I have gotten many requests for information from people who are thinking about a new build with Seahorse Marine (SHM), are currently building there or thinking about buying a used Duck. First, let me say I love my boat. In the end, I got a great boat. There was a CONSIDERABLE amount of time and money over and above the contract price on my part that was required to get it there. Many, many difficult times and some good times too with Seahorse Marine. You should be aware of what it will take to get you that great George Buehler designed trawler of your dreams. You would think that SHM’s order book would be full and the seas would be full of Diesel Ducks. There is a major reason it is not. Their business practices and George Buehler put all of his balls in one court. Just the safety features alone make the Ducks stand out. I will say over and over again, I have owned 9 boats over 40 years, there is no safer, more comfortable and efficient boat in this size range for MY type of cruising. That is off the beaten tract, long distance, long time frame, non marina, infrequent provisioning, mostly anchoring out, extremely energy efficient, low cost, safe, comfortable, scuba diving and fishing, relying almost 100% percent on renewable energy cruising. That is what I had SHM build for me. The only thing it does not do well relates to speed. It is a 5 to 6 knot boat. But that is faster than most sailboats. It is very important to keep in mind that all of the Ducks built to date are different. My Duck is much different than any of the other Ducks built to date because I spent the time and money to do it. The only thing they really share in common is basic hull and superstructure design. There is a night and day difference in how they are equipped and finished. This is the reason for the wide price variation in both Used and New Ducks. DO YOUR RESEARCH. My boat contract price along with the additional money I spent above that was $775K complete and that was 6 years ago.
So, let us say you have decided to build new. Bill has offered you a great price of $625 complete for your Duck. The first lie that you should be aware of is that Seahorse Marine (SHM) is an “American Owned Company”. It is a 100% Chinese company owned by Bill’s wife Stella and stepson Fido. The last unhappy customer had his Hong Kong attorney, part of a very large prestigious firm with a Mainland Chinese office, do a very expensive extensive investigation and the end result was that Bill Kimley did not even own a fraction of a percent of SHM. His job is just to lure you in with a friendly American face. If something goes wrong you are at the mercy of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) legal system with almost no hope of a favorable outcome. The contract requires litigation to take place in Hong Kong. SHM could easily ignore anything that comes out of that litigation with all of their assets in Mainland China. Hong Kong attorneys are very expensive. The bottom line is that the reason for that great price that attracted you to SHM in the first place is the risk involved. That old saying about “you get what you pay for” definitely applies. It amazes me how many people just send their money off to SHM without doing the proper research. The risk is that you could easily lose your entire investment. In addition, I will explain below what that $625K bargain price actually gets you. SHM’s current financial status is that they grossly under bid their Super Duck 74 project. Lost a huge amount money. If you visit the shipyard you will notice many unfinished hulls that have been sitting for years due to financial problems of the buyers. They have lost a lot of money. And, recently they were forced by the CCP to move and build a new shipyard. The old shipyard they did not have to pay rent on due to a “sweet heart” deal with the CCP in appreciation of Stella’s long term service to the CCP including her time in the Red Guards. They have a huge debt load now, overhead has increased dramatically and things could go south very quickly. It is basically a Ponzi scheme with new money being used to finish the older boats and pay the old debts. Will you really be prepared to move your partially completed boat to another yard in a country where you can’t even speak the language and there is a paperwork nightmare to complete at every step of the way? Recently SHM modified their standard build contract. The key change is in the timing of the progress payments. They have been greatly accelerated. In the old days once you made 90% of the payments you had a 90% complete boat. That is no longer the case. These changes are a big warning flag. I will explain in detail below exactly what to expect.
I will start in the beginning. What attracted you to SHM in the first place? Probably the same thing that attracted me. Price and design. I love George Buehler’s designs and there is really no where else to build one. I have many emails that I exchanged with George. Being very unhappy with how SHM dealt with customers he was actively searching for an alternative before his untimely death. And, to be fair, he was very appreciative of Bill Kimley’s design changes with respect to comfort, convenience and safety. Bill’s cockpit and “sugar scoop” transom and interior layout modifications have worked out really well. I think the key word is VALUE as compared to the current trawler market that Krogen, Nordhavn and Selene dominate. The new Nordhavn 41 that was recently introduced will cost $700K – $800K USD plus. It is a twin engine exposed prop no flybridge design that is about half of the size of my boat. Uneducated inexperienced people think this is a safe ocean crossing trawler. I owned a Nordhavn 55 and it was a great boat. Absolutely nothing wrong with Nordhavns. You just have to do an honest evaluation of what your cruising plans are going to be. Most people will not cross oceans and will choose their weather windows wisely. That price is if you pick it up in Turkey where it is manufactured. My boat cost around the same price. I am sure the price has gone up since my construction finished, but even if my boat cost $800K USD it would still be a great value compared to the comparable Nordhavn, Selene or Krogen. A 16 year old used Nordhavn 47 goes for $725K. There is no comparison in the comfort, efficiency and safety of my Duck vs the Nordhavn or any of those other trawler brands in the same price range. You would think that SHM would have more orders than they could handle building such great trawlers at such a great price. There is a reason for that! It is their business practices. The fact that they would lie about the company being “American owned” should be the first major clue. Word is rapidly getting around. Almost half of SHM’s customers would tell you they would never build there again and never recommend them to anyone. Not a good percentage of satisfied customers. In fact, they would tell you to stay as far away as possible after getting screwed for hundreds of thousand of dollars and/or waiting over a year and usually longer than the original estimate to get the boat completed. Bill Kimley labels these people “problem customers”. Once you have a long honest conversation with him you will find out there are many many “problem customers”. It does not take a genius to figure out that the problem might not be the customer.
