by Wendy Mitman Clarke
photography by John Bildahl
Mike Krissoff is telling a story. It's about a long holiday weekend, a nice-looking girl, an icebox full of good food and drink, and a propeller that backed off at the wrong time (not that there's any right time). And of course, it's aboutFull Moon, the 46-foot Bay-built boat upon which this story and so many others have happened.
He's telling this one to Wes Denton, an engineer with Cummins Marine, and Richard Sutton, the Mid-Atlantic sales manager for Cummins Power Systems, with whom he has just finished the sea trial ofFull Moon's new QSM11 engine. They're standing around in that way mechanics and boatmen do, in the cockpit with the engine box open, the gleaming mountain of steel, chrome and 660 horses serving as the campfire around which these sorts of stories are told.
I can tell Krissoff's happy when he's telling aFull Moonstory, and I'm pleased on two counts: One, because my husband's boatyard installed the new engine, making complex, difficult modifications along the way, and the sea trial was smooth as glass; and two, because
Full Moonand Krissoff are celebrating their 10th anniversary this summer, and this repowering is a gift for both of them. Largely because of him, this boat came to be, and from the beginning he has taken part in its conception, construction and modification. As a team, they have lived through a marriage, a divorce, kids sailing Optis all over the Bay, kids learning to drive the boat, kids taking the boat out alone. They have worked together on countless race committees, done duty as log canoe chase-and-party-boat, watched every Blue Angels show by grabbing the best seats on the Severn River, gone fishin', gone cruisin', run aground, run afoul of the weather, rafted up, hung out, donated cruises, zipped from Annapolis to Buddy Harrison's for breakfast on Tilghman Island (in January), gotten friends married, buried friends at sea. Like any boat that is well and truly loved and used, the
Moon, as Krissoff calls her, is a book-a long, ongoing, rambunctious, funny, poignant story. "If that boat could talk . . ." he said to me one day, "well, if that boat could talk, I probably wouldn't want it to."
And after 10 years in any relationship, you tend to take an account, have a look at how it's gone and where it might go, what you might have changed, what you never could or would. That's pretty much what this story is about.
Oh, and one more note, in the interest of full disclosure. Though the facts in this story are accurate, I won't pretend for a minute that I'm an objective observer. For one thing (as I mentioned already) my husband, John Clarke, oversaw the boat's repowering over the past winter, and Krissoff continues to be one of his favorite customers and good friends. For another, I've been a fan ofFull Moonsince I first laid eyes on her a decade ago, and that admiration and affection has only grown over the years that have followed. Maybe it's the boat, maybe it's the people she attracts to her, but it seems that anyone who sets foot on the
Moonrarely leaves without finding those finest of gifts-laughter and fun. She has touched a lot of lives and given people many memories. I'm no different.
Mike Krissoff, 52, and his now former wife Suzy were racing sailors with two young boys, Zach and Chopper, back in the early 1990s when they started considering the merits of switching to a powerboat. It's not that they wanted to give up racing, but they found out, as do most of us who've done that sort of thing, that it gets harder and harder to do with young kids, and you'd rather be boating with them anyway. Zach and Chopper were already getting into Optimist dinghies, so the Krissoffs knew they'd soon be schlepping to Opti regattas all over kingdom come. Their priorities were changing. Their boat had to change too.
They thought long and hard about what they wanted and needed from a boat-a comfortable but not overly fancy space for overnighting, something roomy enough for entertaining lots of friends and carrying lots of smaller boats (like Optis and kayaks), a stable, big-but not too big-platform, something that had already proven it could handle all the Bay could throw. The answer was all around them, hauling crab pots and tonging oysters, setting pound nets and dredging for soft clams: a deadrise. Remember, this was in the early 1990s, before workboats-turned-yachts were a common concept. "I always consider it the first picnic boat," Krissoff says. (A friend dubbed it the "designer deadrise".)
"The whole point of building the deadrise," Krissoff continues, "was to not buy a Clorox bottle. TheMoonwas in the mental works for about eight years before it looked like it could become a reality. The reason that boat is so good and so versatile is because we spent so much time thinking about what we wanted to use it for. Figure out exactly how you're going to use the boat, no pie in the sky, and if you think about it enough, you'll get the right boat, if you've been honest with yourself."
The Krissoffs talked with watermen, powerboaters, surveyors, other sailors, picked every brain they could, and began to narrow their parameters. They researched builders around the Bay before deciding on a 46-foot hull by Ben Markley, tooled and built by Glenn Manning of Manning Fiberglass in Cambridge, Md. They worked with naval architect and friend Rob Ladd to design the interior. And they hired Jay Allen of Allen Boatbuilders, also in Cambridge, to build and complete the boat from the hull up. It splashed on June 16, 1995-and went to work immediately, doing all the things they had planned and hoped for. "Our expectations were pretty big," Krissoff says. "It was going to be a party boat, a race committee boat, a travel boat."
