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Nicknack, Herb Dent's Fleming 55


Herbert Denk and his 53footer are headed to Spain from California-here's the halfway report.

After the first 4,150 nautical miles of his shakedown cruise from Newport Beach, California, to Barcelona, Spain, Nicknack's 63-year-old owner, Herbert Denk docked her stem-to at the Caracas Yacht Club in the resort town of Caraballeda, Venezuela. Nicknack is a Fleming 53 pilothouse motoryacht of 63,000 Ibs. displacement with twin, naturally aspirated Caterpillar engines, and this was the end of the first part of what Herb calls his Grand Manoverschluck.

Like a golden eagle, Herb roosts during the summer months high in the Italian Alps, near the remote Alpine village of Siffian. After a long slog in business in Salzburg, he sold out at age 55 and decided to split his life between sailing the warm southern seas during the winters and hiking near Siffian in the summers.

One contribution to Herb's contentment and good health is his habit of rewarding himself after a task well done-such as a long hike completed, a meal well prepared, decks well washed, or any number of such suitable excuses-with a little draft of appropriate liquor. These he categorizes, depending upon the time of the day and the severity of the tasks, as a "little schluck" or perhaps a pre-Marwverschluck and, of course, an actual, well-deserved Maroverschluck, that being the German way of saying "a little drink for a job that is well done."

Freshly back in Siffian after a winter cruise from Barcelona down to the Canaries in a 46foot motorsailer, Herb was catching up on his reading and came across a design review of the new Fleming 50, engineered by Tony Fleming with a layout designed by me [Anton Emmerton]. Herb liked her lines.

So, in November 1988, an Austrian whose home is in Italy took delivery of a Fleming 53 created by two Englishmen and built under their supervision in the Republic of China, with a hull designed by an American (Larry Drake and Associates of San Diego). Add to this international melange the fact that the yacht was commissioned by Chuck Hovey Yachts of Newport Beach, California, and that Herb's destination was Barcelona, Spain. Consider also that his crew changes consisted of a Finn and three Germans!

A New Year In Acapulco

Two days before Christmas, fat with 1,500 gallons of diesel fuel, Nicknack slipped out of her commissioning berth in Newport Beach on the first leg of her maiden voyage: non-stop to Cabo San Lucas. With the Aquadrive CVA units absorbing vibration thrust from her propellers and muted by the lead-based Insulation of her engine room, the Cats - matched by the Glendinning synchronizers Herb puts it, "were just a little murmur." At a throttled-back 1600 revolutions, which gave him 8.4 knots. Nicknack loped along almost silently, covering exactly 200 miles every 24 hours and consuming only six-tenths of a gallon of fuel per mile.

Johann, Herb's friend and crewman came along for the fishing. They ate dorado and bonito, and just off the Cape, Johann latched on to a marlin, which after a struggle was finally put to sleep with a stiff shot of vodka poured into its gills. Like a Viking war emblem, its tail fin is now mounted on Nicknack's signal mast and its sword stands upright in an aft scupper, a useful weapon to repel unwelcome boarders.

Just over 88 hours after leaving Newport Beach, Nicknack pulled into Cabo San Lucas, only to leave the following day with full tanks for Acapulco, 686 miles away. While he knew his boat would give him more than 11 knots cruise if he wanted it, Herb chose an economical 1600 rpm. After encountering high winds and rough seas crossing the Gulf to Cabo Corrientes, calm returned as he closed with the mainland Mexican coast. By New Year's Day, Herb was moored in Acapulco Bay.

The next leg began with no wind and a perfectly calm sea. The ocean teemed with turtles and flying fish, and Johann hauled out fresh fish which Herb cooked and served in full gourmet style. Every so often, they hove Nicknack to for an ocean swim--until one of them sighted a familiar triangular fin.

Conditions stayed calm until they reached the expanse of the Gulf of Tehauntepec. Here the winds are drawn across the low land that divides the Caribbean from the Pacific. As with the French mistral and Californian Santa Ana, you can have nine-foot seas with 50-knot winds on the beam. Nicknack took these conditions in stride. However, this was the first real blow for the crew and Herb put into Salina Cruz.

He left the next morning, January 5, at a civilized 7:30 for Flamingo Bay, 679 miles distant in Costa Rica. They made it handily, after delays from a Mexican Coast Guard check and what Herb describes as "horrible weather, blowing 30 knots with strong seas on the port beam." But Costa Rica was worth it.