You will exchange emails with Bill Kimley and he will tell you everything you want to hear. You will meet with him in person and he will tell you everything you want hear. You might fly to China and meet with Stella and Fido. They will be on their best behavior. Unfortunately later once the contract has been signed and the initial payment made you will realize that it was all a show. Stella is actually a ruthless business woman and Fido is just there for the money and has no interest in the business. That good behavior will ultimately last until you realize that the delivery date keeps getting pushed farther out, an argument ensues on the options you want and you question quality control. Their job in the beginning is to tell you everything you want to hear to get you to sign the contract and send the first payment. They know once that happens you are stuck. In most cases that original contract will have many omissions in the specification clause. Bill will tell you that “we will work that out at a later date”, promise to provide anything you want at a fair price and give you an unrealistic delivery date to lure you in.
So, you have decided to take the risk and build your boat there. What happens next? Hopefully, you will schedule as many visits as possible to the shipyard to supervise construction. If you don’t play on spending the majority of the construction of your boat at the yard DO NOT BUILD THERE. Bill will do everything in his power to convince you that the build is in great hands and just to sit back and wait for a competed boat. SHM might refer you to “surveyor” Ray Wolfe to help supervise construction. He is incompetent. Has missed many many things on a lot of boats and insists on a “hand shake” surveying agreement and then comes up with excuses why he did not follow through. I can give you examples of the many things he has missed. There is obviously a reason SHM recommends him. I got an apartment in Zhuhai for months at a time and commuted by bus to the yard. If you are observant you will notice one of the first games that Stella plays with the customers. Whenever a customer is visiting the yard Stella will put most of the yard workers on that boat for the time of the visit. This way it looks like more progress is being made than actually is. After the visit is over the workers go back to their usual tasks. One of the many reasons you need to be at the yard is because Stella will contract with other companies for the sand blasting and priming of the boats and some other tasks. Being a steel boat this is one of the most important parts of the build. First, without the owners present there is a delay in this process. This part of China is extremely hot and humid. Rust gets so deep into the welds and crevices that even the sand blasting will not remove it. They just prime right over it. You need to make sure priming and proper sanding is completed as soon as possible. Second, Stella has to pay the contractor whether the weather is bad or not. She will insist that contractors do that work to save money even if the weather conditions violate the paint application specifications. This is how Stella operates. It is all about cutting corners and saving money. That is why you need to be there. I documented multiple boats sanded and primed in the rain. The paint specification specifically stated the low humidity requirements. These boats are going to have rust problems years down the road. The good news is that SHM uses a top notch coating system. It just has to be applied properly. More good news is that the majority of the employees do pride themselves on doing a good job. The problem is in the management. I can’t say enough great things about the interior finishing crew and head electrician. There are many long term employees. Most good, some very bad who don’t care that you need to keep an eye on. The workers work 7 days a week with just every other Sunday off. Being at the yard allows you to see first hand the wire and plumbing runs. If there is a future issue you know right where to go and you can make sure it is done right in the first place.
