Tested: Tactical T40

The Tactical T40 is the perfect vessel to explore Vancouver’s temperamental waters.

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Deep in the woods of British Columbia, the sky obscured by a verdant canopy of conifers, we came across the impossibility of snow. Fatigue, I realized, had my mind in a pretzel. I was deep in my lizard brain and the snow did not compute. I signaled to Editor-in-Chief Dan Harding that I needed a sec. I stood arms akimbo, bent over at the waist, greedily huffing air. With every exhale my breath betrayed the truth: It was early May, and we had just finished walking up the side of a mountain. Reality had been reduced to a plodding, mindless formula. One foot in front of the other. Upward, always upward, as we passed through a tableau of splintered tree trunks, gurgling brooks and boulders the size of minivans.

Below us, 2,830 wooden steps zigzagged their way up the face of Grouse Mountain in North Vancouver. Somewhere along the route my thoughts had stopped making sense, because that sounded like the better deal.

Of the two trails one can take, the Grouse Grind, aka Mother Nature’s Stairmaster, is more famous for its endless procession of stairs cut into the mountainside. But it was closed for maintenance, so we took the meandering, harder-to-navigate BCMC Trail. At the onset of our trek, the scent of marijuana heavy in the air, a fellow hiker in Lululemon leggings gave us some straightforward advice. “Follow the roots,” she said. Follow the roots we did; the gnarled, twisting tendrils running up the mountain like the veins of an ancient nervous system. But now there were none. What ground there was had given way to snowpack. Atop the snow was a legion of muddy footprints, all pointing in the same direction: the summit. We moved steadily, as if we were a pair of eager spies following Hannibal’s madcap crossing of the Alps.

Unlike the Grouse Grind, the BCMC trail is a much more visceral experience with nature.

Unlike the Grouse Grind, the BCMC trail is a much more visceral experience with nature.

Oh, Canada. Is that where we were? It was easy to forget amidst the towering conifers, steep switchbacks and gobsmacking beauty of the great outdoors. I’ve been to Montreal a few times for bachelor parties, and before then, traveling across the border with friends to take advantage of the liberal drinking age our northern neighbors enjoy. Because of those trips, the impression I had of Canada was a cold, flat land with a glittering urban oasis popping up here and there. I knew it was wrong, or rather not quite right—the picture being far too narrow. It certainly didn’t take into account British Columbia. A Francophile might poo-poo this place, with more mountaintops and seafood than churches and crêpes.

Go far enough west anywhere in North America and everything changes. As in life, the change happens gradually, and then all at once. Attitudes become more laid-back. The topography gets a bit more rugged, nature a bit more untamed. Before we arrived, a community of rough-and-tumble sailors had wrecked on the beach thanks to gale force winds. At that point, Grouse Mountain was as unfamiliar to me as the modern-looking city of Vancouver: a craggy brow in a range of mountains to the north.

The author looking somewhat daunted by the hike.

The author looking somewhat daunted by the hike.

We passed the sailboats from our vantage point on English Bay, their abandoned husks unceremoniously tossed against the shore like forgotten playthings. Fortunately, we wouldn’t share in their issue. The boat we found ourselves aboard was as militaristic as they come without, you know, actually ferrying special forces to covert operations. Put another way, a machine gun turret would not look out of place on the foredeck. This was the Tactical T40, and our mission, if we chose to accept it, was to live a day in the life of the owners. Sandra MacPherson and Noel Hall are a husband-and-wife team of 25 years who work hard and play harder. The business partners and owners of multiple startups expressly wanted the T40 to ply secluded anchorages and soak up the nature therein. In less than 24 hours, could we do the same?

Tim Charles, founder of Tactical Custom Boats, would play host. We met Tim at the West End docks in downtown Vancouver. In walking distance were a couple parks, an Orangetheory Fitness and a Whole Foods. A steady stream of seaplanes took off and landed in the waters nearby. Tim wore a black vest with a Tactical patch splayed on the chest and a broad smile on his face. He was standing at the end of E dock, and beside him was hull number one of the striking 40-foot cruiser that could startle the Coast Guard from half a mile away.

Tim Charles, founder of Tactical Custom Boats

Tim Charles, founder of Tactical Custom Boats

But before we could inspect the profile, our eyes alighted on a ­surprise: Affixed to the T40’s transom were two 627-hp Seven Marine outboards, in a paint scheme of black and gray to match the hull. A cluster of red lights running down to the waterline burned menacingly. Who would have thought that here, in a remote corner of the Great White North, we would come across one of the first boats to employ Volvo Penta’s DuoProp technology on Seven Marine engines? “We were the guinea pigs,” Tim said. He went on to explain that the Tactical team rode the engines hard, and were continually making tweaks to get the most out of their performance. And if they broke due to all this extensive testing? “Well,” said Tim, “we’re more of a ‘beg forgiveness’ type operation.”

Seeing the Tactical changes something in you. It’s no secret that Canadians are the butt of endless jokes, which doesn’t seem exactly fair. Jokes range from their naïveté, to their unconventional dialects, to their atypical exuberance, to their self-reproachful demeanors, to just making fun of them for being French. (Sorrey.) The teasing is so relentless, it can be hard to square the fact that Canada has a military at all. In fact, it might surprise you to know that the country’s military has largely disbanded in the past few decades, as they allocate resources away from defense spending and place it towards infrastructure.

Video produced by John V. Turner

Gotcha. I just made that up, but you believed it because we, as Americans, tend to underestimate Canadians. Something that is true? A Canadian sniper holds the record for the longest confirmed kill shot in all of military history, from a distance of over two miles. And now Tactical is building custom boats that look ready to storm a beach in style. It begs the question: Who’s laughing now?