The chapters in the story began. Like the time when Zach and Chopper were both in the junior sailing program at Annapolis Yacht Club (Krissoff is a member there and is a former commodore of Eastport Yacht Club), and the club didn't have a way to get 18 Optis to a regatta at Gibson Island. "Junior programs are always having trouble getting parents to help out," he says. "So I got the idea to throw eighteen Optis on the back of theMoon. We nested them, stacked them up." It worked like a charm. That big cockpit, big enough to stack a mess of crab pots, was also plenty roomy for a mess of racing prams.
And the time when he left EYC one windy night when he probably shouldn't have with the club commodore (who wouldn't let him go out alone) and his older son Zach. "It was blowing, a nice summertime blow," he says. "But I didn't know it was blowing that hard at Thomas Point." Krissoff has always kept the boat on the South River, so he had to leave the Severn, pounding straight into six-foot, tide-ripped seas, then get around Thomas Point and take them beam-on as he entered the South River.
"I'm taking green water over the windshield when I'm leaving the Severn," he says. Once he found a good speed for the conditions-about 16 knots-theMoonpowered through to Thomas Point, and that's where the fun really began. Steering the boat like a sailboat, he negotiated the broadside waves, letting the
Moonslide up and over them. But for one moment, he says, he lost his concentration, and the boat slammed so far over he was sure she was going all the way. She didn't. When the boat rolled back, the next wave filled the exposed cockpit to the gunwales. "I turned around to look," Krissoff says, "and the whole cockpit was a whitecap-it was gone!"
He gunned it, making for port as fast as he could before the engine was swamped-but that never happened. The water drained just as it was meant to, right out the scuppers. The workhorse hull had just proven her worth. It was the worst weather he'd ever seen on theMoon, but he was more impressed than ever with her design and construction.
There was the story about going to the Yonkers Yacht Club for OpSail 2000 in New York Harbor, the farthest he's taken the boat so far. "We didn't know what it was going to be like in the ocean, what the boat would be like," he says. "It was cool. It was simple. The boat is easy to handle."
There was the start of the Whitbread Round the World Race, with 34 people onboard, all serious yachtsmen. "Everyone was in the cockpit, plus the usual grocery store's worth of food and liquor store's worth of . . . you get the idea," Krissoff says. "I walked aft and peered over the side. [His friend] Ivon Paulin said, 'What are you doing?' I said, 'I want to see where the waterline is with all these people aboard.' Paulin said, "Don't bother. She was designed to carry hundreds of bushels of crabs!' He was right, theMoonwas down maybe an inch."
There was the first trip through Ego Alley in Annapolis, that narrow stage on which one must pirouette a boat carefully under hundreds of watchful eyes and right next to millions of dollars of fiberglass. Turning a single-screw 46-foot boat around in the basin wasn't going to be easy (he's never really considered a bow thruster for theMoon; well deployed spring lines and good driving would be good enough, like on any workboat). "The plan had always been to pick a calm Tuesday morning with no one around to practice. Instead, coming in from race committee duty, the crew aboard decided now was the time," Krissoff says. The wind was blowing right up the Alley and a kayak had tied up perpendicular to the dinghy dock at the end, using a stern anchor and sticking out enough to eat up about twenty-five feet of radius. It didn't go well." We'll leave it at that, though he's long since mastered the Alley.
There were countless log canoe regattas, with piles of people onboard, and even more race committee duties; theMoonhas served as race committee boat for the Santa Maria Cup, the Prince of Wales Cup, the Optimist Dinghy National Team Race Championships, the EYC Solomons Island Race and J Jamboree-many of these annually. In mid-June this year, she was center stage for a 30-boat raft-up on the West River that featured a band called the Tiki Barbarians, who set up all their amps and instruments-keyboards, drums, trombone, bass guitar, two lead guitars, and more speakers and inflatable palm trees than anyone could count-in the boat's cockpit and rocked the house under a waxing summer moon.
"We've fished it, kayaked from it, raced from it," Krissoff says. "I've said a hundred times to people that because that boat is so versatile, it's hugely exceeded what I expected in terms of what we've been able to use it for."
That doesn't mean theMoonis perfect. Part of getting to know any boat over time is learning its foibles and weaknesses, as well as its strengths. One of
Full Moon's most obvious and immediate issues is that it was what sailboat racers call a "wet boat." That means when the going gets snotty, the boat tends to go through the waves rather than over them, and the result is a cold, salty shower. Krissoff believes that's mostly due to the
Moon's big deckhouse, which provides a comfortable, bright living space-a lot farther aft than usual. "It's a workboat hull," he says. "You can look all over the Bay and see boats like that with little cabinhouses way forward, right after the stem. It was never intended to have a house that far aft."
Two years ago, Krissoff, now divorced, added long, four-inch-wide spray rails that run just above the chine from the bow aft. The modification annoys his aesthetic sensibilities, but the rails have helped with the spray problem somewhat in rough water.
Until this year, that was the boat's only structural modification. Then came the new engine. It wasn't a colossal 10th anniversary gift to theMoon, per se. The original engine was having "issues," Krissoff says, and he didn't like sitting on the beach while she was in the shop. "I want that boat to be perfect all the time," he says. "That boat works too hard and plays too hard to have down time." The chance to put the latest, highest-tech power plant into the boat was too tempting to ignore.
