Chicken soup may be good for the soul. But a proper boat, weather of travel-brochure quality, and congenial cruising
friends do more to keep me happy.
A recent PMM assignment, checking out the new 41-foot American Tug flybridge yacht, sounded like just another
pleasant day at sea. The boat was great and the flybridge is an appealing option, but what made it a day to remember was
the combination of people, weather, and a favorite cruising area: the San Juan Islands of northwest Washington State.
Several marine parks, good anchorages, and friendly waterfront communities make the San Juans a popular cruising
destination. In the summer, marine traffic in the region resembles an interstate highway as boaters from Seattle, Tacoma,
and other metro areas head toward the islands.
My day with American Tugs was near the summer
solstice, a time of year when the weather in northwest
Washington still is iffy and the surge of boating
tourists has yet to begin. Wind, rain, clouds, sun, even
thunderclaps-it's all possible in one day this time of
year. But as we motored out of our marina, the day
was perfect: a few clouds on the horizon, no wind,
calm seas, and a temperate sun that brought the air
temperature to a little over 60°. Just right.
I have written about American Tugs' 34- and 41-foot
boats on several occasions (see PMM Dec. '03 and June
'05, respectively). My intent this time was not to dig into
the details that go with a major boat tour, but to check
out improvements, new equipment, and the flybridge on the 41. The immediate question: does a raised pilothouse
boat really need a flybridge? Another angle to explore
was American Tugs' willingness to do extraordinary
custom work for clients.
The crew on this expedition included Jim and Sandy
Garrus, owners of the 41 Footloose. An AT without a
flybridge, Footloose would be our photo boat. Jim and
Sandy are veteran lake boaters from Centennial,
Colorado, and had been aboard their 41 only a few
weeks. They plan to cruise the Northwest's Inside
Passage for a couple years before heading to the ICW
on the East Coast.
Karel and M'Joung De Regge, owners of the new 34
Mikjoung, a flybridge model, still were stowing stuff
for a long cruise as we headed out to sea. They agreed
to come along so we could see both American Tug
flybridge models together. Home-based in Oriental,
North Carolina, they dream of living in Ireland and
cruising Europe on their boat.
Karel and M'Joung ordered their 34 with a white hull.
Dark hulls are most popular among AT customers, and
at first glance I didn't recognize Mikjoung as an American
Tug when she motored out of Cap Sante Marina in
Anacortes, Washington, and fell in line behind the 41 I
was aboard. It turns out that she is the third AT with a
white hull, out of about 160 boats launched since the
company was founded in 2000.
The object of this day's work was a 41-foot bluehulled
pilothouse boat, English Rose, skippered by Mike
Beemer, a veteran seaman and yacht systems expert who
teaches high school math and marine technology in
Anacortes. The boat was fresh out of the commissioning
yard, and her owners would step aboard the next day.
Mike and his wife, Lynette, also are boating product entrepreneurs. They market two things boaters are likely
to need: gourmet ready-to-cook meals and a kit of tools
and spares (essentialprovisioning.com).
The organizer of this complex fleet was Mark Bunzel,
a man of many talents and titles. Today he was acting as
a marketing consultant for American Tugs and was
assisted by his son, Garrett, a college student. At other
times he is a maritime writer; he's also the owner of
Fine Edge Publications, which publishes cruising
guides for the West Coast and the Inside Passage.
And there was me. I was about 16 years old when I
first visited the San Juan Islands on an old Sea Scout
ship. My family, and our dog, cruised the islands in a
20-footer in the 1970s and has cruised the San Juans in
other boats ever since. I am always ready for the islands.
OFF WE GO
English Rose was at the dock of Marine Servicenter, the
Anacortes dealer for American Tugs. A cleanup crew
had just finished its work, and morning sun reflecting
from thousands of drops of water on the deckhouse
dazzled the eyes.
Despite the dazzle, it was clear that the AT 41 is larger
than her name suggests. Because of her fishboat ancestry,
she is a beamy 15 feet 10 inches, with an overall length
of 45 feet 6 inches.
The new flybridge is a bolt-on affair, and its modest
size and design complement the overall styling of the
yacht. There is no windscreen on the flybridge and later,
while under way at 12 knots, I longed for one.
English Rose has an optional stainless steel rail system
along the outer edge of the boarding platform, which
makes stepping aboard safe and simple. The railing,
made of a series of inverted U-shaped steel tubes known
in the industry as "staples," is easily removed to clear the
platform for dinghy boarding or swimming.
A ladder in the cockpit is the only access to the
flybridge. American Tugs, I'm told, is working on plans
for an inside pilothouse stairway to the bridgedeck. In
the interim, the ladder remains a difficult route for some
boaters; another grabrail near the top would help.
