A Trans-Atlantic Boat For Less Than US$100,000

When the work is done.
When the work is done.

Mia and I bought Arcturus, a 35' Allied Seabreeze Yawl, built in 1966, in the spring of 2008. I was 24 years old. It was the first boat I’d ever owned, and we had big plans for her.

I was long-inspired by reading about Hal Roth’s adventures in his Spencer 35 Whisper, a very similar design from the same era, and thrilled to hear that Arcturus’ previous owner was actually tennis buddies with Roth before his death, and that Hal had actually been aboard Arcturus (Cybele as she was called then) when she was based near Oxford, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

A Classic

The boat was gorgeous when we bought her, cosmetically like-new, like a restored classic car. She was one of those ‘minimally-equipped’ boats, a great platform on which to start fresh.

She sported new upholstery down below, freshly oiled teak and painted bulkheads in the classic Herreshoff style, Awl-gripped topsides in Oyster white, dark red boot and cove stripes, beautiful non-skid on deck. I’ve always been a sucker for classics, and Mia and I fell in love with her when we first saw her hauled out in the boatyard in Oxford.

Andy Schell is the co-founder of 59º North Sailing, which takes paying crew on offshore sailing passages around the Atlantic, Arctic, Caribbean and beyond. They are currently refitting the Farr 65 FALKEN as their new flagship, while they operate their Swan 59 ICEBEAR and Swan 48 ISBJORN in the meantime. Andy founded and hosts the ON THE WIND sailing podcast and recently launched the online seamanship platform The QUARTERDECK. Andy has sailed over 100,000 miles offshore, including 5 Atlantic crossings and an expedition to 80º North in Svalbard in 2018. Check them out at 59-north.com.

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Marc Dacey

Andy/Mia: I would be interested to learn how you value your own educations in this cost evaluation, as I would imagine what began from necessity has paid some sort of dividends not only in maintaining your next boat, but in your professional lives as lecturers and charter skippers, as well as in your self-confidence to deal with the inevitable breakages and repair.

Andy

Hi Marc, thanks for the comment, and a very good question. It would be impossible to quantify both financially and with regards to time into our education. I’ve been sailing and round boats my entire life, literally, with my mom and dad bringing us up sailing on the Chesapeake. My dad has a library full of old classic books by the Dashew’s, Pardey’s, etc. etc. and I’ve read them all over the years, usually several times over.

I did go to school at Maritime Professional Training to get my RYA Yachtmaster license and STCW, which cost around $5,000 I think in 2008. That was about three weeks of time, and very well worth it, even though I never professionally used the license. I learned a lot in that class about the ‘right’ way to navigate, handle big boats, etc. and would encourage everyone to do it.

Beyond that, sailing as a deckhand on the Schooner Woodwind out of Annapolis for several years, and working as a rigger at Southbound have been the most beneficial. They were working apprenticeships, as I like to say, meaning I was able to make a living AND gain experience at the same time, which was invaluable.

As far as self-confidence when it comes to breakages and repairs, that has been earned with experience, and I think has to be. I’ve learned that ANYTHING is fixable on boats, no matter how dire it looks, and that keeps me calm now with our big Swan. In fact – little behind-the-scenes secret here – that photo of me drilling holes for chainplates above? I drilled them in the wrong place the first time around! Four, 1/2-inch holes that needed to be filled and painted!

Ultimately, it’s been years of self-study reading books, real-world experience with people smarter than me, and learning things the hard way by screwing them up the first time around!

Alastair

How did you back the nuts on the new chain plates inside the hull: thickness of backing plate, width of backing plate, bedding material? I have found over the years that backing plates are undersized and not stiff enough e.g. 1” ply which has crushed under the washer / nut and slackened slightly, large diameter, washers or steel plate which are too thin and bow slightly under load. Interested to hear how massive is massive for a backing plate without going overboard on size, especially material type and thickness.

Got to ask – what is your favourite tool and what is your most useful tool when fitting out, the one that you think, good ‘old so so always reliable and does the job?

Andy

Hi Alistair, another good question. We used quarter-inch ‘G-10’, a very dense and stiff fiberglass plate that you can order in sheets of various sizes and thicknesses on McMaster-Carr’s site. They were probably 4-5 inches wide and spanned the length of the chainplate. The chainplate’s themselves were bent on an old hand-operated press at my friend’s metal shop in Baltimore to take the same curve of the hull. Though subtle, it still does curve, and would have put unnecessary loads on the chainplates if it hadn’t been done, especially since titanium doesn’t like to be bent as much as stainless does. The bedding was plain-old white Life Seal, which I use for most things that need to someday come apart.

My favorite hand tools remain on my hip almost constantly in the little toolbelt I made on our Sailrite machine – a ‘Swedish’ or open fid; a Wichard multi-fid; a small adjustable wrench; a calipers; a dikes cutting tool; a four-way screwdriver; a Sharpie; and a tape measure. Most things on deck can be accomplished with just this stuff.

