Guest Interview Christopher and Diana Dent – Colibri N50
So, Chris, tell us a little something about your cruising to date and where you have been so far?
A bit of background: Diana grew up in southern Russia (though I tease her that there is no such place as southern Russia) and later eastern Ukraine (now, sadly, a war zone) and was an avid boater and fisherman with her sister and parents, who owned a small motor boat – something almost unheard of in Soviet times. Diana’s family would spend countless summer days out on the Ust-Manych Reservoir and the River Don (Europe’s fifth longest which in places is more like a long lake than a river).
Christopher started in Pullman, WA and spent whole summers on Coeur d’Alene lake in Idaho where at 8 years old he would take the family runabout and his little brother (6 years old) out cruising on the lake. (Ah, the things we could do in those simpler times!) Later growing up in Juneau, Alaska, with his brother and friends, would “borrow” Styrofoam sheets from a junk yard and pole, Tom Sawyer-style, down the creeks of the Mendenhall Glacier Valley. High school summers were spent on the water exploring, skiing and even building boats in the Puget Sound Area of Washington State. Later, after starting a career and family in Oregon he would use boats on inland waters for fishing, playing, and camping.
When we met, neither of us knew the other had any interest in boating but sometime after we married the subject came up and to our mutual delight we realized we had made an even better choice in a mate than we thought! Shortly after that fortunate discovery we chartered a 36 foot Grand Banks for a week in the Canadian Gulf Islands that we enjoyed so much we called the owner while underway and added another 4 days so we could get to Desolation Sound. It rained most of the time on that trip and we loved every minute. After that we were hooked.
Since then it’s been just one grand adventure after another. Beginning with that charter through the Gulf Islands of BC, and later with our Nordhavn 50 through BC several times more, then to SE Alaska, to Prince William Sound in the Gulf of Alaska, up and down the Columbia River and 8 times across the “Graveyard of the Pacific” Columbia bar, to San Diego non-stop from Portland, to La Paz in Baja Sur Mexico, to exploring the Sea of Cortez as far north as San Felipe at the mouth of the Colorado River. Every trip has shown us something new, interesting, and only whetted our appetite for more.
Why did you choose Nordhavn?
That’s a bit of a funny story. We didn’t plan to, we were just lucky.
The winter following our charter we visited the “Boats Afloat” (brokerage boats) as part of the Seattle Boat Show. With another couple friends of ours, we went with the intent of finding a boat we might buy (something like the 36 foot Grand Banks we had chartered – I thought). Fortunately – though it didn’t feel like it at the time – our search began at the at the much larger boats and the first one we went on my buddy’s wife said, “look Diana, this one has a washer and dryer!” Well, that was it, by the time we got to the ‘smaller’ boats like the 36 foot GBs Diana wouldn’t even go on them!
At the next year’s Seattle Boat Show we were ready to buy a boat. By then I had researched, and researched trawler-class boats, read countless articles and Beebe’s Voyaging Under Power (currently in it’s 4th edition by friend Denis Umstot), and had a fairly good understanding of choices. Just prior to the Show, while perusing YachtWorld.com for the Nth time, I asked Diana what kind of cruising she wanted to do. Without missing a beat she said, “When Dennis [our youngest] graduates from high school I want to be able to go around the world.” Whoa! Suddenly all the choices I had considered came down to three: Selene (a distant third), Kady Krogen (possible), or a Nordhavn. At the next Seattle Boat Show we found N5007 Colibri (née Prime Time) and the rest is 15,000 NM (so far) of nautical history!
What has been your cruising highlight so far?
As your esteemed, prior interviewees have said, it is so hard to pick one, or even a few. Every cruise offers something new. Chartering in the Canadian Gulf Islands was wonderful but having our own Nordhavn opened up so many more possibilities! Desolation Sound in BC is fantastic and as we explored farther and farther north the cruising just got better and better. In 2015 we spent most of the summer in SE Alaska venturing as far as Prince William Sound which is unimaginably fantastic.
We are now in Baja California and have enjoyed the warm waters and wonderful anchorages in the Sea of Cortez. Diana likes the warmer water and climate but Christopher is a northern boy and (so far on our journey south) has enjoyed Alaska more than Mexico.
