Some of you have asked us about our boat-buying decision, and specifically about how we ended up choosing a tug. (Note that these tugs are tugs in style only…they don't actually tug stuff.) We might have written about bits of this before, but here it is, all together!
We were working at the dinette at Point Hudson Marina in Port Townsend, and we'd been eyeing these little boats for a couple days. There were four or five of them in the marina…same brand, different models and colors…and they were cute! This shot has three of them, on the left of the image:
One day we noticed they were all gearing up to leave and we decided we should run down there and find out what kind of boats they were before they were gone. We went back to the Airstream and started doing a little internet research. Ranger Tugs came in a variety of sizes (21, 25, 27, 29, and 31 foot) and hang on! They're made in Kent, WA, and they're trailerable! The more we learned, the more interested we became. We sent a note to the sales guy to find out if we could come by on our way back to Portland in a few weeks and get a factory tour to see some boats.
Several days later we got a note from the sales guy that he wouldn't be back in the office for about a month, because he was on the yearly Ranger Rendezvous up to Desolation Sound (basically, a rally on the water). They were leaving Anacortes in the morning and would be in Ladysmith, BC tomorrow. By the time he wrote back to us, we were camped out in Nanaimo, BC — only 10 miles from Ladysmith, so he invited us to come by and see some boats! We did, and then we did again on their next stop in Comox where they had about 100 Ranger Tugs now all heading for Desolation Sound. The Ranger Tug owners LOVE their boats, and they love the company and its service. A lot.
The Ranger Tug 31 (the flybridge collapses down for trailering):
There was much to like about the Ranger Tugs. Compact, stylish, clever design…a lot like an Airstream. Hey! We could really get used to life on the water. We thought about how much we love the bustle and atmosphere of marina campgrounds…how we both grew up sailing and being around boats…and the more we thought about it, the more it made sense that we should see about owning a boat. We took the Ranger Tug factory tour, talked to other Ranger owners, spent a lot of time working out finances, mocking up what color we'd get if we got one, where we'd keep it, etc.
And then we decided we should do our due diligence and actually look at a couple other kinds of boats. After all, it had only been a few weeks of Ranger-love and we'd never even considered anything else. We noticed that in a lot of reviews of Rangers (and the "pocket trawler" or "pocket yacht" category in general) the mention of American Tugs and Nordic Tugs (also built locally, in La Conner, WA and Burlington, WA, respectively). Since we seemed to be gravitating toward this tug/trawler style (it's so cute, and so livable), we made appointments to go up and see some boats!
Both the Nordics and the Americans were wider than the Ranger (and therefore, not as easily trailerable). The Ranger has a beam (width) of 10', the Nordic is 11'4" and the American is 13'3".
To be trailered/hauled the Nordics and the Americans would need a wide load permit AND a pilot car, which can get expensive. The Pacific Northwest is such a fantastic area for boating, but I doubt we'd want to keep a boat on the Columbia River all year and not take advantage of the whole Puget Sound and Gulf Islands (and, you know, Alaska!) But did we need trailerable? We decided we didn't. Twice a year (to and from) we could (1) have the boat hauled from Portland to Olympia (people do it all the time) or (2) once we had enough experience, we could take her ourselves via the Columbia River to Astoria, across the Columbia Bar, up the Washington Coast and into the Puget Sound for the summer.
And so the comparison spreadsheets began. Ranger 31. Nordic 32/34. American 34/365. We even added a few more into the mix, just to be thorough…the Beneteau Swift 34 and the Helmsman 37/38.
After being aboard these other larger boats, we ultimately decided we wanted more room than the Ranger offered. The floor space in the Ranger is basically the "walkway" running from the aft cockpit door to the helm and front stateroom, with the dinette on one side and the kitchen on the other. It's efficient, but it's tight. In the Nordics and the Americans, there's room to move around a bit more in the salon (room to do yoga, even!) The Beneteau we looked at was a sexy boat, but suffered from the Ikea fit and finish of the interior materials. It looked good, but it really didn't seem like it would age well. The Helmsman was cool, but way too "nautically styled" for our taste…too much wood (even the blinds were wood). Hard to explain, but here's a pic:
The Helmsman had something we totally loved though…another smaller dinette/settee up in the pilothouse. One person could be drivin' the boat, the other one could be publishing articles! 🙂
We pretty quickly found ourselves narrowing it down and comparing between a few used Nordic Tugs and a few used American Tugs (same size range), but kept coming back to the sleeker, lower-to-the-water hull shape of the Nordic Tug. We liked the straighter pilothouse windows (over the slanted slightly out windows on the American Tug). The Nordic Tug was more efficient. Its smaller hull lets it go faster with a 260hp engine than the American can with a 380hp engine. At sightseeing speeds, the Nordic uses about half the fuel than the American does. For us, having a boat is not about getting anywhere quickly. It's about being on the water, watching sea life, enjoying the the fresh air. If we only had weekends, I could see wanting something faster to go further in less time, but we plan to use this boat just like we use the Airstream (exploring, working, cooking, etc.)
