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A Brief Intro

Boston, Massachusetts, as seen from the dock of the MIT Sailing Pavilion in Cambridge.

“There’s still so much to be done.” – Jimmy Buffett (Last Mango in Paris)

Truthfully, it started back in 2002. Living in Boston, about to graduate MIT, and facing a sad job market with few prospects, we decided to head south. With one full semester’s wages as a down payment, we purchased a 1967 Cheoy Lee Offshore 31 Ketch named “Mi Luv.” Having basically thrown a dart at the map, we decided to move her to Bradenton Beach, Florida. We departed the mooring at Dinner Key in Miami, immediately ran aground, dropped back, hired a captain, and eventually made it around Florida.

We lived aboard our beautiful ketch for nearly two years, surviving four hurricanes in six weeks in the summer of 2004. Working full time, we gave our old girl as much love and attention as we could afford, but certainly not as much as she deserved. Once we’d moved her up to the coast of North Carolina and ourselves several hours inland, it became clear that we wouldn’t be able to keep up an old boat of that size. So sadly, we sold her, but happily, we bought a 1972 Tanzer 16 that has made for a good deal of fun sailing on the lakes of central NC.

Then 2020 arrived. We’d talked for years about wanting another “yacht” – sorry little Tanzer, but I missed nights at anchor. Not being able to go anywhere other than our own house for months, well, that just accelerated our plans. We signed the form and secured a build slot with Island Packet in June of 2020, one month after my cancelled 40th Birthday trip to the Bahamas. Construction started October 2nd.

Andros Island, we’ll see you in the future. Hold on to my deposit.

Boat Drinks Part 2 – The Full Keel

“May all your drinks be boat drinks with friends.” JD Spradlin, Radio Margaritaville DJ

Greetings from the bar aboard Siar!

We’ve asked the first mate’s brother, Adam, to design a menu of four cocktails for the four holidays in our calendar year. The second we call “Ballast Day” – yes, we made up a holiday. November 16th, the day the ballast was installed in Siar’s keel at Island Packet Yachts. Read more about it over at our Ballast Day post. Recipe below, with adaptations for available ingredients.

Some ingredients for the “Full Keel”

The “Full Keel”

1-1/2 oz Reposado Tequila

1/2 oz Mezcal

1 tsp Raw Agave Nectar*

2 dashes Xocolatl Mole bitters*

Garnish with a grapefruit peel

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*We were unable to find the mole bitters, so we substituted with something called “Big Bear” from Crude small batch bitters of Raleigh, NC. (Drink local!) We’ll update if and when we’re able to find the real thing.

Galley adaptation: If you’re out of fresh fruit on the boat, as can happen to a sailor, 1 dash grapefruit bitters may be substituted for the peel.

Instructions: Add all ingredients except the grapefruit peel to a mixing jar or shaker filled with ice (but don’t shake this), stir until cold, and pour into a rocks glass filled with fresh ice; express grapefruit peel into glass, wipe around rim of the glass, and drop into the drink.

Optional build directly in a glass: Add all ingredients except the grapefruit peel to a rocks glass filled with ice, stir until cold; express grapefruit peel into glass, wipe around rim of the glass, and drop into the drink.

Building directly into the glass will result in a slightly stronger drink, since you haven’t watered down the ingredients by stirring in a mixing jar with other ice first.

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Bespoke cocktail selection by Adam Neizmik, adapted from Phillip Ward’s “Oaxaca Old-Fashioned.”

Boat Drinks Part 1 – The “Good Ship”

YouTube – how to “express an orange peel” – it works for grapefruit, too.

The Importance of Being Ballast

“I get knocked down, but I get up again.” – Chumbawamba (Tubthumping)

We awoke in the middle of the night to the sound of a crash. Actually, it was more like several small crashes – bang, bang, bang, bang! I rolled out of my berth and walked downhill to the head. The noise that had awoken us was that of every bottle of shampoo, conditioner, and cleanser falling from the wall ledges down to the floor of the tub. Seeing that nothing was broken, I turned around, proceeded to walk uphill with some effort, and climbed back into bed. The National Hurricane Center’s historical HURDAT database shows no cyclone activity in the Atlantic during the time frame that we made our crossing. Whatever it was, the wind had the boat at an impressive heel angle. Port was downhill; starboard was up.

