In the following excerpt from Wild Seas to Greenland — A Sailing Adventure with Ocean Racer Ross Field, veteran mariner Rebecca Hayter, recounts how Field prepared the aluminum-hulled Rosemary, which he bought in France, for a try at the Northwest Passage
“People often ask: why buy a boat like this? Simple, boats like this are a rarity, like a rare piece of art. Rosemary is not the most beautiful-looking boat, but I like her, she’s different.” —Ross Field
When retired offshore racer and Volvo Ocean Race and Whitbread veteran Ross Field planned Rosemary’s refit, he had one word in mind: simplify. A major yacht refit involves a huge amount of problem solving against the criteria of budget, competing sales pitches and advice from the ultimate expert: the hardstand bystander.
Keeping it simple was going to be complicated.
But Ross is decisive by nature and had run many big boating projects in tight time frames. “I do have an ability to see through problems,” he says. “You start writing lists, and it doesn’t look too bad. I started that at Port Napoléon [in the south of France] and continued during the sail to the UK. It’s always more work than you think, but as long as I have lists, I’ve got it under control.”
Through the New Zealand winters of 2015 and 2016, Ross based himself in Lymington, on England’s south coast. By then I’d resigned as editor of Boating New Zealand to buy a 10-acre lifestyle block in Golden Bay at the top of New Zealand’s South Island. I named the property “Oceanspirit” and was learning to keep sheep and chickens, and that it takes a lot of work to get your firewood for free.
Meanwhile, Ross planned his haulout, starting below the waterline and working his way up. As he was doing so, he also put Rosemary on a “Whitbread diet.”
“On a Volvo Ocean Race yacht, you are always trying to reduce weight and to simplify everything,” he says. Rosemary dropped an estimated three tons as old sails, ropes, hundreds of yards of rusted chain and a spinnaker pole headed for the marina rubbish bin.
There were four bulky air bladders, one each in the bow, stern and either side amidships. If the yacht was taking on water, dive bottles of compressed air could instantly inflate the bladders to keep Rosemary afloat. But where the previous owner had seen the ultimate safety device, Ross saw unnecessary weight and wasted storage. The bladders and their bottles went to the bin.
Rosemary lost more weight in a severe dermabrasion beneath her waterline as the crew from Berthon Marina bead-blasted the depleted layers of anti-fouling, ready for Ross to cove in filler compound around the keel. He applied a layer of epoxy to protect the hull before applying antifouling.
The propeller shaft was pitted and weakened with electrolysis. To remove the shaft meant removing the rudder and the 100hp MAN diesel engine. To remove the engine meant cutting out the cockpit sole, which could be welded in again later. So, typical of a boat project, the relatively minor job of removing the propeller shaft became a major task.
It got bigger. After 5,000 hours, the MAN engine was due for a major overhaul, and since Ross was already bearing the cost of removing it from the boat and putting it back with its new prop shaft, he decided to replace it with a new engine of greater horsepower.
This decision represented a crucial piece of advice from boatbuilder Steve Marten, formerly of Marten Marine in Auckland, New Zealand. Ross had told Steve he was looking for a motorsailer.
“Motorsailers are generally not fast hulls,” Steve had said. “Get a hull that is inherently fast and put a huge engine in it.”
“I had thought I’d have to compromise with a motorsailer,” Ross says, “but it made sense to get a good hull and upgrade its motoring performance.”
For the available space in the engine room, it came down to a choice between a 130hp John Deere or a 130hp Yanmar. Ross selected the John Deere. The 4.5-liter engine has only a small turbo on it, whereas a Yanmar of the same horsepower is a 3.5-liter with a big turbo. “I bought the John Deere because it’s low-revving. That makes it perfect for motorsailing—it will chug along all day at 1,200 rpm, and it’s a simple engine,” Ross says.
“We can motor comfortably, and we’re using two liters [around 0.5 gallon] an hour,” Ross adds. “I also like the extra power for safety on a lee shore. Her maximum speed under motor is 9.2 knots, but she’s a displacement boat and at that speed she starts squatting in the stern.” Ross loves telling people that Rosemary has a tractor engine; she’s a workhorse, not a prima donna.
Of course, an engine’s performance is only as good as its propeller. Rosemary’s three-bladed feathering Max-Prop was “floppy and flogged out.” It had never been greased or maintained, so Ross had it rebuilt for around $2,700; a new propeller was priced at more than $8,000. “It’s basically like a new one now,” he says.
