Hello from a newbie on the Chesapeake

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May 2, 2013
Vessel Name
Vessel Make
Helmsman 38 Sedan
Greetings everyone,

Just joined and wanted to introduce myself. I just bought my 13th boat (hopefully lucky 13?) in over 40 years of boating, and discovered this terrific forum at the same time. We're based on the Chesapeake Bay, are in the process of retiring and hope to finally have time to do some more boating (which we had limited time to do while working).

I look forward to getting to know all of you, to sharing thoughts and ideas, and perhaps to meeting out there on the water. If you see a green 39 ft American Tug on the water, please say hi.
Welcome aboard, Endurance! After 13 boats, no doubt we all could learn a thing or two from you. I look forward to you joining the conversations.

The Chesapeake is a beautiful area for boating. Are you planning a Great Loop trip in your American Tug?

Curious about the AT395 layout and features, I found this short video tour. Very nice layout. It is similar to a Helmsman 38PH with full walkaround instead of the full beam salon.


Helmsman Trawlers 38 Pilothouse - Boatshed.com - Boat Ref#152275 - YouTube
Welcome. And nice choice in the boat! I have the 34 AT with a fly bridge. Love the product and wish I had opted for 395 myself. Enjoy!
Thank you very much guys for the welcome! I'm looking forward to getting to know everyone and learning from the incredible experience so many people here have.

FlyWright, the video you found is actually of my boat, the factory used it to make the video. Starting forward, the layout has the master stateroom forward with a queen walk-around bunk, followed by the head with a big stall shower to port and a guest cabin with a double berth to starboard. Then up 5 steps to the raised pilothouse, which has two double seats port and starboard, doors on both sides. Then down 3 steps to the salon, which has an L-shaped settee, table, and chair to port, and a U-shaped galley to starboard. Then out to the cockpit, which isn't huge, but big enough for 4 chairs, and is fully covered by the hardtop. From the cockpit is a ladder (with a covered hatch) to the boat deck, which is the largest space on the boat, could easily accomodate 8 people, then up 3 steps to a raised flybridge.

You're right, the layout is similar to the Helmsman 38PH except with walkaround side decks (the decks on the AT aren't the widest, with my size 12 feet I wish they were a few inches wider, but workable for getting around).

Jukesy, this is our second American Tug. We bought one of the first 34's in 2001 (hull #12, boat #10 for me) and loved it. This is actually sort of our 3rd American Tug. We originally ordered another 34 but with a flybridge like yours. But, while the boat was being built, the 395 was introduced. After much angsting, hand-wringing, and torturing and squeezing of the budget, the factory and dealer graciously accomodated us and we switched the order to the 39.

I absolutely love the American Tug (I'm a repeat customer!). I've looked at so many boats over the years (driving my amazing and totally supportive wife crazy). I've spent so many hours crawling into places (in boats) where most people never look, picking my way through the machinery spaces with an electron microscope scrutinizing every tiny detail. I ask companies to send me the layup schedules of the glass and resin for the hull and superstructure of any boat I've considered. I think I've probably looked at almost everything on the market in the past 15 years, and for my tastes and uses and my own personal preferences, the American Tug fits the best.

The boat is so ruggedly built, so logically laid out. It's built better than it needs to be. They just don't cut any corners in the boat, even in the deep dark recesses where no one ever goes except maybe a limber and dedicated suveryor. That's what has always impressed me about the boat - they're built solidly in places people rarely look. The solid glass hull is about an inch thick, just like the old glass boats from the 1960's I grew up with - probably overengineered and certainly heavier than the competition, but I would rather trade off a little speed and additional fuel use for that reassuring 'Rock of Gilbraltar' feeling (when we sold our AT34, the surveyor commented, 'this thing is built like a battleship').

The factory was wonderful to work with. They accomodated a very long list of semi-custom features I wanted in the boat, and never lost patience with me despite my endless phone calls and e-mails about esoterica and my requests for special layup schedules, engine choice, floor material, and a hundred other things.