Windswept, Atlantic Ocean, 2016.

The next day at noon, the Captain calmly explained in his daily radio address how he had simply shifted the boat’s ballast from one side to the other. It is a somewhat slow process, however he managed to right the boat so that we all enjoyed a pleasant night’s sleep. Our cabin was on the starboard side, meaning that as we headed west, the north wind heeled the boat to port. We were on the ninth deck, which seemed to amplify the magnitude of the angle, if only in my midnight mind.

The Atlantic Ocean, kicked up a bit, as viewed from the 9th deck.
The weather couldn’t keep us from our formal dinner.

The “boat” was the Queen Mary 2, and the Captain was Christopher Wells. We were crossing from Southampton to New York in August of 2016. Less than a year later, when called upon by the Canadian Coast Guard, Captain Wells would lead the QM2 on a daring rescue mission to save a fellow mariner whose sailboat, Tamarind, had become disabled in a violent storm during a transatlantic race. Again Captain Wells had to employ the movable ballast, placing QM2 broad side to the wind to shield Tamarind and the ship’s fast rescue boat, who retrieved the solo sailor. The skipper of the sailing vessel Tamarind was given safe passage back to land in a cabin aboard the ocean liner Queen Mary 2.

A small sailboat as viewed from the 9th deck of the Queen Mary 2, Southampton, 2016.

Ballast, oddly enough, was the behind my decision to become a sailor in the first place. When I arrived in Boston to begin my studies at MIT, I knew that I wanted to join a sports team. Not tennis – I’d tried that in high school. Fencing held some interest for me, as did crew. I had, at least, rowed a boat on the water before. In the end, the sailing team’s Assistant Coach had the best sales pitch. “We’re looking for small people who can move fast and act as movable ballast.” Once I’d looked up what “ballast” was, I figured I’d fit the part, even though I had never even been on a sailboat.

Sailing a little cat, the fast boat of the MIT Sailing fleet, Charles River, Boston, circa 2000.

It also didn’t hurt that while the crew team practiced early in the morning, sailing practice was in the warm late summer afternoons. I bought my Gill gloves and boots, and eventually both a wetsuit and a drysuit, and had a blissful few years on the team, tugging on jib sheets and jumping back and forth across the centerboard with every “roll tack.” Years later, I would find myself explaining to Harv that in college, we bought Gill because we couldn’t afford Patagonia.

Siar heeled to port, water splashing over the lee rail, Tampa Bay, Florida, 2021.

My best job ever was at the sailing pavilion. I spent the summer rigging Tech Dinghy boats for alumni to day sail and taking folks out on the Charles river for short cruises aboard the fleet’s Rhodes 19s. Part of my job involved running around the river on a little skiff with a pump and a generator, assisting anyone who’d failed to shift their “movable ballast” correctly – or quickly – thus capsizing their boat. I myself have gone “in the drink” (overboard) many times on a capsized Tech Dinghy. When the Standells sang of “that dirty water” of the Charles, they weren’t kidding.

Ballast installation. On her way to 7,500 lbs.

The morning of November 16th, 2020, we received some interesting pictures from Darrell Allen, owner and president of Island Packet Yachts. Darrell had been documenting the construction of our Island Packet 349, sending us pictures of her and updates from Florida, while we sat in offices in chilly central North Carolina, our dreams floating ever south. November 16th was the day that our ballast was installed. It was laid deep in the keel, to be covered by layer upon layer of construction, up to the cabin sole. It need never be seen nor thought of again, except for the fact that its purpose is to keep the bottom of the boat in the water and her topsides above it.

Before the ballast. Yes, he’s standing in our keel.
Ballast, complete.

When a sailing dinghy capsizes, as it lays on its side in the water, you stand on the centerboard. The downward force causes the boat to right. A keelboat has her own “righting moment.” The theory behind the design is that should the boat be “knocked down” by a wave, mast to the water, she will roll upright. It has happened to other Island Packets. I’ve linked below to a tale from the Captain of S/V Flying Fish. His entire blog is beautiful, fascinating, and inspiring. Be prepared to set aside some time for binge reading.

