Globe-girdling voyagers Steve and Linda Dashew have the unusual distinction of achieving cult status on both sides of the boating divide.
When advancing years forced them to contemplate a change from a lifetime of designing sailing yachts and switch to motor yachts, it amounted to a seismic shift – the nautical equivalent of Bob Dylan’s 1965 defection from acoustic to electric sound.
Yet, a decade later, the small but dedicated band of Dashew motor yacht disciples is solid testament to their success. Their latest launch, an imposing 33.5 metre superyacht called Iceberg, follows a successful run of 10 19.5 metre yachts. Number 11 is under construction at Circa Marine in Whangarei, New Zealand, alongside a new series of three 23.7 metres.
All photography by Ivor Wilkins
The Dashews have never been content to follow the herd. That was the example set by Steve’s father Stanley Dashew, the multimillionaire US inventor and entrepreneur, whose work helped bring about the first embossed credit card. Stanley also took his young family to California by yacht, sailing from Chicago to the West Coast by way of the St Lawrence River and Panama Canal. Steve and Linda did something even more ambitious: a seven-year circumnavigation with their two young, home-schooled (or rather boat-schooled) children.
Beowulf, their final sailboat, was a powerful 23.7 metre ketch. With just the two of them on board, the Dashews clocked big daily runs – 300 miles and more – as they sped across the oceans.
Their belief has always been that speed, achieved with the least possible effort, is the voyager’s best friend. Boats capable of 270- to 300-mile days have a good chance of sticking with weather systems that are desirable and moving out of the way of those that are not.
Although the change to power brought with it a new following, the design approach for Iceberg remained rooted in a drive for safe, efficient and comfortable long-range passage-making.
The result has been a series of motor yachts that are dubbed functional power boats (FPBs), which bear a strong resemblance to their sailing sisters.
The first was a 25.3 metre called Wind Horse, which the Dashews used as a test bed for their concept. Long and narrow, just like their sailboats, the vessel was eye-catching for its purposeful lines, raw aluminium plating and tough, almost military appearance.
With only two 150hp engines and 13,300 litres of diesel, Wind Horse could achieve passage averages of 11 knots and cover 5,000 miles without refuelling. Iceberg, dubbed an FPB97, is powered by two 300hp six-cylinder diesels providing a top speed of just under 15 knots. It will cruise at 12.5 knots, burning only 55 litres per hour for a similar range.
“Apart from opening up ocean-crossing capability, one of the big advantages of range is that you are no longer constantly worrying about your next fuel stop,” says Dashew. “That has a huge impact on your flexibility and allows you to enjoy your time on board.”
In terms of safety, the goal is to combine speed with prudent passage planning and careful weather routing to avoid trouble where possible. But a great deal of thought has gone into managing heavy weather conditions that can’t be avoided.
First, the boats are built to be tough. Close framing and progressively more solid plating – from 8mm through 16mm to 25mm towards the submerged portions of the hull – combined with several watertight bulkheads and minimal hull penetrations, provide a stiff, strong, protective shell. In several instances, the scantlings are double the Lloyd’s classification requirements.
The hull form itself, with its distinct canoe body shape and weight concentrations low and amidships, encourages good seakeeping characteristics.
When Dashew ventured into the powerboat world, he was concerned at what he regarded as an inherently unsafe proposition in the conventional market. An analysis of hull shapes led him to believe that the majority of powerboats, from launches to large tankers, would not survive a roll past 60 to 70 degrees. “At that point, they will capsize and not come back again,” he says.
His approach was to come up with a shape and form that would resist capsize to about 135 degrees. Then, if it did go beyond that, a combination of narrow hull, high topsides and superstructure and careful distribution of weight would provide very little inverted stability, so the boat would roll back upright.
“When we first started working on the powerboat design, we said there was no way we were going to cross oceans unless we had a vessel that would recover from a capsize,” says Dashew. “We have established that you can have self-righting motor yachts that are comfortable, at the expense of some volume.”
The fine wave-piercing bow entry, balanced by a tapering stern, would also allow the boats to run before following seas for far longer than conventional powerboats, which would risk broaching in similar conditions. This has been amply demonstrated in practice, with the boats regularly surfing and tracking effortlessly under autopilot.
“In more than 250,000 miles at sea in our boats, I have not seen a condition where we could not continue to run downwind,” Dashew says. “That extends the conditions through which you can progress without having to heave-to and start jogging upwind.
“If it is blowing 30 to 35 knots on the stern quarter, you just say, ‘Let’s go!’ It will surf and surfing is fun.”
This ability in following seas is further assisted by oversize rudders used on the Iceberg. “We do pay a small drag penalty for that,” says Dashew, “but it is about safety and control.” A by-product is also improved slow-speed control when manoeuvring in close quarters, eliminating the requirement for a stern thruster.
Iceberg, on its extended sea trial that all the Dashew boats go through, completed close to 3,000 sea miles before delivery and on one offshore passage had winds of 35 knots gusting to 50 knots on the stern.
