We were scheduled to fly to Ft. Lauderdale at the end of 2022 to pick up our new boat, Empty Nest. December came and went. Then February, then March. But the boat was not ready. COVID supply chain delays took their toll, and we had to remain patient. Finally, on May 24, 2023, the big day arrived. My wife Ann and I showed up in Florida about as excited as we’ve ever been.
My first thought upon laying eyes on Empty Nest was WOW!, this boat is so BIG! It seemed to grow larger as we approached. Our boat shared a slip with a similarly sized yacht, and I could not imagine how I’d ever be able to dock in a spot like that. My experience was with Sababa, a Prestige 560 Fly with pod drives, a joystick and bow thruster, along with a cockpit docking station. After five years on Sababa, I felt comfortable in most situations, or as comfortable anyone can be when docking a boat. I don’t believe it is ever trivial, especially with uncooperative winds and currents.
Empty Nest has straight shaft drives, no joystick, slightly over a 19-foot beam, and an LOA of 71 feet. However, it also sports powerful bow and stern thrusters as well as four corner-wing docking stations. Shortly after we arrived, Captain Carl showed up to train us, and after a few days, I was pulling in and out of the tight slip, spinning in the narrow fairway, and
despite a few close calls in the early going, did not hit anything or hurt anyone — my standard for successful docking.
As I write this a month later, I’m happy to say that Empty Nest is by far the easiest boat to dock that I’ve had. Bigger boats are generally better equipped for docking. Ann and I wear headsets, and she covers the large areas where I have no visibility. Getting into a slip is definitely a team effort.
Our first interior walk-through was surreal. After over a year of imagining, sketching, designing, discussing and perfecting our dream boat, we were finally on board and were not disappointed. All the furniture, fabrics, carpets, lighting, refrigeration and other customizations came out exactly right. The engine room and helm were outfitted with everything I’d chosen.
Redundancy was the key to my approach with our goal of long-range cruising. Empty Nest has two generators, two raw water pumps, two freshwater pumps (one AC and the other DC powered), a fuel polishing system, hot swappable fuel filters, two compressors for the two chiller systems, two 50 kg anchors, and of course two engines.
We also have a water maker, a freshwater filtration system, a 400-gallon freshwater tank, and a 200-gallon black water holding tank. I put fuel fill and pump-out hookups on each side of the boat, as well as shore power connections forward and aft, for flexibility at the pier.
As with any boat with so many complex systems, the commissioning ran into snags. We ended up staying put for 10 days while the specialists redid the transmission plumbing to deal with a cooling issue, fixed a hydraulic fluid leak, adjusted two tables that were the wrong height, and addressed myriad of other punch list items. It seemed like every time there was a fix, something else needed attention. In other words, we had purchased a boat.
During our stay in Ft. Lauderdale, we spent several hours each day training on the water, as well as in the engine room and in various bilge areas with all kinds of equipment. I’m very claustrophobic but managed to overcome that to get down and dirty in some tight spaces while I learned how to switch valves from one system to another and how to troubleshoot various issues. There aren’t many advantages in life to being only 5’6” tall, but I found that in the engine room, small people rule!
We trained with the new anchors (a Bruce and a Danforth, each with 350 feet of chain) and learned how to use the davit to get the dinghy and the jet ski on and off the boat. We also were briefed on how to use the stabilizers and trim tabs, both of which caused us some heartburn on the trip home.
We already knew how to use autopilot, radar and navigation, but new-to-us items such as FLIR, the remote MFD controller, and dual radar systems had to be learned.
With the critical items resolved, we decided to head home and deal with the rest in Annapolis. Our original plan was for me and Ann to do the trip alone. However, once we realized that commissioning is a fluid process and would not be completed for a long time, we opted to hire Captain Carl to continue training us part of the way. Carl brought his girlfriend Kristy along for the ride, and the four of us cast off at first light on June 4, with the bow pointed toward home.
Our first major decision was whether to take the ICW or run outside in the ocean. The forecast was favorable, and leaving Ft. Lauderdale we had a nice Gulf stream current, so outside it was. We did about 90 miles to Ft. Pierce that day and stopped at a marina for the night. The following day, we were not as lucky with the weather. It was blowing over 30 kts from the northeast, and so we opted for the ICW and ran for 12 hours. Ann and I took turns at the wheel, with Captain Carl giving us a break from time to time.
We arrived at Smyrna Beach where we shared the marina with several large finishing boats headed to a tournament up in North Carolina. This was a challenging docking situation with strong wind and large (expensive looking) boats tied up very close behind and in front of us. Once we were secure, the boat behind us had its bow above our swim platform, and we had a similar arrangement in front with another boat.
In the morning, the current was strong, and with no room for error, we debated whether to have Captain Carl get us out. However, with some instruction from him, I decided to go for it myself, and while it was scary, the experience boosted my confidence. The best piece of advice came from a dockhand who suggested we remove our rails from the swim platform until we were clear. I truly believe this saved us from damage. Whew! Lesson noted.
Leaving Smyrna Beach with favorable conditions, light southerly winds and following seas, we opted to make up the time we lost during commissioning and ran 36 hours straight, taking shifts at the wheel. We arrived in Wilmington, NC, in time for a late dinner. The next day, we docked in Ocracoke and then braved the new Oregon inlet on our way to Hampton, VA.
Captain Carl and Kristy left us in the morning on June 10, and for the first time, Ann and I piloted Empty Nest alone. By then, we felt extremely comfortable on the boat, and ran into no issues coming home. We stopped at Solomons Island overnight, so that we could have a short trip home and arrive refreshed.
We received a wonderful homecoming in Annapolis. Our daughter Tamara and our friends Jeff, Stephanie, Matt, and Herve and his boys showed up to greet us and gave us a big round of applause as we pulled into our slip. We spent about 45 minutes getting our lines right. Winds were 12 knots and increased to almost 40 later that day, so our timing was fortunate.
As I reflect on the experience of building a new boat, I have no regrets. The process is tedious and seems to take forever. I’m sure as we use Empty Nest, we’ll discover things we overlooked in the design. At the moment, I only know of one issue. We have two chillers and two separate sea water pumps for them, but they share a thru hull. That means that they are not truly independent, and if for example, we suck in a large plastic bag below the boat, we could end up without air conditioning, despite having two of everything. It’s a single point of failure I had not anticipated.
I now have several projects in what I believe will be a never-ending series of improvements. I am going to install four Maxeon M3 470-watt solar panels on the hard top. These will keep the house batteries topped off when at anchor and also provide backup for our shore power in the event of an outage. Another project is to link our MAN engine data to the NMEA 2000 network used by most of my equipment. I like to see information such as fuel flow rate and range on boxes in my multi-function displays. Unfortunately, MAN and NMEA do not speak the same protocol, and the conversion is not as simple as one would hope.
We are loving life on our new boat, and if you cruise on the Severn River in the spring, summer or fall, look for Empty Nest on the Severn and the surrounding areas. We have already booked a slip at the Venetian Marina & Yacht Club in Miami for this winter for our first snowbird experience. It’s all part of my grand scheme to never need a winter jacket again.