July 8, 2020

Building Northern Marine Yachts 5706


Early in the new year, we announced the exciting news that Seattle Yachts International acquired Northern Marine, the high-end builder of expedition yachts. With a strong heritage in commercial boat building, the company has successfully launched the dreams of many couples. Serious and rugged adventure yachts with exquisite custom interiors designed and constructed to fit the needs and plans of each yacht’s owners. (Read: https://www.seattleyachts.com/news/northern-marine-is-back)

With new ownership and the ability to resume operations, Northern Marine slowly brought back its experienced crew of technicians and craftsmen. The decision was also made to begin construction of a new 57-footer, while efforts began in earnest under the Seattle Yachts umbrella to attract buyers.

Northern Marine’s General Manager is naval architect Stuart Archer, an experienced yacht builder who plans to bring the company back to being top dog in the expedition yacht niche. As a custom builder, Northern Marine works directly with each owner couple, rather than through agents who represent foreign yards, which creates great relationships and often friendships.

“The build process can be just as exciting as cruising to your vacation destinations,” Stuart told me. “The amount of decisions to be made on a custom yacht is endless and can be daunting although some of our clients enjoy the process.

“We can build a yacht from just a cut-out picture or build it like the last one and call the owner when it is in the water. However, for many, the more involved they are in each decision the better. The floor plans, countertops, fixtures, moldings, inlays, and door handles. The process can be fun and enjoyable or overwhelming.

“In each case we start with the general arrangement.”

Without an owner of this new yacht, the company reviewed its previous projects and came up with a reasonable plan for the new boat. It would be a two-stateroom layout, and walnut was selected as the hardwood of choice. Many of the primary systems could be determined up front to get started, while allowing changes to the specifications after the boat is purchased and other changes can be accommodated.

“We have a general arrangement drawing and our systems layout outlined. Now it is time to build,” Stuart added.

The team got started building the hull before the virus nightmare affected Northern Marine and the rest of the world. It had to shut its doors for the quarantine mandated for Washington State. Weeks and weeks went by, but slowly the restrictions were eased enough to bring in small teams of employees to pick up the process and build the hull for Hull Number 6.

Northern Marine uses resin infusion to manufacture its fiberglass parts, which include the hull, superstructure, flybridge, boat deck, mast, hardtop, and hatches. The company has enormous success with this building technique, taking advantage of the newest technology made available by nearby Boeing Corporation. This is state-of-the-art boat building, and remarkably efficient, consistent, and accurate. It also scored high marks for its reduced emissions and environmental impact.

For a basic description of the resin infusion process, dry laminates are placed into a mold, the number of layers and core materials carefully arranged for the best possible strength and rigidity. Then the laminates are covered with ply release materials and channels which will allow resin to flow, and then the mold is encapsulated in a big plastic bag. Hoses and valves are attached at strategic points along the bag and a pump generates a vacuum to suck out all the air. Once a controlled vacuum pressure remains steady over a period to ensure there are no leaks, the crew opens the valves and resin is drawn by the vacuum through the network of hoses to saturate the dry laminate and coring materials. This guarantees there are no voids and creates an accurate ratio of fiberglass to resin. When the resin solidifies, the result is an integrated rigid composite part or component. Or hull.

Unlike traditional boat building, everything is carefully engineered and lmeasured to ensure the highest quality of fiberglass construction, and Stuart said they can achieve an ideal ratio of 70 percent fiberglass to 30 percent of resin. (Done by hand, using brushes and rollers, it is impossible to get that ratio of strength. Fiberglass provides strength, not resin.)

About a third of the dry laminate has been laid in this image, with core material going in. Northern Marine uses several different types of core, including Corecell, Divinycell, perforated core, even balsa. (Unlike traditional worries of using balsa as a core material, where it can rot if the laminate is damaged to allow water intrusion, resin-infused balsa can’t rot, has proven to be a great material that offers superior sound deadening.

Note the colored Kevlar in the bow area, sandwiched between the middle and outer layers of laminate, to protect the front 25 percent of the hull in the event of an impact.

All laminate materials are in place, next comes peel ply, a light green sheeting that is easily removed after the resin kicks off. It leaves a finished fiberglass surface ready for the secondary bonding of bulkheads and tanks as the textured surface after the peel ply material comes off allows good bonding.

