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Privilege 39

2010 January 16

Bluewater cruising on a cat is possible with a sturdy boat and safety-conscious upgrades

I often consult with sailors in the market for cruising boats. I suggest monohulls for most of my clients, typically a well-engineered, solidly built, moderate- to heavy- displacement sloop or cutter-the type of boat that has been crossing oceans for decades. However, I currently have two clients looking for cruising catamarans. Both desire a seaworthy cat that can carry their young families around the world. They're frank about what they want in a cruising boat: space and stability, they want a cabin for each member of the family and they don't want to live on a heel. Both clients are seriously considering the Privilege 39, an excellent choice.

Designed by Eric LeFevre and launched in 1988, the Privilege 39 has a well-earned reputation as an offshore cruiser. Several 39s have completed circumnavigations. Privilege was the brand name for Jeantot Marine. Philippe Jeantot was the winner of the first BOC singlehanded around-the-world race, and later helped start the Vendee Globe Challenge. He demanded that Privilege cats be capable of bluewater passagemaking. As a result, the Privilege 39 has a large, solid bridgedeck forward, better than average bridgedeck clearance, and sensible construction featuring cored hulls from the waterline up and solid fiberglass from the waterline down. The rig is of moderate proportion, and the standing rigging and deck fittings are more heavy duty than on most cats.

This article will examine retrofitting an early model Privilege 39 for an extended cruise. We'll assume that the boat is a well-equipped 1992 model, lying in Fort Lauderdale and was purchased for $190,000. Our objective is to make the boat ready for serious sailing and, in these difficult times, to keep our retrofit budget under control. While it's easy to spend 25 to 50 percent of the purchase price on a retrofit, in this case we'll limit our project to 15 percent, or approximately $30,000. We will have the boat ready for sea for less than $220,000.

The key to all retrofits is prioritizing gear upgrades and project improvements. We'll make three categories: vital, nice to have, and extravagant. Not surprisingly, we'll focus on what's vital.

However, upgrades in the other two categories can make a huge difference when it comes to making your cruise enjoyable.

The marine survey after the purchase assured us that our new Privilege 39 is structurally sound. Therefore, we'll look to the vital drive systems, sails, rig and engines to begin our retrofit project.
The Privilege 39, unlike many cruising cats, is a masthead rig and most are set up with a fixed staysail stay. This is ideal for tradewind sailing. It is a burden to carry a big, roachy main when running for days on end and it's frustrating trying to fill a small, fractionally rigged headsail. A better arrangement is to pole out a headsail or set a drifter on a Code zero furler, and give the mainsail a break. Some experienced cat sailors opt for twin headsails, each on a separate pole. The point is, efficient and chafe-free downwind sailing requires a better plan than just laying out the main and rigging a preventer. A staysail, sheeted flat beneath the poled-out headsail, helps maintain directional stability. The staysail also serves as a ready-to-unfurl storm jib. With this in mind, you decide to make do with the used but still adequate mainsail and genoa, and instead commission a new drifter and staysail. Further, you decide to update your hardware with a Code zero furler for the drifter, a furling system for the staysail and a new whisker pole for the genoa.

Peter Grimm and Bob Meagher of Doyle Sails in Fort Lauderdale suggest a UPS (Utility Power Sail). Something of a cross between a genoa and drifter, this lightweight sail can either be controlled with a sleeve or a furler. Although designed for reaching, the UPS can also be flown upwind, which gives the option of trimming up when the apparent wind shifts forward, instead of dousing. Versatility and efficiency are appreciated when cruising. Grimm and Meagher recommend a 4-ounce Dacron cloth, with a UV sun cover and a low-stretch internal luff for free flying. For the staysail/storm jib, Grimm and Meagher believe that shape and strength are the key design factors. Because you will use the staysail to forereach in rugged conditions, it needs to be heavy duty and flat cut. They suggest a 10-ounce super strong sail with a UV cover and set up for roller furling. As Meagher put it, "This is the sail you will use when the genoa is rolled away." The cost of both sails, delivered to the boat, is $6,840.

Colligo Marine offers innovative rigging products including synthetic standing rigging. For now, we'll keep the stainless wire rigging but we do choose the company's CN-5 furler for the Doyle UPS. This furler allows the UPS to furl around its own Vectran luff, and is easy to set and deploy. The unit has sealed bearings and a single-line drive control system. While you're shopping at Colligo Marine, you add some piece of mind in the form of an emergency shroud kit. This is one place where synthetic rigging makes perfect sense. This kit, which can replace a shroud up to 3/8-inch and 65 feet long, is easy to stow and use in an emergency. Your cost for the furler and emergency stay kit come to $1,769.

When it comes to setting up the staysail on a roller-furling system we turn to Harken. We want a reliable system but also want to keep weight and cost under control. We chose Harken's new Cruising Furler, specifically, the Unit 2. These cruising systems blend Harken's design excellence with an affordable price. The drum is a tough polymer and the halyard swivel and line guide are anodized aluminum. The included Carbo lead blocks are terrific. I have used this system on Quetzal, and have been impressed with its performance. Roger Underwood of Nance and Underwood Rigging and Sails in Fort Lauderdale notes that the system is designed for owner installation. Still, it's nice to have a professional do the job, and while you're at it, you have Roger's guys also complete a rigging inspection. The cost of the furler, installation and the rig inspection comes to $3,875.

