After selling Frog, we were immediately on the hunt for our next boat that we’d live on for our ‘mid life retirement’. We spent many hours sitting aboard our dream boat at the Pacific Sailboat Show, a Lagoon 400, and used that as our bench mark in our search. Almost all the catamarans for sail in the US are on the East Coast and the majority of the East Coast catamarans are in Florida, so we hoped on a plane to Ft. Lauderdale.
Here again is where lack of experience and ignorance come into play. Our criteria were focused too much on comfort at the dock and anchor rather than passage making capability. We first looked at a few used catamarans in Ft Lauderdale; a Manta 42, Catana 403, Leopard 40, then against our will our broker talked us into looking at a brand new totally loaded Lagoon 400.
Wow, it’s hard not to be lustful of a boat with the new boat smell, shiny gel coat, vacuum wrapped upholstery and modern everything! The Lagoon 400 is huge for a 40’ boat, essentially a 3 bedroom, 2 bath condo, this one was the owner’s version. She had almost every available option; larger engines, 12kw genset, 4 zone AC/Heat, dual chart plotters, cockpit fridge, full enclosure and so much more! We did have a few more boats to look at in the coming days further up north, but was given notice that there was a standing offer on the boat so we couldn’t lollygag. After a number of cocktails we talked ourselves into making an offer on that brand new boat. We knew our sabbatical would only be two years and didn’t want to be spending time working on the boat, but actually cruising. A new boat should be good to go right?? I should know better working and studying complex systems for my entire career, this boat had many complex systems, but it’s under warranty Lagoon will have our back. . . right?
We did actually go look at those other boats while we were waiting to hear back from our offer and really didn’t see anything that excited us. We got the call and were told we’re the proud new owners of a brand-new Lagoon 400! With most of the week left that we had initially thought we’d be boat shopping we stopped by Epcot center then beelined it right to the Keys where we had a great time dreaming of our future journey.
We have a detailed blog about our sabbatical aboard our Lagoon 400 that we christened ‘Ryana’, Diana and my celebrity couples name given to us by our friends. Looking back it totally seems a bit narcissistic, but it worked. If you want the details have look www.svryana.com, but I’ll give you the cliff notes here. . .
Thoughts about Ryana the Lagoon 400.
As I mentioned above this was our first foray into long term cruising and maybe didn’t have the appropriate criteria of what we were looking for. Diana really wanted a catamaran so that was the only boat type we considered. Not being catamaran sailors we did lots of reading and participating in forums. We quickly discovered there were two schools of thoughts on catamarans; you’ll be putting your life in danger if you loose site of shore on a ‘production’ boat (i.e. Leapard, Lagoon, Fountaine Pajot) vs. higher end boats that are also production, but not called production for some reason (Catana, Antaries, Outreamer, etc.) are overpriced and not necessary. Knowing that there are tons of ‘production’ catamarans sailing all over the globe, participating in the ARC and delivered across the Atlantic on their own bottoms gave me the courage to call BS on the safety issue with these boats.
We sailed Ryana on many offshore legs including participating in the Caribbean 1500 during the same time of the Salty Dawg Rally of 2013 where a number of boats were lost do to fairly considerable early season weather. Never once did I feel unsafe aboard Ryana even when winds were sustained 50knts and seas were breaking. Though did she moan and creak a lot between that and the slamming of the bridge deck it was never peaceful.
Like I said the Lagoon 400 is probably the biggest 40’ sailing boat you can buy, maybe even still today. It has a galley up design that integrates with the cockpit and makes tons of usable living and lounging space. The hulls are very wide creating significant buoyance and space. The owners hull has a partial walk around queen and an amazing head and shower. The biggest complaint I have regarding the layout is the helm. The L400 is only offered with a raised helm position, which does give decent visibility if the jib isn’t blocking; but it’s uncomfortable, separated from the rest of crew and feels very exposed. I do feel that it is better than a flybridge helm which a number of people like, but really I like the bulkhead helms on Seawinds and Balance cats.
Everything that makes it so livable creates tradeoffs to its sailing performance. She has significant windage and low aspect mini keels. If the seas are relatively calm and the main is trimmed correctly she will tack through 90 degrees, but she makes significant leeway that may not be noticeable short tacking out of a harbor, but becomes very apparent on passages. Lagoon 400s have B&R rigs (no backstay) and like ours come optionally with a square top main. This sail does create significant power forward of the beam, but becomes a bit of a problem down wind as if you do let it out far enough for downwind sailing you are likely chafing it against the spreaders. Another interesting point is the owners manual states not to sail with headsail alone, I never really got a clear answer on why and I’m not a rigger, but I imagine there is an expectation to have aft tension on the rig. On long downwind passages I’d reef the main down to point #3 as to not interfere with the genoa or spinnaker. She does perform well on a reach, there were many times where speed between 10-12knts was possible for long distances, not performance cat numbers but respectable nonetheless.
