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Reliance resting in her slip in Sausalito.

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.


Basic Stats

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:

On Deck

  • Robustly built yacht in all ways and in all areas. Owner’s remarks: “I wanted a strong boat that I only had to build once.” One example, the anchor hawse pipes were cut and shaped so that a standard size PVC pipe would fit snuggly inside. When the chain has worn away the PVC, simply slide it out and slide in another.
  • Pulpit and lifeline stanchions are bolted to the rail rather than welded so that if damaged, they can be easily removed and replaced.
  • Wheel placement just behind the mizzen means that all sail controls are within reach of the helmsman save the main halyard.
  • Spool of line at the stern rail allows for easily sending warps ashore.
  • Wide, clean, unobstructed decks.

Below Decks

  • ABS opening hatches of half inch glass surround the doghouse.
  • Visibility forward and to either side good if standing.
  • Bench in doghouse could serve as cot.
  • Full shop in the bows.
  • Open engine, generator, shaft and gland access with floorboards removed.
  • Open access to stern post and steering rams through crawl space aft.
  • Open access to inside of hull and underside of deck by removing foam panels.
  • Ample fuel and water tankage.
  • Ample battery power.
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Reliance is a Brewer designed 50 foot ketch. Kanter Marine welded the hull, deck and dog house, and the owner fitted the rest. A workhorse of a boat; nothing about her is the least bit delicate.


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Two 75 pound anchors hang from hawse pipes on either side of the bow.

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The anchors are controlled by a large, hydraulic windlass.

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A self-draining locker at the back of the cockpit easily holds four 20 pound tanks of propane, exactly the amount the Figure 8 requires.

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Half inch line on a roller hangs from the stern.


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The main standing rigging is of 7/16ths wire rope, with robust terminals and bronze turnbuckles of unknown make.

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Wheel placement has the advantage of putting the helmsman in easy reach of the headsail sheets, the main sheet and both mizzen halyard and sheet. Line-of-sight to the nav station instruments below is also good. But travel between cockpit and companionway hatch is awkward, and the mizzen mast disallows building a hood to protect the helmsman.

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All ports in the doghouse are heavy ABS of half inch glass. Note nuts already welded in place for easy retrofitting of storm windows.

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Reliance as she looked on launch day back in late 1989. Note long fin keel for stability and heavy skeg with captive prop. This is an underbody built for high latitudes.

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The stainless hawse pipes from inside. The long section has been custom sized so that a standard piece of PVC can slide into it. The PVC takes the abrasion from the chain and when worn, is easily replaced.

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View of the hull from bow to stern during build-out. Note cardboard in the bilges, models of the stainless water tanks.

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Stainless bar has been welded around each port to take the stainless portlights, thus eliminating any worry of galvanic corrosion here.

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Sven’s Reliance User Manual is a day planner full of just such drawings. Here are the dimensions of four of the seven water tanks.

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The inside steering station.


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The galley and main salon. In the bows is the shop. The teak sole is compliments of Bank of America. Close up and to the right, note heavy piano hinge for the door into small, midships cabin.

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The galley: double sinks with oodles of storage.

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Portside quarter berth cabin. Small door leads to rudder post and other works in the stern.

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Rudder post and twin rams (one for each wheel).

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The main is original, 471 feet of 11 ounce material, built by Sutter Sails and still serviceable.


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This is the boat that Sven built.


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.

19 Comments on “FINDING A FIGURE 8 VOYAGE BOAT: The Brewer 50

  1. Well, you never know what you find in your own “hedgebottom”. I hear the excitement! Yet so many questions! I am on tenterhooks across the way.
    Signed: Remy, Phin and Reina’s Mom.

    • Hey Mary (sorry, I mean Remy, Phin, and Reina’s mom),

      One could wish my “hedgebottom” was a little more productive. I’d like this boat in about 40 feet and with a main boom I can actually reach. But yes, she was an exciting find.

      More soon,


  2. Looks like you may have found HER but I think you heard so many stories that got mushed together I don’t know how Swen could build this boat in So San Francisco and the hull was welded by Kanter… nor how 3/16 on the hull turns into 1/4 to 1/2 on the house… but whatever the story was… it looks like you have about a year of weekends to get her in shape for an Expedition… if the money holds out… Smooth Seas!

    • Thanks Doug. Getting at real hull plating stats for any of these boats has been difficult. The data for Reliance came from a survey, and the surveyor got it from Sven, I assume. I think the blog meant to say that the hull was 3/16ths to 1/4 and then 1/2 at the turn of bilge and keel. The house is 10 gauge. Hull welded by Kanter then delivered to Sven.

      • Time for an audiogauge survey from the inside… then decide if you want to haulout and repeat it… to bad you cannot find a real boat build with 1/4″ thick and heavier steel… anytime I hear the word “gauge” to express thickness I cringe knowing you will be in the ice and wishing for some steel “meat”… get that darn snagging anchor off… waiting to be caught and put a hole into the hull… best wishes…

        • Thanks for the hint re audiogauge. So far have found it common to refer to the house in gauge, as is so much thinner. Funny how complicated it has become finding a *simply* tough boat! Appreciate the feedback.

  3. Wow! It’s definitely an expedition boat. She has the pedigree to at least successfully make the voyage. And, in comfort if not downright luxury.

    • Yes, she does seem a tough boat all around. Clearly, she’s far more than I need–luxury doesn’t make the top ten list–and a real handful in the wrong weather, of which I will see plenty. So, we’ll see.

