Jen Edney is one of the most exciting young photographers to come along in years. But can she write? Peter Johnstone and the Gunboat folks gave us all a chance to find out with this excellent NC to Miami delivery report from the Gunboat 55 Toccata. And for those of you waiting for the details on the loss of the Rainmaker, sit tight. It drops soon. Those of you confused by the title of this one…really?
I hear the buzz next to my head, my alarm waking me up to make sure I don’t miss sunrise. I roll over to my side, peaking out the porthole – thankfully, it’s still dark. I hit snooze, and this way-too-comfortable bed keeps rocking me back to sleep, rather than tossing me out of my bunk. More sleep…
Buzzzzzzz! It’s 20 minutes later, and I see light starting to tickle the water with reflections. Now I’m excited to get up, and even more excited when I realize I don’t have to suit up in foul weather gear to go out on the deck to “use the head!”
I peel myself out of bed and walk up the steps to make a cup of coffee, and rather than hunkering down in a deep galley looking at a gimballed cooker, I feel like I’m walking into the cozy family room of a modern Manhattan apartment with the best 360 degree-view of the ocean in the city. But it isn’t, of course – it’s a Gunboat, and we’re motoring along, waiting for the slightest zephyr of breeze to let us get the sails up.
The hectic day before was a bit of a blur, as pre-delivery days with a narrow weather window usually are. I helped with the extensive job of finishing up provisioning and making sure everything was loaded on the boat as quickly as possible, and seeing the food that was being passed onboard, I realized it was going to be a far cry from my racing yacht days of one-pot meals and freeze-dried hell.
“There’s a serious flood of emotions right now,” said Carolyn Groobey, proud co-owners of Toccata.. “We’ve been anticipating this day for so many years, so my heart was pounding like I’d just won the prize I’ve been striving for.” At the same time, there was some heaviness. “This was a goodbye for a while to our families, dogs, and the Gunboat family for a while.”
Within hours of arriving in North Carolina I heard the phrase “Gunboat Family” and “Tribe” more then a handful of times, especially when listening to Chris Bailet recount the reaction after the loss of the boat he was delivering, Rainmaker. “We had no idea what was going on back on shore,” said Chris. Apparently the coast guard was in touch with Lauren and that started the ball rolling, and the entire Gunboat staff was working angles for both getting us home and readying a salvage mission. “I was only able to get one call out to Peter. It was chopped up and cut out halfway through the conversation. But it was enough to let him know the situation, and enough to get people moving.” Johnstone had calls on from Florida to Annapolis, people were ringing their cousins’ second uncle with a Commercial shrimp boat in Charlestown to get out there. By the time we landed, the Gunboat team was at Dare County Airport, open arms and hot pizza, with a meeting scheduled for a full review and salvage operation. “This level of camaraderie and support – it’s just not something you feel with any other boat company, said Chris. “Ask any of the crew or owners on any Gunboat – it’s a family. Or as Peter so appropriately put it before, a TRIBE” [PJ’s first Gunboat – the boat that inspired the Gunboat line – is called Tribe -ed].
Having only met them the night before, I didn’t realize how strong the relationships were among the crew, though I learned the next day that PJ and the Groobeys had built a friendship over the preceding 3 years. They recounted stories with laughter and nostalgia, discussing the journey that led up to this monumental maiden voyage. “That unique Gunboat sense of community is important to us, and it’s one of the big reasons we bought the boat,” explained Carolyn. “From the beginning, we felt like part of a big, awesome family, welcomed by the high-caliber folks that make up the tribe of Gunboat owners, employees, skippers, and crews.”
For this trip, the new owners were eager to get acquainted with their boat – meaning lots of helming. And the diminutive Carolyn Groobey proved to be the rock star, hitting 21.8 knots for Tocatta‘s first ‘personal best’ speed. “It was a real gift to have Peter do this passage with us. We were learning ‘the Gunboat way’ at the feet of the master,” she said. Curious to know a little more about how these boats handle after only a few days onboard, I asked Chris Bailet what he thought was a standout feature of Gunboat. “All of PJ’s boats seem to have the perfect combination of speed and comfort, without tradeoffs. I’ve been on a lot of Peter’s boats, and you can ramp it up and send it while feeling completely stable, and not have the wave slap sending your coffee machine into a charter guests face. The beam keeps it stable and all that freeboard makes you feel like you’re at the bridge. I love the boats and the family, especially the 55, that thing is like a guided missile.”
Chris and Carolyn had similar feelings about the comfort of the boat, as did I, especially when compared to my last big delivery – the turboed VOR 70 Maserati. Comfort is not a word I’d use when describing any VO70, but that’s what it takes to get real speed out of a design like that. Gunboat does it smarter, as Groobey summed up: “We are deliriously happy with the boat. It’s solid, strong, and very comfortable. The openness and 360 visibility in the boat makes it both a great sailing platform and living platform. We love the galley up configuration. As you are sailing along, various crew members are cooking, sailing, reading, and relaxing – it’s all about the family; the tribe – that’s what Gunboats do.”