The salty Nor'Sea 27
This small bluewater cruiser
fulfills a couple's lifetime dream
Good old boat November/December 2002
Jill Delezynski decorated the bows of a number of sailboats while getting a tan on trips between Los Angeles and Catalina Island. "She was a hood ornament on other people's boats," Greg Delezynski retorts when the question of Jill's sailing experience comes up. These days - since meeting and marrying Greg - Jill's an active participant and full-fledged partner. "This boat doesn't have enough room for passengers," Greg says, and Jill readily agrees.
Their boat, Guenevere, is a Lyle Hess-designed Nor'Sea 27. Hull #80, built in 1979, Guenevere was one of 150 built by Dean Wixom's Heritage Marine in Long Beach, Calif. When Greg and Jill discovered her in 1990, she was sitting on a broker's lot in Seattle. Many modifications and upgrades later, they have no regrets. "We could have just about any boat we want," Greg says. "This is the boat we want."
This is the boat the Delezynskis have selected to take them to the South Pacific in another year or so in pursuit of a dream Greg has had for most of his life. As part of their preparations and to see how they'll adapt to cruising, for the past six years Greg and Jill have been renting out their comfortable home while running their shoreside lives from the confines of Guenevere's cabin.
From a berth in Oyster Cove in the San Francisco Bay area, they have managed their shore lives, which include two jobs to increase the cruising kitty and for the sake of future retirement income. Jill is a manager for the local West Marine store while Greg counts the days until Lockheed presents him with the equivalent of a gold watch.
These days some would argue that a 27-foot boat is too small to make ocean passages, but Nor'Sea 27s have been making circumnavigations and long passages since they first rolled out of the boatyard in the 1970s as trailerable cruisers . . . long before the sailing press and manufacturers decided that bigger (much bigger) is better.
Designer Lyle Hess came to the idea of the small cruiser from a large-boat perspective. He had been designing and building larger boats when World War II made it difficult and expensive to get supplies. Lyle downsized one of the larger boat designs to create the Renegade of Newport in 1950.
"As I watched Hale (Field, the new boatowner) sail away in little Renegade," Lyle said later, "I recalled all the good times that I had aboard Viajera (Lyle's 16-foot sloop with a cuddy cabin) and wondered if, with labor costs becoming so high and wood becoming so scarce, small boats might really be the answer for putting cruising within the reach of the average man."
Lin and Larry Pardey popularized the idea of the small cruising sailboat after Larry fell in love with Renegade and asked Lyle for plans for the 24-footer which became Seraffyn. Larry introduced Lyle to Richard Arthur, who asked Lyle to design a 20-foot, fiberglass, trailerable and affordable, yet seaworthy, boat. This was the beginning of the Balboa 20, the Balboa 26, and the Ensenada 20, all produced by Arthur Marine. Another Balboa, the 8.2, was produced later by Coastal Recreation. In the same way, the fiberglass Bristol Channel Cutter, a 28-footer produced by the Sam L. Morse Company, was inspired by the Pardeys' tales of Serrafyn's adventures.
But the story doesn't end there. Dean Wixom also approached Lyle Hess with the idea of a husky trailerable cruiser. Wayne Carpenter (The Voyage of Kristina, 1983) and others who wrote books and articles in the sailing magazines of the times helped popularize the fiberglass Nor'Sea 27, touting its virtues as a trailerable sailboat and bluewater cruiser.
And, finally, Jerry Montgomery's Montgomery Marine began producing another series of popular Lyle Hess designs, the Montgomery 15, 17, and 23. These days the Nor'Sea Yacht Corporation in Dana Point, Calif., builds both the Nor'Sea and Montgomery sailboats. A sales brochure of the 1970s calls the Nor'Sea 27 "A world-class voyager. Very simply, the finest small voyaging vessel ever built." Loyal Nor'Sea owners agree wholeheartedly. They get together to party, to cruise, and to compare various custom layouts as well as the modifications they've made to the interiors and exteriors of their favorite boats. "It's great fun when the Nor'Sea community gets together," Jill says.
Greg discovered sailing in his teens when he and a friend ran away from their Chcago homes and wound up in Houston where his friend's brother owned a 24-foot Columbia Challenger. He offered the two boys the Challenger as a place to sleep. They moved in. He also gave them a book on sailing and told them they could sail the boat if they could pass his test within a week. Two sailors were made that week.
But Greg thinks the lure of the sea runs deeper than that. When doing some family genealogy work, he discovered that his relatives, Bruce and Sheridan Fahnestock, cruised the South Pacific in the 1930s and wrote a book about their adventures, Stars to Windward, published in 1938. Later, Bruce's mother joined them and also published a book, I Ran Away to Sea at 50. Two other books, published at the time mention meeting the Fahnestocks: Blue Water Vagabond, by Dennis Puleston (1939) and Hurricane's Wake, by Ray Kauffman (1940).
