Westward Ho'Okele - Dispatch One

Westward Ho'Okele: Dispatch 1

The 4,600-mile passage to Hawaii and
why we're making it

 My name is Peter Swanson, and I’m communications director for Mirage Manufacturing of Gainesville, Florida. And I’ve got a story to tell. I just don’t know the details quite yet, because events are yet to unfold. Mirage, under the direction of its founder Ken Fickett, builds liveaboards and long-range trawlers in Gainesville, Florida. And like the Gidget of our teenage years, we’re going to Hawaii.

The purpose of our Hawaii adventure was to deliver one of our new Great Harbour N37’s to its owner. Mark Heilbron is an unusual owner and his trawler Ho’Okele is an unusual version of an already atypical vessel. Heilbron divides his time between two professions. First, he’s an executive in the medical supply business founded by his father, but since the buyout he's had more time for his real passion--fishing--which he does commercially in service to Hawaii’s lucrative Asian market, hungry for sushi-grade yellowfin tuna.

To begin with, he knew exactly what he wanted in a boat-and why. Most first time trawler shoppers need at least some educating, not Heilbron. We did not “sell” Heilbron. Heilbron bought into Mirage’s design philosophy. He wanted a yacht that would perform like a workboat so he could long line drift fish for pelagic species in the deep, rolling waters off Hawaii. Stabilizers were out of the question, so Heilbron sought out a boat that was inherently stable.

Lou Codega, Mirage’s naval architect for its trawler line, based the Great Harbour N37’s hull form on modern workboat hulls, not a stylized hull from the Age of Sail. Codega was educated at MIT and the Webb Institute and is a leading expert on how hulls move through the water, having designed much of the Cabo sportfish line, not to mention some secret work for the U.S. Navy designing the latest high-speed boats for special operations. Here’s what Lou wrote about the Navigator hull:

“The Navigator hull feels right at home almost anywhere, derived as it was from modern workboat hulls. I think that this is appropriate because a workboat has to earn its keep and keep its crew safe 365 days a year. The boat is not light, and design displacement is nearly as high as any boat of comparable length to carry the anticipated weights. But we chose to take the volume afforded by the high displacement outward, rather than down. This increases the usefulness of the accommodation space tremendously, allows for outstanding machinery access, and provides for cavernous storage spaces below deck. And the corresponding shoal draft opens up cruising grounds and anchorages that are inaccessible to her deeper draft sisters, to say nothing of removing much anxiety from waterway passages and inlet transits.

   “The hull has been shaped for continual economic operation at hull speed. You’ll see little of the squatting and none of the large increases in fuel consumption that occur when boats with ship-like hulls are pushed as hard. We’ve selected a twin engine machinery layout as it is a ideal match with the shallow draft hull, allowing as it does optimum propeller diameters to keep blades above the bottom of the hull, outstanding maneuverability and built in redundancy. Test results show that only 46 horsepower are required at hull speed. This is less than the rated power of one engine, and we can nearly reach hull speed on one engine, dragging a fixed propeller.

And we think that we’ve done well on the economic side, also. The boat is miserly of fuel, and the generous tankage gives a lot of flexibility in choosing refueling sites. The same beam that gives you access for easy maintenance also allows her to be efficiently built. And it allows for fitting the desired accommodation into a shorter overall length, which will reduce dockage and maintenance expenses with very little penalty in performance.”

We have been asked whether it is responsible to promote a vessel that draws only three feet of water-a “true gunkholer”-as a long-range cruiser. It is a question we welcome because we who promote shallow draft trawlers-and we count designers Dave Geer and Charley Morgan among our group-have not been as aggressive at marketing our philosophy as the builders of deep-draft, externally stabilized vessels. In fact, there is nothing mutually exclusive about long-range cruising and gunkholing.

