(As Originally Published on Mad Mariner)
ANACORTES, WA – Directly inspired by the working boats of the Northwest, Nordic Tugs – and its popular NT-37 model – have become a sort of icon for the trawler lifestyle. There may be other brands and boats that are better known, or some that better exemplify “fast-trawler” capabilities. But there is just something about a tug that draws a crowd at the dock.
Not long ago I was among that crowd, joining Nordic Tugs President Jim Cress on a skip through the various straits and passes of the San Juan Islands near here. It was easy to see the appeal.
Nordic Tugs generally – and the NT-37 in particular – are fast becoming cult boats, driven by a company that creates highly-functional cruising vessels with distinctive style. There are hundreds of Nordic Tugs in service, and the first boat ever built – an NT-26 called BeeBee – is still on the water. The first 37 was delivered in 1998 and hull number 200 will be shipped in late June.
They are not cheap. A new 37, fully outfitted, costs about $500,000, though there are certainly more expensive boats in this class and used models can shave up to 40 percent off that price, depending on the vintage. But that money buys a stridently economical craft – still capable of 18 knots – that is fitted with hand-crafted teak throughout and all the tools necessary for long-term cruising.
A typical NT-37 package includes a full Raymarine electronics suite, a Steelhead 600# davit and a teak and holly sole throughout. It includes diesel heat (air conditioning in warmer climates), as well as a choice of propane or electric stove and a choice of generators from Onan or Northern Lights. Models with the optional flybridge cost more.
One thing that cannot be bought is the level of support available in the Nordic Tugs community. Many owners belong to regional owners associations, which are far more active than many others. One rendezvous here last year drew roughly 75 tugs.
Nordic Tugs calls the NT-37 a “fast trawler,” despite her classic tug styling. The term fast trawler may seem like a contradiction, but it represents an increasingly popular genre. These boats generally have semi-displacement hulls, which are capable of cruising efficiently at slow speeds but can outrun a squall when the throttle is pinned.
Company founder Jerry Husted, who owned Blue Water Boats, a builder of Norwegian-style, double-ended ocean ketches, recruited his friend Lynn Senour and came up with the idea of a 1930’s-style tugboat design, with a fuel-efficient semi-displacement hull intended to provide safety, stability and tremendous range. The first model, a 26-footer, debuted at the 1980 Seattle Boat Show and was an immediate success. More than 50 boats were sold in the first week.
Old advertising for the original Nordic Tugs 26-footer touts the boat’s ability to cruise from Seattle to Ketchikan in Alaska on a single, 50-gallon tank of fuel. Although the boats of today’s Nordic Tugs line are much bigger and heavier – the smallest is now the NT-32 – the performance claim still holds.
The Nordic line was heavily influenced by both the market environment and its target customers. The original market target for Nordic Tugs was an older couple, who was likely transitioning from sail to power and wanted more comfort and exceptional fuel economy.
Today’s buyers still include older, transitioning couples, but company officials say they also include younger couples and even some first-time boat-buyers. Younger buyers often finance their boats while older buyers tend to come to the table with a check for the full amount. All of his suggests that the fast trawler market may have more age diversity than the more traditional, full-displacement trawler market. The speed capabilities may appeal to those who are not yet in full retirement, and still have calendar commitments and work schedules to consider.
The fuel crisis of the late 1970’s was also a key factor in Jerry Husted’s original concept. While he saw his original sailboat customers’ requirement for a more comfortable ride in retirement, he also knew they were by nature a frugal lot. When the cost of fuel rose, he knew they would expect significant fuel economy.
To Husted and Senour, this meant a go-slow, trawler-style hull. But a full-displacement hull was best suited for bluewater ocean crossings and would have limited speed. Senour created a semi-displacement hull form that could achieve near-displacement economy, but with flatter aft sections that could be driven up on plane to reach speeds in the mid- to high teens. All Nordic Tugs have always had diesel engines, which support the company’s focus on fuel economy.
Cress said that Senour “tank-tested” the original hull design by pulling it behind a two-person kayak paddled by his wife in a local canal. Senour had distances marked along the bank and precisely timed the progress of his hull through the distances, noting bow wave characteristics and stability. The original 26 burned a paltry half gallon per hour, at 6.5 knots.
In 1985, Nordic Tugs introduced a 32-footer and many current customers stepped up to the new, larger boat. The next model was a 42-footer, a 10-foot jump in size that proved a little more than the market could handle. So the company designed the 37 to fill the gap.
A LOOK AT THE HULL
Over the last decade, the Nordic Tugs 37 has fought with the 42 for the position as the company’s top seller. Although hull length in the Nordic line steps up in five-foot increments, beam and height increase as well, providing huge jumps in volume that make the size difference between the two boats more dramatic.
