HONOLULU, April 5, 2003—In an unusual move, Mirage Manufacturing oversaw the delivery of a Navigator 37 trawler yacht from Florida to Hawaii on its own bottom. The vessel arrived in Honolulu at 6:03 a.m.today local time after a two-week voyage over the open waters of the Pacific Ocean.
“On its on bottom” is nautical talk for actually driving the boat by sea instead of shipping it by truck to the West Coast and then sending it on a Honolulu-bound barge. Mirage Communications Director Peter Swanson and friends took Ho’Okele (Polynesian for navigator) the first 4,300 miles from Green Cove Springs to Panama, through the canal, and up the west coast of Central America and Mexico.
A second team—owner Mark Heilbron of Hawaii, longtime Gainesville businessman Bruce Brasington and Mirage chief engineer Russell Sill—completed the 2,274-nautical mile voyage from Ensenada, Mexico to Honolulu in 14 days, averaging 6.7 knots. Heilbron had also flown into Panama to drive his new boat through the canal.
Brasington described Ho’Okele’s passage as uneventful with seas ranging from 3 to 12-feet. When they weren’t eating, sleeping or transferring fuel, the crew fished and watched movies on DVD. “I hate to see it over. It was really a nice trip,” said Brasington on his way to his first shoreside breakfast in two weeks. Brasington noted that the crew reeled in 4 Mahi Mahi and an Ahi (a type of tuna) on the last day of the voyage.
Reached on Saturday in the Bahamas, where he was on another yacht delivery, Mirage Manufacturing President Ken Fickett promised to drink a toast to Ho’Okele’s crew that night. “I’m proud of them. I really am. This is not a task you take on lightly.”
Fickett noted that the delivery was not an attempt to break any records, but a decision made after shipping costs rose due to last year’s West Coast dockworker’s strike. It was also an opportunity to show the advantages of the vessel’s Lou Codega-designed, form-stable hull. “The boat performed superbly particularly in the down-weather conditions found on a voyage from California to Hawaii,” Fickett said. “When conditions go downhill, we’ve learned to point these boats in the same direction as the wind and the waves for a safe and reasonably comfortable ride.”
Though setting records was not a goal, Ho’Okele is one of the smallest powerboats in history to make the crossing, and undoubtedly the smallest twin-screw vessel ever to do so. According to PAE’s Jim Leishman, who organized the recent circumnavigation of a Nordhavn 40, the smallest powerboat ever to make the trip may have been a single-screw Willard 36.
While such passages have been routine in small sailboats, vessels under power are limited by the amounts of diesel fuel they can carry. Trawler yachts are designed with fuel economy in mind, but nevertheless the distance to Hawaii is generally regarded as the longest leg in any circumnavigation and a serious challenge even for a trawler. Ho’Okele’s fuel tankage was more than doubled to hold 1,030 gallons of fuel.
Even so, fuel planning had to be meticulous. Ho’Okele arrived in Honolulu with a reserve estimated at between 40 and 80 gallons—a slim margin considering that the boat’s twin 65-hp Lugger engines burned an average of just under 70 gallons a day. According to Brasington, who determined fuel burn by topping off the main tank daily from auxiliary tankage, the Luggers burned between 2.7 and 2.8 gallons an hour.
Fickett noted that the Luggers were an owner choice; Mirage’s 37-foot trawlers are usually fitted with twin 56-hp Yanmar engines. “Had we been using Yanmars on the Hawaii trip, our fuel reserve on arrival would have been substantially greater,” Fickett said. “Our conservative estimate, based on a passage to Bermuda, is that the Yanmars would have burned a ½ to ¾ of a gallon less an hour during the trip, but the Luggers are great engines. In more than 6,000 miles, the only problem was one bad raw-water pump, which we replaced before leaving Mexico. We attribute the difference in fuel burn to greater internal friction in those big Luggers.”
Standard tankage on a Navigator 37 is 500 gallons. An estimated 1,000 gallons were needed for the Hawaii passage. To make up the difference, Mirage went low-tech, putting 70 5-gallon jerry jugs aboard in storage spaces before leaving Key West and adding a couple additional plastic barrels in Ensenada. (Photo available)
“We could have added bladders but because this is a one-time event, it was far more economical to make a bulk buy of plastic jugs, and refuel using a transfer pump,” Fickett said. “We could have used bladders, but the owner is not planning any long cruises once the boat was in Hawaii, so he had no need or desire for permanent extra tankage.”
Because bad weather can create sea conditions affecting fuel burn, Mirage hired Hawaii based “weather router” Rick Shema to communicate with the vessel via satellite phone for forecasts. Shema, a retired Navy meteorologist (see www.weatherguy.com), makes his living providing crucial weather information to vessels at sea.
Shema, in fact, advised the crew not to leave Ensenada for a few days after their planned departure date because of stormy conditions reaching southward into the Pacific. “They would not have been able to hold that rhumb line (a straight line course to Hawaii in those conditions. They would have had to turn to the southwest. It would have added another 300 miles to their trip,” Shema said.
Ho’Okele owner Mark Heilbron, an executive for a dental distributor serving the Hawaiian Islands, is a longtime sailor and fisherman, whose sideline has been to harvest tuna and other pelagic species for the local Asian market. Heilbron sought out Mirage because of the form stability of the Navigator hull, which he believed would serve him well in the fishing grounds off Hawaii. He specified some radical modifications, such as an aft sportfish-style flybridge and a large fish hold to indulge his passion.
As any trawler aficionado can tell you, trawler yachts derive from workboat designs. What Heilbron, working with Mirage, has accomplished in Ho’Okele was to bring this concept full circle, without sacrificing the yacht-quality features.
Russell Sill, 57, of Gainesville, Florida, is head rigger and engineer at Mirage, responsible for all system designs and installations in the company’s trawler and sportfish lines. As such, Sill is well able to make any necessary repairs under way. Like Heilbron, he is an avid fisherman, having done so commercially for 24 years. He holds a captain’s license to carry passengers for hire and has made dozens of boat deliveries for Mirage during his 8-year tenure.
Captaining Ho’Okele on the crossing was Bruce Brasington, 54, a former longtime Gainesville businessman who came to boating late in life. It wasn’t until his 40s that he decided to adopt a seafaring lifestyle, but when he did, Brasington applied himself with the same discipline and zeal that had brought him success in business, success enough to retire early and become a full-time liveaboard. Brasington holds a captain’s license and has extensive East Coast and Bahamas cruising experience aboard his 36-foot PDQ catamaran. He has raced sailboats offshore and has extensive yacht delivery experience.
Mirage Manufacturing was founded in 1971 by its president, Ken Fickett of Gainesville. The company began by building small fiberglass boats and racing sailboats of up to 36 feet. In the 1980s the company shifted to production of semi-custom sportfishing powerboats, and in 1996 built the first of its popular trawler yacht line. The trawler hulls were designed in collaboration with Lou Codega, one of the best known naval architects in the boating industry and responsible for the hull design of the latest high-speed vessels used in U.S. Navy special operations.
As baby boomers age, the sailors among them have looked for ways to continue their voyaging in the face of advancing age. The result has been a dramatic increase in ownership of trawlers. As the name implies, a trawler combines a workboat hull with the amenities of a yacht to allow couples to cruise the islands and other destinations in safety and comfort.
Mirage’s product line consists of a 32-foot sportfish boat, two different 37-foot trawler yacht models and its flagship 47-foot trawler, which sells for more than $700,000. The company has built more than 50 sportfishing boats and is working on Hull No. 20 and 21 of its trawler line. Mirage employs 31 artisans at its Northeast Industrial Park facility.