Lagoon is currently taking a ton of heat over the L450 fiasco, if you haven’t heard the primary bulkhead spanning the bridge deck and hulls is undersized and has cracked in a number of L450, leaving the boat warped and likely not seaworthy. They do have a fix if your boat isn’t warped yet, but if it has you have tons of work to do to get it straight. . . see youtube. The L400 design flaws are not nearly as catastrophic but are signs of rushed design and production.
Lagoons are built to a pricepoint so there are noticeable difference between them and high end builders. Cheaper laminates, use of glue, less tabbing, less rugged upholstery. All of this is understandable, but the issue is that they just don’t hold up under regular use. Our boat was lived on for two years, never chartered and carefully maintained, but the interior woodwork was already failing in many places. Cheap Ikea is better in many areas, I can’t imagine what a heavily charted one would look like. After only one year of use many areas of the cushions were worn out, not only the fabric but foam as well. The methods of joining the furniture, hulls and deck is also very sloppy, not only is there glue dripped over (behind panels of course), but there are significant voids and hardspots where the glue had dried earlier leaving bulges on the deck.
As I stated earlier I am not aware of any catastrophic engineering issues with the L400. The biggest problem that is well known is the water tanks sit on plywood shelves that do not have drain or seepage holes and eventually rot, but shouldn’t significantly impact structural integrity. I also noted a number of other small things that don’t take a genius to figure out how to resolve. Wood trim and bulkheads go directly into the shower pans and are not sealed, these wick water up and discolor immediately and eventually rot. The engine room vents vent down under the bridge deck, under heavy seas these can pull water into the engine room and may eventually rip away from the boat as ours did.
The last big thing to touch on is the electrical system. Supposedly Lagoon wires their boats to support both voltage markets 110 or 220 and it seems the wire guage is correct, but the connectors they use are not. There were numerous occasions where an undersized connector would start to smoke. Rather leaving things to chance I proactively replaced everyone I could find at significant time and expense as Lagoon didn’t think it was a problem!
This leads us to the next issue of Lagoon support, simply stated there isn’t much. The process is similar to most boat manufactures, you get an estimate at a yard and then they agree to reimburse you. This worked a few times to fix some manufacturing defects in the gelcoat, but for any complex issue they wouldn’t even help to find resolutions. We had issues with the installation of the Raymarine electronics from the beginning and Lagoon would not assist in anyway with the extensive trouble shooting, because they believed it was a Raymarine issue though it was due to installation issues. Similar issues with any other branded component. To this day Lagoon still owes us many for approved repairs that we were never reimbursed, I was actually removed from a Lagoon owner event when politely asking the head of North America Sales how to obtain my reimbursements. I won’t even go into the mistakes that were made during commissioning, but once Catamaran Company has cashed your check they quickly loose your number.
We initially had big dreams of a circumnavigation, but after a bit of research on seasons, weather and routing 2 years wouldn’t allow us to “stop and smell the roses”. Knowing that we’d be starting on the East Coast we then had dreams of our new boat back to California via the Panama Canal. Things didn’t end up going as planned, but we had an amazing time nonetheless.
If you purchase a boat in Florida you have 90 days to get it out of the state so you don’t have to pay sales tax, sales tax on an expensive boat is a lot so we were motivated. With the help of our friends Jack and Cynthia we moved her north to Jarrett Bay Boat Works in Beaufort, NC where she would wait about 6 months until we were ready to start our adventure. It was a pretty grueling trip with the wind on our nose most of the way with short steep seas. We did manage to duck into St Catherines for one night at anchor and another night on Hilton Head to get some relaxation. Unfortunately we didn’t get to Beaufort early enough for too much fun, but we did have a great night at the Back Street Pub, one of my favorites of all time.
Diana and I spent 6 months organizing our possessions into 4 categories; store, take, give, sell and eventually loaded up our rental truck to do one more drop of stuff in Seattle then head east. We took our time to take in the middle part of the country that neither of us have explored much. Once back in Beaufort we spent even more money on last minute needs for the boat and got her in the water, though not ready for our first overnight passage with just the two of us we stayed put in Beaufort for a few days organizing our new life.
We had an uneventful passage from Beaufort to the Chesapeake and began our cruising adventure. The first summer we spent exploring the eastern seaboard from Virginia north. The Chesapeake may not be one of the worlds most beautiful bodies of water, but it sure makes up for it in history, culture and charm. We fell in love with the city of Annapolis and to this day hope to spend some of our retirement here. We continued north enjoying the Long Island Sound, up through Rhode Island, Massachusetts and got to our furthest north point in Mt Desert Island Maine. Once September hit we knew we need to begin working our way south and prepare and plan our journey to warmer waters.