The darker green material is a flow media that lets resin flow easily over the surfaces.

On top of the flow media goes Enka Channel, a four-inch wide, three-dimensional filament strip that enables fast resin flow in all directions, and hoses attach directly to it. The flow media has a high resistance to compression as the resin flows, and the Enka Channel won’t leave imprints in the cured laminates.

The entire interior of the mold is then covered by plastic, as if the entire hull was put in one big bag. A vacuum of one atmosphere is maintained to monitor for any leaks of the bag or where it is attached.

Valves and inlet hoses are then installed, and Butyl tape used to eliminate leaks, which are most common around the elbow fittings and either side of the valves.

Let the resin infusion begin! All of these hoses come out of one of three garbage cans, filled with resin. Once the valves are opened, resin flows quickly through the hoses as vacuum pressure pulls it in. Operators start the resin flowing at the keel and work outward. You can see the resin has infused about halfway up the sides of the mold.

This process happens so quickly that each garbage can must be refilled every couple of minutes, from the blue supply hoses which draw resin from the 17 drums of resin needed for this 57-foot hull.

The two upper garbage cans take over to finish the upper portion of the hull as they need less vacuum to reach those areas.

When it is all done, there might be four or five gallons of resin left over, and perhaps three percent of the resin left in the tubes.

What is striking is the lack of smell. If you have been around fiberglass construction, it is a strong and pungent odor, but with resin infusion everything is sealed. Stuart Archer said one day they were doing a hull while the yard was getting ready for a chicken BBQ, and the building smelled like chicken! No need for protective gear, gloves, masks, or oxygen down in the hull. This is environmentally friendly and no longer the nasty chore of the past.

The next day, the crew removes the bag, hoses, peel ply and other materials. What’s left is the clean, new hull.

The crew next tabs in foam stringers, which will also be covered and infused to the hull.

Almost ready to begin infusing the stringers onto the hull. The techs monitor the vacuum to make sure there is no pressure drop. It takes an hour to complete the stringer infusion.

They sure do use a lot of hose, but it is a clean and environmentally safe way to build fiberglass parts.

The shiny white gelcoat of the new hull comes out of the mold.

Building the Other Structures

The yacht’s superstructure gets the same treatment as the hull. What you are looking at is the top of the boat in the mold, but upside down. The wide edges of the mold are the side decks. Tubes are installed four to six feet apart, and the Enka Channel is set 24 inches apart on vertical surfaces. It takes a couple of hours to infuse the superstructure.

The finished superstructure out of the mold. Wood inserts are where windows will go.

The flybridge is more of a challenge to get out of the mold due to its many compound surfaces.

Laying laminate over core material on the inside skin of the upside-down boat deck. The black core material is high density core for the crane base.

Dry fitting the flybridge to the top of the pilothouse, with the boat deck behind it. In addition to these parts, the crew also builds a mast, hardtop, and hatches using the resin infusion process.

Northern Marine 5706 will have a widebody layout as seen in this picture of the glassed-in boat deck and flybridge.

Ballast, Interior Tanks, Bulkheads, and Machinery Go In

Ballast in Northern Marine yachts comes in the form of copper-coated lead bullets. In this container are 3,000 pounds of bullets. They come in many calibers and shapes, rejects and overruns, sourced from Idaho.

Straddling the centerline graywater and blackwater tanks, the two ballast spaces each get 6,500 pounds of lead, for a total of 13,000 pounds. The small size of the bullets lets them settle tightly into the spaces, maximizing density, and the two areas are then glassed in place before a floor is installed over the entire area.

The fin stabilizers are in place. Note the fiberglass drip tray to catch any oil leaking from the actuator. Nice touch.

Main bulkheads are then glassed into the hull, and two fuel tanks are built outboard of where the engine will sit. The hull is not part of a fuel tank, but the side of each tank follows the hull shape exactly, maximizing volume.

Looking down into the engine room, and the beautiful, 325hp John Deere 6090 diesel engine sitting on its bed. Baffles in the port fuel tank are clearly visible at the bottom of this photo.

