A Small Boat and a Big Plan

Kate & Fabio find the perfect boat, a 1965 Columbia 29, and spend the next six months fixing it up for full-time travel around North America.

a woman in a gas mask and with a do-rag wrapped 'round her head, cleaning a boat

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Fabio and I began to go boat shopping as more of a hobby. He was living in Newport, Rhode Island last summer, and I was in NYC, so we did a lot of driving around between those points, and would often find ourselves gazing up at bare hulls propped on spindly boat stands in shipyards. For us, this might be a typical date night.

In this way we got to know what we wanted. We wanted a Good Old Boat, a small sailing vessel from the era of boatbuilding when fiberglass was a new material and hulls were still being constructed with a thickness similar to their wooden predecessors. By the 70’s, boat builders realized they could build with much less fiberglass, but not before quite a few solid, sea worthy fiberglass boats hit the market.

We decided on a 1965 Columbia 29 designed by Sparkman & Stephen. When we entered the boat, she was a disaster…no systems, no windows, no rigging, primed but no paint, etc. If we were rational people, we would have kept looking, but we both agreed after that first visit, that this boat was calling to us. We joked that if the boat was saying anything it would be saying “HELP ME!”.

a newly refurbished boat
Six months of hard work and scallops later, the boat is shaping up.
The boat was located in New Bedford, Massachusetts, and we decided to keep it there. The previous owner, a guy named Paul with a serious boat project/home improvement habit, basically told us not to buy this boat. He warned us that it would be too much work, too much time and too much money. So we made an offer and he accepted.

From late May through October of this year, we made SY Tranquility our full time occupation. We installed ourselves as an odd couple at Bayline Boatyard, where we stumbled through a total refit. We have to give a lot of credit to the owner and staff of Bayline, as they refrained from heckling us when we continually messed up, and even offered us encouragement here and there.

Our original timeline was three months in the yard, and we spent six. Our budget for the refit multiplied by a similar factor. We fought. Each of us gave up at a certain point, but luckily, never at the same time. We ate more scallops and bacalao in one summer than most people might eat in a lifetime. We came to love New Bedford and the neighboring town of Fairhaven, and made great friends in both places.

a man peeking through a window holding a yellow towel which reads The Terrible Towel, Pittsburgh Steelers
Fabio wielding a terrible towel!

When our departure date finally came, if felt like our boat project was no longer just for us, and that we had gathered a small community of people who were rooting for us to succeed. And that was crucial, because by that time we were both exhausted and the real work had only just begun.