After a lovely evening with Chris and Rani, I caught the next-day ferry to Friday Harbor, here to see an actual Amazon 44.

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First glimpse of Nomadness from the Washington State ferry, a Grahame Shannon designed Amazon 44 built in 1987.

I first became aware of this Amazon, named Nomadness, while researching the Fastwater, and once found, I was taken in by her subtle lines and the vast amount I could learn about her without leaving my office. Typically, getting more than surface detail of a boat on offer is difficult. Online blurbs, even the good ones, only go so far; brokers are reticent to release surveys to yahoos like me before a face-to-face meeting, and if, by chance, some previous owner kept a blog, it is likely long on the glory of adventure and short on the kind of information the next owner might wish to know. Not so Nomadness, for whom the present owner has spared no words, all of which are available online and most of which are technical.

Meet Steven K. Roberts, a self-described gonzo engineer who has successfully blended his passion for technology and travel since the early 80s. A struggling freelancer then, living a suburban lifestyle and hating it, Steven decided to make a change. He listed the things he loved, ranked their importance and pondered the possibilities, and then “abandoning all rational thought” he lept to the obvious solution: “to equip a recumbent bicycle with ham radio and computer gear, establish a virtual home in the nascent online networks, and travel full-time while writing and consulting for a living.”


Winnebiko II–Steven’s solar powered, computerized recumbent bicycle of 1986. “Not only could I do word processing while riding, I could also exchange electronic mail via packet radio.”

This was 1983. Over the next eleven years, Steven criss-crossed the continent, riding 17,000 miles on three increasingly geeked-out bikes (Winnebiko I, Winnebiko II and BEHEMOTH). He became a media sensation, appearing on networks ranging from CNN to the BBC and in publications like USA Today and Wired Magazine. And he authored a popular book, Computing Across America, all while happily pioneering what he called the “technomadic lifestyle.”

As the year’s progressed, Steven’s passion for wheeled transport waned and was replaced with dreams of waterborne adventure. Thus came to be the intricate and engaging solar, sail and pedal-powered, amphibian micro-trimaran, Microship and the solar-paneled, location-tracking kayak, Bubba. But what if one really wants to go places? To explore the ocean requires a vessel with some heft.

Which brings us back to Nomadness, the Amazon 44, that Steven acquired in 2007 and has been kitting-out and documenting with his usual thoroughness on the Nomadness site and in the 196 page (and counting) Nomadness Report.


Steven in his lab where we spent part of an evening talking bikes and boats.

Basic Stats

Built 1987; extensive refit, 2002.

Steel, pilothouse sloop (staysail-ready), round bilged, extended fin keel with skeg-hung rudder.

Head sail on Harken Furler; Hood Stowaway in-mast furling main.

LOA: 44; LWL: 36.75; Beam: 13.08; Draft: 6.

Displacement: 30,600 lbs; Ballast: 9,300 lbs (estimated). Sail Area: 899.

Displacement to Length Ratio: 275.  Ballast to Displacement (after personal increment): 25% .  Sail Area to Displacement Ratio: 15. Capsize Ratio: 1.75.

Plating: hull, 3/16ths inch welded steel plate; 3/8ths inch keel face plating and 3/4 inch keel bottom and top plating; superstructure, 3/16ths inch.

Tankage: 285 gallons fuel in three stainless steel tanks; 90 gallons water in two stainless steel tanks.

Insulation: spray foam to waterline, thickness unknown (in lockers, foam is covered with a layer of molded fiberglass, presumably to protect the insulation from what is put in the locker).

Engine: 77 hp with 7.5kW diesel auxiliary generator.

Steering: hydraulic.

Major items from the 2002 refit include: new Awlgrip on hull, new treadmaster on deck, engine removal and servicing, mast and boom removed and painted, two Bomar hatches installed, hydraulic steering serviced, Websto heating installed, Lighthouse 1501 electric windlass installed, bottom stripped to base layer or bare metal and painted (2005), new batteries (8, AGM) installed (2009), and all electronics updated.