Rosemary’s speed log hadn’t worked prior to the refit, but Ross estimates that the new engine, propeller, the smoothed wetted surface and major weight reduction gave at least a 30 percent increase in motoring performance. More importantly, Rosemary went from being a clanky, heavy, noisy boat under motor to powering smoothly and quietly through the water.
She also became a joy to helm. The previous owner had allowed oysters to get into the rudder shaft, and the rudder bearings were flogged out. Ross had the bearings repaired, and he re-sleeved the shaft before reinstalling the rudder. After that the helm felt butter-smooth.
Rosemary carries 525 gallons of fuel, and her aluminum fuel tanks were thoroughly cleaned. Like most cruising yachts, the transfer of fuel among the tanks depends on a manual system of valves under the saloon sole. They are labeled with black marker pen in cryptic arrows that only the skipper understands.
Next, Ross turned his attention to the large, separate skeg in front of the rudder. “It’s like another rudder blade, but totally separate,” he says. “I was going to cut it off because I couldn’t see the point of it, but now I do. It also protects the rudder. The boat is a pain in the arse to dock, but under autopilot the boat tracks nicely because of that skeg.”
With that work completed, Rosemary had brand-new underwear, but abovedecks she was still clad in an old T-shirt and cut-off jeans. It was time to deal to the decks. During England’s chilly spring days in the Berthon marina, Ross removed all the deck fittings, handrails, stanchions, hatches, winches and the badly crazed windows in the pilothouse and saloon. “It was freezing. Sometimes it was snowing, and I was living onboard amongst it all,” Ross says. Most of the deck gear came off easily as it had been put down on plastic seals. However, some fittings were secured onto the aluminum deck with stainless screws, which had caused pitting due to galvanic corrosion between the stainless steel and aluminum.
Ross ground out the pitting ready for the boatyard crew to fill, fair and paint the deck. “I specified I only wanted a nice finish, not a superyacht finish,” he says. “I took off acres of deck gear—the boat had systems for systems: car pullers, huge rod runners.”
As the waste bin in the boatyard filled with Rosemary’s detritus, the people on the neighboring berth became used to regular expletives as Ross skinned his knuckles on stubborn corroded nuts.
“I didn’t want hydraulic or electric winches,” Ross says, “partly for reliability, because it’s just another system that can go wrong, but also because you end up with a lot of failures. If you’re winding on by hand and it’s getting really hard, you think: ‘There’s something seriously wrong,’ and you have a look. But if you’re pushing the electric winch button, the button doesn’t get harder and harder if something’s jammed. You just start ripping gear off the deck.”
Most of the deck gear he refitted and returned to the deck after painting was completed. The wind generator was fully serviced. “There was nothing wrong with it, but I had all the parts in it replaced, a full recondition. I didn’t want any bearings to fail, so I made sure it was good.”
He also replaced the existing anchor windlass with a new Lewmar model and bought a new B&G autopilot with a spare hydraulic ram as back-up.
“The boat feels very safe. Everything is oversized, including the stanchions. The boat is a nice shape. The arse is not small, but it’s not too big. It’s cut away and not too buoyant. In the North Atlantic, we got some beauty waves through the back, which filled up the cockpit, and massive smashes in the back, and we hardly felt them,” Ross says.
“It’s safe,” he adds. “It will never, ever break in a million years. It’s watertight because I made sure it is, and it sails nicely. I have to get used to sailing at 6 or 7 knots, but reaching along with genoa and staysail and main, and at 90-degree true wind angle, she motorsails at 7 knots and motors easily at 7.5 knots. She’s a beautiful sailing boat and in a massive seaway she isn’t a handful at all.”
After sailing Rosemary 5,000 miles across the North Atlantic and back, Ross says, “Another thing I like about this boat is that when we were in a few of those heavy blows, the old boat gets caught sideways a little bit if you’re coming down the wave and the autopilot gets caught a little bit high, but the boat will drift sideways with the wave and it’s on again, so the boat is not a pig. And we’ve never nose-dived. We’ve been in some big seas but never dug the bow in.”
On racing yachts, comfort is considered a handbrake, so the newly renovated pilothouse became Ross’s happy place—especially when fitted with new canvas, including clears and a zippered doorway. On sunny days, the clears can be rolled up for an indoor/outdoor flow; in cold climes, they lock in the delicious warm from the heated saloon.