The buyer ordered a stainless steel radar arch during
commissioning, after the boat had been delivered. It was
bolted directly to the shell of the flybridge. I opened
some compartments and saw 1/4-inch aluminum
backing plates on the arch mounts. However, at cruising
speeds, the arch developed a harmonic vibration that
could be heard and felt throughout the boat. Some
fine-tuning of that system took place after we returned
to the marina.
The flybridge has a pair of helm seats and seating for
guests. There is the usual storage space beneath the
cushioned guest seating, but access to the lockers is
through doors on the ends of the seat, so there's no need
to disturb visitors while you're grabbing gear. Aft of the
helm area is a boat deck and dinghy hoist.
Mike used the thrusters to ease away from the
mooring float and again to manage the sharp right turn
at the breakwater exit. A minus 3.6-foot tide provoked
some concern but caused no problems as the 41 followed the narrow and shallow waterway leading to
Mikjoung and Footloose motored slowly out of Cap
Sante Marina to join us, and our fleet turned north.
Our destination was Sucia Island, a state marine park.
The horseshoe-shaped island was purchased by regional
yacht clubs in the 1950s and handed over to Washington
State for park use. It has miles of beach on Georgia
Strait, dozens of mooring buoys, two docks, and space
to anchor (but watch for southerlies).Trails offer good
hiking through woods and along wetlands and the
beach, and dramatic sandstone monoliths line the shore.
Opportunity and good scenery beckoned, however,
and we didn't make it to Sucia Island. Instead, we took
most of our photos at Matia Island, a small state park
a few miles east. Matia's Rolfe Cove has a small dock,
with space for about four boats, and two mooring buoys.
The harbor is usually full. As our AT fleet approached,
a sailboat scurried on ahead, as the captain worried we
were going to take the buoys. We didn't, and he found
one available. The state park occupies about 5 acres. The
rest of the island, about 145 acres, is a national wildlife
refuge. Hiking is good on Matia, too.
Matia is especially photogenic because of an expanse
of unusually sculpted sandstone rock along the shore.
Over eons, glaciers, the sea, and wind have carved the
soft rock in dramatic whirls and curls and scoops.
The Spanish explorer Francisco de Eliza, who sailed
these waters in 1791, named the islands. "Sucia" means
"dirty" ("foul" in maritime terms); reefs offshore do
endanger careless boaters. Matia was named Isla de
Mata, meaning "no protection," and that's true except
for tiny Rolfe Cove on its north end. (Apologies to the
Spanish: not many pronounce the name properly.
"Matia" should come out "ma-tee-uh," but most say
"may-sha," with a short "a.")
CUSTOM? OR AN OPTION?
I prowled the yacht while Mike revved up English
Rose's 540hp electronically controlled common-rail
Cummins diesel for runs past Mark's cameras (a 500hp
Volvo is an option). It was not my first tour of a 41, and I
acknowledged again that the company builds a good
boat, with impeccable fiberglass work and a skillfully
finished interior. The engine room is a bit short for a 6-
footer, but all equipment is accessible for maintenance and repair. There were no obvious shortcomings on
English Rose, and most of my few critical comments
stem from personal experiences and choices. Yes, I
can be picky.
The galley/saloon is aft, with a wide doorway
leading to the cockpit. The interior finish includes
jatobÃ¡ paneling and hardwood and an optional wood
backsplash and shelf along the galley counter. However,
the next boats from AT will be finished with sapele,
another tropical hardwood. Good teak has become
increasingly difficult to find, and its price has soared.
Boatbuilders have responded by switching to other
hardwoods that are in better supply and less expensive;
some woods come from plantations.
The saloon flows forward and up a couple of steps to
the pilothouse, which has a centered helm and doors to
the fore and side decks. The buyer chose a double helm
seat, but two adults probably won't fit comfortably. Mike,
a slender man, filled up more than half the seat as he
handled the boat. Also, the large seat impedes getting
around in the pilothouse. I would stick with a single.
The pilothouse has space for using paper charts, and
a desk in one corner that can be customized to meet a
I've said this before: American Tugs has done a superb
job of designing the forward section of the boat, which houses two staterooms separated by a hanging locker
that provides privacy and two en-suite heads. For
one thing, a normal stairway with rise and run like
you'd find at home leads safely and easily from the
pilothouse to a landing. A step to the right from the
landing leads past a head to guest quarters. Down a
couple of steps from the landing, a left turn leads to
the master stateroom and head.
Although the standard 41 (with a base price of
$574,000) is rich in features, from Ultraleather upholstery
to heating systems, the company offers an options list
that is two pages long and includes scores of other good
things from which to choose: more electrical outlets,
wiring for a watermaker, a cockpit steering station, an
upgraded sound system, and more deck gear. If you can
think of an item, it's probably on the list.
And if a buyer wants something different, the
This is apparent on English Rose. Normally, the guest
head has a doorway conveniently located for those
using the forward stateroom. On English Rose, American
Tugs cut a second door in the wall at the stairway
landing, improving accessibility for crew and guests in
the pilothouse. This is custom work and a good idea
that I bet will become an option on future boats.
