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DIY: a Top-to-Bottom Refit—Looking for Warts

 After Passion’s ground tackle arrangement was totally reworked

 After Passion’s ground tackle arrangement was totally reworked

Before setting out on the boat’s major refit, I sailed Passion for nearly five years. I wanted to learn all about her personality and identify her quirks and needed improvements. Some were painfully obvious. Others only emerged after years of sailing and under certain conditions.

One immediately obvious issue was a leaky hull-to-deck joint, since the Pearson 40’s toerail and joint were built in the same way as most production boats from the ‘70s and ‘80s. Specifically, the deck had been placed on top of an inward-facing hull flange and the overlap was then sealed with a bedding compound and held together with fasteners. After that, the teak cap rail was put on as little more than a decorative covering, fastened every 20in or so. Not surprisingly, after 30 years of flexing and working, the waterproofing of this construction was now leaking badly. One of my first to-do’s, therefore, was to stop the leaks. This could not wait and was taken care shortly after I bought the boat.

Beyond that, cruising with the boat’s standard interior layout confirmed something I have always believed—that boatbuilders feel cramming in the largest number of berths will help sales. In the P-40, the Pearson design team included berth/bunk space for seven. This may have been a great selling feature at boat shows, but it’s unreasonable to expect seven people to live, sleep and eat in such a small space, especially with only one head. Add to that the common problem to all boats—not enough storage space—and I knew I would be reducing the number of berths.

The original quarter-berth and nav-station layout

The original quarter-berth and nav-station layout

I also discovered when I sailed in heavy weather that the nav-station layout did not work for me. Specifically, with its forward-facing table and seat station, the space was nearly unusable on port tack because you would slide out of the seat. Combined with a very limited area for chart storage (yes, I still use paper charts), it was obviously a major redesign of the nav-station was also going to be in my future.

As I sailed Passion in Florida’s waters, something else I discovered was that she was unacceptably underpowered. In calm conditions with nominal winds, she would motor easily at 6.5 knots. But add a moderate headwind and a few waves on the bow, and she slowed to half that. I tried different prop pitches but ultimately determined the original, nearly 30-year-old Westerbeke 40 (actually only 37hp) was simply insufficient for my needs. I, therefore, decided to replace it with a 50hp Beta 50. Thanks to improvements in engine design and materials, the new engine actually weighs less than the old Westerbeke and puts out 50 percent more torque.

The original small engine compartment 

The original small engine compartment 

Of course, as is always the case, there are additional considerations to take into account when making an engine change. The Pearson 40 was built with a 46gal fuel tank, and while the Beta 50 is more efficient than the old Westerbeke, its additional horsepower would still increase fuel consumption, making the existing fuel capacity marginal at best. The original Walter V-drive was also deemed to be too small for the more powerful Beta by, so I would also need a new and larger V-drive as well.

Yet another engine issue that emerged was accessed. The original engine compartment had its sides just a few inches away from the sides of the engine, making access to the engine extremely difficult. Also, the original fuel tank in the P-40 was mounted about 10in directly aft of the rear-facing Westerbeke, dramatically limiting access to the water pump, alternator and belts. This meant pretty much any kind of engine maintenance required crawling in through the companionway while laying on top of the engine. Being a habitual do-it-yourselfer, I needed to fix that. Enlarging the compartment and moving the tank were therefore added to the list.

Another unexpected concern I discovered was the high steering loads required to keep the P-40 under control in gusty beam and quartering seas. After a long day of high-wind sailing, my arms were inevitably sore from fighting the wheel. The Pearson 40 rudder was typical of many from that era with all the blade area aft of the rudder post and the trailing edge of the rudder angled aft under water. The stern of the Pearson 40 is also fairly severely “pinched-in” due to the IOR handicapping rule that was in place at the time the boat was designed. This pinched stern and the associated bump, “or bustle,” forward of the rudderpost was a great rule beater, but unfortunately disrupts waterflow, creating turbulence that decreases the effectiveness of the rudder, especially when the boat is heeled. Worse yet, no amount of reefing or sail trim adjustments could relieve the loads, which also easily overpowered the pedestal-mounted autopilot even in modest winds and seas. A rudder/stern redesign was therefore added to my must-have list—along with a call to a yacht designer.

Flush-decked boats are rare, and in most cases you either love them or you hate them. My first “big boat” was a Cal 25, and I spent a good deal of time racing with Ted Hood on his “Robin” one-tonners, after which I raced on the Great Lakes for many years on an Ericson 39—all flush-decked, all successful and all giving me great memories. Needless to say, I am a flush-deck aficionado. But—and there always is a “but”—flush-deck boats can be a bit dark below, and while the flush deck of the P-40 makes it feel spacious, the absence of a doghouse and associated large ports also make it seem a touch cave-like. Getting more light below, therefore, became a priority item.

The Boat Show Factor

The louvered locker door design spotted at the Annapolis Boat Show

The louvered locker door design spotted at the Annapolis Boat Show

In my opinion, boat shows are the best place to quickly observe and assess the latest and greatest ideas in the sailing world. During the refit process, I attended the Annapolis, Miami and Newport boat shows multiple times, taking pictures, talking to equipment manufacturers and studying deck layouts, rigging and interiors. The information and ideas I gathered were instrumental to my refit plan. One good example is the design for the louver doors on my lockers. I wanted louver doors for ventilation, but the traditional louver door design would have been very difficult to fabricate since there are over 30 doors on the P-40 and virtually everyone is a different size, requiring separate jigs. Then I discovered a louver door design at the Annapolis boat show that was simple to make and which I immediately knew would be perfect. A few measurements and pictures later, I had my louver door design.

Before ground tackle rework

Before ground tackle rework

Similarly, thoughts of improving anchor handling drove me to photograph over 40 different bowsprits/anchor platforms before finalizing my design for a new bowsprit that would function as an anchor platform and tack-point for an A-sail. Dodger and bimini designs, ventilation, furling systems, sailplan, deck layout, interior plan and nav-station design were also all influenced by the boat show factor.

Ready, Set—Surprise!

After Passion arrived at the “Warehome,” the real work began. First, I stripped her of everything: electronics, cushions, pumps, plumbing, doors, drawers, cabin table, head, engine, fuel and water tanks, deck hardware, you name it. I also removed of the interior trim pieces (well over 300) and ceiling panels. That done, I was able to finally really inspect every square inch of the hull and deck and begin firming up my plan for the reconfiguration and refit.

The good news was that there was no broken tabbing, no fractured bulkheads, no structural issues. Pearson was known for good, solid construction, and the P-40 is a great example. The bad news? At some point in her life, she had suffered a significant oil-in-the-bilge incident, and she still had remnants of this oil in the bilge and up the sides of the hull, and under berths, tanks and equipment. Also, the blister problems we’d found during the pre-purchase survey turned out to be more extensive than anticipated. With the survey and evaluation complete, “demolition” began. 

Ed Note: Sadly, Chip passed away aboard his beloved Passion shortly after this story went to press. Chip was a fine sailor, a great person to work with and we at SAIL will miss him.

Photos courtesy of Chip Lawson

April 2019

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