Nancy Terrell and the Adventure of Swan Song made possible by David Cooper


This story is in three parts, the purchase, the remanufacturing and the adventure by Dave Cooper



It all began in 1998, well maybe a bit before but that is another story.

Nancy, my life partner was off on one of her annual visits to her clans in the US and I’d been left along once again during hurricane season. As a yacht broker I had a lot of time during September and October. The phone lines seemed to be cut, the office door hinges had rusted shut and a general feeling of depression was about the Island.


To shake the doldrums I was off to other boat yards in the area to see what treasures I might be able to find for some client or boats to ad to my listing for the busier times. One trip was to Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbor and the boatyard. Several good prospects for listing were found and then as I walked around a line of boats I saw her! Just a peak but one that said “Come closer Dave”. Fighting my way thru 6’ high grass and old boatyard debris had me standing under a massive hull with 1” barnacles all over her round and plump bottom.


What’s this I asked myself? 40 years in the boat business hadn’t given me a clue other than it was not a Tupperware boat for she had a very proud bow, nice pilothouse and very nice sheer with a rounded stern. Taking off my rose colored glasses I said “this boat hasn’t been loved for a long, long time”. She obviously had been a splendid vessel in the past but years of neglect had left her barely able to keep her pilothouse from caving into the bilges.


So with a deep breath I found a ladder and climbed onto her swim platform made from some ancient pressure treated decking! Climbing over the transom and into the cockpit she certainly had “the look” of a grand old dame. She also had the look of having been the boat yard dormitory in more recent times. Removing my rose colored glasses revealed a 1970 interior gone bad. Or perhaps I should say “gone off” as the olfactory nerves were saturated. A quick trip up the side deck trying not to fall thru and onto the foredeck which also was a bit “soft”. Turning around again and looking back I took a deep breath and said what a fine vessel this once was.


Going below in the dim light showed 2-3’ of water in the bilges with swarms of mosquitoes and larva, a Detroit Diesel 6-71 engine sitting in water past its starter and a layout designed by and for much smaller people in a far away land. However, the doors and other woodwork were again splendid and one could see the earlier glory days when she was new and loved. Well, I said to myself I’d better get out of here as I felt like I was in a scene of “Dead Calm” and bad things might happen.

Back on the deck, in daylight, I took a few pictures and wrote down some details as all good brokers do when they see a boat - all in all a good day at the boatyard so back to Tortola.


A couple of weeks go by and something has been nagging me. That damn boat up in VG needs someone to love it and a good home. A few calls around turn up that Jose at St Thomas Yacht Sales has it listed. As a matter of fact he had an interested party who hired a surveyor to take a look. The surveyor spent about 30 minutes aboard and basically said she was a right off. Decks, bulkheads, house sides, etc, etc all rotted and needed to be replaced. All the systems were shot - the list went on and on. Grim.


I did have a client who wanted something along these lines but a bit smaller. 58’ was just too big for him. I decided to take another look with Jose’s OK. Maybe the survey was having a bad day when he was there. The early ferry up with lots of mosquito repellent on along with a couple of large cans of Bagone, a flashlight and my trusty camera. As the old saying goes a bad day in the boat yard beats a good day at the office. Well in this case maybe not.


Hacking thru the 7’ saw grass and climbing up the ladder one more time showed just how sick I had to be. The blood from the grass cuts was like a feed call to the mossies. However a few blast from the Bagon and they stood back for a bit. Opening the saloon doors with another good blast keep them at bay. I then went down below and wired the nozzle open on the big can and left. For those that don’t know Bagon kills everything including people.


A good walk around on the decks, some pictures, a bit of forensic work for the Documentation and hull ID number. Wow - engine hours are only 1400 - odd to bad the engine has ben flooded. I spotted a brown generator, some 8 d batteries strewn about, two huge fuel tanks and more garden hose & air conditioning stuff indicating no love in this area for a long time either. What the hell am I doing here? as I slide into the bilge. A good bit of oil on top and I’m covered. I figure this is as good a time as any to find the lowest thru hull and remove the hose. Grabbing the engine intake hose to remove the hose clamp…woops not necessary as the clamps come off in my hand. A bit of a tug on the 2 ½” hose and it too parts. An hour later the bilge level is down to about 4”. Must have been several thousand gallons in her and she has a high water make to prove it! I think we’ll leave that hose off and be sure to tell Jose…..not that anyone in her right mind would launch her.


In reading the last partial survey I think the surveyor had been too kind in his condemnation. This boat needed life support immediately or the burn-pile would see her soon.


POTENTIAL - a nice word used to describe lots of things, was coming to my mind. You know the word. Like she has “potential”, he has “potential”, it has “potential”. I didn’t realize it at the time but “this boat has potential” was forming in the unused recesses of my grey matter. We had moved off Antares, our CSY 37sailboat, last year as space was an issue - too much stuff. This boat would surely accommodate all our stuff and more. No worries about needing to trail a barge to carry the “stuff”.

A good detailed set of pictures and the day was over. Changed my clothes after a good wash up at he showers and caught the ferry back to Tortola.  I’ve been celibate, stayed out of the bars, not done anything out of line but seem to have something with “potential” on my mind. The phone starts to ring again and the door to my office is working, clients/prospects, so it must be near the end of October. Soon Nancy will be back from her rounds in the states. Yea!!


