Out of habit, I looked over my shoulder to see if anyone was gaining on us before I turned the wheel over hard on the new Nordic Tugs 44, but then I realized I didn’t have to. On this high-tech version of a traditional cruising boat, all I had to do was look at the Raymarine screen on the dash where one of the five cameras clearly showed that there was absolutely nobody near me. So I turned the wheel hard at 15 knots or so, and the full keel and big rudder dug in, the boat leaned just a bit, and turned easily in a circle without any fuss at all. Impressive.
Then, as we cruised up the Connecticut River past Hamburg Cove on a beautiful blue-sky, blue-water summer day, I nudged the throttle forward and the single 510-horsepower Volvo diesel urged the boat to a steady and solid 17 knots. I realized this was a boat to be reckoned with. Then, a few days later, I tested the new Nordic Tugs 40, which performed just as well, also topping out at 17 knots, and reached the same conclusion.
“Our 44 owners are looking for all the amenities of home while confidently navigating their chosen cruising grounds,” says Cory Gracey, sales manager at Nordic Tugs, who often accompanies new owners on break-in cruises. “Nordic Tugs provide confidence under foot. A bonus is industry-leading fuel economy.” Another bonus: Nordic Tugs are made in America. The factory is in Burlington, Washington, about 65 miles north of Seattle, and the boats come with a 10-year stem-to-stern warranty against structural failure and osmotic blistering. The company also water tests each boat in Guemes Channel off Anacortes before delivering it to the owner.
A LITTLE HISTORY
My first experience on a Nordic Tug was about 20 years ago, when a colleague kept his new 32 on Lake Union in Seattle. At the time, I was living on my Grand Banks 36 in Norwalk, Connecticut, but when I visited Seattle, we often took the Nordic Tug out for an evening or weekend cruise on Puget Sound. I loved the tugboat looks (lots of character there), the pilothouse, and the performance. I was greatly impressed that a salty boat could go more than 8 knots. Now, after testing the new 40 and 44, I realize that I have to raise my sights.
Today, Wilde Yacht Sales in Essex, Connecticut, is the largest Nordic Tugs dealer, and that’s where I tested the 44 and 40. The 44 has an optional flybridge, so it had to be trucked to Wilde’s facility outside Annapolis, where Ben Wilde and the owners, a Boston-based doctor and his wife, picked it up for a three-day cruise to Essex. The new owners, typically, were sailors, although they did have a powerboat: a 19-foot Boston Whaler. They ran into some snarly conditions on the second day running up the Jersey shore, but Wilde says “they were very impressed how the boat handled the conditions. The full keel helps with steering in heavy weather; the boat tracks straight.” The new owners, like many others, he says, were attracted to the new 44, “by the large pilothouse, great visibility, direct access to the flybridge from the pilothouse, great walkaround side decks, two heads with showers, and great headroom.”
After testing the boat, I’d agree with all of that. The newly redesigned pilothouse on the 44 is certainly appealing, particularly the five interior steps leading up to the flybridge (an advantage over the old 42, which just had the traditional outside ladder to the bridge from the cockpit), and the clear hatch opening to the bridge lets in an enormous amount of light. The helm layout is clean, neat, functional; it’s simply meant for easy cruising. The Ulltraleather Llebroc helm chair is comfortable and faces three Raymarine touchscreens; another Ray display is on the bridge, and a fifth is in the office/nav station below. Big black graphite laminate chart tables with fiddles complete the helm, which is trimmed—as is the entire boat—in Sapele mahogany for an upscale look. The sole is faux teak-and-holly Amtico, which gives a salty look but is easy to clean and nearly impossible to dent. A brown leather seat on the port side could hold four adults; a folding table in front gives them a place to put lunch, coffee, books, whatever. The 44’s pilothouse is a combination of a highly functioning nav/command center and social area where passengers can be part of the action and enjoy the passing view.