Now that you have decided you are going to take the financial risk and cleared your schedule to be able to spend a lot of time at the yard you will need to finalize the contract. This is where the problems begin and the reason why SHM wanted your signature and funds before completion of the contract. The key clause in any boat construction contract is the specification sheet. Here is where the problems begin. SHM wants to finish your build as quickly as possible and receive payment in full. Their areas of expertise are hull construction, filling, fairing, painting, fiberglass work (cockpit, flybridge), basic machinery and interior joinery work. They are not a high tech yard and want to build you a bare bones boat. You will find that their most happy customers were the ones who built the early Duck 462s in the $400K and much less price range. They expected little. Any high tech equipment has to be special ordered and is difficult and expensive to install. The instructions are most likely not in Chinese so it takes a considerable time for installation as it is trial and error. These type of additions cost SHM time and money when the employees have to learn something new. Even though I told Bill in the beginning how I wanted my boat spec’d this now became a major problem. A perfect example of this lack of high tech expertise is my Tier 3 M2 rated electronically controlled John Deere engine which is really not very high tech at all. The amount of work the commissioning team from Taiwan John Deere did on my engine was amazing. The basic installation was correct. But, small things that would increase the reliably and longevity of the engine were added like wire and hose runs rerouted and chafe protection added and engine alignment along with fine tuning of the CPU settings. Now, SHM does not include factory tech engine commissioning in the cost of the boat. I would not be without it. It is expensive and SHM saves a lot of money this way. Construction time and cost ballooned on my boat as we discussed and priced my already verbally agreed upon options. For example my stern thruster cost $5000 more than the one on my Nordhavn 55. They just did not want to do it. All Seahorse Duck owners along with George Buehler know that once the contract is signed Bill will do everything in his power to build “his” boat even though he has no long distance cruising experience. Stella is famous for another game she likes to play with customers. It is called the “Chinese stall game”. If the yard does not want to do something they will tell you they are going to do it and then delay and delay. BS excuse after excuse until you give up. This is especially true in the final commissioning process. You will come up with a long list of issues to be addressed before you take possession. You might even hire a qualified surveyor. By this time you are probably running a year longer on construction time and extremely anxious to get your boat. You have made the majority of the payments leaving no incentive for SHM to do anything. They know that. With a smile on her face and looking you directly in the eye she will tell you that they will fix everything. Then, month after month will go by with excuse after excuse. You will finally give in to take possession of the boat with a long list of outstanding items. The CCP bureaucracy gives a strict timeline of when the boat has to leave the country. Stella will make sure that date is scheduled so there is no time to finish your long list of commissioning issues. SHM will bring in a Hong Kong electronics company Skywave Electronics to commission your electronics. Everything seemed to work fine until they leave. After taking delivery I made a special trip from the Philippines to Hong Kong to have them address the problems left over from their first commissioning attempt. They came to the boat after much arm twisting and pretended to do something. They even sent me a bill which I refused to pay. Still there were problems. The mast head weather station did not work and there was a major conflict between the Maratron and Raymarine systems. You could not have both systems on at the same time. The SSB did not work properly. Never repaired. And a long list of other things.
It is important to remember that SHM recently changed their contract payment terms to speed up the construction installment payments. Before, you had a boat that was 90% complete when you made 90% of the payments. No longer. Also remember the warranty on your boat is only good at the yard in China. Once you leave you are screwed and at Stella’s whim. I left the yard and deducted $10000 for the unfinished items. I explained that as soon as they finished them I would pay the money. Bill sighted the clause in the contract where if the boat leaves the yard without payment in full the warranty is void. Again, you really have no recourse. SHM does what they want. What if after you leave the yard you discover a defective shaft that was also installed incorrectly. This recently happened. Stella played the stall game with this owner and the issue was never resolved. Promise after promise to fix the problem that dragged on and on over years. The “Chinese stall game” business practice at work. EVERY new build includes change orders. SHM handles these as expensive problems. It is a huge profit center for them.
Things will change over the 3 year build of your boat. Be prepared for a big fight or the Chinese stall game that will ultimately result in a delay in construction and much added expense.
As I said in the beginning I love my Duck. There is not a more comfortable, efficient or safe boat out there in this size range. The issue is with the dishonesty and lack of integrity of Bill Kimley, Stella and Fido at Seahorse Marine. During the 3.5 years of construction of my boat I learned that these are normal Mainland Chinese business practices and the detriment of doing business with a 100% Chinese owned company.
Below are list of issues that I have resolved that should have been taken care of at the yard along with things I love about the boat. Many are changes I paid for versus the standard SHM Duck due to my experience. I have also included in this list issues new owners should be aware of, both good and bad. Hopefully this will help future buyers with their new Duck whether buying used or building new –
- My interior arrangement is different than any other Duck. I love it. In a 50’ boat I have four distinct areas where people can either get together or find some space – flybridge, cockpit, salon and pilothouse. The elimination of the built in desk and replacement with full size washer and dryer and the built in oversized chairs in the salon make a huge difference. The standard arrangement is two loose chairs that are uncomfortable and unusable on any passage. With my Duck, Hull #14, the MSR bulkhead was moved to give more galley room and move the freezer and pantry to the galley instead of the MSR. I paid a great amount of additional money outside the yard to have the furniture proportions and cushions brought up to American standards. Note in the picture above the over size settee. It is about 5 inches deeper than the normal one and the back is angled instead of straight up and down. Also note the thickness of the cushions. Much much more comfortable. This settee folds out into a queen size bed. I had custom carpets made with rubber sewed to the back. Anything spills it does not reach the beautiful teak floor and the carpets do not slide at all in heavy seas. Looks great and very functional.
- I would not take delivery of a Duck without a factory trained and approved technician flying in from the John Deere distributor in Taiwan to commission the engine. The amount of issues they discovered, although small, will make a big difference in the longevity, reliability and efficiency of my engine. With their laptop and proprietary software hooked into the CPU during full throttle runs up and down the river in front of the shipyard they were able to fine tune all of the engine specs.
- I am not going to repeat my blog post about how happy I am with my propulsion system. The difference the 5 bladed feathering prop along with the ketch rig has made in efficiency, comfort and safety cannot be understated. I would not be without a real “get home” system. SHM’s usual steadying rig or motor sailing rig are absolutely useless as a get home systems especially without a feathering prop. Don’t be one of those naive owners who gets talked into a boat without a proper get home system. The ONLY solution on a Duck is to get enough sail area and a feathering prop. Seahorse’s standard steadying or motor sailing single mast system is not enough. Especially with their standard non feathering four blade inefficient fixed prop you under going to be dragging through the water under sail.