Diana – Hard to choose, because all cruising destinations are unique. For example, cruising in Glacier Bay National Park was fantastic. Glacier Bay had amazing scenery with rugged mountains, blue glaciers, and water the color of emeralds. We were delighted by Alaska’s astonishing wilderness beauty, breaching humpback whales, brown and black bears, moose, wolves, sealions, hundreds of cute sea otters, and uncounted seabirds.
Do you travel with an animal/s on board?
Not routinely, but we have been occasional custodians of our son’s 75 lb (34 kg) Malamute-mix dog. Codi has been as far north as Prince Rupert and circumnavigated Vancouver Island. He loves his dingy rides, always forward, often with his front paws over the bow looking expectantly at what comes next.
In your past life what did you and Diana do?
How far back do you want us to go? I’m pretty sure I helped build the pyramids! In this life the past is still the present for me (Christopher). My background is pretty technical with degrees and/or certifications in mechanical and electrical engineering, physics and astronomy. I frequently and proudly refer to myself as a geek. I have owned an engineering manufacturing company for 28 years where we design and manufacture measurement equipment for the energy research and conservation fields.
Diana has a PhD in finance and also owned her own CPA company in Ukraine. Today, after moving to the USA and getting citizenship, works as a tax preparer and also in Christopher’s company as a financial analyst. She recently sold her hair styling salon that she also owned.
So Chris, I understand that you, like me, hate Racor vacuum gauges?
Additionally, and anecdotally, I have received reports of failures of the Parker/Racor gauges. If the reports are true it would be surprising as the gauges, if done well, are “stone stupid simple” and should last decades in normal use. I’m asking for people who have a failed gauge if they would send it to me that I could do some forensics and try to understand the failure mechanism(s).
I also understand that you have actually manufactured a solution to this age old problem?
That’s true. I think we all understand the importance of a good vacuum gauge on our engine primary fuel filters and how they give us early warning of when the filters need to be changed. (If we don’t know their importance, the likes of “Lugger” Bob Senter or industry consultant and author Steve D’Antonio will make it clear!) As I said, when I searched the commercially available options to find a solution for Colibri there just wasn’t anything that met all my requirements. So, I designed one that did. Thinking that others might also be interested I started to manufacture them (in humble quantities!) and started a website www.DentMarine.com to make them available.
So please tell us more about your gauges?
Gladly. One improvement I felt was critical was a different scale. As we know, fuel filters are beginning to clog at around 5 inches of Hg vacuum and, based on my discussions with Mr. Senter, vacuum becomes significant at 8 inches when bubbles can start to form in the fuel. It is “game over” at 10 inches of vacuum (i.e., change your filter now!). Unfortunately, all the commercially available gauges I could find (including the Parker/Racor gauge) were 0-30 inches Hg of vacuum full scale, meaning 2/3 of the gauge scale (10-30 inches) was useless. Worse, vacuum & pressure gauges that use bourdon tube sensing such as these, typically follow an accuracy rating of 2x, x, 2x meaning that the best accuracy is in the center half of the gauge scale and in the first and last quarters of the scale the accuracy is twice as bad as the center. So with a 30 inch of Hg gauge we are always in the first 1/3 where the accuracy is the worst.
When I decided to make a gauge that fit my needs it had to have a resettable maximum-vacuum drag needle, a range of 0-15 inches of Hg full scale (so that the area of most interest, 5-10 inches, is in the most accurate, center band), and that showed a yellow caution arc from 5-8 inches, with the red zone beginning at 8 inches (not 10).
I also made my gauge larger, 2.5” (6.4 cm) instead of the 2” Racor. That change, together with the expanded scale makes reading the actual vacuum much easier as well as more accurate. If you are interested, additional information can be found at Dent Marines website HERE. Product specifications can be found HERE and if you want to check ou their Frequently Asked Questions section click HERE. It is also possible to purchase the new gauges directly from their website for those interested.
Diana, if there is one thing Chris does that irritates you while underway what would that be?