Weathertight Diamond Sea Glaze doors on each side give immediate access to the side decks. And there are Sapele handholds overhead and next to the doors; this is a safe boat. It also is responsive. As we headed up the river, the boat came on plane with barely a bow rise without using trim tabs, easily reaching 15 knots. The Volvo D11 diesel, detuned here to 510 horsepower, is designed to produce high torque at low rpm. Maneuvering at speed is a pleasure: The large destroyer-type wheel is 4-¾ turns lock to lock. Around the dock, Side-Power proportional bow and stern thrusters make it easy.
You can step onto the boat through a sliding gate in each rail just abaft the pilothouse doors, through a starboard-side door aft-opening into the cockpit, or from the swim platform through a hefty inward-opening door. The cockpit is spacious, a full 6 feet, 8 inches from the transom to the door leading to the saloon. There’s plenty of room for several chairs, and the forward half is protected by an overhang from the bridge deck above. Fender stowage is built into the transom. A large hatch opens to the lazarette, which is gelcoated and ventilated, and where there’s great access to the steering gear, the AC/heat unit (the compressor is there to reduce noise inside the boat), the freshwater pump, water tanks and stowage. From the port side of the cockpit you climb up a seven-step ladder to the boat deck. A chest for propane tanks is under the ladder, though this boat is all-electric and has a 12kW Northern Lights genset.
You enter the saloon through a single door with Dutch-style upper and lower windows. The area is spacious and contains the galley. Two barrel chairs are on the port side, flanking an entertainment center, where a flat-panel TV can be raised electronically. The table is 28 by 48 inches, large enough for dining, cocktails, or a game of cards. A sofa/sleeper is on the starboard side. Forward, to port, the large galley, totally redesigned from the 42, is upscale and inviting, with wide Corian countertops, two stainless sinks, a Wolf cooktop, induction oven, microwave, five-foot-tall fridge and freezer, and drawers and cabinets all around. It’s large enough to feed a crowd, and comfortable enough for a couple to feel totally at home on a month’s cruise.
Once you move the chairs, a large hatch on the port side of the saloon lifts for access to the engine room, where the big Volvo sits center stage. (The hatch has been retrofitted with a gas strut since my visit.) A smaller hatch forward on the starboard side gives immediate access to the front of the engine. If you’re not standing under one of the open hatches, you have to crouch to reach anything, but there is access on all sides. The two Racors are on the port side under the standing area, and you can do the daily checks on the starboard side also under the open hatch.
Walking forward through the saloon on the starboard side, you have two choices; it’s either three steps up to the pilothouse or four steps down to the accommodation deck. At the foot of the steps to starboard is the office/nav station, a nice touch for serious cruising. It has a desk, a leather seat, file drawer, a Raymarine screen, and a Blue Sea AC/DC panel. This is a great place to plan a trip, check on progress in the middle of the night without having to go up to the pilothouse, or simply relax with a good book.
Opposite the office, to port, the guest cabin has an upper single and lower double berth, drawers for storage, and a cabinet for a washer/dryer. This is an inviting, private area for guests, or a perfect spot for children. Forward, one step down the companionway, the guest/day head with separate shower, is to starboard. It’s large enough for me, and I’m almost 6’ 2” tall. The pièce de resistance on the 44, however, is the master stateroom forward. This master is one of the largest I’ve seen short of a megayacht. It has queen-size berth on a raised island and there are enough drawers, cabinets, and hanging lockers for months of cruising to the Bahamas or Alaska. Just as an example, there are three cabinets overhead on each side of the bed, a hanging locker with four drawers on each side of the foot of the bed, and four drawers under the bed. The sense of space is overwhelming. At the foot of the bed I measured the headroom as 7 feet, 3 inches. The master head is on the port side and is an upgrade from the 42—larger and more upscale—with a vanity, a stall shower with a café style door, and a linen locker.
Up top, the boat deck aft has a 1,000-pound Steelhead crane and a 10.5-foot IAB RIB with a 20-horsepower Tohatsu outboard. Walking forward, you go up two steps to the flybridge. There’s a single helm seat, a stainless wheel, a Raymarine display, and an L-shape settee on the port side.