“You see guys with twin steering wheels standing outside in the cockpit in the pouring rain, and they’re hating every minute of it,” he says. “All the Vendée Globe boats have covers. Those guys live in a little pod and have a tiller that comes up into the pod. They’re doing 30 knots, foiling, under cover, making a cup of tea. Then you see the Volvo Ocean guys doing 30 knots underwater, and they are being washed off the back of the boat. It’s crazy.”
Originally, the pilothouse included a cockpit table with drop-down leaves to either side, but Ross saw it as a weighty obstacle and removed it. After the clears were installed, Ross’s son Campbell pointed out that, without a table to grab onto for support in rough weather, the crew would grab the clears and probably rip them. Ross agreed and reinstalled the table frame, minus its leaves.
Another favorite place is the lazarette—or, as Ross calls it, “the boot”—which houses the steering quadrant, Spectra watermaker, a small workbench and storage for spare parts, as well as accessing the engine room.
“There is shitloads of storage,” Ross says. “I carry mountains of rope because everyone says I have to. I have enough rigging rope to re-rig the boat.” Other spares include four sets of impellers, oil and fuel filters, 13 gallons of John Deere oil, coolant and grease. “I bought maintenance supplies for everything, so I’m self-sufficient,” Ross says. He also carries 330ft of anchor chain, plus 160ft of spare chain and three spare anchors.
Beam-on, Rosemary looks quite sleek. Stern-on, her full beam becomes apparent and provides plenty of space belowdecks.
The layout is perfect for expedition cruising. There is a large forward cabin for the skipper, with plenty of stowage. There are two heads-and-shower compartments: one to port; the other to starboard just aft of the skipper’s cabin. This means there is a toilet available to use on the easier, leeward side at sea, regardless whether the yacht is sailing on port or starboard tack.
Rosemary’s saloon has a C-shaped settee to starboard and straight settee to port. Outboard on both sides of the settees is a pilot berth, which is a perfect place to sleep down to leeward in heavy weather. Ross sleeps in these berths at sea as the forward cabin moves around too much for sleep in rough seas.
The galley, to starboard, benefits from Rosemary’s generous interior volume, and its layout helps to keep the cook safe in rough weather. Ross had a strap fitted to run fore-and-aft across the entrance to the galley. On starboard tack, the crew stays uphill of the strap to avoid sliding down toward the nav station; on port tack, you lean into the strap from the port side to stop sliding down toward the gas cooker. Ross also installed a new bar-sized fridge in the galley and a similar-sized, front-opening freezer in the lazarette. He retained the domestic water pump for the galley and bathrooms, and keeps a spare in case the original pump fails.
The nav station is to port, opposite the large galley. There are double aft cabins either side beneath the cockpit.
Finally, Ross upgraded Rosemary’s Eberspacher heater to a bigger model. The Eberspacher heater heats cold air from outside the boat in a small diesel motor, which draws fuel from Rosemary’s tanks via a small pump, then distributes the warm air via ducts throughout the boat’s interior. The other heating source consists of a diesel-fueled pot-belly stove forward in the saloon beside the mast. An engineer in Lymington gave it a full service. Ross uses fire starters to heat the chamber, so the diesel fuel vaporizes and burns cleanly when he opens the valve. A rack above the diesel heater comes in handy for drying wet socks, sea boots and gloves in port. The heater’s flue exits through the skipper’s bathroom, making it toasty warm, and provides a larger drying room for towels and wet clothes.
On completion, Ross was happy. “I like the bare aluminum hull and the cockpit is repainted and looks great. I like the outside of the hull; you can hit things, and we tied up to some horrible docks in Greenland and you’re not even worried about it. Best of all, people keep away from you. They see you coming, and they think it’s a battleship.
“I’m very proud of her. And so is Campbell, because he worked a lot on her, too. You see people walking down the dock and they stop and look. I reckon the rocks are scared as we go past them.”
Ed Note: To order a copy of Wild Seas to Greenland—A Sailing Adventure with Ocean Racer Ross Field (Oceanspirit Publishing: e-book NZ$14.99; NZ$39.99 plus postage for the print version) go to rebeccahayter.co.nz
Photos by Rebecca Hayter