PART 1 – NEVER FALL IN LOVE WITH A BOAT – or how I retired on a trawler instead of a condo –

( ALL AT SEA - November 2006)


Actually, I wasn’t the one that fell in love with Swan Song – it was Dave.  We had lived on a 37’ CSY cutter, Antares, for seven years and loved it.  However, the price was right so we sold her in 1997.  By the end of 1998, Dave was getting the “heeby – jeebies” from renting a condo, even though it was directly on the water, and began searching the classifieds for our retirement home – a power boat as we were both getting older and wanted more room than a sailboat affords, more storage area and more stability.


With that said, I had no idea he would “search the boatyards” without me when I left for my annual trip to visit grandchildren.  E-mails passed back and forth without mention of a boat.  As soon as I returned Dave told me that he had a surprise “Welcome Home Present”.  He thought it would be nice if he would take a day off work and we could take the ferry to Virgin Gorda.  


“Well, he really missed me if he’s taking a day off,” I thought, complimenting myself. Naturally, I jumped at the chance - picturing a romantic holiday of lolling in hammocks and a delicious lunch on the beach.


I should have known better – how many years does it take to know a man, anyway?  Yep, you’ve got it.  The moment we arrived at the dock we head directly over to Virgin Gorda Boat Yard to look at a boat that Dave had seen, thus admitting he had made this trip before.  Dumb me – I fell for this hook, line and sinker.


Pushing six foot saw grass out of the way, we clomped through mud and water towards the rear of the yard, only to see this monster of an old trawler high and dry on stands.  She looked like I felt, a much older version of a “once fun piece of work” and she definitely needed some TLC.  


By this time, I knew that my sweetie had never even planned for us to have lunch on the beach – however, tramping though a boat yard is indeed Dave’s idea of a romantic outing.  He had contacted the broker before I returned, picked up the key and had permission to go aboard.  Needless to say, once aboard, she had my heart – I loved her just as he knew I would.


POTENTIAL – that was the magic word.  She had wonderful, gorgeous lines and potential galore.  We ferried back to our condo, got out pen and paper and went to work on how we could afford her.  We are not wealthy people so buying a boat is like buying a house – the two big questions are -

1.  How much can we afford to spend?  

2.  Can we buy her for that amount of money without bankrupting the budget or living on a shoestring for the rest of our lives?  

These are important questions for anyone contemplating buying a vessel, of any type.

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Dave and I had both owned boats before so we knew, before we started, that there had to be money left over for maintenance.  A good rule of thumb is 10% a year, of the value of the boat, will be spent on the boat annually – both in maintenance, boat parts, upgrades, etc.  We then took the amount of money that we had spent on rent, and would spend on rent if we didn’t live aboard, and multiplied that by the number of years the actuarial charts said that we would live. This is an excellent way to work the numbers.


Swan Song needed major repairs.  We took the next week to work out a budget for her re-construction.  We divided the work into phases – the exterior bottom, the exterior top, the engine room, the living area, galley & heads and the pilot house.  We then wrote down what our minimum requirements were for each area in labor and materials as well as the time allotted for each.  We also enquired about having her towed to Nanny Cay Marina Boat Yard.


We decided that we could afford her if we did most of the work ourselves.  Dave spoke with his broker who worked out a really good deal for us.  Swan Song was in receivership so all we had to do was pay the yard bill, the broker’s fee and the import duty and taxes.  


With this decided we took the plunge and signed the papers.  Even though it took us years to reconstruct her I have never been sorry.  Boats are like men; once you fall, you spend the rest of your lives loving them!



PART II – SWAN SONG’S RECONSTRUCTION – the second in a series of converting an old trawler to a serious cruising yacht

(ALL AT SEA - December issue 2006)


Part I was the purchase of Swan Song as our Christmas present in 1998; Kevin Rowlette towed our new home to Nanny Cay Marina, Tortola, where the celebrations began.  Dave and I both have January birthdays so following these festivities the serious work began.  Because Dave had a full time job, this reconstruction turned out to be a 7-year project.  


Swan Song has a narrow house, 8’ inside, with covered side decks...nice for docking but we lose 4' of beam in the saloon for the walk-around.  Swan Song originally had mast steps with all rigging attachment points, so we expect it was rigged as a motor-sailor.   The masts were placed, without regard to the compression load they would carry, so the decks became swimming pools.  We hauled her for six months.  Dave replaced all of the decking; he removed 17 thru hulls and fibreglassed the holes.  We added a full teak & stainless swim platform and extended the cockpit roof another five feet thus fully covering it.


Dave barrier coated the bottom, filled, faired and AWL gripped the hull, raising the water line 6” in anticipation of our “cruising load”, and dropped the rudder - putting in all new bushings, bearings and rudder shelf. Our windlass is a Lofrans 3500 lbs dead lift with dual 1/2" chain wildcats and a vertical rope drum. I think that it is so gorgeous it belongs in the design section of MOMA.  We have 400' 1/2" HT ACCO chain with an 88 lb. Delta anchor.  Our second anchor is a Fortress FX-85. We installed a 15 HP 12" Wesmar electric bow thruster with 4 G31 batteries in the bow to power it and the windlass.


Dave completely replaced the dry stack. He moved the muffler into the funnel on the boat deck and turned the exhaust manifold around on our single Detroit Diesel 6-71 engine so that it exits from the front. This eliminated 12' of hot pipe & muffler from the engine room which cut the back pressure in half, better for two cycle engines, thus improving our fuel consumption.  We replaced all windows with custom Diamond SeaGlaze, 1/2" tempered/laminated glass units.  He then installed 16 GC batteries for the house and two 4 KW Trace sinewave inverters as well as a 10-kw generator.  


