John Kihm is a modern seafarer with about a million miles under his belt and tales of faraway places — India, Africa, South America — ready for the telling.
He’s the skipper of an 800-foot Horizon Lines container ship that makes a regular run with general cargo between New York, Puerto Rico and Jacksonville, Fla.
He spends most of his time on the ship’s bridge, 150 feet above the ocean, buzzing along at 24 knots with the turbine engines going full bore. What he’d really like to be doing is idling away a New England summer afternoon with friends in a 15-knot southwesterly aboard his 35-foot sloop, Shenandoah, an old-timer from the 1960s that he has enjoyed for 14 years.
“Sometimes I look out from the bridge of the ship and say, ‘What a day for a sail. I wish I could stop this thing,’ ” says Kihm, 59, who comes ashore to his home in the Ivoryton section of Essex, Conn., just up the Connecticut River from Long Island Sound. “There’s nothing like sailing Gardiner’s Bay on a beautiful day.”
Kihm’s boat is a 1965 Cheoy Lee 35 Lion Class, a bluewater cruiser from the Kowloon, Hong Kong, builder and designed by New Zealander Arthur Robb. It has a fiberglass hull and cabin top, teak decking and brightwork cabin sides, cockpit coaming, toe rail and trim.
Kihm, who grew up sailing on the Hudson River in Nyack, N.Y., found the boat in 1997 sitting idle at SUNY-Maritime College, his alma mater. “I was on the sailing team and sailed and raced just about every day,” Kihm recalls. “And on graduation I went to sea as a third mate on a freighter.”
The Cheoy Lee was one of several boats the school was selling off and it had been neglected. “There was no varnish left, just ‘potato chips,’ and it was dirty and moldy inside and out,” Kihm says. “But I saw past that to the shapely hull, the overhangs and all the teak and brightwork. For me, it had the ‘look.’ It was beautiful.”
It’s also practical. The big cockpit and comfortable layout were intended for safe family cruising. It has a full, deep keel, and the versatile rig features twin headstays and twin spreaders. “It’s a good-looking, sturdy boat built for offshore sailing,” Kihm says.
He bought it for $9,000 and put it back into sailing shape. After 14 years, it’s as comfortable and familiar as a favorite pair of deck shoes. “I really haven’t changed much on the boat,” he says. The interior, with its 1960s-style layout, is all original, down to the bronze cabin ports and kerosene lanterns.
And the way the Cheoy Lee sails still thrills him — sitting in the cockpit with tiller in hand, looking up at taut white canvas, feeling the salt spray. “Shenandoah on Gardiner’s Bay with a 15-knot breeze on the beam,” Kihm says. “It doesn’t get much better than that.”
He says the 35-footer is easy to handle with main and jib. “With a good wind on a broad reach, it really lays down and settles in.” The slim hull, with its full keel, “handles the Long Island Sound chop with no problem. There’s no hobby-horsing and, with those long overhangs, she keeps both ends in the water. The big mast and mainsail generate a lot of power.” The boat also has a 28-hp, 3-cylinder Volvo diesel.
Maintaining the 46-year-old boat takes constant work, Kihm admits, and a sailing friend, Bob Gahran, has been a big help with upkeep. “I prioritize,” he says. “I look at the necessity, the time involved in a particular project, and try to get one thing done over the winter.” Upcoming projects include redoing the cabin sides and maybe converting the tiller steering to wheel to free up cockpit space.
Kihm has come a long way since he launched his first boat as a child on the Hudson River. “It was a pram with a hole in it that I found along the bank,” he says. “I patched it up with roofing tar, got some oars and started rowing around.”
And although he has crossed most of the world’s oceans, the simple day cruises to Coecles Harbor and Sag Harbor, N.Y., the runs to Block Island, R.I., and the fall foliage cruises up the Connecticut River are what he looks forward to. “This boat is it,” Kihm says. “I am very comfortable with her. She’s a boat to go anywhere.”
The Cheoy Lee 35 Lion features a slim hull for its length, with a beam of 8 feet, 9 inches, and more than 11 feet of overhangs, which give the boat buoyancy when heeling. Six thousand pounds of ballast help balance a 475-square-foot mainsail carried on a 50-foot Sitka spruce mast. The sloop rig also includes a 275-square-foot genoa, along with a 175-square-foot headsail. Some 35 Lion Class models had twin headstays.
The spoon bow leads to a deep forefoot and the full keel with a keel-mounted rudder. The stern picks up quickly to a small, rounded transom that sheds following seas. The trunk cabin, with doghouse, is surrounded by wide side decks and an open foredeck, with ample room for sail and anchor work.
Below, the galley is to port at the foot of the companionway, equipped with a sink, stove and icebox. The saloon has opposing settees — convertible to bunks — a drop-leaf table for dining and a navigation station to starboard, along with a port-side quarter berth. The enclosed, fully equipped head opens to the V-berth forward for privacy.
Designer Arthur Robb, a native New Zealander, was well-known in the 1950s and ’60s for his offshore cruising sailboats. Cheoy Lee, the pioneering Hong Kong builder (though it was founded in Shanghai) began producing the 35 Lion Class in 1955, and more than 100 wooden hulls were built before the changeover to fiberglass in the 1960s. These early glass hulls featured teak decks over plywood, which often led to delamination problems. Production of the popular cruisers continued into the 1980s. In 1965, a new Cheoy Lee 35 Lion cost $13,900. Used models today generally run from about $40,000 up to $85,000 for “showroom” boats, although there are bargains out there, too, especially if you’re looking for a fixer-upper.
LOA: 35 feet, 2 inches
BEAM: 8 feet, 9 inches
DRAFT: 5 feet, 6 inches
WEIGHT: 14,500 pounds
HULL: full keel, keel-mounted rudder
SAIL AREA: 475-square-foot main, 175-square-foot jib
AUXILIARY POWER: diesel (25-30 hp)
DESIGNER: Arthur Robb
BUILDER: Cheoy Lee Co., Kowloon, Hong Kong
This article originally appeared in the February 2012 issue.
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