In more pleasant conditions, the ballasted keel’s job is to moderate the angle of heel. This delights me, as I just can’t seem to shake the small boat sailor from my brain or body. The first time we got a good heel on our old Cheoy Lee, Westward, I instinctively jumped to the high side of the boat. Captain Lee got a good laugh out of it. “Al,” he said, “this boat weighs thousands of pounds. Your weight is not going to help.” He was correct. A Tech Dinghy is light enough to be pulled out of the water and on to the dock by two people. Aboard our full keel Cheoy Lee, I wasn’t much use as movable ballast.

A proper heel to starboard, Tampa Bay, Florida.

Years later, sailing aboard Siar in Tampa Bay, I again found I have a strong preference for the high side. When I tried to warn Harv by explaining that I’d learned to sail on small boats, he answered “me too.” Well, he’s also raced on the open ocean and delivered yachts between continents. We got her up to nine knots with a deep heel, the bay gushing over the lee rail. Eventually Harv agreed to let me “flatten her out” a bit. Of course, we lost a knot and a half of speed.

Harv didn’t mind the heel at all.

On our way back from that sail, we stopped to practice with our anchor windlass in the basin. A summer sailing camp was practicing in a fleet of sailing dinghies. We waved and took pictures. Despite the light air, one of the dinghy boats capsized. I watched as it lay helpless on its side, the sailors waiting for the camp instructor to assist in righting. Harv must have seen the look on my face. He took both my hands, still clad in worn Gill gloves, in his own, looked me in the eye and said, “I promise you, that’s not going to happen to your boat.” And I have to believe him. I have to believe that with her 7,500 lbs of ballast, if Siar gets “knocked down,” she’ll get back up again. I have to trust in the boat, if not yet in myself. The next time I sail aboard the Queen Mary 2, I intend to have bought a ticket.

Summer sailing camp, St. Petersburg, Florida. All boats righted.

Footnote: In April of 2021, Christopher Wells retired after 20 years with the Cunard line. In recognition of his outstanding service, he was awarded the rank of Commodore. Highlights of his career include 25 years with the Royal Navy Reserve, participation in the commissioning of the Queen Mary 2, over a decade as her Captain, and of course, a rescue at sea. Well done, Commodore, and congratulations.

Links / further reading:

BBC account of the Queen Mary 2’s rescue of Mervyn Wheatley aboard Tamarind

An account from the middle of the Ocean aboard Island Packet 460 Flying Fish

YouTube – Tubthumping by Chumbawamba (Official Music Video)

Feeling Irish

“West Wind or something like that.” – Jim, the former owner of our 1967 Cheoy Lee Offshore Ketch, trying to recall her original name

What’s in a name? To us, a lot. We’ve been called all sorts of things on the water: Sire, Seer, Star. (I admit I rather like being called “Star.”) Our boat’s actual name, “Siar,” is an Irish word, and it honors our history. The Irish Dictionary online offers sample pronunciations in three regional dialects across Ireland. Our home port is in the southern United States, so to those who know North Carolina geography, the best I can tell you is to just pronounce the first syllable of “Charlotte.” Got it?

Bridgetender, this is Sailing Vessel “Mi Luv”

When Lee and I bought our first sailboat together, her name was “Mi Luv.” Jim, who sold her to us, had bought her with the inheritance he received from his grandmother, and “Mi Luv” had been Grandma’s nickname for him. Adorable, and very personal for him, no doubt. For us, after having to identify ourselves as “Mi Luv” to dozens of bridge tenders along the Intracoastal Waterway, it was time for a new name.

My brother, Adam, had made a generous gift to our boat’s library, including a book titled Why Didn’t I Think of That. The authors, John and Susan Roberts, had collected and organized nearly 1,200 tips for cruising sailors, covering everything from maintenance to cooking to passage making. Originally published in 1997, some tips are outdated (fax machines, page 65), but many remain timeless (watch standing, page 85). On page 14 of the book, we found a description of a stern rail gate hand made by the owner of a 31-foot ketch. The sailboat’s name? “Westward.”

A welcome addition to our boat library

We examined our stern rail, and sure enough, there was the gate, hand cut by former owner Dave, and as described in the book, “secured by stainless steel sleeves that slip over the rail ends.” Soon afterwards, Lee was down in cockpit locker, working on something no doubt, when he found the word “Westward” carved inside the hull. That was all it took – we knew our boat’s name.

