ABT-TRAC Captains Course

ABT-TRAC Captains Course

At Nordhavn’s 40th Anniversary Gala this past spring, we spoke to Ernie Romeo with ABT-TRAC (the company that supplies the hydraulic systems for Nordhavn and many other quality boatbuilders) about the captains course (link to their site) that the company offers.  We’d heard about it before and it was on the to do list, but when we learned it is held at their company headquarters that are located minutes away from our favorite wine region, we signed up immediately!  (BTW – Sonoma County!)

So this past week, we packed our bags and took the two hour Horizon Airlines flight from Seattle to Santa Rosa.  The airline (Alaska Airlines) allows each passenger flying in to Santa Rosa to bring home a case of wine on your return flight – bonus round!  Of course, during the trip down, the flight attendant delivered a note to us from Jeff and Shannon of N47 Igloo.  We hadn’t seen them board the plane!  Once landed, Alison made it to the rental car desk with just minutes to spare before heading to our place in Windsor, which ended up being 5 mins from the airport.

The note from Jeff and Shannon.

The next morning, we drove 20 mins south ABT’s Rohnert Park facility.  Eric Folkestad, the Product Development Manager for ABT, was our class instructor.  After Eric welcomed us to the class, he shared a few stories about last year’s massive fires that ravaged the area, taking lives and homes.  Four of their employees lost their homes with one of them waking up to a 1:30 am robocall warning and seeing their garage on fire.  The community is still working thru their rebuilding process.  (so sign up for the next class and buy some wine to support everyone!)

The class was made up of about 16 people, a mix of industry people and boat owners.  Two of the three industry people we knew – Lugger Bob Senter from Northern Lights and Devin Zwick (from PAE).  Except for John, an Outer Reef owner, the rest of the attendees were Nordhavn owners!  Alison and I were one of four couples that were there.  Of the Nordhavns represented in the group, three are still in the build process.

Much of the first day was touring around the facilities.  Most of the different “divisions” had their separate buildings or areas.  We first met Steve Ring, the parts guru (good person to know!).  Throughout the day included seeing machining areas, assembly, paint/finishing, shipping, electronics as well as where they lay up the fins themselves.  ABT TRAC makes almost every part of their systems.  This includes bolts so they meet their exacting tolerances!  The attention to detail, in the engineering, fabrication and support really comes thru when you walk thru everything.  Then you continue on with the class and learn even more!

Just cool stuff…
One of the many pieces of machining equipment
From this…
to these!
Cast parts ready to be finish milled.
Lugger Bob!


Cast thruster parts ready to be finished…


Stabilizer being assembled.
The fiberglass shop…


Shelves and shelves of parts.
Eric walking thru a table for of parts being assembled for a new build yacht.
An electric hydraulic pump in the foreground and reservoirs with coolers in the background.
These systems require many parts!


Control box in process.
Endless bins of connectors and lengths of cables all to build their control boxes and other electronic parts.
The electronics shop.  They make all their own assemblies.
The original bow thruster on the far wall…
Some boat builders request a system built ready to be dropped in…
The original test tank for stabilizers…  it was filled in water and then ran until they broke!  Now computer programs can show where stress shows up…
The Finish Shop.
Thruster tube for Nordhavn’s new N80-01
A completed fin with wing.


Fin side being laid up…


Crates ready to be shipped!
Stabilizer shafts.  A “250” series stabilizer has a 2.5″ shaft.  The 300 series is a 3″ shaft and so on…
This is the metal part that is built in to each fin.  The side facing the camera is the boat side and slides up on to the shaft.

I must say, Eric was wonderful at presenting the information.  Very engaging and it was easy to follow along.  Even Alison, self proclaimed non-mechanical person, stayed focused and learned right along side myself and everyone else.  She even enjoyed tearing apart a hydraulic component and reassembling it!


One of the parts we took apart, “fixed” and reassembled.

The second day was mostly in the classroom but that included a hands on element of “fixing” a couple of issues on their classroom wall of hydraulics.  Speaking of which, they have a full working system of stabilizers, thrusters, windlass, etc up on a wall.  It is easy to look at a full system and see how it works.  Amazing.

The wall of hydraulics


Bill Baker with N62 Roxia getting his hands dirty… or staying clean!


Jeff with N40 Irene
Needless to say, it is much easier to work on the stabilizers at this table vs where they are usually located!


As Red Rover currently only has hydraulic stabilizers, we thought we’d be focused just on those (very critical) items and what it might take to add backup hydraulic pressure if the slim chance we lost the main engine (hydraulic PTO pump on the main engine).  By the end, we learned enough to be confident that we could add a hydraulic windlass and chain wash down ourselves!  Stay tuned for that!

Needless to say, if you have a boat with ABT-TRAC equipment in it (or one being built with that equipment), we would rate it as a must go.  They don’t limit how many times you come – so attending early in your build process to better understand the system and options is great and then back after you have time using it would be a perfect scenario!  At least two owners with boats in the build process were reaching out to their salesperson to request changes…

After two days of class, we felt we earned a couple days of wine tasting at our favorite wineries…  being 80 degrees and sunny wasn’t terrible either!