After 40 years of messing around on the water - and being caught out in some weather I would have prefered to avoid - seakeeping is just as important to me as construction quality, and I love the balance the American Tug offers. I'm a big fan of semi-displacement hull designs, being able to both go faster than a full displacement boat but without sacrificing a lot seaworthiness as a full planing hull does. In our old AT34, we'd been out in 8-10 ft swells off of Nantucket and nasty 5 ft chop in Delaware Bay - which my wife literaly slept through because the ride was so smooth. But, with the 480 hp engine in this boat, we can also hit 20 knots.

This may be my last boat. Extrapolating the aging process, I could envision my body telling me in about 10 years that it just creaks and groans too much to do what a boat requires (and depending on how the economy goes, the boat might have to go sooner than that). In the meantime, we'll hopefully finally have some time to take the trips I've always longed to do. Not sure about the 'Great Loop', but variations on it. I would love to explore New England and spend time on the Maine coast, go up the Hudson River and then back through the Great Lakes. We're even thinking about moving the the Pacific Northwest and if we do, taking the boat through the Panama Canal. We'll see where the tides might take us.
Endurance-Welcome Aboard! And pay no attention to Marin-he sort of has a thing about reverse slant windows! He also does not cook!

Your Pilothouse windows will fit in just fine out here!
Reverse-slant windows rule! :dance:

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I absolutely love the American Tug (I'm a repeat customer!)......

I'm a big fan of semi-displacement hull designs, being able to both go faster than a full displacement boat but without sacrificing a lot seaworthiness as a full planing hull does.

Since you are on your 3rd AT, I'm curious as how you would compare it to the same length NT. Don't worry about offending anyone here with your comments as we are all big boys & girls.
I LOVE reverse slant pilot house windows, it's one of the features I especially like about the AT. I won't rationalize about how they have less glare than forward sloping glass, or more evenly distribute the force of green water hitting the windshield - I just like the looks.

I looked very closely at the Nordic Tugs. It's a natural comparison, they are of similar size and price, and both have hulls designed by Lynn Senour. The Nordic is a nice boat. After scrutinizing both of them, I think the AT is a step up in quality. The layup is a bit more robust, the specs for some of the fittings a bit higher (windows, portholes, doors), a little more freeboard, a bit better speed for given power, and much more flexibility from the factory in accommodating my preferences for customization (choice of engine, layup, etc.).

If the AT wasn't available I almost certainly would have bought a Nordic, they are a very nice boat. But, having had the opportunity to go through both of them almost side by side with a fine toothed comb, in aggregate the AT seemed like a better built boat to me (I also ran across a couple of former Nordic owners who traded in for an AT, but, while they may be out there, I didn't hear of any AT owners selling to buy a Nordic).

Overall, it's personal preferences, if you want a pilot house coastal cruiser, I don't think you can go wrong with either one (but watch out for moisture penetration into balsa core on the boat deck of Nordics, I saw some used ones that had cracks at the base of the rear facing pilot house windows that allowed extensive water intrusion).
Welcome! Nice to see another tug on the site. We have a 2002 Nordic Tug 32, the cousin to the AT 34. We are on the Potomac, about 20 miles south of DC. Not far from you as the crow flies, but at least a couple days by water. The way you describe the build of your AT is very similar to our experience with the NT (and similar comments from our surveyor). Both NT and AT seem to be great boats with a lot of shared history.
I would echo the above comments as well. We spent endless hours looking at both the NT and the AT. Having built a few boats of my own and knowing what I know, the AT is just a better product all around IMO. The NT is a great boat too. And yes, reverse raked windows rock!
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Well, we never looked at an AT before purchasing our boat, so I can't really comment, but I will say that I think our NT is built very well (our mechanic and surveyor felt the same). As said, they are both great boats.
I have never looked at an AT but I have been on a 32 & 42 NT. I thought the 32' NT was a great little boat. Hatches everywhere and anything that was located in the bulkheads or below decks had a hatch covering it. My only complaint was that the cockpit was too small.
We know a couple who had a NT. Then the AT came out, they looked at it, and decided to buy one. A few years later they went back to a newer NT. According to THEM, they felt the NT was the superior boat, better built, better designed, better use of space despite the many similarities between the two.