Another view of the engine room, with the fuel tanks completed. Each tank gets tested to 3psi.

Note the PTO off the back of the engine, which will power the hydraulic stabilizers and other hydraulic needs while underway. The through-hull fitting for the sea chest can be seen just aft of the engine.

More detail of the sea chest through-hull. The butterfly valve that opens and closes the sea chest is clearly visible.

This is a new design for Northern Marine. The T-shape of this sea chest allows for up to eight systems to draw seawater for various needs, such as engine and generator cooling, hydraulic cooling pump, and watermaker. This boat will have two spare outlets.

In addition to providing multiple dedicated sources of raw water, what is truly outstanding about this design is that this sea chest has a Lexan cover on top, above the waterline. It will be a simple task to open the top of the sea chest and clean out any debris or growth.

Another view of the PTO off the back of the Deere engine. The other equipment over the three-inch shaft is the yacht’s hydraulic drive for “emergency” propulsion. It will be powered by one of the ship’s 17kW generators to push the boat at five knots, 24/7. Get home drives are seldom used in the real world, and Stuart Archer can only think of one instance where it was needed on a Northern Marine yacht, when the owner got too close to a waterfall…operator error.

However, Archer did say that owners use them occasionally to make sure they work. In one instance, the owner got up to make coffee, and decided to move the boat, so he engaged the hydraulic drive and drove off, without the main engine.

Looking down at the master stateroom, with floors over the ballast and tanks we saw earlier. The copper strap from the stabilizer connects with other straps to a large zinc at the transom, which is easily viewed for general inspection.

New on this yacht are four-foot-tall deadlights to bring sunlight into the stateroom, which is a fabulous idea. So many yachts have dark accommodations when located midships. The deadlights will have one-inch-thick glass, and not to worry, they will have inside covers, just in case. This is big ship, ABS-standard thinking.

A steel keel shoe runs the full length of the boat to the bulbous bow, for grounding protection. The metal bracket holds the keel shoe to the hull. Note the lubricating hole for the cutless bearing, and stern thruster. Stuart said they faired the hull on this yacht at the stern to improve laminar flow of water just ahead of the 42-inch, five-blade propeller. This will keep cavitation to a minimum.

A fiberglass liner with two matching 17kW generators mounted. One generator is dedicated to house electrical loads. The generator with the PTO will assist with hydraulic systems. While the main engine will normally power hydraulics, such as the stabilizers underway, when coming into a new port at night, and the owners want full power to bow and stern thrusters as well, the generator provides that additional power so all hydraulic systems are operating at 100 percent.

Such systems can be set up in many ways, of course, and it is common to see a third, smaller generator (which is very quiet) to run the air conditioning at night. Northern Marine can design systems for any possible electrical or hydraulic requirement or load management capability.

Hull Number 6 is now ready to come together. The pilothouse, galley, and saloon are roughed in, and the superstructure can now be placed on the hull, as work continues.

We will continue to follow the fascinating activities as they spiral together to become the next Northern Marine luxury expedition yacht. Stay tuned!

July 1, 2020

Northern Marine Yachts Is Back!


I was particularly excited to learn that Northern Marine, known for its superb long-range expedition yachts, is back in operation. The yacht builder, based in Anacortes, Washington, has had its ups and downs in recent years, the most recent the untimely death of its owner. This is a shame, as Northern Marine is, in my experienced opinion, somewhat of the gold standard for expedition yachts operated without professional crew. Sure, there are other yards out there building long-range passagemakers to high standards, but the yachts from Northern Marine have a different heritage from most pleasure boats, and the difference is striking.

I first got to know the trawlers of Northern Marine in 1998 when I did a boat tour of Spirit of Zopilote, a new 62-foot expedition yacht built for Bruce and Joan Kessler. The 66-ton trawler was the first yacht from the new company. The production manager brought over two decades of experience at Delta Marine and was well versed in commercial boat building. Both co-founder Cliff Rome and Bruce Kessler had once owned Delta 70-foot trawlers and agreed these yachts were just too big. Something along the lines of 58 feet or so made more sense. This collaboration was the genesis of the new company.

My boat tour was so filled with interesting and unique information that my article was over 20 pages long, which is unheard of in magazine publishing. But everyone loved the depth of detail.