Autopilot Upgrade

Autopilot Upgrade

When we bought Red Rover two years ago, most of her navigation equipment was from the original 2005 install.  There was also some added items that previous owners had added over the years.  The equipment did a good job bringing us up the West Coast from San Diego to Seattle after closing on the boat in 2016.  But we both new that we’d like to upgrade before we took off to cruise “permanently”.  And we wanted to do it enough time before we leave so that we became comfortable with its operation as well as to work thru any bugs that could arise.  January of 2017 we decided to take the plunge and upgrade the navigation equipment minus the autopilots.  We love the new equipment and have really enjoyed learning/using it this past year.

Why did we decide to upgrade the autopilots?  They operated fine – nothing was “wrong” with them.  But there was an occasional hiccup with how the pilots dealt with the nav data coming from the navigation equipment after last years install.  We are part of the group who likes to have the routes that we’ve created on our chartplotters sent to the pilots.  The pilots take this nav data to “steer to” and make course changes when the boat reaches each plotted waypoint.  What was happening is the modern equipment was sending the data too fast and too much of it.  We then installed a different NEMA 2000 to NEMA 0183 converter that was programmable to dumb down the data and help make the pilots happier.  It worked much of the time.  But roughly every two hours, the pilot would error out and we would need to hit a button a few times to get it back on line.  So another upgrade was added to the “to do” list…

So this January at the Seattle Boat Show, we started looking at autopilots (uh oh – that’s how the electronics started last January).  Our ideal system included two pilot heads, two computers and four follow up levers, essentially how it was sent up originally.  The AccuSteer pumps were just fine and would stay put.  Simrad ended up being the only manufacturer whose system would really support four follow up levers.  Furuno had a work around way to do it, but I didn’t like how it would be done.  So, a new Spring project!

Unlike the navigation upgrade in the spring of 2017 where I did much of the demo myself and then assisted in the install (which means I pulled a lot of cables and watched how things were hooked up), I did the complete Autopilot install myself.  Between my navigation “apprenticeship” plus some electrical classes that I took this last year to fill the wholes in my knowledge, I felt very comfortable completing the install.  Plus, I had Scott with Emerald Harbor on my “phone a friend” speed dial as needed.

So back to demo’ing/pulling wires and equipment.  Most of the work surrounded cable to the wing and cockpit nav stations – removing and installing the follow up levers in those locations.  The flybridge and pilothouse access is fairly easy to work around.  The cabling/wiring was greatly reduced last year but I am still amazed at how much is in Red Rover.

Upper dash down.  This is pre-install of the two additional FI70s.
Almost empty dash…
Photos are great to assist in remembering how wiring should go back together!
Ceiling panel down running new cabling to the wing station.
Master stateroom closet and ceiling panel.
This is just below the wing station.
Starboard wing station before the original follow up lever was removed.
New follow up lever.  One hole that needs to be filled.
Original pilot computers before removal.
Updated AC70 autopilot computers
The NMEA 2000 backbone will replace much of this wad of wiring…


Once the old equipment was out of the dash, I had holes that needed to be filled and new holes to cut.  I epoxied plywood plugs in to the old holes and filled/sanded flat before adding new black laminate.  I also took this opportunity to permanently install the Xantrex battery monitor as well as to add two additional FI70 4.3″ displays in to the upper dash.

NMEA 2000 cables starting to be pulled.
A new hole was drilled for the water gauge and the battery monitor was placed by the genset panel.
The backside of the six FI70 4.3″ panels.  The two on the right are the new displays.
The two new FI70s were installed above the VHF.

The NMEA backbone initially ended in the engine room, far enough to get to the newly installed sounders last year.  So I needed to extend the backbone aft to the laz so that we could connect the cockpit station follow up unit.  As I am typing this, I now realize that I should have pulled the second (currently unused) backbone to the laz at the same time.  This second backbone will be utilized for monitoring equipment in the near future.  Another project!

Original end of our backbone.  Now extended to the laz.
New aft end of the backbone in laz.
After patching the dash, I cut in the holes for the new (or moved) pieces of equipment.
Test fit!
New laminate set after the holes were cut.  A laminate trimmer was used to finish the cutouts.
And how it looks now!
Another view of the helm.

On the flybridge, a new AP70 pilot head, follow up lever and second FI70 display panel was added.  I had a new aluminum dash panel routed and sent out to be powdercoated.

Flybridge dash.  The right side dash panel had to be remade with the updated pilot head.  I also took the opportunity to add another FI70 on the flying bridge.



After the physical install of the equipment, I started the “at dock” setup of the two computers.  When I got to the point where I had questions, I waited until Scott with Emerald Harbor Marine arrived to review/finalize the settings and then head out for a seatrial and on water setup/adjustments.

We had a beautiful day for the setup so it wasn’t to difficult to fine tune the pilots.  The one challenge boats with active fin stabilizers can have is the tuning of the pilot with the interaction of the fins.  When the fins are working to counteract the rolling of the boat, they themselves then turn the boat, which the rudder (pilots) are working to keep the boat tracking straight.  The other part of autopilot tuning is adjusting to a middle ground of the vessel stays pretty much on course with minimal wandering vs it making a lot of rudder adjustments all the time to stay on track.

I will admit that I never messed with the old autopilot settings.  I figured that if it was working, don’t mess with it.  And, we didn’t have a lot of experience with autopilots in other boats to know if what we had was “steering” well or not.  But the new AP70/AC70s work well.  Well, really well.  Since the first seatrial, we have worked to tune the pilots in different sea conditions and Red Rover’s tracking has definitely benefited from it.  And we have come to really love the upgrade, learning to use them and how much more we are enjoying being underway.