Fam­ily Mat­ters

A Cus­tom­ized Amer­i­can Tug 485 Fits the Bill for a Cruis­ing Fam­ily of Four

Passage Maker - - Troubleshooter - Story & Pho­tog­ra­phy by Jonathan Cooper

One of three co-founders of Wash­ing­ton­based Amer­i­can Tug, Kurt Dil­worth caught the boat­build­ing bug early. As a high schooler, he was work­ing in the shop­room—“push­ing a broom”—at a friend’s Pa­cific Northwest plant when Kurt was asked if he could as­sist on a project that no one in the build­ing could han­dle. “Due to my size—I’m a smaller guy—I was asked to come out on the shop floor and fit be­tween the hull side and a plas­tic wa­ter tank, with rope tied around my legs.” Kurt de­scribes. “And, once I was able to hook up a send­ing unit, they kept me out on the shop floor and I worked my way up. I de­cided that was re­ally what I wanted to do.”

Kurt would go on to get a de­gree in me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing from the Univer­sity of Wash­ing­ton, and af­ter grad­u­at­ing took a job at Nordic Tugs based on a rec­om­men­da­tion from a friend, boat de­signer Lynn Se­nour. At Nordic, he would meet the fu­ture of Amer­i­can Tug in col­leagues and friends, Tom Nel­son and Mike Schop­pert. The three would even­tu­ally leave Nordic’s man­age­ment team in 1999 to start the Tomco Ma­rine Group the fol­low­ing year.

One con­stant be­tween the two com­pa­nies was Se­nour, the self-taught naval ar­chi­tect re­spon­si­ble for a num­ber of de­signs, in­clud­ing suc­cesses in both the Nordic and Amer­i­can Tug lines. Se­nour died in 2004 at the age of 89, but his de­signs achieved re­mark­able suc­cess given his lack of for­mal ed­u­ca­tion in the field: his first Amer­i­can Tug launch was the 34. Some will know it as the 34, and oth­ers will rec­og­nize it as a “365” af­ter a de­ci­sion to des­ig­nate lines based on over­all length. In any case, Se­nour’s 365 de­sign, com­bined with an eco­nomic build, set the fledg­ling com­pany on solid foot­ing: The com­pany would end up build­ing over 200 of the in­tro­duc­tory model.

Though the 365 is still avail­able to­day, Kurt says that fewer peo­ple are in­ter­ested in the smaller boat be­cause most of their own­ers cruise for longer pe­ri­ods, of­ten up to three months at a time. Many oth­ers choose to live aboard, and in those cases, ac­com­mo­da­tions spa­ces, home of­fices, gal­ley con­fig­u­ra­tions, re­frig­er­a­tor space, and stowage be­come pri­mary con­cerns. Ac­knowl­edg­ing this, the de­ci­sion was made to grow with the 2004 re­lease of the soon-to-be-suc­cess­ful 435 (a 41-footer if you go by molded length), and a few years later, big­ger still with the re­lease of the 485 (45 feet on deck).

The 485 isn’t a Lynn Se­nour de­sign, but it cer­tainly drew in­spi­ra­tion from his and com­pany founders’ Amer­i­can Tug con­cept, with an em­pha­sis on com­fort­able cruis­ing and flex­i­bil­ity within the frame­work of a true semi-dis­place­ment hull, fea­tur­ing rocker from bow to stern. All the de­signs have hard-chines, a full keel meant to run ef­fi­ciently at hull speeds be­tween 7.5 and 8 knots. At these mod­est speeds, they com­monly burn a cruis­er­friendly 3.5 gal­lons per hour across the en­tire model range, with 15-16 knots avail­able with a more ex­pen­sive fuel bill. Like many mod­ern trawler-style yachts built to­day, this power flex­i­bil­ity gives own­ers the best of both worlds: some speed when it’s needed, and great fuel econ­omy for the ma­jor­ity of the en­gine’s life.

En­ter The Hey­ers

Like Kurt, Chris and Julie Heyer, from Sum­ner, Wash­ing­ton, also re­al­ized that boats were al­ways go­ing to play an im­por­tant role in their lives. With mu­tual af­fec­tion for the wa­ter, they ac­quired a Ca­mano 28 when their first, Sky­lar, was a baby. They cruised the

Ca­mano ex­ten­sively, from Puget Sound north to the San Juans, Gulf Is­lands, and Deso­la­tion Sound. The small boat worked per­fectly for ev­ery­thing they needed. “Sky­lar was re­ally raised on that boat,” says the cou­ple, but the birth of their daugh­ter, Ava, forced them to re-eval­u­ate space and ameni­ties on board. “We’d never re­ally been both­ered by hav­ing a so­lar shower in the cock­pit, no gen­er­a­tor, and no wa­ter­maker,” Chris says.

