This is a special interview and one that I hope demonstrates that with courage and persistence most can overcome tragedy and triumph. Rick and Michelle Riordan are a prime example of overcoming adversity as they experienced firsthand what every boater fears most, the total loss of their much loved Nordhavn 47, Ghost Rider. Rick and Michelle have both discussed in detail the simple mistake that led to the tragedy in an open and honest way which is not only refreshing, but provides countless lessons for all who travel by boat. Without their open and brutally honest appraisal of the past situation, others would all not be able to have these valuable lessons reinforced. To both of them, I personally thank them for being a part of this interview once again and wish them both every success aboard the new and improved, Ghost Rider II
For those who have not read the full story please click here.
For those who didn’t read the original Ghost Rider
interview please click here.
Rick & Michelle on Ghost Rider II, N50-21
Rick, Michelle, before we start, I promise you both that in no place will the word “Jetty” be mentioned in this interview
Good. We hear / see it in our dreams often enough. It’s probably nature’s way of ensuring a key learning stays with you. So, can you take us through the process post your loss of Ghost Rider and how you have arrived being the owners of Ghost Rider II?
That’s pretty involved, let’s see if we can do a Cliff Notes version of it. The first few months (after we had salvaged what we could from Ghost Rider) were spent dirt-dwelling back home in Fort Myers, mostly dealing with insurance processes and re-supplying the many personal items we had lost. But we – mostly Michelle – kept an eye out for the next vessel, as we were fairly certain we wanted to give that another go. We looked at nearly every brand, not being too certain that another Nordhavn would fit into the budget. And we very nearly purchased a Defever 52…we got all the way to survey and sea trial on it. About that same time – this was late winter 2016 and early spring of 2017 – Bernie Francis contacted us with an opportunity to crew on an Atlantic crossing. That’s how we met Relish’s owner (a gorgeous Nordhavn 60), Silvio Gentile, with whom we became good friends.
Anyway, the survey on the Defever did not go particularly well, so we decided to put off the boat purchase and instead just focus on helping Silvio get Relish from Nassau to the Mediterranean….we would resume our search once that adventure was completed. A few weeks before the crossing was scheduled to start we were helping James Knight take Relish from Palm Beach to Nassau where Silvio was waiting for her. On that crossing we had a buddy boat – N5021, then named The Getaway (previously Sea Fox and Boundary Waters before that.) We noted how clean she looked and James gave a glowing report of her condition.
First Time we Saw N50-21 Enroute Nassau
Fast forward a few months to late June and as we were approaching our final stop in the Mediterranean on the last leg of the Atlantic crossing (near Malaga, Spain), Michelle was trolling the Internet for brokerage boats again and up popped N50-21, listed by Yacht Tech. We called James Knight the next day asking “Hey, you got a boat listed that we should know about?” After conversing with James and Dennis Fox (a previous owner of N50-21), as well as a few other folks who either knew the boat or had recently worked on it, we made an offer. Within two weeks we were back in the states examining the boat at Old Port Cove, went to survey a couple weeks after that, and completed the purchase in late July. We’ve been on Ghost Rider II ever since. How raw was the emotional aspect of your loss in real terms. Can you put it into words for us to understand?
Once in a while we would find ourselves asking “what ifs” about how the rescue / salvage effort could have ended very differently; but then we’d quickly go back to the fact that we should not have been there in the first place.
We were both raised by stoic parents to be stoic: be honest about mistakes, treat them as the learning experiences that they are. And of course there’s a corollary to that: you always learn the most about yourself (and others) when the pressure is on. So truthfully we don’t really view anything about the aftermath as emotionally raw except perhaps for the bruised ego. You just have to get past that and move on. It probably helps that we’re both also very stubborn.
Besides, we’re Gold Star parents…now that is emotionally raw pain, and in comparison the loss of any material thing truly means nothing. How was the process with your insurance company?
No complaints about the claims process. The biggest insurance fault was our own for not taking out anything close to the right amount of coverage for personal items. It was yet another key learning. That said, obtaining insurance coverage for the next boat was an altogether different story. So, I have to ask was there an issue in obtaining insurance on your new vessel and did you go with the same company?