How can a husband be irritating if he realizes his wife’s dreams in reality? What irritates both of us (mostly Christopher) is spending so much time fixing countless things on Colibri. Of course, boating is a Big Adventure and a perfect family activity. And… all of us learned in the first few months a dirty – I mean, greasy little secret – that cruising is fixing your boat in exotic locations.
And Chris, if there was one thing Diana does that irritates you what would that be?
Doesn’t she just say the nicest things? We’ve only been married 7 years so not enough time to get to “irritating.” One thing that, while not really an irritation per se, is just understanding her. Besides the usual Mars/Venus issues, for Diana, English is her third language. She is a native Russian speaker and is also fluent in Ukrainian. Sometimes accents, word choices, or grammar can cause some confusing conversations especially when you add wind or engine noise, or a tense situation, to the mix.
Onto irritating things, have you ever run out of something while at sea that has caused problems?
It’s a constant worry but so far, no.
What is the shortest trip you have made?
Christopher – Oh, that’s hard. Does to the fuel dock count?
Diana – Probably a two day/one night trip on the Columbia River with my mom and sister who came to visit from Ukraine. Mom and sister wanted to fish – and only fish! We motored 30 minutes from our slip and anchored our 50 foot yacht in between a dozen little fishing boats. It rained all day. Mom and Sister sat outside in comfortable chairs, wrapped in warm blankets with fishing poles in their hands until well after dark. Diana served them some kind of yummies every half hour or whenever they called – whichever came first. They loved that trip even though they didn’t even get a bite!
What is the longest passage you have made?
For the longest continuous passage – in the Fall of 2015 we repositioned Colibri from Portland, Oregon, 100 NM down the Columbia River and out in the Pacific ending in San Diego. It was 6 ½ days non-stop and 1012 NM. Loved it.
What have been the tallest seas and strongest winds you have encountered
We’ve seen winds in excess of 50 kts but those were in-shore (Johnstone Strait in BC) and they didn’t have huge waves associated with them – fortunately!
The worst seas was a repositioning trip from Anacortes, Washington to Portland, Oregon. We left Neah Bay on a beautiful, clear and calm morning. The forecast was for rising winds and waves but surely the forecasters were wrong on this beautiful day? It remained nice as we rounded Cape Flattery and headed south. A few hours later clouds began to appear in the west and the wind began to pick up. A few more hours later the sky was completely obscured and sustained winds rose into the 30s. The seas began building as well and there was a curious interaction between the southerly swells and the westerly wind waves. Sometimes they would cancel each other and other times they would constructively add together becoming in excess of 12 feet.
As the day wore on the seas continued to build and at times we would have green water over the top of the pilot house. I didn’t turn the wipers off all day and sometimes after a particularly large wave combination hit us the windshield wipers were wiping seaweed off the windows! Later I learned that the horn on top of the pilot house roof had failed from being full of sea water. Ugh.
Diana wasn’t with me on that trip and instead I had a friend who had no idea what we were into. Early on he disappeared into the saloon with a towel held over his face – which was white of course – and a bucket for, well, as needed. For eight hours I didn’t leave the pilot house often holding a “5 point stance” with my left butt-cheek on the helm chair, both feet locked under cabinet toes spaces, my right hand holding down the Nav PC monitor that kept wanting to jump off the counter and down the stairs to the forward staterooms, and with my left hand in a wrestler’s grip on the wheel. My buddy (who shall remain nameless but let’s call him Don because that’s his name) was unable to help or relieve me and so I stayed at the helm until we could limp into Grays Harbor at midnight.
We were supposed to be non-stop to Portland but the Columbia River bar was closed and we only made it across the Grays Harbor bar before the coast guard closed it too.
VIDEO CLICK HERE – Rough Water Off the Washington Coast
We found an open slip in Westport in the dark (always fun), in the commercial dock area, tied up, and collapsed. I ended up staying 3 days waiting for the weather to subside. My buddy left by bus as he had prior commitments back home in New Mexico – plus I think he may have felt the desert was an easier life than the sea! I ended up single-handing Colibri two more days on the rest of the way to Portland.
I think the moral of the story is to believe the forecasts. I will end with saying that as ugly and uncomfortable as the trip was, not even for a second did I worry about safety. Our Nordhavn bounced and splashed and banged but not even one time did I worry!