- I usually single hand. The stern thruster makes a huge difference in docking, picking up a mooring and anchoring. The Duck is a big heavy full keeled boat that at slow speed is very difficult to maneuver especially with the wind or current present. Being able to kick the stern around to place a stern anchor is extremely helpful. The offset interior helm station’s visibility for docking is horrendous. SHM’s usual useless flybridge arrangement has limited instrumentation and a converted bus tiny Chinese passenger seat to serve as a helm seat. Again, it is useless. I am extremely happy with the extra $15K I spent for a Stidd Helm chair and proper controls and instrumentation. A flybridge is an absolute must. You will hear the arguments about additional windage and weight. That is all BS. You really think on a 40 ton mostly steel trawler the little bit of extra weight and little bit of extra windage of a fiberglass flybridge makes any difference? The person who makes that argument is always the one who made the mistake of not buying a boat with one in the first place and is trying to convince you it was a good decision. They want you to make the same mistake. Besides piloting the boat, the Duck has room for a large teak steamer type deck chair on the flybridge. Everyone gravitates there whether at dock or underway for the view, shade under the large bimini and ventilation especially in the warmer climates. Take a look a the above pictures and you will see.
- I love the 2000 gallon fuel capacity. Being able to cross an ocean safely without refueling. I added a 220 volt high speed polishing pump and oversize filter. Bringing my total tank polishing time down from days to hours. By using the right additives (Stanadyne and Biobor) along with polishing the tanks through a 2 micron filter has meant no fuel issues. This is the number one reason for engine problems in trawlers – fuel issues. The only problem I have had is with the fuel tank lid gaskets. The good news is that each of the 7 tanks that line the bottom of the hull have a large inspection port. The bad news is that SHM has never found a way to properly seal the hatch. They provided me with a second set of gaskets after the first failed. They subsequently failed. The solution was liquid type of gasket that is applied with a caulk gun and then semi hardens made by Permatex. Fortunately I caught my leak in time. Diesel Ducks have no bilge. The fuel tanks line the bottom of the hull. There is an about 6” space between the top of the fuel tanks and the salon floor. Many Ducks have had that space filled with diesel fuel in heavy seas as the fuel sloshed out of the tank with each roll due to the failed gasket. Not only a nightmare to clean but the spray foam insulation on the sides of the hull becomes saturated with it. It takes a VERY long for the smell to dissipate and it destroys the hydrophobic properties of the insulation material.
- There is nothing like holding on for dear life in a bad storm and having the bilge pump alarms constantly going off and on to signal the pumps are operating. Normally the location of the bilge pump thru hulls would be no issue. But in heavy seas the waves slamming into the side of the boat push water through the hose and pump back into the bilge. You will need to install one way valves in all of the bilge pump outlet lines.
- My goal was to be able to have my boat 100% powered by renewable energy. I love that I am able to do that. Through all LED lighting, 24v refrigeration, 24v water maker and 24v black and fresh water systems running off a 800ah at 24v AGM battery bank I was able to do that. There is a Northern Lights 9kw generator and extra high output alternator on the engine for additional battery charging capability. Again, all upgraded systems versus the standard duck including the solar panels and wind generator.
- Many Ducks have had to replace their drive shafts prematurely due to corrosion issues. Many Nordhavns that I know of have had the same problem with Chinese sourced shafts. I have a shaft tube flushing system. If the boat is going to sit for more than a month I flush the shaft tube with a fresh water/salt away mix. At the last inspection during my haul out there was NO corrosion on the shaft. Something to install ASAP on your new Ducks. If you are buying a used Duck you should verify how they have cared for their shaft. It could be a corroded expensive mess with a flushing system.
- I had to completely redo the black water system. The problem with the SHM designed system is the long run of hose and then a steep incline into the top of the holding tank. The holding tank then has a thru hull that you can just leave open while at sea or close and empty later when in an anchorage with a pump out. The problem is that when you flush the toilet the hose does not completely clear. There is a good amount of “stuff” that is still in the incline portion of the hose that now flows backwards back into the toilet. There is a valve in the toilet that is supposed to prevent this but it does not work well. In heavy seas that water remaining in the toilet sloshes around. My redesign accomplished three things – stopped the back flow of water into the toilet, allows you to clear the toilet in one flush to save water and allows you to pump the toilet and hose completely dry for boat storage purposes, the hose remains completely dry. I added a heavy duty Whale pump in the holding tank hose line that is meant to pump unmacerated waste and able to run dry. It has two check valves in it. I added a button so you can pump the waste using this additional Whale pump into the holding tank bypassing or assisting the Tecma toilet system. Additionally, I rerouted the toilet to holding tank hose eliminating about 4 winding feet of hose making this run a straight shot from toilet to tank.