In the decades since, the company has continued evolving the long-range expedition yacht concept, gaining ever-increasing experience building 41 world-class yachts, each better than the last. New building techniques and technology allow the craftsmen to strengthen and reinforce fiberglass hulls, improve all systems with new levels of integration, and provide owners with the highest standards of finish and luxury appointments, essentially megayacht quality in a boat operated by a couple. Yet throughout this time, the company continues to pursue the basic premise of the ideal trawler-style yacht: seaworthy, quiet, comfortable, with plenty of room for fuel and stores.

So, the recent acquisition by Seattle Yachts is both welcomed and well timed. The work force can continue their mission. I have always been impressed by what boat builders, with experience building seagoing commercial fishing boats, bring to the table. Boats considered industrial strength, designed and engineered without compromise to keep the crew safe and protected in any kind of weather. Time is money, and there is no money to be made with breakdowns or equipment failures. Every component of every system must be carefully selected as the best solution for the job.

I spoke with Peter Whiting, partner of Seattle Yachts, about the recent acquisition. Peter is aware of the history and players of Northern Marine and is confident that the builder can now get back on track as the premier American yacht builder of long-range expedition yachts in this size range. Northern Marine is now the only yard in America to do so, a distinction that anyone looking to own one should carefully consider.

The Northern Marine 57 has begun production at our Anacortes Shipyard.

What makes these boats different from the pleasure boat trawlers developed since the late 1990s? In part, it comes from the commercial heritage. In typical pleasure boat construction, a boat is drawn by a designer, and then the builder figures out where to put all the equipment. If you have ever gone aboard some of these production trawlers at a boat show, this explains why one may find an oddly-placed, skinny access door into the engine room from the master stateroom or through the shower, or stabilizer actuators located inside furniture in a stateroom or other living space. Or an exhaust system that one must climb over to reach the fuel filters on the far side of the engine. And the pleasure boat practice that was popular years ago, of hiding all wiring and hoses and pumps out of sight, was to appeal to potential buyers used to a Mercedes or Lexus (when nothing under the hood is accessible). I recall many heated discussions with representatives from those companies, as I argued that was just plain wrong.

Spend time at the International Workboat Show in New Orleans, and you may get a glimpse of what I am talking about. Tugs, vessel supply boats, and offshore fishing boats are built with serious components that one won’t find at your local West Marine. Massive hydraulic windlasses, commercial fuel filling capability, pressurized engine rooms, paddle-wheel sight flow indicators on all hoses for easy visual inspection, sea chests to minimize through hulls, 360-degree engine access, articulated rudders, redundant autopilot systems, workbenches in stand up engine rooms, lube oil tanks, pre-lubing system to circulate oil before and after an engine runs, mechanical Murphy gauges on main engines to monitor oil and cooling water levels under way…the list goes on.

Need an analogy here? If Kenworth Trucks decided to create an expedition RV, I guarantee the vehicle would be vastly different from what Winnebago might come up with. Both are well-respected American brands, but the design spiral used by each is decidedly different, with different priorities. And it shows in these boats, especially when looking beyond the gorgeous, luxury interiors.

The engine room inside a Northern Marine 57.

Experienced builder and designer Stuart Archer manages the Northern Marine operation today, and he views their big boat, commercial heritage as polar opposite from the pleasure boat industry. “Given where we came from, with a big boat mentality on all systems and equipment,” he told me, “we now must find ways to fit big boat components into the size of the trawlers we now build.”

Northern Marine is always looking for new ways to build a better, stronger, safer boat. The company pioneered a keel cooled, wet exhaust hybrid system that is the best of both dry and wet exhaust systems. The company is also known for its resin-infused fiberglass construction and reinforced hulls and bulbous bows.

Integrate the above focus with teams of highly skilled and experienced craftsmen capable of creating the most luxurious interiors and accommodations using the finest materials and finishes, hardwoods, granite, tile, appliances, and comfort systems. This is Northern Marine today, some 25 years later.

