We are often asked what kind of boat we are sailing. We are now approximately halfway around the world, so I thought it would be a good time to explain to you about the history of our lovely ship, Mai Tai, our home and our ‘magic carpet’. But first, let us take you sailing!
During the 1940’s and 1950’s the United States Naval Academy, located in Annapolis, Maryland, maintained a fleet of 12 wooden, 44-foot sailboats to aid in teaching the Navy Cadets seamanship. This fleet of sailboats was built back in 1938. In 1960, the Navy decided to replace this aging fleet with a new fleet built with the new ‘miracle material’ called fiberglass. These new boats were designed for fiberglass construction by Bill Luders, although the lines of the hull and keel were very much the same. Twelve of these boats were rigged as traditional yawls and went to the Navy Academy in 1962. They were built in Bellingham, Washington, so they needed to be shipped across the country to Maryland. The US Navy required the boats to be built so strongly that they could be loaded on flatbed railroad cars, on their sides, for their transport across the USA. It was also required that they be rigged with lifting rings in the top of their masts so they could be picked up by Navy Ships at sea and lifted onboard. After these 12 were delivered to the Annapolis Naval Academy, six more were built for the six investor/owners of the boatyard and these were rigged as cutters. The days of the more traditional yawl rig were fast coming to an end in yacht racing circles.
Mai Tai was one of the six cutters that were built for the owners of the boat yard. This design was later marketed to the racing sailors in the 1960’s as the Annapolis 44. However, the boat, as specified by the US Navy, was far too expensive to build for the yacht racing marketplace. Consequently, there were no more Annapolis 44’s ever built.
I purchased Mai Tai from her original owner in 1989 with the idea of converting her from a very successful racing boat in the 1960’s, to a comfortable offshore cruiser that could be easily sailed on long passages by two people. Her strong construction, seaworthy design, and easy maintenance made her an ideal boat for offshore cruising. The decks and cabin are foam-cored fiberglass, and the hull is solid fiberglass. Even the floors are made of foam-cored fiberglass. The bulkheads are marine-ply, and they are glassed into the hull.
Making the boat better suited for offshore, short-handed cruising involved removing most of the original interior but leaving the main bulkheads in place. The pipe berths for the racing crew and ‘U’ shaped salon table came out initially. The old refrigerator box came out next, which made space for a proper quarter berth and chart table arrangement. The galley was expanded and included a deep galley sink on centerline and lots of storage cabinets were added. Full size port and starboard sea berths with lee cloths were built in as well. The new salon table is hinged to the main bulkhead so it can be easily stowed up and out of the way. Up forward we filled in the ‘V’ berth, which made a really nice big forward berth. We use this forward berth when we are in port or at anchor. It is usually too bouncy to sleep up forward while underway. We tore out the old toilet and built in a black-water tank with the new toilet bolted down over the top of it. While the interior was out, we also removed the old vinyl headliner and pulled out all of the original wiring, replacing it with marine grade tinned wire. The new batteries were re-located aft of the engine, under the cockpit. The new galley included a large, top-loading ice box with plenty of foam insulation surrounding it. (We wouldn’t get electric refrigeration for another ten years). After all the changes below deck, we sanded the whole interior back to bare wood and spray painted all the surfaces. We taped off the varnished wood trim but the bulkheads and cabinets, which used to be varnished, were all painted white. This made the interior much lighter and highlighted the varnished trim. All of the new interior was made with marine plywood and the edges were glassed onto the hull. I made all new cabinet doors and drawers out of Honduras mahogany and varnished them. Of course, all of the cushions had to be replaced as well.
The original engine was already 25 years old but it probably didn’t have very many hours on it. However, it was overheating a bit and losing oil so I decided to replace it. This was a much bigger job than one might think. The old engine was a BMC (British Motor Corp) from England and the new engine that I installed was a Yanmar 4JHE. The transmission linkage was on opposite side as was the oil filter, alternator, heat exchanger, etc. So, all the cables and hoses had to be replaced and re-routed. The exhaust was the most difficult to reinstall and I made some mistakes when installing it, which I would pay dearly for later. The Yanmar 4JHE gave me excellent service for the next 22 years and 5,800 engine hours.
About eight years ago the Yanmar finally blew a hole in the block and was finished. This was the end result of a long-term problem with the exhaust back filling with sea water and subsequently filling the engine. We had to pull the Yanmar out and replace it. However, the cost of a new Yanmar was way over our budget. Fortunately, a diesel mechanic that I knew was selling a 1979 BMC1800 that was in good condition. We bought the BMC, and I went to work re-building it and fitting it in Mai Tai. It turns out that these engines were quite commonly used in London Taxis and English narrow canal boats. They are well known as simple, robust engines that will run forever and parts are still available for them. One of the benefits of this old-style engine is that there are no electronic parts or computer chips that need programing.
I think I solved the exhaust problem, and the “new” engine has purred along nicely since we left Auckland, almost five years ago. We did blow the head gasket in Indonesia and had to pull the head off to fix it, but that is another story. Another time we lost oil from the engine and had to make repairs in Oman. Mostly it has run perfectly well.