Insurance was a challenge. We had our broker shop around and what we found was that no U.S. based company was willing to write a policy for us….so no, we were not able to go with the same company (Seaworthy, later bought out by GEICO, about whom we have only good things to say.) We ended up going to the London market (Yachtline). Having Ghost Rider II must be a huge help in getting over the previous loss?
That’s true. But crewing aboard Relish for the Atlantic crossing with the encouragement from our friend Silvio was probably more contributory. And just as helpful were some key people who were consistently supportive. Those included good friends in our Grady-White boat club, along with Bernie & James K; as well as Jeff (our broker), Robbie & Jo (Southern Star), Brad & Lorraine (Adventure), Milt & Judy (Bluewater), Martin & Steph (Blossom), Ron and Nancy (Duet), Michel & Caroline (Sea Turtle), and many other Nordhavn owners we didn’t know or hadn’t even met at the time. The list also includes that interview fanatic on Pendana.
And it also helped that our financial advisor told us we really could afford another Nordhavn, even with the astonishing insurance premium that went with it. In what ways has the entire process surprised you?
Nothing related to the loss itself. But we were somewhat surprised on how disappointing other boat brands can be after having the Nordhavn experience. Rick is never completely happy with any boat, but he would have been totally miserable with any vessel that didn’t boast the features and quality of a Nordhavn. So, let’s move on to happier times. Can you please tell us a little more about Ghost Rider II?
Who doesn’t like to talk about their boat?! She is hull number 21 (out of 28) built in 2002. Her gelcoat color below the gunwale is a very light grey….in direct, bright sunlight she can almost look all white. The three diesels are all Luggers. The main is an NL6108 Kamatsu block @ 300 HP, the wing is an oversized NL984 70HP model, and the genset is a NL843 12 KW power plant. She’s a hydraulic boat (bow/stern thrusters and windlass). Electrically she’s a 12 volt boat and has been updated with interior LED lighting (thanks Dennis!) The nav/comm equipment is fairly new with Furuno TZT2 MFD’s that interface very well with Nobeltec’s TZ Pro software on the ship’s computer. A Furuno’s DRS6AX open array radar and BBW3 weather module round out the picture. Stabilizers are the older Naiad 252’s, but they work well enough if you keep up with the required maintenance. A key feature of her interior layout is the entry to the master stateroom from the salon, we absolutely love that.
Why a Boat is Called a She (from the Hope Town Museum…So Don’t Blame Rick for This One)
Do you feel she is every bit as good as Ghost Rider?
Yes and no. They are different boats each with their own pros and cons. Overall we prefer the N50, but it’s a very close call. In what ways is she better and worse?
The N50 has a more efficient hull form than the N47 and consequently is a better sea boat and more fuel efficient under most conditions. But being a 2002 vintage model she lacks some of the updated advantages of a later version N47. A good example is in the tankage….the 47 carries more water and fuel in fewer tanks than the 50; overall that means more management and intervention are required for those systems on Ghost Rider II. And Rick does miss numerous benefits of the day / supply fuel tank. The 50 also doesn’t have a flopper-stopper rig, and there’s been at least one anchorage so far where that would have been most useful; we may have to rethink that one or get smarter about where we anchor.
In summary, however, the N47 has more interior volume due to its fuller and taller hull form, and that provides some conveniences at the expense of sea-keeping capability. It’s a trade-off that ultimately depends on your priorities.
Michelle at the entrance to Bimini’s Big Game Club
So where have you been cruising?
Not very far. After we survived the rather nasty tropical storm season in the Palm Beach area during the late summer of 2017, we finally escaped in late October to cruise around Florida and got Ghost Rider II back to our home port of Fort Myers. After wintering there we reversed course and returned to Palm Beach (OPC) to stage our departure to the Bahamas in March of this year. We crossed to the West End and then cruised down through the Abacos in April. In early May we reached the Berry Islands and spent some time at Great Harbour Cay, and from there eventually sortied to Bimini to hang for a few days. After that we crossed back over to Florida, and as of this interview have just arrived back at Old Port Cove, where we’ll leave the boat with James for several weeks’ worth of work while we tend to some fun family business in Oklahoma and Missouri. What are your plans for future cruising?