Captain Lee, with sailing vessel “Westward,” Washington, NC

We brought Westward to a DIY boatyard in Washington, North Carolina. Along with new bottom paint and other fixes and upgrades, I hand cut stencils of her name and hailing port. We’d elected to change her accent color from blue to dark green, and so in dark green I painted “Westward” and “Washington, NC” on her transom. With the work completed, we re-launched. Captain Lee guided Westward to her slip with the aid of his childhood best friend. We re-christened our beloved Cheoy Lee with the aid of several friends and a bottle of champagne.

The first mate pours a little Champagne

The Captain has his best ideas in the water, whether it’s on a boat, in the shower, or in the hot tub at our “land house.” It was there that he proposed the name for our soon-to-be Island Packet. “Siar.” Lee had been lucky enough to travel to Ireland for a study abroad program during his undergraduate years at Elon College. He fell in love with Ireland, and when he first took me there in 2013, so did I. We’d vacation there for a week or two at a time, roughly every year and a half, for the next five years. Galway, Cork, Spiddal, Milltown Malbay, Clifden, Letterfrack, Fanore.

“Siar” is the closest Irish translation to “Westward.”

2020 shut down any immediate travel plans for us. It also left us with a lot of free time on our hands. One of our more productive projects was studying the Irish language. The Irish (Gaelic) language is experiencing a comeback, especially in the areas of western Ireland that we love to visit. Children are learning to speak it in school. It’s nothing the be sitting in a pub in Connemara and hear the 18-or-so year old bartender speak to us in English and to the local clientele in Irish. We have a lot to learn – Irish is a verb-subject-object language, and it has no indefinite article. Our learning so far has been enough to inspire the name – “Siar” is the closest Irish translation to “Westward.”

My hand painted transom (trust me, it’s dark green)

So there you have it. Our new boat, that we hope to some day make our home, is named for our old boat, that once was our home, and in a language to honor the place and people we adore. Will we ever sail Siar to Ireland? Writing from my “Captain’s Chair” in her salon, the scent of a fall apple hazelnut crumble baking in the oven, everything seems possible.

Siar’s transom art

Siar’s name and hailing port of Beaufort, North Carolina, along with a Celtic Cross, grace her transom in a lovely dark green. We christened Siar on a warm, dark evening in St. Petersburg, Florida, June 2021. We were aided by a bottle of champagne, of course, and Lee’s childhood best friend, who’d also been our travel companion on our last trip to Ireland. “May all who sail aboard her…”

Slainte!

Links / further reading:

The Irish Dictionary entry on “Siar” https://www.teanglann.ie/en/fgb/siar

Amazon link to Why Didn’t I Think of That

Apple hazelnut crumble recipe. Note, I add 1 tsp cinnamon and 1/8 tsp allspice to the filling. https://www.food.com/recipe/apple-hazelnut-crumble-293253

Boat Drinks Part 1 – The Good Ship

Some ingredients for the “Good Ship”

“May all your drinks be boat drinks with friends.” JD Spradlin, Radio Margaritaville DJ

Greetings from the bar aboard Siar!

We’ve asked the first mate’s brother, Adam, to design a menu of four cocktails for the four holidays in our calendar year. The first is the boat’s “birthday,” October 2nd, the official start of her construction at Island Packet Yachts. Read more about it over at our Construction post. Recipe below.

The “Good Ship”

1 oz Irish Whiskey

1 oz Mezcal

1/2 oz Benedectine

2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters

Garnish with an orange peel

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This is an easy one for a boat – it can be made in a mixing jar, or built directly in the glass over 1 large ice cube.

Mixing Jar: Add all ingredients except the orange peel to a mixing jar (your shaker would be fine, but don’t shake this) filled with ice, stir until cold, and pour into a rocks glass filled with one large ice cube; express orange peel into glass, wipe around rim of the glass, and drop into the drink.

Build directly in a glass: Add all ingredients except the orange peel to a rocks glass filled with one large ice cube, stir until cold; express orange peel into glass, wipe around rim of the glass, and drop into the drink.