- My water sports platform and hydraulic davit have worked out extremely well. One of the great things about having a steel boat is that once something is welded into the hull you are not going to have any issues with it. I have had no issues whatsoever having an 800lb PWC back there during my Pacific Ocean crossing. Once I am in an anchorage after unloading the dinghy or PWC the platform makes scuba diving extremely easy. Being 6” above the waterline it is a great place to put on your tank and weight belt and then carefully enter the water. The standard Duck configuration is a too narrow walkway along the transom. You can see that in the picture. This area is great while at sea because it surrounded by high stainless steel rails and very safe. Great for landing a fish. But, it is pretty useless for any kind of water sports. Just too narrow. In addition, I love my 5 hp 2 stroke equipped super light aluminum body dinghy. I easily lift it with one of the halyards and put it on the bow on a long passage or I can easily use the stern davits and lift it over the Sea Doo for storage on short passages or just to haul it out of water at night.
- SHM will install a very nice dual autopilot system. They are completely independent systems. They even have independent hydraulic fluid lines. A Raymarine control head with an Octopus pump is the standard. My pump lasted 8000 nm of very hard ocean crossing miles before it died. It did well. I always carry a spare on board.
- My refrigeration system consists of two independent 24v Dometic refrigerators with small built in freezers. In addition, I have a custom built 4” thick with insulation chest freezer with a super efficient 24v compressor. One addition I made was to add a small 24v computer fan to circulate the air behind the Dometic refrigerators and make the compressors more efficient. It has reduced thier already very low energy consumption by a third. With this system if I am by myself I can shut down one or two of units and save additional energy. My solar panels and wind generator have no problem powering all three super efficient 24v units.
- I have a 24v Schenker watermaker. I had never heard of it before SHM installed it. The water maker installation is a perfect example of what SHM does well and what it does not do well. Using the diagrams it was installed correctly. But because the instruction manual was in English no one bothered with it. The water waker was tested and then left for a year with out the proper pickling or even flushing. The membranes were destroyed. The water maker draws 110w when operating. About what a light bulb uses. It’s output is only 8 gallons per hour but with the Duck’s 300 gallon capacity and some conservation measures with two people on board it is more than enough. The biggest consumer of water ends up being the toilets. With the modification I made of the system with the Whale pump, water use has dropped dramatically. One flush with the help of this pump will clear the largest “deposit” from the bowl and into the holding tank.
- John Deere no longer makes my 4045 engine in the horsepower and continuous duty rating that I have. It is a bullet proof simple design that is easy to work on. My engine puts out 121 horsepower. Now, John Deere uses this same engine modified to put out close to 400 horsepower. I think the lowest Hp now available is around 180hp. My engine at 121 rated max hp it is lightly stressed and will last forever. Being an early Tier III model it has minimal pollution controls thus increasing its efficiency and reliability.
- At 1450 rpm at 6 knots I am burning 1.5 gallons per hour. Motor sailing it drops to 1 gallon per hour. Diesel engines love to be heavily loaded. I have adjusted the pitch on my prop to load the engine properly at this rpm. A big advantage of my Whisper Prop is that the pitch is adjustable in the water with special bolt keys. Both the engine oil temp and engine exhaust gas temp are exactly where they should be. I can’t say enough about my five blade feathering Max Prop Whisper prop. Not only its feathering ability but the efficiency and additional thrust versus SHM’s standard 4 blade fixed prop is huge.
- George Buehler’s flat chime hull design is brilliant. Both underway and at anchor the roll is very little. When the seas do get rough I have both my sails or paravane system to stabilize the boat. Two completely fool proof systems. The piece of mind I had as I crossed the Pacific and dealt with the “great Pacific Garbage Patch” and while in SE Asia dealing with FADs (fish attraction devices) with no fins sticking out of the side of my boat was great. If you have spent any time on a similar sized trawler with a round bilge design hull (Nordhavn, Selene or Krogen) you will know that a extremely complex active stabilization system like Naiad or Trac is an absolute necessity while underway. At anchor some type of flopper stopper system is necessary. Those boats just roll like crazy. I deploy my paravanes almost every time I anchor. Minutes to deploy, minutes to retrieve and rock solid stability pared with the hard chime hull. It keeps people from anchoring too closely. Most people do not know what they are.
- I have owned 9 boats. I have always had Furuno electronics. SHM gets a great deal on Raymarine products and most importantly their installation team is very familiar with them so I thought I would give them a try. To date, I have had zero problems. The auto pilot, MFDs and depth sounder all interface seamlessly. The software is very user friendly. The flybridge displays are removed and stored below when not in use but they did withstand the heat and humidity during an extended stay in Southeast Asia and the driving rain and storms during a long very tough West to East Pacific Ocean crossing. Highly recommended.
- SHM buys parts in very large batches because of the difficulty of importation into Mainland China. They have one employee dedicated just to deal with the importation bureaucracy. Some of these parts might not be used for years. They are stored in metal shipping containers around the property. The climate where the shipyard is located is very hot and humid. These shipping containers turn into ovens during the summer time. This greatly effects the longevity of the parts stored in these containers specifically the AGM batteries and other electrical components. I had multiple “new” AGM batteries “go bad” during my Pacific crossing. That means they overheat and melt releasing toxic gas in the process and destroying anything nearby in the process. Sometimes they actually explode. The battery bank is located under the Master Stateroom bed with little to no ventilation in two large battery boxes containing 4 8D batteries each. When one battery goes bad it takes out the other three in that box.
