Milt and Judy Baker – Bluewater N47
So, Milt as an older statesman of the sea, tell us a little something about your cruising to date and where you have been so far?
Like the T-shirt says:
So many ports . . . so little time!
The cruising Judy and I have done pales by comparison with what’s been done by so many of our friends, many of them circumnavigators. That said, over the last 50 years or so we have been privileged to cruise to, in and around some of the world’s best cruising grounds: Hawaii, Japan, the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, the Bahamas, Bermuda, Cuba, the east coast of North America from Newfoundland to Key West and the Dry Tortugas, Southern California, the Pacific Northwest most of the way from Seattle to Alaska, and more than a few out-of-the-way places such as Venezuela, Singapore, and the coast of Australia from Mooloolaba to Cairns.
When did you take your first cruise?
My first real cruise came almost 60 years ago as a teenager, too young to get a driver’s license. Three friends and I took a pair of outboard-powered 15-foot runabouts about 100 miles down the Intracoastal Waterway and back again from Norfolk, Virginia, to Elizabeth City, North Carolina, locking through a couple of locks and transiting the Dismal Swamp Canal and each way. We swam, water skied and fished, and we camped on Carolina beaches for several days. We had a ball.
So how many miles have you done on water?
I stopped counting when I passed 100,000 nautical miles a few years ago—and that doesn’t count years at sea, mostly in the Western Pacific, in cruisers and destroyers over my 20 years in the U.S. Navy. Our log shows that in the last nine years Judy and I have covered something over 35,000 miles in our Nordhavn.
Judy Katy en-route to Nova Scotia in the fog
Did you enjoy your trip around Tasmania with Mr Peter and Margaret Sheppard aboard N55 Skie?
How could we go wrong? Peter is the consummate skipper and has the miles to prove it, and Marg, his ever-patient bride, is in the running for world’s best hostess. Summertime in Tassie is as good as it gets, very, very good, and SKIE (N55) is one very comfortable yacht. We set out to circumnavigate Tassie, and when weather said NO we throttled back and had a wonderfully laid-back cruise around the bottom of the island. Peter and Marg had their dachshund Clementine aboard, so we took turns spoiling Clemmie.
Peter, Margaret & Clementine aboard N55 Skie
What was the highlight of this particular trip?
Aside from the great camaraderie—Peter and I found that we’re a lot like two peas in a pod and we bonded like brothers—Judy and I really loved Tasmania’s desolate south-western coast: Port Davey, Spain Bay, Melaleuca Inlet, Macquarie Harbour and the hauntingly beautiful Gordon River. We went 20 miles up the river and that was like magic. Looking back, Judy and I agree: our overwhelming impression is of one magnificent but challenging cruising area—and a terrific cruise, 500+ miles around the lower half of Tasmania. We concluded that Tassie’s weather reminds us a favorite Longfellow poem:
There was a little girl,
Who had a little curl,
Right in the middle of her forehead.
When she was good,
She was very good indeed,
But when she was bad she was horrid.
That weather may have conspired against our getting all the way around the island, but we have no regrets. Our Tasmania cruise in SKIE was the stuff of dreams. And bucket lists.
What was the low point?
Two things come to mind. I’ve lived mostly in sunny Florida for a long, long time and my blood is thin, though that’s tempered by lots of summers of cruising in Maine and Canada. Even in summer Tasmania is chilly by my standards, so I seemed to be perpetually in long pants, sweaters, jackets and warm socks. The low point for Judy was definitely when SKIE ran out of water mid-shower for her on a particularly cold day!
Peter, Margaret, Judy and Clemmie looking a wee bit cold!
What has been your cruising highlight so far?
That’s a hard, one James . . . so many highlights. But I’d have to say for Judy and me it’s crossing the Atlantic in our own Nordhavn, then cruising the Mediterranean from Gibraltar along the coast of Spain, France, and Italy to Montenegro and Croatia for two years. Living and cruising in the Med on our boat was an incomparable experience.
Bluewater above leading the charge across the Atlantic!
Bluewater approaching the Strait of Gibraltar.
Do you travel with an animal on board?
We have a Schipperke named Katy. She’s our morale officer and and she’s integral to our enjoyment of our boat. She first came aboard as an eight-week-old pup when the boat was being commissioned and she’s very much at home aboard Bluewater. Schipperkes are also known as Belgian barge dogs. They were bred for life on the barges—to provide security, keep the vermin at bay, and nip at the heels of the horses towing the barges to get them moving. They make great boat dogs–in 35,000 miles on-board we’ve never had any rats or mice and Katy’s never been seasick!
Katy looking ever so cute!
In your past life what did you and Judy do?
Judy worked for many years as an elementary school teacher and later in real estate, buying, renovating, and selling her own commercial properties. I’ve been a radio announcer, writer and editor for newspapers and magazines, photographer, boatyard technician and manager, webmaster, speechwriter, and seagoing and shore side U.S. Navy officer specializing in public affairs. Together, Judy and I founded and managed a company that we built into America’s largest retail and Internet seller of nautical books and paper and electronic charts. That company was Bluewater Books & Charts in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and we sold it after 15 years to go cruising again.
