A Tale of Two Boats

“Refit” conjures up a picture gallery in the Lifestyles of the Rich and Secretive in the marine industry’s glossy magazines. We have all seen the pictures. The latest Silicon Valley teenage billionaire’s 60-meter small ship getting the full day of beauty re-do. A massage, facial mask and Mani-Pedi. All in one. The refit would be new carpets, artwork, generators, furniture, upgrading of the computer systems aboard, new dishwashers, a paint job.

A new or expanded heli-pad and 6-meter transom extension with space for another locker full of water toys counts as a rebuild, I reckon. A refit is largely inside, a rebuild is anything that takes a saw to the hull or deck.

Back here in New England, at the Yellow Cottage Boat Yard and Marine Works, that curiously doubles as the Cooper’s side yard, two boats are currently undergoing a combination of both: a refit of the Family Cruising Yacht, a vintage Ranger 33, and a rebuild of the Cooper Racing Yacht, a Tom Wylie Mini 6.50 Mini Transat class fire-breathing solo offshore boat. Both qualify as rebuild refit. Readers of a certain age may remember reading about this Cooper Kaper in Soundings, circa 1994. I was an accepted entry in, and on my way to France in said mini to compete in the 1995 Mini Transat. A long story, already captured in the “Cooper’s Book” file on my computer, it did not happen.

About fifteen years ago, we bought the Ranger from one of the guys I worked with at Hood. Tom was – remains – a fantastic craftsman. His acquisition of the boat is a classic of the genre. He found her in a boat yard in upstate New York, in sad shape, and discovered she was for sale by the yard for short money, just the bills from a mechanic’s lien against the owner who had abandoned her. Basically sound, as the Built like a Brick Head boats from the late 1960s were, but a mess. Two feet of snow and rainwater inside, a rusted Atomic 4 destined I think to become Tom’s mooring weight once the boat was redone, rotted timber, and so on. Definitely a rebuild and refit combo: cushions AND a saw.

Anyway, a few years on Tom had executed a massive R&R on the boat. He removed the engine (and the boat was attached to it in the Newport mooring field) and was happily sailing her around without auxiliary power. Definitely doable, but a bit of a pain in the stern for a working stiff needing to be back from Block Sunday night ready for the 0700 Monday punch-in at Hood.

Despite the price of everything in the boat game including sails, the workers are not billionaires but since Tom is such a skilled guy, at anything not just sails, he had done any and everything on the boat. By this time with the boat afloat, sans engine, he was on the lookout for a suitable powerplant, ideally not a new one.

As the story goes, he was delivering sails to a client one spring Saturday. Said client owned a Concordia. Tom rolled up with a van full of sails and parked alongside the Concordia. He spied a big old, gray haired and wrinkled Westerbeke on a pallet, and beside that a box containing a new Yanmar.

Remarking on the obvious, there was a discussion about big old engines and new small ones and the not much available space in short waterline, narrow beam timber boats. After a few minutes, Tom slipped in the “Well, waddya going to do with the old one? I need an engine for my Ranger.” The client, with whom Tom had worked with and known for a while, said, “It looks kind of big for a Ranger I reckon, but if you can make it fit you can have it.” “Oh, I’ll make it fit,” said Tom, closing that deal immediately. This is the story of how our Ranger 33 is likely the only one of the breed with a bridge deck. And a 27 JP four cylinder (now obsolete I find) Westerbeke.

For various reasons we did not use the boat for a couple years. It sat outside in the boat yard. Old boats being what they are, the leaks through the handrails, windows, genoa track and hatches sprouted up. Now if there is ONE THING I cannot stand, it is leaks in my boats. Time for a refit, currently oozing over to a rebuild.

We had re-jiggered the side yard at home to a gravel parking lot, the terrain being on a slope, so a bulkhead and fill were employed to establish the horizontal surface required for parking boats, er, cars on. (Measuring Up, Feb 2022) All of this was done after the Mini and related hoop shed had been removed to gain access to an aging beech tree that was past its “enjoy by” date.