At this point we hadn’t even decided if we were going to go to the Bahamas or deeper into the Caribbean. Asking other cruisers about this it seems as if it’s almost a religious divide on where to spend the winter. We eventually started hearing about cruiser rallies down to the Caribbean that give you a little bit of support on weather routing, planning and introduce you to others planning the same thing. Then we decide between the Salty Dawg Rally which was free and a bit more loosely organized or the ARC Caribbean 1500 which wasn’t exactly cheap but much more structured. After a few weeks of debate we were signed up for the ARC Caribbean 1500 and agreed to be in Portsmith Virginia the last week of October.
We were able to assemble a crew of friends to help us sail Ryana south to Tortola a journey expected to take 8-13 days. The Rally started on day before scheduled due to deteriorating weather conditions so Greg, Graham and Tony arrived a few hours past the updated start time so as soon as they hit the dock we were off, the boat overview happened under sail. We were prepared for brisk conditions as winds were shifting and building, but no real storm system in the forecast. It was a bit more ‘sporty’ than we thought it would be and the entire crew minus me suffered from seasickness for the first 3-4 days. The weather was significant enough that 4 boats were lost in the Salty Dawg Rally that left the day behind us! The weather began to settle, and the water was getting warmer and spirits eventually rose, then fell again when we lost all electronics including autopilot. This crisis was short lived by having a boat of engineers . . . we wired the motherboard of the system to our cabin lights! We arrived after 9 days where we took first in the multihull class, I was awarded youngest skipper and came 2nd in the mustache competition. Our friends hung out for a few more days and we took in the sights the BVI has to offer then again it was back to Diana, Stanley (the dog) and me.
We spent most of the winter bouncing around various islands meeting up with new cruising friends and the occasional guest from our past life. Each island had its distinctive own culture and charm and they were also very unique from a topography, vegetation and shoreline perspective. Definitely a lot of fun coming to a new place to explore every few days to few weeks. I will say that we did meet lots of interesting and wonderful folks who call the islands home, but overall it was much more insular than I would have expected. We eventually went as far south as Dominica where we started to think about what our next move would be.
To the Canal or back to where we came from? The initial plan was to bring the boat back to California via the Panama Canal, but we started thinking. Once you get to the Pacific you are against wind and current for about 3000 miles and not too many ports between; this didn’t sound like too much fun and Diana didn’t like the plan to sail out to Hawaii then back to California. Plus we were just planning on selling the boat once we got back anyway. So we changed our minds again, there was so much we missed on our way south we have plenty to see if we go back north and we could check out the Bahamas. We’ll just sell the boat on the East Coast.
We left Dominca and headed to Porto Rico, then off to start exploring the Bahama Bank with our first stop in Turks and Caicos. This was our first experience in shallow water sailing with uncharted coral heads after avoiding every dark color (much of which was just grass) we quickly got fairly proficient in spotting danger. From Turks and Caicos we moved on to the actual Bahamas first to Long Island, then explored the Exumas to Eleuthera and eventually the Abacos. While the Bahamas lack the impressive peaks and jungles of the Caribbean the water and beaches are absolutely stunning; it’s hard to explain but the water is gin clear! The culture in the more rural areas of the Bahamas is also much more inclusive than we experienced in much of the Caribbean; super cool laid back people. It’s easy to see the division between the Caribbean and Bahamas after we have experienced them both, though I do hope to cruise both of them again in the future. The other point I haven’t is the fact the Bahamas are much easier to get to than the Caribbean islands; you can really just island hop from Florida and if your boat is small enough you can transit via the ICW, an option we didn’t have due to mast height.
As spring was waning, we needed to head north to be out of the hurricane latitudes and this time hopped our way north rather just beelining it to Virginia. We set off from Green Turtle Cay towards St Augustine where we had to leave the boat for a few weeks as I returned to Seattle to deal with family stuff. Unfortunately while we were gone the dock circuit breaker tripped and our food rotted and seeped out of the fridge, so a fun thing to come back to. After another stop in Beaufort North Carolina to spend some time at the Back Street Pub we made our way back to the Chesapeake.
Diana and I had been in contact with our company throughout our trip and were planning on going south again for the winter but got news that we should come back earlier than planned. There were expectations of downsizing and we’d likely be the first to go if we weren’t actually working. So plans were made to begin work again in December for me and January for Diana. Knowing our plans have been cut short kinda dampened our sense of adventure. Plus we listed Ryana for sale and took the dumb advise from our broker that the boat should be ready to show at a moment’s notice (no one local was even interested!) so we got a summer slip at the Annapolis Boat Yard. I enrolled in a captain course at the Annapolis School of Seamanship where I got my 50 Ton license . . . to never use!
Things eventually began to come to an end. Ryana got moved to a long term slip in Liberty Marina. We packed up everything that wouldn’t be sold with the boat and shipped them via Amtrak (check it out it’s fairly cheap) and flew back west to Reno. Since our house was still rented we stayed at our cabin pretending to be Tahoe locals for October and November.
Now that we are back where we started, same company same house the entire trip feels like a long dream. It was an amazing adventure and we are planning on doing it again hopefully short stints with the kids and much of our retirement.