If you didn’t own your current boat, what boat would you like to change to?
Good question! Now nearly 5 years after buying Colibri I think about that a lot; it’s the maybe someday scenario – all boaters know it. When we bought Colibri I told Diana I didn’t know if this was our ‘5 year’ boat or our ‘forever’ boat. I still check YachtWorld frequently. I am easily tempted. There are some really nice Krogens, but they are not Nordhavns. I’ve also looked at Northern Marine and sometimes even think about the dark side, yes, metal boats! Metal seems like it would be more durable especially since I would love to do some extreme latitude cruising where ice would be frequent. (Antarctica anyone?) There is no denying the simple efficiency of a Dashew design. My view of the FPB is that they are great “get you from A to B” boats but once at “B” I don’t think I would enjoy one as much as my Nordhavn. To be fair, I’ve never been on one.
I confess that most of my searching is for larger N’s. An N50 is a great, efficient boat with all the capability to go almost anywhere but I lust for more laz space for toys (e.g., a dive compressor) like my friends the Hamiltons have on N52 Dirona or the Kemps on their N60 Sea Level. Of course, when Mike and Katie invited us onto N68 Kya while we anchored next to them in No Name Bay outside of the Tracy Arm Fjord in Alaska, lust went to a whole new level!
Still, as the geek I mentioned earlier, I am mindful of the cubic rule that weight, purchase and operating costs of a boat go up as the cube of the length (twice as long is eight times as heavy/expensive!) and that serves to temper my desires – a little.
When you purchased your Nordhavn, what were the key features you were looking for?
Safety, rugged, go just about anywhere, reliable, comfortable (that one probably higher for Diana), reputation, style.
Would you describe yourselves as more hunters or more gatherers?
I’m not sure how to answer that. How about: We hunt for places where we can gather new experiences?
Why did you name your vessel Colibri?
That’s a funny story. Colibri is the Russian word (and Italian and Spanish, and French, and German…) for Hummingbird. Diana and I both love Hummingbirds and had long considered it for a name for our Nordhavn. Still, we wanted to be inclusive so at a Spring vacation when all three of our children and one boyfriend were together, we decided to have a “name the boat” party. Everyone got multiple pieces of paper to write down as many name suggestions as they could think of which were put into a jar and were then pulled out and written onto a list. Each person then got to see the list and vote anonymously on their favorite three. After that we took the top five vote getters and voted again. As the pool of options shrank the discussions about name choices became more rancorous. By the time we were down to the final three and about to vote on the final choice it was clear no one was going to be happy with any choice! The process seemed like a good idea but fell off the rails at the first ballot when no one’s top choice made the cut! With no choice any longer having a champion all choices were at best seconds, or less.
So, in the interest of family harmony we stopped the vote before the final and Diana and I just decided on Colibri! We still like it. We also commissioned an artist to paint a hummingbird that we then used on the boat as our logo.
What other names did you consider?
One of the daughters suggested “Ocean Spirit” which Christopher was fond of but Diana not so much. Our son suggested “Dentanic.” Uh, no.
What is the one lesson every boater should learn?
Hm, every boater? Perhaps it is trite to say but if there is one lesson it is there are really many lessons – every responsible boater should understand navigation, anchoring, maneuvering, some maintenance, safety, radio use, and more. Also, if you are considering a boat with expedition capabilities like a Nordhavn that has the systems to support expeditions, you need a level of self-reliance. A Nordhavn is a bit like a 4-wheel drive vehicle that is subject to the old adage, “4-wheel drive just lets you get stuck farther from home.”
What is your favorite anchorage and why?
Ah, so many! A few that would come to mind include the remote, rugged and solitary beauty of Reid Glacier in Glacier Bay, Alaska; watching the whales feeding in Refugio Bay in the north part of the Sea of Cortez. And even though it is usually quite busy in the summer, Squirrel Cove in Desolation Sound, BC is a special place with its protected anchorage, tidal lake with a reversing creek, and good bottom fishing just outside the mouth.
What is your favorite Marina and why?