- One of the examples on how you are going to spend your money after taking delivery is the $10K+ spare parts package you will need and the cost of how to get it to HK. You should never buy your mechanical spares overseas. The Taiwan John Deere dealer and Northern Lights dealer showed me how the counterfeits coming out of China look the EXACT same but are of far inferior quality that puts your equipment at extreme risk. I have a spare preprogrammed ECU for the engine. Very easy to replacement. I don’t ever remember hearing of one that failed except in a lightning strike. If it does fail the engine goes into “get home” mode. The benefits of an electronically controlled engine far outweighs any risk. Smoother running, more reliable, cleaner burning, much more efficient, more power, and almost no soot versus a non electrically controlled engine. Stanadyne fuel additive with every fill up means clean injectors and a much better running engine due to the lubricants (to compensate for the low sulfur) and increase in cetane number. It also acts as a fuel stabilizer for long term storage.
- SHM used to have a finished boat delivery procedure that worked really well. Then, the local CCP decided that new boats to be exported could not leave the country under their own power. They now have to be towed to HK by a tug boat. Rumor had it that the law changed because a local CCP official bought a tug boat company. Now, you actually take delivery in HK. There is a paperwork nightmare necessary to export the boat. Once permission is received it must leave in a very short time frame. Stella uses this to her advantage. Remember that long list you made of issues you want addressed before delivery? Now, Stella will tell you the boat MUST be exported within the next week. Oops, no time for your repairs. Sorry, The problem with this new delivery procedure is that you need to extensively sea trial the boat before you head on your ocean passage home. HK has very very limited marina space. Also, HK has instituted a very strict boat captain licensing system. Not a great place to get all of the commissioning bugs worked out of your boat. In the old days SHM had a warranty station set up in the Philippines using the Subic Bay Yacht Club where you could spend a considerable amount of time safely and inexpensively. The procedure was that you would leave HK as quickly as possible due to the above issues and then stay for an extended time in the Philippines enjoying what the country has to offer and finalizing the commissioning of the boat. Ray Wolfe has a business there. He is very familiar with Ducks and had an arrangement with SHM. I would not trust him with any technical issues but basic warranty stuff he is very good at. He knows about all of the recurring SHM issues. The problem now is that the Subic Bay Yacht Club has dramatically increased in popularity. It is very difficult to get a berth there and when you do they have increased the rates to where they are now equivalent to USA marina rates. Very expensive to stay there long term. You really need to spend a considerable amount of time working the bugs out of a new boat. This goes for
any boat not just a Duck. On my Nordhavn 55 I spent 4 months at the dock in Dana Point commissioning the boat.
There are many differences between the older 462 Ducks and the new. The MSR bulkhead has been moved giving you a larger galley and an additional porthole. Before, the freezer and pantry was in the MSR. Also there have been many functional and cosmetic interior improvements like the granite slab head floors with etched surface. Looks much better than the old tile floors, easy to clean and very non slip. Note in the picture above. An extremely important improvement has been with regards to the steel to fiberglass joints. Older boats will have large cracks at those junctions due to the different expansion and contraction rates of the two different materials and the solid fairing and painting there. Now, SHM uses a flexible compound instead of filling and fairing the joints. On many older Ducks you will note exposed large bolt heads at very noticeable locations like the salon top. Now the fastening is done more discretely and cosmetically pleasing.
I love my teak decks. Another expensive option. As a very experienced trawler owner I know teak decks can either be a nightmare or godsend. Especially on a steel boat. I supervised how they were installed. They were glued down with specially formulated teak to primed steel hull epoxy. Made exclusively for that purpose. The only maintenance they require is a twice a year easy coating with Semco that is a UV protectant and sealant. Takes about a half an hour. In return for one hour a year maintenance you have beautiful looking decks with the best most functional non skid available. They feel unbelievable on bare feet versus the standard non skid paint. Most steel boats owners I know of with painted non skid seem to always be patching the paint on their side decks from chips and gouges. SHM used teak from old growth forests versus the inferior teak from plantations. Not very environmentally friendly but it will last forever. I don’t know what they use now. Check out the picture below at the bottom and the flybridge picture. They do look very nice and are extremely functional.
I love SHM’s commercial grade engine room. Another thing they do right. Most trawlers in this size range have up to 25 thru hulls. Most below the waterline. The Ducks have a commercial system. Note the pipe in the picture below. There is one thru hull below the waterline. This is called a sea chest. When I leave the boat I can easily shut that off. While underway I look through the plexiglass top out the bottom of the boat and know nothing is clogging it. The top of the tube is just above the waterline. Even underway you can remove the plexiglass top and use a long pole to remove anything blocking it. There is also my added 220v high speed polishing pump system visible in the picture. Fuel is filtered four times before it reaches the engine. Every experienced boat owner knows the vast majority of the problems with diesel engines are fuel related.