My favorite power tool has come to be our Fein Multimaster, which we used to just call the ‘Fein’ tool at the rig shop. It does amazing things!

Alastair

Thanks for the comments, I have additional lower back shrouds that were added after a conversion to cutter rig. The deck penetration and subsequent bolting arrangement always produces a leak eventually. I suspect that I need to significantly increase the thickness of the backing plate and width.

My good lady bought me a Fein (other brands are available) as a present and I honestly wonder how I ever worked without it such is its usefulness and versatility. My favourite tool, bought as an impulse buy at the London Boat show, is a right angle drive for a drill bit chuck; awkward or impossible drilling jobs became a cinch (ok, I still have to be a contortionist to get the drill into position).

Marc Dacey

Good to hear and who among us has not drilled in the wrong place? Usually just prior to a rainstorm.

What I was getting at using the term “education” (and I should have been more explicit) is the usefulness to you of doing your own work in putting together the theory and the practice. Not being independently wealthy has driven my wife and I, for instance, into previously unknown realms, such as engine and electrical installations, transmission service, carpentry, refrigeration, below the WL plumbing, fabrications of all type, exotic coatings and, shortly, welding. Partially, this has been due to cost: had we had the money, we would have shelled out to save the time, but we’ve come to discover a virtue in doing most of our own modifications and installations in terms of greater self-reliance (we hope) and greater insight on how to deal with problems. This, for us, has been the real education and I’m glad now in many ways that circumstances allowed so many “teachable moments”.

Marc Dacey

I have a knock-off Fein and agree that it’s very helpful. A company called Milescraft makes an “orbital” adapter that gives you even more options with a drill in tight spots. If you have a chuck extender, you can get to an amazing number of formerly inaccessible places aboard.

As for backing plates, I’ve used 1/4″ aluminum plate, shaped to fit and well-bedded, with great success.

JCFlander

Here’s my ‘silver bullets’:

1. Festool T-15 cordless drill with right-angle and eccentric chucks.
This is way better than separate adapters, since this model is fixed. Absolutely essential when eg. trying to drill stainless steel on difficult places.
https://www.festool.com/Products/Pages/Product-Detail.aspx?pid=564561&name=Cordless-drill-T-15+3-Li-5-2-Set

2. Short Cobalt drills and drill sharpener. A godsend with stainless. Normal lenght HSS drills have a self-destrut mode when drilling handheld. Also it helps to heat SS above 60C, since tendency to work-harden is then much less.

3. Katimex Kati-Blitz fiberglass cable puller. Nothing like this, ordinary steel springs will destroy insulation from cables already on conduit, and they are a nuisance to work with anyway. Nylon springs are hopeless.

4. Pomona 5913 /Fluke AC89 through-insulation multimeter probes.
http://en-us.fluke.com/products/all-accessories/fluke-ac89.html
Insanely useful tool. Try to troubleshoot eg. Yanmarine wire harness without this. Though advisable to spray something afterwards that blocks water ingress to cable.

5. Boeshield spray. Best protection for cable terminals sofar.
http://boeshield.com/
If using also industrial grade carbon paste on contact surfaces they make connections that last virtually forever.

Cheers,
JCFlander

Marc Dacey

A great list and thank you for including those links.

Richard Phillips

 industrial grade carbon paste” – any chance you could recomend a product, it is something I want but am unsure what to buy!

Petri Flander

Hello Richard,
here you go:
https://www.mgchemicals.com/products/grease-for-electronics/electrically-conductive-grease/carbon-conductive-assembly-paste/
Seems to be stocked on RS online and Farnell, at least. BR, PF

Petri Flander

and, stating the obvious 🙂 this stuff only between cable lug and busbar/connection. Excess carefully wiped out w. rubbing alcohol/isopropanol, then Boeshield on top. 100yr guarantee 🙂 (provided that tightened with moment wrench, tightened position marked with line across bolt/washer by marker/paint pen to indicate if rotated/loosened later, and proper lock washers used)

RDE

Hi Andy,
Good to see a series of articles by someone who has gotten their hands dirty on a number of refit projects followed by putting them to the test by going to sea on the same boats!
You are one of the few individuals who has long term experience with two pieces of equipment I’ve long admired in the abstract: DUX rigging and the Cape Horn wind vane. How about an article about each when you get done refitting? LOL

That said the distinction between a Need and a Want on your refit of Arcturus seems muddy — unless the Need was to have the finest and most perfect Allied Seabreeze on the planet. Not that there is anything wrong with that set of priorities. But paying a premium for the most perfect boat available and then refitting it isn’t necessarily the best way to get the most function per dollar.

