About My Boat

Clark February 23rd, 2007

A cruising sailor’s relationship with his boat is perhaps the most intimate a person can have with an inanimate object. (As I write this sentence I whisper aside: I’m sorry, Baby, I have to refer to you as an inanimate object or they’ll think I’m a crackpot.) I can tell if the rig is unbalanced in total darkness from any bunk on the boat. If a sail luffs, if a block rattles, if the water pump runs dry, if a single cotter pin falls on the deck, I will sit bolt upright from a dead sleep. I can tell if the water tanks are full or empty from the slight bulge in the floorboards underfoot in the main salon.

To say I know my boat inside and out is an understatement. It’s like an extension of my own body. Over the course of ten years I have been up to my elbows in every system on the boat, meaning I have either rebuilt or replaced every little bit and bob. At first glance at any problem, I know the history, construction, disassembly and probably the source.

Over the years I have come up with a few axioms that always seem to ring true:

  • On a boat, every repair or upgrade will cost twice as much and take five times as long as you think.
  • When something is forty years old, if you take it apart, it’s broken.
  • On a forty year old boat, things fall into two categories: things that have lasted forty years and will probably last forever and things that have failed and been done right the second time…or the third.
  • If you calculate things in dollar amounts it is just too painful. It is much less painful if you enumerate them in Boat Units. A Boat Unit is $500.

Condesa, is a 40-foot ketch, meaning she has two masts, the big one in front, the little one in back. She is a Salar 40, designed by the venerable Laurent Giles of England, and built by Essex Yacht Builders on Walasea Island, completed in November 1967. Her hull is ridiculously thick fiberglass. Spars are aluminum.

If some sailboats are rocket ships, some are sports cars, and some are luxury sedans, Condesa is a tank. She was built to be safe, comfortable, and seaworthy, and to travel long distances. ‘A round the world yacht’ was the marketing slogan when the boat was built, and it wasn’t just hot air. You don’t see many Salar 40s in the US, but in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand she is a well-respected bluewater design, many of which have circumnavigated. Down Under the Salar 40 seems to hold the same reputation as the American Valiant 40, a gold standard, older cruising design.

She’s got a big engine (Perkins 85HP), cutaway full keel, and big water and diesel tanks, giving her a 1000 mile range under power. Some would call her a motor-sailor, but this is a cruel and inaccurate insult. She sails too well to be a motor-sailor. I prefer to call her a sailing yacht that happens to have a big engine.

Condesa’s most distinctive, and in my opinion her best feature is her prominent wheelhouse. While perhaps not the most pleasing to the eye, the wheelhouse accomplishes three major functions:

  1. It protects the crew from wind, waves, sun, sleet, hail, spray, and the general beating of the elements.
  2. It provides relatively dry and convenient place for all of the instruments.
  3. It provides a perfect exposed surface for mounting an array of solar panels.

I cannot imagine cruising without it. I guess I would be much more at one with the elements, meaning cold, wet, and having skin cancer. In a recent passage down the coasts of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego we had rain, sleet, and hail being driven by fifty knot winds. From behind the protection of the wheelhouse it was nothing more than a curiosity; step outside and we were being gunned down by an icy firing squad. Consider strictly the ravages of the sun in the tropics: By having a roof over my head all these years I have saved my skin untold damage.

I have all of the instruments—GPS, depthsounder, radar, and VHF radio—all mounted on the ceiling, hanging down in easy view just in front of the helm. These instruments are all water-resistant, but even the worst of weather can’t get any spray up there. I can also connect a computer for electronic chart navigation, but I usually keep it below. This arrangement allows me to fly by instruments in zero visibility, as everything is right there in easy view of the helm. Boats that have a navigation station down below are putting all the instruments where they are useless to the person who needs them most, the helmsman. I realize this is usually a necessity of the design, but it’s cumbersome in practice. Having someone yell up the companionway what they see on the radar is inferior to seeing the radar oneself.

Many boats have solar panels in precarious places on adjustable mounts. Condesa’s are securely bolted down on top of the wheelhouse where they are always in the sun. I made rounded teak guards for the sharp corners of the panels to protect crewmembers from injury and rigging from getting snagged.

Another of Condesa’s attractions when I bought her was her center cockpit and split accommodations. There is no belowdecks passageway between the forward and aft cabins. Most aft cockpit sailboats are one big room inside, more or less. Since most of my cruising is done with single people, it is nice to have some privacy. I can be literally having a party in the forward cabin while someone is sleeping peacefully in the aft.

Condesa has two heads, which I thought was ridiculous when I bought her. In practice, it’s great. It’s one of those things I can’t quite explain: If you total the amount of time spent in the head each day for all the crewmembers it probably adds up to less than twenty minutes, yet somehow one head would create a bottleneck and the two heads open things up and give some extra privacy. I have the same kind of toilet, a Raritan PH-2, in both heads, so they are redundant and parts are interchangeable.

Here is a fairly complete breakdown of Condesa’s equipment, for anyone who is interested:

First, the fun stuff: Three surfboards, two windsurfers, a mountain bike, and a guitar. If I had it to do all over again, I would leave the mountain bike, two of the surfboards, and one of the windsurfers at home. Too much junk, but I can’t bear to throw it away.

Sail Plan

Main with two reef points, mizzen with no reef points (very small mizzen, but could use a reef point), mizzen staysail, 1,2, and 3 foresails on a ProFurl roller furler, storm jib.


