A Passion for Passagemaking

John Deere-powered Dirona, a Nordhavn 52 yacht, moving in open water.

Imagine selling your house and car and taking up full-time residence on a yacht to explore the world.

James and Jennifer Hamilton left traditional life behind in Seattle 12 years ago and are relishing a liveaboard lifestyle on the John Deere-powered Nordhavn 52, Dirona. The couple has literally traveled around the world on their single-engine yacht, crossing the Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic oceans.

“Even though the earth is only 21,638 nautical miles around, we have somehow managed to travel 76,283 nautical miles during the past 12 years,” says James. “That’s a lot of side trips. In fact, we crossed the Atlantic Ocean a second time to spend a few years in Europe, so some of those ‘side trips’ were long ones.”

Addicted to adventure on Dirona

What drew the Hamiltons to life on a liveaboard? “We love freedom,” says James. “We love the ability to go anywhere in the world. We like to be self-sufficient. Rather than just visiting, we really enjoy spending time in new countries. There’s a culture and community that exists among boaters, and we enjoy meeting people from all over the world.”

The Hamiltons have enjoyed extensive stays in some of the world’s top destinations. They’ve spent three months in Brisbane, two months in London, three months in Waikiki, one month in Stockholm, one month in Dublin, three months in North Palm Beach, Florida, a month in Boston, and eight months in Amsterdam on two different visits.

“As much as we like world-class cities, we really love spending time with nature,” says James. “We very much like high-latitude cruising and really enjoyed Fiordland and Stewart Island in New Zealand for their wilderness and spectacular scenery. For similar reasons, we spent an exceptional five months in Norway and particularly enjoyed the hikes and many sheltered anchorages. We also are avid scuba divers and love the incredible underwater visibility and sea life in the Tuamotu Archipelago in French Polynesia.”

Traveling to remote destinations required a boat that could cruise without bounds in a package that they could afford to buy and maintain. “It’s a comfortable boat with heating, air conditioning, a dishwasher, and all the comforts of a small apartment,” explains James. “The boat is equally as comfortable battling tough weather in the North Atlantic as it is exploring the islands of the South Pacific.”

The John Deere 6068AFM75 marine engine that powers Dirona.

The marine engine for exploration

Frequently operating away from civilization, the Hamiltons chose the John Deere 6068AFM75 marine engine for its reliability and longevity. "Dirona is a single-engine boat that will cross oceans and often will be more than a thousand miles from assistance, so we wanted reliability from our engine selection," James explains. "We intended to cruise extensively and knew we would really wind up the hours fast, so we wanted an engine that could deliver 20,000-plus hours."

Fuel economy is also important, especially during ocean crossings with 1,750 gallons of fuel onboard. "Dirona is a small boat with limited fuel tankage, so we also wanted an efficient engine that would effectively increase the range of a given amount of fuel."

Seasoned boaters like the Hamiltons understand the importance of having spare engine parts, filters, and fluids onboard, so they're always prepared. "Our longest passage was 3,689 nautical miles from St. Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean to Barbados. This passage took nearly 26 days. In fact, that trip was so long that, partway across the South Atlantic, we briefly shut down our Deere main engine to change the engine oil and filter."

The Hamiltons logged over 11,646 hours on the 6068AFM75, and it has been "remarkably reliable," according to James. "The engine runs as well as it did when it was new. The thing we find surprising is the engine just about never needs parts. We expected it to be reliable, but none of the sensors have been changed since warranty. The only non-scheduled major work ever done on the engine was a routine fuel injector replacement at 8,000 hours."

Service on the go

One attribute that sold them on John Deere — and reinforces their choice today — is the support and service they receive from the global network of John Deere marine engine dealers. "We wanted to be able to buy parts cost-effectively anywhere in the world, and having seen the green and yellow of Deere all over the world, we knew the parts availability was excellent."

The Hamiltons also appreciate the long-term relationship with their John Deere engine distributor, Cascade Engine Center, which continues to offer support long after the sale.

"Cascade Engine is an amazingly customer-service-focused company. One day upon entering a marina in Valdez, Alaska, the engine signaled a fault code. I sent an email to Greg Light asking for advice on the code. Soon my phone rang. It was Dwight Allen, the Cascade Engine Center general service manager. In under 45 minutes from the engine fault code first showing up, we had both a definitive answer on the cause and an appointment to correct the issue once we returned to Seattle. We were super impressed and, over the years, Dwight and his team have always maintained this same ridiculously high standard of service. They are an amazing asset for an oceangoing vessel owner or a commercial operator that can't afford downtime. We just love them."

Cruising into the future

The Hamiltons have been spending the past three years traveling around Europe, most recently enjoying several months in southern Norway. "We don't have a solid plan beyond that," says James. "We'd like to visit the Gulf of Bothnia between Sweden and Finland and possibly spend some time in the Mediterranean, and likely will cross back to North America at some point via Iceland and Greenland."

Wherever their travels take them, the Hamiltons are cruising in confidence. "Nothing brings a deeper and more long-lasting respect for an engine than frequently finding ourselves 1,000 miles offshore in a single-engine boat," says James. "We really depend on Deere."

The boat is equally as comfortable battling tough weather in the North Atlantic as it is exploring the islands of the South Pacific.

James Hamilton

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