I have many fond memories of being aboard Northern Marine yachts. One that captures the essence of the expedition trawler lifestyle was when we anchored just off the beach in Thorne Arm, Misty Fjords National Monument. Not a soul in sight, no contrails in the sky. The four of us enjoyed a wonderful gourmet dinner seated at the dedicated dining table and armchairs, classic music playing quietly in the background. We watched a bear stroll along the beach, and as Joan turned off the music, an eagle landed on a tree branch not 50 yards from us. It was a magical moment, not a sound in the world save the faint hum of one of the boat’s 15kW generators.

On the same trip, and to emphasize the big ship capability of this Northern Marine yacht, when we approached a municipal marina in Ketchikan, Alaska, we encountered a strong wind blowing us off the dock. Bruce Kessler had my diminutive wife up on the flybridge, pushing both stern and bow thrusters’ joysticks in order to hold us next to the dock against the howling wind, while Bruce and I took our time to safely get our dock lines around massive bollards. Having two 30-horsepower, continuous-duty hydraulic thrusters made all the difference, eliminating the stress of what could have been a difficult situation. No electric thruster would have made the grade.

Months later, I enjoyed when the 64-foot Zeehaen arrived in Annapolis on its way up the coast. People on the East Coast were not familiar with this style of trawler yacht and at one point, the owner hosted a reception for a group of his new friends. Everyone’s eyes were wide open that evening, taking in the beauty of this comfortable yet elegantly sophisticated interior in a boat that looked utterly bulletproof, the very definition of rugged adventure. A very young James Knight (of Yacht Tech fame today) was on a nearby Nordhavn 46, and I remember his steady stare at the towering presence of this Northern Marine 64.

The interior of a Northern Marine 64.

Stuart told me he is successfully getting his team back together, lead carpenters, mechanical techs, electricians, painters, and fiberglass crew and they are ready to move forward. He said their market niche has always been between 55 and 90 feet, as most couples feel that is as large as one couple can handle without crew.

Peter Whiting said they’ve started a 57-footer, and it is not too far along, so buyers could still have his and her tastes and preferences incorporated into the new boat.

I wish the Northern Marine team great success after the last few years of various difficulties. Now with the solid support and resources of the Seattle Yachts organization, the team can concentrate on what they do best: building world-class long-range expedition trawlers right here in Anacortes, Washington, fulfilling one dream at a time. As if to underscore the dream factor, Stuart added that he’s seen it over and over.

“The build process is every bit as exciting as using their new boat.”

I will follow the construction of this new Northern Marine 57, reporting on the progress, so stay tuned. Perhaps we can share in some of the excitement of the build process together. And if you happen to be the lucky couple who step up and make this raised pilothouse trawler your own, congratulations. You will own one of the finest expedition yachts in the world.

July 1, 2020

A Bright Future Ahead For Northern Marine


Although not a large shipyard by world standards, Northern Marine has nevertheless been a major player on the custom yachtbuilding scene since it was founded in 1995 by Richard “Bud” Lemieux.
Prior to opening Northern Marine, Lemieux had built yachts and small commercial vessels for more than two decades at Delta Marine in Seattle. And he brought to the new venture his accumulated high level of expertise and dedication to producing high-quality, solidly capable seagoing yachts.

Starting with the Spirit of Zopilote, a 62-foot long range cruiser (LRC) that Northern Marine completed in 1997 for well-known TV producer Bruce Kessler, the yard successfully completed some 28 handsome and exceptionally rugged yachts, from 35 to 152 feet LOA, before it underwent a change in corporate ownership in 2006.

Many of the yachts produced during that early period were expedition yachts in the genre of some of the stout fishing trawlers that Bud had built during his Delta Marine years. However, some were significantly larger and seriously more luxurious. For example, the magnificent 152-foot globe-girdling megayacht, Lia Fail (later renamed Sorcha), was a fully qualified example of world-class luxury motor yacht construction, fit, and finish.

In 2007, the 80-foot trawler-style yacht, Julianne, won the Showboats International magazine award for Best Full-Displacement Motor Yacht Under 45 Meters. Speaking to Showboats International, owners Larry and Joan Castellani explained that they did not want big, that instead, they wanted perfection and proportion in a small package. Because they enjoyed driving their own yacht, the couple specified accommodations for a captain and wife team as the vessel’s sole crew. The result was a beautiful, rugged, and ergonomically efficient single-screw FRP world-beater that captured the SBI award that year for yachts of her size and type - clear testimony to Northern Marine’s capabilities on the world market.