So it's obviously all based on personal preference.

While I know little myself about the quality of either boat, I think the NT beats the AT hands down in terms of design aesthetics. But that, too, is totally subjective.:)
A tug rigged for open waters:

So it's obviously all based on personal preference.
If I had a gun at my head and was told to pick my favorite, it would be the NT as I like the "saltiness" of the boat. It wouldn't take much prodding, however, to pick the AT as it is a much more refined looking boat.
In all honesty, I could be "very happy" with either one!


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The many similarities between NT and AT are not coincidental. The founders of AT - Tom Nelson, Mike Shoppert, Kurt Dilworth - all worked at NT for many years before they went off and founded American Tugs in 2000. Both companies share the same designer, Lynn Seynour (AT bought the mold for his commercial Bristol fishing boat, which became the original AT34). They put their own spin on the ATs, and the differences are more personal preferences than absolutes (though to my eyes, I think the AT looks "saltier" and a bit tougher).

In the first few years of AT production, I think NTs had more finely finished interiors with better quality woodwork, though in recent years they now seem to be very comparably finished (particularly in the 395).

The models do not exactly match up in terms of size. The AT34 (now called the 365) is between the NT 32 (now called 34) and the 37 (now called 39) in size. Likewise, the AT395 (a new model, though actually 41'1") is between the NT37/39 and the AT41 (now called 435) and NT42 in size. The only models which seem to match closely in size are the AT41/435 and NT42 (and the AT52/535 and NT52).

To me, all the name and "size" changes are very silly, as is the profusion of all these models. I'm personally very glad they exist - the AT395 is exactly the size I wanted (and price I could afford), slotted between the NT37/39 and the AT41/435, and I'm especially grateful to AT for their flexibility in customizing the build of my 395 in so many ways.

But, truth be told, in this still recessionary boat environment, the market doesn't really support so many disparate models. It's no secret that all boatbuilders have been hurting for several years, and all sales are down. So many boat manufacturers have closed their doors completely. AT, like many others, has downsized, and when I was in Washington in November for the sea trial, at that time NT was rumored to be all but closed and down to only 2 employees. I'm glad all those boats are technically still out there, but I wonder if the market today can really support two builders of such similar boat lines.
I'm glad all those boats are technically still out there, but I wonder if the market today can really support two builders of such similar boat lines.
Excellent post & I wonder the same thing. This is true in the auto business as well and I've never understood why so many auto manufactures market essentially the same cars.
I believe, but could be wrong, that NT has ramped up operations again.

I think most people inherently want to be unique. In modern society, a vehicle is one way to do it. I read an article some years ago about the proliferation of car models. The gist of the article was the market was demanding it; the car makers didn't want to do it. The car makers try as much as possible to use common components across models--- the Hummer is a Tahoe with a different body, a GMC pickup is a Chevy without the amenities, and so on--- but it is still a very expensive way to try to make a profit.

I think the same thing applies to boats although the market is smaller and the product is way more expensive to build. So you don't get as many different models but there is enough of a market for "differences" to spawn an American Tug to offer something different than the Nordic Tug. Add in the "we can do it better than them" factor among boatbuilders and you can end up with too many for the market to bear. What works in an economic upswing can fall apart in a dowturn.

Right now the economy is starting to accelerate--- the Dow set a new all-time record today breaking 15,000 for the first time in history--- so it will be interesting to see how this affects the boat market.
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NT seems to be doing fine. Quite a few commissioned boats in production currently. They show every new hull out if the mold on their facebook page.