Milt, if there one piece of advice you your give to someone looking to buy his or her first boat, what would it be?
No boat can do it all. Before you ever start looking, decide what it is that you want to do with your boat. Are you looking for something to take out on the lake for an afternoon, a boat for fishing in rivers and off the beach, a cruising boat where you and your significant other can go off and enjoy local or more distant waters, or something else? Advance consideration of how you’ll use your boat is step one to getting the right boat. Skip that step and you’ll likely make an expensive mistake. Going to a boat show or looking at boats without defining why you want a boat may well result in your buying the wrong boat. Bottom line: start at the beginning, and the beginning is defining why you want a boat in the first place.
Judy, if there is one thing Milt does that irritates you while underway what would that be?
He’s sometimes too much of an optimist when it comes to weather for upcoming passages. As we’ve gotten older we’ve learned that waiting for weather pays big dividends, but from time to time we’re both a bit too eager to get going and end up getting our heads handed to us.
And it’s only fair I ask Milt the same question, so Milt if there was one thing Judy does that irritates you what would that be?
After more than 50 years of boating, Judy’s knot-tying skills are still not where this captain believes they ought to be. She’s mastered some of the basics—bowline and square knot and properly belaying a line to a cleat, for example—but she uses some of the most creative and, to me at least, confusing “knots” I’ve ever encountered when she hangs fenders. I haven’t given up yet!
Onto irritating things, have you ever run out of something while at sea that has caused problems?
Hard to do in a Nordhavn that carries so much, but we once ran out of diesel fuel. Actually, we had plenty on-board but the captain and engineer (that’s me!) failed to transfer enough to the day tank, and we had an uncommanded engine shut down in the Gulf Stream off Florida in the middle of the night. Thanks to dumb luck our our timing was good: the weather was flat calm, the wing engine started immediately to provide propulsion while we stabilized the situation, and I managed to bleed the main engine and get it back up and running in minutes. I won’t bore you with the extenuating circumstances but I‘ll say this: when you run out of fuel at sea once you learn to be extremely careful to never let it happen again!
Milt working away in the engine room!
Would you describe yourselves as more hunters or more gathers?
Definitely gatherers! I like to tell Judy that she’s the best person I know at getting 10 pounds of anything into a five-pound bag. That’s one reason our Nordhavn 47 weighs in at 100,000+ pounds every time we lift her with a Travel Lift. We’ve raised the boottop about four or five inches.
Why did you name your vessel Bluewater?
We picked that name for our business and our boat because it’s a metaphor for our lives.
What other names did you consider?
None. Our sailboats were all named Solution, and they were a great solution to our need to cruise. When we transitioned to power boating we decided to start a new chapter when it came to names.
What’s the funniest thing that has ever happened to you while at sea?
It didn’t seem funny at the time, but in spring 2006 we took Bluewater up to Bermuda from the Caribbean to rendezvous with Jim Fuller aboard his Nordhavn 43 Summer Skis. The idea was that the two boats would cruise in tandem to New England. Weather became an issue, and we were delayed waiting for weather in Bermuda for so long we had to extend our visas—not such a bad deal because Bermuda is one lovely place to stay with a Nordhavn. When the perfect weather window came, our departure day turned out to be exactly the same date as the start of the biennial Newport Bermuda Race with over 200 entries. What that meant, of course, was that as Summer Skis and Bluewater picked up the rhumb line to Newport, the race boats were headed right at us. As fate would have it, we met midway through the trip. It was oh-dark-thirty on a squally, moonless night with more than occasional thunderstorms, and that was when we entered the scattered Bermuda race fleet—picking our way, one-by-one through the racing yachts. Virtually none of them had AIS, so we were relying on radar and looking for running lights. Many didn’t have running lights on, and many more failed to answer radio calls as our brightly lighted Nordhavns tried to avoid or, occasionally, dodge them—keeping in mind that sailing vessels traditionally have the right of way. It was a hairy night for the two Nordhavn crews, but all’s well that ends well. We still chuckle remembering that night, one of the longest night watches I can remember.
What’s the biggest mistake you have ever made on the water?
An unintentional jibe of the mainsail on our Allied Seawind II ketch in a gale in the Bahamas. As we were going downwind, the mainsail suddenly became backwinded in what I remember as about 40 knots, the boom slammed across from starboard to port in a flash, and the mainsheet caught me in the chest, threw me squarely into a ¾-inch teak cockpit combing, breaking the teak clean off. I cracked a couple of ribs in the process, but I was lucky. It could have been much worse.
How did you first become involved with PAE and Nordhavn?
