This might seem like a story of boaters, their boats, and the people that build them. But this story is really about persistence: persistence of an idea and persistence in pursuit of a dream.
Jay Bernstein grew up sailing with his father on Long Island Sound. He loved being on the water with his father, but he knew early on that sailing was not for him. He envied the speed of the powerboats that passed them in Manhasset Bay. Jay’s father would tell him, “You can’t appreciate being on the water at those speeds.” But the impatience of his youth said something different. And soon Jay had the opportunity to own one of those powerboats himself when a boatyard owner who owed Jay’s father $400 made a payment in the form of an old Chris Craft 15-foot tri-hull with a “seized” 105-horsepower Chrysler outboard engine. As it turned out the engine was not seized, and with some minor work it was pushing that little 15-foot boat to thrilling if not dangerous speeds. The hook was set—Jay’s love of exploring the bays and inlets of Long Island Sound would forever be an important part of his life.
Thirty-two years (and eight high-speed powerboats) later, Jay finally accepted his father’s wisdom of taking his time and appreciating a slower pace. But he wasn’t looking for a sailboat. He wanted an efficient long-range cruiser with a displacement hull. And he was willing to take the time to find exactly what he was looking for. As Jay says, “No trip at sea can start without a vessel, and the journey to the vessel is just as intricate a part of the adventure as the cruising.” To assist in his search, Jay reached out to a trusted friend, Parker Bogue, a respected and knowledgeable broker with good contacts in the trawler market.
Jay had a very specific boat in mind. He wanted it to be 55 to 60 feet in length so it could be easily handled by a couple without crew. He wanted a boat with a real stand-up engine room, where all machinery could be accessed easily. Jay had spent too many years wedging himself upside down between a bulkhead and heat exchanger to replace a simple zinc. In this boat he was determined to have enough room to make maintenance easy and maybe even enjoyable. Access panels would need to be strategically placed throughout to put the plumbing and electrical systems within easy reach. There would be no more disassembling half the boat to investigate a problem or perform a repair. In addition, Jay’s cruising plans required good fuel economy and tankage for long-range self-sufficiency. Like most long-term boaters, Jay had developed very clear ideas around optimal cabin arrangements and space requirements; now he just needed a builder with the willingness and flexibility to locate bulkheads and stairs to achieve the layout he envisioned. With Parker acting as his advisor and buyer’s agent, Jay set out for the season’s boat shows.
It didn’t take long to realize his needs would likely not be met in a production boat. He recalls one visit to a boat that the manufacturer had advertised as having a stand-up engine room. While Jay—who stands at 5' 9’’—was bent over the engine, he asked the salesperson about the advertised claim. She responded, “You can stand up if you remove the floorboards.”
At this point Jay knew finding what he wanted would require some persistence, so the quest continued. In their search, Jay and Parker remembered a builder from a previous boat shopping expedition years ago, Northern Marine in Anacortes, Washington. When they reconnected, Jay learned the company had gone through several ownership and management changes, but the person at Northern Marine who had impressed him the most, Stuart Archer, was back at the company. Northern Marine had built a respectable number of long-range cruisers that Stuart had designed and were similar to the boat Jay had in mind. After several visits and many discussions, Northern Marine began construction of Jay’s dream boat, Agave, in June 2015.
Over years of owning boats, Jay had been storing away the best attributes of each one, waiting for the right opportunity to combine all these elements into one vessel. At 57-feet overall with a 17’ 6” beam and a 5’ 10” draft, Agave had all the features he wanted and plenty of room for family and guests in a three-cabin layout that includes a king master, queen guest, and generously sized third cabin with a double bunk. But it was also small enough to get into most harbors and find dockage at most marinas. Powered by an efficient, single John Deere 325-horsepower continuous duty engine turning a 42-inch five-blade prop, Agave has a range of over 4,000 nautical miles, with 10% fuel in reserve. With a tank capacity of 2,600 gallons, Jay should always have options for where to buy fuel.
Persistence Pays Off
Upon delivery, Jay wasted no time in putting Agave to the test. In May 2017, Jay set out from Anacortes for a month long shakedown cruise through the San Juan Islands. With the confidence that all systems were in good working order, Jay and crew pulled lines and headed north for Alaska. Over the summer, they would cruise to Alaska and back, as well as make multiple excursions through the San Juan Islands. The more time Jay spent on the boat, the more he realized his dream had come true. Agave was proving to be the perfect boat for his cruising plans.
A Good Idea
While the boat Jay envisioned was quite specific, it wasn’t unlike what many others would want in a long-range cruiser. So it was actually surprising that this combination of features didn’t exist in any of the production or semi-custom boats already on the market. The fact that Northern Marine could combine these features into a proven bluewater hull form was a testament to the idea on which Northern Marine was originally founded.
Many ideas in life and business are force-fed, requiring continuous input to keep them alive. However, some ideas—really good ones—have an intrinsic energy to them. Once conceived, they feed themselves, refusing to die. Northern Marine was always a good idea. Founded in 1995, it was a unique American builder of medium-sized long-range cruisers capable of competing with the best international builders. Formed by a team of experienced designers and builders, since its inception Northern Marine has built an impressive fleet of globe-circling boats, many still operated by their original owners.
Northern Marine’s expedition yachts are luxurious descendants of seagoing commercial fishing vessels. The company began with the idea that there was a market for boats that combined the rugged, long-range cruising heritage of those ships with the latest marine technology and personal comforts of a yacht. Yes, Northern Marine has had its struggles over the years, like many companies making a product dependent on discretionary income. However, through the ownership and management changes one constant remained: Their boats were all made using the finest components and systems available. Beginning with world-cruising-verified hulls, Northern Marine’s boats are more likely to do real bluewater cruising than most other builders’ ocean passagemakers. That Northern Marine has continued its existence in spite of challenges, both external and self-inflicted, is a testimony to the value of the idea. There is a place in this market for a well-built, American-made long-range cruiser.
Northern Marine’s New Owner
After thousands of miles and months aboard Agave, Jay was even more impressed with the potential of the company. Yet while Agave ended up being everything he dreamed, the build process itself wasn’t perfect. During construction Jay had a sense not all was well under the company’s current ownership, but he believed in the product and the potential for the company’s success. He believed there were opportunities to improve the internal workings and managerial oversight of the company. After taking delivery, Jay initiated conversations with Northern Marine about acquiring the company.
When Jay started this process of finding his dream boat, he never imagined that one day he would not just have his own Northern Marine but that he would own the company as well. In January 2017, Jay Bernstein—along with partners Stuart Archer and Parker Bogue—became an owner of Northern Marine. With Stuart’s proven designs and construction experience, Parker’s sales and marketing knowledge, and Jay’s business acumen and committed guidance, Northern Marine has a bright future and a secure place in the American boat building industry.