Cloudy with a Chance of Fun
With outboard power and an enclosed pilothouse, the Nimbus C11 is ready for any kind of conditions.
Christi and Jan van Heek are no strangers to Down East Maine, having visited the region’s quaint, postcard-like ports countless times aboard their J/46 sailboat. They are, however, recent homeowners on Rackliff Island—a 20-minute drive south of Rockland—after reassessing their post-Covid lifestyle in the more populous Marblehead, Massachusetts, and finding it wanting. So, the van Heeks scattered to the winds, and the winds blew them north. Way north. In short time, their two adult daughters and their families followed suit.
“We lived in Old Town [a colonial neighborhood], and there was 15 feet between the houses in Marblehead,” says Christi, who moved into her new home last June. “So we’re all Mainers now.”
Mainers who, admittedly, are more familiar with the surrounding waters than the land. Yup, sounds like most Down East lifers I know.
It’s a late October morning as I pull into a parking spot at Safe Harbor Rockland Marina. I stroll past Archer’s on the Pier, a seafood-centric café perched on the edge of the town’s bustling waterfront on my way to meet the van Heeks. (The site where, hungry and looking for nourishment after a full day on the water, I will absentmindedly open the unmarked door to the kitchen, much to the chagrin of the hard-nosed chef.) The sun is beaming; the sky seems like it’s never seen a cloudy wisp—but still, you wouldn’t want to dine outside, and sure enough, nobody is. I’m wearing a parka mostly reserved for bombing down a snow-packed mountain on skis. It’s not boating weather. Like, at all.
So then why the hell are we going cruising? Well for one, the van Heeks tell me they have just returned from a trip to Holland. While overseas, they left their trusted companion Maggie, a 6-year-old Goldendoodle, in the care of one of their daughters. Easy enough, right? Well, this daughter lives on Isleboro, a secluded island only accessible by boat about 25 miles away. If we took the J/46, we might get there by dinnertime, and they might have an unwanted house guest staying the night. Luckily, the boat I’m here to test, the Nimbus C11, is an outboard-powered pilothouse cruiser: practical, fast and purpose-built to handle any kind of weather.
That’s the thing about the C11: It’s a versatile workhorse. Nimbus calls it their “year-round commuter,” which tracks thanks to a bevy of roof hatches, side windows, a helm side door and a stern door. Open them all up to enjoy the fresh air, or close them all up and crank up the air-conditioning (or heat). Either way, it’s nice to have options—especially when you’re cruising at a brisk 30 knots. On that note, did I mention it’s a blast to drive?
After making my introductions on the dock, I step aboard Nimble, a fitting name thanks to twin 300-hp Mercury Verados. It’s also fitting in a less-than-ideal way, as stern access is a little precarious—you need to be, ahem, nimble—but that’s a sacrifice you’ll gladly make for high, protective gunwales and robust stainless steel handholds that run all the way aft on both sides. One big exception, however, is a 2-foot gap on the starboard side. That small space is obviously intentional. A faux-teak plank beside the mid-deck cleat makes tying off and hopping in or out a breeze for the operator. You can straddle it or slide off on your keister—the choice is yours, Butch Cassidy.
Joining us for the day is Yachting Solutions Sales Director Bob Chace. The affable Chace is not your average stuffy yacht broker. I don’t know if it’s the refreshing Down East air or the laid back lifestyle proliferating along the coast, but the former U.S. Navy sailor also plays a mean guitar with his band Papa Tim and The Desperate Man’s Blues Explosion (!). You can find Papa Tim et al. playing for Rockland locals and visitors at Yachting Solution’s Boat Basin. (With both transient and seasonal slip availability at the basin, maybe the prospect of such a performance is worth the voyage?) I haven’t had the pleasure yet, but I hope to rectify that ASAP.
Chace also sells boats, of course, including this one to the van Heeks. The couple, who affectionately refer to themselves as “crazy people,” also own a Grand Banks Eastbay 55 that they keep year-round in South Florida. The snow birds are happy summering in New England from May to early November and then hightailing it to warmer climes once the weather turns. But being, shall we say, a little nautically disturbed, there they were, attending the Rockland Boat Show, looking for a fast boat that could accommodate their growing family of “either two people or 14,” says Christi. “I think the most important thing to us was we wanted something that we can go anywhere, anyplace, anytime quickly in. Because we’re sailors. We don’t go anyplace quickly very often.”
They actually went to the show to see the Axopar 37, another Scandinavian builder. (Nimbuses—Nimbi?—are built in Sweden.) But when they toured the C11, the sturdy construction and overall higher price point reflected in the options impressed them. Christi and Jan stand on the taller side, 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-3 respectively, so Christi made sure they could lie down comfortably in the forward berth. They were sold—and then some. Since taking ownership two weeks before my visit, they have put nearly 40 hours on the engines. If you’re going to own a lot of boats, and scatter them throughout the country, at least put them to use. Somewhat surprisingly, the van Heeks need no help in that department.