I’m going to go with Cap Sante in Anacortes, Washington probably as much for sentimental reasons as any other. It was there Diana and I did our first charter. It was there we attended numerous Trawler Fests that resulted in many friendships-for-life. It was there we moored Colibri for a summer of exploration.
We’re also enjoying our stay at Marina de La Paz in Baja. Completely different feel from Anacortes but we really like the closeness to downtown, walking distance to restaurants and chandleries. There are also lovely beaches close and ready access to nearby islands to explore.
I should also give a shout out to Salpare Marina on the Columbia River in Portland, Oregon. Colibri’s former winter home for 4 years.
What is your favorite quote and why?
Christopher – So many! Including a number I have seen offered in your previous interviews. One of my favorites is this from George Bernard Shaw – “The reasonable man adapts himself to the conditions that surround him. The unreasonable man adapts surrounding conditions to himself. Therefore, all progress depends upon the unreasonable man.”
I like it because it first makes you think a bit and then you realize the subtle truth behind it. It also resonates with my personal life as I can’t count the number of times I have been told something like, “but no one has ever asked to do that before.” If George is right then I like to think maybe somewhere I have added to some progress.
Diana – Be careful of your thoughts, for your thoughts become your words. Be careful of your words, for your words become your actions. Be careful of your actions, for your actions become your habits. Be careful of your habits, for your habits become your character. Be careful of your character, for your character becomes your destiny. — Chinese proverb
Biggest surprises with your cost of ownership?
Probably that there have been so many cost-of-ownership surprises! The first several years of ownership were brutal. Given that Colibri was 13 years old when we bought her there was an immediate need (well, a perceived immediate need) to do various upgrades – and there have been many! In the first 3 years of ownership we probably added another 40% of the purchase price in upgrades.
The single biggest ‘are you kidding me?’ was the addition of a Wesmar hydraulic get-home drive. The prior owner had removed the wing engine but we wanted a backup if the main ever went Tango-Uniform. The estimated and the actual costs were quite different and the final cost was ~$42,000. Ouch. Still, I’m glad we did it as Diana and my cruising plans will take us places that failure of single drive system is not an option. Besides, I can get 5 knots out of my 20 kW generator compared to just 3 knots with the old wing (and I can still steer because it is using the centerline thrust.)
What is your favorite activity while aboard?
Among those that we can discuss in a family setting I would say it depends on if underway or on the hook. Underway on a calm, warm day as we have sometimes found in Mexico, Diana and I have set our beach chairs on the bow and just enjoyed a cup of tea watching the scenery go by. On the bow you are even closer to the experience. It might be likened to the difference between driving a car and a motorcycle. It’s even better than being on the flybridge.
At anchor, bottom fishing, watching the sun go down with a martini in your hand or watching it come up with a martini, err, cup of coffee in your hand are high on the list as is diving off the fly bridge and swimming from the back.
What’s the funniest thing that has ever happened to you while at sea?
My buddy Don and I had been on the fly bridge on a perfect, sunny Autumn day and were coming into Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, WA where we were going to spend the night. Don left the fly bridge to go to the head and shortly thereafter I went down into the pilot house to take us to the dock from there. As we were approaching the dock the boat suddenly veered hard to port! I turned the wheel to bring us back on course and the boat took off to the left again. I started to panic that the autopilot, even though it was off, had somehow malfunctioned much as a friend’s had on his N60. I cut the throttle but kept my hand on the control in case I had to quickly go into reverse and then cautiously idled toward the dock expecting the boat to dart one way or another. Fortunately, it behaved and the rest of the docking was uneventful.
That night at dinner I told Don what had happened and that I was a bit concerned about our planned trip out into the Pacific and down to Portland the next morning (yes, the same trip with the horrible seas!) As I was describing how the boat had gotten “a mind of its own” as we were docking I noticed Don looking down at his plate. At last he confessed that after the visit to the head he had come back up to the fly bridge using the ladder from the cockpit. When he got there we were headed straight for the dock and I was nowhere to be seen. He yelled my name and stomped on the deck thinking I was in the saloon but when I didn’t return and a “crash” was imminent he spun the fly bridge wheel. When the boat turned back toward the dock a few seconds later he spun the wheel again, all the time yelling for me and stomping his feet! Only when I cut the throttle did he realize I had been driving from the pilot house. Mystery of the “wayward autopilot” solved!
