July 30, 2013

The boat that stays in touch

IT’S STRANGE how one particular boat keeps popping up in your life. I suppose boats become part of the family. Like the kids when they leave home, they keep in touch occasionally — at least, as often as seems necessary to them.

A 30-foot sloop called Freelance was part of our family for only about three years;  but we did share a big adventure. She was young then, just five years old and born in South Africa.

Now she’s 33 and swinging to a mooring in Portsmouth, England.

We sold her in Florida in 1987 and headed west. We didn’t hear from her for years until she suddenly came up for sale in the 1990s. I flew to Florida to see her with intention of buying her back, and was heart-broken at her condition: rust, rot, filth, mildew, cockroaches. Almost everything that could be removed and sold had been removed and sold. The engine control lever was a rusted pair of Vise-Grips.

I made a low-ball offer, which apparently wasn’t enough to cover the bank loan still remaining.

She was eventually bought by a South African who saved her life and her soul. Every few years he would check in with me. Last time he contacted me, Freelance was on the hard in Grenada, West Indies, sitting out the hurricane season. Finally he sailed her to Spain and put her up for sale there.  I thought seriously about buying her back, but as I live on the west coast of America it would have been a very long delivery voyage home, via the Panama Canal or The Horn. I just didn’t have the time or the money.

Out of the blue yesterday I got an e-mail from a stranger in England, giving me details of the present British owner and where he keeps Freelance.  And so the saga continues. One of these days I fully expect someone to buy her, sail her round the Horn, bring her up here to Seattle, and give her to me. Of course, I’ll have to give her right back, because I’ll be too old to sail by then. But it will be a nice gesture.

Today’s Thought
He who joins in sport with his own family will never be dull to strangers.
— Plautus, Trinummus

“What’s all that celebrating in the clubhouse?”
“My wife did it in one.”
“She hit a hole in one?”
“No — she managed to hit the ball in one.”

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)


Michael Purser said...

"...too old to sail?"

Doc Häagen-Dazs said...

This is an excellent saga to demonstrate the need not to re-name a boat. People can change their own names, if it's their will to do so. But never a yacht. Improper.

David Marx said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Marx said...

a 30ft sloop from South Africa.... might she by chance happen to be a Miura ?

John Vigor said...

Hi David:

No, a Performance 31 by Angelo Lavranos, or a Morgan 31 as she was commonly known in South Africa.

John V.

David Marx said...

Sweet little yacht. There's currently a fine example for sale in Durbs that I was considering before I settled on a Miura.
It has to be fate that Freelance keeps popping up....looking fwd to Your update when she's yours again......

Anonymous said...

I am the other South African who purchased her - restored her.After restoring Freelance , I sailed her to Grenada where she was hauled for the season before I single handed the Orinoco and Northern Amazon before sailing to Spain where she was sold later. My name is Mark Cronje and I reside in Ft Lauderdale.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Vigor,

I'm writing to ask you about something that may bring some memories to you.The Morgan 31 designed by Angelo Lavranos which you sailed from South Africa to the US in '87.

Recently, a Morgan 31 came up on the used marked in my country and it's in fair shape. It needs an extensive refit but it's mostly cosmetic. Varnish, paint, some dings in the fibreglass. Nothing structural though. The galley could use an upgrade as well as the head with all of todays creature comforts. But like I said, nothing that would stop you from taking it and go sailing.

The previous owner has kept it in a fairly good condition and even installed a radar and chart plotter a few years ago. The sails are in good shape with just a few years of light usage, the standing rigging looks good and the engine, a Bukh DV-20, starts and runs fine and looks better than many inboards of the same vintage I've seen on other used boats.

I looked at the boat for an hour or so and left with the impression that it is a sound boat, build like the proverbial tank and capable of crossing all oceans and round Cape Horn if the skipper (me) had the guts to do so.

My sailing instructor reckons that the boat is in good condition and would fit my ambitions of cruising both coastal and offshore (not a racer here) and will be a safe and stable boat which will provide comfortable passages.

My only concerns at the moment are:
- Being a long keel boat it may be slow and unable to reach the 100 miles a day average that many cruisers aim for when planning a passage
- Being a long keel boat it may not point very close to the wind which contributes to a reduction in VMG
- Is the 20 HP engine enough for a 5 ton boat?

During the summer, the predominant winds along the Portuguese coast are northerlies, which means that sailing south is all downwind sailing but beating all the way back home which may not be as fun when sailing shorthanded. Motoring is always an option, but not my cup of tea.

What can you tell me about the two points above?

Having had a Morgan 31, what could you tell me about the boat, good and bad points and any issues I should look for?

Best regards,

John Vigor said...

Hi Luis:
Get a copy of my book, Small Boat to Freedom. We always averaged more than 100 miles a day, often 130 to 140, in the trades. She is superbly seaworthy, without any vices, and very seakindly for her size. She doesn't point like a racer but she's no slouch to windward either. The long keel has many advantages for a cruising boat. 20 horsepower is plenty. We had a 12 hp BMW.
Buy her. You won't regret it.
John V.

qwertykev007 said...

Dear John you will be pleased to know freelance is currently being restored and undergoing a full refit in Portsmouth harbour :) saw her today and even had a peek inside she definitely looks a solid built yacht! My interest peaked when I heard the name Lavranos designed , being from the South Coast of South Africa myself I was stunned to see ur "small boat to freedom " sitting in th yard being worked on and have ur book on my next to read list :)

Unknown said...

Hi John. I used to read your column when I grew up in Durban. I recently bought a Morgan 31 (Hirondelle, previously Pato). I tried to acquire your book but it's out of print and second hand dealers are disinclined to ship to SA. Is there a digital copy available? Regards Gavin (Cape Town)

John Vigor said...

Hi Gavin:

Try this:


I don't know who the heck they are, some literary pirates I presume, since I've never heard of them and won't get any money from them.

No matter. Not worth fighting over. Glad you bought a Morgan 31. She has no vices.
Enjoy her.
Cheers and best wishes,
John V.

Unknown said...

WOW,, this is a cool Blog going here.I also own a Morgan 31 It lives on a mooring in Mt Maunganui New Zealand. I have it in really good condition, and spend many nights relaxing onboard. It has a certificate for the Panama Canal onboard.. It is named Vula. They are very well built yachts. Like people say not so good for racing but very good in 5 or 6 mtr sea and 40kts of wind.. We caught the edge of cyclone Pam 4 yrs ago before getting back to port.. I love it. Cheers Dennis. P/S Loved the book John.