At the other extreme, I can’t help but recall another refit from about the same era, the Hughes 35 Wild Card that Fatty Goodlander bought for $3,000 and sailed twice around the world scribbling along the way. It was a hurricane damaged boat, no engine for the first year of ownership, and by the pictures was always a bit rough around the edges and creaky in the bulkheads. But it carried them around the world twice.

Most of those boats had Perkins 4108’s , and I’ll bet the one that ended up in Wild Card came from some yacht owner who got tired of the leaky main seal in his– and cost little more than the $3,000 they paid for the boat. I can’t help but notice that 3/4 of the hours and over half the cost of Arcturus’s refit came in the form of a brand new engine. I’d have to call that a Want rather than a Need for a boat of Arcturus’s vintage. When I was building my Cape George 36 I couldn’t afford a new engine, and instead bought a Buhk 20— the original purpose built marine design– for $800. It had been delivered in a Swan and taken out when it experienced overheating after a few hundred hours. Northwest Motor Welding repaired a small crack in a water passage for $175, and it ran faithfully for 7 years thereafter. Since it was underpowered enough that I always ran it with the throttle full on, I never had any problems with cylinder glazing (as per John’s recent article) LOL The next owner “needed” to go faster so he installed a Yanmar with twice as much power. The third owner sailed the boat to San Diego, where it sat unused and the expensive Yanmar died a natural death.

And was being a pioneer by using DUX rigging and titanium fittings on a 50 year old small boat a Need or a Want? I do know that I built a hollow spruce and carbon fiber mast rigged with Sta-loc’s and hand made silicon bronze tangs and chain plates for less than $4000– with about the same labor time that you spent on your rig– and for a much bigger boat.

So my point is that if your Need is to sail across oceans the bottom line doesn’t need to look like yours or poor old Bob from Bermuda’s. You can have only a couple hundred dollars, a bare steel interior with no cabinetry, and two circumnavigations in the log book like a French single-hander who made his living making black pearl jewelry that I once met if you so choose. Or you can build the Maltese Falcon with the sole goal of sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge and displaying that Yours is bigger than Theirs like Tom Perkins.

Andy

Hi RDE, all good comments, and good points about ‘needs’ versus ‘wants.’ As for the interior, the boat was very nicely finished inside, but had too many berths and not enough storage, typical of a former racing boat from the CCA era (the Seabreeze was a production evolution of the famous S&S yawl ‘Finisterre’). We wanted two straight sea-berths and more storage under the settees, so that’s why we rebuilt the interior. It added a bit of safety offshore, but again, wasn’t ‘needed.’ One can get very nit-picky with ‘needs’ versus ‘wants’ as you say too, and some of the stuff we did just because we enjoyed doing it. I had more knowledge and experience with Dux and titanium than with spruce and carbon fiber, so that’s what we used and it worked for us.

I didn’t go into this, but the new engine was actually only half the horsepower of what we replaced. The old one was a Westerbeke 30B-3 that ran occasionally, though I’m sure could have been brought back to life by someone with more technical ability than me. The new install was a Beta 16, a much smaller, truly ‘auxiliary’ engine. When I installed it we didn’t have any plans to sell the boat, and I really liked the end result – everything was new and shiny and easy to maintain and keep that way, which I DO know how to do. When we bought the Swan and started the new business, that changed things. You certainly could have gone around the world in Arcturus with the old Westerbeke. I happened to have the money to replace it and so you could argue it was more of a ‘want’ than a ‘need.’ Plus, voyaging on a shoe-string was never our intention, nor was full-time live-aboard cruising, but that’s another story!

John Harries

Hi Richard,

I would argue that for most people a reliable engine is a need not a want. Also, as Andy says, whether or not a old engine is a smart idea depends entirely on the owner. If said owner is really comfortable with rebuilding and then maintaining their own engine, then yes, a new engine could be classed as a want. But if that’s not the case, then probably a need. As I have pointed out many times before, the history of small engine rebuilds is not good. I know of at least 10 rebuilds, and of those, at least 7 were expensive failures. Point being, even though a reliable new engine is a want for you, it can still be a perfectly valid need for Andy…or me.

Also, whether or not an engine is a need or a want depends on cruising ground. For example, going to Greenland or Labrador without a reliable engine is just plain foolhardy. On the other hand cruising the Caribbean or going around the world in the Tradewinds without any engine at all is perfectly seamanlike, as long as one has the skills.

Summary, needs and wants, at least as far as engines, depend on a lot of variables.

Marc Dacey

When we bought our steel 40 footer in 2006, it came with a 1987 Westerbeke W-52 with a mere 1,100 hours on the clock. We have grand ambitions and even though it was a low-hours engine, we had no idea of its maintenance other than it drank oil and started well. I determined that a rebuild would be prudent. The cost was about $1,000 more than a brand new Beta 60, the parts for which I could cross-check to those of Kubota tractors and backhoes, for the most part. Eight more horses, Tier 2 emissions, and about 15% better fuel economy decided the issue. Of course, it led to fabrications, a new prop, shaft, AquaDrive and a different exhaust setup, but we still got away around $22K Canadian (the engine was $11,500 Canadian) and how does one value peace of mind or the value of the learning process? The want became a need due to the ridiculous price of rebuilding, which as has been pointed out, is no guarantor of reliability.

