Ranger’s Refit—and the Real Rewards
Inspired by the fateful day of September 11, 2001, this sailor brings his old 35-foot Allied Seabreeze to life for a transatlanic journey.
The crossing would prove a rigorous test bed for equipment and workmanship. Soon, Ranger’s refit list ran to four pages with 175 tasks, the workload so daunting that I’d often lie down on a bunk just to ponder it and wake up tired. Then I happened upon an American Sailing Association cruising text that recommended starting the process with two fundamentals: 1.) Keep water out of the boat. 2.) Make the boat go. With refreshing starkness, priorities immediately fell into place: 1.) Hull, through-hulls, drains, hatches, ports, and bilge pumps. 2.) Sails, rigging, hardware, electricity, fuel, engine. All else—including crew safety and care, navigation, and communication—would follow.
One of my best early investments was a $300 offshore seminar put on by Steve Black and Hal Sutphen for cruisers participating in the Caribbean 1500 rally from Virginia to the British Virgin Islands—three days of lectures from people who’d been there. Faced with bewildering choices, especially among a mind-boggling selection of electronics, I learned that what I really needed was a new suit of sails. What I didn’t need, they said, was a $4,000 marinized laptop computer. I came away with specific brand recommendations and—more important—reassurance that Ranger and I could sail offshore.
Back in the boatyard, emerging each day from the bowels of the vessel, I realized that doing a refit yourself isn’t like packing a parachute; it’s like sewing one. Taking apart and putting together—bolt by bolt, stainless-steel screw by endless wire—I began to know what Ranger was made of. When gusts jarred the rigging east of the Azores, I was glad I’d dug out and replaced all eight chainplates ($175), a known weakness in Seabreezes. Ditto, when a gale threw wads of water that struck like a ball peen hammer on Ranger’s four new Lexan ports ($110).
To meet the deadline, I hired $2,000 in yard labor, but contractors tackled what I termed “normal” jobs while my friends and I did the protracted, often creative, tasks peculiar to an old boat. Mike Englett, Darryl Cooke, Wally Wallace, Tony Barbee, and Mike McGraw were angels with grease on their hands. Still, it was stunning how the bills mounted, and I was shocked to learn, after adding up the receipts, that Ranger’s refit—which didn’t include any transatlantic costs or safety gear required by ARC—had so far cost $34,847, exceeding the purchase price of the boat.
The bulk of this I’d spent on hardware, electronics, and sails, followed by the electrical-system and galley expenses. I carried many spares, but with few exceptions (rigging cable, fittings, filters), most of Ranger’s redundancy was in the form of older items that had been replaced, such as the bilge pump and the alternator.
A few items could be ascribed to having eyes bigger than my needs. Nevertheless, I believe that six years from now, the bottom line would have been the same. And if I’d spent the equivalent $70,000 on a newer boat, it still would have needed upgrades before cruising to Europe. Just before departure, the insurance surveyor appraised Ranger as being “above average” at $53,500. That’s an inflated market price for a 1970 Allied Seabreeze. But to borrow a page from Enron, owning an old sailboat creates a price-versus-value calculus that’s, well, better viewed offshore, which was exactly where we were bound, with a crew of three, in the spring of 2002 as part of the ARC Europe fleet.