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Sailing Totem: The 40-Year Refit

In the midst of our massive 40-year refit of our Stevens 47, Totem, we’re still dreaming: Do we want to make the changes needed to fly a Code Zero?

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Shrimp boat
It’s a shrimping town: Shrimp boats launch from the Cabrales Boatyard, where we’re tackling Totem’s 40-year refit. Behan Gifford

We’re calling our extended refit “the 40-year refit,” as our Stevens 47, Totem, was built in 1982. There was a brief time last year when the effort was optimistically referred to as the 39-year refit. Ha! Projects grew as we saw an opportunity to make lasting improvements. Some are essential, but many are quality-of-life additions we’ll appreciate for years to come.

I’ve started cataloging the 40-year refit in four sections: repowering; improvements to the hull & deck; cabin updates and interior improvement; and systems updates. In May 2021 (it’s really been that long), I made a list of refit projects we planned to tackle. There has been great progress on some, little on others, and a lot of additional effort we didn’t even imagine. 

Here’s a rundown of some of the biggest and most essential projects.

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Repowering with Beta. A 70 hp (turbo) Beta will replace Totem’s 75-hp Yanmar 4JH3-TE. The new engine has a long way to travel, starting with fabrication at Kubota in Japan, then getting marinized at Beta in the United Kingdom, then arriving at the US distributor in North Carolina for customization, after which it’s shipped to us in Arizona and we bring it into Mexico. 

boat engine
Guiding the engine out of Totem. Behan Gifford
Yanmar 4JH3-TE
Our Yanmar 4JH3-TE is out! Behan Gifford
engine compartment
Jamie gazes into a very empty engine compartment. We removed our 75-hp Yanmar 4JH3-TE and will replace it with a 70 hp (turbo) Beta. Behan Gifford

Primed for hull paint. Last week, Totem was moved into the paint shed at Cabrales Boatyard. AlexSeal’s matterhorn white is on order from the San Diego Marine Exchange. I couldn’t get my family to go along with an international orange boot stripe, but we all like the deep shade of green that’s planned.

We moved Totem into the paint shed, which affords better protection during painting. Behan Gifford
GN Espace construction
The gap on the right is perfectly sized for the GN Espace, our new propane stove. Behan Gifford

Cooking with GN Espace. Taunting me from the porch of our temporary land digs, the OceanChef propane cooker (that’s UK English for stove) ticked every box for me. I’ll share more after it’s installed; feast your eyes here for now. We’re excited to put it to use.

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Replacing the chainplate. We’re replacing Totem’s headstay, the only chainplate we didn’t replace in 2008. The machine shop at Cabrales did fine work with a piece of 316 stainless steel. Jamie is scheming about how to adapt it for a sprit so we can fly a cruising Code Zero. We’re trying to avoid project creep, but wouldn’t that be cool, to have the ability to fly a Code Zero?

interior construction
Jamie is scheming how to adapt Totem’s layout for a sprit so we can fly a cruising Code Zero. Wouldn’t that be cool? Behan Gifford

Adding swim steps. Jamie made the first cuts into Totem’s reverse transom in May. It’s all done now except for the priming and painting. 

Jorge and Jamie
Jorge is a skilled carpenter who has been a great work partner to Jamie. Behan Gifford

Updating cabins. We thought we’d make a few changes to freshen things up. Ha, a few changes! Most of Totem’s vertical and horizontal surfaces, from bulkheads to lockers, are being rebuilt. This project is radical and slightly overwhelming: interior design is not our strong suit. (Advice is welcome.) The traditionalists will bemoan the loss of all that lovely teak finish below, but we think it’s going to be great.

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Thru-hulls have moved. Gray-water tanks have been created. Cabin sole is being replaced in some areas, and there has been a lot of bulkhead reinforcing because the low humidity here sucks out moisture and exposes hidden rot. There’s a long “bonus project” list.

main cabin
It’s a little hectic belowdecks in the main cabin. Behan Gifford

Some big decisions are still pending, such as selections for a new battery bank. We know we want to migrate from AGMs to lithium. Weighing the pros and cons of different setups takes focused time we haven’t been able to dedicate.

Our son, Niall, who is our happiness engineer, has finished his visit with us and is back on his college campus now, eyeing graduation in May 2022, and possibly not disappointed that our delays improve his chances of joining us for extended passagemaking.

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