The next item on the list just may be the most important when it comes to tradewind sailing: the whisker pole. The truth is, nothing is as appealing as carefree running or reaching under a poled out genoa. That's the way most cruisers cross oceans. We turn to Forespar for the best value in whisker poles. Bill Moser suggests a 50/50 combo pole, which includes the light weight and strength of carbon on the inner tube with the durability and cost savings of aluminum on the outer tube. We will need a big pole, and Moser suggests the Line Control 13-24 model. Fortunately the spar on the Privilege has a track and the Forespar whisker pole ends can be adapted to fit. You order the pole through Defender Marine at a cost of $2,250, including shipping.

At this point, you are feeling good about your sails and rig. It's time to look at the other drive system, the one sailors don't like to think about, the engine, or in the case of the Privilege 39, the engines. Fortunately, like many of the 39s on the used market, your boat has been repowered. The original engines were 29-horsepower Volvos with saildrive transmissions. The new engines are Yanmar 30-horsepower, 3GM models. And while the engines are in good shape, and just need standard maintenance, the seals around the saildrive lower units definitely fall into the vital category and should be replaced. This must be done with the boat out of the water. Robert of Complete Yacht Service of Fort Lauderdale explains that if both the rubber protectors and diaphragms need to be changed, the approximate cost in parts is $600. Labor involved will be around four hours per side, or per engine, for an additional $800. He also suggests that while the saildrive is apart, that the rear seals be changed. All together, you will spend around $1,800.

The next item that I consider to be vital for long-distance cruising is a top-of-the-line autopilot. While most electronics fall into the "nice to have" category, an autopilot, especially on a catamaran that doesn't track well to begin with and does not lend itself to wind vane installation, is essential. I have had excellent performance from the Raymarine autopilot on Quetzal and would not hesitate to install one on the Privilege. A new Smart Pilot, including the Core Pack, Type 2 Linear Drive unit, and St 8002 rotary control head, comes to just over $3,100 from West Marine. My friend, Silvio Araujo, an experienced sailor, boatbuilder and owner of Paradise Marine Electronics, will need one day to install the unit, for an additional labor charge of $700. Total cost of the new autopilot: $3,800.

While we have Silvio aboard, we might as well finish off our complement of new electronics. Although these are not vital, today's new multifunction display chart plotters are extremely user-friendly. The Furuno MFD8 model has an 8.4" LCD color display. Silvio, a Furuno dealer, likes this model because it includes full time 3 dimensional chart rendering and a seamless zoom in and out of different chart scales. The unit can be expanded with add on sensors for radar and a fish finder/depth sounder. The cost, including installation is $3200.

Its time to look at safety gear and upgrades. Although some multihull sailors don't carry life rafts because of the positive buoyancy of the boat itself, even when capsized, I think it still makes good sense to carry a raft. Yes, cats can sink, and other calamities including a fire at sea make a raft essential. Switlik Parachute Company was founded in 1907. The company has been a leader in the life raft market for nearly 50 years. They make a full range of rafts and rescue pods, suitable for every sailor. We choose the MD-2 Switlik's most popular model. This six-person raft, designed for offshore use, includes a rigid boarding ladder for climbing into the raft from the water and gull wing doors to facilitate jumping down into the raft from the boat. Extra large ballast pockets help keep the raft upright. An optional heat sealed inflatable floor helps keep occupants away from the water keeping hypothermia at bay. The cost of a MD-2 in a valise is $4, 625 through Landfall Navigation.

The last item on your retrofit list is a simple upgrade of something that has bothered you from the first time you looked the Privilege 39 – the dock lines. They are shabby, frayed, and not safe. Pelican Rope Works makes handsome nylon braided dock lines that are strong and flexible and include a 12" spliced eye. Because the Privilege had plenty of freeboard, it must always be well secured when tied along a dock or in a slip. For this reason we select six 5/8" lines, including four 30' long and two 40 footer for extra long spring lines. Total cost ?

We did it, we kept the tab under $30,000 and have prepared our Privilege 39 for serious sailing. The next step is to simply cast off those shiny new dock lines and head for the horizon.

Project list and cost summary

Privilege 39
Retrofit budget:
1. UPS and Staysail .$6,840
2. UPS furler and emergency stay kit $1,769
3. Staysail furler, installation, rig inspection
4. Whisker pole $2,250
5. Engine tune-up $1,800
6. Autopilot $3,100
7. Chartplotter $3,200
8. Life raft $4,625
9. Dock Lines $320

Total retrofit work $27,779
(14.6% of the purchase price)
Grand Total $217,779


Doyle Sails/Super Sailmakers, www.sail-depot.com, www. doylesails.com; Colligo Marine www.colligomarine.com; Harken, www.harken.com; Nance and Underwood Rigging and Sails, www.nanceandunderwood.com; Forespar, www.forespar.com; Defender Marine, www.defender.com; West Marine, www.westmarine.com; Paradise Marine Inc., www.paradisemarineinc.com; Pelican Rope Works, www.pelicanrope.com; Complete Yacht Service, www.completeyachtservice.com; Switlik, www.switlik.com; Raymarine, www.raymarine.com; Furuno, www.furuno.com