Each mast independently stayed. Split backstay on mainmast for flying mizzen staysail. Running backstays on mizzen, used mainly when flying staysail.

All rigging (1×19 316 stainless) installed myself with reusable mechanical terminals. I used Sta-Locks on the mainmast and Hayn Hi-Mod terminals on the mizzen. With Sta-Locks I had to use new wedges when I replaced the rigging. With the Hi-Mod terminals everything is reusable. On the second re-rigging these terminals pay for themselves. On the first go they cost about twice as much as swaged terminals. I can’t imagine having it any other way, since with mechanical terminals I can repair any piece of rigging in the field. Once the forestay started to go in the Maldives and I had a new one up within 24 hours.

Ground Tackle

45-pound CQR on 300 feet of 3/8” chain. Second 300-foot rope rode, stored in bow. 25-pound Danforth stern anchor. 75-pound Danforth storm anchor. Additional 300-feet of rope rode stored aft. 450-feet of polypropylene for additional shore lines in the deep south.

Electric anchor windlass is a Muir Cheetah, built in Tasmania. The windlass is run by a solenoid switch, which is wired to the cockpit at well as the foredeck. This is a KEY SAFETY FEATURE and I consider in a necessity. The ability to bring the anchor up quickly, and do so from the cockpit while at the helm, can save the boat. At least once I have been alone and had to do just this as Condesa was about to go on the rocks after dragging anchor.


Twelve volt with latest, greatest Danfoss compressor installed in 2006. Only uses 3 amps and can still make ice cubes.

Propane System

Two 20-pound bottles stored in vented locker with on-off solenoid. Two-burner ship’s stove with oven; on-demand propane hot water heater (see Boatworks, Spring 2004). Each bottle lasts me 3-4 months of full time living aboard, sometimes with intensive bread baking.


8-foot hardbottom inflatable, made in Langkawi by Dr. Carlos. 3.3HP Mariner outboard. Many little tricks and customizations to the dinghy (see Inflatable Nirvana, SAIL, January 2007).


AutoHelm windvane (not to be confused with the electronic autopilot company of the same name) completely separate from ship’s rudder and self contained, a necessity of the center cockpit layout. This provides some redundancy and a spare rudder, but it’s a bit of a pain to run to the aft deck 400 times per day to adjust the vindvane. This thing has horsepower: it can force the boat through a 90 degree turn on a dime in a gale with an unbalanced sail plan. The hardest working piece of gear onboard.

Condesa also has an electronic autopilot, which was original equipment in 1967. I have correspondence between the original owner of the boat and the company, Sharp, circa 1970, saying that the Sharp Company in England burned down and all documentation for my autopilot was destroyed…and it still works! It’s temperamental and steers like it’s a bit drunk, but it is functional for while we’re motoring. It is built of simple components with no microprocessors, thus everything can be troubleshot and repaired with some basic knowledge of electronics, which I have picked up the hard way over the years, mainly through my friend Harry, who loves this stuff.


A PŪR (now Katadyne) Powersurvivor 40. This is the cheapest, smallest watermaker available, and mine is actually an upgrade to a Powersurvivor 40 using the motor and drive unit from an old Powersurvivor 35. The usage pattern seems to be long times with the thing pickled, not using it at all, followed by extensive periods in remote locations using it intensively. It’s an advanced piece of technology and has required plenty of tinkering and repairs over the years. Since it draws 5 amps and I have to run it for 10-20 hours to make any appreciable amount of water, I might opt for a watermaker with a higher output that I ran for a shorter time, like while running the engine, or even an engine-driven model. Seems to be just as handy when purity of shore water is uncertain, as when fresh water unavailable.


A Dickinson Alaska diesel heater in the forward cabin with a hot water coil and hot water piped to a radiator in the aft cabin. Still tinkering with this at the time of writing. Currently has natural (convection or thermosiphonic) circulation to the radiator, which doesn’t provide quite enough flow. Radiator gets warm, but not hot enough to really heat the aft cabin. Circulation pump probably forthcoming. Heater requires separate fuel pump. Learned the hard way that the flue must be well clear of any turbulence on deck, thus I have a yard-long galvanized extension and an H-cap for using the heater in high winds.

Emergency and Safety

4-man Avon liferaft, ditch bag with food and essentials, 5-gallons of water in large jug. Supposedly the watermaker, the Powersurvivor 40, can be detached and used in the liferaft. I tried attaching the hand pump once and sweated more water than I made, plus I blew out one of the seals because my pumping was irregular and too forceful compared to the electric motor.

7 life preservers, six adult, one child.

Parachute and handheld flares. I have a flare gun, but can’t buy shells anywhere outside the gun-toting USA.

Class B and 406Mhz EPIRBS

Handheld VHF in easy reach

16-foot sea anchor with associated tackle

Complete ship’s medical kit with all manner of bandages, sutures, syringes, IV’s, antibiotics, and medications. Good emergency medicine books as well as the Merck Manual.

Radio Equipment

ICOM HF radio with SGC tuner. Antenna is random wire, led to the top of the mast. This was cheaper than an insulated backstay. I keep enough spare wire for a spare antenna. Ground plane is a random mess of ground foil to tanks, engine, and a one square foot bronze grounding plate, which is also a lightening ground. I got very paranoid about lightening after Central America, where I knew nine boats that were struck.

Kantronics Kam+ modem

Uniden shipboard VHF

ICOM handheld VHF

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