Indeed, the 37 feels much larger than it looks on paper. A look from the dock shows a relatively tall, nearly plumb bow and a gracefully sweeping sheer back to the transom, where a slight reverse to the line gives her a more modern, updated look. A deep keel extends the full length of the hull, ending with the propeller and a stainless steel shoe that supports the big, rectangular rudder. A mid-production change to the hull extended the waterline by adding a bustle aft, under the swim platform, to extend the waterline the full length of the boat, adding speed and stability. The hull has a hard chine that – together with a modest flare – serves as an effective barrier against spray.
With its raised pilothouse forward and traditional salon aft, the tug look is pronounced. A faux exhaust stack aft of the pilothouse roof – a Nordic Tugs signature – adds to the effect. (Just to repeat: the stack is fake, and the Nordic Tugs engine vents exhaust out a thru-hull.) Owners universally report lots of dockside interest. At boat shows, Cress says, people come to visit the boat who would never buy it, attracted to “that tug down there.”
The pilothouse features three windows forward, each with its own multi-speed wiper/washer and all defrosted by a zone of the hydronic heating system. Sliding doors to port and starboard allow easy access to the side decks for line handling and extra visibility.
On all models, the roof of the salon serves as a sturdy and roomy “boat deck” on which to store a dinghy or tender, and most boats are now delivered with an electric or hydraulic davit for deployment. The boat deck extends aft to cover the open cockpit, which has enough room for a couple of chairs and a small table. A ladder in the cockpit has wide, flat steps and sturdy handholds that provide a good grip and safe climb. Many boatbuilders have been replacing ladders with molded stairs, but there isn’t room in the cockpit of the 37 and, given the design of the ladder, safety is not compromised.
The 37 is available with an optional flybridge that has a single helm seat, an L-shape settee and a folding mast to mount radar and other accessories. First introduced in 2003, company officials say about half the boats are now ordered with the flybridge.
Whether the 37 is tied side-to or backed into a slip, you will board using the swim platform. The height of the platform on our test boat was exactly at the same height as the floating dock the boat was moored to and the step from dock to boat was barely 18 inches, a comfortable step. The full-depth entry door is at the port side of the transom.
The cockpit has a diamond-pattern non-skid surface molded into it and there are good-size scuppers to either side. In talking with some NT-37 owners, I found that a popular owner modification is to fit the scuppers with screens to prevent losing small items overboard. Bill and Judy Anderson, owners of hull 190, Rhumb Line, created drain guards using some scrap Corian and other materials. (See link for details of their mod.)
Indeed, owners groups foster many owner-created modifications. Others include a Wave Slap Preventer, fabricated by Dick Seymour aboard hull 108, Sea Mischief; splitting cabin lighting into two zones; changing the location of propane controls; and adding aftermarket icemakers. Many of these are detailed on the various owner association websites (see links).
In the cockpit, there is a nice, molded-in storage area on the inside of the transom to hold fenders. The open compartment is drained and has a stainless bar to hold the fenders in place. Two big cleats are at each corner of the transom, one on the gunwale and one on the transom itself, enabling a good triangular mooring arrangement to keep the stern in place.
A hot and cold-water shower is handy and there is a GFCI-equipped, 110-volt AC outlet. There are two storage boxes in the cockpit, with the starboard box typically used to store lines and the port box outfitted to serve as a propane tank holder.
GALLEY AND HELM STATION
Stepping into the salon, the immediate impression is of a bright, airy environment created by the large windows along both sides, the light finish on the teak woodwork and the light-colored Corian countertops that extend along the starboard-side galley. The teak and holly sole and teak cabinetry – all hand-sanded and rubbed with oil in the Nordic Tugs factory – add warmth.
The galley extends the length of the starboard side and is fully equipped in the standard configuration. A large sink is in the aft corner, with a cabinet above and a unique, space-saving drawer underneath for kitchen tools. To the right of the sink, along the aft bulkhead of the salon, is one of two refrigerator/freezer units. Mid-way along the starboard counter is the Force 10 propane stove and oven, properly fiddled for cooking in a modest seaway. All the way forward is the microwave and “garage-door” storage cabinet, underneath which is another refrigerator/freezer. A half-dozen large storage drawers and more cabinets provide plenty of room for supplies.
It’s three lighted steps up to the pilothouse, where the helm is to starboard with a comfortable helm seat that slides fore and aft and features a fold-up foot rest. To port is a wide, two-person companion seat and at the dash is a huge flat chart surface, bigger than any chart you will ever use. Below that is a wide chart drawer that allows charts to be stored open and flat – an uncommon convenience aboard today’s boats. Overhead lighting includes sufficient red light for safe night visibility.
