We don’t give nearly enough space to the cruising end of things, so we dig it when we get stories from the peeps. Anarchist Hans sent this one in. If you’ve got something cruisey that you think is interesting, send it in!
Someone told me once that I’ll be doing fine if I get a foot of boat for every year of my age. At 34, my second life for some years now had been as a racecar driver. But with a four-year-old, racing was just taking time away from my new family. As a kid, I sailed Lasers at the Club Náutico de San Juan and spent many summers sailing the Virgin Islands on my best friend’s sailboat. I grew to love the ocean and the adventure of discovering the thousands of destinations on land and under water that Puerto Rico and the Virgins offered. It was the lifestyle I wanted for my children one day, so it was logical to go back to sailing. They say every time two sailboats heading in the same direction see each other on the water, a silent race is on. It’s true. I wanted a cheap superfast cruiser. What is it? How about retro-fitting an aged race boat to cruise?
This red hot rod of a boat caught my eye on December 2004, standing on the yard at Puerto del Rey, in Fajardo, PR. The 1984 J35 “Ventajero” was a local legend. Previous winner of the ‘Round Puerto Rico Race and the St. Thomas Rolex, it was full of great stories. After a quick visit and some research on the internet, I was very interested. Over two-hundred boats on the water, five active one-design fleets, and an American Sailboat Hall of Fame Inductee. In other words, a “Certified Classic”. If my dream car would have been a Ferrari, at least here I got my fast red toy for a fraction of the cost.
I called my friend, professional sailor and rigger Jorge Hernandez to please come and see it and give me a dead honest opinion whether to purchase the boat or keep looking. Jorge came and after a close inspection, I still remember his advice: “It’s on its way to becoming a cadaver, but the basics are healthy and we can save it. It’s an awesome boat. You’ll sail faster than most 40-footers today.” He was in, and so was I. So here I was, $27,000 later, with my beat-up-racer-to-become-superfast-cruiser. I was lucky to have a multi-talented construction employee, Albert, who lived nearby the yard. We took the thing apart and called it Monster Garage J for some time. Jorge supervised. I also called J Boats, to see if by any chance, I was able to get a copy of an owner’s manual for the restoration of my almost twenty-year old boat. I talked briefly with a very nice lady on the phone and got a quick reply: “Just mail us a check for $20. I’ll be mailing you right away.” She even offered Rod Johnstone’s phone number mentioning he’d be glad to offer any advise if I needed. I was very impressed. That’s how a world-class family business services, and I had just bought an old boat! I received my owner’s manual copy in two days.
I won’t go into detail, but after three months, the project wasn’t worth $1,000. Outside, all deck hardware was out. Thankfully, balsa core was in very good condition, except for the genoa track and winch locations. We spent a few weeks just removing the rotted balsa and re-coring with a mix of epoxy resin and micro-fibers. Jorge prepared routed fiberglass backing plates for all new hardware. Inside, everything went out, with the exception of bulkheads, engine, diesel tank and the only two small cabinets. That’s when the news came, my wife was pregnant! Make that a family cruiser, baby included, with a wife who had never sailed. Call it either brave or stubborn.
I was kept excited by many who I met in the marina, asking if I was the one who purchased Ventajero. Eyes lit up with awesome racing stories…many. I’m an architect, with 15 years in the construction business. That means probably too much creativity for the assignment and no fear of destruction and reconstruction. Jorge, a perfectionist. We discussed the project. The basic requirement for the ideal boat given the situation: safety first, and it had to sail singlehanded.
Fifteen months later, with new everything and then some, “Cavallino” went in the water. It looked beautiful, shiny red hull with brand new white non-skid and all new Harken hardware, running and standing rigging. With tiller steering, it felt like a big Laser. It sailed beautifully, although a bit “sporty” for the family. By that, I mean a wet cockpit, and a bit too much heel. The boat also felt light against 3’ chop. You usually see these boats crewed with 8-10 guys, 6 of them on the rail, and now I know why.
The J35 sure is beamy, at 11.8’. I also needed more fresh water. Ta-da! Two custom fiberglass tanks behind settees. I met a local artisan, Ismael, who promised to deliver. He built both tanks shaped and bonded against the hull. We measured and they made about 95 gallons each! We installed them with Rule bilge pumps inside each of them and placed switches at the cockpit. Water ballast transfer happened at 3.5 minutes for a full tank. The heel correction is good for about 3-4 degrees, and the boat feels a lot more planted as it slices upwind.
It was time to make the cruiser look like it inside. I worked with local shop Sand, Sea and Air interiors to design the interior upholstery. Sunbrella textile was child friendly, and a top 1” layer of memory foam provided extra comfort. We got an award from the Marine Fabricators Association for “Ourstanding Achievement” in 2008. Custom teak cabinets were installed for storage above tanks and many more projects followed. With plenty of water, extra-large batteries, new AC/DC panel, inverter, diesel generator, A/C, microwave, electric cooktop, fresh water electric head, auto pilot and GPS now we have a fully equipped cruiser. The kids’ biggest smile was when they saw the 22-in. LCD, where we hookup our Apple TV. I had gone from “Monster Garage” to “Pimp my J”.
On the cockpit, custom molded fiberglass backrests deflect water and keep the seating dry. A table was fabricated and it doubles as a center insert turning the seats into a big lounge pad, with cushions also by SSA. The last projects were to move the primary winches back and make them electric. The main halyard was routed back and I can raise the mainsail from the helm with the electric winch. Also, I added a hatch for the bow locker. J35s have huge bow lockers, but only accessible from the v-berth. The space was good for anchor locker and also for the gennaker bag. A Forte Carbon bowsprit was installed on deck and rigged to extend and retract from the cockpit.
I’ve had the best time pimpin’ my J and sailing Cavallino, our pimped superfast family cruising classic. Hope you enjoy our recent YouTube movie, “Sailing Culebra 2010”. In contrast to very tough economic times, we had some great moments to start the new decade. To be continued.