John Harries

Hi Marc,

You made a good call. Funny I was just chatting with a friend on the wharf who just bought a boat with a rebuilt engine…that filled the filter with steal fragments in the first running hour…and then made a nasty clanking…and then had to be rebuilt again…but the rebuild company has changed hands, so who is going to pay what is the question of the hour…that, and will it run right this time?

RDE

Hi John,
I’d have to put leaving the machining shards in the crankshaft without pulling the plugs and properly cleaning it after machining the bearing journals in the same category as bolting a keel with a tiny base onto a hull liner bottom and then wondering why it fell off. There is no accounting for human stupidity. And having somebody there to sue may be the neoliberal solution, but its no substitute for ethics and pride in workmanship.

Marc Dacey

Exactly and thank you. And what I’ve learned about engines in the meantime: priceless, which is, I suspect, part of the motivation of any refit process.

RDE

WoW! Seven out of ten rebuilds were expensive failures! I understand why you recommend that an engine simply be thrown away and replaced with new when it has a problem.

I’ve rebuilt all kinds of engines, from 2 cyl. Buhks to V12 MTU diesels, vintage Mercedes, Ferrari v12s, as well as Porsche & BMW racing motors. The closest thing I’ve ever had to an engine failure was a race motor that started to loose power on the dyno, so I shut it down and disassembled it.

In the world of mechanical devices only bicycles are simpler than small diesels. Frankly I can’t see why any mechanic with a body temperature above dishwater couldn’t successfully rebuild one.

John Harries

Hi Richard,

I’m sure you are right, but never the less this sad stat is correct.

On the other hand, my friends at Billings Diesel rebuild scores of big lobster boat engines (mostly Cats) every year, with great success. I’m really not sure what the difference is, although one factor may be that the bigger engines are designed to be rebuilt and the smaller ones are not? Another factor might be practice. For example my friend Troy at Billings is their Cat-guy. He spends 50 weeks a year rebuilding one brand of engine, so maybe that’s an issue too.

Anyway, I stand by my recommendation not to rebuild small yacht diesels, the history, over several years and at least five different rebuilders is just too damming to take the risk. Particularly since in these days of high labour rates the cost of rebuild seems to run about 80% of a new engine, and worse still rebuilds typically come with just a 90 day warranty.

RDE

Hi Marc,

If I’m correct, your Westerbeke W52* was a marinzed Kubota tractor engine, just like your new Beta except for the color of paint and external accessories. Maybe a machine shop that didn’t have Yacht above the entry door would have been in order. $12,500 is a bit rich for what was likely a cylinder hone and new rings or new pistons and a cyl bore.

*the W50 is a Kubota for sure

Marc Dacey

RDE, no, the W-52 was a marinized Mazda R2 2.2 litre block as found in ’80s-’90s Ford Rangers and Mazda B2200s light-duty pickups. It’s also the same as a Perkins 4.154 from 1984-85, I believe. I did investigate this and did track down rebuild kits in Australia, where a B2200 of the sort found on a thousand sheep stations can last 30 years thanks to the absence of salt and (usually) rain and are still worth rebuilding. The cost would have been about 15% of the domestic “Westerbeke” rebuild. However, that would have just been a hundred kilos of parts.

The logistics of having a rebuild kit (including drivetrain) sent from Australia and then finding a reputable local rebuilder seemed squirrelly when I considered the alternative. I had already rebuilt two Atomic 4s, but the tolerances for a diesel were much more stringent and I did not have the tools nor, frankly, the experience to take it on myself. Trust me, I’m cheap and stubborn…it was a hard decision but, I believe, the right one for us contemplating world cruising.

Scott Dufour

Hi Andy,

A well done article, filled with the kind of details that are going to beget more questions from readers – always a good sign.

So mine is regarding the wheel-to-tiller conversion: any chance of getting a photo-essay of how that project went down? I’m going to start the same process on my Pearson 10M, and have been scratching my head, too.

Andy

Hi Scott – Definitely can help on the tiller conversion. In fact, I think there are already some details on my website on 59-north.com/arcturus, at least some descriptions. I’ll try and put something together, as I have a lot of detailed photos. Check back on the /arcturus page linked above in the coming weeks, and I’ll try to have John link it here.

-Andy

Scott Dufour

Thanks Andy.

I checked out 59-north.com/arcturus – quite the chronicled life you two lead. I found a few photos in the blog-search section, but couldn’t find descriptions. Maybe in the archive?