The helm is a beautiful, hand-finished teak steering wheel, accented in brass. The helmsman has a spacious instrument console in front of him, with room for two large displays. Cress says most 37s are equipped with a Raymarine electronics package featuring a single C-120 or E-120 unit. A Cummins Mercruiser Smartcraft engine display is mounted on the nearly-flat surface in front of the wheel. It’s a good layout, with a big Ritchie compass on top of the instrument cluster just below the helmsman’s sightline.
The sliding doors in the pilothouse afford the captain the ability to simply step outside and toss his mooring lines onto the dock, or to get a better look forward or aft. The side decks are narrow, but safe enough, with handholds easily within reach at all times. Deck fills are located here for fuel and water, separated enough to avoid nasty mistakes.
The 37 is available in both single and double-cabin layouts. In both, a spacious master stateroom is forward with a true queen-sized berth and hanging lockers to port and starboard.
Over the years, Nordic Tugs has found every nook and cranny to store gear and supplies. One of the company’s woodworking craftsmen even invented a unique drawer for the bedside table that conforms to the inner hull shape, recovering precious storage space in an area that would have otherwise gone wasted. A large Bowmar hatch overhead, and screened and dogged portholes starboard and port, balance the teak and keep the stateroom bright.
In the single-cabin layout, an office area is added to port in lieu of the additional, twin-bunk guest stateroom. Company officials say the double-cabin is more popular than the single, with only two or three of the single-cabin models being produced each year.
In both layouts the head is to starboard, although it is slightly larger in the single-cabin version. The head features a household-size VacuFlush toilet from Dometic and a smallish shower. A six-footer won’t have trouble showering, but won’t waste any water, either.
Then again, water should not be an issue. The 37 carries 144 gallons, and an increasing number carry watermakers. The boat also has tanks for 32 gallons of black water and 9 gallons of gray water.
One thing that stood out while walking through the boat was how meticulous the electrical wiring was installed. During a later tour of the factory, I saw how the wiring harnesses were built. I remarked that the perfectly loomed, color-coded and marked harnesses reminded me of my days in the aerospace business. I was told that Nordic Tugs had gone to school at corporate neighbor Boeing to learn best practices.
The wiring aboard our test 37, and every boat I saw at the factory, far exceeds ABYC standards and adds practical value to the owner by being far simpler to repair and troubleshoot. Whenever wiring is color-coded properly, and uniquely and clearly identified as to purpose and destination, repairs and upgrades are much easier, cheaper and more reliable.
The electrical system on the boat includes a Xantrex TrueCharge 40-amp, 3-stage battery charger and inverter. Batteries include an AGM 8D for engine starting, and four AGM 6-volt, deep-cycle golf cart batteries with a total of 440 amp hours. The bow thruster has its own AGM4D battery and the system includes a battery parallel switch to ensure there is always something to start the engine. Many customers add an optional Xantrex 2,500-watt inverter to use with the house battery bank.
The standard generator is an Onan 5- kilowatt e-QD series, with a sound shield, water-lift muffler and water separator exhaust system. Both AC and DC power panels are from Blue Sea and use LED lighting.
Our sea trial aboard the 37 was conducted on a typical northwestern spring day; that is to say, cool, breezy and with off-and-on rain showers. It was a good test day for an all-weather cruiser. Cress piloted the boat as we left the dock at Cap Sante Marina in Anacortes. He managed a sharp, 140 degree turn to starboard without using the bow thruster that was fitted on our boat.
Some dealers have fitted boats with an articulated rudder, an aft-hinged element that increases the effect. It can make slow-speed maneuvering easier, but also adds considerable stiffness to the steering at higher speeds. Cress feels it isn’t necessary for most owners.
Buyers will be well-served to experiment during a sea trial to determine personal comfort levels with the single-screw configuration and bow thruster. During our sea-trial, Cress demonstrated, and I then repeated, a series of simple pirouette maneuvers using only rudder and gear shift, taking advantage of propwash against the big rudder surface, as well as the fact that the boat will back to starboard with its standard-rotation single prop.
The long keel on the 37 means she will stay on whatever heading you choose, with virtually no effort required by the helmsman. There is no hunting or wandering, and the autopilot will have an easy time. The large rudder, however, is perfectly capable of turning the boat and does so effectively. Senour’s hull design seems to have both the stability and tracking characteristic of a full-keel boat, while maintaining easy maneuverability. I had no trouble at either low or high-speed maneuvering.