My friend Georgs Kolesnikovs, a great promoter who founded TrawlerFest, pitched the idea of a magazine for Nordhavn owners and potential buyers to Nordhavn’s three principals, and they liked the idea. The magazine was called Circumnavigator, and Georgs recruited me as a writer and contributing editor for the first edition. I jumped at the chance because I’d just sold my business and needed a new challenge. Not only that, but I was getting very interested in oceangoing powerboats and wanted to know more about them. A lot more. When the small Circumnavigator team visited PAE for the first time in 2002, I found myself eyeball-to-eyeball with the guys building Nordhavn into a great brand, asking them questions, learning about the designs, the boats, the systems, the construction, the marketing, and writing about it—that really clicked for me. I stayed on with Circumnavigator through all five editions over, as I remember it, close to 10 years. As we were finishing up the first one, Jim Leishman asked me to get involved with the Nordhavn Atlantic Rally, a volunteer job I took on with gusto. Judy was with me every step of the way—we both crossed the Atlantic four times for the Nordhavn Atlantic Rally, all by air. After that we had a real longing to do it by sea!
Why did you choose a Nordhavn?
By the time I made my move I had a great insider’s view of the Nordhavn world, both writing for Circumnavigator and as head of the advance team for the Nordhavn Atlantic Rally in 2004—and as author of the three-inch thick rally operations manual. The rally experience was close-up and personal, and I liked what I saw. I liked the integrity of the boats, I liked the people who built them, I liked the people who owned and cruised them, and I liked the lifestyle. By then buying a Nordhavn was a no-brainer for Judy and me. We ordered our new Nordhavn, took delivery in 2005, shook our boat down, and then organized and ran the MedBound 2007 rally, a much smaller version of the NAR, crossing to the Bermuda, the Azores and Gibraltar in company with other Nordhavns.
I understand you are the moderator of the Nordhavn Owners Group. How
do you find that?
Yes, I have been the moderator for the past five years, a pro-bono job I very much enjoy. The group allows owners of these vessels to exchange ideas, share experiences and ask for and receive crowd-based answers to technical questions. Plus there’s a lot of camaraderie among our members. Sometimes it’s hard to strike a proper balance between doing the right thing for owners and doing the right thing for PAE. The Nordhavn Owners Group is for Nordhavn owners and my job as moderator is to do what’s best for them. I have come to understand that it’s not always possible to do the right thing for both PAE and the owners.
So how many owners are active on the site?
Membership is strictly limited to Nordhavn owners and others specially invited because they are members of the Nordhavn family in one way or another. As of today we have 528 members, including PAE’s owners, a number of PAE employees and Ta Shing employees, and a handful of expert members, mostly marine industry veterans with experience that’s both broad and deep. Close to 500 of our members are actually Nordhavn owners, captains, or former Nordhavn owners.
Tell us a little something about MV Bluewater?
Bluewater is the only wet exhaust Nordhavn 47 ever built, an arrangement we’re been immensely happy with—I personally believe wet exhaust for a boat like ours is a great solution. Knowing we would likely be spending a lot of time cruising in the ocean with the boat, Judy I wanted a non-flying bridge boat because that helps keep windage down and weight lower down—another decision we’ve never regretted. I had a great time spec’ing the boat, and during commissioning I made it a point to be the first person on the boat and last person off the boat every single day—one reason I believe I had a good commissioning. As a serious, hands-on yachtie and former boatyard guy, I take great pride in doing nearly all my own maintenance aboard Bluewater—though I have to admit that now that my age is north of 70 I’ve stopped doing all the waxing and polishing myself.
Bluewater’s Portuguese bridge provides a protected outside vantage point.
Are you scared of spiders?
Nope, but that doesn’t mean I like ‘em. That said, I have to admit that the furry black tarantula we saw in the jungle on Isla Margarita was a pretty darned interesting creature.
What’s your favourite photo ever taken while at sea and why?
My favourite photo of Bluewater is one taken by someone else. This one was taken on a picture-perfect day in Montenegro by my friend Christine Bauman, at the time owner and captain of the Nordhavn 55 Moana Kuewa, as our two boats cruised slowly down the fjord after a memorable visit by about a half dozen Nordhavns to Kotor, Montenegro. Cruising that fjord seemed a lot like cruising in the clouds, and I felt that Christine’s photo captured that so perfectly.
Bluewater motoring down the Kotor fjord
What would you never leave behind (besides each other) when heading out to sea?
My laptop and Judy’s iPad.
Milt, tell us something about yourselves that nobody knows?
When we were in high school Judy taught me to sail. She’d just started sailing lessons, and she had a little Sailfish, the plywood precursor to the much better known Sunfish. We’d been dating and she invited me to go sailing on the river in our hometown, Norfolk, Virginia. It wasn’t long on our first sail before she allowed me to handle the mainsheet. Then the tiller. I’ve been the captain ever since.
And finally, where to next?
As I write this, we’re anchored in lovely Hadley Harbor off Buzzards Bay, just 10 miles from the Cape Cod Canal. If the weather forecast comes true, we depart tomorrow morning to transit the canal, make an overnight passage down east to Maine, returning to our summer berth in Southwest Harbor, a harbour we’ve been visiting for more than 30 years. After cruising Atlantic Canada for the past two summers, this year we’re sticking to what we hope will be easy summer cruising around Maine’s incomparable Penobscot Bay
Thank you very much for your time, will be watching this year’s progress closely.
Good luck with your travels!
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