Tim fired up the engines, which came roaring to life. We stopped for fuel at a depot before beginning our sojourn northeast to Indian Arm, a deep fjord with the occasional waterfall spilling down an escarpment. I settled into one of the Shockwave suspension seats next to the helm, fully prepared to see how this Mack truck of a cruiser would handle the inhospitable waters of British Columbia.

From dock lines to engines, red is the operative color aboard the Tactical T40.

From dock lines to engines, red is the operative color aboard the Tactical T40.

We had barely left the city when a Port Authority vessel hailed us, cutting across our bow. A uniformed man in black boots materialized on deck. “We’re wondering where you’re headed,” he said, matter-of-factly.

“We’re going to the Wigwam Inn,” said Tim.

“Then you’re going to have to wait a little while.”

A tanker had shut down all outgoing traffic heading east. Dan and I took the news in stride, but Tim, a native of Vancouver, was unconvinced.

“In all my years I’ve never been stopped by them,” he said after the vessel had departed. He proceeded to let us in on his suspicion, whether real or imagined, that their main reason for stopping us was to get a closer look at the T40. He likened it to when Hummer first came out with the H2. A modified military craft with a civilian at the wheel was going to get some attention because of the novelty factor. This was something new and exciting and different. The T40 turned heads.

“It happens all the time in this boat,” Tim said. He paused, before turning to look at us with a wild look in his eyes. “You guys want to hop a ferry wake?”

Vancouver is a seaplane hub. Most pilots show off daredevil-like abilities.

Vancouver is a seaplane hub. Most pilots show off daredevil-like abilities.

At the BCMC trailhead, you’re greeted with pictures of missing hikers. It’s a sobering reminder that if you’re not careful, the teeming wilderness can swallow you whole. The same is true of the sea. Nonetheless, in this part of the world, it’s common to see solitary trawlers chugging along, seemingly undeterred by heavy weather. The Hall family could’ve gone that route, but they wanted something with a little more oomph. Sandra grew up in ­Victoria, where she raced sailboats and taught sailing. In 1999, after a stint in Scotland, Sandra and Noel bought part ownership of a 28-foot sailboat. But they quickly realized that with their lifestyle, “we couldn’t get very far very fast,” said Sandra. “So we ended up going to the dark side, as we refer to powerboats.” The couple hasn’t looked back since.

We took the Burrard Inlet to the Howe Sound and quickly located one of the large ferries that ply these waters. The conditions were fairly flat, so a ferry wake would have to do—you know, for science. Tim pressed down on the throttle and we accelerated to 37 knots. With a displacement of 25,000 pounds, the T40 wasn’t your average cruiser; Tim referred to it as a beast. “It’s almost like an army tank in the water,” he said. “When it gets going it feels like a freight train.” The T40 landed with pillow-like grace, and kept pushing past Bowen Island. As for performance, the only downside I could ascertain was the boat heeled over so dramatically into a tight turn that it partially obscured the sightlines of whatever side was being cornered.

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Only a few months later, Sandra and Noelle would find themselves in similar waters. After spending five days at the Princess Louisa Inlet, they were heading home when they got caught in a storm. I asked them how the T40 handled the conditions. They were comfortably going 30 knots in snotty seas. “We didn’t really feel like we were in trouble at all. We were having a lot of fun actually,” said Sandra. “There were a lot of smaller boats bouncing around—and larger boats too, to be honest.”

They had packed the boat, named Gael Force—a nod to their Irish roots and the extreme conditions of their home port—with all manner of SUPs, kayaks and dinghies for exploring. Because of near-constant tweaks to the engines, this was the first time they had experienced severe weather on board. “It really is fitting the purpose for which it was intended,” said Noelle of the T40. With the weather not letting up, the Halls stopped at Bowen Island and ran into some good friends who owned a sailboat. On that day—of all days—I imagine they were happy to have made the switch.

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Grouse Mountain is lorded over by a deafening silence. After being dropped off by Tim in North Vancouver’s shipyard district, we hailed an Uber to the base of the mountain. It wasn’t quite a secluded anchorage or remote mountain, but it seemed close enough. The only sounds that pierced the veil were an occasional bird chirping or a seaplane buzzing overhead. To deter couch potatoes and Instagram models unprepared for such a grind, Grouse Mountain offers an ominous warning: If you are coming for the view alone, a trip up the gondola is likely the best route for you. But where was the glory in that?

In the end, we finished our trek in under two hours. At the summit was a sign: “Only 35 more steps to get a beer.” Good deal. Inside the lodge, the difference between the Grinders and Gondo-la-di-das was immediately obvious. One group was sitting in parkas and wool hats keeping warm, the other looked as if they had just finished running a marathon.

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At the summit, we surveyed the view. One could make out cargo ships and Vancouver far below. And beyond them, a series of inlets and islands offering an endless adventure for the right vessel. It was at some point, close to 3,000 feet above sea level, that I finally understood the Hall’s relationship with the sea. The wilds of British Columbia are expansive but remote, quite possibly one of the continent’s last frontiers. To see the bountiful, overwhelming beauty in all its glory, a rough-cut vessel isn’t just preferred—it’s downright obligatory.

There were plenty of mountains to climb, and plenty of nautical miles to cover. But not for us; at least no more seemed necessary at present. Nature, naturally, had won. We paid a fee to ride the gondola back down.

This article originally appeared in Outboard magazine.

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