Another big project was switching to a “Fly-by-Wire” system that controls the engine, rudder, bow thruster and auto pilot – all via redundant data busses.  Swan Song has 6 control stations – port /stbd in the pilothouse, boat deck, engine room, foredeck and stern. Also installed were 4 new bollards – two mid-ship and two on the foredeck.  The mid-ship bollard is at the pivot point allowing the boat to be sprung either fore or aft, depending on rudder & gear direction.


The interior was a 3-cabin 3 head layout with the galley “up” in the house.  We now have master and guest staterooms w/heads.  The galley is “down” located in the old port bunk cabin.  This switch made a huge difference as I like having a galley separate from the living area.  We removed the wall and built a bar/pass-over.  We installed a 12 cu ft fridge with 2" extra insulation, dishwasher, trash compactor, micro/convection/broiler/toaster oven, 3 burner LPG cook-top, double sinks with a water purifier and full Corian countertops – it is a dream.


In the master stateroom he replaced the rotten bulkhead with a new one two feet further forward; this allowed a walk-around platform queen sized bed with lots of storage space underneath. He then added cabinets, two cedar closets and built bookshelves for my vast collection.  Using as much of the old cabinets/drawers/moulding/etc as possible we kept the original look while modernizing.  The master stateroom has a separate air-conditioning system, soft dimmer overhead lighting, individual reading lights, carpet, sound-proof insulation and is painted a lovely soft yellow.  All headliners were changed to a foam backed white vinyl on plywood panels, held with Velcro for easily removable service needs. They also deaden the sound of the engine.  


We lived aboard during most of this restoration but not without adversity.  We continued to cruise with friends and enjoy our islands

SWAN SONG – PART III – The end of reconstruction – the beginning of an adventure (

ALL AT SEA - January issue 2007)


In Parts I & II, I described how we purchased and reconstructed our classic Roughwater 58’ trawler, Swan Song, in the British Virgin Islands.  Upon finishing the interior it was time for Dave to turn his attention to the pilothouse and electronics, which was left until the rest of the vessel was completed.  A computer geek in a former life, he keeps updated on every electronic gizmo on the planet.


We are frugal by nature so Dave watched E-Bay and the Internet for the latest in electronic deals.  As each arrived it was installed.  Before leaving the BVI we were equipped with two Uniden 625c DSC Class D VHFs with 6 and a 9 db antennas, King Air SSB with a 23’ whip antenna, Raymarine 4KW 10” color radar with Marpa, Raymarine 10”color chart plotter with C-map cartridges covering the Turks & Caicos to South America & west to Central America, Raymarine wind speed, angle, depth, knot and temp instruments, Navman fuel gph/mpg system, PC based Coastal Navigator software on a Dell laptop, an AIS receiver connected to the Coastal |Navigator/laptop, Interphase PC180 forward and side looking sonar and three GPSs - Raymarine Raystar 125 GPS, Garmin GPS and a Deluo GPS.  In answering as why we three GPSs – one is for the Raymarine, one is for the computer and one is for the Navman.


On the exterior he installed five 150 watt perimeter flood lights and port/starboard remote control search lights for greater safety and security.  We also have a set of 135 db air horns.  Our dinghy, Leda II, has grown into a vessel in her own right - 14 ½ ft with a 4 stoke 60 HP Mercury, Humminbird chartplotter/depthsounder/GPS; a radar reflector; tanks for 24 gals of fuel for a 100 mile range; an arch with flood/running lights/antennas, etc. and a full power all channel VHF with DSC.


IMHO, the most amazing thing that was added was our roll tank, built on top of the pilothouse for stabilization.  That is a story in itself and will be featured in February’s All At Sea as it needs to be explained more thoroughly.  We are delighted with this as a viable form of stabilization as opposed to klutzy paravanes and expensive active fins.  Our roll tank does the trick - we pitch as much as anyone but the roll is kept to less than 10 degrees and usually fewer than 5 even beam-to in 8’ seas.  


After some wonderful Bon Voyage parties over the years due to over-eagerness, we left in August of ’06 to cruise down to Venezuela for the hurricane season. The forecast of 2-5’ seas and 10-15 knots turned into 5-8’ with occasional 10-12’ and 20-25 kts for the whole trip - ideal weather for our old CSY 37 but less so for a trawler. Swan Song took it in stride and the roll stabilization was just great. We arrived in Puerto la Cruz, the Venice of Venezuela, on the 17th of August, knowing that Swan Song is comfortable and safe at sea.  

We still have some work to do, hey it’s a boat!  Dave’s list is down to two pages. It’s a never ending combination of maintenance and improvements. However, the pressure is off so Dave can enjoy life again. We are currently in the process of getting davits made for Leda II - we towed her 600 miles from the BVI, and during our subsequent cruising, but really need to be able to haul her up from possible theft or loss while towing.

Two important things I might add as advice to potential cruisers – most importantly, keep healthy!  Maintain your body like you do your boat.  Next - pay for improvements as you go along.  This way, when retirement comes, there will be enough money for smelling the roses.   Living on pensions/social security, with savings, is great and because the expensive items are finished, there is actually very little else you will need.

In January of ‘07 we’ll leave Puerto la Cruz and work our way back up the islands to the BVI, then cruise the Spanish Virgins/Puerto Rico, the USVI and return to the BVI, the starting point of our adventure.






My sincere thanks to All At Sea Magazine for allowing me to reprint these three articles.  

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