After spending three days there and making a planned crew change, Herb vowed to return one day.

A Panamanian Manoverschluck

With experienced Finnish sailor Harry Biaudet onboard, Nicknack got underway again for a 555-mile cruise to the entrance of the Panama Canal. Running at exactly 200 miles a day in "dream motorboat weather," they had no problems. Says Herb: "On Sunday the 16th, we were at the Balboa Yacht Club and the next day we dealt with the paperwork. Then we were told we must be at the first lock at 9:30 the next morning, so we left the yacht club at 7:45 a.m. You must move at an exact timetable-it's all very efficient. Since I had only one crewmember and myself, we were required to take along three `Line Handlers.' You must have four people to take the two bow lines and two stern lines.

"There is great turbulence in the locks as they are filled and emptied and you must be in the center position. Sometimes it took almost full power to move against the current! We went through at the same time as the sportfishing boat of General Noriega. The distance is 39.5 miles and by four o'clock that afternoon, exactly according to plan, we arrived at Colon on the Caribbean side. It was a wonderful experience. In Colon, Harry and I had a big Manoverschluck!"

An Endurance Test

Now Nicknack was in the Caribbean. Herb and Harry looked forward to calm, clear ware and an easy leg to La Guaira, the port of Caracas in Venezuela. However, unknown to them, this part of the trip was to become a great test of endurance for Nicknack and themselves. A! Herb put it later, "No wise book had told me that this was the wind-strongest part of the whole Caribbean!"

With a 962-mile leg in front of them, Herb found the wind on the nose, blowing at 4( knots with 12- to 15-foot seas. "It got worse with the wind sometimes up to 55. But, a: before, Nicknack was always smooth, never taking any green water onboard and neve pounding. We ran at 2000 rpm, 10 knots, al ways on the autopilot."

After 300 miles, they were abeam of Cartegena on the Colombian coast, and sine there were only two of them to split the watches, they decided to go in to relax and wait for the winds to abate. Says Herb "Cartegena is a beautiful, unspoiled place wit fine old Spanish buildings and a good harbor However, we were a little depressed when we were told at the Club de Vela by all the fisher men and local people that the winds would be like this for the next two months, at least! Some people said that close to Punts Gallinas on the border of Columbia and Venezuela, about halfway, we could get 70-knot winds. They said we would never make it!"

They met some Americans who had already been stuck there for three months. These people told Herb that to contemplate a trip eastward to La Guaira at this time of the year amounted to sheer stupidity. "Madonna!" says Herb in recollection.

They made one false start, and true to the local information, they charged into 70-knot winds outside the harbor and returned to Cartegena. Now it became a question of logistics.

Time was running out. Herb made inquiries about shipping Nicknack to Barcelona. Arrangements were made, but finally the shipping agent confronted Herb with a freight charge of $45,000 (U.S.)!

That night, as they sat having dinner in the yacht club, feeling trapped and depressed, Harry suddenly noticed that the whine of the ever-present wind had ceased. They paid the check, dashed down to the dinghy, and at 2:30 a.m. on February 1, had Nicknack heading at full speed out of Cartegena. Once outside, up came the wind again. But by now they knew that the boat could take it and decided to go on.

Herb smiles as he recollects that night. "It was black and the seas were huge, 18' to 20'. Nicknack was on the autopilot and we were conning now at full revolutions just to get out of there! In the 45- to 70-knot winds, all we could do was hang on while the boat climbed the waves and surfed down into big, black pits. Sometimes we thought perhaps she will keep on going down! But always, and very softly, she climbed back up the next wave."

There was one time when Herb thought it was the end. Nicknack had jumped from the top of a huge wave and there was a great crash as she landed. Herb thought the engines must have broken loose. Instead, "It was the sound of 12 bottles of very good wine breaking inside a wooden crate beneath the forward berth. After this," he adds, "there was a good smell in the boat!"

They plowed on through the unremitting storm-force winds and seas for 627 miles, finally arriving off La Guaira on February 3with no doubts that Nicknack would take them very safely across the Atlantic.

"After all this, Harry and I had a very big Manoverschluck," Herb Denk concludes.

This article was written from the log of Herbert Denk by Anton Emmerton of Falmouth Yachts.

Continue to Part II

Reprinted Power & Motoryacht Magazine August 1989