Saturday, March 30, 2013

Nexus 600 Adventure Cat

My good friend Alan Harrington from HBYC recently launched his new boat, the Nexus 600. Now Al and I have had a good few beers together over the past few years, and certainly I had heard quite a bit about this boat before seeing it, but nothing could have prepared me for the surprise on the day I first saw it - about two weeks ago....

I will have to be careful not to over-write this boat! It simply is about the nicest thing I have seen or contemplated as boats go. Its huge, beautiful, oozes quality, and it sails quite beautifully. Its nicer than a nice boat, and its nicer than a nice house..... Her name is "Ke Nako" - a Sesotho expression for "Now is the time". 

As interesting as the boat itself, is the way it came about, and the people involved. Al - the owner, is a newly retired very successful businessman, with a passion for boats, cars, technology and Windhoek Lager. This is not his first boat build either. He was involved in every little detail from the outset, and has given huge input to the way this all played out. In fact many people have added to the story - the Nexus crowd are very open to all and any good ideas. Find them at

The Paarman brothers (the surfing bunch) and team, are the originators of Nexus cats and the concept behind them. I think it was Mark Paarman who originally conceived the need for a large load-carrying cat for surfing charters etc. There simply wasn't anything available in this size and shape. Somehow Jonathan (pro boat builder) and Roger (MD and factory manager) were brought into the mix, and they setup shop in St Francis to make the first cat. John Henrick too. The designer was Anthony Key. Subsequently others have also become involved - a guy called Phil Berman, and du Toit naval architects. Its a project that has hit a sweet spot, and suddenly everyone knows this is a very useful platform.....the fourth one is now taking shape in the factory.

By nature, cats of this size and price are "low volume" production items. This means you get to work closely with the builders, and a fair bit of customisation is possible. And you couldn't find a nicer bunch to work with than the Paarmans - nice down to earth people. On the day I went sailing on this thing Roger was aboard, in fact he was living on board at Al's invitation, and clearly the relationships between client and builders was excellent, more like an extended family by then. Ditto for the others involved. If you want to build a boat, this is a critical element of it. If it was me, I would chose good builders first, after that the rest comes easy....not to mention the boats "karma"!

About a third of the world's cruising cats are built in South Africa, and certainly many of them have excellent reputations. We have great designers, great sailors and some excellent builders. Think Robertson and Caine and Southern Wind. But Nexus is right up there with them and they produce an excellent quality vessel....maybe the best to come out of SA, maybe the best of its kind anywhere?

The aft decks are huge, really well appointed and designed. In warm climes, this is really where you live. Think about the space on a 44 cruising cat and multiply by about six..... a lovely RIB tender hangs off the back, with dive compressor and a 20 KVA genset lurk under sound-proof hatches in the deck.
The bridge. This an uber-cool station with every lovely marine instrument you can imagine accessible through some Furuno multi-function screens. Great radio kit (ICOM M603 and M801E) plus a satphone. Most of it replicated on the helm position, and performance indicators in each of the four cabins, and above the aft-decks..... I like this place.....

The electrics on this boat are not trivial.... Power comes from either shore power, a 19 KVA Cummins-onan genset (unbelievably quiet), or a large battery bank with a 10 KVA inverter. Besides the instrumentation and lighting, you will find about 8 fridges or freezers, a few microwave ovens, TVs and music, a large watermaker, dive compressor, four large airconditioners, and a plethora of electric winches, windlasses etc. To bring this altogether, Alan took the plunge and installed a fantastic switching system made by Mastervolt. It saves loads of cabling, and allows amazing flexibility in configuration. Home automation on steroids. Al explains it best here.

The indoor saloon. Fine leather, great views!
 The galley. Like a nice house. Great views. It stays level! See the capuccino machine on the far side.
Home entertainment. Great systems with Bose speakers reaching every corner.

 View from the foredeck. That's Table Mountain slipping behind the stern...
 The helming position. from the other side. Sorry I didn't get this one close-up. Its comfortable and dead-easy to do it all from here. This boat can be steered, tacked and all things done easily by one person from the helm station. Electric winches help, but it really is a triumph of well organised sheets, winches and jammers. 
How does she sail, do I hear you say? Well, on the day I went out, we had 10-14 kts at  times, and a nice flat sea. We saw 7-10 knots mostly under main and genny only. 8 knots under power (slow cruising speed in first gear), with a fair reserve, she could run at 10+ under power if necessary. The following week, Al went out and found a patch with 20-30 knotsof wind. They saw 20 knots on the log.... I suspect that on a passage, using spinny and code-0, she could average 10-20 for extended periods. With no fuss at all. People below decks would not even know, except for the instruments! She seemed to tack through 100 degrees though I have to say we weren't even trying. And then there's 2 x 110 Hp Yanmars to use if you really want to press on.