Greg didn't know all this as an early sailor, however, while chartering and sailing other people's boats. His career in aviation and satellite communication took him from Hawaii to Iran to Los Angeles to Georgia to San Francisco. He did own and sail a boat on the Persian Gulf and another - a Sea Quest - in Los Angeles. He built a sharpie-type weekender which he capsized in front of the Queen Mary and a rail full of interested onlookers (perhaps it's tourist observations of this sort that make it hard to recruit new people to sailing as a satisfying recreational activity . . . ). He had to be towed ignominiously back to port.
When Greg and Jill met, each was divorced with teenaged children. Jill recalls, "He had an anchor on his mantel and was building the weekender in his back yard." The anchor was no objet d'art. This was a 16-pound Danforth. Jill knew this man intended to go sailing.
By the time Greg was transferred to Georgia, the two were a couple and a boat quest had begun. The Nor'Sea was already on the short list. Jill came home one day with a Boat Trader publication she'd picked up in a gas station.
"Nobody buys boats in one of those things," Greg told her, but the publication listed two Nor'Seas in Seattle. He soon found a way to get to Seattle "on company business."
Before long Nor'Sea #80 was in their driveway and undergoing a refit first there and then at her slip in Lake Lanier. As time has gone on, Guenevere has received a new Yanmar 2GM20F, and the icebox was replaced with a super-insulated refrigerator/ freezer. She was rewired with a new circuit-breaker panel and a Link 10 battery monitor. She got a new holding tank and Lavac head, and an all-new freshwater system with hot and cold pressure water. Guenevere also received a new fuel tank. This involved removing the prop shaft while in the water, a feat that gave Greg particular satisfaction. While they were at it, Greg and Jill installed a Monitor windvane and a locker lid hold down system (in case of a knockdown or rollover). Greg also split the forward chain locker to keep the port and starboard anchor rodes from tangling.
"I realized one day that I had found the right woman," Greg says. "Jill was there sanding the bottom with me." Jill laughs. She has since realized that the way to "find your man" is by trolling the boatyards wearing a double-filter mask and coveralls. What sailor could resist? And Greg says, grinning, "Nothing's so pretty as a woman with windblown hair . . . unless it's a woman with bottom paint in her hair."
Since she is now actively involved in every aspect of boat maintenance and operation, Jill was recently asked how a man should go about getting the woman in his life to participate in his sailing activity or cruising dream. Jill notes that men and women have different learning styles. "Men just take the helm and discover as they go," she says. "Women want to know the concept and how it all works - they want to feel safe and that everything is under control.
"The latter part brings me to my first rule of boating - no yelling. If someone is yelling, things are not under control. Women need to understand all the onboard systems and how they work. They need to be actively involved in all decisions from what boat to purchase to refit activities to sailing plans, whether these are for the day, the weekend, or the rest of their lives." As an afterthought she adds, "A good boat is only as strong as its weakest crewmember. If you go overboard, she is the one left to rescue you. Will she know how?"
Dean Wixom sold Heritage Marine in 1980 and went cruising on his own Nor'Sea, Chinook. In a message written to other Nor'Sea owners many years ago, Dean said, "I did make a fatal mistake: I built a product that I had fallen in love with. We built the boats without enough regard to cost. We already had the world's most expensive 27-footer, yet I could not bring myself to cut corners . . . Our dilemma was eventually solved by a real-estate agent with a stunning offer for our property . . . the knowledge that the boat would continue to be built tipped the decision. Most of our employees went to the new builder, who continued the tradition of quality . . . I decided to follow my customers and go cruising. A few years ago, I stopped counting at 30,000 nautical miles and 10 years of living aboard."
When pressed these days, Dean says he really stopped counting at 40,000 miles in 1990 or so and that Chinook was the only home he and his wife had for 15 years while they traveled extensively. She is for sale now (see the Good Old Boat classifieds), since Dean has discovered a passion for Native American art and is devoting more time to painting.
Following Dean over the horizon has become the Delezynskis' obsession: going south until the butter melts. Guenevere will take them there. "I'll retire from Lockheed in one year, nine months, and nine days," Greg said in early April 2002. "Not that I'm counting, of course."
In spite of being heavy and robust, Guenevere starts all sails in the San Francisco area with reefed sails, truly a strong statement regarding the windy conditions of the area.
Other Nor'Sea 27 sites:
Greg and Jill Delezynski
George Marcotte - Sea of Tranquility
John and Martha Beth Lewis
Lorenzo Fluckiger and Cecile Peraire, site text in French
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