Here's the American Tug 365 (previously called the 34) shown with and without flybridge option:
The Nordic 34 (previously called the 32):
They are both fantastic, well-made boats and I'm sure we'd have been happy with any of them (even the Ranger).
All of the previously owned American Tugs we found were older, all had carpet (which we'd definitely want to remove and replace with teak/holly or Amtico…not a minor expense), and the previously owned Nordic Tug we found had great floors, was a color we liked (both exterior and interior), and was much newer. The Nordics and the Americans both have a separate shower in the head, and not a wet bath like in the Ranger (also like we had in our first Airstream).
When we moved from a 22' Airstream to a 27' Airstream (and have now spent almost 700 nights in our 27'), the two upgrades we REALLY appreciated in the 27' were a separate shower and a larger capacity fridge (well, and a couch). The Nordic has a fridge closer to the size we had in the 22' Airstream, and the American has a larger fridge and separate freezer like we have in the 27' Airstream. This was a little problematic (because produce takes a lot of room, and the freezer on the Nordic is tiny), but we solved the issue by adding a decktop fridge/freezer to the Nordic (which will double as a bench, with a padded seat top).
Some Spec Comparison Between the Nordic 34 and the 27' Airstream
The fresh water capacity in the Airstream is 39 gallons. The Nordic 34 holds 100 gallons.
The black water tank in the Airstream is 39 gallons. The black water tank in the Nordic holds 30 gallons (but it's SO much easier to empty).
The gray water tank in the Airstream holds 37 gallons, and on the Nordic…26 gallons. Smaller, yes, but the thing that's different about gray water on the Nordic is that it automatically pumps out when it gets full enough to trip the pump. You use biodegradable products (as we normally do anyway) and you never have to fuss with it. The water from the sink drains directly overboard and never enters the tank. Sweet!
Water heater capacity on the Nordic is the same as in the Airstream: 6 gallons. The water heater in the Airstream is electric when you're on shore power, and propane when you're not. The water heater in the boat is electric when you're on shore power or running the generator, and is also heated by the engine when you're underway…no propane for the water heater on the boat.
The stove/oven on the Nordic works off of propane. There's only one propane bottle and it holds 5 gallons, but the only thing that uses that 5 gallons of propane on the boat is the stove/oven (not like in the Airstream, where it's the fridge, water heater, stove, and heater). Also, here's a pic of our new stove/oven that just went in yesterday:
The boat has three (!!!) built-in heaters. One is like a car heater that works off the engine heat when we're underway. Another is a built-in electric heater that works when we're plugged into shore power or running the generator. The third is a diesel heater that gets its diesel supply from the boat's main fuel tank (for use when we're anchored or moored somewhere without power and not running the generator).
The Airstream gets its power from two places: (1) shore power when we're plugged in, and (2) solar power all the time (when there's sun), so we have a LOT of battery in the Airstream (900 amp hours total).
The boat (once the upgrades are finished) will only have about half that battery capacity (440 amp hours), but the boat batteries get charged four ways: (1) shore power when we're plugged in, (2) solar, like the Airstream (the boat will have two 140-watt solar panels on top of the pilothouse), (3) by the engine when we're under way (the Airstream does this a tiny bit too from the tow vehicle, but at such a trickle it really has no effect), and (4) the boat has a 5kw diesel generator that runs off the boat's main diesel tank that we can run pretty much any time we want. So power will not be an issue with the boat.
Overall, the living amenities in the Nordic Tug 34 are very comparable to what we know we enjoy and can live and work comfortably in over long periods of time in the Airstream. We wanted to take what we'd learned from our experience Airstreaming and apply it to how we shopped for a boat.
The styling and design of the boat is something we thought about, as well as size. Our goal was to get the smallest boat we could live and work in for long periods of time. We wanted the boat equivalent of our Airstream, not the boat equivalent of a huge fifth wheel or motorhome with 5 slideouts…something comfortably livable yet stylish and efficient. I think we found it!