Old Boats Need Love
Francesca and I purchased Free Spirit, our thirty-eight year old Magellan 36 ketch three years ago
and it exceeds our expectations. It is easy to sail single-handed. Once the sails are balanced it will track in a straight line without autopilot. In strong winds it sails well with just the jib and mizzen and in rough water she rides very steady with almost a serene motion. The cockpit is very comfortable with guests, the decks are wide and the interior full of varnished wood. But… there is always a but…the original sails were also thirty eight years old and had as much repair tape as sail cloth. The best we could point into the wind was about fifty to fifty-five degrees and then she was very slow. Speed was not so important but just how bad the sails were became apparent during the last three Campbell Cup races. We had to motor back in our first two races and last year we managed to sail the whole way but were way last, behind even a Lido. We were starting to doubt that the boat could sail at all except on a broad reach, but then we knew that people have sailed around the world in sister ships.
Finally we got the courage to talk sail makers who laughed when they saw the condition of the original sails but also pointed out how vulnerable they were to splitting and how dangerous they were in
strong winds. We felt that we received the best advice from Marina Del Ray’s veteran sail-maker, Oliver from UK Sails. He recommended a larger furling genoa with a padded luff so it also functions as a working jib when partially furled. He also recommended a triple stitched fully battened cruising main sail and mizzen with reefs plus an A -Symmetrical spinnaker and mizzen staysail. At this point we had to involve Mary-Ellen from Rose Rigging to install a Hood furler, a Tides mast track and batten cars and lazy jacks. It became a team project and they were amazingly patient with all my questions and I learnt a lot. It was a big investment but they delivered on time and for the original amount agreed, despite finding lots of small items on the way. It always pays to work with the best professionals.
While all this was being discussed the boat’s thirty-eight year old Volvo gearbox cast iron casing cracked as a result of an engine mount breaking. Inspection showed the engine mount had cracked years ago and was just holding on by a fraction of metal that gave up when I went out for a fun sail in twenty knot wind and heavy short seas. It is not easy to find replacement gearboxes of obsolete engines but we eventually found one on-line from England and had an interesting learning curve installing it with my regular crew “bosun” (Eng.) Bob. How we had to rig a block and tackle to lift the six hundred pound engine and move it aft to get to the gearbox will be another story. We also found that the fuel pump was only just working, so that too had to be replaced. It should be mentioned that one of the great benefits of SCCYC is the generous knowledge one receives from our experienced sailors such as Commodore Trevor and Sandy when starting on such projects.
Luckily Minnies in Newport took the old sails and swapped them for most of the cost of a manual windlass. Just as newspaper print gets smaller as time passes, the effort required to pull a 35lb CQR anchor out of the mud gets harder!!
Finally all the work came together last week. The sails look magnificent but, more importantly, in seven knots of wind we can now point between forty to forty five degrees to the wind and get an extra knot and a half in speed. The Tide mast track and baton slides just let the sail drop on its own, flaked and ready to tie, onto the boom between the lazy-jacks; great when one is single-handed and dropping sails in the busy marina.
When staff commodore Sandy Clark heard that we had a spinnaker and staysail he dived into what he says is “his vast collection of old boat parts” and gave the Free Spirit a pair of very handsome snap shackles, for which we are very grateful. Earlier Tom and Carmen had contributed an anchor rode they had spare.
Five months have gone by with the Free Spirit trapped in the dock but now she is liberated and will be seen out sailing a lot, enjoying all the love she has received.