All in all, the Nordic Tugs 44 is built for comfortable and extended cruising. It’s a sturdy, seaworthy cruiser that’s responsive for its size. And there are enough separate spaces throughout the boat for a month of easy living for a family or a couple with occasional guests. The master is huge by any standard; then there’s the second stateroom, the saloon, the pilothouse settee, the small office/nav station, the cockpit, and the flybridge. That’s a lot to pack into a 44-foot boat.
The new Nordic Tugs 40 shares many of these same qualities, but in a smaller (and $215,238 cheaper) package. Both boats, however, are built the same, with solid, hand-laid fiberglass hulls, many panels made with vacuum infusion, and balsa coring in the deckhouse. The full keels are constructed from one-inch-thick laminate. A heavy-duty stainless shoe protects the prop and rudder. The semi-displacement hull has integral chines, a bit of flare in the bow for a dry ride, and plenty of freeboard. As I can attest, the large prop and barn-door rudder make maneuvering easy, and the bow and stern thrusters take care of docking.
The new 40 I tested with Ben Wilde did not have the optional pilothouse, but it did have many updates from the 39 that made the boat particularly appealing. Most obvious was the large cockpit, now extended two feet back, with a center door leading to a wide swim platform. The good news is that it’s flat from the swim platform to the cockpit, so you don’t have to step over a lip to get into the boat. You can also enter the cockpit from a bulwark door cut into the starboard side. Then there are two molded-in fiberglass steps and four more steps on the port side leading up to the boat deck on top. “Everything’s made easy on this boat,” Wilde said.
Two glass doors lead to the saloon, which allows plenty of light from these doors and from big side windows. A modern, large L-shape galley is aft, immediately inside the doors to starboard. It has a stainless sink, convection microwave, three-burner stove, and Sapele-faced drawers and cabinets. A 5-foot fridge/freezer is forward, backing up to the pilothouse. The countertop runs all along the starboard side and has four large drawers under the after section, and if you leave the doors open you can fold out an extension of the Corian countertop to serve guests in the cockpit (a very nice touch).
A barrel chair is aft on the port side, and then there’s an L-shape convertible settee facing the same table as on the 44. The entire sole is teak-and-holly Amtico, for a bright and salty look. Forward, it’s two steps up to the pilothouse. On the 40, the helm station is off to starboard, since the steps leading down to the accommodation deck are centered. The pilothouse has the same side door and window arrangement as the 44. Two Raymarine HybridTouch screens rise from the flat black helm, as on the larger boat, and there are the controls for the Side-Power bow and stern thrusters. A nice, two-person seat is on the port side, and it’s open behind the seat so you can see all the way aft.
Lifting two hatches in the center of the pilothouse sole allows easy access to the engine room. Two big Racors are on the after bulkhead, the big Grocco is forward, and there’s room to work all around the D6, 370-horsepower Volvo. The 9kW Northern Lights genset is abaft the engine, although the owner, a former sailor, will use it only for the air conditioning because the boat is equipped with propane for cooking.
From the pilothouse, three steps lead down to the accommodation deck, where the guest cabin is on the starboard side. On this boat, there’s just a lower berth here, although an upper is available as an option. Two side ports and an overhead hatch let in plenty of light. A hanging locker with two lower drawers and a separate cabinet provide storage.
The head is opposite, to port, behind a Sapele sliding door. It has a large shower behind two glass doors, with a seat and storage shelf, and a vanity cabinet with additional storage.
The master is forward and it’s not a large as the one on the 44, of course, but it’s still outsized. I measured 6’ 6” of standing headroom at the foot of the walkaround queen bed, and there’s room to sit up and read in bed all the way forward. For storage, there are four drawers under the bed and you can lift up the mattress for more. Extra cabinets and hanging lockers are on each side.
Out on the Connecticut River, the 40 had all the sure-footed tracking abilities of the 44, but it’s even more nimble because of its smaller size. The 40 topped out at 17.5 knots average in a two-way run, and it’s fairly fuel-efficient, burning only 13 gph at 14 knots, an easy cruising speed. If you dial back to just under 8 knots, you’ll have a range of about 1,000 miles. What this really means is that the new Nordic Tugs 40, like the new 44, is a well-built, well-performing, serious cruising boat with enough room on board to keep you out there for as long as you want.