It could be that some owners who lack experience in slow-speed maneuvering with a single-screw boat would benefit from the articulated rudder, but in those cases, the ample power from the bow thruster should prove sufficient. Though admittedly an experienced Nordic Tugs pilot, Cress expertly slipped our 37 sideways into a dock space barely longer than the boat, with minimal use of the thruster.
The boat is driven by a Hung Shen, 5-blade Nibral propeller, which is tuned to the most precise ISO 484 Class S standards. This is the highest-precision standard for propeller tuning and is unusual to see in recreational-class boats. Its value is in reduced vibration and increased efficiency.
Our boat was fitted with the standard 380 HP Cummins QSB 5.9 HO electronic-controlled diesel. While the NT-32, smallest in the product line, is offered with either Volvo or Cummins diesels, the QSB 5.9 is the only engine offered on the 37. There is no option for twin engines. In fact, the only boat in the lineup with optional twins is the 54. Cummins diesels have been the mainstay of the 37 propulsion system for the lifetime of the boat, although horsepower has crept up. Many older 37s have 330 HP Cummins.
Our boat was definitely not underpowered. The electronic controls on the modern Cummins kept the idle speed low and smooth, yet spooled up to full throttle within seconds, driving the 37 into the high teens with minimal bow rise and no gap in forward visibility.
On our trial, it is difficult to hear the Cummins when the engine is running at idle, especially if there is ambient noise. Significant amounts of Soundown insulation in the engine room and access panels keep engine noise extremely remote. We did not measure decibel levels in the pilothouse, but Cress and I were able to converse normally and without distraction, even with the throttle wide open. The noise of the electronically controlled engine does change pitch as it changes RPM, but the noise level did not change.
Traveling at 8.7 knots and 1,600 RPM, the Smartcraft data said we were burning 2.4 GPH, which would give us a range of more than 1,000 nautical miles before refueling (the 37 carries 324 gallons of fuel). On the East Coast, that kind of range means a nonstop trip from Boston or Newport to Annapolis, and perhaps a one-stop from the northeast to Florida. (See link for range chart.) This kind of fuel economy is a top selling point for all Nordic Tugs, and the 37 in particular.
With the big Cummins at full throttle, 3,050 RPM, and with fuel fuel and three people aboard, we reached nearly 18 knots, burning 19.4 GPH.
AT THE FACTORY
The Nordic Tugs factory is located about a mile inland from Fidalgo Bay. A brand-new construction facility there features modern environmental control and protection capabilities that create ideal fiberglass construction conditions, while providing clean, filtered air for the workforce.
Two production lines are maintained concurrently, with four stations on each. Hulls are laid up by hand in molds that are maintained religiously. The hulls are solid glass, with no core materials are used in the 32 through 42 models. The 49 and 54 have CoreCell from the waterline up. The deckhouse is mostly cored, with various materials, including CoreCell, plywood and some end-grain balsa, depending on the location.
Several key components, including pilothouse and salon roofs, are vacuum-infused with resin, a modern, high-tech process that produces strong parts with little weight.
The deck-to-hull fastening is a “shoebox” design, with the deck lip slightly larger and fit over the hull. The two pieces are then chemically bonded and screwed together every eight inches, which, together with an interior fiberglassing over about half of the hull-to-deck connection, creates a permanent, leak-proof joint.
Nordic Tugs is confident enough in its production and assembly process to offer a rare 10-year transferrable warranty on hull structural and osmotic blistering.
Nordic Tugs is also one of the few companies that still does all its own woodworking in-house, with a dedicated team of craftsmen hand-sanding and oiling plantation-produced teak in steps, ending with final treatments that use 1,000-grit sandpaper. The teak is rubbed until the desired sheen is achieved – higher for some pieces than others – but all resembling varnished or lacquered finishes.
The fit and finish of all woodwork aboard Nordic Tugs is comparable to custom yachts, but it does add to the cost. Teak is getting to be more expensive, and many manufacturers have moved away from it. Company officials said the price they pay for plantation teak has increased 30 percent within the last two months. However, Cress said finish and quality are key customers’ requirements.
For example, the production schedule for every Nordic Tug includes a full week for a sea trial and then post-trial adjustments.
“We sea-trial every single boat for at least a day to establish baseline performance figures and to test every system aboard,” Cress said.
The company’s confidence in the end product is exemplified by the warranties – 10 years of transferrable coverage against hull defects, including osmotic blistering, and a full, one-year stem-to-stern warranty, still an extremely rare offering in the recreational boat industry.
Copyright © 2008 Thomas M. Tripp