After sailing extensively on boats in Florida and the Caribbean, Andy and Jill Cross decided they wanted to become full-time liveaboards and start a family. They moved to Seattle in 2012 and found their 1984 Grand Soleil 39, Yahtzee, six months later. They’ve been happily cruising Puget Sound for the past couple of years with their 20-month-old, Porter, and are expecting a second son any day now.
Is there an interesting story about how you found your boat? If so, tell us about it and why you chose this boat?
In January 2012, Jill and I moved to Seattle after being in the Peace Corps in Ethiopia. We got a small studio near the Space Needle and literally had a backpack of clothes each and a blowup bed. I don’t think we initially thought we’d buy a boat so quickly, but six months after moving into our studio we bought the boat and moved aboard. Our situation was nice, too, because we never really acquired much stuff, so we were able to move aboard without much trouble and didn’t have to get a storage unit.
I’d kept an eye on YachtWorld.com for a long time and Jill and I had previously done a lot of sailing on various boats throughout the Caribbean and Florida, so we knew what we were after in our ideal boat. While looking at boats in the Seattle area, I stumbled upon Swiftsure Yachts’ website and found this Grand Soleil 39 at their docks on Lake Union. The price was intriguing, and when I read the equipment list it seemed as though it was well-equipped for extended and offshore cruising. So I wandered into Swiftsure and met Ryan Helling, who gave me a tour of the boat. Sure enough, it had just finished a Pacific loop with its previous owners and they had done a fantastic job of outfitting and maintaining it. I was impressed by how clean it was and about its story, and told Jill it was worth a look. She came down a few days later and when she walked below said, “It feels like home.” That sealed the deal.
Also, we knew we wanted to start a family soon and the layout was perfect: two heads, large V-berth, master cabin aft to starboard and a bunkroom aft to port. The couple who owned it before us had cruised thousands of miles with three boys aboard, so we knew it was family friendly.
What do you know about your boat’s designer and builder?
Grand Soleils are built in Italy by Cantiere del Pardo and are not that well-known outside of Europe. The designer of our Grand Soleil 39 was Alain Jezequel and from what I can tell, and from what I’ve read online, Grand Soleil basically used the Ron Holland-designed Swans of the time as a basis for the hull design. What they changed, though, is the cockpit setup. Instead of having the Swan split cockpit of that era, it has one larger, T-shaped cockpit.
Tell us about your boat’s name.
When we bought the boat it was named Mulan, which we weren’t particularly fond of. Initially, we kicked the tires on a lot of names and since we had recently returned from living in Ethiopia thought about naming it something in Amharic, but decided against that idea because we didn’t want to explain it to people every time we said the name. Also, we wanted it to be VHF-friendly.
While in Ethiopia we had brought a travel version of the game Yahtzee that we played all the time. When we finally signed the papers to make Mulan ours, we celebrated with beers at the Nickerson Street Saloon. As many Seattle readers are aware, the Nickerson has board games available to play and they had Yahtzee. So while playing Yahtzee on the patio with our celebratory beers, we gave her the name. To this day, we still love to play.
What do you like best about your boat?
Her combination of performance, sea-kindliness and functional space down below.
What is your boat’s biggest shortcoming?
How do you use your boat?
We liveaboard and are cruising the San Juan Islands.
What is your favorite upgrade that you’ve recently done to your boat?
This past summer we build a new hard dodger out of King StarBoard and Makrolon polycarbonate using our old dodger frame. It turned out much better than we anticipated and is a vast improvement over our old canvas dodger.
What makes your boat a good Northwest boat?
It has good sources of heat to keep the cabin cozy and dry in the winter: forced air heater running off the engine, a wall-mount diesel heater, electric heat while on shorepower and a portable propane space heater.
What advice would you give to someone who’s considering buying this type of boat?
If it has teak decks, make sure they are in good condition or set aside the funds to refurbish or replace them. Ours is one of the few models that Grand Soleil built without teak decks, but I’ve heard they’ve been a disaster on some sisterships.
Describe the most challenging situation you’ve experienced on your boat and how it performed.