Because the new engine is significantly bigger than the old one, the installation required hours of planning, designing and trying to anticipate and resolve the inevitable problems. The new engine was larger, for starters, so the engine beds had to be rebuilt and lowered. And with its greater horsepower, the new engine needed a larger shaft, which in turn required a new strut, as well as a redesigned strut angle. The shaft log had to be relocated and beefed up. The new power plant, in fact, needed bigger everything-through-hulls, raw-water strainer, exhaust system, fuel lines, fuel strainer. The keel, rudder and steering system had to be significantly strengthened to handle the boat's increased speed and thrust. The engine box had to be modified to accommodate the bigger air intake.
All winter long, Krissoff conferred with John Clarke and the mechanics, electricians and fabricators at Steve's Yacht Repairs at Annapolis Harbor Boat Yard. Installing an engine is rarely as simple as pulling out one and dropping in another; boats being what they are, there's always some gremlin that pops up, stopping all forward motion and giving everyone heartburn until the problem is solved.
Ever since he started thinking about theMoon, Krissoff has always been involved in every bit of it, and this was no exception. I could tell this was so every time I opened an e-mail and there was another photo of the latest arrival or breakthrough-the new engine still on its packing crate taking up what seemed like an acre on the shop floor, the new muffler, 18-year-old Chopper standing next to the new muffler (nearly as big as he is), the boat with the running gear completely disassembled (that one will defibrillate any boatowner's heart). "I like to see it happen," Krissoff says. "There are guys who just plunk down their money and say, 'Call me when it's over.' That's no fun. I like the entertainment value."
The newly repoweredFull Moonsplashed on April 15, 2005, and on a blustery spring day we took her on a two-hour sea trial up and down the Severn River. Standing in the haul-out pit, waiting to go out, Krissoff took a nervous puff on a cigar. Excited? "No. Not really," he said. "When it's all done and okay . . . it's a lot of money, a lot of modification." Then he thought about it some more. "You know, I've been so lucky with this boat right from the beginning. I found the right builder, I found the right yards, I found the right yard to make this big change."
The sea trial went beautifully, with Wes Denton, yard mechanic Mike Sells and Clarke hovering over the new engine-special monitors attached to it with bright wires like a heart patient in the doctor's office-as they put it through its early paces. It was also a crash course for Krissoff, who now had to begin to learn all the new controls, throttles and computer readouts that make this power plant function smoothly. "This has got a book, right?" he laughed, not really joking.
"I'll go over all this with you and we can customize everything," Denton said. "I'm just showing you this part now. If I have an alarm, the engine has a problem, it will come up on this screen and tell you to push this button, and it will tell you what's wrong. It won't tell you how to fix it. But it will tell you what's wrong so you can call me and we can fix it."
"Amazing," Krissoff said, shaking his head. "Amazing."
We returned to the boatyard and tied up, and Denton disconnected all his wires and monitors from the engine. He, Krissoff and Clarke stood in the cockpit, watching the engine cool down like a thoroughbred after a good workout and discussing more nitty-gritty details that needed to be addressed. "This is the first Markley forty-six with a six-sixty," Denton told me. "We've done other workboats, but not like this. It's a very good job, excellent job. I got some good photos and we will be showing this up at the factory."
Krissoff grinned. "What's the next biggest engine?"
"You're gonna need a bigger boat," Clarke said.
Wes looked at the newly installed engine thoughtfully. "We can get a new fuel rating and we can take this engine to seven hundred twenty-five horsepower. Just by changing it electronically."
"Really?" Krissoff said. "When will this be available?"
I couldn't believe it, but it didn't sound like he was joking.
Krissoff wasted no time in putting theMoonback on full duty. Two days after the sea trial he and a bunch of friends blasted down the Bay to a favorite fishing spot near the LNG plant at Calvert Cliffs, searching for stripers, trying to win the Boatyard Bar and Grill Spring Fishing Tournament. After that in quick succession came race committee work for the National Offshore One-Design Regatta, then four days of entertaining clients who came into town for meetings (he owns a company that represents various trade groups), then a full week of race committee work for the Santa Maria Cup at Eastport Yacht Club, two days of anchoring out to nab the best riverside seats for the Blue Angels practice and show celebrating the Naval Academy's graduating class, not to mention a couple of raft-ups thrown in for good measure with-as usual-his father and son Boykin spaniels, Boom and Bing, bouncing happily in and out of the boat. "I think I've had three hundred people get on and off the boat in two months," Krissoff told me in early June. "It hasn't stopped."
"He's already almost put a hundred hours on that engine," Clarke says. "That boat gets used more than any other boat around here."
And Krissoff is still thinking about the future. Retirement isn't so far off, he hopes. "I thought I'd get a bigger boat to get on and go," he says. "But I've had kind of a revelation about this boat. I decided I'll take theMoon, and instead of making it casually accommodating for the masses, I'll make it extremely accommodating for two." He'll need to better define the storage space, he says, and make a few other interior changes. But it wouldn't take much. "There's no place from Nova Scotia to the Caribbean I can't go in this boat if I'm smart. With this realization, it's exceeded my expectations even more."
Looks like the story won't be ending anytime soon.