PS. I like ATs too.
In thinking about it a bit, IF a builder can keep their fixed costs low, it may make sense to have the flexibility to offer multiple models to allow customization for each customer.

As you said, cars are built on a production basis, basically, "on spec". They sit in dealer's lots until a buyer comes along. That may also be the case in some senses in a seller's boat market, when economic conditions are good. In today's constricted buyer's market for boats, perhaps almost any new boat with a six-figure price is effectively built to order. I have heard several boatbuilders tell me that they can't afford to sink that kind of money into building a boat unless they have a buyer for it, both because they can't tie up that much cash, nor take the risk that it won't be what the next buyer wants.

If a company can keep its fixed costs low, and has the flexibility and responsiveness to be nimble and custom-tailor a boat to a buyer's specific specs and desires, as AT was willing to do with me, it could be a recipe for getting every possible sale. ATs willingness to essentially custom-build a 395 for me to my exact specifications, mechanical and cosmetic, was a huge factor in enticing me to buy it.

That mindset may be common to new boat buyers in general in this market - if you can't get exactly what you want, you might not buy it. That would have been the case with me. In our case, the cost of the boat was very significant - it definitely was not a casual 'impulse buy'. If I couldn't have had it built exactly the way I wanted it, I probably would not have spent anywhere near that much money on a new boat, and would have bought a much less expensive used boat instead (that was one of the things my wife and I repeatedly said to each other in rationalizing stretching to buy it, "but it's exactly the way we want it").

If the manufacturers were cranking out all these boats like donuts to sit in dealer inventory, it would probably be financially ruinous for them in this market. Even Bayliner and Mainship, the poster children for production boats, haven't made it in their original forms. But, this kind of 'each one is unique' approach might be just what is needed in a very competitive, and shrunken, new boat market today.

That caught my interest. What were the changes for your semi custom build was the yard able to do for you? When you said mechanical, could you elaborate?
There product support should be mentioned as well. My AT is a 2002 vintage and I am the 3rd owner. The factory treat me as if I bought it new. GREAT customer service goes along way.
Nick-I think there is more if a difference between cars and boats in that most of the "options" available on a car are ones that are either (1) done in the normal course of the production line (engines, etc) and thus carry little additional cost or (2) dealer-installed (sound systems, etc) that increase dealer margins. On a boat, the "production line" is the separate molded pieces necessary to construct the base boat including modular interiors. Once past that point, everything else is hand labor and fairly easily customized if the customer is willing to pay. And, as you said, at the much higher cost of a boat, more customers are willing and able to pay.
Bob, it's easy to have a boat 'custom built', there is no shortage of yards who would be happy to do it - for a price. From some casual chats I had with a few yards, the cost of a true full custom 38-40 ft boat (of the type I wanted) was well into seven figures, which was WAY out of my price range. The trick is to have customization (within the fixed parameters of the existing molds) for a 'production boat' price. It was in this regard that American Tug was extraordinarily accommodating.

What I wanted filled a page, and manifested in dozens of e-mails and phone calls. It basically fell into three areas - mechanical, structural, and cosmetic.

The biggest mechanical change I wanted was more power to be able to exceed 20 kts and cruise at 17-18 kts. This is much more than just stuffing a more powerful engine into the hull, but much time spent evaluating engine options, reduction gearing, transmissions, props (diameter and pitch). They did a lot of analysis of how to maximize the performance out of the hull cost-effectively and without overdoing it (it's semi-displacement so has limits and point of diminishing returns). The standard power is a 380 hp Cummins; in my boat we went with a 480 hp Cummins and a different size and pitch prop. In the sea trial the boat hit 20.9 kts (and I think there is still another 1-1.5 kts to be had by adding 1/2-3/4" more pitch).