Besides some minor things, we’ve had a mostly drama-free few years of owning Yahtzee. But one challenging situation happened at the end of a three-week cruise to the San Juan Islands in April and May 2013. We were getting set to leave Friday Harbor for Roche and when Jill put the engine in reverse to back us out of our slip, we didn’t move. I immediately thought it was one of two things, the prop or the transmission. I checked everything tranny-related and it all seemed to be functioning, so I knew it had to be the prop.
There happened to be a diver on the next dock over and I asked if he could take a look. He obliged and sure enough, one blade of our two blade folding prop was missing. I wasn’t sure at what point we lost it, so we couldn’t exactly go looking for it and the diver was reluctant to retrace our steps through the marina. With just one blade we couldn’t move in reverse and in forward we could move slightly, but the vibration it caused was unsettling, to say the least.
We floated several options on how we could get a new prop and install it so we could get back to Seattle; none of which were quick or easy. Fortunately, it’s a sailboat. So, seeing that a northeasterly breeze of 15 to 25 knots was forecast for the next 48 hours, I decided that we could just sail the boat back south. The next day, we pushed Yahtzee out of the slip at noon, limped out of the marina and quickly got the sails up. I had picked an outgoing tide to leave on and we jibed our way south around Turn Island towards Cattle Pass. We sailed easily through the pass on a broad reach with the current and then got stuck in a windless hole.
Once clear of the wind shadow created by the islands, we popped our asymmetrical spinnaker and had a beautiful downwind sail across the Strait of Juan de Fuca. When we arrived at Admiralty Inlet around sunset, the wind shut off. But at this point we were getting the beginning of the flood tide and crawled along until the wind started to fill in again. Just past Point No Point, the wind really kicked in from the northeast and we were able to make good time down to Shilshole.
We arrived at the Shilshole breakwater around 1 a.m. and sailed in the northern end of the marina. Because our slip on D-Dock was on the south side, I knew that we could use the wind to slow us down as we turned in. Jill sailed us down the inside of the breakwater as I trimmed the sails. I rolled the genoa up as we passed the fuel dock and then started creeping the main down. We had installed Strong Track from Tides Marine, so dropping the main while sailing downwind wasn’t a problem, and when we turned into the fairway between D and C dock I dropped the rest of the sail.
Our speed slowed to a craw as we got near our slip and when Jill turned us in, I got off the starboard side with an aft spring line, snubbed it on a cleat to stop our forward momentum and we were there. In total we sailed 62 miles in 13 hours, which was an average speed of just under 5 knots. Not too bad considering the only time we used the engine was to get out of our slip in Friday Harbor.
Tell us about one of your favorite times on the boat.
Whether it has been buddy boating with friends, racing, cruising as a family or having other family members aboard to cruise with us, we’ve had a ton of good times as we’ve sailed the Puget Sound. One of our favorite recent memories was when we left our slip at Shilshole in late August. We weren’t necessarily going all that far — to the San Juans — but it was the start of a new chapter for us in owning the boat. We had lived aboard at Shilshole for two years and loved it, but having the opportunity to cut the dock lines and head north with no fixed schedule or return date was a great feeling.
What are your long-term plans for your boat?
Our plan for the time being is to just keep taking it slow cruising around the Salish Sea. We are about to have our second son and are not keen on the idea of rushing from place to place or doing long offshore passages with two young ones. Ideally, we’d like to work our way up to Alaska and back, and our real long-term goal is to head south and west across the Pacific.
If you had $10,000 to spend on your boat, what would you do with it?
There are probably ten projects that we would love to throw $1,000 at, but that would really only get us so far. If I had to pick two of those ten, though, I’d start by getting new sails. Our current sails work for now, but they spent quite a bit of time sunbathing in the tropics during their Pacific loop, so they’re experienced. I’d also spend the money to give our topsides a new coat of paint, and to strip the bottom and give it a good barrier coat and topcoat.
If you could have any other boat besides this one, what would it be?
No matter how much a boat owner adores their vessel, a wandering eye is inevitable and I am no different. As a family cruising boat I would probably go for the Allures 45.9, Garcia Exploration 45v2 or anything Grand Soleil. And for a couples cruising boat I’d take the Outbound 46.
To follow the Cross family’s adventures aboard Yahtzee, visit threesheetsnw.com/yahtzee
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