Uh oh, how am I going to explain the “other woman”? The one with the round full firm bottom. The one with the very proud bow. The one with the nice stacks and an enormous prop. I spend a week wrestling with this in my mind. When Nancy returns it is the usual whirlwind few days & nights getting to know each other again. When that finally winds down I need to tell her about the “other woman”. Finally I just said lets go up to Virgin Gorda and look at a boat I’ve found.  Always being of the adventurous type Nancy agrees and the next morning we’re on the ferry to VG. Nancy is perhaps a bit overdressed for the occasion but no matter we’re on our way and I get to see “her” again.

I’d previously scooped out the best viewing angles and approach that would show “her” in the best light. A few oh’s and ah’s and we were aboard. I’d also remove a bit of the dormitory items so “she” looked a bit more presentable. The mossies and I had agreed that if I used no more Bagon they’d be no more biting! The solid teak raised panel doors, the teak this and that and the space! Wow this was going pretty well. A couple of soft spots on the deck but Nancy didn’t fall thru so they weren’t that bad. A cruise down below and once again “Dead Calm” came to mind. A narrow corridor, 6 doors within 10 feet and no natural light did present a less than positive outlook. Oh, but we can change this and move that and… and… and. Good PR and Karma as again the word “potential” was being spoken.

As a good broker one needs to let the client have a first good look and then go to lunch….the longer the better as it will be closer to the ferry so little time will be left for the “second look”. We did do that look and it was again better than I had expected - at least no outright rejection of me or “her”. Perhaps there was room for both in her life. Off to the ferry and back to Tortola. I had some work to do with Jose on this one before the next step could be worked on.

Over the next few weeks with many phone calls & faxes we had a price that would make “her” ours in a few weeks. After several delays we closed on Dec 23rd 1998 and had arranged for her to be launched that day. Armed with many soft pugs, which I drove into all 17 thru-hulls, she splashed before noon. Our friend Kevin Roulette had agreed to tow her down to Nanny Cay so we left VG under tow in the typical Christmas winds and seas with 20+ knots and 5-7 ft in the channel. All was going well and we were feeling on top of the world till Kevin seemed to be getting too far away from us and we were starting to get sideways in the seas.  Beef Island was awfully close to lee. Seems the 2 ½” tow line had broken and we were adrift - not only adrift but soon rolling +/- 25 or so degrees.

The radar mast decided this was too much and crashed down just missing my head and crashing thru the forward pilothouse window. Meanwhile Kevin was trying to re-connect the tow line but we were bouncing out of phase with Retriever so it was a bit dicey. Finally the tow was reinstated and we arrived at Nanny Cay for what was expected to be a short bit of time to fix a few issues before we could once again get her underway and spend our time cruising the Caribbean and beyond. The parties began with Christmas Eve and continued to the New Year. A toast to our new year and a new boat 



By – Nancy Terrell


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 living in a condo.  We talked about our retirement home and decided on a trawler as we wanted individual rooms, a full galley, walk around beds, more storage area, a large cockpit and more stability at anchor.  Plus, we were tired of raising sails.  We definitely wanted a “turn-key” home.  I love living on boats - like a turtle I can take my home with me - besides, I never know what to pack!


We began reading classified ads, talked to brokers, visited boat yards and walked the docks.  We knew what we wanted - the problem was finding it at the right price.  Being independent people, we don’t like owing money, so pricing was important.  In our favor was the fact that we love classic yachts – we love the wood, the lines, the ambiance and the price, as they are usually less expensive.  Of course, they need more work, which requires money, but it’s not all up front, like a huge payment, upon buying.


In the summer of ’98 I took my yearly trip to visit grandchildren.  Dave stayed in the BVI and worked.  E-mails flew back and forth but never was a boat mentioned.  Upon my return Dave suggested that we visit Virgin Gorda Boat Yard.  There was an old trawler there that he wanted for me to see.  Wading through tall saw grass, at the rear of the yard, was a 58’ Roughwater, looking like I felt – tired and worn out but with plenty of promise.  Dave had the key so we went aboard.  She was rough but had been a beauty in her day and I fell in love with her immediately.


POTENTIAL – that was the magic word.  She had wonderful, gorgeous lines with possibilities galore.  We ferried back to our condo, got out a 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.


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 – in maintenance, boat parts, upgrades, etc.  We then took the amount of money that we 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.  If, for example, you spend $1,000 a month on rent – over 20 years you will pay $240,000 to someone else for a place to live.


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 in Tortola.


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.

{There are boat deals like this all of the time – you just have to look for them.}  


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!


BIO – Nancy Terrell has lived in the Caribbean for 20 years.  She is an international free lance writer and holds a MA Degree in Literature.  Swan Song is her 6th boat during 40 years of sailing.


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


By – Nancy Terrell


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.  Part III will include finishing up, sea trials and cruising to Venezuela.


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

By – Nancy Terrell


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, with the great assistance of Miles------ from Yacht Restoration at Nanny Cay,  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.

BIO – Nancy Terrell has lived in the Caribbean for 20 years.  She is an international free lance writer and holds a MA Degree in Literature.  Swan Song is her 6th boat during 40 years of sailing.


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