- Something not visible that SHM does right has to do with the construction of the hulls. Instead of the hull plates being welded directly to each other at the chimes, bow and stern corners, these being the areas where you would hit something, the plates are welded to 2.5” sold steel round bar. If you hit something you are hitting it with 2.5 inches of solid steel. Plus, you have the double steel bottom because of the fuel tanks and multiple watertight compartments. Safety unlike anything in this price or size range. Note the deep sailboat type keel in the picture above with lead ballast. Self righting. No other 50’ boat is this safe.
- An expensive option in my boat was the universal electrical system. There are both 110 and 220 plugs located strategy around the boat. Check out the picture in this article that shows that. All of the major equipment around the boat like a/c units, washer and dryer are meant to work on 50 or 60hz. Any where you go in the world you will have no problems with electrical system compatibility.
- My boat has a custom dive compressor installation. Read my blog about the necessity of being scuba certified. It is another safety issue. I can’t tell you how many peaceful nights I have had at anchor knowing that my anchor is perfectly set after personally inspecting it. The peace of mind I get by personally inspecting my boats underwater hull specifically the prop, shaft, transducers and cutlass bearing before any major voyage. A couple of times in the middle of the Pacific I pulled some drifting net or line out of my prop. Those are just a couple of reasons. Something to make sure your new or used Duck has.
- One of SHM’s very smart addition to George Buehler’s design is the cockpit. This is an area behind the pilothouse. Very safe while at sea for relaxing and while at anchor out of the sun. This is covered by a large stainless steel frame with sunbrella cover. I had a custom cushion made to fill in the the center area so it makes the perfect place to sleep on a hot humid night or while off watch on a long passage. I hang a mosquito net from the overhead frame. As I said above, no other 50’ boat has four distinct living areas – cockpit, flybridge, salon, and pilothouse. Five, if you include the master state room with it’s 6 opening portholes and large overhead hatch. Compare that to the MSR and living spaces in a similar size Nordhavn, Krogen or Selene. Note in the picture above.
- I have heard uneducated people say that Ducks are like submarines due to the fact that most of the living areas are at or below the waterline, the sailboat type galley and the portholes. They don’t want to buy one because they think the interior would be dark, claustrophobic and not have much ventilation. That could not be further from the truth. Compare the Master stateroom in the pictures below. Six opening portholes and a large overhead opening hatch. Much more ventilation and light than any trawler in this size range. Check out the pictures below. The bed is about 5 inches larger than a normal queen and again much larger than anything in this size range. Makes a huge difference in comfort if it is hot and the boat is moving especially with the two strategically placed 24v fans. The salon has 5 opening portholes and an extremely large butterfly screened hatch. Much light and ventilation. The pilothouse is surrounded by windows that are much smaller and stronger than the typical Nordhavn, Selene or Krogen. Those large windows are a safety issue while at sea and will need plexiglass plates for protection. Those covers are extremely difficult to store and install. Those large windows are a nightmare in hot areas due to the amount of heat/sunlight they let in. Most do not open. The Duck has much more ventilation. Those stronger and smaller windows contribute to the Duck’s ability to survive a roll over where the other trawlers will not. The additional problem you have on those other trawlers is privacy. At a dock you are in a fishbowl with those large windows and have the shades drawn. There goes your light and ventilation!
Now, especially with Bill and Stella’s advancing age the risk becomes even greater. I don’t think there is a single owner who would trust stepson Fido, who would take over the yard in the event something happened to Stella, with a dollar of their money. He would clean out the bank accounts and disappear the minute she is gone.
Don’t be naive. Seahorse preys on first time trawler buyers looking for a low cost alternative to the established brands – Nordhavn, Korgen and Selene. Do your research! Know the risk involved. Don’t rely on Bill Kimley’s sales pitch and advice on how to equip your boat.
Don’t be one of the many buyers who as they motor off from Hong Kong to destinations unknown, after waiting patiently for 3+ years to have their boat built, realize they made a lot of mistakes. They are piloting from SHM’s standard pilothouse uncomfortable helm seat which is actually a converted bus driver’s seat complete with seat belt. They are sweating and cooking there due to Hong Kong’s famous heat and humidity and the limited ventilation of any interior pilothouse helm station. As they are dodging the treacherous HK freighter traffic they realize the limited visibility from the interior pilothouse helm station is actually unsafe. They don’t have a well equipped flybridge. There are over a 100 AIS targets at one time. In over 40,000 miles now of extended cruising in a relatively small trawler I can’t tell you enough how important a properly equipped flybridge is both for comfort and safety. They also soon realize that if something goes wrong with anything in the propulsion system they have no options. The sail area they have is not enough to make any headway, they are dragging a large fixed prop through the water and even if they could get somewhere under sail only they don’t have a bow and stern thruster setup that would let them easily dock without the main engine working. After docking they sit in the salon with SHM’s standard size furniture and thin hard cushions and noisy fans. Most Ducks have two loose uncomfortable chairs instead of the over size chairs built in like I have. Check out the picture. There is also the additional storage of my setup. The older Ducks have a useless desk where I have a full size washer and separate dryer. Again, the standard layout is uncomfortable. A smell is coming from the black water system and it takes too much water to clear the bowl and lines. SHM’s standard system at work. A smell is coming from the improperly sealed fuel tanks. You decide to go for a swim off the transom and afterwards you realize there is no hot/cold shower on the transom to shower, wash dive gear or clean fish. Something very simple that makes life on the boat that much more comfortable especially in hot and humid areas. Another example is the Chinese noisy 24v cabin fans that quickly rust. You will want to replace those ASAP. Bill does not believe in any of that. I use my shower everyday after my morning swim. The 24v fans are in use everyday and make the difference in a comfortable nights sleep or not. I had to refuse to take delivery of the boat until he installed the shower and other items related to comfort.