Tacking the boat is dead easy. She shows no inclination to stall in the turn at all - you can take it easy and just rely on the momentum and her deepish keels to take her round. Mainsail looks after herself as one would expect, and the jib comes around easily by hand, amazingly. Then you add tension with the size 60 motorised winches.... one person can do this all quite easily from the helm station. Even the furler on the genny is electric, and single touch on that button can be used to angle the headsail foil optimally for the tack. Despite the monumental size of the sails, its astonishingly easy.....

See her vital-statistics here....

Overall, I loved this boat because she really is conceived by sailors and boats-people with nautical recreation in mind. Not by interior decorators and bling artists. She is very well thought out and well appointed, but no bling. For instance the ceilings are clean white stipple paint, but table surfaces are a nice bamboo finish. The spaces for the engines, the genset, the lazarettes, the chain stowage, the diving compressors etc etc etc are large, clean and open. No space for creepies and dirt that scares the hell out of one when looking at used boats! The sailing kit is all top notch and really looks the business. The sails are not for show. Sailing, reefing, furling and anchoring is all functional and top notch.

 I haven't even mentioned the cabins below. They are spacious, practical and the beds are extremely comfortable. Each cabin has a 16k BTU aircon. Al has sacrificed one set of heads for a laundrette with a Miele washing machine and tumble-dryer.

Overall, this is one boat you can live on with all home comforts and then some. I couldn't think of a nicer place to be. Plus she sails really well, and has the quality you expect for an investment of this nature. For chartering and excursions, I can't imagine better. 

Is there anything to criticise on this boat? Well not that I know of. I can't tell if she slams in a seaway because I haven't been there. The bridgedeck is higher than most. For her intended purpose, I can see no problems at all. Cold climes and/or the Southern Ocean may be different,  and certainly she is no river cruiser given her beam of 8.7m, and a mast that rises about 26m above the water! Draft though is a very acceptable 1.4m.

What does she cost? About the same as the latest Ferrari..... I know which I would rather have!

UPDATE: Nexus Cat (Balance 601) as a Passagemaker:

Earlier this week (1-3 October 2013) - I had the opportunity of joining the boat for the delivery trip from St Francis to Cape Town for the annual Cape Town Boat Show. This is a voyage of about 350 n.m. and takes 2-3 days if the weather is favourable. Essentially, this is the "Cape of Good Hope" passage and is one of the three "Great Capes" in the mind of seafarers - along with Cape Horn and Cape Leeuwin (S Australia). One needs a favourable weather window, a very sound boat, good sea-legs and a touch of madness for his trip. Very few bolt-holes en route. 

As it happened, the weather forecasts were very favourable for the period and then some. The boat I knew to be exceptionally capable, and luckily I had some free time. Plus my mate Nick was also available to join, and a day later we were on a small plane bound for Port Elizabeth, where Al collected us. After a pleasant meal with the Paarman-Harrington-Nexus ensemble at St Francis that evening, we slept aboard - very comfortably I might add. Next morning we did a quick tour of the Nexus factory - a neat and well run operation, where we were proudly shown the bare bones of Vessel-4 under construction. Impressive stuff - but I don't have space to cover this here.

By 10 a.m. the wind was quite fresh - about 25 knots - and the sea was already looking quite distressed - with a large chop across the swell and plenty of white caps. The sort of day that ski-boats stay in harbour, and commercial trawlers curse. Although the conditions were very much stronger than the forecast we did have a following wind, and of course the boat is large and dry. So off we went  - the four of us - skipper Matt, Al, myself and Nick.

We exited the harbour straight into the fresh wild chop in the bay. Cats do a remarkable job of cleaving their way through a big chop whilst keeping you dry and comfortable - especially 60' cats that weight 25T. We pushed along to Seal Point under motor before heading West, when we cut the motors and released the genoa. By now we had a North Easter pushing 30 knots on the stern quarter and so we took off at a decent 10-12 knots down the coast on jib alone. It made for a comfortable ride as the rather big following seas swept slowly past. Very pleasant for an hour or two. We had a pleasant lunch and sat on the aft deck admiring the view and the waves, plus the odd whale.
Al is monitoring a fishing boat.
Conditions were quite wild outside.

The seas continued to build, and the wind strengthened to about 35 knots. Al loaded a new set of Grib files via the sat-phone - they still reported about 9-12 knots of wind and low swell conditions! Cape Town Radio seemed to concur. Conditions to the East of us were reported quite strong however, whilst the weather to the west was reported to be far better. It seemed the weather system of the east had come quite a bit further West than anticipated....

