Nimbus C9: A Modern-Day Commuter
Photos by Daniel Harding Jr.
A late fall blast around Manhattan aboard a Nimbus C9 offers an explanation for the growing segment of modern commuters.
I’ve long been fascinated with the commuter yachts of the early 19th century. Custom-built wooden ships, they would ferry titans of industry and the captains of finance from their homes on Long Island and Connecticut to the island of Manhattan. Rumbling atop the water at 9 knots, flipping through the morning paper with a cup of coffee and a stogie, at those moments there was no doubt, these owners were somebodies.
Today that coffin-like corridor where the boroughs meet Connecticut and Long Island is a congested malaise. Mass transit, when it’s running well, shuttles hundreds of thousands into the city each day. Commuter yachts, as we knew them, are all but lost to history, replaced instead with graceless ferries. Or are they?
Actually, there are a number of boatbuilders today—many from Scandinavian countries—that are co-opting the commuter moniker for their brands. Just one example is the Swedish builder Nimbus, which features multiple models in their Commuter range. In Sweden, the idea of a commuter yacht is not as much a nod to the American yachts of yesteryear per se, but a literal description of how owners use their boats. As the country with the most islands in the world, during the summer months many Swedes escape the city by boat to retire to their remote island summer homes. Their boats, in many cases, are a means to an end—albeit a stylish means to an end.
With the rise of the Axopar-esque day boat, we’re seeing more and more boaters taking a page out of their Scandinavian brethrens’ boating playbook and using their dayboats to commute to remote escapes, whether that be in the Pacific Northwest, Maine or the Bahamas. But through a mutual boating friend, I was introduced to an entrepreneurial 39-year-old named Ed du Moulin, a lifelong sailor who traded in his winch handles for a Nimbus C9 with 300 ponies on the transom, in part, as a more comfortable and time-efficient way to get from his new home in Brooklyn across the Long Island Sound to visit his family in Larchmont, New York during the summers and on weekends.
At the time we met, Ed was putting the finishing touches on what sounds like an all-together incredible summer. He estimates that he used the boat upwards of 50 times, many of which included bringing friends along. He completed copious circumnavigations of Manhattan with family, took friends to a Mets game by boat, and otherwise explored an often-overlooked body of water.
When chatting about his commute, Ed told me it took only 45 minutes to run from a transient slip at ONE°15 Marina in Brooklyn to a mooring at Larchmont Yacht Club where he grew up learning to sail. Knowing it’s at least a 90-minute trip by car, I had one challenge for him: Prove it.
Eager to share his new boat, Ed invited me aboard on a sunny 55 degree Sunday afternoon, five days before Thanksgiving. I met Ed’s girlfriend Catherine and his Aunt Anna, who, perhaps ironically, hails from Sweden herself and was in the U.S. to visit her sister. As any good nephew would do, Ed took her aboard to experience New York in the best way possible, from the water.
Together we skipped atop slight chop at speeds in the low 30-knot range with the enormous sunroof and sliding doors open. The fresh air and sunshine felt good, invigorating really. We talked boats and made small talk as we slipped beneath the Throgs Neck, Whitestone and RFK bridges. From there we pivoted north up the Harlem River for a bit of sightseeing on a lightly trafficked side of Manhattan, a stretch of water more known for its crew teams than pleasure boating. We passed beneath the Harlem River Lift Span, the Willis, Third Avenue, Madison Avenue, 145th Street and Macombs Dam bridges until we popped out into the Hudson River. It’s an iconic crossroads. To the North lie the Great Lakes and Canada, south takes you back to New York Harbor. Were I the owner of the C9 that evening, I would have found it awfully hard to not turn to starboard.
Alas, our ultimate destination was Brooklyn and Aunt Anna had never seen the Statue of Liberty by water. I took the helm for a bit blasting south; the conditions were flat calm at this point but I could feel the boat’s incredible responsiveness to the wheel and throttle. At that point the sun began to set and the temperature dropped with it. We closed the side doors to dampen the breeze and maintain a comfortable temperature. Exceptionally quiet, we chatted easily as the boat soared down the river at 40 knots. We slowed down for some obligatory photos of lower Manhattan, Ellis Island and of course Lady Liberty. I’ve been to the statue before by boat, but it never fails to astonish. I always like to imagine what she looked like when she was constructed in 1886 wearing her original coat of copper bronze.
Just as I was feeling nostalgic for a bygone era, a 1920-styled commuter-yacht-turned-tour-boat named Manhattan glided into view, offering its paying passengers the chance to snap selfies beside the city’s most iconic celebrity. Taking in that boat’s lines from aboard the Nimbus brought into sharp contrast the commuters of past and present. The predecessor, both elegant and stately is a true work of art whereas in my opinion, the modern commuter like the C9 is more utilitarian in styling. Aside from timeless beauty, the Nimbus offers speed, comfort and overnighting capabilities—Ed lived and worked aboard for a week this past summer from various ports of call (don’t tell his boss).
Before long, the sun sank behind Liberty Island; the remaining warmth from the day was gone, and we were quickly reminded that we were cruising into the winter. We closed up the boat, threw on the heater along with some music and ran a button hook around the bottom of Manhattan and into our awaiting slip in Brooklyn. Our trip was over … sort of. To reverse my commute and get back to my truck, I would need to lace up my running shoes and hike to the A or C subway to Times Square then take the shuttle to Grand Central and the Metro North to Larchmont where I could grab a cab or walk for 30 minutes. I opted instead for an Uber ride from a man named Bernard, whom despite his 5-star rating insisted on driving with his windows fully open to mask the smell of marijuana (his, not mine). The 90-minute commute was a far, far cry from Ed’s typical 45-minute jaunt across the Sound.
I thought of Ed just days later as I pressed the brakes of my truck for the 10,000th time on my way from Connecticut to Long Island for Thanksgiving. While going on my third hour of listening to Disney Radio, Ed was ripping along somewhere beneath me, dressed in his Sunday best heading home for the holidays in the coolest way possible. I suppose this all proves that commuter yachts aren’t just part of our past but our present and future as well.
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