“Do it while you’re young” is the phrase I hear most often-from cruisers, non-cruisers, and just plain strangers. When Meggie pulls into an anchorage before sunset, I can sense other sailors’ curiosity as they look at our 30-foot wood ketch and realize that it’s sailed by such a young couple: Mike’s 31 now, and I’m 27. The dinghies inevitably begin to make their way over once we’ve set our anchor.
It was easy for my husband and me to make the decision to go cruising. Actually, we never really sat down and discussed it; it just became our goal. We wanted to experience what life has to offer while we were young, healthy, and fit. Too many times we’ve seen cruisers who are young at heart but whose fitness level isn’t what it once was; their words are always “I wish I’d done this years ago, when I was your age.”
The first time Mike and I ever set foot on a sailboat was the day we launched our first boat, Journey, a 27-foot Hughes Columbia that we’d refit. Mike thought it would be a good sport for us to learn together. At the time, I was the manager of a furniture boutique; Mike was a finish carpenter who’d served his apprenticeship with a small company that built custom homes. We lived in Thornbury, on Georgian Bay in Ontario.
We knew Meggie was what we were looking for the first time we saw her classic lines and beautiful wood hull. We felt like she had a soul. Meggie is a Cheoy Lee Bermuda 30 with a cutter-ketch rig. She was built in 1964 in Hong Kong of 1 1/8-inch Burmese teak and weighs just a little more than 13,000 pounds.
I know what you’re probably thinking: “Are they crazy?”
Meggie’s planking and keelson were in excellent condition, and although we knew we’d have to give her some TLC, we never fully anticipated just how much. But she had great bones, and we were confident and prepared to do what was needed to make our dream a reality. Month by month, the work she needed revealed itself, and our list of projects grew: Repair the cabin top. Replace all ports and install their new teak frames. Strip the varnish on combings, cabin trunk, and bulkheads and repair problem areas. Reshape the bowsprit and refasten it. Rig the cutter properly and purchase new sails. Replace lifelines, stanchions, and bases. Build a custom teak stern rail and forward hatch. Install new winch platforms incorporating two additional winches. Replace eight floor timbers. The list goes on.
Coat after coat of Epifanes varnish was gradually added to Meggie in the spring. Finally, the fall before we planned to head off on our adventure, Mike watched the flex and shape of the masts while we reached along in 20 knots. Given their age, it was clear to him we needed to build new ones.
The research began. Magazines and books littered our coffee table and nightstands; our surroundings were cluttered with a multitude of printed pages from countless websites. Sourcing wood and deciding on construction technique, the type of glue, and alterations were all major issues that required research. Not to mention the fact that we needed a workshop. After a month of prep and months of study, we had our wood, a design, and a workspace-kindly offered by our local sail shop, Gyles Sails and Marine. Mike and I began working like maniacs. Days turned into nights. Weekdays turned into weekends.
Finally, after months of intensive labor, with the spars now perfectly tapered, all new hardware carefully laid out, and 14 coats of varnish applied, Meggie’s masts were works of art and ready to be stepped.
Next, with the exception of the V-berth and galley, we ripped Meggie’s interior out, stripped the paint, and exposed the beautiful teak planking beneath. We expected to find a couple of broken ribs; instead, we found 10. We replaced them by laminating white oak strips together, placing the pieces in temporarily to take their shape, then gluing them down permanently. This procedure complete, we varnished the planking. A new interior-including shelving, settees, a mahogany-planked sole, a pantry area, and a head-began to unfold.
After we applied fresh paint to the topsides and cabin top and bottom paint to the bare keel, Meggie looked smashing, especially with her new nameplates proudly placed at her bow. She was ready to go, and so were we. On July 31, 2006, after three years of work and preparation and after delaying our departure date three times, we headed out of Thornbury’s harbor for the last time, beginning what we hoped would be a long journey. We hoisted sails on that beautiful day, and we haven’t stopped sailing since. As I write this, we’ve been cruising for nine months, and we’ve been married for five years. We’re currently preparing to leave the Dominican Republic for Puerto Rico, and we’re planning to spend hurricane season in Venezuela. We’ll keep going as long as we can and as long as it’s fun.
Have you redecorated or rebuilt your boat’s interior? Are you particularly proud of the results? Send before and after pictures to Makeovers & Refits c/o Cruising World (55 Hammarlund Way, Middletown, RI 02842). We’ll use the best ones in CW.