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Tartan 40

2011 January 3

Classic S&S-inspired design moves on to a new life as a world cruiser

F riends in Miami just purchased a handsome 1989 Tartan 40. The successful sea trial and survey were the culmination of a systematic, two-year plan to find the right boat for extended cruising. Ricardo Paris attended my boat buyer's workshop a couple of years ago and we discussed his sailing agenda. He wanted to spend some time researching different boats and to take the measure of the market while working to build a "boat fund." He and his wife Claire plan to hit the high seas in a year or so, but they wanted to buy the boat now to get familiar with it and to properly refit it for serious cruising.

Ricardo zeroed in on the Tartan 40 after considering many boats, including an Albin Nimbus 42, Hood Wauquiez 40, Nordic 40 and Jeanneau 42. The Tartan is an excellent choice. Although officially designed by Tim Jackett, the Sparkman & Stephens influence is obvious; just look at the rakish bow, low freeboard, reverse transom and subtle sheer. Jackett's designs during the 1980s were a masterful synthesis of classic S&S lines with modern features that sailors were demanding. The 40 is one of his best efforts.

The overall excellent sailing performance coupled with a seaworthy hull shape and solid construction convinced Ricardo and Claire to pull the trigger. The lovely teak interior is not overly spacious but is more than adequate for a couple. The size was also appealing. At 40 feet it is big enough for any bluewater challenge they might encounter but still manageable for a daysail on Biscayne Bay. A sail area-to-displacement ratio of 17.1 speaks to performance, while the displacement-to-length ratio of 250 and ballast/displacement ratio of nearly 43% translate into stiffness, stability and the load-carrying capacity necessary for long-term cruising.

Ricardo and Claire really piqued my interest in this beautiful old boat. For the purpose of this article, we are going to take a look at retrofitting a Tartan 40 for cruising. Our "hypothetical" boat will be a 1986 model. There were 72 Tartan 40s built between 1984 and 1989. They are not easy to find on the used market and tend to hold their value. We purchased our boat named Retro, for $125,000; a price that reflects the soft secondhand boat market. The boat, like most Tartans on the market, is well equipped and well maintained. It has newish canvas and sails and the Universal 50-horsepower diesel has relatively low hours and is in good running condition. Our monetary goal is to complete the retrofit for 20% to 25% of the purchase price, or around $30,000. Our sailing goal is to have the boat ready for a summer-long cruise in the Bahamas, and to be in excellent shape for day and weekend sailing and shorter cruises throughout the rest of the year.

Prioritizing needs and wants is always the key to spending wisely. The Tartan 40 is a powerful sloop rig and one of our main objectives is to make the boat as easy to handle as possible without sacrificing performance. Sail controls need to be efficient. With that in mind, we decide to convert the traditional boom and slab-reefing mainsail to a Leisurefurl in-boom reefing system.

This is not an impulse decision. The Leisurefurl boom, installation, and the new mainsail and electric winch that the system requires will consume a big chunk of the retrofit budget. Still, it is a big upgrade and one that will pay dividends everyday. In-boom furling is efficient. It allows the main to be effectively reefed to any size to meet the conditions, you can carry just the right amount of sail while maintaining excellent sail shape. It is also safe because it keeps the crew off the deck; all reefing is done from the security of the cockpit. And finally, it's simple and clean and does away with the hassle of fitting the mainsail cover over a bunched up sail and around the lazy jacks.

Alan Massey of Leisurefurl recommends the Offshore Model for the Tartan 40. The boom and extrusions are spar-quality T-5 aluminum, while the gooseneck fittings are investment cast 17-4 stainless steel. Each boom is custom engineered at Forespar's plant in Southern California. Roger Underwood and his team of experienced riggers at Nance and Underwood Rigging and Sails in Fort Lauderdale will handle the installation. Underwood, who has installed many Leisurefurl systems, estimates 25 hours of labor will be required for the job. The total cost of the boom and installation is $13,500.

Underwood will also supply the necessary electric winch. Yes, an electric winch is critical. Forespar's Sales Manager Bill Moser says, "the electric winch puts the leisure in Leisurefurl." We choose the new Unipower900 radial electric winch from Harken. It is not the cheapest but it is surely the most innovative. Compact, light and strong, the Unipower radial winch has an ingenious design that places part of the electric motor within the winch base housing. The winch and installation tally $4,500.

