The Norfolk 43 I Almost Bought


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.)

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Fine Tolerance overwintering in Cambridge Bay.

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.

Basic Stats

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

  • Steal Away was the best kept yacht I’ve inspected for the Figure 8, and it was evident that much care had gone into both her construction and subsequent maintenance. Her topsides, deck paint and stainless fittings sparkled as did freshly painted bilges and an eat-in engine room. Below, first-class interior joinery was matched by a seagoing system of stainless latches for both cupboards and floorboards. Wiring ran with professional orderliness into her electrical cabinet and flowed into purpose-built raceways when moving fore or aft. Even her odd, built-for-two layout had been well conceived.
  • Her uncluttered flush deck allowed for an easy dash to the mast, and a deep, narrow cockpit would be a safe center from which to singlehand.
  • A small companionway hatch, an entire lack of deck or cockpit lockers (inconvenient) and few opening ports added to her safety and meant she would be dry below, even in extreme conditions.
  • Her hull was robustly built and a full keel that held the propellor captive added safety when in the company of ice.
  • Living spaces were conveniently amidships. Dropping down the companionway put one in the galley with a navigation station just forward and a sea berth just aft.
  • Hood Stowaway to one side, there was a simplicity, even minimalism, to Steal Away’s design and layout that appealed to me.
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Steal Away resting on her lines in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

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Original line drawing of the Norfolk 43. Steal Away differs from the above in that she has a redesigned and enlarged rudder for better downwind tracking and (somehow) a 37 foot waterline as opposed to the 32 foot waterline in the drawing.

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Steal Away in build in 1986.

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General view of deck layout.

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Afterworks including Wind Pilot, solar racks, spool of rode for stern anchor, and wind generator.

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View forward from stern.

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Ample but not overly large cockpit. Deep and safe.

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Clean run of deck. Dorades protected by stainless rails.

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Heavy Maxwell windlass.

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Steal Away on the hard. Note fine entry, full keel.

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Big spade rudder worthy of a fishing trawler.

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Queen bed. One of the few features aboard that has no use at sea.

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Galley on starboard and passage to forward berths.

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Long starboard-side bench under which are the fuel and water tanks (same on port), one easily made into a sea berth, the other a shop.

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Small but adequate navigation desk. Note electrical panel to the right.

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Makes one want to weep for joy.

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Floorboards latch in place.

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Engine room amidships and under cockpit. Easily accessible from port or starboard and clean as a whistle.

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Chain locker forward. Though well aft of the bow (a plus), the tube does not allow enough space below it for the chain to pile without fouling the tube. Would need to be modified for solo work.

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The main bilge. Note the valve and water pump to the right attached to what appears to be a tank integral to the hull. In fact, THIS IS THE HULL; the valve is intake for the refrigeration coolant system. This mistake on my part was a big setback and contributed to my eventually declining the boat.

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.”


7 Comments on “The Norfolk 43 I Almost Bought

  1. My Mom said she dreamt about the disappointment all night, Vicarious Adventurer that she is!
    “But”, she says, “The Trouble-and-Strife” is right! The Figure 8 aint going nowhere, but the Right Boat is crucial!”

    • Dearest Remy and Phineas,

      Please pass my apologies to Mary for the sleep disturbances. Tell her, if you would, that she needs to toughen up or, like my mother, she won’t sleep at all once I’m finally on the open sea.


  2. Hi Randall, fellow bay area sailor here, I’ve been enjoying the blog in part because I’m also looking to make our next boat a northern latitude capable boat. However, having just sold our boat we’re enjoying a no boat hiatus for a bit before we jump in again. I know how disappointing it is to walk away from a boat once you’ve invested the time, money, travel, and built up hopes of having a boat surveyed. This is such an ambitious project I’d encourage you to take your time to find the right boat and then take your time with that boat before setting off. Let that determine your schedule rather than the other way around.

    The Norfolk looks like a nice boat (other than the tankage issue) but the waterline length feels a bit on the short side to tackle the figure 8 in one year. Curious to hear what you thought of Jaru? I’d love a boat with a bare aluminum hull but I’d also really like a fully enclosed pilothouse. Our last boat had a painted aluminum hull (expensive to repaint) so the idea of bare aluminum is very appealing.

    Another boat I’ve been eyeing that you might take a look at is this steel Kanter 50′ in Florida: . She’s definitely on the large side for single handing and has in-mast furling but she’s 43′ on the waterline and carries 450 gallons of fuel. I’m not crazy about in-mast furling and it’s certainly a liability in terms of possible failure, however, for single handing a large mainsail it’s a trade-off that might be worth consideration. My understanding is that Dodge Morgan went with it for that same reason and in-mast and in-boom furling systems are a lot more reliable now than they were back then.

    Thanks for all the great writing, really appreciate you sharing your process and the adventure!

    • Hey Todd,

      Thanks for following my story. Looks like you’ve had some fun times on the ocean aboard Sugata.

      Yes, the intensity of my disappointment was unexpected. Having spent some five full days on the boat thinking through how I’d ready her and then how I’d live on her, I’d naturally grown attached. That and pushing the date back a year had the impact of a death in the family. I’ll look back and smile, I’m sure.

      Re waterline, I’ll post a redo of my mileage calculations as they’ve evolved some in recent months, but all my estimates say that to do the Figure 8 in one season will require a predictable average (over months–not every day) of 115 miles a day. This suggests that a LWL of 33 – 35 feet is an acceptable minimum. More length is better, of course, if that length is attached to a faster boat.

      If you’ll send me your email, I’ll send what I have on Jaru. My email is on the contact page.

      Yes, Capt. Doug Pohl alerted me to the Kanter. Better kept than most, no teak decks, and her cockpit is (or appears to be) more forward and far more comfortable than that of many Kanters (Have never understood why Brewer put the cockpit at the absolute stern of the boat and then inserted a bulkhead between that and the companion way hatch.) Will likely see it on next trip east. Yes, a big boat, but such glorious capacity.

      As to in-mast furling, I have little experience of it. Two experiences, exactly, and neither good. My biggest issue is the apparent requirement that one be able to spill wind from the sail in order to reef. For a singlehander, this adds steps and time and is not always a bright idea in a big sea. Also, for unsettled conditions, I want the ability to douse the sail in an instant. To be fair, I’ve yet to work with a in-mast furler that was in top shape…

      Thanks again. Comment anytime.


  3. Pingback: No One Died | Figure 8 Voyage

  4. No need to be hasty….You and Jo have made the correct decision. You can breathe now 🙂

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