“The wind was directly astern, but the waves were off the port quarter,” says John Richards, who was in charge of the trial. “We steamed along at 12.5 knots with the boat tracking really well. The bow never threatened to take over and we were never in danger of losing the autopilot.”
Englishman Peter Watson has the distinction of buying an FPB64 and signing a build order for a 78 on the same day. He recorded 22 knots surfing in big seas during an epic 13,000-mile delivery of his 64, Grey Wolf, from New Zealand to Guernsey. He completed the voyage in three months against the trade winds at an average speed of more than nine knots. On the longest (4,000 mile) leg, from French Polynesia to Panama against the wind, Grey Wolf arrived with sufficient reserve fuel to go another 1,200 nautical miles.
“It has been fantastic. I have been delighted with it,” Watson says of the 64, while awaiting completion of the 78, which he intends taking into very high latitudes. “I was looking for a powerboat that provided comfort, safety, reliability and range. You don’t find many boats that can do all of that.”
All of Dashew’s functional power boats are built on the basis that they can be handled by experienced owners without crew. The design intent with Iceberg is similar, although it is reckoned this will probably apply more in theory than in practice. The likelihood is slim of an owner of a boat such as this having the inclination – not to mention the multi-disciplinary know-how – to immerse themselves in the day-to-day minutiae of its myriad systems without professional help. A two-berth crew cabin is located aft in case the owners choose to continue having a captain/engineer and hostess combination on board.
For the rest, the owners and their family have the boat to themselves. And there is plenty to enjoy.
The volume progression up the size range is exponential but, fundamentally, they are all scaled-up or down versions of the original Wind Horse.
They all share a similar look – outside and in – with the main deck area comprising what is known as the “great room”. This is central to the concept of having the social and functional areas of the boat integrated on a single level. The galley, dining area, lounge and navigation station all share this space.
The accommodation spaces are split, with the owner’s suite forward and down a level from the great room and the guest suites down a level and aft. The engine room is right aft, isolating both noise and vibration from the social spaces.
Above the great room is the flybridge, referred to as the “Matrix deck” in a playful reference to the virtual reality world of the film. On Iceberg, this is an expansive area, with full control and monitoring functions, plus plenty of room to lounge and relax forward of the command centre, while the space aft accommodates exercise equipment.
Visibility from the great room and the Matrix deck is outstanding. Operating from the upper level gives the helmsman direct lines of sight for virtually 360 degrees. For docking, small wing decks either side of the helm station allow a full-length view of the side of the boat.
On the accommodation deck, Iceberg’s owner suite is majestic, occupying 25 per cent of the hull, stretching out to nearly eight metres in length and using the full beam. The two aft cabins are also generously proportioned.
Iceberg was built for an adventurous American couple with a young family. They are extremely private and declined to allow the interior of the boat to be photographed. Suffice to say, however, that the utilitarian exterior of the Dashew boats does not imply privation and sacrifice for the occupants. The cold, hard surfaces of the exterior contrast with the warm invitation of soft fabrics and timber furnishing inside.
The interiors are finished to a high standard, with finely executed joinery and all the home comforts. Because of the glass – comprising tough 18mm laminated panels split by slender mullions – the aesthetic is necessarily minimalist. No space for hanging your favourite Picassos, but who cares when you have million-dollar views on every side?
Dashew’s obsession with efficiency has extended to onboard power. Iceberg is equipped with a massive solar array: 20 panels ranged across the rooftops of the great room and the Matrix deck deliver up to 240 amps. The idea is to minimise the use of generators and to delay as long as possible the need to use air-conditioning.
For a start, the hull is massively insulated. The glass pavilion enclosing the great room is shaded by overhanging eves and the glass panels angle in from the roof to minimise solar heating and glare.
An effective natural-air ventilation system also keeps Iceberg's interior fresh and cool. Vents in the side coamings deliver fresh air, boosted by fans, into the lower deck guest and owner accommodation. There is enough flow to provide six or eight air changes an hour in the bedrooms. Even more effective are vents in the forward coachroof overhang and Matrix deck coaming, which ram natural air into the great room.
“If you can do without air-conditioning – or at least significantly reduce your usage – you could go for days, perhaps even weeks, without running gensets,” says Dashew. “That makes for much more relaxed onboard living, not to mention for good neighbourly relations in busy anchorages.”
It is all about a rational approach to high levels of performance both for crossing oceans and for living in without resorting to high horsepower and energy consumption.
It is an approach Dashew has consistently applied throughout his long and productive design career, during which he has attracted a knowledgeable following. His devotees attest to the practicality and excellent seakeeping properties of his boats. They also respect the fact that his ideas are born of first-hand experience as he and his wife have reeled off hundreds of thousands of miles at sea.
By his own admission, these boats are not for everyone. Those drawn more to glossy form than to function should maybe look elsewhere. Serious passage-makers, however, seeking tough, go-anywhere vessels that do not require large crew numbers and have been designed with efficiency, comfort and safety as their primary considerations, might consider looking at these Dashew boats.
Strength and purpose are written in every line and angle of their uncompromisingly assertive appearance. They represent function elevated to alpha status – and that has its own powerful appeal. It is, as they say, all in the eye of the beholder.