We’ll return to Florida in June and resume cruising up the east coast of the U.S. Eventually we’ll end up messing around the Chesapeake, but will make stops in Edisto, Charleston, Oriental and Great Bridge to visit friends long the way. When it gets “less than warm” up there we’ll reverse course and head back to Fort Myers for the winter. After that we’re not sure….we want to revisit the Dry Tortugas again, and there are more places we want to see in the Bahamas if we can ever figure out the whacky weather patterns that have been a real puzzle there lately. What is the shortest trip you have made?
That would have been a week or so ago when we swapped ends in our slip at Great Harbour Cay Marina, going from a bow-in starboard side tie to a stern-in port side tide. That “trip” was measured in meters….and only those required to give Michelle time to reconfigure the lines and fenders. We only did that so we could launch the dinghy (the crane can deploy it only to starboard), and besides, the height of the fixed pier docks there made the boarding door completely irrelevant.
Otherwise, there were several short sorties when we were island hopping in the Abacos, as there are many places worth visiting there within minimal distances of each other. What is the longest passage you have made?
If we can count the crossing last year aboard Relish, that would be the leg from Bermuda to the Azores…at about 12 days. It seemed longer, as we did that leg with only three of us aboard. On Ghost Rider II so far we have kept all sorties to day trips only (so far a max length of 11 hours) as we continue to learn and dial in the boat. But once we reach that comfort level we will still limit our non-stop runs to two days or less with only the two of us aboard. We’re not huge fans of sleep deprivation.
Silvio Snapped this Pic as We Were Approaching the Azores on his N60, Relish
What have been the tallest seas and strongest winds you have encountered
We try our very best to avoid seas and winds that merit remarking on them. The lifestyle we have in mind doesn’t include getting bashed around.
On last year’s crossing aboard Relish we saw 12 footers mid-Atlantic, but the intervals were more than tolerable (until / unless you stop the boat to reel in a fish….which we’ll never do again.) The Straits of Gibraltar, with “only” six to seven footers directly on the nose, was much worse, as the waves were square, and at very short intervals in a 30 knot headwind.
On Ghost Rider II we really have not encountered any remarkable conditions apart from the typical short interval slop that tends to characterize the south Florida waters and occasionally makes the bulbous bow sound like a hammer on re-entry. We call it boating on a waffle iron. The stiffest wind we’ve seen so far was at anchor just a few weeks ago at Great Sale Cay, where we saw 40 knot gusts in a squall line. Gotta love all that chain and the Manson Supreme anchor, we didn’t budge an inch.
We did get a bit surprised by the sea conditions this past week when we crossed from Bimini to Fort Lauderdale to complete this year’s Bahama adventure; in the middle of the Gulf Stream the forecasted three footers ballooned to six-to-eight footers at nasty intervals, mostly on the beam. A couple of very square waves rearranged both some salon furniture and jumbled up several boxes of spares in the laz. Obviously we need to revisit the bungee cord matrix back there. If you didn’t own your current boat, what boat would you like to own?
Rick thinks the N57 is the perfect sea boat for a couple. Michelle prefers the N52. We both think the Kadey-Krogen 52 isn’t far behind, but even the brokerage prices on those are eye-popping. When you purchased your Nordhavn, what were the key features you were looking for?
That list is really long, but let’s see if we can distil it down to the biggies. Size has always been a limitation for us – not just budget-wise, but also living in southwest Florida we have to deal with skinny water – more than 6 feet of draft was a no-go. On the other hand, we wanted something big enough that would provide comfort and space for the two of us.
After that, for Michelle it was a combination of layout, fit and finish, certain key amenities, and whether or not she felt Rick would be able to handle upkeep of the various systems; and there was another size metric – small enough where she would feel confident handling the boat on her own in close quarters maneuvering. And a fly bridge…from which she could see the bow.
For Rick it was all of the above plus a workable engine room space, single engine propulsion, Lugger diesels all around…and a certain level of engineering and quality. Those latter elements can be quantified in a number of ways, but the bottom line was that after looking at a LOT of non-Nordhavn trawlers it was clear we had been spoiled with our first Nordhavn, and would not be satisfied with another brand.
Tucked away in our berth at Sea Crest Marina (Bimini)
Biggest surprises with your cost of ownership?