Eric Klem

Hi Andy,

Nice work. Like Richard, I would love to see an article on synthetic rigging at some point. While I have no illusions about saving cost over wire, I find the potential weight savings aloft interesting particularly as I feel this is one of the shortcomings of our boat. I hear very little about Dux these days and see very few boats with it and I don’t know what that means. The big question really is whether you would go synthetic again or not.

One of my initial reactions to your spreadsheet was the amount of time tied up in the engine replacement but it got me thinking that I probably account for my time in a less than fair way when discussing with others. My day job involves spending the time to think through a design up front so that it goes together really easily when the hands on work begins. I do the same thing with our boat but the only time that I ever really account for is the time in the boatyard. The planning is something that I do in free time during the winter when I am not working on our house and is something I don’t mind doing. For me, the scarce resource is time in the boatyard as we don’t want to use vacation time to do that so we need to make sure that things happen pretty quickly there. What your numbers show is that there is enormous value in buying a boat with a good engine.

Eric

Andy

Hi Eric, funny that you comment about time. John asked me to audit the initial sheet I sent him, and I had way under-estimated the time myself at first. A lot of the time spent though was simply removing all the old stuff, cleaning, prepping and painting long before the new design and install ever started. And I spent lots more un-accounted hours on the phone with people at Beta, Vetus, Campbell Sailer props, etc. trying to design the whole system from scratch. It adds up! And it’s fun, so you easily lose track of time! Thankfully for me, sailing is my career, so I don’t have to take ‘vacation’ time or time away from other stuff to do all of this.

-Andy

Eric Klem

Hi Andy,

It is interesting how my perspective has changed on time accounting. When I was getting paid to work on boats, I tried to strike the balance of cost of time versus materials for the lowest overall cost but now, I focus heavily on the cost of materials provided the job will be done right and won’t need to be done again. At work as an engineer, I have to be very conscious of not being too hands-on with the prototypes and early production units that I design and get them handed off to manufacturing quickly.

Eric

Dick Stevenson

Hi Marc,
As someone who bought a salvage boat from an ins. co. after they had written it off as a complete loss (run up on the rocks and sunk), I can attest that what one learns in doing the work necessary to get the boat back to coastal cruising condition was, for me, an invaluable (and unexpectedly rich) learning experience. My motivation was to give a family of 5 more elbow room than our 28 footer allowed, but the fact that I had a boat that I (essentially) could not harm allowed me the freedom to take things apart and poke around in ways I might have been more hesitant about on a more functional boat. That, coupled with an outreach to people (excited by my project) willing to help who had real knowledge and experience, gave me a huge leg up in the learning curve that would have been hard to attain any other way (working a completely different profession with family & home).
That said, learning was not my objective: I just wanted a 38-foot boat. I would not recommend upgrading a boat oneself solely as a learning experience (and certainly not as a fixer-upper to make money- quite the opposite), but the learning that accrues as you pursue other motivating goals is hard to beat.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

John Harries

Hi Dick,

I think you are exactly right. My failed-refit (Poor Stupid Bob) was a financial and time disaster, but I sure did learn a lot. Worth it to me? Probably not. I would have learned nearly as much by taking a page out of Andy’s book and starting out with a better boat.

Dick Stevenson

Hi all,
Please do not get my story wrong. My re-fit of a salvaged vessel left me with a beautiful vessel (a Bill Tripp design yawl, a smaller version of a Bermuda 40) which we sailed for 15+ years coastal cruising with family. We decided it was not an offshore live-aboard vessel and so sold her with great sadness.
A significant regret, I should point out, is to have re-built the engine rather than to have re-powered. Many gremlins plagued us for years until a new Yanmar brought back confidence that the engine would start. Apart from that, we achieved our goals (a bigger boat for the family) and learned a great deal.
It should be noted that I was working toward a coastal cruising boat. I took her offshore and we survived a tropical storm, but I think I would not do that again with my current sense of what makes a blue water cruiser.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Marc Dacey

That’s an interesting process, Dick. Our “Alchemy” (and I still marvel that our boats have the same name and, roughly, dimensionals) was more ours to finish than to undo. Being a custom boat, we had no qualms about modding what we liked and we had only basic drawings; the previous owners had departed from the designer’s vision somewhat. Also, a steel boat tends to be somewhat modular: you can haul off the roof and crane out the engine and water tanks via a huge hatch, so I didn’t have to saw through bulkheads. Same with the electrical stuff…the electronics were old and disposed of, but the quality of the leads were left in place as they look for the most part new. So the lack of undoing has cleared the path for doing, at least for us.

Paul McEvoy

Hi Andy

Great article. Random question: do you have a welder you’d recommend in the Baltimore area to fabricate part of a gooseneck?

Thanks
Paul

Andy

Hi Paul, thanks! I don’t know anybody commercially – my friend, Rodney Carroll, has a shop and is a sailor, but he’s a sculptor and doesn’t do anything like that. He’d be someone to ask – you can try looking him up online and contacting him.