But as the kids grew older—they are now 9 and 16—even the used Amer­i­can Tug 365 started to be­come tight on space for the amount of time they spent cruis­ing, par­tic­u­larly in the sum­mers when school was out for the year. So, the dis­cus­sion started a few years ago be­tween the Hey­ers and Kurt to build their own 485. They loved their 365, but what sold them on a new build was Kurt’s will­ing­ness to work with them to change a num­ber of stan­dard items, thus cater­ing the build to their cruis­ing needs.

485, Hull #6, Kama Hele

The Hey­ers pre­fer an­chor­ages to docks, so on the list of wants were a gen­er­a­tor and wa­ter­maker that could han­dle the laun­dry and shower de­mands of a fam­ily of four. Ac­cord­ing to Chris, they run their gen­er­a­tor fairly of­ten, and the 1,200 gal­lon-per-day wa­ter­maker has been per­fect for their de­mands on a fresh wa­ter sup­ply. He adds: “It’s great to turn it on for just an hour and make 50 gal­lons of fresh wa­ter.”

They wanted the boat to be as sim­ple as pos­si­ble so that they could oper­ate it eas­ily, quickly drop the hook, and put the ten­der, kayaks, and as­sorted toys in the wa­ter. This led to the first sig­nif­i­cant change from the stan­dard model. In­stead of a sin­gle fiber­glass door lead­ing to the swim plat­form, they asked Kurt to not only build a deeper, 48-inch swim plat­form, but two tran­som doors that could ac­cess it from ei­ther side of the cock­pit. Fur­ther­more, if their chil­dren were swim­ming off the back, they pre­ferred the im­proved vis­i­bil­ity of stain­less gate-type doors over solid FRP.

From a sys­tems per­spec­tive, Chris and Julie also wanted to sig­nif­i­cantly in­crease the boat’s cold stor­age ca­pac­ity. In ad­di­tion to twin drawer freez­ers and a drawer-style fridge in the gal­ley, they have another full-size fridge in the gal­ley and added a chest freezer in the en­gine room.

Up­dates were also made to the in­te­rior de­sign, with con­tem­po­rary right an­gles on the trim rather than the more tra­di­tional ra­diused join­ery. Stain­less ac­cents, art tile, and mir­rors open the space and keep it fresh and clean yet al­ways main­tain­ing the DNA of a boat, not a condo. These changes an­nounce their im­pact as soon as you step into the sa­loon. Nat­u­ral light bathes the open sa­loon, U-shape gal­ley, and raised pilothouse. Com­fort­able spa­ces cater to loung­ing and din­ing. A fam­ily of this size could eas­ily make use of the dinette to star­board of the gal­ley, or, while run­ning, the ta­ble abaft the helm.

Al­though the Hey­ers aren’t speed demons, they asked Kurt what could be done to achieve a few ex­tra knots. He came back with a few sug­ges­tions: “This boat was built with ex­tra-light ply in the cab­i­netry and non-struc­tural bulk­heads in or­der to save weight. Ex­tra power was added to the boat to give it a 14-knot cruise with a top speed around 18 knots with a full load, in­clud­ing a heavy 13-foot ten­der on the fly­bridge.” The Hey­ers are a younger cou­ple, still work­ing full time, so the op­por­tu­nity to power up and make the most of their time at sea wasn’t a place where they were will­ing to com­pro­mise.


485, hull six, was de­liv­ered to the Hey­ers in Ta­coma over a year ago. Chris and Julie chris­tened her Kama Hele, Hawai­ian for “trav­eler.” Since the age of 12, Sky­lar has chan­neled this ad­ven­tur­ous spirit to­ward his own ver­sion of in­de­pen­dence. When they ar­rive in cer­tain an­chor­ages, he will load up his tent and camp­ing sup­plies in one of the kayaks, pad­dle to shore, and overnight by him­self while his sis­ter gets a night off from be­ing a sib­ling. All in all, not a bad way to grow up.


The main sa­loon and gal­ley on the Hey­ers’ 485 show many of Julie and Chris’ de­sign choices, in­clud­ing con­tem­po­rary fab­ric and cabi­net styles.

Top to Bot­tom: Space is never a prob­lem on­board, il­lus­trated by the full-beam master cabin with walk- around athwartships berth, and a head with stall shower to star­board; The en­gine room is well lighted and sim­ply laid out and la­beled; Por­trait of the Hey­ers on the bridge.

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