There is practically no limit to what you could spend on the boat. The challenge is figuring out what you should spend on it. Michelle believes the longer you stay at or near a service yard then the more we will likely spend.
By the way, nothing teaches you more about the cost of ownership faster, and more thoroughly, than sinking your boat. What is your favorite activity while aboard?
For Michelle it’s hanging on the hook in warm, calm weather, sitting on the fly bridge with a good wine, and watching the sun dip below ocean’s surface.
For Rick it’s exactly the same, but with a good scotch (or Goombay Ghost) and cigar.
Another Sunset from Our Fly Bridge (Tavern Cay, Abacos)
What training or skillset would you consider a “must have” prior to buying a boat?
Well, to borrow from a Dennis Fox sentiment, first spend some time throwing large denomination bills into the water. If you get past that without a nervous breakdown or crippling apoplexy, you’re ready for next steps. It’s a little like practicing bleeding.
Obviously there are the basics one needs to know around rules & regs, navigation, weather, manoeuvring, etc. The boat itself requires a certain level of knowledge concerning all of its key systems. But whether you “must have” all that before you buy the thing is debatable…it is certainly feasible to get the training and experience for all that after you buy the boat, assuming one exercises considerable prudence about where one goes and what one does with the boat in that interim.
From our perspective the prerequisites before undertaking any ambitious cruising are mostly based on experience in addition to those key skillsets and the knowledge base. (The ideal would be how the military approaches pilot training – but that sort of intense immersion isn’t possible unless you first head off to the Merchant Marine Academy.)
Wreck of a steel ship washed ashore long ago (Bimini)
But it’s probably just as important, if not more so, that you are fairly certain this is the kind of boat and lifestyle you and your mate really want. Many already get there from previous cruising experience, but there are some who don’t always go into it with “eyes wide open” – it isn’t all exotic destinations and vacationing, considerable preparation and work go with it….sometimes in unfair proportions.
We are also proponents of early and targeted training opportunities – days of systems walk-downs with a James Knight or Steve D’Antonio; taking the USCG OUPV course (or its equivalent outside the U.S.); and a couple weeks of on board training and cruising with a teaching captain (we used Bernie Francis.) What upgrade do you most wish you could make to your boat?
Replacing all the black water hoses and replacing the vacu-flush toilets with something like the Tecma. It’s on “the list”, but not sure when it may bubble to the top. If you were to give one piece of advice to someone thinking of cruising the world, what would it be?
Do it in a Nordhavn. And do not, under any circumstances, try to adhere to anything that resembles a schedule. If you were advising someone as to the best area of the world to go cruising, where would it be, and why?
We’re not particularly well qualified to answer that, certainly not as well as so many other Nordhavn cruisers who have travelled so widely. But having crossed the pond and getting teased by what we were able to see in the Med, that would be high on our list. I remember on your last boat you knocked up 3,000nms and 700 main engine hours in just the first few months of ownership. How does this compare with Ghost Rider II, or is the Hurricane season in Florida holding you in port?
Our 2017 cruising plans most definitely were severely impacted or interrupted by the tropical storm pattern that enveloped Florida last year. Every time we thought we and the boat were ready to go, the weather intervened. Every time a storm system formed and we looked for a direction to sortie to avoid it, the forecast gave us no reasonably safe path. So each time we opted to keep ourselves and the boat safe….and stayed in port. In retrospect that was probably wise. When Irma approached it was obvious nobody knew where that damned thing was going, so we rode it out in Palm Beach. After that we gave up on the plan to cruise up to the Chesapeake and just focused on a weather window to get the boat back home to Fort Myers….which finally occurred in early November.
At this point we’ve only accumulated about 300 hours and 1,350 NM since last October; but we’re looking forward to improving on that.
We Got Very Tired of Seeing These Things Last Year
On behalf of everyone who travels on water, thank you once again for allowing us to learn, from the lessons your tragedy had to teach, from the comfort and safety of our homes.
Our intent is to avoid teaching such lessons going forward.
For more on Rick and Michelle please click here.
Their blog link is here.
Their tracking link is here.
Thank you very much for your time once again. We will be watching this year’s progress closely.
Good luck with your travels!