On 41s, the builder installs a small combo washer/dryer beneath the landing. On English Rose, the buyer asked that
a freezer with similar dimensions be installed in that space.
A stacked washer/dryer was installed in a new cabinet in
the guest stateroom.
Kurt Dilworth, a founder of American Tugs, later told
me the company will do almost any custom work a
customer requests, as long as it doesn't involve moving
bulkheads. (There are some limits.)
Some examples: AT replaced the standard island berth in the guest stateroom of an earlier 41 with a
convertible settee. On another boat, it modified the
saloon settee to accommodate a Dickinson oil-burning
stove. The factory installed a drawer-type freezer in the
lazarette of another 41.
"If a buyer asks, we will draw it up, and if it's OK
we will build it," Kurt explains. "We may offer it later
as an option."
English Rose is the 24th hull in the 41 line. Only two of the 24 were ordered and delivered as "standard" boats.
Be aware, however, that custom work is not free. A
package of custom items could lead to a significant
increase in the price of the boat.
American Tugs will launch a third boat for its tug
yacht fleet, a 48-footer, sometime in 2008. It will be
matching the competition from Nordic Tugs, which is
preparing to launch a 47-foot tug yacht to complement
its 32-, 37-, 42-, and 52-foot models.
Kurt said details will be announced later, but he
indicated the 48 will be built on a stretched version of
the 41 mold. The extra length will be used to enlarge
the saloon and cockpit.
One change from earlier American Tugs is the use
today of interior components that are assembled on the
shop floor and then lowered into place. Combined with
the grid AT installs in the lower hull to locate bulkheads
and engine mounts precisely, component construction
assures that a boat goes together quickly and perfectly.]
For some small wood add-ons, customers turn to an
AT woodworker who builds cabinets, bookshelves, and
wine racks in his shop at home. Footloose contains a
number of small custom projects from that home shop,
and all match AT quality.
UNDER WAY, QUICKLY
We did some speed runs, cranking the single engine
hard. It's old news, but I'm still impressed by the quiet
performance of electronically controlled engines,
compared to the pronounced diesel clatter of older
mechanically controlled engines. However, if you lift
an engine room hatch cover to listen to 540hp hard at
work, be prepared for an assault on your hearing. It
takes a lot to contain the roar.
On the American Tug 41, the master stateroom is
beneath the pilothouse and the engine room is beneath
the saloon sole. Distance and excellent insulation do a
superb job of quieting the pilothouse. At 1800 rpm, we
were clocking 10 knots, and the decibel meter read 68
A-scale decibels. Conversation is easy at that level. It's
obvious the engine is back there working hard, but it's
not intrusive, annoying, or tiring.
Cummins' SmartCraft data monitor showed fuel
consumption at 11.9gph at 10 knots. When Mike pushed
the throttles to 2200 rpm and 12.5 knots, the sound level
fluctuated between 72 and 73dBA. Certainly that's more
engine noise, but we could still converse in normal tones.
(Fuel consumption at this speed was 19.9gph.)
At 1340 rpm, the boat makes 9 knots and the fuel
burn is only 4.2gph, according to the engine's flow meter. The decibel meter read 66dBA. Quiet and
efficient; that's my idea of a good boat.
The first generation of the Mercury/Cummins
SmartCraft engine monitors presented data in a
monotone that was almost impossible to read when they
came on the market several years ago. English Rose has a
SmartCraft color monitor that is very difficult to read
when the pilothouse is flooded with sun. Because the
monitor replaces most all of the usual helm gauges and
provides useful and important information, it would be
nice to be able to read it with a quick glance, instead of
having to crouch and squint.
The boats paraded in and out of Rolfe Cove for the
sake of photography. Then, under the somewhat wary
eye of the sailboat captain, Footloose and English Rose
crept slowly together, and I stepped aboard the photo
boat for my opportunity to shoot pictures of the
The photography was good, but meeting Jim
and Sandy was better. The pilothouse showed the comfortable clutter of a boat well used; some of it
no doubt will disappear as they get ready to cruise
Jim is a retired Defense Department employee, and
Sandy just retired from a teaching career. Together, they
have boated inland waters from Kentucky to Arizona.
For retirement they decided to go to sea. They visited
major boat shows in Miami and Los Angeles and
checked out many boats. The selection process focused
finally on two boats: the American Tug and its arch rival,
Nordic Tug, which is built in Burlington, Washington,
only a few miles from the AT factory in La Conner.
The Garruses have nothing bad to say about the
Nordic Tug, but "we deemed the American Tug a better
fit for us," Jim says.
They first planned to spend a year doing the Inside
Passage to Alaska. But, after talking with many seasoned
Alaska cruisers, they have decided to spend at least two
years in the Northwest. Then they will head east.
"We will try to cover Alaska to Maine if we can,"
Sandy says. Jim adds that the Bahamas also are on the