Jan uses the Mercury joystick to gently guide us away from the dock. In the harbor, we idle through a crowded minefield of lobster pots. The couple lounge in the Grammer suspension helm seats, while Chace and I stand around the nicely proportioned salon. With the long breakwater and its solitary lighthouse firmly in our rearview, the hammer comes down. It’s time to get their pooch.
You’re not supposed to be fast and comfortable, but Nimbus seems to have cracked the code. With the Zipwake interceptors engaged, we throttle up to a 24-knot cruise. The wave sets are short and choppy, but the arrow-like C11 slices through them with ease. Standing or sitting, the ride feels balanced all the same. Christi calls her son-in-law, Greg, to let him know we might be a little early. When have you ever heard a sailor say that?
“It’s no sailboat,” jokes Chace.
“These are the roughest seas we’ve ever taken this boat out in, and I could do this all day,” says Jan.
A nimbus cloud is a dark, gray rain cloud—thick enough to block out the sun. But, heck, if you fancy yourself a navigator, you probably already knew that. What you might not know is that Scandinavia, or the protruding landmass above western Europe, is a peninsula that includes Norway, Sweden and Finland. Citizens of these seafaring countries have long plied the Baltic and North seas, which are known for their cold, unruly bodies of water. Nimbus Boats have been around for over 30 years, with owners from tennis player Björn Borg to Swedish royalty. When Chace told his sister-in-law, who is originally from Sweden, that Yachting Solutions was representing the brand in the Northeast, she was impressed. “Oh, you’re selling Nimbus?” she asked. “Those are the best! That’s what everybody wants.”
Nimbus made its way across the Atlantic to U.S. customers in the past year or so. According to Chace, 22 Nimbus models have already been sold stateside, and they’ve ordered 30 more boats for 2022. “We’re going all in,” he says. “We’d order more if we could.” And most, if not all, are being equipped with outboard power (exclusively offered by Mercury) over the inboard, Volvo Penta option.
The trade-off in faster speeds comes at the expense of range. At about 10 knots, Nimbus reports a cruising range of 236 miles with outboards, compared to 328 miles with inboards. That might be true, but you certainly wouldn’t be going very quickly. In our test, with four adults aboard and a fully loaded boat, I found the sweet spot for the twin 300s to be just under 30 knots, providing a range of 161 miles. That’s perfectly fine in my book, as I’d gladly trade more stops at the fuel dock for an ability to buzz around at those speeds. With fewer people aboard, the van Heeks reported Nimble hit 40 knots. If you desire a faster Swedish rocket—and the bragging rights that come with saying your boat can hit 40-plus knots with your friends aboard—I’m sure the twin 400s will do the trick.
One of the best features of the C11 is its ability to appear wide or narrow depending on the situation. A nearly 11.5-foot beam is nothing to scoff at, but thanks to some incredible sightlines—and four windshield wipers, including two on the side windows—you feel like you’re at the helm of a much smaller boat. And yet you won’t feel the squeeze, either, thanks to a seating arrangement in the salon that can very easily convert into a C-shaped dining area or two rows of forward-facing bench seats. Generous walkways around the vessel and two berths only add to this feeling of spaciousness.
That helps when you have guests, or canines, aboard. When we get to Isleboro’s public dock, Greg is waiting there with our furry passenger. Upon seeing her parents, Maggie loses it. After greeting Christi on the dock, she abandons all decorum and throws herself over the gunwale, with Jan assisting and pulling up her hind legs. “She’s a good boat dog,” he says, smiling.
With Maggie safely aboard, we turn around and head for the mainland. The wind is blowing, but we don’t feel it inside the pilothouse. The van Heeks plan to haul the boat in early November and make their way to Florida, but something is weighing on them. Previously, when I asked if extending the boating season was on their list of priorities in finding a good powerboat for Maine, Christi was resolute in saying it wasn’t critical. But according to Jan, she also enjoys driving it at 40 knots. Can a boat change your priorities? When I ask if they’re still planning on hauling it in a few days, I get my answer. Says Christi, “I’d probably push it even later.”
I think that’s a good choice.
Nimbus C11 Layout Diagrams
Nimbus C11 Test Report
Nimbus C11 Specifications:
Displ.: 14,550 lbs. (w/o engines)
Fuel: 224 gal.
Water: 36 gal.
Power: 2/300-hp Mercury Verado engines;
2/350 Mercury Verado engines;
2/400 Mercury Verado engines;
2/320-hp Volvo Penta D4s