We decided to remove the original two bladed propeller and buy a 3 bladed Max Prop with feathering blades to improve performance, both under power and sail. We are on our second Max Prop now after 33 years.
We stripped the deck of everything bolted to it. Winches, stanchions, rails, chalks and cleats were all removed. We took the mast out and fitted all new rigging. We sanded and spray painted the exterior with two-part polyurethane paint. Some of the original bronze deck fittings were removed and sent to a chrome shop to be re-chromed.
The old sheet winches were removed and replaced with self-tailing models, and we moved their positions further aft, closer to the helm, to make it easier for one person to sail the boat. The old roller boom was replaced with a standard boom. We added a staysail forestay as well. The mast already had the tang in place for the upper end, but we did have to install a deck fitting and below-deck structure to support the new forestay. Mai Tai was finally rigged as designed, a true cutter.
The lifelines and stanchions were all removed as was the bow pulpit and stern push-pit. New ones were made several inches higher for safety and we managed to design all of the new stanchion bases so that they were bolted into the deck and the bulwark, which gives them a great deal more strength.
The new push-pit was designed with a very nice stern seat, under which the LPG tanks are securely fastened. It also incorporates an arch for solar panels, radar dome, antennas and even outboard motor brackets and davits. We have spent countless hours sitting in the stern on our lovely teak seat watching the sea swish by and feeling the salt spray and wind in our face.
There was no anchor windlass on Mai Tai when I purchased her. It was considered unnecessary for a race boat. Especially one that was a member in the prestigious Royal Vancouver Yacht Club. The yacht club had many docking facilities throughout the Puget Sound, which made anchoring a rare thing. Since our intention was to take Mai Tai offshore, we installed a Muir electric windlass with all chain rode. Chain rode is considered essential for any boat heading on a long voyage. We also had an extremely strong stainless steel anchor roller system made and installed it on the bow.
I also built large ventilators in the cabin top for the tropics. These are built on boxes that allow air into the cabin but water can’t get through. We mounted stainless rails down both sides of the cabin top, which have provided essential hand holds when moving forward in rough weather. The new staysail had to have a staysail sheet track installed as well. This we installed just on the outside of the handrails on the cabin top.
There were several headsails onboard when we purchased the boat, but they were all pretty tired. Mai Tai had roller furling on her headstay, which we removed straight away as I prefer hank-on sails for offshore cruising. We had a new genoa made and purchased a used sail from another boat. It didn’t really fit all that well, but we made it work for several years. Many years later, while in New Zealand, I had all new sails made by North Sails and currently carry four jibs of varying sizes, two staysails, the main and also a lightweight nylon asymmetrical spinnaker. The headsails are all hank-on sails so we can change them at sea according to the weather we are experiencing.
Mast and Rigging:
Mai Tai’s aluminium mast is original, over sixty years old. When we bought the boat there was quite a lot of corrosion around the mast fittings. We removed all of the fittings and stripped the paint off. We were going to re paint it but a professional rigger recommended that we leave the paint off. Aluminum, if left unpainted, will form a protective oxidation over the surface and the corrosion will stop. We had to cut 25 mm off the bottom of the mast due to corrosion on the bottom edge. We made a new mast step 25mm thicker to compensate for what we cut off. We added mast steps all the way to the top, which makes it very easy to check the rigging regularly and change halyards when needed. This is especially important if you are cruising as a husband/wife team. The original spreaders were made of wood and we found some dry rot in a few spots so we had new spreaders made out of aluminum. When we stepped the mast, we increased the diameter of the 7X19 stainless steel rigging to 10mm from the original 8.5mm. We also used mechanical fittings instead of swaged fittings. We did this for two reasons; one, we can change the rigging ourselves if we are stuck in a remote island somewhere and do not have access to a rigging company. Two, mechanical fittings are less prone to cracking and therefore are more reliable over a long period. Moisture can get into the swaged fittings and has no way to get out. This causes corrosion, which leads to expanding internal pressure and then cracking begins.
Wind Vane Steering:
We started cruising on Mai Tai in 1990. In those days there were very few choices of autopilots on the market. The really good ones were made for commercial boats in the fishing fleets, and they used a lot of power to run them. The fishing boats run their engines continuously, so they had no shortage of available power. However, cruising boats try to use the engine as little as possible. So, most cruising boats used wind vane steering systems, which sailed the boats by using the wind to control their rudder. Mai Tai has a very old Fleming Wind Vane, which has served us very well for over 30 years. In addition to the windvane, we also installed one of those commercial fishing boat autopilots, a WH Autopilot, which we use only when we are motoring and have plenty of power to run it. This unit is still operating perfectly after 32 years. I did receive an upgraded brain unit for the WH Autopilot in 2005 and in 2017 I had new seals installed on the hydraulic pump, which had just started leaking.
GPS navigation equipment didn’t exist when we started cruising in 1990. There were no chart plotters, no AIS, no weather information via satellite phone, in fact no mobile phones either. We did have a depth sounder, a single sideband radio and a VHF radio. That was it!
