Refits, What You Need to Know

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When I think back on over 18 years of publishing this site and discussing our articles with you, our readers, it is clear to me that the subject of refits, including how to do them well and, even more importantly, whether to do them at all, is one of the most important things we write about in our continuing effort to help more people get out there offshore voyaging.

A refit of an older boat done well can make it possible to get out there cruising for a fraction of what a new, or even fairly new, boat would cost.

But a refit that goes wrong can destroy enough of the owner’s hard-earned savings to adversely affect their financial situation for life. I kid you not, unless you are crazy-rich a bad refit can be a life-altering event, and not in a good way, particularly these days when investment returns are low and employment returns more tenuous, so that financial recovery is way harder than it was when I made my refit mistake.

So to help you do a good refit we have just reorganized all of our articles on the subject. And while doing that we realized that there are different ways to get the job done, so we have split the articles up by author:

Andy Schell—Three Refits

In four articles, Andy Schell, iconic professional sailor of 59 North and the On The Wind Podcast, shares the stories of his and Mia’s three refits—these two are even crazier than Phyllis and me, in that I was 58 by the time I completed my third refit, he’s done three before 33!

  • The state of the boat at the start.
  • The new gear they chose.
  • The things they fixed and changed.
  • The things they didn’t.
  • And, most important of all, what it all cost and how long it all took.

This is solid-gold information that will help anyone get out there and stay out there, refit or not.

Clip on, this is an incredibly valuable, although sometimes rough, voyage through the refit sea.

Colin—An Offshore Sailboat for US$100,000

Few people in the world have sailed, worked on and fixed more different types of boats than AAC European Correspondent and professional sailor, Colin Speedie.

In four articles Colin uses that expertise to share how to select an older boat and then refit it into a simple and safe offshore cruising boat, all for US$100,000 or maybe even a bit less.

John—Planning a Refit

We are dreaming of palm trees and surfing the listings at YachtWorld for a boat to take us there, but wait, have we thought about how we will actually make this happen? Or is that level of planning even possible?

Yes, it is. In this ongoing series I take a step-by-step approach to planning a refit using the experience I have gained doing three refits, as well as what I have learned from Andy and Colin, coupled with consulting with industry experts in each field.

This is a deep dive into the stuff that will really make the difference between a successful cruising boat and a floating nightmare that will bleed us dry, both emotionally and financially.

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Stein Varjord

Nice updates, and I totally agree that these topics are the ones most people are busy with when wanting to get into serious cruising.

After many decades exposed to questions about boats and what to do with them, I think there’s also another side to the questions, which might be the more important side:
What type of person will take on the project?

We all have different qualities, and we all change through life. Taking on a boat refit for the first time is definitely going to change you in many ways, in addition to probably new practical skills. Most who finish the project judge it as something they are happy to have done, but not all. Close to all who don’t get to the end of it either see it as a life changing failure, or mentally block the realisation.

I’ve come to think that it seems possible to mostly predict how it will end by looking at the personal properties and preferences, and how that pairs with the type of project chosen. I frequently see fascinating old wooden boats that could be amazing if fixed up. I have the skills and stamina to be able to finish it, but I can see the quantity of work and cost. I just don’t want that much.

Those who take it on are normally real professionals with that type of boat, or “dreamers”. The latter might love much of the process, but often have zero appreciation of how much or how long. If remaining in that “dreamer” state, they will also not get to the end of a very easy project. Our mental choices dictate how a project looks to us and how we are able to get progress.

This is just scratching the surface, of course. Perhaps this could be the topic of articles here?
How to find out what your mindset is.
How to match that with the right type of boat.
How to take care of your wellbeing while taking on a boat.
How to not loose your spouse by getting a boat.
More?

IAN MCCALLUM

There is an excellent post every Sunday on YouTube called “ Refitting Athena’ Sail Life, from Denmark. Just about everything you need to know about refitting an old boat, and entertaining to follow his progress. The best show of its kind.

Ernest E Vogelsinger

Also quite remarkable: the story of Duca and Roberta in Brazil: https://www.youtube.com/c/OddLifeCrafting/videos
Highly interesting, honest, and heartwarming.

Philip Wilkie

It’s my ‘Mads Monday’ here in Brisbane.

Also very good is a trawler rebuild “Project Brupeg”, a couple of fellow kiwis in Bundaberg completely redoing a big old trawler. I get a lot of value out it because of the steel boat aspect.

The other really well loved couple here in Australia are Troy and Pascal’s “Free Range Sailing”.

But enough using John’s platform to spruik other people’s channels; I’ll get into even hotter water than usual. Still I think it’s worth saying that the arrival of the sailing YT channel has had a big impact on our world, mostly for the better I think.

MC remains an essential source in my view, the mere fact of John charging for membership weeds out a lot of rubbish and ensures people put a value of their behaviour here. But with that in mind I’d really enjoy it if John could find his way to put up more YT/Patreon video based material. I’d imagine he’s got reasons to be reluctant, but it’s worth a think about.

Alex Borodin

John, to add to your point: I lost count of youtube channels, where a young couple takes on a complete rebuild of a long neglected or seriously worn out or hard-grounded or hurricane-damaged sailboat. As if that’s the best idea in their lives, because the boat was almost free.

Rich Morrow

I think the idea of a quick and easy re-build of a boat in doubtful condition is today’s version of the un-grounded romantic fantasy that has deluded many would be cruisers. For a previous generation it was Arthur Piver telling them that they could whack together a sea-going vessel out of old packing crates over the course of a couple of week-ends. It doesn’t work out that way. This is a great series, tempering the dream with real data – the cash, the time, the skills and the iron will needed to see a major project through. And, perhaps it’d be fair to say that all boats are ongoing rebuilds. Being “done” is a very temporary state of affairs, because there is always something else coming up in the repair, replace, upgrade cycle.

Stein Varjord

Hi Rich,
Well said. About being «done», I’ve been asked an obscene number of times something like “when is it finished?” My answer is always: “Haven’t you noticed it’s a boat? Boats never get finished!” 🙂

IAN MCCALLUM

I agree John. It’s like watching the Iron Chef cooking show compared to Julia Child. It’s entertainment. Keep up your present format. Thanks

Philip Wilkie

In his defense I have to say that Mads is well aware of this – he’s stated quite a few times that the rebuild is an entirely legitimate part of the experience for him. He clearly loves planning, doing the work, learning new skills, obsessing over details and solving problems.

The good news is that he’s sticking to a very disciplined timeframe and should be in the water soon.

Philip Wilkie

Correction – out of the marina soon. Let’s just say he’s highly motivated by an impending date with his fiancée.

Joshua Marieholm

The obsession of Mads for details ? Naaaa he work well but far away attention to beautiful…is to raw…

Joshua Marieholm

I refit 2 boat completely … I got the fortune to work in a shipyard and a with experience you can really figure out the final cost of the total refit.
Is a an expert job .. not for the dreamers…… dreamers sunk with their boat😜 because didn’t figure out the cost and the experience you need to have. Also many other guys around that refit. I got for perfection….This is the result of my experience
https://youtube.com/c/sea4see