Andy

John

Oh boy, this is interesting stuff. Looking forward to the next articles.

Ben Garvey

…Add another rebuild sucker to the list. I’m about $50k into a rebuild on a boat I paid $85k for (47′ Roberts cutter – steel).

I have done this before, three times now. 2 wood, 1 fiberglass. You’d think I would learn. I was even reading this site for months before embarking on this latest experience. The advice from here and memories of previous experiences echoed in my head. Yet, I still ignored the signs, took a favorable view of potential issues exposed during sea trials and surveys, allowed a rosy hue to color what were – with the benefit of hindsight – not very rosy pictures, and doggedly carried on. ‘We can fix it’ was the motto, when the question should have been – ‘Should we fix it, or is the cumulative list of things to fix now too big?’.

It is a character trait of mine I suspect – one that is a benefit in some situations, but is definitely expensive and stressful when it comes to boats.

Will I be happy with the boat when she’s done (done enough, that is – it’s never ‘done’)? Almost certainly yes. I like what she’s becoming. When she’s done I will have a boat that might fetch $150k on the market. Maybe. But I’ll be more than that in terms of direct cash investment; and will have lost probably 6 months of cumulative cruising/sailing time due to rebuild tasks. Will I ever recover the costs and time put into the boat? Not bloody likely.

Some of it has been fun, a lot of it has not. I’ve learned some new skills, met some great people, so that’s good; but it has caused stress that was not necessary and could have been avoided, had I chosen a more ‘ready to run’ boat in the first place.

The next time… it’ll be different. Yeah, right. 🙂

RDE

Hi Ben,
Rule # 1— never buy a used steel boat unless the interior is completely stripped out and you can see every inch of the hull interior— or unless it was built by an exceptional builder like Ed Rutherford from Waterline Boats (http://www.cruisingworld.com/sailboats/waterline-50-seriously-skookum) or built like the little jewel featured in “Why Not Steel?” on this site.
I know, because I was sorely tempted recently. I found the only cure was to hit my thumb with a hammer once per hour until sanity returned. The boat in question looks better than a new fiberglass boat on the outside after having numerous plates and the entire deck replaced, re-faired, and painted. But half repaired is less than half good enough when the original construction was faulty, and it is being offered for sale for less than the cost of the rig and engine after failing survey and scaring away a previous buyer.

On the other hand, I went through the used Waterline 50 from the above article a few years ago when it was sitting alongside a brand new Oyster. No reflection upon the Oyster, but I’d take the ten year old Waterline first if I had to choose.

ben

Hi RDE. yep. I knew that rule, And violated on the first steel boat I bought. when we hauled to do the “minor” pit and “small defect” repairs 18 months ago, we blew 5 holes through the boat with the blast cleaning (UHP waterblasting, 40,000 psi to get to bare steel – very cool). I was not impressed with the boat though.

We ended up pretty much stripping the interior, peeling back foam, and cutting out about 50 square feet of steel to be replaced. We also re-welded the main keel-hull plate joint, audiogauged the entire hull, replaced standpipes, removed the engine (rebuilt the bearers), cut access holes into the tanks (thru the keel plate!), opened up and re-built the rudder, stiffened the rudder post, added a stem doubler and bull nose with mooring eye, and generally frigged with every damn part of the supposedly solid-as-a-rock hull (and part of the deck).

I am in a lucky position where as a mechanical engineer, I work daily with top-notch, highly certified & marine-experienced welders, weld engineers, naval architects, metallurgists and coatings experts, so I was able to do the work at rock-bottom ‘friendly’ prices. Even so, it pushed my resources to the max.

I trust what I have now, as I’ve laid eyes (and ultrasonics, and hammers, and grinders, and welding rods, and paint and foam) on everything there is below the waterline. and most of what is above too. But it sure as shit wasn’t cheap or easy.

Truth be told, I would not do it again. I’ve learned enough on this to know when to walk from a steel boat. But I love what I’ve got now!

I will say that it is a veritable minefield out there when it comes to (used) metal yacht manufacturing standards. Yachts occupied a real grey area in standards for many years. The commercial guys I hired to do my refit were aghast at the standard to which my boat was built (which is partially why it cost me so damn much to rebuild it – they wouldn’t do anything less than what they were taught was ‘right’). This has gotten a bit better recently I think, with the European directorates and ABYC standards, but there’s still nothing really stopping any old dude with a welder from sticking plates together, caulking the gaps and calling it a boat. Caveat Emptor…

…Oh, and having done nearly everything else but, I’m now very interested in Aluminum – but the lack of a defined material proportional limit has my spidey senses tingling… 🙂

Marc Dacey

I have to ask: did not a pre-purchase survey reveal these sort of defects? We had a commercial surveyor who worked primarily in steel check out ours and while it helped that the boat had not seen salt water, we really worked with cameras and mirrors to peer down every cranny.

