Then the unexpected happened. A steel yacht came for sale in my neighborhood, which is to say, Sausalito.
From the beginning, serious contenders for the Figure 8 have been in short supply, and even extending my scope to the entirety of North America’s western coast has netted only the boats discussed here. Not a large field and none nearby. So, to have a prospect appear forty-five minutes from the house got my attention.
Better still, being a chronic dock walker, I was familiar with this yacht, a beefy, all-business, workhorse of a ketch by the (fitting to my project) name of Reliance.
On Tuesday I met the owner, Sven, for a tour. Sven is a retired building engineer, tall, gray, and pale; affable and army-tough, but suffering from cancer and its barrage of medications this last decade. “I’d never sell if it wasn’t for the damned … problem,” he says, opening his palms to the sky. Signs of his condition were only telltale: he perspired heavily as we poked inside lockers and raised the great lids that hid the engine; sometimes he leaned against a bulkhead to rest. But even during pauses he talked, spinning-out stories of Reliance and her adventures, and one could hear in these the power of the younger man.
A power that would have been necessary, for Reliance, which he built in the then bustling San Francisco dockyards south of the Bay Bridge, is a big boat. She’s based on the Brewer design adopted by Kanter Marine and marketed by them as the Atlantic 45. But Sven wanted a cruiser capacious enough for his growing family of girls, and so he had the hull stretched to 50 feet. For the seven years prior to her 1989 launch, his pattern was to have a quick bite of supper after work and then spend the night constructing his go-anywhere vessel.
Here are some of her features. Two 75 pound anchors on half inch chain extend from hawse pipes at the bows. These are operated by a massive hydraulic windlass. The keel stepped, aluminum mainmast is the diameter of a respectably ancient tree, extends over 60 feet off the deck and carries in its one sail more square feet than all of Murre’s combined. Turnbuckles are green bronze and the size of Coke bottles; thick stainless makes the bulwarks; custom-built bits are of stainless and the teak decks are as thick as my thumb. Below, the low doghouse is rimmed with heavy ABS opening ports and heavy teak panelling; there are three private cabins; amidships is a galley reminiscent of an industrial kitchen, and in the bows is a full shop. All of which lend to one’s first impression of this as a serious boat.
After a time, Sven and I sit in the main cabin as he works through every page of the Reliance photo album. Pictures of the hull in construction, the water tanks being laid into the bilge, the stainless bar welded around every port hole and hatch opening (“You’ll find no corrosion there.”); the two steering rams; the 100 horsepower engine going in, the deck going on.
And the stories keep coming. “That teak,” he says, pointing to a bulkhead, “that’s all from Bank of America.” For a time Sven was the chief building engineer for the Transamerica Pyramid, San Francisco’s tallest skyscraper; then he moved to manage the much larger, if nominally shorter, Bank of America building. One winter the teak lobby of the latter was ripped out and replaced with white marble. After some cajoling, the job foreman allowed Sven to recycle the wood if he could “make it disappear after hours.” So, for several nights running, Sven double parked by the lobby doors, hazard lights flashing, and filled his car to capacity with free and typically expensive wood, wood that found its way aboard Reliance as paneling, the inlay for the cabin sole, even the deck.
What happened after the build-out is a little murky. Sven and family did go cruising, made it as far as the Galapagos and explored several tropical rivers to their source. But how long Reliance had been back in her slip was unclear. The blackened decks and mouldy lines suggested it had been many years.
Launched 1989 (seven years in build).
Steel, pilothouse ketch, round bilged, extended fin keel with skeg-hung rudder, captive propeller.
LOA: 50; LWL: 43 (estimated); Beam: 13.9; Draft: 6.3.
Displacement: 42,000 lbs; Ballast: 12,187 lbs; Sail Area: 1,517 (including a very large genoa).
Displacement to Length Ratio: 235. Ballast to Displacement (after personal increment): 26% . Sail Area to Displacement Ratio: 20. Capsize Ratio: 1.6.
Sails: two headsails on Profurl; main and mizzen hank on. Main and mizzen by Sutter Sails and estimated at 11 ounces weight.
Plating: hull, 3/16ths inch welded steel plate; 1/4 to 1/2 inch keel face plating; doghouse is 10 gauge. Hull welded up by Kanter Marine.
Tankage: 380 gallons in three mild steel tanks integral to the hull; 300 gallons water in seven stainless tanks in the bilges below the cabin sole.
Insulation: 2 inch styrofoam from waterline to deck and 1 1/2 inch foam under deck. Foam fits into spaces between framing.
Engine: 100 hp (ratio to displacement in tons: 2.5); with 5.5kW diesel auxiliary generator.
Steering: hydraulic. Inside and outside steering operated by separate rams.
Power: six Lifeline 12v AGM house batteries at 225 amp hours each for a total of 1350 amp hours.
Underbody work done in 2010 included cutting out and replacing section of rudder and sandblasting the hull.
Positives from the Figure 8 perspective:
The week after my visit with Sven I spent an hour aboard with a surveyor famous locally for his scepticism and love of facts. I had called upon him to inject a dose of reality into what had become, over the previous week, my infatuation with Reliance.
“Put to one side the boat’s actual condition,” said the surveyor after an inspection during which he noted every flaw I had ignored, “and consider this. You and I are of similar builds, but I’m stronger than you are. I’m a rock climber and I’ve singlehanded and this boat scares me. Can you really handle that mainsail? Imagine you’re in a southern ocean gale. Imagine it’s your fifth such gale in two weeks. Can you take the punishment? Add to that the maintenance of a number of big, complicated systems. Can you master them such that you could repair this boat anywhere in the world?”
Just so, concerns for this boat from a Figure 8 perspective come back to its size. In truth, I think I can handle the very large main and already have a couple approaches to taming its wildness on the high seas, and in truth, I think I can master the boat’s systems in time for next fall’s departure. And that the boat is here gives the added advantage of being able to start work on both issues now.
But “can” and “should” do not necessarily follow. With size and complexity come risk I must add to an already risky venture. Moreover the boat’s age likely hides issues (under the teak decks, inside the integral fuel tanks, for example) that await her next owner.
The sum up: I haven’t bought this boat.