Saturday, February 23, 2008

The sailing years, The Nor'Sea 27

by Dean Wixom, #77The idea for the Nor'Sea generated in the early 1970s. I wanted a small vessel that would be at home voyaging any ocean. There were a few good small boats suitable for cruising, but none that I would call voyagers. I began to sketch various profiles of my ideal boat. I then complicated the design process many-fold by deciding this boat should be capable of being trailered from ocean to ocean.
I won't elaborate on the design parameters and virtues; Nor'Sea owners already know them. Ease of construction was not one of the virtues. Tooling the boat for production was a very difficult, length, and expensive process. Most 40-footers were tooled and produced for less!
One of the most difficult jobs was finding a naval architect. If I hadn't had the strength of my convictions, I might have let most of the designers convince me I was insane or at least hopelessly misguided. "You want a trailerable 27-foot world voyager? A liveaboard? Big tanks, big diesel? Standing headroom? A low profile? Full galley and chart table?" Some designers were cruel and some were not, but most shied away from the challenge. Then I met Lyle Hess.
Lyle has a fine reputation for small boats, which came to light with the huge publicity of Lin and Larry Pardey's 24-foot Serafyn. Lyle and I talked on the phone a bit, met, and within minutes had rough ideas of what was to be the Nor'Sea 27.
I can't recall who first mentioned an aft cabin, but Lyle seized on the idea. "With the fullness of the buttocks lines, we have plenty of room for a really useable aft cabin. Let's do it!" I concurred, thinking that the novelty of a really usable aft cabin in a 27-footer would get a lot of press attention, even though I truly believed the conventional aft cockpit version would eventually be more popular.
I have never been more wrong, as later production would bear out. I did build an aft cockpit version for my own voyaging, but Nor'Sea owners disagree about 6 to 1!
We assembled a superb team of talented people to produce the Nor'Sea, bought a ramshackle old building squeezed between oil wells and tank farms and went into production. Most of those years are a blur to me now, but I distinctly remember the thrill and pride of launching hull #1 (now located in Santa Rosa, CA).
I am very proud of the quality we put into those boats. I did make a fatal mistake: I built a product that I had fallen in love with. We built the boats without enough regard to cost. We already had the world's most expensive 27-footer, yet I could not bring myself to cut corners in areas seldom seen. Our dilemma was eventually solved by a real estate agent with a stunning offer for our property. We had the only lot in the area zoned for an oil tank farm! We then had to weigh the cost of moving a break-even business versus the emotional investment of ourselves, our employees, and our dealers. The knowledge that the boat would continued to be built tipped the decision. Most of our employees went to the new builder, who continued the tradition of quality.
I decided to follow my customers and go cruising. A few years ago, I stopped counting at 30,000 nautical miles and ten years of living aboard.
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