The Mini, before the parking lot rebuild, was laid perpendicular to the slope, along the top edge of it, hard by the edge of the street’s turning circle. (Oh, the things we do). The downhill side of both the boat’s trailer and the hoop shed were blocked up to give the whole pile a chance of not sliding down the hill, to the septic leeching field no less. Talking about falling in it.

If there is one thing better than having your boats alongside the house and workshop (supposedly a garage), it’s having them under cover. Hence the hoop shed. A builder mate of mine sourced me some 10x12x1 inch pine planks with which to make a floor. Man, it’s almost like being in one of those big sheds at Hinckley or the Shipyard. Living high. And it is amazing how much heat those F-14 afterburner-like propane heaters one may see in said yard sheds can produce. I was able even in the depths of a winter snowstorm to get the temperature up to 65, 70 degrees on top of the boat using this afterburner.

One thing to know about Minis is the stringent safety requirements the class has. One of these is the flotation requirement. There must be enough flotation foam in the boat to keep it afloat in the event of holing. This of course sucks up a lot of the not much space inside these puppies in the first place. The foam used in the sandwich construction may be used in this calculation but still, it ain’t much so the inside of the boats is full of foam, making a small boat much smaller.

When doing a custom design, as my Mini is, one gets to exercise many of the “Great Ideas” one has developed over the years. So of course, I did this in my boat. Oh, one great detail I did not execute, for reasons of time, skills needed (I was building the boat) and degree of engineering needed, was Tom drew the boat with a canting keel. She was the second Mini so designed, this in 1993. Anyway, I found an unloved keel off a Melges 24 and used that and water ballast, shrinking the interior volume boat even more.

There were a few other things I thought were great but turned out to be less so. In the time honored manner, I decided to, you know, improve on them, make it better…New great ideas to replace the old great ideas.

One of the many beauties of working in composites, even carbon, is its susceptibility to being cut with a Sawzall. It was such a tool I took to the ol’ girl and dug out all the foam I had in there including foam in the bow. Despite being “foam,” that 2-part pour foam stuff is heavy. I weighed a few chunks and was appalled at the weight I was carrying in the bow. All this Sawzalling was to get access to the inside skin of the hull to glue my NEW great ideas to.

One of the PIA of a keel-stepped mast is the propensity of water to get in through the tube and or the hole in the deck through which it passes. Another Mini Rule requires the bottom of the mast to be watertight from the bottom of the lowest halyard exit hole down onto the step. Mine was, but in the days before Spartite, water still got in through the collar. And of course, that part of the ocean rolled around all over the place.

As part of this refit/build, I installed bulkheads across the boat just aft of the mast and just forward of it, the idea being to keep the invading mast water captive between the two bulkheads. They were separated by a distance being equal, plus a bit, to the length of a basic plastic bin, of the type used as keepers of Christmas tree ornaments. These bins were to be stored and lashed down on shelves installed between the bulkheads for the purpose. Bear in mind, a Mini has one berth (I designed my interior without any fashionable Milan interior designer) with a tacking bunk. Channeling Monty Python’s classic song, my mantra was “Always sleep on the high side of the boat” – critical on a Mini in the middle of 40 knots in the Gulfstream.

Furthermore, there is no head, no galley, chart table, or inboard engine (though a rowlock and sweep oar was required in 1995). The interior is otherwise occupied by one human, sometimes, and his or her kit. Reflect on what you take for a 3- or 4-day Bermuda Race, plus slickers and sea boots, food, some tools, nav kit, a single-burner pre jet boil stove, and lots of safety gear, most of which is stowed in the aforementioned Christmas boxes. And six sails. The class allows only eight, but two are set, most of the time. More volume thieves. Oh, and a bucket, dinghy bailer and a big sponge…

Speaking of thieves, I have found the purloiners of words again. Remember the impenetrable Maginot Line from the Great War? Well, there is a Zep Line, beyond which I may write no more wor… ■