Guest Interview: Douglas and Gerry Cochrane – MV Orion

Douglas & Gerry Cochrane – MV ORION

Photo of Douglas, Gerry, and Eleanor on Orion

So, Douglas & Gerry, tell us a little something about your cruising to date and where you have been so far?

We went to the Dark Side in 2006 when we bought “Ursa Major”, an older 50’ Monk tricabin semi-displacement trawler. We sailed her north from San Diego and explored Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia.

The Ursa Major at Avalon, Catalina Island, California 2007

Gerry felt the Ursa was too much of a man’s boat. She wanted something nicer, like a Nordhavn 46. In 2008 we purchased “Four Seasons”, N46-70.

The Four Seasons, N46-70, in Todd Inlet, Vancouver Island, British Columbia (Photo by Mike Justis)

We spent two winters in Victoria, BC, and the summers in the Washington and Canadian waters as far north as the Broughtons and Port McNeil. We spent a winter in the Sea of Cortez of Mexico and the following summer sailed up the Columbia and Snake Rivers to Lewiston, Idaho – 425 NM inland from the Pacific.

Four Seasons entering the locks of the Dalles Dam on the Columbia River

We were all set to head for Alaska in the Spring of 2012 when Gerry learned that a N57 she had admired for a couple of years was going to come up for sale. She greeted me with the news that she had two tickets to La Paz for the next day. Did I want to come along? Two days later, on my birthday, she bought “Thor”, N57-25, which we promptly renamed “Orion”. You can imagine my excitement a year later as my birthday was approaching. If I got a 57 last year, what would she think of this year? Maybe a 62!

Orion underway in British Columbia

For our maiden voyage, we headed north. By the 4th of July, 2012, we were in Prince Rupert, British Columbia. The weather was absolutely beastly. Finally Douglas announced, “We are heading south until the sun comes out!” Later he amended this to “until the butter melts.” Still later, the goal became “until we see palm trees and monkeys!” So we headed south down the West Coast of Vancouver Island.

Six months later, whilst anchored at Puerto Barillas in El Salvador, we took a hike in a nearby jungle. Gerry pointed out, “Okay, there are palm trees and over there are monkeys. The butter has melted. Can we go home now?” Fortunately she was joking and we continued south. Our plan was to continue down the West Coast of South America but when we reached Panama, we took a hard left turn and went through the Panama Canal instead.

By the 4th of July, 2013 we were in Turtle Cay, near Portobelo, Panama. There were four boats, two Brits and two Yanks. Douglas proposed a proper celebration, in which the Brits would dress in red coats and march smartly across a pasture. The Yanks would hide behind trees and throw rocks at them. Unfortunately, this excellent plan got derailed by a rum drinking competition.

After a couple of months in the San Blas Islands, the lightning storms got too fierce. We moved on to Cartagena, Colombia, where we spent the rest of hurricane season.

Orion in front of the Old City of Cartagena, Colombia

Come November and the end of hurricane season, we moved north across the Caribbean to winter in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. What lovely places those are! Great harbors, wonderful people, beautiful diving – truly Paradise on Earth. Several groups of friends and family joined us in the Caribbean.

But all good things come to an end. With hurricane season approaching again, we headed north to Florida and the obligatory visit to James Knight. We cruised the ICW north until we had run aground enough times, then headed out to sea.

Sailing under the Verrazano Bridge into New York harbour past the Statue of Liberty was a great thrill. We spent a month at Liberty Landing Marina and State Park in New Jersey. To the north were the old brick buildings of Jersey City. To the east were the towers of the financial district of Manhattan. To the south was a 3500 acre park and the Statue of Liberty. On the 4th of July, as the remnants of Hurricane Arthur passed by, there were two incredible fireworks shows. One was a synchronized show launched from three barges on the nearby Hudson River. The second, also synchronized, launched from the Brooklyn Bridge. It was reflected off the glass faces of the Freedom Tower and other NYC skyscrapers. Family visits made the stop a highlight.

Douglas and his “little” 15 year old grandson in Liberty Landing State Park, New Jersey

We had planned to stay on the Eastern Seaboard for another year. But in a moment of quiet reflection at years end, we realized that we weren’t enjoying it as much as expected. Almost everywhere we sailed to could be reached more easily by car. And of all the foreign places we had visited, the natives were the least friendly.