Art Watson

This article, and Ben’s comments above, has me thinking about the beautiful Arcturus and John’s Fastnet 45, and I find it all really scary. The previous owner spent $35,000 on improvements, and barely made that back while basically giving the boat away. Andy and Mia sank $41,000 and hundreds of hours into their project, and took a $50,000 loss when they sold her, even after valuing all those hundreds of hours of hard labor at zero.

How could this scenario possibly make any rational sense? I guess the answer has to be, “Who said rationality had anything to do with it?”

(John, there’s a Fastnet 45 available on Yacht World right now. Ready for another go?) ☺️

ben

You said it Art. it makes no rational sense at all!! but it is not the first or the most unusual human activity that makes no rational sense…

I am going to take the other tack, and say that there is also an immense pleasure that comes from the sense of achievement; a sense of satisfaction and personal pride that goes a long way when one has completed a staggeringly large refit project; and is not bankrupt, recently divorced (due to the project) or hospitalized. The skills, experiences, lessons and people met during the process help form an individual and are useful across many aspects of life.

We choose how we spend our time in hobbies, and how we develop our character and skill… boat rebuilds are one way to do both. Expensive, painful at times, frustrating and trying… to be sure. But effective!!

I have met many, and currently know several, folks who are damn good boat builders/rebuilders; but who are terrible seamen and do not wish to spend any time aboard long term voyagers. My problem is I still enjoy both; and I’m too stubborn to throw in the cards at times. As such, I pay. In blood, cash and time… and so far it’s been (mostly) a fun ride.

could I have chosen better at times? Absolutely. Does it really matter in the bigger picture?

…I guess we’ll find out at the end!

John Harries

Hi Ben,

A really great analysis of the issues in two comments, thank you.

Andy

Hi Ben,

I was going to respond to Art’s comment myself, but you said it better than I could have! Who cares about rationality when passion overcomes any sense of it! If the point was getting from A to B by the most efficient way possible, you’d jump on an airplane. But that’s the not the point. I like old boats and to me it’s worth it to put some time and money into them for my own enjoyment. How do you put a value on that? How would you live your life if money was no object? That’s kind of my philosophy, and I’ve figured out how to make that work by making sailing a career rather than just a hobby. I’m smart enough and well-educated enough to have a high-profile, high-paying job somewhere else, but I don’t want that. Is that rational? Probably not. But I’ve got two things a lot of my friends don’t – time and an ability to create my own destiny.

Andy

John Harries

Hi Art,

I think that’s a good analysis and, to be frank, if these articles make people scared of refits, I think we will have done a good service. That’s not to say that refits are always a bad idea, but approaching them with a healthy fear of failure is a good idea and increases the chances of success.

Paul McEvoy

I feel it. I have put an insane amount into a Pearson Triton I bought for $6500 and could maybe sell for $10k if I got lucky. Cost benefit analysis says I should have cut it up after the first season working on it.

The sad thing is that if I bought a larger boat it would make more sense to pull the things I put into it (Ais gps radar windlass windvane) off it and install them in a new boat. But it is coming along as a little diamond in the rough and it would be hard to do it.

Then I ponder if I could just keep her forever and be a guy who goes far on a small boat.

The amount of time everything takes is just insane. I just did 8 12+ hour days in a row working on the boat. It’s amazing how the time flies by. I barely took a break. I got a lot done but there’s still days and days to go on this refit.

But it looks awesome down below. And I’ve had a variety of amazing times on the boat.

Scott Dufour

Hi Paul,

You said, “I just did 8 12+ hour days in a row working on the boat. It’s amazing how the time flies by. I barely took a break.”

I wonder if your experience is the same as mine: that work sounds like heaven. When I’m at my day job, I’m forever aware of exactly what time it is, and how much emotional discipline is needed to go on to the next task. But when I’m working like you described, on something I love… well, then it ain’t work so much. The hours go winging by, and that beer at the end of the day, surveying what got done and what still needs doing – so much better than sailing a desk in air conditioning.

The refit process itself can be as rewarding as sailing. It, too, is part of the journey, right?

Paul McEvoy

Ha! I confess I’m stressed and miserable. Doing big jobs at the dock, hoping not to piss off my neighbors too much, money pouring out of my pockets, taking on way too many jobs, working at a frantic rate…not my favorite.

But I love sailing and living on a boat. I kinda was dumb in what I bought but it’s getting nicer. I’m finishing up some huge jobs and the boat is much much nicer.

It’s just torn apart right now and I’m hoping to leave June 1st so it’s a continual freak out. But an adventure, surely.

Sorry.
Paul

Scott Dufour

Oh. That surely does not sound like heaven.

I guess it falls into Mark Twain’s observation: “Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do. Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.”

Good luck. June approacheth.

Paul McEvoy

Thanks Scott. I’m into more enjoyable portions of the job now but I don’t know how anyone can really enjoy doing fiberglass work. So unpleasant.