Though from the same pen as the Fastwater 44, the Amazon 44 is strikingly different, and where the former looked and felt like a brute of a boat, the latter impresses as being an elegant workhorse. She too is strongly built, but her moderate freeboard with nearly no sheer, slight overhangs and lower pilothouse make her proportionally understated. Even 27 years on she has a modern, spare, no-nonsense feel about her suggestive of the kind of boat Hemingway might have designed if he’d followed in the footsteps of Tillman.

Positives from the Figure 8 perspective:

On Deck

  • Small but adequate anchor locker forward with watertight bulkhead aft of it.
  • Open, uncluttered deck, but secure passage to the mast via stanchions and handrails on the pilothouse.
  • Folding mast steps to the truck.
  • Double pane pilothouse windows (!) with a large exterior lip onto which one could customize storm windows.
  • A large but secure cockpit (slightly less open aft than the other two Shannon boats) with a wheel in easy reach of the winches and ample passage around it.
  • Aft cockpit locker large enough for four propane tanks (though that would use all the space).
  • Massively strong aft rack for radar and solar panels.

Below Decks

  • Galley, pilot station, and navigation station on main salon level. The area is also large enough to rig a pilot berth if needed.
  • Simply superb visibility forward and to the sides from anywhere in the main salon. Good visibility when seated at the starboard side pilot station.
  • Sensibly laid out galley whose counters have nice high fiddle rails (it surprises me how often this is not the case).
  • Easy access to engine and generator, transmission and packing gland, all under main salon sole. (Dual Racor fuel filters also available here, each with its own pressure gauge, one of many details that indicate a well thought out boat).
  • Ample fuel tankage, at last!
  • All access hatches in the cabin sole secured in place with bronze dogs–someone has already thought “inverted.”
  • 690 amp house bank, well secured in place, plus a dedicated start battery for main engine and another for the generator.
  • Beautifully laid-out and easily accessible electrics control panel.
  • Sit-down navigation station large enough for a full-sized chart also serves as the second lid to a deeply insulated freezer.

The above fails to capture some of what Steven has added during his tenure, like

  • Updated electronics such as the Vesper WatchMate AIS transponder; Simrad AP24 autopilot with wireless remote; Maretron DSM250 multifunction color displays.
  • A complete power management system by Outback, including inverter/charger, the FLEXmax Solar charge controller (this unit logs system performance for up to 128 days and can be remotely programmed), and the Outback Mate3 system display and controller mounted at pilot station.
  • A Little Cod Wood Stove.

Steven’s layering on of electronics and his focus on the boat’s electronics backbone has been headed toward the realization of an idea he calls Datawake. Imagine the usefulness of an onboard database that could collect information about Nomadness’ many systems, from compass heading to fuel tank levels to the temperature of the refrigerator and the amount of water in the bilge, and make that information readily available to the skipper from the con while building an overall status history, a “wake of data streaming behind the boat.”

Nomadness has been a grand project, interrupted by what Steven calls his passage to “the Dark Side,” and now this strong, well-outfitted boat is looking for a new adventure. It could be that adventure is the Figure 8 Voyage.

Nomadness under sail.


Nomadness at anchor. Note simple, sweet lines.


An open, uncomplicated deck with proportionally “just so” pilot house. Toe rail is wood, supported by steel tangs. Chainplates are mounted will inboard, allowing for better upwind performance.


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Biggish cockpit but well protected. Nice passageway around wheel and forward. Super-strong aft rack with dinghy davits.

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Nomadness’ underbody.

Nomadness interior

The main salon with pilot station to starboard, chart table and galley to port.


Pilot station. Note joystick and throttle controls.


Steven busily updating Nomadness’ electronics panel.


High-tech Outback charge control system.

nomadness freezer

Full size chart table lifted to reveal freezer box.

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Nomadness galley. Sadly, espresso maker not included in sale.

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All floorboards lock in place.

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Yanmar propulsion, 77hp, turbocharged.

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7.4kW genset.


At anchor.




















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