By 1992 a new piece of navigation equipment came out called Sat Nav. This would allow you to get a satellite position fix about once each day. We thought this was incredible and purchased one immediately. It was accurate to within a half mile! In 2005, after fifteen years of cruising, we finally added radar, a chart plotter and weather fax in New Zealand, all Furuno equipment. We still use the same equipment today. We have never had wind instruments of any kind. I believe you can tell what the wind is doing by how the boat is feeling and I don’t see the point of spending a lot of money on an instrument that so often gets damaged or destroyed.
Creature Comforts and Nice to Have Stuff:
We did add refrigeration in our wonderful top-loading ice box in 2004. That has been really great to have. So, we cruised for 14 years with only ice to keep food. Usually, we could find a fishing harbour where they supplied chipped saltwater ice to the fishing boats. We don’t have a freezer because it would use too much electricity to run it and we really don’t find the need to keep things frozen. We just replaced our original fridge two months ago after 18 years of perfect service. We have installed the same brand, Isotherm, but upgraded to their newest unit. It is water cooled through the use of a special through hull, which they supply with the unit. This makes it very efficient, even in tropical waters.
We added an electric winch on the aft deck for hoisting our big, heavy, full-batten mainsail. This winch has also helped us with our stern anchor and stern mooring lines. It has been a great addition because the person at the helm can steer the boat into the wind while using their foot on the deck switch to hoist the main. This frees up the other person so they can be at the mast to assist the main going up and sorting out the reefing lines.
We also use the electric winch for lifting our dinghy out of the water and securing it to the rail at night. The old saying applies here,” if it is easy, it will get done”.
One of the ways that I convinced Kay to go cruising again was I offered to put a washing machine onboard. I don’t think she believed I could do it and agreed to going if she had a washing machine. Well, it was almost impossible, but I did it and it has been a wonderful addition. No longer do we have to find somewhere on shore to deal with our dirty laundry. No more lugging the laundry bag through villages when we arrive somewhere.
Mai Tai also has a water maker, which provides enough water that we can use the washing machine and take showers! One other really big advantage is that we do not need to rely on village water supplies, which could be hazardous to our health. We always fill our tanks with pure water from our water maker unless we are in a marina for an extended period of time. Our water maker is driven by our main diesel engine, which allows us to make a lot of water fast. Most units are operated by 12-volt motors, which run on the boat’s batteries. However, they make water very slowly and usually one has to run the engine anyway to recharge the batteries after making water.
About seven years ago we needed new batteries. After a great deal of research, I decided to build a lithium battery system. The big advantage lithium batteries have over lead acid batteries is they accept recharging much faster. This is of great benefit to a cruising boat. It means less engine running time and less hours of sunshine required to top them up. In addition, they are one third the weight and size of lead acid batteries for the same power rating. The life of a lithium bank could be as much as five times longer as well.
There is not one thing that has given as much comfort to our cruising lifestyle as the hard top we built for Mai Tai in New Zealand in 2005. This was a big project, which took months to design and build. However, on long offshore passages the benefit of being warm, dry, safe and secure under the hardtop has been absolutely amazing. When you duck inside, out of the weather, you find it is quiet and calming. It also protects the navigation instruments, and the safety-glass windows are always clear and easy to see through, even at night. In cold weather you can stay warm and in wet weather you can stay dry. We can stand on it to put away the main sail and the stainless handrails on the sides provide grips for going forward. I highly recommend a solid, hard top on any boat crossing oceans.
When I was building the hard top, I hauled Mai Tai out and sanded and painted her hull and deck. She was looking pretty shabby by then and since I needed to fiberglass the hard top to the cabin top, it was the obvious opportunity to do this big job at the same time. Once again, we removed all of the deck fittings, sanded everything, painted several primer coats and then sprayed three coats of acrylic topcoat. The boat looked spectacular!
In 2011 we had circled New Zealand and stopped in Nelson for three years. This was a great place to buy new 7X19 stainless steel wire and re-rig the boat. Because I had switched to mechanical end fittings, all I needed was new wire. I did all of the work myself and was able to complete the job without removing the mast. Soon after that job was finished, we sailed Mai Tai up to Vanuatu and spent six months cruising in those wonderful islands. The rigging is still in excellent condition as I write this in 2022.
We left New Zealand in 2018 to circumnavigate the world. The last four and a half years have been full of adventure, education, excitement and fun. Mai Tai has proven once again that she can take whatever the sea throws at her and she will handle it in style and with an elegance that very few modern boats possess. She is solid, safe and moves in a very sea-kindly manner that provides the crew with confidence in sailing her. She sails easily in light wind and yet is remarkably comfortable in stormy weather. We would like to re paint her next year when we are in Tunisia before we cross the Atlantic Ocean. We love being the caretakers of this beautiful classic ship of ours, truly our Magic Carpet!
A remarkable commentary on the history, work and thoughtfulness that went into the making of your dream boat! Thank you for taking the time to write and share your stories.
Hi Jim – thank you for your comment. It has beena labour of love!