What’s the biggest mistake you have ever made on the water?
Touch wood or praise the deities none of my many mistakes has had significant consequences, though sometimes I feel like I live under a lucky star. Curiously, never has there been an issue in big water, if anything happens, it is close to shore. I guess that goes with the old expression “the most dangerous thing at sea is the land.”
In terms of pucker factor though, 2 years ago while we were hurrying back from Alaska (if 7.5 knots can be considered hurrying!) we stopped in a small, perfect little bay on the BC mainland coast. The sun was setting as we pulled in and dropped the hook. We were up early to get underway and it was still dark – very, very dark. I pulled the hook up and went into the pilot house to drive out of the bay but in the darkness got a bit disoriented. The entrance was so narrow that it didn’t show on radar and even on the chart it was hard to tell where we were exactly – it was a small bay. Worrying that the tidal currents were pushing us somewhere we didn’t want to be I turned on my 2 million candlepower searchlight and spun it around. When I got to port there was a rock wall so close it looked like you could touch it! Fortunately I was able to maneuver us away from the wall (and equally fortunately, the water was deep right to the rock) and get us out of there without a scratch. But it left an impression!
What is your most hated boat job?
Christopher – That’s an easy one. I love a clean and shiny boat but I just can’t bring myself to wash and wax that beast! I try to do as much on the boat as I can myself, but that chore I will gladly subcontract out.
Tell us a little something about Colibri?
She’s a 1999 vintage, 50 foot Nordhavn with a little over 6,000 hours on her. We are the second owners. The first owner took Colibri to Alaska 8 or 10 times and sold her to Diana and me in 2012. Since we acquired Colibri we have made a large number of upgrades and improvements from an enclosed fly bridge, all new electronics with a NEMA 2000 backbone, hydraulic ‘get-home’ drive, new rugs, curtains, covers, tender (13’ Boston Whaler), and a lot more. As we want to do expedition cruising we have strived for redundancy in all systems including two generators, two radars, three depth sounders, two independent autopilots, two chart plotters running two independent mapping systems, and more.
What is the one thing you are most afraid of?
Christopher – The thing that gives me the willies just to think about are 20+ foot breaking seas. Shouldn’t have watched “Perfect Storm” I guess. And pirates. I don’t like pirates.
Diana – Nothing. We are lucky, and when we will be little bit less lucky, we will be positive and work harder to be lucky again. To be lucky while cruising, we do a lot of prep work before starting the cruise.
What’s your favorite photo ever taken while at sea and why?
There is no one answer to this question! Some photos are favorites because of their artistic merit and some because of the memories they conjure up. One special one is catching three whales breaching simultaneously in Alaska. Diana was able to get a pretty good picture of them:
And as nice as the whales are, for purely artistic and sentimental reasons this one leaving the Columbia River for the Pacific is my favorite. With the contrast of sky and water, light and dark, and the symbolism of the two Sea Gulls silhouetted as they are heading out to the big water, what else could you want?
What would you never leave behind (besides each other) when heading out to sea?
Being a pilot may make me more cautious in some ways. Pilots have a saying (hundreds, actually) that goes, ‘once you take off you can’t use the fuel in the trucks’ meaning you better make sure you have the fuel to get to your destination and then some. I feel the same on the boat. Ditto for potable water.
Diana tell us something about yourselves that nobody knows?
I will answer on this question after we get the results of our DNA tests. It is supposed to analyze our ancestry back 50,000 years. Very exciting.
And finally, where to next?
Well, to borrow from Steppenwolf, we’re “Lookin’ for adventure, And whatever comes our way.” We’re in La Paz, Mexico now and pointed south. I’d like to be in El Salvador or Costa Rica by summer and then we have to make a decision: take a left through the ditch, a right across the big water, or carry on straight. I’m negotiating for straight. I’d like to do the Canals of Southern Chile, Patagonia, and gee, from Cape Horn it’s only a “2 day hop” to Antarctica…!
Thank you very much for your time, will be watching this year’s progress closely.
Good luck with your travels!
And their blog site (under construction) can be found at www.mvColibri.com