Introduction to Captain Robert Beebe
He designed the original Passagemaker and fathered the modern-day trawler yacht era.


By Blake August

Before he died in 1988, Robert Beebe designed more than 150 vessels, none more famed than his 67th design which he built for himself and named Passagemaker.

The voyages Beebe made with Passagemaker proved his theory that the oceans of the world could be explored in a proper powerboat with greater comfort and dispatch than in a sailboat. The book Beebe wrote--Voyaging Under Power--launched the modern-day trawler yacht era and still serves as its bible today.

Beebe first wrote about the concept of passagemaking under power in 1946 in an article in Rudder, a leading boating magazine of the time. It was then that he coined the word "passagemaker" as the term for ocean-crossing vessels.

Passagemaker was built in Singapore and launched in 1963. The 50,000 sea miles that Beebe put under her keel over the next five years was unheard of in a day when sailboats were the only recreational vessels venturing out of sight of land.

At the urging of a fledgling publisher named Steve Doherty, Beebe wrote Voyaging Under Power. Published in 1975, the book went on to become a Dolphin Book Club main selection and a best-seller. It motivated a Dutchman named Eilco Kasemier to build a 39-foot power voyager and 10 years later become the first to circumnavigate the world in what we today call a trawler yacht.

VUP, as Beebe called it, inspired the birth of Nordhavn. The book had such an impact on Jim Leishman that he convinced his partners in Pacific Asian Enterprises to defer a new Mason sailboat design and develop a powerboat capable of cruising the oceans of the world in safety, comfort and style. He and his brother, Jeff, leaned heavily on Beebe's principles in the design of the Nordhavn 46, first splashed in 1989.

What is it that Beebe pronounced more than a quarter-century ago that has had such lasting impact? He believed a boat capable of voyaging under power should have these features:

Beebe's light shone brightest when he delved into the technicalities of ocean-going motorboats. Among his conclusions:

After VUP went through two editions, Jim Leishman of PAE was invited to update the book. The result was the third edition, published in 1994 by International Marine, and available widely.

After Beebe sold her, the original Passagemaker went through several owners, actively cruised the East Coast and Caribbean, and underwent several upgrades to equipment.

Unfortunately, circumstances have conspired to keep the old girl on the hard since early 2001. A non-profit foundation to purchase and preserve Passagemaker has been discussed by admirers.

The article by Blake August first appeared in Circumnavigator, a custom magazine for and about Nordhavn sponsored by Pacific Asian Enterprises.

The drawings have been kindly provided by Mystic Seaport, Capt. Robert Beebe Collection, which retains the copyright.