Structurally, AT uses mostly NidaCore in the superstructure, unlike many builders that make extensive use of balsa. The hull is already solid glass, and vinylester resin is used in both the hull and superstructure, so no changes were needed there. I personally hate balsa with a religious fervor, I just don't want it anywhere in a boat (don't want to risk moisture intrusion). AT uses some balsa in the forward and side decks, and one house bulkhead. Analysis of the structural requirements showed that it could be and was replaced by Airex C70, so a totally balsa-free build.

There were many cosmetic preferences which most builders would likely acommodate. But, my most persnickety request was for some type of floor material that would look like wood but be maintenance-free. Teak & holly is the standard 'wood' choice that most builders will do, but at this point in my life, I'm done re-urethaning every year. I drove them nuts going through about a dozen 'synthetic teak' alternatives, most of which looked like crap. Kurt Dilworth searched and found a Portugese company, Wicanders, that made a cork-based flooring that looks like burled walnut, but is warrantied for 15 years to be maintenance-free, waterproof, solvent-proof, and impact-resistant.

As Juksey said, ATs customer service is phenomenal. They didn't just take what I gave them but invested a lot of time doing R&D and finding solutions and coming up with ideas for the best choices for what I wanted. With my last AT, even after 4 years they continued to treat me as though I just bought it. That kind of support really does go a long way.
Welcome aboard Endurance! It is nice to have another AT owner with so much knowledge and experience.

Here is how I see the AT line-up.

In terms of the comparison between NT and AT, we looked at the NT 32 and the AT 34. We found the AT 34 considerably more spacious and livable. It is longer and has a greater beam, so you gain things like dual galley sinks, stand up refrigerator/freezer, walk around queen, and enclosed shower, and much more storage etc. We concluded the NT 32 was more suited to weekend cruising, where the AT 34 is capable of long term cruising.

The AT 41 is essentially an enlargement of the AT 34 in all dimensions, like blowing up a balloon. This allowed the addition of a U shaped galley, a reclining chair, and a second stateroom and head. It is certainly a boat you can live comfortably on. Of course, one of the expected penalties is a deeper draft.

The AT 395 turns out to be a good compromise. It has a lengthwise stretched version of the AT 34 hull, keeping the same profile and beam, and that gets you a small second stateroom, an easy chair, and a bit more cockpit room. These were the primary things the AT 34 lovers wished for without having to go to the much larger AT 41. The factory listened if it weren't for the economy, I think this boat would rapidly replace the AT 34 as the most popular AT.

I agree with previous statements regarding the quality of construction and attention to excellence in the AT design and buildup. Much of the mechanics/electrics reflect commercial practices and is unusual to find in a coastal cruiser. It is also interesting that AT uses essentially the same mechanics/electrics, and hardware in all the models. There is no "upgrading" of quality from the smallest to the largest boats. I have studied the AT 34 in detail and when I get into an AT 41, I find the same equipment installed with the same design. I could move up with almost no maintenance learning curve.

I won't get into a discussion of which company is better, as they both build great quality and seaworthy boats, and there are many very satisfied customers of both. I will note that AT had the advantage of starting a company with all the knowledge and experience NT had gained over the years, and this certainly gave them a fast running start to success.

We are currently docked in Norfolk, VA, and are on Day 197 and 4,200 miles into our 6,500 Great Loop journey on our AT 34, and loving every minute.


Thanks for the excellent post, you are one knowledgeable boater along with Larry. I'm considering changes to a production boat that would also be repowering, but in my case to a lighter and much less hp engine.
You'll have to get a different boat if you do. Reverse-slant pilothouse windows don't work up here.:):):)

LOL.:thumb: Couldn't help but check out the difference it would make, though.


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Larry, your 'like blowing up a balloon' comment is great! I can imagine Kurt drawing a 34 onto a balloon and inflating it, and presto!, the 41 design is done.

The 41 was very tempting (especially for the wider side decks and bigger pilhothouse), but a new one was far more than we could afford, and we rarely have overnight guests and the big guest cabin would have been empty and deadweight most of the time. If the 395 wasn't available we probably would have gone for a used 41.

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