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Refitting for Performance

Mark inspects the outhaul aboard his new old boat, a C&C 25 now over 20 years old.
Believe me when I tell you that owning an older sailboat is a curse and a joy. It’s a curse because older boats always have something that needs to be done to fix or upgrade them. It’s a joy because older boats always have something that you can work on and upgrade. My friend Mark McGivney is realizing this firsthand, as the new owner of an old boat. Last year he purchased a 1978 C&C 25. I remember talking to him about this early on. As I recall he was excited to buy this boat, because "nothing had to be done to it." All it needed was a little bottom paint, and off he would go to explore Rhode Island from a new vantage point. I could only laugh to myself.

Over the course of the summer Mark sailed that boat every chance he had. Along with another good friend, they even tried their hand at racing. As the summer wore on Mark became more knowledgeable about the boat and the sport of sailing. The tenor of our conversations changed. He began to ask about ways to increase his downwind speed. He noticed that the boat didn’t point as high as others of similar size and design. And he was concerned that the boat became overpowered in puffs and he could not depower quickly enough. All of a sudden the boat on which "nothing had to be done" had a growing to-do list.

That is the curse and the joy of owning an older boat. You get to figure out ways to improve it and if you have the time and a little hands-on talent, you can create a boat tailored to your sailing needs. We decided early on that we would use the off season to outline certain problems with the boat, talk to experts in the field about economical solutions, and endeavor to do the work ourselves. It only makes sense to chronicle the work and what we learned in the process, and share that via a series of articles. Of course we’re not experts at this, so we welcome any advice, or experiences, that others have to offer.

The post-purchase state of the keel and the hull left a lot to be desired—and a lot to be done as well.
For the remainder of this article, I’m going to outline the problems Mark now recognizes. In future articles I’ll offer information on the advice we receive, the action plan for the work, a shopping list of parts, and an explanation of what we changed. Ultimately, I should be able to tell you how the boat fared after its refit.

Because the snow is ankle deep in New England right now, we haven’t had the opportunity to look the boat over very carefully. However, we know Mark had trouble pointing, and we assume some of that is because he had been using old headsails, which are deep and mostly blown out, so the draft has moved too far aft for them to be competitive. Also, the boat has no inboard leads for the headsail, so Mark has been trimming the sails to a shackle hooked on his toe rail, too far outboard. This is like sailing with your jib barber-hauled all the time. The solution will be to replace his old, beat-up genoa with something new and less stretchy, and to install some inboard leads to tighten the sheeting angle. Those two moves alone should buy him a few degrees of pointing ability. The questions we need to ask the experts are: What is the best sail selection for his intended sailing, and where is the best track location so we can create a tighter sheeting angle without making it so tight that we produce a stalling situation.

With the traveler so far forward, Mark lacks an efficient means for depowering the boat in the puffs. It will be moved aft.

Another big issue is boat speed, especially downwind. I got a look at the bottom of the boat just after she was hauled and could see that the paint job could use some work. The paint, that ubiquitous aqua blue cruising paint, looked rolled-on; there were dimples and the surface wasn’t smooth. Also, there were many areas on the keel where the lead and paint had chipped off presenting a moon-like surface. This not-so-fair bottom certainly affected the boat’s performance both upwind and down. The flow of water over the keel was certainly disrupted by the bumps and dimples, diminishing the lifting effect of the keel. Also, that rough finish adds more drag on the hull, negatively affecting the speed. The only solution here is to strip the bottom, fill the divots on the keel, and then fair the surfaces, which means we will have to wet-sand the bottom—there’s no way to get around that—to create a smooth, lower-drag surface. And then we will need to talk to some experts about the best type of paints and application methods.

Mark also complained that the boat was easily overpowered in puffs. It heels over a lot, slipping sideway and making the crew uncomfortable. There are three quick depowering techniques that are commonly applied when puffs hit:

 1. Move the genoa lead aft, twisting off the top of the genoa. (Until we install a track with adjustable cars, this option is out.)

2. Drop the traveler as the puff hits. (Mark’s traveler is located at the front of the cockpit, out of reach of the skipper. It is a very old, worn piece of track that is set on the bridgedeck just aft of the companionway. The traveler car is 20 years old and binds on the track when under load. To use it, Mark has to release the mainsheet so the mainsail flogs, and then reduce the load on the car. In other words, it’s a hassle to use.)

 3.  Pull on the backstay. This tightens the headstay, and bends the mast. These two changes to the rig change the sails shape. On most boats, both the mainsail and the headsail get flatter and more twisted, spilling some of the air aloft and keeping the boat on its feet. (The backstay on Mark’s boat is just a turnbuckle attached to a tang on the stern. You need tools to adjust it. Again, it is a pain to adjust. I have always said, if a system is not easy to use and accessible, people will not use it. This is the definitely the case with the backstay on Mark’s boat.) Right now, when a puff hits, instead of moving the lead back, dropping the traveler or pulling on the backstay, Mark fights the tiller, which, if the puff is big enough, becomes heavy with weather helm. In the worst cases, the rudder stalls and the boat rounds up. Not much fun. So, we will ask the experts about moving the traveler further aft, closer to the driver (and creating a more open cockpit) and replacing the existing parts with a lower-friction model. And we will determine how to convert to a more efficient adjustable backstay.

Of course the worst part about the boat was the name, but the owner and the author are going to fix that too.

Another upgrade will be to replace much of the running rigging. The halyards are old and frayed. Plus they slip. We will look into the best replacements for all of these and probably replace the sheets and traveler lines too. When the spring comes and we can get the cover off the boat, we will also see if the deck layout can be made more efficient.

This kind of tinkering on a boat, in my opinion, can be one of the most enjoyable ways to pass time. You are solving problems and working with your hands to improve the performance of something that you love. There are always minor frustrations that inevitably crop up, but they tend to be forgotten once the boat is launched and you see your work in action. I am looking forward to working with Mark on this project. It will be quality time spent with a good friend. We’ll begin talking to experts about our project soon. And as soon as the snow melts, we’ll get to work. But the first thing we have to do is get Mark to change the name of the boat. I have raced on boats called No Surrender, Trouble, and Stealth, so R Yot is a bit too hard to swallow. If you’ve got any ideas, send them along. (Just click the E-Mail SailNet button at the bottom of this page.)

Suggeted Reading:

Zen and the Art of Sailboat Maintenance by Don Casey

Rebuilding a Damaged Boat by Don Casey

Refitting an Older Boat by Sue & Larry

Buying Guide:  Backstay Adjusters

Pete Colby is offline  
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