Building directly into the glass will result in a slightly stronger drink, since you haven’t watered down the ingredients by stirring in a mixing jar with other ice first.

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Bespoke cocktail selection by Adam Neizmik, adapted from Phillip Ward’s “Good Cork.”

YouTube – how to “express an orange peel”

Gallery – Construction

Just for fun. Some more photos from Siar’s construction: 2020 – 2021. Happy scrolling.

Hull layup
Hull layup
Exterior of the hull, joined to the transom
Ballast in the keel
Siar’s deck in flight
The deck joins the headliner
View from below decks
Fitting out the deck
A little teak trim (Allison enjoys varnishing)
One happy first mate!
Under construction, looking starboard
Pretty pieces, prior to varnish
Cabin sole prior to installation
Almost whole
All put together
Interior trim-out, starboard, looking forward
Interior trim-out, starboard, looking aft
Bow rail added
Ready for her close-up (and nights on the hook)
Stern view, under construction
Stern view, preparing to depart the factory for Launch Day
Stern view, all decked out and ready to sail

Construction

“Oh, you’re young.” – Darrell Allen, Owner/President, Island Packet Yachts

Most prospective buyers of something like a brand new 38 foot sailboat begin with a factory tour, but as it was the summer of 2020, our first introduction to the team at Island Packet Yachts was on Zoom. Darrell seemed pleasantly surprised at how “young” we were. “Leslie,” he said, “you’ve got to meet these people.” Leslie is Darrell’s wife, co-owner and Vice President of IPY, and wearer of multiple hats at the company. We had been referred by a yacht broker, but we would be working directly with the two of them throughout the build and delivery process.

It was Lee who chose Island Packet to build our dream boat. We’d been in the market for a new “yacht” since we sold our old Cheoy Lee ketch. We’d considered other manufacturers, in particular Pacific Seacraft. We were living in Chapel Hill when they moved their manufacturing to North Carolina. We were also intrigued by the concept of the Seaward Yachts, with the retractable keel. It was actually a Seaward dealer who introduced us to Island Packet. The full keel design caught our attention. Our Cheoy Lee had been a full keel boat. Maybe it was the familiarity, or the notions of comfort and safety that the design carries. Or maybe it was the crisp white Island Packet hat that arrived in the mail with the interior wood sample we’d requested. Nice move, Darrell.

Siar’s full keel, port side
Keel & rudder under construction – photo: AW
Starboard side view

It’s no secret that under former ownership, options for a new Island Packet were few. It was quite the Henry Ford – the customer can have the Model T in any color as long as it’s black – kind of mentality. For our build, though, we could choose from lots of options. The rig: Solent. The power: Solar. The main salon layout: Two Captain’s chairs, please and thank you. At my request, they are height-adjustable (I’m 5’3″).

When I asked how wide the bottle slots in the “bar” were, Darrell and Leslie reached out to the Island Packet owners’ group on Facebook. Based on their feedback, the bar cabinet got a redesign to accommodate bottles of different widths. That’s important.

The “bar” cabinet – photo: AW

We are only the third model-349 to feature the light maple interior. Make no mistake, this is not the European flat slab and right angle look. Louvered doors, sculpted moldings, and the impeccably constructed sapele and maple cabin sole help maintain the traditional aesthetic. It’s just so light and bright inside the cabin. We selected the classic ivory hull that has become a hallmark of Island Packet Yachts. It’s how we recognize one another on the water.

Cabin sole under construction – photo: LW
Joinery of the cabin sole – photo: AW

Construction was slated to begin on Monday, October 5th, 2020. We’d planned a special “birthday” celebration for that evening. In our excitement of selecting the design options, we’d had many calls, texts, and emails with Darrell. The best so far came on Friday, October 2nd. From Darrell: “You can have a toast tonight. We actually started your headliner today.”

The headliner
The IGU under construction
The IGU righted in the hull

Progress photos followed almost weekly, mostly by text. Darrell: “IGU coming out of the mold.” Us: “What’s an IGU?” Answer: it’s the internal grid unit, the skeleton for all of the fiberglass tanks, compartments, and other storage areas that will hold all that we need for weekend trips or longer cruises. The hull layup was fascinating, especially when pictured at about a 90 degree heel angle (hopefully we won’t experience that angle again any time soon).