So with the help of some friends, Douglas sailed Orion back through the Canal, reaching San Diego in time for yet another 4th of July. Our son Steven joined us and we sailed the boat home. It was a huge thrill to sail under the Yaquina bridge into our home port of Newport, Oregon where we were greeted by our good friends, Stan and Diane Heirshberg on N57 Crossroads.

Orion and Crossroads, sister ships, at Yaquina Bay, Oregon

Why did you choose Nordhavn?

We live on the Oregon Coast, with our homeport in Newport. This is a rugged inhospitable coastline where the harbors are few and far between. Most are protected by river bars, which the Coast Guard will often close as unsafe in rough weather. Our priorities were safety and long range cruising. Nordhavn fulfilled those needs.

“Mystique”, a Cheoy Lee 90, in big seas off the Oregon Coast

What has been your cruising highlight so far?

That is a tough question. We have seen so many wonderful places and met such great people.

Douglas: The San Blas Islands on the Caribbean side of Panama are quintessential tropical islands. White sand beaches, palm trees, and multiple anchorages. The only way to visit is by boat so there are few tourists. It is near the Panama Canal, a crossroads for world cruisers, so the boating population is very diverse. The Guna Yala Indians are unique, tiny folks who largely live much as they did hundreds of years ago – except for outboard motors on some of their dugout canoes.

Douglas proving fish can be caught after all!

It is a hazardous area with many reefs and unstable weather. Almost every island has a wreck or two to remind you to stay on your toes. But overall, it is a special place to explore.

A typical Guna Yala shelter on a San Blas island, Panama

Gerry: My favourite places were in Colombia. Cartagena is an ancient walled city. Unlike many old cities that have been “Disney-fied”, people still live, work, and play in the Old City. The marinas were within an easy walk from the ancient walls. Although few people spoke English, the people were exceptionally friendly.

We also greatly enjoyed Santa Marta. It has an excellent IGY marina within an easy walk from the city centre of a lovely, non-tourist town.

Do you travel with an animal/s on board?

Yes, we had two large dogs aboard until we lost our beloved old Labrador, Sadie Sue, in Panama. We buried her at sea and marked the spot on our charts. Now Eleanor, our white standard poodle, is primary watchdog and ambassador to the children of the world.

The Captain and Second Mate on the Snake River, Washington

In your past life what did you two do?

We were serial entrepreneurs. Our most successful venture was a company that developed and sold management information systems to steel fabricators worldwide.

Gerry, if there is one thing Douglas does that irritates you while underway, what would that be?

If you asked about what irritates me on the land, I would have many choices. But underway, I can’t think of a thing. Douglas is an excellent captain. He plans our trips well. He usually can pick good weather windows. He is calm in a crisis.

Douglas on the helm as we cross the Idaho border

And it’s only fair I ask Douglas the same question, so Douglas, if there was one thing Gerry does that irritates you, what would that be?

My co-captain may come across as a ditsy blond at times and some people have underrated her. But when the chips are down, she is tough as nails. We have a true working partnership on the boat. She is curious about how things work and is a great help in troubleshooting boat gremlins. Boat life wouldn’t be much fun without her.

Gerry as we pass under the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California

Onto irritating things, have you ever run out of something while at sea that has caused problems?

Gerry claims Douglas will sink the boat with spare parts. Douglas says Gerry will sink the boat with extra supplies. But we have never run out of anything important underway – though Douglas has to improvise occasionally when something breaks.

Would you describe yourselves as more hunters or more gatherers?

We think a better differentiation would be explorers and settlers. We are definitely explorers. The longest we’ve stopped since we bought Orion was four months in Cartagena, Colombia.

Douglas, you’ve been involved in a lot of activities on the Nordhavn Owners Group. What are you doing currently?

For the last couple of years, I have been the librarian of the group. This is somewhat frustrating due to the limitations of Yahoo Groups and its search functions. There is a group of members who are a lot smarter than me examining other platforms that would serve the group better.

Gerry and I are co-hosts with Jim and Lynda Frantz of the Nord2AK (North to Alaska) Nordhavn rendezvous, to be held in Petersburg, Alaska, on July 8-10, 2016. We originally hoped to gather 8-10 boats but at last count we had 28 boats and nearly 60 people signed up. PAE has been kind enough to provide funding for part of the event and it promises to be really fun and educational.

I am excited about the (almost) free HanDBase boat management system that Jeff Siegel of Active Captain developed and I enhanced for use by full time, long range cruisers. I will be presenting on the subject at the Nord2AK event.