Another view of the commercial style sea chest.
Just one of the many examples of Bill’s cruising inexperience and how SHM deals with customers. After a couple of years these new owners start noticing rust issues because they did not supervise the coating process and Stella cut corners. You start using the transom area and realize it is too narrow without an additional platform to comfortably swim, dive, fish or deal with the dinghy. This is what you will get if you just sign the SHM contract for one of Bill’s “special” Ducks currently priced around $625K USD and take a “hands off” approach and expect a fully equipped reliable ocean crossing trawler in return. You cannot trust them.
I have tried to be unbiased as possible. Like I said many times, I love my boat. It took my experience, a lot of extra money and hard work to get it there. And, I took a big financial risk with Seahorse Marine. I know almost all of the owners. The vast majority would publicly agree with everything I said above if it was not for Bill’s policy of denying spare parts to anyone who says anything negative about the company. And, he has the policy of rewarding those who go out of their way to praise the company even if it is not true. Again, DO YOUR RESEARCH. Some of the small parts like window latches on the boat are uniquely Chinese so you must rely on Seahorse for spares.
Now, hopefully, you have a honest idea of what it will take to get the George Buehler designed Diesel Duck of your dreams. Are you willing to risk all of your hard earned money in Communist China? Are you going to spend the time at the yard to properly supervise construction? Have you done the research or have the experience to outfit your boat properly? Are you willing to spend the time and money, and have the experience and education so after construction you can deal with all of the known Seahorse issues before leaving on an 8000+ mile dangerous open ocean passage home?
Like I said, everyone likes to focus on Price. You have options. Let’s discuss VALUE. So in summary my boat cost around $775K new that includes the contract price plus many of the upgrades I added and paid for myself. I have my boat on the market for $625K. I am in no rush to sell it and that is a firm price. After 40,000 cruising miles in various boats it is just time. The first thing that Bill will tell you is that the purpose of this post is try and sell you my boat. NO, I have had so many inquires that ask the same questions I have tried to answer them with this post regarding the options below. Everyone has a budget and a time frame for purchase and yes, my boat is an option. Your other options are as follows. There are many used Ducks on the market for a fraction of that price that were built for much less than $500K that you can have now. Bill has his “special” new build price of around $625K plus three years of construction time, commissioning time and expense and the time and expense to get it home. NONE of these boats is like mine. Are the options in these boats a compromise in safety and comfort to just save a little money?
Full size washer and dryer in a custom cabinet. Usually a useless desk would occupy this spot.
One of the great things about a steel boat is that nothing is going to break or come loose. These bollards on the bow port and starboard and are completely welded into the hull. You could lift the hull from here. I use these bollards for hooking my anchor snubber line to. Note how the paint comes 1/2 an inch over the stainless steel to mild steel weld. This prevents corrosion.
I designed a completely universal electrical system into the boat. No matter where you are in the world you have a completely flexible 220/110 50/60hz electrical system. These dual outlets are spaced strategically throughout the boat.
money that you are willing to take? It depends on what your cruising plans are. I have tried to give you an honest picture of what that a new build entails above. There is a lot of risk involved and you must carefully manage the process. It seems that everyone I speak to that PRICE is their number one priority. As I said, wait until to you sail off into the sunset and realize you screwed up. You must also consider resale value. In five years or so you will be looking for a buyer who is going to make the same mistakes you did. Ask your salesman how much longer a trawler takes to sell without a flybridge, stern thruster or get home system? That is what knowledgable buyers expect these days. ALL OF THE SEAHORSE DUCKS ARE GREAT BOATS AND BUYING A LOWER PRICED DUCK IS BETTER THAN DOING NOTHING. As a cancer survivor I will tell you that life is short. As they were wheeling me into an 11 hour surgery that could either cost me my life or save my life I was seeing that night sky a 1000 miles from land lying on my back on the flybridge deck chair and feeling the slight rocking of the boat and warm tropical breeze. The anesthesiologist said to me “people don’t usually smile like that at times like this”. You would just have to adjust your cruising plans accordingly to compensate for a not as well equipped boat. Most owners know about the reliability issues I have described above and have addressed them. What level of risk are you willing to accept with a boat that has no functional flybridge or true get home system and is extremely difficult to enter or leave a dock without a stern thruster in any wind or current? What level of comfort and luxury do you want? We are back to the old saying again “you get what you pay for” along with the value consideration. Every salesman and owner will tell you their boat is the best. It is up to you to carefully evaluate your potential cruising plans and pick the best boat for those plans within your budget.