By sunset, the seas were actually quite large, with steep waves of 2-3 m powered along with 35 knots of wind. Quite a lot of white water blowing off the tops, and the odd foamy trying to climb on the back. Even the passing ships were bouncing around. The big cat would rise on each following wave and surf down to the back of the next one, then slow down as a large green wall chased up behind us again. And so this went on until midnight as we trundled on at 8-12 knots, with a few faster surfs. I recall thinking how unbelievably horrible these conditions would be in a lesser boat...even a 45' monohull...

For some reason I didn't manage all my supper that evening, and put my head down at about 10 p.m. - in my large double cabin. And then the world went quiet and all was well - I slept soundly until morning. The big cat drove herself peacefully through the night with Matt and Al keeping watch on the AIS and Radar. At midnight the wind slacked off notably - and on went the Port engine, keeping our speed to eight knots. Al doesn't like anything less than eight knots.

All the while there was very little slamming - just a bit of a water rush between the hulls as waves came through. Nothing unsettling at all. At no stage was there anything scary - the platform is immensely stable - and very rigid. No flexing or groaning at all. Although it isn't fun being in a big sea - full stop - this boat gave no reason for concern. That's not to say I would have fancied going upwind that night, mind you, except for a man overboard situation or similar....

Some cellphone footage on youtube:


By morning the conditions had improved significantly although the sea was still quite confused and lumpy. Despite this we rumbled along at a steady eight knots with the two Yanmar 110s. Slowly the wind swung north and then West and soon it was straight on the nose at 18-20 knots, where it stayed most of the afternoon. We kept going at 7-8 knots boat speed, and a sizeable chop right on the nose. There was the occasional slam and bang, but nothing serious. My afternoon siesta was not disturbed fortunately.

Night-watch is a civilised affair, with excellent nav, 
soft music and espressos....

By nightfall conditions were very very mild - sea was completely flat and amost zero wind. Speed increased to 10 knots as the weather conditions settled - with the Yanmars idling along at 2000 r.p.m. The sky was unbelievably clear and I opted to join the night watch just for the fun of it. This is where I had the chance of experiencing the magnificent facilities at the indoor bridge and the semi-enclosed helm station. Now I am no stranger to the joys of chartplotters etc and decent comms, but in my previous experience (single-handing) this usually means a handheld plotter in one hand, a VHF handheld in the other, mainsheet in my teeth, a tiller-pilot, freezing wind on my face and some cold seawater in my jacket somewhere. Little chance of coffee... Observing and avoiding other vessels becomes a lesser priority mixed in with need to get to the heads or out of the cold... So the idea of sitting at the plush indoor bridge station, with two large nav-screens with radar, chartplotter and AIS overlays, whilst listening to soft music did make a fair impression on me. Did I mention the espresso machine? The ICOM M602 VHF - with its antenna in the clouds, was as clear as a bell. The Cape sea-route is increasingly busy - usually at least 10-12 large ships on the screen at any time - all doing significant speeds. Then there's the little matter of small craft like fishing boats and yachts that often don't show on the AIS and can be hard to sight visually at night. The large radar screen does a great job of finding these, and can track these targets individually showing course, closest approach etc etc. Its all very clear and easy to use. Slight adjustments to the auto-pilot are easy to make from below (or above), and the AIS will immediately reflect the revised closest point of approach. In this way other vessels see the same picture - and much chit-chat is eliminated. What a all the boats systems are accessible and controllable from this position - example battery states, water levels, nav lights and so on. 
Morning coffee as we passed Llandudno.

Cape point loomed up at 05:30 next morning, and with a sea like a milkpond we arrived at the V&A Waterfront just 3.h hours later! 3.5 hours from Cape Point to the harbour! 

So that's what the Nexus 60 (Balance 601) feels like as a passagemaker.....that was 350 n.m. in a real mix of weather, covered in 46 hours, that's about 180 n.m. per day, which I think is a realistic number for a long-term cruising average in mixed conditions.  Certainly one could push much harder, and with mainsail and decent conditions one could see daily runs of around 300 n.m. quite comfortably. My little bottle of vitamin pills sat calmly on the smooth bamboo galley counter for all of this, never moved once...

Ke Nako has now done a few months cruising the Mocambique cost around Pemba Bay and vicinity, and has done some honest service as a fishing and diving platform, seaside hotel and passagemaker. Besides some minor problems with the greywater pump, she has had no problems at all. Shee is still in boatshow condition - see her at the Cape Town Boat Show this weekend (4-6 October 2013).