A new mainsail is essential. Massey explains that by the time you alter your existing main you are usually almost 70% of the way to the cost of a new sail anyway. Peter Grimm of Super Sailmakers in Fort Lauderdale explains that sailmakers have to understand the difference between building a good mainsail and a good Leisurefurl mainsail. Grimm recommends an 8.6-ounce high-aspect Dacron weave that will resist stretch, a critical issue with the Leisurefurl boom. He also recommends a two-ply leech that adds bulk to the leech and keeps the luff and leech rolling at the same rate, ensuring a clean roll. And with the two-ply leech the actual weight of the sail can be reduced. Grimm will build a sail with six full battens, the first being 18 to 20 inches above the foot and the others evenly spaced. A vastly experienced sailor, he reminds us that when reefing the sail the batten that you are reefing to ends up lying on the bottom of the mandrel. Because the reduced Leisurefurl sail is almost always flatter than a slab reefed main, or an in-the-mast reef, the performance of the Leisurefurl boom really shines when it is blowing hard. Grimm will not only engineer and build the sail, he promises to sail with us to make sure that it is cut, fit and furling just right. This is $4,000 well spent.

The survey indicated that the standing rigging is in good shape so we'll focus on updating the running rigging. We will change out the headsail sheets along with the main and jib halyards. Bob Pingel of Custom Line Splicing in Milwaukee recommends Sta-Set from New England Ropes for new jib sheets. "Dacron double braid is strong and durable," Pingel explains. He can make up two 60-foot, half-inch sheets with whippings for $190. A new main halyard is essential with the Leisurefurl system and Pingel says that New England's VPC will fit the bill. A double braid line with a Dacron cover, the low-stretch Vectran/Polypro blended core is an excellent value. VPC is also a good choice for the new jib halyard. Pingel can supply both halyards, including a Wichard 2475 shackle for the jib and heavy-duty Tylaska H8 shackle for the main, splices and whippings for $675. The total running rigging bill comes to $865.

We are feeling very good about our rig updates, now it's time to consider a new autopilot. Most serious cruisers will tell you that the most important piece of equipment on the boat is the autopilot, especially for those sailing with small crews.

We choose the well-proven Raymarine SmartPilot. These pilots have been steering sailboats all over the world for many years and Raymarine's service and customer support is superb. There are three components that make up a "belowdecks" autopilot. First, you need a control head. We choose the compact but still user-friendly ST6002, a three-inch LCD unit that is easy to mount on the binnacle. The second component is the drive unit. The Type 1 linear drive electric motor can handle boats that displace up to 22,000 pounds and the Tartan 40 falls well within that range. Finally you need a core pack that includes the course computer and integrated gyrocompass. The X10 Smartpilot CorePack is designed to work with the Type 1 drive. After shopping around we decide to purchase the unit through Defender Marine. The three components total $3,326.

Buying the autopilot is the easy part, installing it is a bit more challenging. Steve Sullivan of Tamboura Marine Outfitters in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, will handle the installation. Steve is highly skilled and can handle a wide variety of tasks, and as an independent contractor his $40 hourly fee is a terrific value. He anticipates 24 hours of work to mount the drive unit, control head and core pack, and another half day or so to "tie it all together." The total cost is $1,200.

Our next job is the dirtiest, and one of the most important: a complete bottom job. Nothing makes a boat sail better than a clean bottom. The Tartan 40 has years of old bottom paint accumulation and is showing a few modest signs of osmotic blistering. It is not serious but now is the time for a dose of prevention. We haul the boat at Spring Cove Marina in Solomons, Maryland.

Alan Richards of Spring Cove suggests that we start by soda blasting all the old paint off. This is an environmentally responsible process that has thankfully replaced sandblasting. The next step is to apply two coats of Pettit Protect. This is a heavy-duty two component epoxy coating. It reduces water absorption and is a good choice for osmotic blister prevention and repair. For antifouling bottom paint, Alan recommends Pettit Hydrocoat. This is a water-based, multi-season ablative paint that is environmentally friendly. It is becoming the choice of many boat manufacturers. The total cost of a new bottom is $3,400, or $85 per foot all in.

Before putting the boat back in the water we decide to replace the three-bladed fixed propeller with a new folding prop by Flexofold. This has been a performance-oriented retrofit and it seems a pity to tow an anchor-like fixed prop when under sail. We opt for a folding prop for several reasons. First the performance is dramatically better than with a fixed prop and a bit better than with a feathering prop. We like the idea of the prop blades folding out of the way instead of pivoting and thus being less likely to snag a lobster pot or other floating obstruction. Tests have also shown the Flexofold increases performance under power, generating the same speeds with fewer RPMs. Dan Tucker of Flexofold sizes the appropriate prop by engine horsepower, transmission reduction and shaft size. A new 16-inch prop sells for $1,985.

We have spent our budget, but our Tartan 40 is in great shape and ready for the islands.

Project list and
cost summary

1986 Tartan 40:  $125,000

Retrofit budget:
1.    Leisurefurl In-boom
Reefing System    $13,500
2. Harken 900UPWC
Radial Electric Winch,
installed    $4,500
3. Super Sailmakers
Mainsail    $4,000
4.    New England Ropes
running rigging    $865
5.    Ray Marine Smart
Pilot, installed    $4,526
6.    Petit Epoxy Bottom
and antifouling    $3,400
7.    Flexofold Folding Prop    $1,985

Total retrofit work    $32,776
26% of purchase price
Grand total    $157,776