges the bank of four 8D AGM house batteries.

The first 49 does not have stabilizers, but hull number 2 will be fitted with TRAC 220 series stabilizers with 7.5- sq.-ft. fins. The builder will rearrange some engine room gear to provide space for the stabilizers. The existing engine-mounted hydraulic pump has the capacity to operate the stabilizers.

One black mark in an otherwise super engine room: there is no drip pan beneath the engine. Nor is there a dam near the bilge pump that would keep leaking oil or fuel out of the sump and prevent pollutants from being discharged to the sea, in violation of federal law. Dilworth said hull number 1 and following boats will be fitted with a dam, but he doesn't believe there is enough space for a pan beneath the Volvo.

THE LAST WAYPOINT

I took the 49 around Strawberry Point, not far from Oak Harbor, and headed into the shallow water of Skagit Bay.We skimmed past the row of red buoys marking the channel. Finally, I made the turn into more challenging water: the entrance to Swinomish Channel at Goat Island. Heading north, the channel is narrow, with sand bars on the west and a rock jetty on the east. I slowed to reduce our wake and worked around a sailboat, and then held as far to the right as possible to give oncoming traffic a share of the channel.

Paper charts were stowed nearby and the Garmin touch-screen navigation system was operating, but I confess I was running on my local knowledge.

Rows of navigation aids mark the channel clearly. There's a log storage area off one side of the channel, and it's not unusual to find a tug maneuvering a log tow, leaving little or no space for other craft. On this Sunday, however, it was clear sailing, with all boats throttled down to reduce wake.

At the Hole in the Wall-a tortured bend in the channel not far south of La Conner-Jim returned to the wheel. Visibility ahead is limited through the turns, and local knowledge is useful in avoiding unmarked shallows. I had no problem stepping aside. After all, this is a million-dollar boat.

Getting the 49 to her slip required countering a current and turning right, then left, through a marina, twisting the boat so she was parallel to shore, and then backing down for a starboard landing. As Jim began the dance, he told me he had never made the landing with the 49. He did just fine. That's good, too, because Tom

Nelson, president of Tomco Marine Group, builder of American Tugs, was on the dock waiting to take our lines. Waiting for his baby. Nelson told me the 49 was four years in the making, from the decision to build until she was launched. Despite soaring costs for materials over those four years, he said the final cost of hull number 1 was only 2 percent above his original estimate. He knows the business.

American Tugs describes the 49 as a Limited Edition boat, suggesting that it doesn't intend to build a huge fleet of them. In these troubled economic times, I suspect AT will be pleased to sell as many as it can build.

Now, the 49 is built by cutting a molded hull in half and then inserting an 8-foot section of hull between those halves. It looks messy in the early stages, but the final product is flawless, even though it requires cutting and realigning plank grooves in the hull. And AT says the spliced hull is stronger than the original. If sales pick up, American Tugs likely will build a separate mold for the 49. Using that would trim several months off the construction time.

There's a fair amount of competition among cruising boats selling for $1 million or more. The American Tug 49 is a strong contender.

AMERICAN TUG 49

LOA: 53' 2"

LWL: 45' 10"

BEAM: 16'

DRAFT: 4' 10"

DISPLACEMENT: 36,000 lb.

BRIDGE CLEARANCE: 19' 5"

FUEL: 800 U.S. gal.

WATER: 210 U.S. gal.

HOLDING TANK: 60 U.S. gal.

GENERATOR: 9kW Northern Lights

ENGINE: 575hp Volvo D9

MAXIMUM SPEED: 19 knots

CRUISE SPEED: 12/14 knots

RANGE AT CRUISE SPEED: 1,440nm at 8 knots; 715nm at 13 knots (with 10% reserve)

DESIGNER: Tomco Marine Group

BUILDER: Tomco Marine Group (American Tugs)

BASE PRICE: $939,000

For more information: Tomco Marine Group Inc. 800 S. Pearle Jensen Way P.O. Box 600 La Conner, WA 98257 360. 466. 9277 americantugs.com; info@americantugs.com

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