“Walking along the docks at Chandler’s Cove on Lake Union, salivating at my first-ever boat show, I was taken by the first boat I boarded, a Krogen 54, one of eight built in the late ’80s. Beautiful teak aged to a light glow, an unusual canoe stern, a portside interior passageway and a stately pilothouse with forward-canted windows, all contributed to this greenhorn’s sense of wonder and my overall positive impression of this Alaska trawler. I was off to see other boats, probably even more impressive, or so I thought at the time.” — David T. Holland, PassageMaker
When Nick Elsberry and I visited Sea Lark last October she was sitting on the hard at a service yard about 90 minutes north of Seattle. She wintered here under previous ownership and the fish-out-of-water impression left by this full-bodied trawler—a Krogen 54—is a lasting one. While resting on chocks, her high bow blocks the late-setting sun, her forefoot mimicking the stoutness of the North Sea workboats that inspired her design. Amid a sailboat’s complexity of shrouds and stays, booms and furled sails, the forward mast in this ketch-rigged vessel is even outfitted with a proper crow’s nest. Along with a substantial beam and a ballasted deep-draft keel, canoe stern, and forward-canted pilothouse windows, the Kadey-Krogen 54 is the definition of a go-anywhere-looking trawler.
Christened by her former Texas-based owners, Sea Lark (hull No. 2) came early in the model’s history that launched in 1988 when Jim Krogen’s blueprints came to life. In the timeline of Kadey-Krogen production boats, this serious motorsailer would come after the venerable 42, the 38 cutter (designed by and for Jim Krogen himself), and the 36 Manatee.
You could say the 54 broke the mold in a big, big way.
What initially attracted Nick to the 54 is what also draws in anyone to a proper workboat-inspired cruiser. To me, it is a sense that the vessel’s design is inextricably tied to her purpose: there are no frills, no gadgets, nothing superfluous to the objective of safely navigating blue water. On the exterior, she is all business.
But the 54 wouldn’t be a Krogen without comfortable interiors and Sea Lark and her seven sisterships are no exception. Designed for the long journey with accommodations easily exceeding six adults, plus stowage for food reserves and requisite safety gear, the 54 strikes that perfect balance between pragmatic good looks and interior comfort and usability. Even though only eight hulls were built, the Krogen 54 has cemented its place in the pantheon of great long-range trawlers and has since attracted her own cult following.
She was also a bit of a pioneer. According to Jim Krogen’s sons, Kurt and Jimmy, the belief is that the 54 sported the first asymmetrical house design in a Kadey-Krogen and possibly the first available on any production cruising trawler. No matter what, her design DNA could take her anywhere, as evidenced by the fact that Patty (hull No. 7) was delivered new to the French Riviera after a 24-day, 4,800-mile journey across the Atlantic, and Stillwater (ex-Europa,) was eventually purchased in Ketchikan, Alaska, and brought down the Pacific Coast to her current home in Redwood City, California.
As the newest 54 owner, Nick is taking time after acquiring Sea Lark this past Spring to get her systems and electronics modernized before his family embarks on their own serious northbound adventures. But they won’t be the only 54 family plying these cold Pacific Northwest waters. There are at least two others that live here and cruise year-round—Fortitude (hull No. 8) and Sea Bear (hull No. 3)—as well as another potential addition with the aforementioned Stillwater.
Stillwater’s owner, Richard Webber has a 1988 whose original Lehman engine was replaced in 1996 with a John Deere 6068T. “The layout is unique for the 54, as far as I can tell. The forward cabin is a large crew’s quarters with 4 bunks, one of which pulls out to a double,” he tells Waypoints. Once retired, Webber’s plan is to return the boat to the Pacific Northwest for summer cruising and winterizing in the offseason.
Onboard Fortitude, Steven and Suzanne Webster are doing more than their share to keep the 54’s history alive and well, not to mention indirectly publicized for the world to see. Having just returned from a year spent cruising the Inside Passage to northern Alaska, the couple have spent the past few years updating Fortitude, and most recently embarked on a simple but impactful interior makeover. Amazing what a few fresh coats of paint and new linens can do. But this is not meant to diminish the amount of work Steven and Suzanne already completed to get Fortitude shipshape for such a long voyage, including a helm Steven developed himself featuring an electronics array that is worthy of a modern-day superyacht.
The Websters’ life aboard includes space and time considerations for two German Shorthaired pointers, as well as hosting a bi-monthly radio show called Radio Fortitude (em-radio.com). Steven also continues to work remotely as a marketing consultant, and moderating the PNW Kadey-Krogen owners Facebook group. They have also taken and posted stunning photographs from their B.C. and Alaska adventures, fueling their growing legion of fans, many of whom can only live vicariously through their charming social media posts.
Similar to classic Corvettes, Krogen 54s seem to wind up with owners around the globe who take great care of them, and make sure they have the nine lives that they’ve dutifully earned in their hundreds of thousands of cruising miles under keel. While it’s a shame that only eight were built, the rarity of the yacht only adds to her legend. And with a new fleet of younger, enthusiastic owners who are committed to preserving the past, the future is bright for these old ships.