  4. I envision some challenges with the anchors so close to the water / ice-line?

    • Agree that “feature” is not the best. 1) Would only slow the boat down in a seaway. 2) Could be problematic in the ice. 3) Very tough to clean the anchors of mud and weed; they are definitely out of reach of all but a long boat hook. 4) Almost impossible to rig a float to them because they are out of reach from on deck. So if an emergency requires ditching the anchor and chain in a hot second (as can certainly happen when anchoring near flows), might have to simply kiss the anchor goodbye. All these problems in exchange for keeping the weight low. Not a good trade off, I think.

  5. I’m not a sailor, nor an engineer, so perhaps you can allay some uninformed concerns of mine. (1) Don’t you want to keep boat as small as will do the job? Larger is just more to maintain. Seems you’d be hauling around an extra 25% with this one. (2) With the hull “stretched” in length — does that not cause any issues with strength or balance? (3) This sounds like a one-off, custom boat. Wouldn’t a design that had seen many iterations add some confidence?

    • Hey David,

      Good questions.

      Re 1), yes. I’d much prefer a smaller boat for the reasons you suggest, but then one must choose from the field at hand. 2) The stretch doesn’t concern me from the strength perspective. The add is just over 10% of total length, and you’ve seen the photo of the framing. Interestingly, the ballast of plus 12,000lbs does not seem to have been increased with the size (is similar or same as the Atlantic 45). Asked Sven about that and he said Kanter advised him on ballast weight to add. This boat does have one of the smaller ballast to displacement ratios of the boats I’ve inspected. 3) The hull, deck, house were professionally welded-up at Kanter Marine; the rig is per the Brewer design. But yes, all the internal finish work and systems are owner-designed, installed, maintained. My surveyor friend made same comment–lots of custom system-work to learn, maintain. This could actually be a plus, in the end. There aren’t many yards that put together “professional” expedition yachts. This owner had mechanical sense and opted for what was robust. The bigger questions is could I learn the systems well enough to repair them anywhere in the time remaining.

  6. Physical therapist, university founder, solo sailor and adventurer Stanley Paris has been thwarted again in his attempt to become the oldest person to sail around the world single-handedly and without stops.

    This time it is a rip in the mainsail that is forcing the 77-year-old to retire by putting into Cape Town, South Africa, where he is expected to make port about New Year’s Day.

    About a year ago Paris abandoned his first try, also in Cape Town, because of injury and technical problems on Kiwi Spirit, a Farr-designed 63-foot racing/cruising yacht that Lyman-Morse built in Maine.

    It is a powerful and technically advanced but complex boat that features a retractable keel, water ballast and several renewable energy systems, such as solar, wind and hydro generators. One of Paris’ goals was to demonstrate that such a voyage can be made without relying on fossil fuels.

    “Once again my attempt to complete a solo circumnavigation has come to an end,” Paris blogged from Kiwi Spirit. “On Xmas Eve the top quarter of the main sail separated along a seam from the rest of the sail. This is not repairable by me at sea, and given the gales I can expect before I round the tip of South Africa, it is once again not advisable to continue.”

    Had Paris succeeded, he would have supplanted Japanese sailor Minoru Saito as the oldest solo nonstop circumnavigator. Saito completed eight solo voyages around the planet, including a nonstop attempt that he finished in 2005 at the age of 71.

    “This is, of course, is a big disappointment to me and to many who have wished me well,” Paris continued. “But that is life. I have never let difficulties get in my way of trying something worthwhile. I am always aware that failure can occur, but I have never let the fear of failure deter or prevent me from trying. To do so would be to accept mediocrity, and that I will never do.”

    According to the tracker, the position of Kiwi Spirit at 1 p.m. on Dec. 27 was 35 degrees 51.40S, 013 degrees 32.73E WSW of Cape Town. The yacht was making 6.4 knots over ground on a heading of 68 degrees.

    Paris said that once he is in South Africa he will undertake repairs before having the boat sent back to the United States. (FOR SALE?)

    FYI – OCEAN WATCH is for sale –

    If Stanley Paris at 77 can solo KIWI SPIRIT you should be able to rig OCEAN WATCH… turn-key go anywhere Ex-NWP2009

    • OK, I’m reaching out to my friend David Thoreson, one of Mark Schrader’s crewmembers on Ocean Watch (he also did the NWP with Roger Swanson), for his opinion on that boat. I still can’t help but think it’s a monster to handle alone, but I will explore it. Also doubt it’s turnkey, but I get your point … it’s sure more prepared than most of the boats I’ve inspected. Thanks for continuing to push the point.

      I will be interested to read more about Kiwi Spirit. Odd to me that Paris’ problems have not been with his exotic systems, but rather with basic stuff–rigging failure and a blown sail.


    • Now that’s a good looking yacht. Motoring my little ketch with its poor, pup-tent of a home-built dodger all the way from Sitka to Seattle…in the rain…gave me an intense appreciation for the motor yacht. That’s mostly what passed me up, the captain in shirt sleeves waving from the comfort of his bridge, coffee from a coffee cup rather than a thermos, while I shivered.

  7. I have a Kanter Atlantic 45, I solo sail, this boat is easy to sail. Very forgiving. Very safe. Very comfortable. The yacht seems big, but as soon as you get used to her, she’s not. gregg

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