The phone rang but once before Kevin, the broker, picked up. “Of course, no one is pleased with this decision,” he said.
Two trips to Florida, a Figure 8 boat found, offer accepted, deposit wired, a sloshy sea trial and a thorough survey. Then two days at home entirely at my desk, working and reworking the sums of those sheets I’d come to hate: “Cost to Departure” and “Refit Manhours.” A long meeting with the wife.
Then I declined to accept the boat.
Kevin was correct. No one was happy.
Steal Away, a Roberts Norfolk 43, presented well. A clean, flush-deck, full keel cutter with glossy topsides and a yacht-finish below, she was a simple, robustly-built and promising craft. What’s more, a famous (to me) sister ship had history in the Arctic.
In 2004/5, Phil Hogg and his partner, Liz Thompson, who run Fine Line Boat Plans & Designs from Australia, took their Roberts Norfolk Fine Tolerance through the Northwest Passage and had an exciting time of it. On the approach, a fishing net fouled their propellor and removal required lifting the transom from the water while at sea; ice blockages forced a retreat and an unplanned overwinter in Cambridge Bay, and then there was the below video of Fine Tolerance being towed through pack-ice by a Canadian Icebreaker. All of this the yacht survived, if not unscathed. (Phil and Liz tell their story here.)
I wrote to Phil an email bursting with questions. Would this Roberts I’d found be fast enough, capacious enough, seaworthy enough, and easily handled by one guy on a Figure 8? “Typing is not my strong point,” replied Phil before answering each of my queries in long and glorious detail. “We’ve 100,000 miles of cruising with Fine Tolerance much of it in the south. She’s a comfortable seaboat.”
This boosted my confidence in Steal Away, and Phil’s insights gave my learning of her a head start.
Hull welded up in 1986 then shipped to Little Harbor Marine of Rhode Island where her interior was fitted. She was launched in 1998.
Steel, center cockpit cutter, hard chined, full keel, spade rudder, fully enclosed propellor.
LOA: 43; LWL: 37; Beam: 13; Draft: 6.9.
Displacement: 29,850 lbs (per design specs, but likely well over 30,000 lbs); Ballast: 9,000 lbs; Sail Area: 1082 square feet.
Displacement to Length Ratio: 242. Ballast to Displacement Ratio (after personal increment): 25%. Sail Area to Displacement Ratio: 18. Capsize Ratio: 1.78.
Sails: furling foresail, hank-on staysail; a Hood Stow-away furling main. Unused stormsail, trysail, and genekker.
Plating: keel, 1/4″; hull, 3/16″; deck, 10 gauge.
Insulation: Sprayed to the waterline between 1 1/2″ and 2 1/2″ thick depending on location.
Tankage: (to the best I could surmise) 100 gallons fuel, or a little less, in two mild steel tanks on either side of the engine room; 120 gallons water in two tanks in same locations. (For a time I thought there were two water tanks in the bilge.)
Engine: 56 hp Yanmar 4JH3E installed in 2000 (ratio of HP to designed displacement in tons, 3.6; assuming a more realistic weight of 17.5 tons/35,000 lbs, her ratio slips to just over 3).
Steering: wheel to quadrant.
Power: three 8D gel cells for about 640 in house amps.
Positives from the Figure 8 Perspective
Why I Haven’t Bought Steal Away
Steal Away’s attractive simplicity indicated, in part, her intended service area–the tropics. She lacked a hard dodger, a heater, hefty ground tackle; her roller furling main was unfit (hats off to Dodge Morgan) for serious ocean work; her numerous solar panels would need augmenting with a generator. Though long, the list of upgrades was not daunting and most were indicated by a careful review of the broker’s photos even before the initial inspection.
But two things caught me off guard during the survey and sea trial. On my first visit I’d found the main fuel and water tanks opposite the engine room. Though their actual capacity was unknown to the current owner, some quick measuring suggested they held 120 gallons of water and 100 gallons of fuel. My fuel capacity goal for the Figure 8 is 250 gallons in tanks, so I was happy to discover what appeared to be two, large, in-hull water tanks lining the bilge. Having these would allow me to convert the other water tanks to fuel and put me very near the fuel tankage target.
However, upon inspection during survey, these “tanks” turned out to be … the hull! The plumbing that exited the tank to port and which I had supposed filled with freshwater intended for the galley actually transported seawater to the refrigeration cooling system. I was agog at my miscalculation, and much of the day’s remainder was spent measuring the boat’s bilge spaces for extra tankage (sadly, there wasn’t much).
The second gotcha was engine power. In the Fort Lauderdale canals Steal Away came up to near hull speed, but only after a time, and she backed down with the stateliness of a ship. For any cruising grounds other than those I intend, this would hardly be considered a problem. However, given Arctic conditions, Steal Away would have to be run at expensively high RPMs much of the time with precious little in reserve for making way in ice or headwinds.
Neither of these discoveries alone was the end of the world. Since this summer’s Northwest Passage on Arctic Tern, I’ve retreated from the Figure 8 as a “non-stop” endeavor. Without the need to depart San Francisco with all fuel aboard, I could carry jerry cans on deck. And I could repower. Steal Away’s Yanmar was both immaculate and on the new side. Her resale price would be high.
But these new costs, when added to the expected others, led to a big number. More importantly, they added significantly to the preparation timeline. Suddenly the Figure 8 boat would not be ready for her shakedown cruise until late July. And how much could I learn about sailing my vessel in those six weeks prior to a September first departure? The more I refined my estimates, the less they made sense.
Late one night and over a glass of wine I took Joanna through the logic. I had restarted the Figure 8 boat search in November of 2014, this after a return from the Arctic. I’d flown to Seattle, San Diego, New Orleans, and twice to Florida, and now it was February. Six months out, Steal Away was the only hope of a 2015 departure, and even that looked incredibly tight. “I get it,” she said. “Let’s keep looking for the right boat. Go next year. The Figure 8 will still be there.”