In 1892 Joshua Slocum singlehandedly rebuilt the “Spray,” a 36 foot wooden sloop in New Bedford, MA. In his book “Sailing Around the World Alone,” Slocum told that “the ‘Spray’ changed her being so gradually that it was hard to say at what point the old died or the new took birth.”
In September of 2010 I decided to embark on the romantic journey of owning my own boat. I bought “Ballad” at the confluence of several events in my life. I sold my comfortable home in Hood River, OR, bartered or gave away most of my furniture, found a boat in New Bedford MA, bought it, had it trucked across the country to Anacortes, WA and adopted a more minimalist existence living in a 600 square foot cottage in this scenic Pacific Northwest seafaring community. All in the same month!
Searching for the right boat is like searching for the right spouse. You want to have your eyes wide open until the Marriage Certificate rests in your palm. Then you close your eyes, log out of, leave the glossy brochures and magazines on the shelf and accept the decision you have made.
The Bill Lapworth 1971 Cal 43 that I discovered in New Bedford, MA was exactly what I was looking for, albeit some modernization and reconditioning were in order. I have Hull 16 of an alleged 14 hulls. It is fuzzy math, I know. Still, there is little dispute that she is a Lapworth design built by Jensen Marine for Cal Yachts.
I personally prefer the lines and nostalgia of genuine classic yachts. Notably, early Sparkman & Stephen and Bill Lapworth designs from the late ’60’s and early ’70’s. They have a character of a fine aged wine or a vintage classical musical instrument. The lines are exquisite, organic, intelligently crafted, and timelessly beautiful. Moreover, they perform well even by today’s competitive standards!
Unfortunately, most of these boats need significant upgrades to be reliable, safe, and comfortable cruising yachts. The upgrades that “Ballad” needed were far beyond the scope of my abilities.
“Ballad” belonged to Sue Miller and the late John Barmack. The refit really began under their helm, where a new Yanmar engine was installed and her custom rudder was designed and carefully crafted by John. (See “Tale of Three Rudders” in Blue Water Cruising Magazine.) After John’s passing, Sue decided to sell the boat. She personally showed me the vessel and took an interest in “Ballad’s” legacy. I will be forever grateful for our friendship.
Upon her arrival in Anacortes, “Ballad” was greeted by the team at Marine Service Center on a clear fall afternoon in 2010. I had made prior arrangements with the Yard Manager, Skip Dassler to have the deck painted, build a propane locker, and commission the boat. I don’t think either one of us knew what we were really about to accomplish.
It is now January 2012 and we are almost finished with the project. I think the only original parts left now are the hull, the compass, and the beautiful Mahogany interior which is currently being stripped and reconditioned.
The cabin top, which revealed high levels of moisture, has been re-cored. A fiberglass traveller combing and integrated companionway hood were custom fitted to provide function and aesthetics to her design.
Jim Rard, the owner of Marine Service Center, worked closely with Skip and Sparcraft to design and build a new mast and boom. We opted for a double swept-back spreader in lieu of the single straight spreader. The chainplates were removed and have been replaced with custom crafted chainplates designed by Jim and built by Jeramy Gulick. Jim, Skip, and Dean Vendament were all instrumental in designing and updating the rigging, which is now all lead aft and closely resembles what Jeanneau Yachts have been doing.
Electronics have all been updated, carefully engineered by Dave DeWitt, as was the new Edson Steering system and numerous other improvements, including the anchor launcher, Windlass, entertainment system, and lighting. Dave has a unique ability to adapt ideas from many boats that he has worked on and integrate them into functional form on a hull design that was never intended to have the latest systems.
Randy Salt is credited for installing most of the magic (electrical work). Wood work that is beyond repair or missing has been recreated by Dave Hodgman master carpenter.
Wes Freshour is the paint and fiberglass expert and continues the responsibility of leading most of the aesthetic and fiberglass improvements, including the construction of the previously mentioned traveller combing. He also designed and built the propane and shallow locker handsomely featured under the stern lazarette’s.
Wes removed the rusty galvanized chainplates. He and Tom Halemba repaired and meticulously longboarded, primed and Awlgripped the hull Midnight Blue.
On deck, more than 300 small holes were found beneath 40 years of patchy paint jobs. They were all filled and faired with fiberglass. All the previous deck paint was stripped. Old portholes were re-cut and glassed to accommodate the new Bomar ports. The cockpit sole was reconstructed and reinforced. The deck saw several layers of Hi-Build, sanding, and priming before being Awlgripped Cloud White with Moon Dust Non-Skid. The detail of that job can be closely credited to Wes, Tom, Geo and Dylan Myers.
It took Joshua Slocum 13 months and $553 to turn the “Spray” into the sloop he deemed suitable for adventure. That was 1892. I will not disclose the cost of this refit but it was a bit more than $553.
The project was by no means a singlehanded venture. The cumulative experience and dedication of the crew at Marine Service Center helped me to refit a boat from the old world with many of the upgrades that the new world has given us.
My romantic vision of how a classic yacht should look has been fulfilled. Might I add that there was a distinctive point in the project where the “old died and the new took birth.”
Her new name is “CAVU.” It is an aeronautical term that means “ceiling and visibility unlimited. At 41, she is still in her infancy and we are anticipating a spring launch. The old brave ocean is calling for her return!
Craig Gifford