My latest project is related to another Active Captain offering, called Locations. This fun app offers Nordhavn owners an easy way to keep track of each other. For example, people attending Nord2AK will be able to see where other attending boats are in the weeks and months before and after the event on a nice map-based interface.

Doug and Gerry enjoying a spot of lunch!

Why did you name your vessel MV Orion?

Her original name was “Thor”. Somehow the God of Thunder and War wasn’t a name we wanted to go to sea with.

A previous boat was “Ursa Major”, which wanted to go North. We decided to stick with the constellation theme.

Can never have too many sunset photo’s

What other names did you consider?

We thought about “Southern Cross” as we were heading south. But the transom of our N57 is narrow and only has room for a short name.

What’s the funniest thing that has ever happened to you while at sea?

It seems the oddest things always happen at the end of a multi-day run when we are getting a little punchy. Our watch schedule is six on/six off which gives us plenty of sleep but we still get tired after a few days. For example, the Simrad autopilot once performed a 180 degree spin on Gerry. After days of having the land on her left, it was suddenly on the right. Fortunately the seas were flat.

Douglas was once fooled by what looked like a nav light on a boat in the pre-dawn hours. It seemed to be getting closer but there was no radar target. Then it got higher, looking like a sailboat masthead light. It rapidly got closer and higher. The tension rose – and so did Venus.

Seeing rocks in the middle of the ocean, each with a bird sitting on it, will get our attention – until the sea turtle dives and the bird flies off. Having a whale pilot directly in front of us, looking like a large black piling, raises the heart rate too.

What’s the biggest mistake you have ever made on the water?

Speaking of Stupid Captain Tricks, Douglas has allowed the working fuel tank to run dry, not once but twice. He now has a carefully detailed set of instructions in our Procedures Manual, that ends, “Promise you will never, ever, let this happen again.” He recently installed Maretron tank level sensors on the main tanks, which sound warnings and alarms when the fuel level drops below a certain level.

Tell us a little something about MV Orion?

After a couple of years living aboard our N46, we realized we needed a bigger boat with room for the kids and grandkids to visit. After considerable research, we felt the 3-stateroom N57 was best for us and our family. Orion is fast, comfortable, efficient, and sea kindly. The A/B ratio is low, so she looks a bit humble beside some of the towering marina queens. But offshore she provides an excellent ride with a minimum of pitching and rolling.

A major change we made on Orion was to cut off the aft bulwark on the boat deck and extend the deck aft 3-4’, even with the transom. This provides room enough to walk safely all the way around our big 13’ Bullfrog tender. Or to hold a dance when the tender is in the water. Down below, the cockpit is now completely protected from sun and rain. We recently enclosed this space in isinglass, providing an outdoor space that is protected from the elements. This will be of great value now that we are back in the rainy PNW.

What are you afraid of?

Douglas – I worry about getting too feeble, physically or mentally, to continue our happy life as sea gypsies.

Gerry – Pirates, kidnapping, going to jail in third world countries, and docking the boat.

What’s your favourite photo ever taken while at sea and why?

After a very uncomfortable crossing of the Carib from Colombia to the Dominican Republic, we were happy to drop anchor in Bahia Salinas near the little village of Salinas. It was Thanksgiving and although we didn’t expect to find turkey and dressing, we hoped to buy a chicken. No joy! We celebrated with chili dogs.

Gerry took this photo from the veranda of Hotel Salinas, Dominican Republic

 What would you never leave behind (besides each other) when heading out to sea?

We never leave port without our standard poodle, a detailed route on the chart plotter, a conservative ETA for our destination, and plenty of fuel plus at least a 20% reserve and Plan B just in case.

And finally, where to next?

In the last ten years we sailed north to Prince Rupert, BC, south to Panama, east to the British Virgins, and north to New York City. We have covered over 28,000 NM and visited 14 countries. What a grand adventure!

And the beat goes on…

We will spend this winter in the Puget Sound. Come Spring we will head for Alaska for the first time, where we are co-hosting the Nord2AK rendezvous in Petersburg. Beyond that our plans are fluid. Although we have spent years cruising the PNW, we haven’t begun to see it all. We intend to enjoy exploring this area for the next couple of years. Then who knows?

Thank you very much for your time, will be watching this year’s progress closely.

Good luck with your travels!

Their website can be found HERE. You can also follow their progress on eBoatcards Locations or write to or

What’s a day without a gorgeous sunset?

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