Hull layup of our Island Packet 349 was no small feat

The lead ballast went into the keel on November 16th. Other sailors have written more eloquently about it, but this method of construction lends to the stability – and durability – of our boat. We marked it as an annual holiday on Google Calendar, because “Ballast Day” sounds like a good name for a holiday.

Soon, the parts started coming together. A crane picked up our deck to connect it to the headliner. Another lowered the IGU into the now righted hull. From my personal journal, December 15th : “This morning Darrell sent a picture of the IGU fully glassed in to the hull. It is truly awesome. We’re starting to recognize the interior of our boat at week 11!” Following that, everything that you don’t see from the exterior or interior of our boat was installed: plumbing, wiring, tanks and gauges, and the all important 45 horse power Yanmar diesel engine. Bulkheads went in, and the interior “rooms” began to take shape. Aft cabin, salon, galley, head, forward cabin.

The IGU is lifted from the mold…
… and lowered into the hull
The Yanmar diesel engine

We were fortunate enough to finally be able to visit to the Island Packet factory in March of 2021. Being that we both work in manufacturing, we were excited to start with a factory tour, until Darrell asked “Don’t you want to meet your boat first?” We approached her from the stern. I admit, standing beneath her hull, I found the sight of the full keel comforting. We walked up the stairs to the decking that surrounded her and looked down into the hull. Dedicated carpenters and electricians were assembling the structure and systems that would become Siar. Their pride in their work was palpable.

“Rooms,” including the door to the aft cabin “guest quarters. New IPY-439 in the background.

One “option” we’d requested was to remove the standard-issue microwave. The carpentry team had mocked up a storage cabinet in it’s place, with two door options from which I could choose. I am thankful for that extra storage space every time we make a pot of coffee aboard Siar.

Looking into my future galley – photo: AW
Finished cabinet, where the coffee cups hide – photo: AW

We continued our tour through the factory until we came to Siar’s deck. The off-white headliner had been fully installed, complete with opening ports and LED light fixtures. “Lee,” I said, “there are so many lights in here!” I climbed up on her deck to inspect the installation in progress of the teak eyebrow rail – another option of my choosing. Impressed by the width of the forward deck, I commented that I’d be able to throw down a yoga mat and train up there. Ever practical, Darrell chimed in, “you know there’s a boom there, right?” Months later in St. Petersburg, I would be proven correct.

My first time below the deck – photo: AW
The teak eyebrow, to keep the first mate busy varnishing – photo: AW
Pretty sure I can fit a yoga mat up here – photo: LW
I was correct – photo: AW

The Island Packet factory was not spared the brunt of Covid-19, nor was our build. Crafting a customized sailing yacht that is modern in performance but classic in style requires many individual and highly specialized skills, and these skills are not easily replaced when one person, or even one department, is out sick. By the original schedule, on our visit in mid-March we would have seen the final touches on Siar: interior varnish, cushions and chairs. As it happened, the deck joined the hull about a week after we departed. Incidentally (ok – significantly) the entire interior is built out before the first coat of varnish is applied. A total of 4 coats were applied to all of the interior wood at once, for a noticeably uniform finished appearance. That was only after the entirety of our cabin interior was trimmed out by just one person. One solo, skilled craftsman. Thank you, Donimic, she’s beautiful.

It’s really starting to look like a galley

As our revised delivery date approached, Darrell and Leslie had to head up to Ohio to deliver 349 hull number 16. Their YouTube video is worth a watch. Upon returning to Florida, Darrell sent photos of our Siar in a sling, complete with bottom paint, forest green boot stripe, and polished ivory hull. On June 9th, she was loaded onto a truck for the short drive south to Salt Creek Boat Works in St. Petersburg. Once there, she was lowered into the water to undergo rigging. We celebrate June 9th as “Splash Day.”

Slainte!

Glamour shot #1 – bow
Glamour shot #1 – stern
Siar departs the Island Packet factory and heads for the sea

Unless otherwise noted, all photos courtesy of Island Packet Yachts

Links:

YouTube – SV Cavu sailing on Lake Erie

YouTube – Tour of Siar prior to leaving the factory