A major refit project on a classic cruising boat
As someone who typically has two or three boat projects either on the go or in the planning stages, I’m well aware of how easy it is to bite off more than I can easily chew. My only rule is that no project must impede the boat’s primary purpose—to be sailed.
This spring I hustled to replace the DC and AC distribution panels, refinish the nav station and wire in a new plotter before the boat was launched. I also need to install a new autopilot, and attend to a host of cosmetic issues, but I can do all that in afternoon-size chunks in between daysails. That way, I always know why I’m going to all this trouble.
I thought about the work/reward balance when I dropped in on Joe Grenier, a marine surveyor and rigger based on Boston’s north shore. Joe has taken on the mother of all projects: the complete rebuild, inside and out, of an early 1980s-vintage Valiant 40.
If you’re at all interested in the evolution of cruising boat design you’ll certainly have heard of the Valiant 40. It’s something of a legend, not just for its seaworthiness but, alas, for the severe blistering that plagued many examples built in the mid- to late-70s. Caused by a chemical reaction between fire retardant resin and the type of fiberglass used by the builders, this blistering affects the entire hull, unlike the osmotic blistering which is typically found below the waterline on many 70s and 80s boats.
To cut a long story short, this is one reason Joe was able to pick up this boat for a song after it was donated to charity. It had a severe case of Valiant acne. But under these blemishes lies a thoroughbred cruiser capable of transporting its crew safely to the far corners of the oceans, and that’s why Joe is lovingly restoring this bepimpled beauty.
Of course, this being an older sailboat, there was more than one issue to be addressed. The main one was soggy balsa core in the cabintop and decks—the side decks in particular were “like walking on a trampoline,” says Joe. Working in his spare time, he cut out the top skins in sections, scraped out the wet core, and then replaced it with closed cell foam, vacuum-bagging the new laminate. A job like this would cost upwards of $25,000 were a yard to do it.
Belowdecks, much of the trim has been ripped out, including the headliner and ceiling. A rewire is under way, and cables dangle like lurking snakes around the saloon and galley. The paneling has been torn from the cabintop sides, and dotted outlines show where new portlights will go. New lockers are being framed above the saloon settees.
Taking all this in, I tell Joe—as one old-boat masochist to another— that I’m not going to ask when he expects to finish this project. I know there’s no answer to that question. In the way of older boats, everywhere you look there is something else that needs doing—if not now, then sometime down the road. At least the engine is near-new and most of the other systems are fine, if dated.
It is a cool late-spring day but it is already getting hot under the translucent canopy (one reason Joe has been able to work on the boat through New England winters) as I descend the ladder to check out the boat’s nether regions for signs of the dreaded Valiant pox. Sure enough, a swipe of the hand along the blue topsides reveals numerous coin-sized pimples—a textbook case. The solution, says Joe enthusiastically, will be to peel the gelcoat off the entire hull and then fiberglass it, fair it and paint it. Gulp.
There’s no doubt that at the end of this project, Joe will have a go-anywhere boat that will have set him back—in dollar terms—a fraction of what a comparable new 40-footer would cost. You can’t put a price on the sweat equity and love that goes into such a project—any more than you can predict when it’ll be finished…