Surely a boatbuyer intending to circumnavigate the planet should be steered toward a vessel like the Nordhavn 40, which most recently accomplished that feat with aplomb. But for most boat-buying folks, their greatest ambition is circumnavigating the Caribbean Sea. Such a long-range cruise can be undertaken without ever making a passage more than 90 miles, a duration well within contemporary public weather forecasting capabilities. Moreover, in the waters of the Bahamas in the Caribbean, the skipper of a shallow draft cruiser has a host of options when seeking storm refuge denied to boats drawing more than 5 feet, not to mention the joys of gunkholing.

The first part of our own trip-a not uncommon, real-world undertaking of going from Florida to the West Coast via the Panama Canal-is a perfect case in point. The 2,400-mile leg from Panama to Ensenada, Mexico (just south of San Diego) has numerous shallow hidey holes which could shelter the Navigator through a tempest.

As I write this (on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2002) off the Northwest coast of Cuba, we are planning our approach to the canal. I am leaning toward a coastal passage along Nicaragua, littered though it is with numerous reefs and cays. We see these features, not as hazards, but as opportunities for sheltering and catching lobster.

The last leg-the 2,200-mile break to Hawaii from Ensenada-is another story, of course. We chose Ensenada rather than departing from further south because of fuel considerations and the fact that with today’s U.S. Navy forecasts (more about in future correspondence), we can see conditions six days out, which accounts for more than a third of the trip. This type of passage is not within the normal design parameters of the Navigator, but we believe it is nevertheless doable with the addition of fuel tankage and other special equipment.

Those are details I would like to share with you later. Ho’Okele has twin Lugger 68 hp engines, the first of our boats powered with such machinery. As a result, we are using the first 3,400 miles of our trip-Florida to Ensenada-to work out fuel consumption figures and other details. That's when we'll make the final decision of whether Ho'Okele will proceed the rest of the way on her own bottom.

We left Key West on Wednesday, Dec. 4 with a plan to transit the canal by Dec. 13, arrive in Acapulco, Mexico by Dec. 21 and then press on to Ensenda, arriving around the first of the year. I would assess this schedule as “conservative, best case,” so we shall see how it bears out.other performance data.

Right now, three of us are taking Ho’Okele to, and through the canal. Besides myself, there is the skipper and Mirage president, Ken Fickett, and Jim Cole, ace photographer for the Northern New England Bureau of the Associated Press, taking a break before the onslaught of presidential contenders assault the Granite State in anticipation of New Hampshire’s quadrennial, first-in-the-nation Presidential Primary.

Ken Fickett has been building boats (nearly 1,000) under the banner of Mirage Manufacturing for 31 years, averaging 600 hours per year of operating boats on the water. As part of his business, made hundreds of vessel delivery trips, under power and sail, to customers and boat shows. Many deliveries included offshore passages. He is a veteran of numerous SORC ocean races, including the Chicago-Mackinaw and Tampa-Isla Mujeres. He has cruised under sail and power throughout coastal waters of the eastern U.S. and the Bahamas. He has extensive knowledge of marine systems and engines. He is also qualified as expert witness in yacht design and construction.

As for myself, I’ve logged 800 days (as defined by USCG) at sea since 1979, cruising the East Coast of the United States, Canada, the Bahamas and the Caribbean. My experience includes numerous offshore passages and service as first mate aboard the 100-foot passenger schooner Kathryn B. of Rockland, Maine. I worked as captain and engineer on 53- and 60-foot tourist catamarans in the Dominican Republic, carrying up to 88 passengers for hire. Most recently, I completed a leg in the Nordhavn 40 ’Round the World trip, going from Oman to Djibouti and through the Suez Canal. I’ve written about passagemaking for newspapers and boating magazines and was Senior Editor at Yachting magazine and Editor at Passagemaker magazine. I also held the title of electronics editor at both publications.

For the rest of the legs, we are forming our crew as we go along from past sailing partners and trusted associates. I am planning to be aboard until Ensenada. The owner is coming for part of the trip up the Pacific side as well.

An if you’re wondering about the significance of the name Ho’Okele , it means navigator in Polynesian. Each Polynesian island had its own Ho’Okele, a man of science, second in prestige only to the chief himself.

'Til next time,




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