Over the years, Northern Marine held a leading position in the yacht building industry out of proportion to its “size” - particularly in the development and employment of leading-edge construction technology. Northern Marine was, for instance, one of the first north American yacht builders to adopt resin-infusion composite techniques for maximizing strength-to-weight ratio hulls and superstructures. This tradition of technical development and advancement continues strong today.

Like most yacht yards in north America, Northern Marine felt the hard times wrought by the economic recession of 2007-2009, and the yard moved through a succession of ownership until, in 2011, a former Northern Marine employee assembled a team that licensed the Northern Marine brand and began building two expedition yachts at the shipyard, an 80-footer and a 90-footer, both tri-deck vessels. Unfortunately, a couple of years later, a launch accident, which had nothing to do with the design or construction quality of the 90-footer involved, slowed the yard’s post-recession recovery. Until 2015, when a Northern Marine customer, Jay Bernstein, who was having the 57-footer, Agave, built at the yard, decided to acquire a controlling interest in the company.

As an experienced yachtsman and a customer with a yacht under construction, Bernstein appreciated the huge reservoir of talent and experience that had accumulated at Northern Marine over the previous two decades. After spending time on his new yacht, which was launched in early 2017, he decided he could pilot the yard and the company forward to new heights.

Then, misfortune struck once more when Bernstein died in a freak mountain biking accident in November 2018. That, however, is not the end of the story.

Notwithstanding the obstacles and setbacks faced by Northern Marine at various points in its history, the shipyard and company amassed a record for more than forty builds, each one a prime example of her class and size, superbly constructed and deftly finished. Through several changes in ownership, the company has been able to preserve its core labor pool of highly skilled and experienced craftsmen, as well as its central design, engineering, and project management team. And therefore, when the opportunity arose to acquire the assets of the company, Peter Whiting, Managing Partner of Seattle Northwest Yachts LLC didn’t hesitate.

Whiting, a trawler yacht enthusiast and builder of the Northwest line, was already well-established on the yacht sales and brokerage scene in Anacortes. He was also long acquainted with the key members of the Northern Marine team and many of the yachts they had built. The fit looked right to him. And he understood well the advantages offered to customers by a relatively small semi-custom shipyard. So, after a period of negotiation, he and his partners in Seattle Yachts purchased the assets of Northern Marine, including the brand, the intellectual property, existing tooling for several different sizes of hulls and superstructures, the yard facility and equipment, a completed 57-footer, and one in process. Coupled with a rising demand for domestically built full displacement yachts in the 50’ to 90’ range - Northern Marine’s sweet spot - the match portends a bright future for the company going forward.

July 1, 2020

Northern Marine Acquired By Seattle Yachts


Seattle, WA (September 12th, 2019): Seattle Yachts, a new boat dealer and yacht brokerage firm with offices in the Pacific Northwest, Southern California, and South Florida, has purchased Northern Marine. Included in the sale are the rights to the Northern Marine brand, the shipyard in Anacortes, Washington, the tooling, and intellectual property.

“We are thrilled to offer Northern Marine to our clients alongside our other new cruising yacht brands that include Alaskan, American Tug, Endurance, Hampton, Northwest, Regency, and Whitehaven Yachts,” said Peter Whiting, managing partner of Seattle Yachts. “The Northern Marine shipyard is a very modern yard with a lot of very skilled craftsmen. This opens up a lot of potential for our Alaskan and Northwest brands.”

Northern Marine currently offers new builds from the 57 Raised Pilothouse to the 100 Tri-Deck Expedition Yacht. Founded in 1995, Northern Marine has had a long reputation of building world-class luxury yachts.

“We will be displaying a 2017 Northern Marine 57 at this week’s Boats Afloat Show,” continued Peter. “As part of the acquisition we will also have complete tooling for the 57’, 64, and much of the 80’. Seattle Yachts has grown exponentially in the last 18 months and we are excited for what the future holds!”

Just last month, Seattle Yachts announced they were appointed the east coast Hampton Yachts dealer which also included an office in Fort Lauderdale on 17th Street.