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.
Stuff That Worked
New sails: My largest investment was $5,880 for new sails from Quantum Sails and Mobile’s Dabney Sailmakers—a main with three sets of reef points, and three jibs: 100 percent, 150 percent, and a hank-on storm jib. After 30 days of 24-hour sailing that ranged from dead calms to whole gale, plus a full week of 25-knot winds and 12-foot seas off Portugal, I can say unequivocally that nothing counts offshore like good sails.
Belowdecks autopilot: In place of the wheel, I retrofitted a tiller, which returned the feel of sailing and cleared out the cockpit. But the $2,300 Autohelm Sailpilot 5000 sailed Ranger to Europe.
New electrical system: With the possible exception of old drain hoses, nothing showed Ranger’s 30 years and four owners more clearly than its electrical system—a greasy, corroded, and brittle rat’s nest with all kinds of things wired directly to batteries. I tore it all out, ran reels of 14- and 16-gauge wire, and installed new DC and AC distribution boxes, cabin lights, busses, and fused subcircuits. The $3,769 I spent on electrical parts included a $1,724 Jack Rabbit Marine power system with 125-amp alternator and smart charger. A tedious job, but it’s done for my lifetime.
Upgraded fuel tanks: Had Ranger’s Yanmar engine not quit 200 yards from the haulout marina due to fuel sediment shaken up by a Mobile Bay southerly chop, I might never have opened the fuel tanks to check them out. Oh, my word! Removing and cleaning the fuel tanks—scrubbing black varnish and dead algae—is one of the orneriest jobs in the yard, but what peace of mind it afforded me after the deed was done. I also spent $1,587 for an additional tank, a Racor 500 filter, line fittings, and a manifold with four-way valves (intake and return) for each tank.
Propane stove/gimballed oven: This Force 10 three-burner range cost $1,260 including tank and safety valves. It took time to overcome the fear of propane—roughly the three minutes the new stove needed to boil tea water and the 15 minutes to bake cornbread. When first mate Wally Wallace handed up another hot meal—mashed potatoes, gravy, canned chicken, and steamed broccoli—the Atlantic Ocean receded. During the 1,800-mile Bermuda-to-Azores leg, three men ate three hot meals for 16 days using propane from a 10-pound tank.
Luxuries I Liked
Self-tailing winches: After years of rubberized squeeze-top self-tailer conversions on the original winches, the $1,440 I spent for a pair of Anderson self-tailers provided a great upgrade for solo watches.
Radar: At the first glimpse of a ship on the horizon, we flipped on the $1,150 Furuno Model 1622 radar and tracked the blip across a 16-mile radius. I mounted it on a swinging arm so we could view it below or in the cockpit.
Galley foot pump: This $80 addition sipped water from a 45-gallon system, conserving tank water and enabling us to take half-gallon swabbings every few days with engine-heated pressurized water that ran to the head.
Satellite phone: A rented Iridium unit ($110 per month) and a $1,000 Dell laptop offered morale and safety boosts. With them, we sent and received e-mails, including weather forecasts and notes from family, and we called mothers on Mother’s Day and other boats in the fleet to report our position and commiserate. One boat answered cheerily, “Mike’s Pizza.” While I had dreamed of a custom-built navigation station, I kept the laptop in a waterproof case and set it up on the dinette table while the helmsmen held the phone outside.
SSB/shortwave: Between my Si-Tex NavFax 200 single-sideband (SSB) with external antenna ($620 with Xaxero weatherfax software) and my trusty Yacht Boy, we were always able to tune in Herb Hilgenberg or other weather forecasts and advisories.
Fixed-mount GPS: Our Garmin GPS 162 ($400) with external antenna and 15-foot accuracy, mounted in the “nav station” (a tabletop), was terrific. Still, my 4-year-old, one-channel Garman GPS II did yeoman work under the dodger. I kept a spare handheld ($100) in the abandon-ship bag.
Three tools: a Dremel rotary tool ($120 kit), a cordless drill ($40), and, in the yard, a Porter-Cable reciprocating sander ($100).