Wiring is fun though.

Dave

Dave

Andy

Thanks for a honest review of the cost verses ending value of your refit project. I just finished a article on the refit of Horace Dodges SS Delphine. The refit cost 45 million and she is listed for sale for 22 million. As one of my friends says “what does need have to with anything, I like it and I can afford it” Having rebuilt a engine and bought new, I vote for new every time. The Volvo parts were insanely expensive and I still had a old engine with old technology and hard to find parts.

Dick Stevenson

Hi Andy and all,
I enjoyed your article and the memories it revived.
A couple of words about chainplates and the bolts that hold them in place.
It is my understanding, contrary to casual appearances, that the forces holding the chainplates in place have more to do with friction (hull surface to chainplate) than with the shear strength of the chosen bolts for the job. If memory serves, engineering types I have communicated with have said as much as 80% is attributed to friction.
Friction being so important leads to the hull and backing plates being absolutely in-compressible (is this a word?) and the nuts unable to back off (Nyloc, Loctite or the like) and likely best applied with a torque wrench. Any compression of the backing plate/hull or backing off of the nut will loosen the bolt, decrease friction and throw the rig’s integrity on the shear strength of the bolts, a situation the bolts were not designed for. So, I would suggest, no coring if fg and no plywood for backing plates (backing plates on my 40 foot vessel are 3/8 inch stainless). Your choice (and emphasis on dense) fg sounds good, but solid metal sounds better (again an engineering question as I am unfamiliar with how compressible your fg suggestion is). Your report of sheared bolts leading to a rig loss might not be the bolts fault if they were at all loose.
Before all the readers go out to buy titanium bolts, might I suggest that your metal choice is likely overkill supported by your having easy access and good contacts with the fabricator. What is most important is not the bolts shear strength, but the bolts ability to provide the requisite tension and then to keep that tension in place.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Alastair

Hi Dick,
You are correct it is the surface friction that matters. In my day job I use friction to lift up to 500 tons over a remarkably small area or apply torques up to 33000 ftlbs. Also, if we think about it more a brake disc will arrest and hold many tons of force. However, it is also good design to have a bolt that can withstand the expected shear load should the chain plate slip for whatever reason e.g. many small bolts, or 4 big bolts – both arrangements would provide the correct clamping force but the larger 4 x bolt arrangement might save the day if the chain plate slipped and the bolts saw a larger shear load. The small bolts would probably unzip if the chain plate lost its grip as they would not all share equal portions of the load i.e. a sudden and extreme slap from falling off a wave.

Eric Klem

Hi Dick,

You are correct that we usually try to use friction to carry the loads in a joint. Many people are afraid of friction and want a mechanical lock but friction is actually one of the best ways to hold something as it is essentially zero backlash. By measuring the torque you put on a fastener, you can get an approximation of the tension in that fastener. Assuming there are no forces trying to pull the joint apart, this tension is then your joint normal force which you multiply by your coefficient of friction to get the force the joint can hold. A good conservative cof for steel on steel is 0.15 and fiberglass on steel will be slightly higher (I don’t generally run into this in my day job so I haven’t seen enough data to give an exact number).

In general, you want to make all of your bolted connections rigid so that there is never any movement. If the preload in the bolts of a rigid joint exceed the load that will ever be placed on it to try to pull the joint apart, then those bolts will not be subject to fatigue as the load on them will never change. Also, bolts are very poor at load sharing in shear as the tolerances are such that 1 bolt carries the load until it yields enough that another starts to carry the load, etc.

One thing to note when composites are involved is creep. If you are counting on friction based on the tension in the bolts, this tension can go down over time if the material creeps. In bolted steel connections, this isn’t an issue but it definitely is when you start to introduce thick pieces of composite. This may mean you need a periodic re-torque or that you need to put a spring in the system and sometimes you just can’t win and have to accept it and design around it. For chain plates on a fiberglass boat, I would definitely make sure the bolts could handle the load in shear and if the spacing is wide, be aware that they may not load share well due to different material stiffnesses. The good news is that usually if a bolt can put sufficient clamping force for a friction joint, it can usually easily handle the shear load.

Until I had a lot of experience with a torque wrench, I had no idea how much I tended to overtigthen small bolts and undertighten large ones.

Eric

John Harries

Hi Eric, Dick and Alastair,

Thanks for a really interesting thread of comments that tells me, together with this comment from Rossd that I need to completely rethink my Jordan Series Drogue chain plates, particularly since I mounted them with a plastic shim between the plate and aluminium hull in an effort to reduce galvanic action.

I’m thinking I need to get an engineer to redesign them, maybe in aluminium to obviate the need for the shim, and with larger bolts.

The other thing that comes to mind is that many chain plates are installed on a painted or gellcoated surface, which must, I think, reduce friction.

Anyway, just shows how an experience sailor (me) can make a fundamental error due to not understanding the underlying factors properly.